Am I a homeschool burnout?

Now that we’ve officially wrapped up this year’s schooling, complete with evaluation, portfolio, and the turning in of paperwork, I can admit something as I look toward our final year of homeschooling: I’m more than done.

Am I tired of homeschooling? Maybe. This year has been one of the “struggle” years, as we dealt with our daughter’s depression and anxiety, lack of motivation due to the aforementioned issues, and the scramble to catch up and finish well despite it all. There have been other struggle years, and I’m pretty sure that’s not unique to our household.

Am I sorry we chose this route? No way. When I look back at the worst times of our homeschool years, I know without a doubt that they would have been much, much worse if we’d had the kids in traditional government school.

Homeschooling three children to graduation (the youngest will graduate in 2018) has been one of the most rewarding choices my husband and I ever made. It’s also not been the easiest of choices and is not for the lazy, but I would never say I regret it. Our household has been richer for it, as far as the relationships we have with each other. Our “kids” (seventeen, twenty-one, and twenty-three) have diverse tastes, ever-expanding interests, and great friends. Best of all, they know who they are because they’ve not been forced to change themselves based on what their school peers have deemed popular or not.

If I’m tired of anything, it’s the paperwork. Even though Pennsylvania finally changed part of their homeschool law so I only have to turn in my evaluator’s okay at the end of the school year, it’s still the state with the second-most stringent set of homeschool laws in the US. I still have to put together a portfolio for the evaluator to look through so we can prove we’ve done the work required by law. And I still have to write up yearly objectives that I may or may not follow, depending on how the school year progresses—even though there’s no way for the school district to check up on me to see if I followed those objectives, or to make me list where I may have deviated from the plan.

It’s needless paperwork for every homeschooler, and it bugs me. I realized as I worked on next year’s objectives for our daughter that these would be the last set of objectives I would have to write, and I almost poured myself a glass of wine to celebrate.

The real celebration, though, will be next year at this time, when I reflect on a total of twenty years of homeschool life.

Victory, satisfaction, and a wee bit of relief.

 

 

Why do you seek the living among the dead?

I try not to be a person who makes sweeping statements or who makes everything into a drama, but I can say—with absolutely no exaggeration whatsoever—that 2017 so far has, in a word, sucked. Let’s even use two words and say REALLY sucked.

The year is young, only one quarter complete, so I’m hoping with everything in me that the trend will reverse itself. And by the very nature of grief, it must. Yes, it could get worse, but I’m going with the law of averages here and assuming things will ease as the months go by, and my heart will once again soar on a regular basis.

I haven’t posted anything on this blog for so long that it almost feels like starting completely from scratch. The past couple years were a whirlwind of activity and life changes that took everything in me to keep afloat, and every time I started to draft a post, I would find it irrelevant by the time I got back to it, months later. This blog has always been my “dear diary” of sorts, the most personal version of myself, and many of the things I began to draft were not the type of thing that could even be posted, because sharing what I was struggling with would have only hurt others . . . not that any of them read this, but I would rather err on the side of grace when I can (great advice given to me by a friend and coworker).

Last year was especially hard on many fronts, so I was looking forward to that magical fresh start that always comes with the turn of the calendar page to January 1. To be fair, January actually wasn’t so bad. It was full of determination, introspective moments, busyness, silliness, promise, and a few surprises. I had some new experiences opening up for me for work (both jobs) and for personal growth.

But then in February, I lost a close friend. Not due to a death, though it’s just as permanent. One day things were fine, and the next, the friendship was ripped from me with no recourse on my part. I spent most of the next month reeling, denying that this was my new reality and trying to make sense of it in my mind. It still seems unreal in many ways. The sadness of not getting my birthday phone call or texts that start with “I have this great idea . . .” out of the blue only cemented the oh-my-goodness-this-nightmare-is-real feeling.

All the while, life had to go on. I still had to work. I still had to love and take care of my family. I still had to get up each day and function because there was only one person, my bestie, I could talk with to try and sort it out, so the hurt had to be kept a secret. Talking about it hurt too much, and holding it in hurt no less.

