Self-Evaluation in Christian Parenting

If you’ve been doing this parenting gig for any length of time, you know without our telling you that there’s no such thing as perfect children. Not only that, we’re never going to be perfect parents. So how do you know if what you’re doing is working? Is there any basis for evaluation until you’ve successfully raised your children…or discovered, too late, that they’ve got major character flaws, aren’t walking with the Lord, or can’t hold down a job once they’ve reached the magic “age of emancipation”?

We’ve always believed in “iterative parenting;” that is, ongoing self-evaluation in the target areas that we’ve self-defined as “successful Christian parenting.” These goals will obviously differ from family to family. For some, academic achievement is important so that their children will be able to successfully compete in the global marketplace. For others, it’s having children that will work well with their hands and be able to provide for themselves and their future families in this way. Some have specific spiritual goals and milestones they’d like their children to achieve (i.e., baptism) while others take a “wait and see” or “let them decide for themselves later” approach. Regardless of our long-term goals and how we feel we’re tracking in meeting them, there are always ongoing character issues that we see the need to work on, both in ourselves and our children (because, as we all know, the apples don’t fall far from the tree!).

Some character deficiencies  in our oldest son (now 16) were recently brought to our attention. And guess what? Because we practice iterative parenting and are constantly self-evaluating and making changes in ourselves and in our parenting, not one thing on that list was a surprise to us. In fact, we agreed with just about all of it. So what did we do? We shared the observations with our son and asked him to self-evaluate and make any changes he felt necessary, knowing that these character deficiencies were obvious to others and also to God. Does this mean we are failing, or have failed, in our parenting? Far from it. In fact, we were encouraged. Why? Because our son has made a commitment to following Christ. In sincere repentance, he has been baptized within the last year, and we’ve seen the fruit of true repentance in his life. Yes, he’s struggled with some things, and people can observe those weaknesses. But what others don’t see is our ongoing communication with our son regarding these issues; his desire to honor God in these areas; his active repentance, asking for forgiveness, and steady growth in grace to overcome in his areas of failure. So rather than admitting defeat in our parenting, we see much victory and are thankful for how God has guided us along the sometimes-difficult paths of Christian parenting.

And alongside our son, we’re growing too, because we know that (unfortunately) many of our children’s struggles, failings, and weaknesses come from things that we, as parents need to change in ourselves. How willing are we to humble ourselves and admit to this? How able are we to “forget what is behind” and “strain toward what is ahead,” pressing on toward perfection in Christ Jesus? (See Philippians 3:12-16)

Here are some honest questions that might help you in your ongoing sef-evaluation as a Christian parent. These are just a starting point; God and others may reveal others which are specific to your needs or circumstances.

  • Do our daily routines and activities reflect the priorities we profess?
  • Am I willing to do the hard things, and ask my children to do hard things, to overcome character deficiencies?
  • Am I consistently training my children in God’s Word and “practicing what I preach”?
  • When I fail to be the example I would like to be in my parenting, am I able to humble myself to my child or others, confess sins, and seek God for lasting change?
  • How open am I to receiving correction or suggestions from others?
If you like a more concrete approach to evaluation, take at look at our free “Family Planner for Character Growth and Development,” available for download here.

Remember that children’s growth in all areas is a process that requires patience, prayers, and ongoing effort on our part as parents. Though there are many things, both practical and spiritual, that we need to invest in and focus on, never forget the most important thing: bringing honor and glory to God and raising our children to do the same. I like how the apostle Paul viewed his work with the church in Galatia, with whom he was “perplexed” at the time of his letter writing: “My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you…” (see Galatians 4:19-20). Let us similarly encourage ourselves as parents; whether we are blessed or perplexed with how things appear with our children, we must continue on in the process of laboring for the formation of Christ in them. Blessings to you as you press on in your parenting, for God’s glory!

Family Happenings

Yes, we’re still here…just haven’t made time to blog. And I find that once I’ve been away from this space for a while, it’s hard to know how to get back into it. So I’ll just jump in with a few things by way of update.

We’ve been busy on the mission front, as usual, and hope to begin  updating the Kingdom Driven Ministries blog more regularly. If you hop on over there, you’ll see that we recently hosted a regional women’s meeting that was a real blessing, and we separated our overly-large home fellowship into three smaller congregations. (Exciting!)

