SummaryWith multiple cups of coffee and limitless spoonfuls of love, Heather Hibl manages her homeschooling kids with a mix of being firm, soft, and caffeinated.
Editors Note:Originally published July 16, 2013.
I drink coffee every day, two huge mugs the size of pineapples.
I drink it until my hands are shaking and my mouth tastes sour. It leads me, hot and swirling with cream, through the freshness of the morning and then, cold and separating, it takes me deep into the dregs of the afternoon, to around the time when I decide I had better figure out what it is I am going to feed my children for dinner.
I’m not a bad mother. I’m actually a very good one—an excellent one, in fact. That’s right, you heard me. I am an excellent mother. I’m just addicted to caffeine. It could be something worse. Sometimes I wish it was.
My Little Addiction
This is supposed to sustain me? This? This weak, little drug. This trembling little addiction is supposed to pull me through the insurmountable challenges of daily life? You think I’m exaggerating? I wish I was. But sadly, no. Insurmountable. Wait, is that what I said? Okay, maybe not exactly insurmountable. . . just. . . difficult, exhausting, impossible, time sapping, body image ruining. Alright, never mind, scratch that. Motherhood is actually an insurmountable task.
But here’s the thing. . .my baby Paula’s eyes are just so blue and sparkling that when I look at them, I forget that this mothering job is ridiculously overwhelming. Yes, yes. Soooooo cliché. I know.
Whenever I go upstairs to write, Paula always finds me. She climbs the stairs that lead directly to my bedroom. She stands, teetering for a moment at the top (she gives me a heart attack every single time she does this, even though she’s never fallen), and then she toddles her smiling, little, diapered body over to me. If it’s humid enough, her blond hair is perfectly curled. Perfectly. It is the first good reason I have ever had to thank God for miserably humid summer days. Talk about silver linings! Another cliché.
Anyway, Paula has a basket of toys that she knows is waiting for her at the end of my desk where she, unfailingly, plops on the floor, opens her favorite book, Curious George Gets a Medal, and looks eagerly for the “piggy page.” The piggy page of all things! Here is a book where this monkey does a myriad of exciting things: fills a house with bubbles and then floods it, spends a night in a museum with real, stuffed dinosaurs and finally, gets a medal for going on a mission to outer-space. And yet, Paula is obsessed by the page where some grimy, pink pigs escape from their pen. I’ve tried to read her other pages. I’ve insisted on reading her other pages, in fact. She hates them. I’ve pretended to ignore her when she hurries over to me, the book wide open to the dazzling piggy page. It doesn’t work. Eventually I say to her,
“Yes Paulie, look at that! Piggies! How exciting!”
See, I am a good mother. Told you.
Managing the Sanity
Now, you may argue that this Paula baby character is not enough of a challenge to necessitate a coffee addiction, nor does she justify my bleeding heart bemoaning the loss of youth and sanity. But here’s the thing: she draws on one-eighth of the mothering that is done by me. . . mom, mommy, mother, yes, that’s me: the finder of lost soccer shoes, the washer of endless laundry, the placer of band-aids, the cooker of eggs, the baker of pies, the just distributor of cookies, the clipper of dirty little nails, the brusher, the braider, the bather, the one who runs to pluck the button-down shirts hot from the dryer so they won’t need ironing, the beggar of the almost teenagers to PLEASE use deodorant and wash your hair!
All this I do with my mammoth mug in hand, coffee sloshing comfortingly back and forth as I whirl round the house managing it all. It’s a delicate balance, keeping my sanity. Being firm, being soft, being gentle, being kind, laughing when things are funny and frowning, with appropriate disapproval, when someone’s naughty and then laughing later on when nobody’s looking. Remembering. . . well trying to remember. . . to slip that tooth-fairy money under the designated pillow on time. Just once!
People, usually older ones, keep telling me this is the most precious time. And, hyped up on caffeine, I suspect they might just be right. Okay, so yes, homeschooling’s a drag. It’s tedious. It’s time consuming. It’s a frightening responsibility. It’s also a darn good job to have. And I have found that, with organization and a reasonable routine, it can actually be done well, efficiently and calmly. Imagine that!
Nothing Like Love
I sometimes wonder why it is so commonly presumed that a woman who can, simultaneously, grow a person inside her, balance a toddler on her hip, season the spaghetti with herbs from her garden, all while explaining to the three-year-old why exactly Twizzlers are in fact not a fruit, doesn’t have the skills to guide her children through the tangled maze of an education. I argue that such a mother is probably the most splendidly equipped of anyone to do so. Why?
Because she loves her children like nobody else does, she knows them best, and her multitasking skills are utterly breathtaking.
There’s nothing like passing through a room and seeing your own child snuggled into the couch reading a book when you’ve taught him how to read. Nothing like seeing good math scores that you taught her to earn. Nothing like discovering that your child is a good writer. Or loves science. Or draws the best pictures of a platypus that you have ever seen.