I tried writing out my thoughts and it only made me cry more. And then it made me angry. And then cry again. Angry. Crying. Angry. Crying. What an awful cycle. Toss in a lot of bewilderment and disbelief, and self-medicating was starting to sound really good, though I didn’t go that route. I wondered if my former friend was hurting as I was hurting—as I still am hurting—or if it was a simple thing to dispose of that part of life, to dismiss it with an “oh, well.” In my worst moments, I wondered if the friendship was only on my end, and that our rapport was not what I thought it had been.

But the single phrase that keeps going through my head (and has been for weeks, in fact) is this: Why do you seek the living among the dead? Straight out of the Bible, that one. Luke, chapter 24. In that passage, angels at the empty tomb are speaking to the women who have come to tend to Jesus’ now-absent body. He’s not there, and the angels even tell them, “He is risen, just as he said.” I was struck by the thought once again as Easter approached.

Why do I seek where there is only empty space? Why do I seek joy where there is only disappointment? Why can’t I turn away from what is irrevocably gone and look toward the good things? There is plenty of joy around me, and I bask in it. And yet . . . why do I seek the living among the dead? Looking harder only reinforces that there is nothing to be found, and creates more of a downward spiral.

In my case, I am still struggling with the “dead” part of it. I am looking for a friendship that is no longer a living, vibrant, fun and active part of my life. I am looking for what once was, because I simply cannot believe it no longer is.

There is life all around me, and though I am enjoying it in a compartmentalized sort of way, the times when I’m tired or alone with my thoughts are still a huge battle. I sincerely appreciate the good things—and there are many, thanks to a spectacular husband, great kids, a bestie who knows all of it from start to finish and still listens to me, and wonderful coworkers—and yet I still feel the empty space. I replay conversations. I remember good times. And I get angry at myself that the good things don’t always feel like enough, because they are. In fact, they’re more than enough if I allow them to be. In fact, I have to allow them to be, because I have no choice; this is my new reality.

But I think it’s kind of like when you lose a child . . . something I’ve had experience with. There are the other children, and they are a great comfort, but it doesn’t negate that there is grief to be processed and someone is still gone. Those who remain are no less essential, but they don’t fill in the space and replace that which was lost. They can’t. Each space, each person, each relationship, forms a specific shape in a person’s life, much like a puzzle piece.

To lose a friend is no small thing. Not if that friendship was real. That puzzle piece is as unique as God created them to be. And only God can fill the empty spaces where no other piece fits. He has allowed me to be broken in many ways over the past few years, and this is now one more addition to the list. Have I mentioned that I hate being broken? It hurts like nothing else, at times a physical ache that rivals the heart-hurt.

The good news is that God’s pretty decent at brokenness. He’s waiting for me to give it over to him—fully—and believe me, I’m trying because I need to move on and stop looking behind me. I’m trying. I really am. I’m tired of feeling broken and I’m tired of not being myself anymore.

But Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells me this: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.”

In other words, he has given me a longing which nothing else can satisfy, except God. I can’t grasp his plan. I don’t need to. Because he knows me and is waiting for me to hand over what is dead so he can point the way to what is living.

That holiday feeling

We’ve got that holiday feeling

That happy holiday feeling

Our favorite holiday of the year

When I was a kid, I used to love listening to my parents’ Christmas albums. My dad loved Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, and to this day, I still think Herb’s “Christmas Album” is one of the best ever.

I have a thing for the old Christmas songs. Once again, I’m going to reference a post by Elle Todd in which she talks about current artists butchering her Christmas favorites. (Honest—I do come up with my own ideas, but she sneaks into my brain and steals them somehow…I’ll look into it for a future post. But you’ll probably read about it on her blog first, of course. Rats.)

Back to the point—or points, really, since I have a few things I want to say about this whole Christmas thing.

The songs I like most are either old or sound old. It’s that old-style vocal quality that makes me fond of the sound of Harry Connick, Jr., or Michael Bublé (Mister Bubble, as we call him around our house, since nobody appreciates him but me). If I’m listening to “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” it needs to be Andy Williams. “Santa Baby” must be done by Eartha Kitt…and I have no idea why anyone would listen to the other truly awful versions available, although Mister Bubble’s version of “Santa Buddy” is a pretty good alternative. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is best done by Al Hirt and Ann Margret. The list goes on.

Because my dad was also a huge Barbra Streisand fan, we had every one of her albums, including her Christmas one. As a child, I loved to sing along with it, using the never-lit candlestick in our dining room as my microphone. Picture an eight year old who thinks she has Barbra’s pipes, belting Christmas songs at the top of her lungs when no one else is home. I laugh at the memory of it now, but was deadly serious about sounding like Babs at the time.

