This present joy

July 21st, 2017


Nearly every weekday morning so far this summer, Josie has attended her ESY (Extended School Year) class to keep her math and reading skills fresh.





In Pennsylvania, where we live, home educators are required by law to log 180 school days between July 1st of one year to June 30th of the next year.  I decided with three days’ notice to commence our 2017-18 academic year on Monday, July 3rd.  I had previously removed every possible item from our calendar for the summer to help us transition into life without Laura.  As a result, I’ve only had to leave the house a few times, and we’ve made a satisfyingly strong start to our new school year.

With our current family configuration and logistics, full-fledged intentional learning creates an unparalleled civilizing influence on our middle sons and is therefore my favored defense against otherwise inevitable chaos among the ranks.  A close runner-up is the performing of necessary household chores.  Since we have no communist leanings, all work is duly rewarded with highly desirable Mom Bucks.  Did I mention that these middle sons outnumber me by four, out-energy me by a sight more than that, and are in dire need of intensive civilization?    

I’m taking an unabashed childish delight in the fact that we already have 14 school days down.  Only 166 to go!  Maybe we really will be able to plant a vegetable garden and clean up the property next spring while the three girls are still in school?

Because each one of the four boys is now reading well at his level, we have re-instituted Fridays as Reading Days; the four are assigned an appropriate amount of individual reading in addition to my afternoon read-aloud.  This allows breathing room on Friday mornings for necessary appointments, phone calls, and other tasks.

We’ve collectively read over 60 books since the beginning of the month, counting the 6 books I’ve read aloud to them so far. James is the reading fiend who’s responsible for 36 of those, but the others’ lists are growing respectably.  Last year, in contrast, I managed to read 15 books aloud the entire 9 months of our school year.

One of our first 14 school days consisted of a field trip to Longwood Gardens with Dad.



Between breakfast and lunch, the children accomplish their chores and whatever arithmetic and grammar or logic they’ve been assigned.

These proceedings probably don’t resemble the picture that may have formed in your mind as you read that statement.

The scholars tend to congregate around me as I care for the four little children and keep the necessary household operations running smoothly.  My mornings often feel similar to slogging up a steep mountain during a mudslide.  I remind the boys (and myself) often that accomplishing schoolwork at our house is not going to be easy.  It’s going to be a challenge every moment because of all the obstacles that continually rise before us, so we’re going to have to fight over and over to get back on the path and not to allow the obstacles to make us give up.


Listening to Stephen classify his sentences out loud.  He’s doing several days’ worth of English grammar each day in order to catch up to his grade level.  Stephen is heavily dependent on me at this point in order to stay focused.



Yes, at the same time, I’m listening to Peter classify his sentences aloud.  He’s doing a whole week’s worth of English grammar each day in his ongoing attempt to catch up to his grade level.  He also needs my help often to keep moving along, but he’s now beginning to take his academics seriously, catching on to concepts faster, and making noticeable progress toward becoming an independent learner.



James is highly motivated, focused, and independent in his work.  Here he’s working on Saxon Math 6/5.  He and John Michael both finish their independent work sooner each morning than the other two guys, so they are able to earn some Mom Bucks by accomplishing helpful tasks like reading to the little ones or pushing them on the swings, folding laundry, making lunch, et cetera.



The mental discipline required to focus on math in the midst of four busy little people…and by the way, this little person has suddenly begun getting dressed completely independently without reminders every morning after breakfast.



Keeping an eye on these two.  They spend a lot of time together and are generally peaceable companions but do occasionally engage in minor spats.



Meanwhile, feeding Katie some thickened juice while 18-month-old Nathaniel climbs on and off my lap.  Developmentally, Katie is now the baby of the family.  Such a pretty girl.



Katie has been making noticeable progress toward bonding during the past several months; I could enumerate half a dozen examples of this.  One of them is that she’s jealous of Nathaniel and is miffed when he interrupts my interactions with her.  He’s completely unaware of her feelings about him and unreservedly showers affection on her.  “Ah-ah,” he says while hugging her, unconscious of her visibly unenthusiastic response, ha!



John Michael is a very smart kid, especially with math; as he’s grown older, we’ve noticed more and more that his brain is wired differently than ours are.  We’re in the process of having him evaluated by those with more experience, in order to maximize the help we’re giving him between now and his adulthood.  An introduction to formal logic is already proving to be a great choice to train and discipline his mental processing.