Now please, before you get all huffity and snark that I am painting too pretty a picture and writing illusory stuff to make you feel bad, listen. I didn’t say everything’s perfect. Remember, I’m looking at it all through coffee-colored glasses.
However, I suspect everything nearly is perfect. Provided we remember that life is life: messy, loud, smelly, smeared in peanut butter, wrapped in construction paper, all chalky and tangled and wild. Remember this and I believe we can move through the day without worriedly holding our breath.
At my house, we live hard, all ten of us. We play hard, we work hard, and at the end of the day, we put everything back. The school books, the toys, the weapons from the pirate battle, the snippets of paper from the puppet show, the sewing projects, the crayons, the clay, the clutter of life.
The floors get mopped, the clothes get folded, the dishes get stacked away, the mountain of shoes are returned to their shelves and most importantly of all, the coffee pot gets washed and snapped back into the coffee maker. Everyone has a job to do, everyone, and we all work together, at the same time, to get it done.
And when eight o’clock miraculously rolls around, then — thank God — it’s time. It’s time! Diapers are changed, jammies are hurried into, teeth are brushed and night prayers are said, slowly. I try so hard to guide them to pray slowly. I’m so tempted to rush through the little-kid night prayers as I am itching with nearly euphoric anticipation. I am almost free! I’m teetering on ecstasy.
“. . .and God bless everybody who’s sick, everybody who had a baby, everybody who’s dying. . .” prays five-year-old Mara.
“Ohhhhh!” says Drew. “Am I dying?” He’s three. He’s sitting on the floor of the girls’ room. His hands are folded but his thumb is in his mouth.
“Not for a long time, Drew,” I say. “Keep going, Mara.”
“God bless everybody who got hit by their brothers!” She throws Drew an angry look.
“God bless everybody who fell off their bikes,” adds seven-year-old Nate.
“God bless band-aids!” laughs Mara.
All right, shut it down! Shut it down! I start panicking. Pretty soon we’ll be praying for the birds of the air and the fish of the sea.
“Enough!” I can’t help myself. “Amen!”
“Hey! I was supposed to say amen!”
“Say it then.”
Kisses and hugs go around the beds, too many kisses and hugs, strangling hugs and smelly, wet kisses.
“Didn’t you brush your teeth Mara?”
“I did. I think I did.”
“You think? You can’t remember five minutes ago?”
“Well. . .”
“Oh my goodness! I don’t even care.” Did I say that out loud? “Goodnight Mara.”
“It’s okay, mommy.”
What does that even mean? I shrug.
“Goodnight Paula.” I move to the crib. I pull the quilt down from her chin. “It’s too hot!”
“Okay, fine, fine.” I raise my hands in the air. “Whatever you want.”
Her hair is curly as ever on the pillow as she starts sweating. She’s happily roasting. Should I take it away? Am I a bad mother? Oh please! I say to myself as I switch on the nightlight and then shuffle off to the boys’ room across the hall.
Drew’s already in bed, waiting for me with all his silkiest blankets tucked in around his head. More hugs. I make sure to kiss the dimple in his cheek, my favorite thing in the whole world. Mind you, I didn’t say he was my favorite child.
Don’t start accusing me of that guilty pleasure which, I suspect, every parent secretly harbors in the evil recesses of their exhaustedly beating hearts. Truthfully, the title of “favorite kid” jumps around to the child who is presently either the cutest or the best behaved. Maybe later on it will leap to the one who makes the most money. . .dare I suggest such a thing?
Move Over Coffee. Wine Time.
I try not to dance down the stairs. It’s too glorious! School is over, chores are over, the babies are chained to their beds. Kidding! Nate and Anna are happily playing battleship on the family-room floor. Neither one is winning. They haven’t a clue how to play it properly and I have no desire to instruct them.
I move on, dimming lights as I go. Joseph, Halina and Gretel are scattered around with bowls of well-earned ice cream balancing on their laps while they read. I remind them not to spill. They shrug me off like they knew it was coming. They’re ten, eleven and twelve. You’d think I’d know by now not to remind them. I mean, really, what are they going to do?
“Watch this! Wanna watch mom go insane?”
Anyway, I’d make them clean it up if they spilled on purpose. I’d make them lick it up. Off the floor. Off the carpet. Ewww. Okay, maybe not off the carpet. But never mind. They didn’t spill. They didn’t spill a drop because finicky moms make finicky kids and, really, I don’t have a problem with that. Anybody who does has a messy house.
I move into the kitchen. The dishwasher is gurgling away nicely. The counters are clean. The fruit is in the fridge so all the fruit flies are gone. The bananas are brown now, but the fruit flies are gone. You can’t win them all.
My husband smiles at me from the other side of the kitchen.
“Wine?” He asks as he eases the cork from the bottle.
Our glasses clink.
Another nice day.
Header Image CC Dusty J