We’ve leased a property a few kilometers from our current home, which is eventually going to house some livestock (cows, chickens, rabbits) as well as  additional crops (bananas, maize, and I don’t know what else). Milk and eggs are often hard to come by and a little more meat in our diet is not a bad thing. The property will also be used in various ways to benefit the brothers in our local fellowships.  We were  able to enjoy a little more family time than usual at year’s end, which was very nice, so Marc and the boys built some nest boxes and a rabbit hutch for use at the new place.

My intermittent frustrations with homeschooling here in Kenya are no big secret, though things have gotten somewhat better this academic year. I still haven’t seemed to consistently find time for Circle Time, especially for my Littles…and there are definitely things I want to work on in terms of both spiritual instruction and practical training.

2015-01-21 11.37.35For a number of reasons, during this week I asked my oldest daughter, Rebekah (who will be 12 on Friday), if she wanted to take the week off of school and be my “Mother’s Helper.” On Monday she helped me move around the furniture in our sitting room/dining area in order to better accommodate another missionary family (the Nafzigers) who will be moving in with us as of next week. Yesterday, I asked Rebekah to do a short Circle Time with the Little ones, and she did such a good job that we talked about making it a more permanent daily arrangement. We have the rest of the week to see how she (and they) like it. Meanwhile, having a consistent second hand to assist with home management and homeschooling has been a real blessing to me…maybe that’s why I have finally found time to sit down and blog. 🙂

 

 

 

Homeschooling in Kenya: years in review

We came to Kenya at roughly the mid-point of the 2011-2012 school year. Suffice it to say, between packing, moving, and settling in here, I was happy if we managed to do some sort of language arts and math on a daily basis. In fact, the only text books we brought with us on the plane were our math books. Almost all our other books were shipped by crate, which didn’t arrive until we had been here several months. And by then, hours of daily wash and other manually intensive labors (which we were totally not used to), as well as a near-constant stream of visitors, made schooling pretty hit-or-miss for much longer than I would have liked.

We started the 2012-2013 school year in September and I did so with some trepidation. I wanted to get back into our routine of having a daily Circle Time with all the children, which normally includes reading aloud, singing, Scripture memory, “Training Times,” and so on. This time of teaching, direction, and family unity had become a greatly missed element of our homeschooling day.  Unfortunately, I found that particular habit somehow hard to re-establish, no matter how much I wanted to include it in our day. I think we might have had a dozen “Circle Times” throughout the year.

I also hoped to get beyond the Language Arts and Math basics that had been our routine. Don’t get me wrong, we were all learning plenty of new life skills and growing in our character, not to mention (sort of) learning Swahili, so there was lots we were doing that had great value and didn’t fit neatly into my “plan book.” And we didn’t entirely neglect electives…but I definitely wanted to step things up a notch.

As such, Marc and I decided early in 2013 to hire a wash lady to come in six days per week. It freed up a big chunk of my morning so that I could  focus on nurturing, discipling, and homeschooling the children. Even so, I wondered where the time went each day. We never seemed to get to that long list of things I wanted to “do” with the kids, and I started to worry about those dreaded “gaps” in their education. Would we ever get back into that old routine that had allowed us to accomplish so much? It seemed that the answer was no. In the early part of 2013, we hosted a steady stream of visitors. Just as we were recovering from that, Marc got in a motorbike accident and wrecked his knee, which put some burden on the family to help him out with a lot of daily functions. However, it was also a great opportunity to learn to serve cheerfully and put our faith into practice. There’s nothing like “life lessons!”

A month later,  I thought we’d get back to “normal,” but it just didn’t happen. Even though I wasn’t doing wash daily, meal preparation and housekeeping were still labor-intensive. As well, we continued to welcome steady streams of visitors who needed medical or food assistance–and of course, that operated on their schedules, not mine.

I spent much of our 2013-2014 school year still feeling like we just didn’t have the time. We did better, that’s for sure, but still didn’t manage to coordinate Circle Time very often and were still not as organized as I wanted to be with electives. Isaiah was now in 9th grade and I found that while we had excellent resources to get through the elementary and even middle school years, there was a gap as we entered high school. We had Math covered, but Language Arts was wanting. I thought we could use a free online website that boasted a pretty good high school syllabus, BUT our Internet just didn’t cooperate, so that was a disappointment. We made do with some intensive reading and writing, a GED preparation handbook, and occasional Internet-based studies. However, near the tail-end of the year, we ended up having a visitor who brought a high-school level Language Arts series of textbooks, which was a real blessing. Even so, I figured we might as well wait until  the new school year to begin it.