After lunch, the middle kids clean up the kitchen and gather a few activities while I lay a cranky Nathaniel down for a nap then review the alphabet letters and their sounds and play a few thinking games with the other littles before settling them down for a rest/quiet play time.

Then!  Oh, then…!

Thanks to my beloved BiblioPlan curriculum, organized, written and published by my good friend Julia Nalle and her husband Rob through blood, sweat and tears, I have come to adore the teaching of history to my five children.

They’re fond of it, too.  Overheard in the past few days…

“History is my favorite subject!”

“I like history best.”

“Hurray!  I love history!”

“I like to listen to Mom read out loud even if I’ve already read the books, because of all the other conversation.”

“Yeah.  We get at least twice as much out of it if Mom reads it than if we read it ourselves.”


The aforementioned middle sons and Josie.  From left, Stephen, 8 1/2, John Michael, 11 1/2, Peter, 10 1/2, Josie, 14, and James, 10 1/2.



In addition to the basics of history, on any given afternoon these five and I are discussing Bible, religion, philosophy, ethics, apologetics, science, language, culture, vocabulary, geography, government, civics, economics, and more.  I don’t let these kids off the hook; I ask them tough questions and expect them to come back with thoughtful and logical answers.

My cellphone is close by as we read and discuss, so we can look up quick facts like the classification system or where the dividing line is between Europe and Asia, listen to Google Translate pronounce unfamiliar names or words in other languages, compare maps, and even find obscure historical video footage or any number of related demonstrations on YouTube.  After each section, the children label maps related to our week’s history focus, work on their timelines, and answer quiz questions.

The mom I used to be would be focusing on everything we don’t accomplish in the course of each day.  The mom I am now marvels to witness nine young lives learning and growing here every day; how exhilarating that I get to help that happen in this sizable and complicated family.  Not long ago, I wondered whether I would ever again experience the emotion of happiness.  God has granted me the gift of this present joy.  I don’t take it for granted.






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10 Responses to “This present joy”

  1. Taryl says:

    I hear you on the joy of getting school days done! We go year round and it’s always so satisfying to hit September, know we slacked off a bit, and still somehow have forty or fifty days done. With all the medical appointments and such now it’s even more important.

    I completely agree on the civilizing effects of school and chores, too. Good stuff!

  2. Lauren S. says:

    Thank you for the link to “Mom Bucks!” It looks like such a useful tool. I will be working on integrating it into our chore system!

  3. Wonderful read!! I’m just finishing my youngest child and sending her off to college, but your descriptions bring back such good memories of days somewhat similar to yours. You are doing EXCELLENT work, and do not ever doubt it. The afternoon reading and conversations with those boys — they are learning and absorbing it, and it is being reinforced over and over. They are getting an excellent education. And I love your Mom Bucks idea! That is excellent, and it’s so good to see your boys active and doing things. I just want to encourage you to persevere and do not grow weary in this good work. It may not be a perfect education each day, or even each year, but it is definitely a good one. Well done!

  4. Susanna says:

    Dear MK, your words are a powerful encouragement to me; thank you.

  5. Emily says:

    I think I know approximately where you are from (I’m not a creepy stalker, I promise–I live fairly close to you!), and it’s probably kind of a hike, but if you ever get in the vicinity of State College, check out the Arboretum at PSU (your Longwood Gardens picture reminded me of it). I think it’s $5 to park, but free admission & it’s awesome for kids & adults!

  6. Sandi says:

    Thank you so much for articulating all of this. What an encouragement it is to me, because I’m facing a school year of juggling lots of energy (many boys), kids who are behind in some subjects, and littles in the mix too. Reading your wording and description of your days & emotions is an encouragement. Thanks.

  7. Susanna says:

    Thanks for the tip, Emily! Hope we get to meet one day!

  8. Cassandra says:

    I am trying not to be too jealous. Because my child is behind due to challenging learning issues, I never feel done. Like, “It’s Friday and I have the weekend off” kind of done that I felt when I was working outside of the home. I desperately miss that feeling of completion/accomplishment.

    But how much harder for my child who works throughout the summer. Not all day, mind you, but two hours. May not sound like much but for her it is the equivalent of a typical child’s full day of school.

