Being a mother is a balancing act. It is of utmost importance to me to retain and develop my own sense of self, but at the same time to be deftly in tune to the individual hearts of my children while also allowing them the freedom to develop apart from me. I get little indicators here and there as to whether or not I might be pulling this off to some degree, like today when after showing Anne how to use the database at the library last week, she returned to me with a stack of ballet books then retrieved even more from the hold shelf. There was another indicator a few Saturdays ago when a group of Nashville Ballet Academy parents disclosed that they too homeschool their children. (Oh good, we aren’t alone in allowing our children the gift of time to follow their passions.)
Frankly, I got sick of it all last year, as I have time and time before. Going to school is so important. My children need friends, teachers, experiences, and a life away from home. They need a place to practice the skills I teach them without me being constantly by their side. Also, I’m just like the next lady. I like to go to Target by myself, visit cool coffee shops, and peruse the overflowing shelves of tiny used book stores. I need time to be a woman apart from being a mother just as my children need time to be a person apart from being my child. Though upon further examination, it’s all really the same. Isn’t it?
I will never know if I am doing anything completely right. There are literally thousands upon thousands of ways we could live our lives. Any small decision can impact the next and set us off in a completely different direction whence we started. To be quite frank, I never expected the education of my children to develop and change so rapidly throughout our oldest daughter’s elementary education years. It’s crazy, really. I often ask myself that. “Am I crazy?” I mean really, I look at this whole thing completely differently than most, but very similar to some. The last of that lot have become my anchor and some of my closest friends. Still, it’s a hard notion to grasp that different is okay when I am really talented at second guessing myself.
I have learned something quite profound recently, and it is that when it comes down to it, I don’t care much really about a lot of things I once did. I care very much about some things, but the rest is just hogwash. What matters the most is what is here in our home, what our children experience and learn, and what they take away from it. It matters how they feel. It matters who I am as a woman, as their mother and a wife and a friend and an individual. It matters that I give myself every opportunity to grow, while also placing before my children the many enriching experiences they will need to learn to live a good life–sucking the very marrow of it–instead of merely obtaining a life.
Forever I will be grateful for the one thing I wished to change all throughout my childhood, and that would be the family I was born into. My father was hands-off, but his heart was right. He made a lot of bad parenting decisions, but they all stemmed from his fear of messing up. Ironically, his fear led to his demise as a father. He took his fear out on us, then abandon our need for his affection. My mother worked incessantly, never giving much thought to who we were or what we needed. I spent many of my years wondering if what I had to offer was valid. I wrote stories–many, many stories. I threw them all away. I had no one to read them and appreciate them. I learned to never be quite sure. I come from art and loudness and personality and humor. I come from being awaked at 2 am in the morning by a mother frantically searching for a stapler or scissors to complete her book work. (Now I find myself telling her employees that what seems like crazy behavior to them is just normal really.) My father would snore in the next room, suddenly waking up to yell, “SHUT THE HELL UP, MARTHA!” I would go to school very tired and disengaged the next day.
I learned early on that there had to be more to life than country clubs, staplers, and food on the table. So I thought a lot about things; I was a quiet person. I thought a lot about who I wanted to be when I grew up: far away from home and without children. I didn’t even want to be married. How I ended up a suburban housewife with three girls is purely a work of God, more than likely the result of my grandparents’ praying heavily for us to all turn out okay. I guess those prayers inevitably saved the lives of my children; I am anchored to home more than I often wish to be. I am also clued into the fact that life and experience is extremely important, especially at a young age, because even then we are real people with passions and feelings and opinions. All we need is a gift of time to fully understand these things–to bring our passions and our gifts into fruition.
If I do anything well as a mother, I hope it is that I give my children time, love, a good education, and opportunities. The form in which they receive those things will always be morphing into something new as they grow and change. My goal used to be to find the BEST school in which to educate my children; I would never settle for second best. It wasn’t just about sending them to take tests and obtain grades. I wanted them to live and to love to learn. Unfortunately, that seems to completely change for my children once they walk into a school building. Why? I’m not sure. Perhaps I gave them too many experiences before they got there. After all, it is quite hard to play in creeks, read fine literature, go to museums, take scenic bike rides, go to interesting places, and meet interesting people then have all of that suddenly come to a halt at the age of 5. Of course, my children couldn’t articulate that at the time, but maybe that is the simple explanation for why I have one that couldn’t sit still in her seat and another who dreamily looked out of the window because she found her learning environment to be constrictive.
So for now, I give my children the gift of time with which to love learning, to have enriching experiences, and to follow their passions. We give them opportunity. What I have learned as a parent thus far is that I am responsible for putting opportunity in front of them, but what they chose do with it is ultimately up to them. In the meantime, I will be drinking a cup of coffee and reading my latest used Hemingway novel in peaceful silence while my little ballerina dances her heart out.