As an adult, though, I began to wonder why a Jewish person would have recorded a Christmas album. Isn’t Jesus, after all, the big stumbling block between Christians and Jews? Why would someone who doesn’t believe in Jesus as the Messiah sing songs like “Silent Night” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem”?

The only answer I could come up with involved money. Barbra knew enough—or had an agent who knew enough—to capitalize on the commercialization of Christmas, even back then.

I’m not sure if it’s because things are truly getting worse, or if it’s because I’m getting less tolerant of it, but I’ve noticed more of a frantic feel to the holidays over the past few years. Sales start earlier and earlier (as I mentioned in my Black Friday post), causing us to feel as if we’re already behind before we’ve even begun. Thoughtful gifts have been pushed aside by the idea that “thoughtful” is not enough: “big” is what’s required to impress people (if you don’t believe me, listen to the Valentine’s Day ads a couple months from now as they tell men their single heartfelt flower is pathetically cheap, and “only” a dozen roses is too cliché). Time for relaxation and reflection is trampled on by the constant stream of parties which, of course, can only be thrown in during this time of year when people are already pressed for time.

I want to enjoy my Christmas. I don’t want to be so burnt-out on the whole package that Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are just one more harried obligation. I remember an incident a few years ago when, upon arriving at my in-laws’ house for Christmas Eve, I placed our tray of homemade cookies and candies on the table. One of my sisters-in-law glanced at them and said, “They look delicious, but oh my gosh, I am so sick of cookies and junk after all the parties we’ve been to all month.”

Needless to say, I was pretty bummed to hear my efforts were wasted on at least one family member. I knew it wasn’t a personal insult to me (and my always-kind sister-in-law would probably have felt bad, had she known how her innocent comment had made me feel), but the whole experience made me sad that all the preliminaries of the Christmas “season” have worn us down so much that we can’t see the holiday for the fun day or two that it brings. I’m not advocating a boycott on parties and cookies until Christmas Eve morning or anything, but I suppose I’m just calling for a bit of discretion and restraint in what is deemed “necessary” for holiday cheer.

The “happy holiday feeling” Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme sang about so cheerfully (and cheesily, but I love it anyway) seems to have been replaced by…something else. For some, it’s depression; for others, it’s irritation (like me, fighting my way through holiday shoppers because I need groceries); still others feel anger at the political correctness and shout, “Don’t you DARE say ‘Happy Holidays’ to me, you heathen!” at befuddled cashiers. I’ll bet those same people just loved the Holiday Wintertainment Parade in “Jingle All the Way,” with dancing menorahs hand-in-hand with Santas and snow queens.

It’s hard to fight the urge to have “enough” gifts bought, rather than thoughtful gifts which fit the recipient’s personality. I’d rather have one gift that let me know it was me the giver was thinking about while shopping than a pile of things that were “on sale, so I got one for everybody.” Yes, I’ve had that happen on multiple occasions.

I have a friend who calls herself a terrible gift-giver because she can never think of gifts on-demand when a birthday or holiday comes along. However, the reality is that she’s an incredible gift-giver because she doesn’t give according to what the calendar says. If she sees something she knows a friend will enjoy, she buys it and gives it. Right then. No waiting. She’s given me some terrific gifts over the years based on things I’ve mentioned in passing, like buying me a sewing machine when she knew mine was beginning to act unpredictably; or a bunch of really cool kitchen items she noticed me oohing and ahhing over in a Pampered Chef catalog; or a check, tucked into a passport wallet, to help cover my costs on a short-term missions trip. She’s not rich, but she pays attention to people around her and acts with generosity.

Another friend, an author I work with, recently sent me a coffee mug that was perfect for my editor’s sense of OCD correctness. That mug was me, through and through, and she knew it when she found it. I smile whenever I use it, and not just because it’s filled with coffee.

This year, once again, I’m going to cut back a little more on the buying and focus a little more on the giving. Christmas, for me, celebrates the birth of my Savior, so it’s obvious to me where my personal focus should lie. To others who don’t believe as I do, though, I still believe the “holiday feeling” should be about giving and helping, rather than spending and taking.

Try it. You never know: you might like it.