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.

 

Switching up the Routine

We’ve had a good routine for many years now.It helps us meet all of our goals and objectives for our family and attend to all the practical things that need doing. Even the littles know what to expect each day, and for the most part things move along pretty smoothly.

So you can understand how uncertain I was about changing things, when somehow the subject became a matter of family conversation. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?

My oldest wanted more flexibility with how he used his time. I could concede that he is pretty responsible and would be able to manage things fairly well independently. My second son was good with the routine, though he recommended a minor change. He is, however, highly distractable when it comes to school work, so I was sure that totally independent time management would probably be an epic “fail” for him.

My personal concern with freeing up the schedule too much was that it would be chaotic in general, and that specifically, the littles wouldn’t have the structure that they needed. Also, I didn’t want everyone to be going their own way and miss out on valuable family time. Not to mention that I figured it would be a micro-management nightmare for me, trying to make sure that everyone was getting done what they needed to get done and not just wasting time.

So, after much discussion, we compromised and came up with something that everyone seemed happy with. We will begin our day with family Bible reading and prayer, then have about an hour to do morning jobs and either start school, read books, or enjoy some free time. Breakfast at 9:00 for everyone, followed by Circle Time (everyone participates). Between 10:00 and 12:00, the older children are free to do their schoolwork or have free time, with the stipulation that either Language Arts or Math must be done by lunch time. After lunch, the littles nap and I do something school-related with the big kids, then they have the afternoon to complete their independent work and enjoy whatever free time is left over. Afternoon jobs can be done “whenever,” as long as they are done by 5:00, at which time we’ll do something together as a family (read aloud, play a game, or whatever), and then make sure the house is in order and supper underway for Dad’s arrival home at about 6:30.

I still plan on managing time and tasks for the littles, of course, but I like having some “checkpoints” built into the routine so that even the big kids can manage things better and I have less worry that things will spiral out of control.

We’re on all of day two with this new schedule, and so far, so good. I’m optimistic that this will work fairly well for our family. If not, we’ll keep on tweaking it. On a positive note, my second-oldest is doing surprisingly well with getting his academics done–he’s finished his math in record time both days! Don’t know if this trend will continue but I hope so.

15 Nickels or 10 Dimes?

My daughter was working on her second grade math workbook today, focusing on counting coins. She was reading the questions out loud to me and then telling me the answer as I worked at the stove.

Question: “Which would you rather have in your piggy bank, 15 nickels or 10 dimes?”

Answer: “10 dimes!”

My question, in response: “Well, if you had 10 dimes and gave away 25 cents to someone who had need, leaving you with 15 nickels, isn’t it indeed better to have 15 nickels?”

My daughter’s answer: “Of course that would be better. But that’s not the answer the book tells me to put down.”

Reply: “That’s because the way of the world and the Kingdom way are in opposition to one another. It’s not unusual that the world expects something different than Jesus would expect.”

 

After this, we talked about some Scriptures:

“Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’” (Matthew 19:21)

 

“But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17)

How many opportunities we have in the course of each day to disciple our children. It’s easy to let those moments pass, unseen in the busyness of life. Let’s strive, instead, to embrace them! Ask the Lord to open your eyes and help you to “make the most of every opportunity”–to bring to mind the lessons and Scriptures that can help your children daily to grow in the Truth.

Work, Work, and More Work?

Here’s a story (title: “Worck Today”) written yesterday by my seven year-old:

Some days it just feels like it’s work, work, and more work, doesn’t it? I commented about the girl’s smiling face, and my daughter said, “Work is fun! We work a lot.” My husband and I have been getting a good chuckle out of this one. And, no, we don’t actually have a horse. The rest is pretty accurate, though. 🙂

An Almost "Normal" Day

Prior to the moving adventure (3+ weeks ago now) we had about 18 days left to go in our school year. So, in spite of the fact that there’s still a bit here & there to be done, we’re trying to get back to the books a bit and finish out our objectives for the year.

Today we got to do some reading & writing, some painting (since both of the boys got acrylic paint sets from their Grampy for their birthdays), and some of our Indiana state history. Math will hopefully come later, after a little free time and some afternoon jobs.

What I am even more happy about is that the “littles” got back into THEIR routine a bit, too. I finally had few enough distractions that I was able to devote more attention to training (much-needed at this point), AND we got to spend more time just reading books on the couch, which we all love!

I’m finally almost caught up on the laundry, as well, which is a major praise. Way back at the beginning of the move, the washing machine got removed from the old house, but wasn’t functional at the new house for about a week–and we make a lot of laundry in a week! So I’ve been consistently about 4-5 loads behind where I’d like to be. BUT I think we’re caught up now.

I’ve been thinking that I need to pack my hospital bag…and bags for the children, since I don’t know where they’ll be going when the “big day” comes. Part of me is hoping that the act of bag-packing might induce labor. 🙂 But then again, it’s so nice to finally have a “normal” day, that it might be nice to have a FEW more before a new baby changes everything!

Definition of Success

My husband recently related to me a conversation between two of our friends. One man asked another, “What’s your definition of success: finishing a small number of projects, or starting lots of things and not bringing them to completion?”

