I often found myself lying in bed at night in my messy house, with the kids’ school half done, meals that were late (and a few only qualified as meals in the most technical sense of the word) and wondering “where did that whole day go?”
Saint Paul said that Our Lord is the god of peace and not disorder. This lead me to think that he did not have half a dozen small children buzzing about him all day and night. But more seriously, his words did resonate. Perhaps if I could bring some order to my day, I would have some peace.
I’d heard rumors of the existence of other homeschool moms who ran their day with a mysterious entity known as a daily schedule. Not only did these women manage their time well enough to get the schooling done and get food on their tables at appropriate times, but they generally had enough of the day left over to pick up and sweep the house too. I thought a schedule might be just the remedy for our hectic family life. Children, after all, crave discipline. And even if their claims that they don’t crave discipline are true, I crave discipline so we’re doing it.
I typed up the schedule, printed it off and taped it to the wall where everyone could see it. It was official. The children would have to abide by it. It’s how society works regarding posted signage —speed limits, no texting and driving, wash your hands after using the restroom—people follow them without question.
The Not So Much Scheduled Wake Up
Excited to start this new chapter in our life, I set my alarm for 5:30, several hours before the children are scheduled to get up. I need a little quiet time in the morning to wake up, get some work done and to remember what silence sounds like. I brew my coffee, let the dogs out and just as I sit down in front of the computer, my daughter appears from the darkness of the hallway and, as is normal for her, immediately starts talking non-stop. (Seriously; she has a switch broken somewhere). I politely ask her to go back to bed, pointing to the schedule and explaining it is not yet time for her to be awake. She does as asked (she has to, it’s a posted sign!) but makes sure she tosses and turns and sighs loudly enough to annoy me into allowing her to come out with me and read a book if she promises to be quiet. She forgets her promise and starts telling me in such detail about the book she’s reading she might as well just read the darn thing to me.
She doesn’t get up with me every morning. Some mornings it’s the baby, or the toddler or the pre-schooler or the first grader. They seem to have it worked out. Perhaps they’re not following my schedule because they’re on one of their own. Maybe their schedule is written on one of the walls somewhere, amidst all the Sharpie scribbles. And they run a tight ship because without fail, one of them is up early with me every morning.
When it is the actual scheduled time for the kids to wake up, I’m usually distracted by something else like nursing the baby or chasing the toddler around so I can pin him down and change his diaper, which by now is sagging between his knees.
I usually get around to waking the school-aged children fifteen minutes to a half hour past the scheduled time. Determined to live the dream of an organized day, however, I holler at them to remember their morning offering while I race to start breakfast to try and get the day back on schedule.
Combining Breakfast with Teaching Fire Safety
My baby has other plans. Sensing that things are going pretty smoothly in the kitchen, she works herself up into such a fury you’d think I hadn’t nursed her since our hospital stay and not ten minutes prior.
Quickly flipping the pancakes and then picking up the baby to sit and nurse her, I yell for my husband—who at this point has hit his snooze button thirty times—to get up and help before breakfast is burnt. By the time he saunters into the kitchen, black smoke is pouring out of the entryway. I’m done nursing but the toddler has soiled his diaper and needs a change. Once he is cleaned up, the baby is crying again because she needs a change but not before spitting up all over me when I pick her up.
About the time the baby and I get into clean clothes, the smoke alarm goes off, announcing breakfast. The kids crawl close to the ground to the breakfast table as taught in fire safety.
Once we’ve managed to clear the air a little by opening some windows, the entire family gathers around the table long enough to say the blessing and then half the kids inform me they don’t like whatever it is I’ve cooked and the other half wander off while nibbling on charred bacon.
I Schedule More Difficult Subjects for the Morning
After breakfast is picked over, we get ready for school. And like a Prohibition-era speakeasy switching over from an innocent quilting circle to a raucous bar, we transform our dining room into a schoolroom. The dining room table covered in dirty dishes is cleared, washed and re-covered with school books. The cheery vase of flowers is replaced with a mug full of pencils and a map of the world is pulled down over the brooding picture of great-grandpa Muskim. Voila! Our instant classroom.