    If I let her drop Math and Russian and some Language Arts over the summer, we’d need four months to get to where we left off in June.

    Just realizing I may need to set T. sized realistic goals and define done differently.
    I’ve done that before but always am left feeling like I will have failed her if I don’t do every last thing for her that I possibly can.

    Anybody else have a similar dynamic?

    I always knew I would love my children beyond my wildest dreams. And I do !! But, I didn’t realize that I would also feel their pain and their struggles and grief beyond my wildest imagination, either.

  9. Susanna says:

    Cassandra, when I have attempted to home school our children with special needs, I felt exactly the same way. I’ve also learned about myself that I’m not naturally great at having perspective about parenting children who need one on one direct engagement in order to make developmental progress rather than stimming or sitting and doing nothing. It simply is outside my capability to give one on one to all my children who need it every moment of every day in order to keep them gainfully occupied. I would need a fleet of household servants and tutors, and a few personal aides. Every moment that I or someone else wasn’t able to give Tommy direct one on one for all those endless hours he was restrained in his seat receiving his tube feedings, unless he was playing with water, he did nothing and looked bored, and it ate me alive. Every moment I or someone else isn’t able to give Katie direct one on one, she has a few go-to activities, nearly always sitting and shaking a toy or banging it against herself to make noise, playing the piano, or finding something that’s not a toy to try to get it to make noise, and I have been forced to learn to be resigned to this and be thankful for her good classroom situation. Every moment I or someone else isn’t able to give Verity direct one on one, she drifts off to her room, turns on her CD player, and either stands and dances (rocking back and forth from one foot to the other), rocks (which she knows she’s not allowed to do) or dangles a toy back and forth, and I have been forced to learn to be resigned to this, and again, be thankful for a good local special ed program. All that to say that learning perspective, learning to accept where my/our limits are, learning to accept the help that’s available to us, learning to be thankful for what we can accomplish rather than focusing on what we can’t, all this learning has been a painful but necessary process to this recovering perfectionist. I know some special needs moms who aren’t plagued by a constant sense of guilt and failure, but I believe most of us are somewhere in that learning process. Earlier this year, assessing the logistics that we’d face after Laura began working full time, I decided my first step should be to fire the supermom wannabe who used to live here. Said firing had practical implications as well as emotional ones, and all have been good. :)

  10. Cassandra says:

    Such a good post, Susanna. I can see that you really get the essence of what I’m talking about. It’s well said, “It ate me alive.” I’m getting thinner and I think that’s what’s going on – the guilt is eating me alive. I can easily accept my limits. But my limits limiting her ? That hurts. Just tonight she was on the computer too long and I let it be that way because my mom with dementia was demanding my time. Which is happening more and more and more. It feels like a Solomon’s choice – serve my mom well, or serve (this daughter) well? Balance is the solution, of course, but it’s not as neat and tidy as it sounds. Because both the child and my mother require large dedicated amounts of care and both of them want me as their first choice. Every time. Even as I type this I know it is a lie, but sometimes I wonder if it would be easier to accept my daughter’s limits if she were more limited. Because as it is, it feels like with all the stars lined up, and our entire devotion RIGHT NOW, she could live a independent, full life. So I end up feeling guilt for how I am failing her now and for her future. Even tho the reasonable part of me knows she is afforded nearly every advantage possible. But it still somehow never seems enough! Because there is always more I could do with her, to benefit her.

    Thanks for your post. I’m going to dwell on it and see what lies I may be believing that maybe I shouldn’t be. And then consider where I could do better. My typical children homeschooled and of course I didn’t realize it then, but they made me look so good. What a joke. It was all God. But it still felt good to have children that other people envied. I didn’t blame them for feeling that way as they were (are) the kind of child most people would love to call their own. (Good character, bright, kind heart, kind soul and physically attractive). Isn’t that an awful thing to admit? I only see that now in retrospect.

    I privately wonder if some people aren’t enjoying a little too much, our more challenged life with our more complicated child. But the same child can also bring us unspeakable joy with each victory, however large or small. Adoption is both less complicated and more complicated than one might imagine. The love is uncomplicated. The guilt is more complicated. You hate to fail a child that’s not starting with a level playing field. That said, You could convince me easily that I was pregnant with this child. She is so completely and fully our daughter, without reserve.

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