Seems like a silly question. After all, we all want to be “finishers,” don’t we? I suppose I’ve always considered myself a finisher. I have goal sheets full of projects and love to check things off of my “to-do” list. However, I have to admit that right now all of my projects are in various stages of completion. Some may never get done. So what is my definition of success? I guess that’s a valid question.

Let’s take, for example, homeschooling. We started a unit study on grains several weeks ago. Got through two sections and now it’s sitting on my desk in favor of other endeavors. I’m sure we’ll get back to it, but I can’t say I have a time line on it. Likewise, we’ve begun several different books as read-alouds but not all of them have been finished. Maybe never will…at least not in the near future. Why does this happen? My answer is two-fold: first, our interests shift and change, and what seems exciting and even needful at one point may not remain a priority. Second, life is busy, we often get distracted, and sometimes it’s just easier to move on to something else.

I like the idea of bringing projects to completion, really I do. I think that self-discipline (which comes from making onesself complete things that have been begun) is a positive character trait and I don’t want my children (or myself) to be lacking in it. However, there are often other lessons learned from “not finishing” that are just as valuable. For example, when we jump from one half-finished project to another, often it’s because we get distracted by things like ministry opportunities, teachable moments, and family times. Which of these are more important to pursue? And if it’s a case of shifting interests, well, isn’t it also important to have the freedom to investigate and learn things that are of intrinsic interest, rather than stay with something that no longer has “life” in it?

So I would say that sometimes I’m a good starter, and at other times I’m a finisher. In the same way, sometimes I insist that my children bring projects to completion while at other times they have the freedom and flexibility to “not finish.” What about you?

Conversations…

All this week I’ve been squirreled away in the office downstairs virtually all day. Marc wants me to edit his new book so that we can get preview copies ready for January, which puts us on a pretty tight timeline. Since I’ve been busy with that project, he has been managing the home and children and doing the homeschooling. Interesting change of events, to say the least. On the one hand, a nice break for me; on the other hand, I miss the usual activity and having all my little ones around me all day. I look for excuses to go upstairs off and on throughout the day. 🙂

I had to relate a conversation I had with Deborah, our three year-old, late yesterday afternoon during one of my impromptu visits upstairs. The children had just finished their afternoon jobs.

We are finally recovering from our annual “ladybug infestation,” which is the result of having a soy field in our front yard. Every year, right after the fields are harvested, the displaced ladybugs start to look for new homes–and our home happens to be nice and warm, as it begins to get chilly outside! They find their way in through cracks in the windows, log walls…who knows? But here they are. We vacuum them, usually. But many just come in and die of natural causes, so there are tons of little ladybug carcasses lying around for a couple of weeks in the late fall.

ANYWAY, I’m making a short story long… Deborah’s job yesterday was to clean up the carcasses that have been littering the stairs going from the main level up to our lofted master bedroom. I have a really hard time using the vacuum on the stairs, so Daddy asked Deborah to use the little broom and dustpan to sweep them up. Unfortunately, the broom thing wasn’t really working for her on the carpeted stairs–so she decided to pick them all up BY HAND! Daddy was impressed with her diligence and complimented her immensely. But here is our afternoon conversation about it all–I do WISH you could have HEARD her. She has soooo much personality!! Try to imagine the inflection (and her passion), OK?:

Deborah: OH! MOM!! I did my HARDEST JOB EVER today!! I picked up ladybugs off of your stairs ONLY WITH MY HANDS. It took me a REAL LONG TIME and I didn’t like it at all!! It was my WORST JOB!

Me: (with a laugh and a smile…she’s so cute!), “Aren’t you supposed to ‘work with all your heart, as working for the Lord’?”

Deborah: OH! I DID!! I actually LOVED my job…I just didn’t really like it. Not at all! But I LOVED it!!

——————————————-

Then, there was a really nice conversation with my sweetie as we got ready for bed last night. 🙂

I’m in my first trimester…you know, the totally tired weeks…and have been feeling really bad that lately we put the kids to bed and I’m ready to go upstairs and fall right asleep. Usually Marc and I have some good time together before we finally head to bed, but I’ve barely managed to keep my eyes open lately. So last night as we were tooth-brushing, I said, “I’m sorry I’ve been so tired and blah lately!”

His response: “Are you kidding? You’re a blessing! After spending all this time with the kids this week, I’m realizing how much you do around here!”

Awwwwwwww…..

The Benefits of Essential Daily Routines

Back-to-school time! It can be a stretch for everyone to get back into the habit of schooling. Even if you homeschool and “school all year,” there’s still a special laid-back feeling to summer. Getting everyone going again in the Fall can be a challenge. And if your house is anything like ours, new routines are often met with resistance (or, better stated, bad attitudes). In a previous newsletter, we talked about organizing time with routines rather than a schedule, so this time I thought it would be helpful to take a look at some of the more specific routines that we have found helpful to integrate into our days.

