Parenting Off-leash

The seasons are changing.  My oldest is gone more than home now, and the next two boys are working out in the gym and growing manly muscles on their lean arms.  My daughter’s turned into a lady with a keen sense of right, a quick tongue and an even sharper wit.

We’re all growing up. Not that I’m crying, mind you. I welcome the opportunity to wrestle bigger challenges than whose Hot Wheel this is.  It’s just a different type of parenting now.  They still need shepherding, just with a looser hand.

I’m reminded of my first parenting lessons, years ago. I had adopted a 100 lb. Labrador Retriever with an assertive streak. What a tough bugger he was in obedience class, refusing to lie down on command unless I body-slammed him and pinned him in my own version of a wrestling hold.  I only outweighed him by about 3 pounds, and he had testosterone and four legs on his side.  He strained to keep his head above mine.  With persistence, he learned to work with me. We moved to off-leash training, where he had to choose to obey lessons like, ‘don’t chase the kitty across the road just because you’re the dog for the job and I’m not looking’.  At the end of the summer, we won 2nd place at the trials.Sandyswim

I wish it were that easy to train kids.  Today, I’d be thrilled to come in second place.  On that day, I felt gypped, and came up with all sorts of consolations.  I was a teen with a large, intact male dog competing against an adult with a spayed people pleaser. She wasn’t at all moved by the lovely mutt in heat that wandered through the final exam.  My dog looked like Pepe Le Pew floating away after a Persian cat.

I didn’t recognize the real point.  That class was a joint effort to develop well-mannered companions, not a competition to see who could produce the perfect show dog.

Education is not about perfection.

I will never be a perfect mother, homeschool or otherwise.  My only charge is to love the Lord more than anything else and figure out how to stir each of my students to choose to follow me in that, daily.  But just like my old Lab, the outcome boils down to a choice that is outside of my control.  Will he follow my path, or not?  Milk bones or a swim in the lake assist with retention, but just like most adults on earth, if it doesn’t pay off, he probably won’t repeat it.

My oldest kids have learned the basics of come, sit, and stay.

It’s now time to go off-leash.  What they know, they know, and what they don’t will show quickly.  We’ll focus there.  Move into the world, my children.  You will fall.  Know that – but know also that falls are not fatal.  You’ll get up and be stronger.  I’ll help you, but only if you need it.  You have the rest of your lives to fine-tune who you want to become.

Someone asked me today how I parent high schoolers.  I couldn’t help but chuckle under my breath.  I’m really not the one to ask.  But yet I am – I can answer from experience that there comes a point when you must trust that what you’ve done has made an impact and that your children are competent to think and move on their own.  But you’re not done.

You must still pray.  Pray for quiet patience that exudes faith, in God and in the child.  Pray for safety and quickly growing wisdom.  Know that God is there, and won’t blink, even when it’s midnight and you haven’t heard from your son since lunch.

If you’ve been diligent with your time when you had it before you, you will not be disappointed now.  The Bible doesn’t just spout cool maxims that encourage us emptily.  When the proverb says, ” Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” – it’s a promise you can lean on.

I found this interesting elucidation in Clarke’s Commentary:

When he comes to the opening of the way of life, being able to walk alone, and to choose; stop at this entrance, and begin a series of instructions, how he is to conduct himself in every step he takes. Show him the duties, the dangers, and the blessings of the path; give him directions how to perform the duties, how to escape the dangers, and how to secure the blessings, which all lie before him. Fix these on his mind by daily inculcation, till their impression is become indelible; then lead him to practice by slow and almost imperceptible degrees, till each indelible impression becomes a strongly radicated habit. Beg incessantly the blessing of God on all this teaching and discipline; and then you have obeyed the injunction of the wisest of men. Nor is there any likelihood that such impressions shall ever be effaced, or that such habits shall ever be destroyed.

I’ve not done everything right.  But that’s where the prayers come in: God is the perfect Father.  He can instill in each of my children what I never taught.  They’re in good hands.

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Who’s teaching here?