I also felt like my Littles weren’t getting enough attention. The big kids were kind of on “auto pilot” with a lot of their schoolwork, but I had a first-grader who was quite a reluctant reader, a pre-schooler who was ready to read (and I just didn’t have the time!), and in general I felt that all my younger children could use more of my attention. But I (we) were doing the best could…which was a frustration in itself. What could we possibly change up to make our homeschooling and family life more like what I thought it should be?

We ended up taking several months’ vacation this summer–something unusual to our homeschooling routine, for the last several years at least. We somehow have ended up schooling almost year-round, with days or weeks of as-needed to accommodate whatever was going on in “life.” I wondered if the break would be detrimental; the kids have always needed to retain some semblance of routine and productivity or else we end up dealing with behavioral issues, “boredom,” and so on. Not to mention serious complaining and struggle when we do try to get back in the groove. But I definitely needed a break, so…several months off it was.

I picked a random date of August 25 to start our new school year. I went in with little preparation, other than re-reading key sections of my old favorite, Homeschooling Year by Year (Rebecca Rupp), and tapping some random notes on possible schedule changes into a Word doc on my Android. I also purchased a few Kindle books, as I hoped to start Circle Time again with some regularity and needed a fresh read-aloud that our children of many differing ages could all enjoy.

We’re now almost at the end of our second week, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how smoothly things have gone. We’re accomplishing the basics, plus Circle Time, AND even electives every day, plus keeping up with house stuff and the regular demands of missionary life, without me feeling overwhelmed or like something is being sacrificed somewhere. I’m not sure how long this will continue, but I surely hope it does!

In trying to figure out just what allowed for this change (and why we weren’t able to accomplish it sooner), I see two significant things having occurred: The Sweazy family moved in next door in April and have become an integral part of the mission. Wanda, in particular, takes care of the regular medical needs of the needy in our community–something that had previously fallen to me.  Not only that, but I made a concerted  effort during the end of our last school year (and over our 3-month break) to train my older girls (ages 11 and 9) in many of the labor-intensive food preparation activities that I take care of on a daily basis. Thankfully, they have done well and are excited about the responsibility, which has removed a significant burden from me. (Incidentally, the start of the new school coincided with the beginning of our “30-day Challenge” to eat locally, which means greatly simplified menu options that either the girls or I can prepare).

I also realized that during our previous years here in Kenya, dealing with baby Enoch was probably quite a bit more time-intensive (and emotionally demanding) than I had realized. Suffice it to say, he was a rather difficult baby until he began to be able to toddle around at about 14 months, and even afterwards had a temperament which made it hard to smoothly integrate him into our school days. Now, however, I am pleased to say that at three years old, he is much better trained, and even excited to be doing his own “school” (which usually consists of copying shapes or drawings, writing random letters, and “reading” lots of books).

And so, I find myself simply thankful for “new beginnings” and am looking forward to what the Lord will do with this next year of homeschooling on the mission field.

 

 

 

 

Some of us are Normal

I know that many people don’t “get” homeschooling. We’re not a majority, so it seems we constantly have to prove ourselves. I’ve been guilty of singing the praises of homeschooling, while minimizing the difficulties, occasional blunders, and frequent uncertainties. But I still cringe when I read news articles and blogs talking about how homeschoolers out-perform their public school counterparts on tests of all kinds. And what about those who play musical instruments practically from the womb, or shine like stars in the universe as they go out boldly into the community and earn friends of all ages for themselves?

Certainly, many homeschoolers excel in this nurturing environment and are able to develop in their personal giftings to an extent that they could not in a public school environment. Many are also well-socialized, despite the stereotypes that try to portray otherwise. I’m happy for them, but what if some of us homeschoolers are just…normal? (Like many public-schooled children are…normal.) After years of homeschooling, and speaking on the homeschool circuit for several years, I can honestly say that many homeschoolers probably feel that they have to justify their methods and “results” to fellow homeschoolers more than they do to outside critics.

Our oldest son gets a lot of attention here in Africa. He’s just shy of 15, but he can repair phones, do electrical and plumbing work, fix motorbikes, and more. He’s always been more comfortable around adults than other children. Probably part and parcel of being the oldest child who got the most focused attention. That, and his particular personality and intelligence. I wouldn’t say that he can do what he does *just* because we homeschool. Truth is, we homeschool seven other children as well, and the others don’t show these same aptitudes and abilities. Does that mean our homeschooling is not successful? NO. It just means that God made each of our children differently and has individual plans for their lives.

