I agonized (in the midst of fervent praying) for several years about the school decision for our children. As a mother, I know I am not unique in that. We discerned many options for our eldest, ranging from Montessori school to Catholic school to half-day school and even homeschooling. After a great deal of information gathering and speaking with many families, we decided upon our neighborhood’s public school. We have been blessed with amazing educators and great opportunities for our son there, but of course no situation is perfect and we worry sometimes about influences. Things could always be subject to change, and naturally children within the same family can have different needs. But for now, we feel like we are where we need to be, for a number of very good reasons.
I try not to cross-examine my children, but when they come home from school, I am like a pot boiling over with the need to know what is going on in their minds. Granted, “middle son” is four years old and in preschool, so he’s usually contemplating the nature of puppies and pondering the curious shapes of clouds. But “eldest son” is in second grade and quickly approaching the age of reason. He is making connections and observations and asking questions all the time.
The other day he was coloring with his middle brother and he said something that caught my attention. For a moment, I thought he said something off color. In our house, words like “idiot” and “stupid” are outlawed, and people who are caught making flatulent sounds at the dinner table are handed bathroom cleaning supplies and sentenced to scrub the potty, so it doesn’t take much to ruffle my feathers. I listened again closely and heard him repeat the phrase which turned out to be completely innocuous. And overcome with relief, I squashed him with a hug and a kiss and said “you are just such a sweet boy!” Yes, he thinks I’m nuts. No, he’s not off base.
Our children are sheltered at home and we try to protect their innocence as much as we can. When I first became a mother, I perceived the realities of the world like a poison which our children would have to build immunity to, day by day, so that one day they could take it on without flinching. I still feel this way. It’s not that I view the world as the big, bad wolf all the time… on the contrary, I feel that God reveals Himself to us in ordinary situations with His extraordinary ways. So many times we will feel the impact of our decision to send our son to public school, when we hear from other kids how glad they are to know a friend like him and a family like ours.
But as boys, my sons don’t communicate with me much. I’ll hear a brief anecdote about a favorite assignment, or maybe how someone else had a hard day. But that’s about it. When I was a child, I could narrate the setting, mood, and events of the day right down to the smells and sounds – not that anybody had time to listen – but I could do it. With boys, I’m doing well to hear “I need bactine on this scrape,” or “where are my favorite socks” or most famously “what’s for dinner?” This is difficult for me, as I am an over-communicator and an over-analyzer and a recovering helicopter mother. (And no, I didn’t send my child to school with a camera implanted in his shoe but I did give it serious thought).
I try not to waylay my children with my neurotic behaviors, because I studied enough of Psychology to know why that’s not good for them. Basically, parents are going to do something wrong no matter what. (But it’s all good and so is God!) So I try to be subtle….putting clothes away while they are building lego battleships, or sitting outside and reading a book while they are digging tunnels in the backyard. As my mentor told me, “just make yourself available, and things will bubble up to the surface when they need to.” Another friend said “start by telling your child something that happened to you that day, and how you felt about it. See where the conversation goes from there.” My sage father refers to this as “opening up a channel” in communication. It still baffles me that communication doesn’t always mean talking. It means listening and keeping the airwaves clear.
My grandmother, who recently passed away at 92 years old, used to tell her children to “just let it all out” when they would come home from school in a bad mood. She’d let them cry, or stomp, or react however they needed to when they just couldn’t articulate their feelings. I don’t always know what our children come across each day, or even how they impact others. But I do know that our goal as parents is to provide a safe haven for them, where they have the freedom to feel and process things. We don’t want to send the message that the world is “bad” or that anything they are grappling with is “too big” for us to handle. We want them to understand this world so that they can help make a difference in this world. And we want to extend the love in our home to the people we can reach.
It doesn’t mean it isn’t scary, because of course it can be. As I watch our eldest son maturing, I realize it’s not that he needs me less, but that he needs me in different ways. As he presents himself to the world, we can see how he is embodying the values we have been striving for since he was so small, and it makes us beam with pride. This doesn’t keep me from reminding him regularly “you know, you can always homeschool, if ever it becomes the best thing for you, we’re always ready.” He squints at me as if I’m teasing him, and seems to consider it for a moment. He can read between the lines. I know that he understands that we’ll be there for him and his brothers, that we’re always open to what is best for them, no matter what.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9