Our morning school routine involves moving through a series of about eight to ten different skills and subjects over a three-hour period. If my (distractable) students could execute the (simple) thing in front of them and then refer back to the (conveniently) printed list to see what was next, the morning would be quick and painless.
But that's not what they do.
They do everything but that.
They take their history books to the couch to read and start scuffling over a coveted seat and that turns into a full-blown wrestling match and when the top dog finally claims his seat victoriously, they've wasted ten of their allotted twenty minutes.
They go to different rooms for quiet speech practice and discover that - happy gasp! - there's LEGO in this room and what is LEGO in front of me for except to be built? The recitation is abandoned by the door.
They are supposed to be working their math problems on a whiteboard and they are turning their 8s into butt cheeks on stick figures...and then drawing speech bubbles for them...and then making dialogue recommendations to each other.
And meanwhile, I'm standing there, sounding like a broken record, "Guys, did you finish? Guys, is it time for that right now? Guys, what are you supposed to be doing?"
Some days are better than other, but today, I felt like I spent all morning herding cats. When one of the boys took a full eight minutes to get through reading two words (because the toddler wanted his attention), I had had it. I was done with the nagging, pleading, cajoling, threatening. I just wanted them to take responsibility for their own education! Is that really so much to ask?!
So, I exploded all over them. "Where's your list? Over on the wall? That's right! You know exactly where it is! It is YOUR job to get that stuff done! You think I like chasing everybody around the house saying, 'Time for this, time for that...Did you do this, did you do that?...Finish this! Finish that!'?" I pointed to my crazed eyes and frizzed hair. "Do you really want a mom that looks like this?"
"We're sorry," they murmurred, eyes downcast.
But I was too far gone to defused with a simple sorry. "Sorry? I don't need sorry! I need you to grow up and take some responsibility for yourself. I can't tie you to a chair and open your brain and pour in the education. This is YOUR job, not MY job..."
"We know..." their voices were quiet and they were fiddling with their pencils and I knew I should just shut up and move forward but you know that feeling? The one where you're falling and you just can't stop yourself no matter how much you want to?
"If you know then why don't you just do it? Why do you make me chase you all around the house..." I put my hands to my head and closed my eyes and ranted and raved.
And then I felt arms around my waist.
I stiffened. No, there will be no ingratiating of yourselves to me this time. You can't win my magnanimity with a little squeeze and grin.
Competing sides warred in my head. You could at least soften your tone a little. "When you guys push me this far, it is really hard for me to come back around."
"I know," his voice was muffled against my clothes and the grip around my waist didn't waver.
Come back to love. Come on.
It's so frustrating, though! I won't be treated this way!
I put my arms around him hesitantly. "Don't make me do both my job and your job, guys."
He kept holding. Firmly. Quietly. His head tucked down against my ribs. Completely still.
I don't know if I can. It's too hard.
I want to. Keep holding. "I'm really trying to come back to you..."
And he kept holding. It must've been close to two minutes. I put my mouth close to his ear. "You're brave. It's brave to try to hug an angry porcupine."
I fear angry people. When I see the smoke starting to come out someone's ears, I slink off into the shadows. I run for cover. My son didn't do that. He saw the ranting and raving and he ducked under the waving arms and embraced angry me.
He kept holding and I buried my nose in his hair and breathed him in. "Your strength right now is charging up my strength. Thank you." My return hug was genuine now - a physical expression of the gratitude I felt for him, of the awe I had for his maturity in handling a emotionally overwrought female who happened to be him mom.
"I'm so proud of you," I told him as he straightened up and returned to his current assignment.
Another son put his hand soothingly on my arm and set his notebook in front of me, opening to the page where he had written, "Deep breathe, Mommy" as I was fuming.
These are my boys who often don't pay attention when I'm dictating the next sentence to them...who talk over me to each other while I'm trying to explain how to simplify fractions...who never miss a chance to let a nature walk to devolve into a wrestling match...
...who have watched attentively as Papa soothes Mommy in her most stressful moments...who have cultivated empathy for other human beings and have practiced accommodating the needs that arise...who are pleasant to go through life with.
Last weekend, I got a much needed boost when I attended a large-scale homeschool convention. A big highlight was sitting in the crowd and looking up at Sarah MacKenzie, who has provided me with plenty of inspiration in the past few years. During her talk, she made a point that resonated deeply with me: a person's deepest desire is to find someone to share life with and then to share a beautiful life together. Careers will peak and then fade, hobbies will come and go. What everyone wants on their tombstone, in their eulogy, is to know that they meant something to someone.
And that's the most important aspect of educating our children: to optimize their future capacity of meaning-something-to-someone, to give them every tool possible to become people that are wired for successful, meaningful relationships.
It's such an un-quantifyable goal. But there are benchmarks; there are moments when we get a glimpse of the priceless skills and capabilities that our kids are developing.
And that courageous, calming hug from an eleven-year-old boy was one of them.