None of our children play a musical instrument (except one, who is self-taught and  picks up the guitar only occasionally). Some can barely hold a note in song. While a couple of them are interested in art and pretty good at drawing, we haven’t really done much to hone those skills. Our oldest girls can cook and sew, but only to a certain level of functionality. You won’t find them whipping up four-course meals or sewing Victorian-era dresses; instead, they’re making spaghetti with an awesome homemade sauce and attacking our never-ending mending pile. We’re living in a foreign country and trying to learn a second language, but it’s been a slow and not very pleasant process over all. One of the kids loves animals and would spend all day catching critters and learning about them, but confesses that he doesn’t see much career opportunity in doing so.

And when it comes to that socialization? Some of the kids are pretty good at it, and others are still “works in progress.” However, I don’t think that’s based on the fact that we homeschool, but rather is largely a function of personality. Would they do better in public school? I think it would be detrimental to their progress in social development, rather than helpful. Instead, homeschooling allows me to see areas where my children need to grow, and enables me to work those lessons into daily life. It’s a slow-and-steady process, but we persevere.

As an aside, I also cringe when I read or hear teachings about how the teenage years are (or should be) a “myth” for the Christian homeschooler. We’re going to have two teenagers in our family all too soon, and I can tell you that growth spurts (and the accompanying tiredness), hormones, and emotions at this age are all too real. Many Christian parents have done their very best through this stage and have “lost” their children to the world. I don’t think we need any more guilt (albeit well-meaning) as we navigate this already-difficult phase of life.

In the final analysis, our homeschooling family is pretty average. However, we’re not after academic success or worldly accolades. Ultimately, we want to raise children who love God with all their hearts and who love their neighbors as themselves.  But even in their spiritual growth, our children are probably pretty “normal” for their various ages and stages. Some are not regenerated, and we’re just trying to teach them habits of obedience and good behavior. Others are seeking to please God but occasionally struggle with the flesh and have questions about what we’ve taught them and try to live out. I don’t know how our journey is going to end, but I trust God. And I’m okay with being pretty normal.

“I’m Afraid he’s going to be…an Engineer”

Don’t get the wrong idea…we don’t watch Dilbert…but when Marc was working with a bunch of engineers, this little clip made its rounds in the office so everyone could get a chuckle out of it:

Marc immediately thought of our son, Isaiah, who (except for the “utter social ineptitude”) has had “The Knack” since he was just a little kid. Back in Indiana, his favorite thing to do was post requests on Freecycle and see if he could score electronics or things with motors that he could fix. If they weren’t fixable, he’d take them apart and save anything he might use for a future project. He’s made some really neat stuff, including a motorized bicycle (using an old chainsaw motor), a homemade BB gun, and a small blender (though not suitable for much besides having fun). Not only that, he’s constantly fixing things around the house (yeah!!) in addition to being our on-call tech support guy. Here in Africa, he’s also become quite gifted at small engine repair and regularly fixes motorbikes.

The down-side of this great trait is that his corner of the boys’ bedroom usually look like this (and, yes, he made the desk himself):

IMGA0764

I’ve learned to close the door or just not look too often. Unless there’s a window of opportunity for room-cleaning, which doesn’t happen as often as I’d like.

Anyway, a couple weeks ago he had a neat idea to make a portable sprayer, using a broken well pump that Marc let him have and some assorted parts he’d collected (see the blue bin in the photo above). He was thinking it would be useful for the garden, but I was thinking pressure washing, so he made two different nozzles. Here’s the finished product:

IMGA0760

Yesterday we harvested our beans and used Isaiah’s new invention to spray the weeds remaining in the field so we can re-plant in a couple weeks or so.

Today I was going about my least-favorite-task-of-the-week, beating and hand-scrubbing our area rug from the living room. (I regret that I ever complained about vacuuming. What I wouldn’t give to be able to vacuum this thing–I’d do it EVERY DAY!!) The easiest method for this is to roll up the carpet, carry it outside, and sling it over the kids’ swing set. After beating it with a broom handle and ripping a few holes in it, now I use some flexible hose instead. Then, I fill a basin with some laundry soap and water and dip my brush in it. Bit by bit, I scrub the whole carpet, continually dipping the brush into the cleaner as I go. It’s a messy and time-consuming process, usually taking me 1-1/2 to 2 hours.

Isaiah asked if I could “pressure wash” the carpet using his new sprayer. My only reservation was that it would get so wet it might not dry before the afternoon rain. Then what? But I figured I’d give it a try. To my great surprise and joy, it worked wonderfully, though I did do a quick scrub with a brush on top of the spraying. Though it’s not perfectly dry yet, it seems it will be before the sun goes away. And, good news is, it cut my carpet-cleaning time in half!