Out come my teacher’s planners, which I could not live without. Each Sunday, I meticulously fill them out for the week. On rare occasions, Sunday doesn’t go well so I have to race to get my planners filled out Monday morning while the children work on their assignments. (I wish rare occasions were rarer in this house!) As a goal-oriented person, I’ve become inordinately attached to my teacher’s planners and cannot get to sleep at night if I haven’t checked off every item on the day’s plan (I have a lot of sleepless nights!).
I schedule the more difficult subjects first. I’ve found if the kids are fresh and well-rested, they have an easier time procrastinating and arguing with me about whether or not math is really necessary.
When my daughter has a difficult time with a new math concept, she wants to brainstorm various job possibilities that don’t require math. She is disappointed each time when I tell her we’re currently learning math that is so basic, that not only will she not be able to find a job without it, but she’ll also have a difficult time finding her way through the grocery store.
My son’s struggle is with handwriting and the struggle is real. He will literally write anything on that piece of paper except for the letters he’s supposed to be practicing. From doodles, to squiggle lines and even letters that aren’t on the day’s assignment. And I know he can write letters because he’s constantly drawing comic strips with dialogue. Or graffiti-ing the ceiling above his bunk bed which is a little hard to read, proving my point that he should be doing his handwriting.
The First Scheduled Break
It is always with great relief that I check off the more difficult subjects in my planner.
And even more relief when I see on our posted schedule it is time for the lunch break. While I cook, the children, having fought with their white whales all morning, take their break outside to run and play and clear their mind of numbers and letter strokes and mother’s throbbing forehead vein.
We don’t bother flipping the table for lunch, instead choosing to eat around the school books or the children will eat in front of the computer, using the rest of their break to watch a nature documentary, which usually causes me to lose my appetite (eyeless cave salamanders… yuck!).
I Schedule Easier Subjects for Independent Study During Naptime
The subjects my children have an easier time with are conveniently scheduled after lunch so that they can independently study while I try to get the two youngest down for their naps. That’s the wishful thinking when I make up the plan for the week.
The school-aged children do just fine and don’t need any help until I’ve got the babies almost asleep. It is at this point that their most pressing concerns come up. While wishing for those last few seconds of quiet as the baby commits to sleep, the kids come up with extremely important questions like, “Do I need to write the date on this?” and “Can I write the answers in cursive?”
The Second Scheduled Break
Despite all the interruptions, I eventually get both babies to sleep just in time for the next scheduled break: snack time. I try to skip this break since they just spent a good portion of their school time goofing off while I rocked their youngest siblings to sleep. But I have the schedule posted and all of a sudden my children are sticklers for staying on schedule.
Wrapping Up the School Day Before Dinner… Almost
School resumes and seeing all of the unchecked assignments on my planner, I get a second wind (I’m sure the cup of coffee brewed as strong as jet fuel helps too!) I’ve got goals to accomplish!
We’re dealing in subjects that they like so we make good progress before dinner. English is done, check. Spelling is done, check. History is done, check. No maps today, disappointed groan. Science and religion are done, check.
I study my planners and am pleased to see that by the end of the scheduled school day, each item is checked off with the exception of my third grader’s Latin assignment and her reading passages. But I’m not too worried. We can get that done in the evening.
Next on the Schedule: Dinner and Anarchy
While I cook dinner, she reads to me from her Catholic reader until the food is ready. The kids are usually starving after picking over breakfast and lunch and wolf down their supper. They need to fuel themselves for the absolute nuttiness that is our evenings. I’m not sure how I forgot that when optimistically thinking we’d manage to fit any kind of school work into that anarchy. Especially when, on the schedule, I’d written for that time period “anarchy.”
The evening hours are a din of noise and a blur of children peppered with crying and tattling. I spend this time trying to calm my over-stimulated baby by walking laps and refereeing the various fights that break out, completely forgetting about the Latin assignment until everyone is getting ready for bed and I see it while tidying up, unchecked on my planner.
Must… Finish… Latin…
I let out a panicked yell, find my daughter brushing her teeth and have her do her vowel sounds. While brushing the boys’ teeth, I explain the difference between the English and Latin alphabets.
Everyone is finally in bed, drifting off to sleep (an hour and a half past the scheduled bed time) and I whisper/yell down the hall, “Last one: what does via mean?”
“To walk,” I hear the drowsy response followed a moment later by her snores.
I check off the Latin assignment, drop the pencil on the floor and drift off to sleep myself, hugging my fully checked-off planner.
And there you have it: peace, not disorder.