Dear 5-year-old Marin,
My girl – my really, really kid girl – you still light up my life. When I find myself laxadaisically thinking of you, I find a smile on my face. When I find myself debating an evening plan, I think about how that will affect your bedtime or next day. When I consider options ahead, I tend to immediately grapple with what that will mean for you and Isaac. So many choices now come down to how they will affect you and what they will mean for me in my mothering.
With that in mind, I am sad that this year, is another year, that you do not have another sibling. You’ve asked me to specifically produce a sister for you, and well, there has been no sister (or brother for that matter). On the positive side, we did get a girl cat, our darling, wonderful Nala Belle. I like to think she is holding that spot in our hearts with furry cuddles until there’s a baby for you to coo and aah over. You sigh in disappointment every time you find out I’m on my period and have begun asking questions. Questions that surprise me less and less as I realize you are being raised in a household that talks about birth like it’s the morning news. Questions like: Do you want to have a baby at home or the hospital? I don’t know Marin, what do you think I should do? I think you should have your baby at the hospital. Why should I do that? Well, they have tools. Oh…ya…what tools? Water…Marin, we have water. A bed….Marin, we have a bed. Medicine! Well, fair. I do not have as much medicine at home. Does it hurt your popo to give birth? Do you still have your period when you give birth? All on a wintry trip home from Costco…
But, I love this phase with you. I have yearned for this phase and I approach these conversations with a solemn interest. These are the days that I have looked forward to for all of my life. And they have seemed more precious to me in the years where I wonder if I’ve held my last baby. In this, I have newfound peace. I confidently say I have two children – not *just* two kids. Two children is not less than – it is what has been entrusted to me by God to raise. I hold that number as dearly precious, not as a benchmark to be built upon or a calling unfulfilled. I have embraced the demands of young children and lost the desire to escape them. I have aimed for more focus to soak you in and hoped for more hours in a day to spend together. And in this, in this chasm of joy I’ve peered into, I still fail often.
I find my susceptibility to distraction as a consistent stumbling block. I don’t like having a phone nearby, or jumping up to respond to it when I hear it ‘ping!’ and am on-call. It could be a client I tell you (truthfully), but then, I’m opening up an email and trying to shove it back into my bag to refocus on a game of Uno together. You call me out – you are vocal and your emotions are always hanging on your sleeves – or face. From your smirk, to your eye-spoken words, to your bound-to-stick-out tongue – you’re not one for a Poker face.
But this reality, this is my everyday battle – how can I be a good Mom to you and balance my other responsibilities? Let’s not even add seeing friends or calling family to the never-ending-pile-of-laundry equation. Or that you have a younger brother who’s simultaneously chasing our new addition under the bed. Or homeschooling. Oh ya, we’ve started calling our days ‘homeschooling’, but truthfully, I don’t really know if it’s fair to call it that (though, we are technically in Year 0). Our mornings are now filled with book readings before venturing outdoors. Our afternoons are spent more often close to home and our days have felt less rushed for outside opportunities. We’ve started a co-op, Courageous Explorers that meets on Mondays and has Discovery Days on Thursday. We made it a priority to go to Farm class on Wednesdays and enjoy our bi-weekly Fridays with the Truth Beauty Goodness community. I feel like I’ve been baptized in a Charlotte Mason approach to education – an impossible feat to me this time last year that’s left me happier than I could have ever imagined.
Last year, the Kindergarten journey got real (I’m sure I touched on it in last year’s letter). I approached that decision with a heavy heart – tormented by the polarity of choosing or not choosing public school. If we didn’t put you in public school, then I was deemed disappointed, or hateful, or ungrateful. I didn’t have a teaching degree. I didn’t have a clue what I was getting myself into – I had no plan. The idea of teaching you to read sounded terrifying. I just wanted to escape and go backwards – I wanted to have baby Marin back in a despairing, grief-filled way. Those redundant baby-carrying trips to the park, I missed their simplicity. I missed when my parental decision making was wrapped up in nursing you to sleep with hiccups or not. Oh, how silly my early Mom year worries seemed now; oh, how I hope these do one day too…
So we dabbled. As a gambler at heart, we played a little roulette with you. A calculated risk on your education. We thought, let’s dip our toes in public preschool. Our families paid your way, it felt rude to dismiss the offer and not accept the opportunity of proven educators. I felt like I needed a sounding board, a place to test the waters, a professional to talk to and make sure you were doing well. I loved your teachers and I loved the program (truly), but this wasn’t their fault – Marin, I watched you fall out of love with learning in a traditional school. I watched my typically calm, reasonable child flip out at a Kindergarten assessment after years of looking longingly at kids at the bus stop with excitement for your own pending drop-off. I watched in amazement as a room full of parents’ questions were dismissed about their child’s next year. And I got invited into a Charlotte Mason book study through one random email in a secular homeschool group.