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So if you have a budding engineer in your family, don’t despair. Let ’em take stuff apart, overlook the mess,  put up with the single-minded focus that makes projects preferable to breakfast, keep encouraging the successes and sympathize with the inevitable failures, and enjoy the fruit of “The Knack” when you can.

The Consequences of Cheating

Do you remember doing SRA in grade school? You would select a numbered card from the box, read a story, and answer some questions. The stories and activities progressively increased in difficulty from 1 through 100.

I have such fond memories of SRA, I was excited to get a box when we were still young homeschoolers.

There is an answer booklet in the box. At first, I did all the correcting myself, but over time I’ve allowed the children to self-correct. They come to me if they have questions as they read or if they don’t understand the follow-up activities. I always check their work and go over anything they’ve gotten wrong. We do this not only with SRA but also with math textbooks, for which we also have answer books.

Today, for the first time in…how many years of homeschooling?…our first instance of “cheating” was brought to my attention. One of the children caught a sibling in the bedroom with the SRA answer book.

In deciding how to address this issue, I realized that I don’t think this child has ever been told that it’s wrong to copy answers out of the answer book. We’ve talked about lying and other forms of deception, but not directly about cheating as it pertains to schoolwork. So she got off with a very gentle rebuke and explanation about why her behavior was wrong. What did she do? She cried. But not because she felt bad for cheating. Instead, she was overwhelmed because…”it’s so hard!” That’s why she chose to copy answers in the first place–and it had been going on for some time before she actually got caught.

I consoled her with the fact that SRA isn’t about getting all the right answers–it’s about learning. And I would have been happy with her progressive learning, even if she got some wrong in the process. And in fact, by cheating she was making it harder for herself, not easier. Because now when she was on a certain number and difficulty level with her SRA, she really wasn’t equipped to do it on her own because she’d been cheating for so long. No wonder she was upset!

So I tried to determine how long this had been going on, and we went back. Back to a much simpler lesson, one that she and I worked through together. She did the next one on her own. And next time, she’ll continue from there. She’ll learn what she was supposed to learn the first time around.

It struck me that we sometimes do the same thing in our spiritual walk. How often do we try to get out of doing hard work, struggling through, and learning lessons that are, in the end, of great value to us? Sometimes we can claim ignorance, but other times we’re just lazy. Or it may be that the standard of perfection scares us. And yes, that is our standard (see Matthew 5:48), but God is infinitely gracious in getting us to that point. Our goal is to grow, not necessarily to get everything right the first time through. God expects us to make mistakes, He frequently gives us second chances, and sometimes we have to go back to a place we thought we’d never see again, just to learn lessons that we ignored the first time around.

I don’t ever want to presume upon God’s grace, or make excuses for my sin. Still, I am thankful for second chances and for a Father who is gentle in teaching me. I hope that as I resolved this issue with my daughter, and re-started those SRAs, she learned something–even if she didn’t get all the right answers.

 

The School Year Begins!

This week, we were officially “back to school.” I admit to feeling woefully unprepared; I haven’t re-visited my scope-and-sequence for each of the children to refresh myself and provide necessary direction, which is something I’ve faithfully done in previous years. I haven’t reviewed “daily responsibilities” with the children to help things go smoother. And we haven’t been having a daily Circle Time or training times except for a handful of days since coming to Africa. I miss that terribly and know what a great difference it makes in the overall scheme of things. But honestly, the burden of daily work has just made it impractical for all of us to get on the same page and sit down together as I would like. The best time has been afternoon, but inevitably when I think “Wow, we can have Circle Time or do a little bit of training!”…the afternoon rains are upon us and it’s so loud in our tin-roofed house that all we can do is sit down and look at each other. The person next to you can barely hear you, even if you’re yelling. But, it sure makes a good time for each of the kids to sit down with a book (which everyone also enjoys).

In our first five days of schooling, we actually only did three complete days. Life kinda got in the way. We ended up harvesting and canning our carrots one day (21 quarts plus a bunch fresh, which will last a while!). That day, we managed a half-day of school in addition to the extra work. Marc and I went to town another day, and the kids under Isaiah’s supervision did well in managing the day’s work and food needs, as well as taking good care of the baby, but only did a half day of schooling in the process.

