On Nelleke’s blog, Education is a Life, she mentioned that she seems to function best when she’s out of the house only twice a week — once for church and once for other things. Ever since I read that at the beginning of May, I’ve been wondering what my sweet spot is for outings. Since March, I’ve been running at 4-6 days out a week, including church, and it is more than I can take.
Every outing for us is at least two hours, because we spend at minimum 30 minutes traveling plus the activity time. And then there’s the get everyone ready and get everyone and everything out of the car… and all of a sudden each outing is at least 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Practically speaking, that’s a whole morning, a whole afternoon, or a whole evening.
If the activity is a half day, we’ll still do Morning Time and our schoolwork, but chores may or may not be done and play time, nap time, and leisure time are curtailed or eliminated. How we go about our schoolwork changes too. Instead of sitting at the table and writing in my commonplace while Gregory and Nathan do their copy work and math, I’m folding laundry, starting dinner, or cleaning in the kitchen. Morning time is abbreviated, since time is short. We’ll still read the daily readings from Mass and pray together, but we might not sing, or we’ll skip a read aloud or something from our Morning Time loop (Shakespeare, Plutarch, Picture Study and Music Study). The Morning Time loop starts taking a week and a half to get through rather than a week. Memory work is reviewed in the car on the way, which means we’re treading water on the work rather than making headway.
If the activity is a full day, then we don’t do Morning Time at all. We’ll (hopefully) pray and do memory work in the car. We’ll listen to a wonderful audiobook together, but there’s no other school work, no play time, no leisure, and no completed chores. Naps might happen in the car, but the little ones will be grumpy and tired.
I used to feel like each day was its own compartment, that what happened on one day wouldn’t spill into the next box. After all, isn’t that what it looks like on the calendar? But what about those chores that didn’t happen because we were on a field trip? Or the stuff that got dumped in the entry because we got back late? Or the crabby little people who are over-tired and over-stimulated? Or the readings that should have happened earlier in the week but were postponed for another day? They all spill over and add pressure and mess to the next day… or even the next several days.
So even if I look at my calendar and see a half day out on Monday, a morning out on Tuesday, a half day out on Wednesday, a day home on Thursday, a full day out on Friday, and a day home on Saturday that doesn’t mean that we can really reap the full benefits of those three half days at home and two full days at home. We’re so activity lagged from the other days all we can do is try to slog through, tired and grumpy and trying to do six days worth of work in three and a half (non-consecutive) days.
At this point I have two options. There’s the have it all approach, where I can continue running at our current rate, and try to figure out how to somehow manage, organize, and improve the workings of my family’s life so that we can do this much and still have play time, leisure time, and completed chores. Perhaps there’s some mixture of grace and willpower and child (and adult!) training that will make us not short tempered and whiny when we’re worn out and over-stimulated. After all, there’s always room for improvement, right?
The other option seems practically impossible, but yet appealing in its simplicity. What if I limited our out of the house engagements to a certain number per week? I’d miss out on opportunities and good things, but we’re missing out on those at home too by running around so much.
I suspect the first option isn’t really so much an option as a pipe dream, which really only leaves the second. And the second option looks hard. Very hard. What is that level of a activity that our family can sustain at this point in our lives? How do I figure out which activities are the ones I should be doing, the ones that will lead us towards our goals… and which ones are merely good and fun but not much more? How do I balance the needs of older kids who want to start engaging more with our community and the younger ones who want to be at home, building forts or having regular naps? There’s lots of discernment needed there, which probably means that I’m on the right track. Why is it that the hard road seems to always be the right one?