We had been only slightly out of these “routines” this summer, as we took a bona fide summer vacation for once. I finished up my Defeating Depression audio seminar and worked on some other things that I have wanted to get to for a while. The children enjoyed the free time outside and at the pool, and pursued some creative projects of their own as well. But then, we were radically out of the usual routines during our 10-day trip across the country to CT and Canada for visits with family. We began to see some negative attitudes and behaviors after this prolonged departure from “the usual”, and we knew the time had come to get back to the basics!

You may be experiencing a bit of this in your home as you get your children back to school. Even if not, we’d like to share with you some of the elements that we have proactively set in place, to help keep things running smoothly and to battle bad attitudes before they rear their ugly heads. These help us all deal with life’s ups and downs with a little more equilibrium. The daily routines that we have found most helpful are: family devotions, personal Bible reading and prayer, chore times, daily training times, and character training.

You will notice that “school time” is not one of the routines. Yes, this needs to be part of your time organization/schedule if you homeschool, but it is not one of the essential foundations. The essential foundations have more to do with being than with doing—and these are the things that affect our attitudes the most. By attending to these “first things first,” academic routines and other “doings” are a lot easier on everyone.

For us, each day starts with family devotions. We get together in the living room and spend a short time reading the Bible and praying together. There’s no “magic” to it, and no particular formula—but when we don’t get our day started off on the right foot with this routine, it usually isn’t long before we realize we’ve missed it! I love the words of Psalm 5:3: “In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.” As we focus on the Lord in the morning, we certainly go into the day “expecting” God’s presence and His answer to prayer. You can read more specifically about our family’s devotional routines in this comprehensive excerpt from The Values-Driven Family. Of all of our daily routines, this is one of the most important.

As well, individual family members try to set aside personal time with the Lord. I usually manage to get up a bit earlier than everyone else, and I love the “quiet time!” The children all have Bible and prayer time after breakfast, older children with their Bibles and younger children with storybook versions. The pre-readers often convene on the upstairs couch to “read” Bible stories together and discuss them with me; my older boys usually separate to the bedroom or downstairs couch so the little ones don’t disturb them. I try not to be legalistic about the children having this time, as I don’t want to make Bible reading seem like a punishment or a burden; rather, we began this routine with a gentle daily encouragement: “Why don’t we all grab a Bible and read for a few minutes, to see what God has for us today!” I also don’t associate any “rules” or assignments with this time. I have told the children that I sometimes use a journal in my quiet time, other times copy down and memorize Bible verses, sometimes study with a concordance, or otherwise just read. Much as my own devotional time varies, so does theirs. I may ask them about their quiet time or what they have read, but there is no pressure to perform. This has made daily times with the Lord a happier habit for everyone to develop.

Another proactive part of our daily routines that keeps things on a consistently even keel is chore time. It takes some time to train the children in doing chores, but with patience, good modeling, positive encouragement, and (later) quality-control checks, it is an investment well worth the pay-off. We talked about children and chores in a previous newsletter, and also have a small section of The Values-Driven Family devoted to the topic. Daily chore times are a good habit that helps to maintain a general sense of order and peace in the home. With this structure and these work habits in place, other “doings” (such as school routines) are met with less resistance when they are introduced.

Daily training times are one of my favorite routines. (We have been totally out of this routine almost all summer, and it is painfully obvious.) Sometimes our daily training times are brief (5 minutes) and sometimes they are as much as a half-hour in length—but they are always beneficial. Any time we see something that needs work (or if we want to proactively address certain areas so as not to get to that point), we engage in a fun and enjoyable “training time” to address these topics. We train in safety issues, like fire escape and what to do if you get lost from Mom or Dad in a public place. We train in manners (how to interrupt adult conversations politely, saying “please” and “thank you” and table manners). Other training topics include: picking up toys, putting away toys, shoes, or toothbrushes in their proper places, and even baby care. Click here to read more about this topic (straight from The Values-Driven Family), including practical child training tips and techniques. Or, read our article, “The Softer Side of Child Training” for a condensed version.

We also try to consistently focus on character training. We capitalize on everyday “teachable moments” and bring the Scriptures into our everyday experiences. While this is not a “routine,” per se, it is arguably one of the most valuable habits that we have developed. Family devotions and personal Bible time are important, but learning to view everyday actions, reactions, and decisions in the light of God’s Word has most powerfully affected our childrens’ heart attitudes, character, and (ultimately) behaviors. One way that we do try to make character training more of a routine is to use the “Core Value Progress Chart” every evening with our children, to encourage their growth in Christlikeness and discuss ways they can improve in doing things “God’s way.”

Coupled with these basic routines, we also make a habit of “relationship building” with our children. If we fail to maintain a heart-connection with our kids, all of our other efforts may be in vain as we strive to raise them to love and serve the Lord. A book we read quite some time ago which was most helpful in shaping our thoughts on this topic is Keeping our Children’s Hearts by Steve and Teri Maxwell.

If you find it difficult to introduce new “doings” into your family’s daily schedule, or if you encounter bad attitudes in response to your requests, perhaps you will find it helpful to take a step back to focus on some of these essential foundations. Implementing daily family devotional times, having personal time with the Lord, attending to chores on a daily basis, and training both in practical matters and in character, all reap great rewards as family members strive to grow in Christ together.