On Friday, after not having cleaned my kitchen floor in two weeks and having that on my to-do list (and needing to wash the dining area/sitting room floors as well) PLUS having an extra-large load of wash to do, I was sure that trying to get all that done AND a full days’ school was pretty unrealistic…but I was pleasantly surprised. Jonah cleared out the sitting room and swept, then Deborah followed up with water and squeegee. I set aside my laundry for a quick quality-control check, and then they got to their books. Everyone else had other jobs to do, which took some time, but they got done and got to their schooling as well. And the baby was happy to sit in his stroller while I did wash, instead of wandering around looking for trouble as usual.

Recently, we’ve been having some issues with faithfulness (the children doing as asked, particularly while I am outside focusing on the daily wash)…they know I’m not really paying attention and you know what the Bible says about children left to themselves bringing their mother to shame? It’s true! Well, on Friday I was certainly distracted with my daily work but pleased to see a change in the “norm,” with all the kids inside staying on-task. The difference? I suddenly realized that Marc was unexpectedly HOME, and although he was trying to rest and ended up reading a book in bed…HE WAS HOME. The kids knew it. They got their stuff done! And even had a little time to enjoy the new swing set before lunch. Granted, lunch was a bit late as I finished up the laundry and squeegeed the kitchen floor…but everyone agreed that it was both a productive and enjoyable morning. And in the end, a full day of schooling was accomplished! God is good.

Isaiah (our oldest, age 13 and in 8th grade) has decided that he wants to be a missionary bush pilot and has been focusing a lot in that direction. There is a flight school in Nairobi, which he can enroll in as early as age 16, so he’s prepping for the GED and wants to test-out as early as possible to get into the program. All as the Lord wills, but the goal is a good one and GED prep is a fine thing to aim for. He’s got lots of enthusiasm and it’s helping him take responsibility for his education. So also this week, Marc and Isaiah sat down for a planning session and figured out his scope-and-sequence for the sciences, which was a big relief to me. Now I just need to sit down and so the same for the Social Studies. We use a curriculum for math that we feel will prepare him well enough (not to mention, he’s got a pretty analytical mind, anyway).

Not a bad first week, though (needless to say), I hope in subsequent weeks to get more accomplished in less time.

For those of you who are homeschooling, how’s your year going?

 

Busy Morning, Ending with SWING SET!

While I did my morning’s wash, here’s what was going on around me:

Aniga came over early, and he, Marc, and Isaiah started on building the swing set. After leaving instructions for the completion of the project, Marc left for a meeting with a local pastor.

Here are Isaiah and Aniga working on the build:

While I was busy with laundry, Rebekah was taking care of a few things in the house: dishes, baby-watching, and filling up the drinking water:

Hannah helped Rebekah with the dishes and baby-watching, then she carried swings out to the guys so they’d be ready to hang when the time came:

Micah and Jubilee were out digging “bore holes” in the sand pile–

Deborah (my right-hand gal) helped me with the laundry and then hit the books.

Jonah got to take it easy a bit…he’s not been feeling well. He did some language arts and then this:

Amidst all these “goings-on,” we had a guest visiting. Gilbert has been attending our house church and is a pretty good translator. He’s had some health problems and hasn’t been working his farm, so he’s had financial struggles as well. Unfortunately, finding work that he can do is difficult. One thing we did was to have him go through a “Beginning Horticulture” course (though we still have to review all of his questions-and-answers); eventually, Kingdom Driven Ministries will provide him with a certificate of completion. Now, we’ve decided to teach him how to use the computer. Surprising how difficult this is when you don’t grow up at all familiar with the technology (like the average American). Here is Gilbert hard at work, copying the Sermon on the Mount in Microsoft Word:

Enoch, though being “watched” by his two older sisters, still eventually managed to get into the dishes they were doing:

By this time, the first swing was up–Enoch laughed and smiled through his whole “maiden voyage”:

Lunch time rolled around, and no one wanted to eat. Here’s what they did instead:

Expectations

Lately I find that I have been battling against other people’s expectations. Sometimes I remain confident in what I’m doing, and in other moments I wonder if I need to adjust.