(Actually, I couldn’t make it to the group’s first meeting and Mrs. Shelley offered to come over to meet instead. She has since wrote me that after that initial in-person conversation, she didn’t think I’d ever do Charlotte Mason, but she has since changed her mind.)
I found community after I thought it was all moving away. Truly, God’s provision was shown through this 6th year. All the intricate, intimate ways God knew my heart (and yours) became exposed through this journey together- I never could have done this alone. We couldn’t. You would have been miserable to do it alone too.
So with the first day of Kindergarten feeling irresponsible and like I was teaching you how to play educational hooky, I solidified that my love for public school didn’t rest on putting you in it. I hated being misunderstood – this decision was not based on fear, but sobriety. I decided that the most adorable crafts and the most well-organized centers weren’t worth it. I decided you could and should learn to read later. We prioritized things that seemed pointless to most in our current (especially local) society – day hikes, playing hide-and-seek, discussing the parts of a milkweed plant, and rest (to name a few). I felt like I had tapped out of a long internal battle, Peanut; I looked at the system and sprinted the opposite way.
Now, I realize this can all sound selfish, prideful, or foolish, like I was holding you back for personal pleasure or out of disliking the public schools. But let me tell you something – you flourished. And I don’t tell you this because I feel like I have to prove that or redefine it for every family, but because when you have a 5-year-old child, I don’t want you to do what we did because it worked for our immediate family today. I want you to look at your 5-year-old child and know him/her intimately enough to know what works for them and your immediate family. I want you to know that if this ever doesn’t work for you, my commitment isn’t to Charlotte Mason education, it’s to you and our family.
And that’s what’s been so beautiful about this year for me. For us. It’s been filled with observation and faith. It’s gained more family time. It’s been filled with the best of your days, everyday. It’s been filled with perspective that I do not wish these days go any faster than they need to and quieted the noise to go faster. It’s been filled with book reading and camping trips. It’s been filled with redemption and healing. It’s been filled with playing endless rounds of Crazy 8’s, Slap Jack, Old Maid, Uno, and Monopoly. It’s taken inventory of every decision as important and nothing for granted. It’s catapulted intentionality behind relationships that aren’t provided in proximity. It’s taken us to joining Girl Scouts (something that I would say is your absolute favorite thing to do) and Highs and Lows at the dinner table. It’s made Family Night and Family Breakfast sacred tradition in our home. It’s said that there is something distinctly important for children found in their parents alone – a heavy statement to marinate and ponder. And because that is so, it’s made the reality of parenthood more complex and simple simultaneously.
I have felt the stress and the joy that this all entails, and I find my heart yearning for more hours in a day with you. More energy when Isaac is napping and you’re not. More preparation for the morning ahead. More unscheduled nights to tuck you into bed. More ‘yes’ and less ‘no’ – and not the kind that makes the world revolve around you, but that says ‘yes, you! I see you, more than my email or my Instagram. I delight in you!’. Not out of guilt, but out of deep desire. With secondary infertility, the ‘gap’ in my childbearing has been filled with more of myself for my current children – a space that I wrestled to fill professionally or despise altogether.
But like many of our deepest pains, there is a silver lining – there always is with God. So in that hopelessness, I’m so glad I haven’t been too distracted (for the most part) to miss these most important moments and years with you. That I have a different, more profound sense of purpose stemming from for-now barren seeds that give me more sleep and space on my lap. I’m a better mother for homeschooling you and for learning how to love you better as a homeschooling Mom.
For years, I, like many, could only count the loss of keeping you at home- for my time, for my career, for my quilt-making. (Those quilts are currently sitting across from me as I type. Staring back as if to say ‘one day’). I thought you’d look at the school bus each morning with gloom and longing. I thought I’d be keeping you back. But I’ve plunged into the deep of that decision with calculated steps and heart checks, and I have found it as gain for this house. And I have loved it all – even when it comes to teaching you your letters.
I love you, always and forever,