I went to a homeschool convention today.  First one I’ve just attended in years.  I’ve worked two separate conventions every year I’ve been here, usually as a vendor, but also as a volunteer, helping vendors set up and tear down their booths.  This year, because I hadn’t even bothered to volunteer, I actually had to pay to get in.  Jes’ like reg’lar folks.  I felt so out of place.  And while I knew the contents of every table, every rack intimately, it was so wonderful to leisurely browse the booths to see if anybody had anything new.  Yes, here and there, but nothing on my agenda or within my limited budget.

But the main reason I went was to see Paul Hastings, the founder of JibeNow, a social networking site for Christian homeschoolers.  He’s a comfortable speaker, much younger than I expected, and full of information.  I thought it would be good to find out what I’m supposed to be doing.

I’ll need to listen to the tape for that.  I only made it to his beginning blogging speech, and the best part of that, for me, was what I saw surrounding it.  I came into the room a few minutes early, and found my 17-year old son assisting the sound crew with running specialized cables for Paul’s presentation.  He helped bring a podium out of the back storage room and assisted with the computer set-up.  Then he found a seat on the center aisle, within spitting distance of the speaker.  I was back in the far left corner.  How things have changed since I was in high school!!  It used to be moms in front and teens as far to the dark recesses as possible.  But here I was looking at the back of my son’s head.  I wonder if this alone is indicative of the difference between public and homeschooling.

But the shock wasn’t over.  The seminar began and Mr. Hastings referred on occasion to his sister and a teen from a prominent local family who were in the audience.  Then, as way of illustrating “network presence”, he motioned to my son and said that if you google your own name, say, “Jon Elving”,   you should come up with several hits of your own work along with others of the same name.   I knew that my son had some great connections in a forward moving group, but he has face recognition among the movers and shakers of his generation!  I found out recently that someone he corresponds with regularly is one of the Harris boys (look up “Rebelution” and you’ll meet his older brothers).  They don’t even live in our state.  And he is just one of the group; they are all high caliber kids.

I realized as I pondered where my son is in life that God moves in completely unpredictable ways.  I have struggled for years with misgivings, not about whether homeschooling works, but if I am up to the task.  While I still don’t think I am – I see grave failures – I also see successes.  But I serve a great God, who has facilitated it all.   God has provided opportunities in areas where I was lacking to maximize what we have for good.  Our rural community relies on volunteers for its fire protection.  Jon became their first cadet when he just plunged into an engine repair a couple years ago and proved himself competent.  His propensity for collecting tools meant that he always had the appropriate implement for any job at any time and earned him the nickname, “Go-Go Gadget”.  He was sent to EMT school earlier this year, and when he passed, began getting offered other classes to further his education in exchange for running calls.

But now I know that he has more than I ever dreamed of: he has amassed a social network of future businessmen and women who are on the fast track to success.  This is something I never could have provided, and did not foresee when he first assembled all the extra computer components in his closet and got it running.  I didn’t authorize the internet connection when he patched it through the attic off my home computer, but it sure was a godsend when the home computer completely crashed and he was able to retrieve all of our information from his lair.  Now I realize that he has used those spare parts and his extra time wisely to learn computer skills and then explore the Web to find the information he needs to learn more.

Every time I’ve doubted that God is real, he shows Himself in ways I never would’ve expected.  This is just the latest in a long string of successes when I’ve thought I failed.  I’m realizing that my trust in God’s provision is the most important thing I’ve ever had present in our classroom.  I am most proud of my literary accomplishments, but I cannot teach English to save my life.   A church friend sent an invititation to join the newly created  JibeNow and my son has started his own blog as well as developing a network of “pen pals”.   I have never considered myself more than marginally competent in science or computers, but he has excelled in both with only the everyday happenings of our home to teach him.

And like most things, the everyday is where the still small voice of God is heard.  All it took was listening and learning alongside  him to enable him to get where he needed to go.  I don’t like to teach and Jon doesn’t enjoy being taught – but both of us love to learn.  I’ve found that both of us listening to the Master is the surest way to a solid education.  All the rest is purely academic.