There’s the homeschooling expectations, which are residual from being in America. When we began the huge task of packing, housecleaning, and moving to Africa (not to mention the transition of the move itself), we only “officially” took about two weeks off of schooling, but we were pretty hit-or-miss when we did do academics. We consistently did math and language arts daily, but electives were…elective. Even now that we’ve been in Africa for just over three months, we have not done as much as I would normally expect for a day of schooling. It seems our day’s work is such “work” that schooling is secondary. I still consider it a day if we just accomplish language arts and math. I’m feeling slightly guilty about that, but…that’s been life. Frankly, I think moving to Africa, learning about a whole new culture and way of life, geography, language, and so on, is plenty of “social studies” for now.  Music and art have been virtually non-existent, with craft items in short supply (or unavailable) here, all of our books still in transit in a crate, and our Internet a challenge to use even for email, never mind surfing or video-watching (which is how we often integrated the arts into our school day). So, the expectation battles the reality.

Let’s move on to the garden…

We arrived right in time for planting season (which was a consideration in our plan, actually) but we discovered that without many of our American conveniences (such as rototillers, long-handled hoes, and so on) farming is hard work. Not to mention, we had to learn about a whole new way of doing things (what to plant when, what fertilizers to use, and what needs to be started in beds and transplanted). The learning curve is huge and Marc has been so busy and away so much that we’ve out-sourced a lot of the work (i.e., we’ve paid locals to do it). Not what we expected, but that’s been the reality. My challenge has been that here the work of farming is relegated to women–they are out in the fields hoeing, seeding, and weeding IN ADDITION TO doing wash, keeping house, and feeding the family. It’s a lot of work. I feel that many days I barely accomplish the necessities; gardening as well?? Not a chance! (Not to mention that Marc has always been much more gifted in that area anyway–I have a “black thumb.”) So when we’re hiring a local woman to till our garden, which she does in addition to her own and everything else, with her 13-month old daughter playing in the dirt beside her…I feel slightly guilty and inadequate.

And shopping?

That’s something else that a woman here accomplishes with ease, no matter how far the walk to market or how many children she has. Thing is, homeschooling is unheard of here, so a woman has her independence all day while her children are at school, to accomplish whatever needs to be done. And even if the children are at home, there’s not a thought in her mind against leaving them to fend for themselves while she attends to immediate needs like food-fetching. We have no one that we would leave our children with, nor do we necessarily feel comfortable with leaving all eight of them home alone (for various reasons). Not to mention, it would take me some time to feel confident about traveling into town and shopping solo, anyway. For all these reasons, Marc usually picks up a few things when he goes into town for other reasons, or the boys bike to market and get some stuff. Before we felt comfortable allowing the boys to go on their own, we were paying our neighbor, Jane, to do the shopping for us. This is yet another area where I know that the locals have certain expectations about how things are done, and we’re just not the norm. And again, I feel slightly inadequate. Just being real here, folks–sometimes I just feel like a spoiled mzungu.

But what they don’t see is that I am usually up at 3:30 or 4:00 to feed the baby and have my quiet time (which is, quite frankly, the most important item on my “to-do” list). By 6:00 I’m dressed and ready to meet the day, having started the laundry and made sure we have something for breakfast. I get everyone going and we have our family devotions. Then we do our morning jobs (which require a lot of “management” on my part) so I might just be hanging out my wash at 10 AM, while the mamas next door have already put theirs out at 8:00. Makes me look lazy, but I feel anything but. The rest of the day is spent overseeing whatever we do manage to accomplish for schooling, doing the housekeeping (which has developed into an OK routine), visiting with unexpected guests, and working to prepare our daily bread. I don’t know how these African women “do it all,” but they  do!

I’m quite sure all the folks here have certain expectations of how things should be and what we should be doing, and lately I’ve been catching myself frequently wondering how we measure up. Then I have to remind myself that it doesn’t really matter. Other people’s expectations never really matter–only our faithfulness to what God has asked us to do. And on that score, I guess we’re doing just fine. So I’ve gotta keep pressing on, remembering that that is the most important thing.

 

Our First “Self-Sufficiency” Day

Marc and I have noticed that here in Kenya, children are very often left to themselves. Usually, this is by necessity, because work for daily bread (whether working in the fields and at home, or wage-earning work, when it is available) is typically so demanding that parents aren’t left with much choice. In America, we took things for granted, like having a vehicle to hop into and a supermarket a short trip away. Here, you walk. Sometimes far. We always chuckle when we ask Jane how far away a particular destination is. She often shrugs and says, “Not far.” But it could be several kilometers–“not far,” indeed! We don’t leave our children home alone, but a single mother with few resources (or mom at home with Dad at work) sometimes has little choice.

When Marc went to Nairobi with our 10 year-old son a couple of weeks ago, he came back more than once to the house where he was staying to find the three children (ages 9 and under) home alone. He remarked that they were very well-behaved: no bickering, faithful behaviors (for the most part), and younger children who respected the authority of their older siblings in the parents’ stead.

