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Faith in Vermont: Doing All the Things

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Posted on October 10, 2017 | Blog Category:
By Faith Gong



“You should write about this in your next column,” my nine-year-old daughter said.

She was huddled together with her three sisters and our two neighbors, attempting to walk in lockstep across our backyard while cupping their hands to shield a monarch butterfly from the wind whipping through our little valley. They’d discovered the monarch minutes earlier, clinging to a blade of grass in the field. It kept trying – and failing – to fly; whether it was newly hatched or had a problem with its wings, we weren’t sure. The huddle of monarch rescuers was attempting to get the butterfly onto a flowering plant by our front door, where it would be more protected from the wind.

It was a lovely scenario, to be sure: an example of communal compassion. But here’s what really struck me: My daughter was suggesting that I write about it. My daughter, who next month will enter double-digits when she turns ten, is now reading my columns and offering feedback.

It’s just another example of how we’ve moved up to the next stage of childrearing.

Our family’s life moves to a rhythm that we only dreamed of a few years ago, when we had a house full of babies and toddlers. Now, three of our four daughters can read to themselves, dress themselves, make their beds, pour their own drinks and cereal – and the fourth daughter is getting there. Our diaper consumption is a single pull-up per night. The high chair, crib, baby swing, and the bibs are all gone, along with most of the board books and baby chew toys.

We are at a stage that looked golden to us back when we could barely see over the mounds of tiny blankets and regurgitated rice cereal. And when those oh-so-helpful parents of older children cautioned us, “It just gets harder,” we didn’t believe them.

Now we’ve arrived, and guess what? While parenting doesn’t get easier, mostly parenting gets different.

For instance, much of the physicality of parenting changes as children grow. There’s less carrying of babies and strollers and massive diaper bags. (My diaper bag, which doubled as my purse for nearly seven years, weighed roughly 30 pounds. One of my shoulders is now slightly higher than the other from years of lugging around the lives of four children in a single bag.)

As the physical exhaustion decreases, it’s replaced by mental exhaustion. The questions! The fights! The emotions! I live with four developing human beings, and they want answers! They want me to listen to their story and admire their drawing! They want their sister to stop bugging them! Also, they want a snack! Right now!

This is not “easier” parenting, but I often find it to be more rewarding – and more joyful – than the years of spoon-feeding and bottom wiping.

Less rewarding and joyful are the hours I spend each week shuttling my children to various activities. This endless round of drop-offs and pick-ups has defined our family’s days since this school year began, and our sudden busy-ness has taken me completely by surprise.

I’m surprised, first, because we live in a small town in Vermont: As opposed to my friends who live in suburban or urban settings, we have fewer activites to choose from, and I haven't experienced the social pressure that exists elsewhere to have my children scheduled to the gills with various “extracurricular enrichment activities.”

Second, not one of my daughters has any interest in sports. We tried signing them up for various teams early on, but nothing took. And my philosophy is: If my kids aren’t excited about going, I’m not taking them. So I live with a bunch of budding actresses, musicians, artists, and writers (shockingly!) They’ll happily swim, run, or play on their own time, but they shun anything official. In my mind, our freedom from organized sports should save us time.

Third, I homeschool three of our four daughters. Our official school day runs from roughly 9 AM to noon. You’d think that this would mean that our days unfold in a languorous fashion as opposed to my daughters’ peers, who attend school from 8 AM to 3 PM. (Instead, it seems to mean that our acitivities just start earlier.)

And finally, I’m known in our family for saying repeatedly (and loudly), “We can’t do all the things! You get to choose one thing!” I encourage my daughters to focus on something that they love, rather than becoming the proverbial “Jills of all trades, masters of none.”

But this fall, I’ve had to admit that I’ve been lying to myself, even as I’ve kept insisting on “only one thing!” The reality is that I’m guilty of making endless exceptions in my own mind, and the activities have accumulated.

I started with the music exception. Two of my daughters take piano lessons, and one takes guitar. But I don’t count those as “activities,” because music is a lifelong pursuit, right? Besides, this helps me meet the state’s music requirement for homeschoolers.

Then there are two daughters who take riding lessons; I justify this with the fact that riding allows me to check the “physical education” box on our homeschool forms. Also, riding is seasonal, ending when temperatures dip below freezing; if it’s not year-long, it shouldn’t count.

The homeschool production of Alice in Wonderland is also seasonal. And it helps us build relationships within the homeschool community. And rehearsals happen when most other children are still in school. So that doesn’t count, either.

Exceptions also must be made for friends who teach classes, because participation in these classes is also supporting them. So, when two dear friends announced that they were teaching theater and Chinese, respectively, of course we signed up.

Do you see how I except-ed my way from one thing to five things? Every night I moan to my husband, “We need to drop something,” but there’s no obvious candidate.

So, parents of younger children, you’ve much to look forward to, but it doesn’t necessarily get easier. My advice to you: Invest in earplugs (if you don't have some already), and be sparing with your “yes” when it comes to activities, lest you end up feeling more like a form of public transit than a parent.

These days, when I tell parents of teenagers that I have four daughters, I’m usually met with this response: “Oh boy, you’re in trouble when they get to be teenagers!”

What of our monarch butterfly? My daughters placed it on the plant by our front door, where it was still clinging to a flower when I went out later that evening. The next morning, it was gone.

What happened? Did it get eaten by a predator? Perish and blow away? Or spread its wings at last and ride the breeze down to Mexico?

I have no way of knowing for sure, but I’m choosing to tell myself the story with the happy ending. That’s the same approach I’m trying to take when I consider the teen years that await us.

I’ll write when we get there. (And my daughters will surely be reading and critiquing, as well.)

 

Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. She lives in Middlebury with her husband, four daughters, assorted chickens and ducks, and one anxiety-prone labradoodle. In her "free time," she writes for her blog, The Pickle Patch.

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