We agreed, this would probably not be the case if we left all of our children home alone. My 10 year-old noted, “Well, they probably didn’t bicker because they had no toys to fight over.” Good point. As well, I don’t think our children have had enough opportunity to prove themselves responsible in taking care of their own needs for any extended period of time. They’ve only been apart from both of us a handful of times (usually when we go out to dinner to celebrate a birthday or anniversary), and the longest has been for the weekend, when they stayed with some friends of ours. Although we teach and train them in all things vital to home management, and they generally know our routines and expectations, they certainly derive a level of comfort in having an adult to fall back on. Unfortunately, I was sure that if left to their own devices, there are some things that they take for granted that would fall through the cracks.

So, with Marc and our oldest (a take-charge kinda kid) off to Nairobi for a few days, I decided to call a “Self-Sufficiency Day” for the rest of our crew, with the 10 year-old in charge. I thought it would be a good exercise for all of them. We went over the expectations, and I even wrote them on the chalkboard for reference. Things like:

  • Do it God’s Way! Love and serve one another. Please God with your attitude and your behavior.
  • Keep yourselves clean (hair, faces, feet, teeth) and LOOK AROUND to see what needs to be picked up around the house.
  • Remember to change the baby’s diaper.
  • Big kids, supervise little kids even if you are doing something else. Little kids, respect the authority of your older brothers and sisters.

And so on. They knew they would be responsible for their school work as well as home management, child care, and meal preparation. I would be closed in my bedroom and only available to receive meals or to feed the baby. (I also came out a couple of times to hook up the laptop and charge it on the inverter, but I told them to pretend I wasn’t there.)

My ten year-old spent part of the day before planning out AM and PM jobs for all the children, as well as meals. I have to admit, his choices were a little starchy (mandazi and tea for breakfast, beef broth with rice for lunch, and pasta for supper along with fried bananas and honey for dessert); however, I’m not sure how much better I would have done. The only fruit in the house was bananas and tomatoes. What can I say? We need to go to market! (That’s tomorrow…)

The morning went very well. My ten year-old kept everyone on-track and motivated in a very encouraging way. My oldest daughters teamed up to care for  the littles and did a super job, even when multi-tasking  to do their school work. My seven year-old did an admirable job with the laundry. (The only thing I had to return to the wash pile was a pair of jeans that needed a lot more elbow grease than she could muster. Ahhh, those boys of mine!)

The afternoon left something to be desired. The in-charge ten year-old got caught up in reading a new Thornton W. Burgess book that I had downloaded on the Kindle and before he knew it, it was 4:00 and everyone had far over-shot their afternoon “Free Time.” I actually had to prod them to move on with their afternoon responsibilities (including finishing their school work), which was a bit disappointing. I wondered what would have happened if I had not intervened? I guess I didn’t want to find out! However, after the reminder, things slipped back into gear. Jobs got done, supper got started, and school assignments got wrapped up.

I had given my 10 year-old a budget for the day of 200 shillings (roughly the equivalent of $2 and change, which buys quite a bit here). That would cover any supplies that we unexpectedly ran short of (such as laundry soap) or he could use it for some limited food items that could be purchased at the little shop/restaurant across the street (mostly staples like flour, oil, etc.). He considered buying the favorite “mandazi” from the restaurant at 50 shillings per bag of ten (and we’d need at least two bags); however, he did the math and realized that making them was much cheaper (and the recipe made a lot more–about 50!), so he was excited to make them himself. He ended up spending 18 shillings for 6 beef cubes, which he used to make broth for the lunch time rice, and he got a bag of sugar for 65 shillings to replenish our supply. Also, he ordered a litre of milk for 35 shillings to have tea for the next day. All in all, a total of 118 shillings spent for the day. Not bad. I had to chuckle, though, when I overheard him preparing breakfast in front of an audience of little people saying, “It’s almost ready! This is just taking a little longer than I thought!”

I sat down for supper with the crew and asked for their reactions. Over all, everyone was pleased with the day, though they admitted it was hard work.  Since this was the kids’ first “solo” day, I had made some suggestions for AM and PM jobs, but I’m hoping that after some repeats of this type of training they will be on the lookout for what needs to be done and will need less direction. A good first stab at self-sufficiency. We’ll keep practicing. My 9 year-old daughter can’t wait for the day she’s “in charge.” She’s pretty sure she can handle it.

 

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