We were sitting at the dining room table when it happened.
I was reading one of our homeschool books aloud while my older son was fumbling around with a pair of scissors- awkwardly trying to cut out puzzle pieces to glue to a frame.
Predictably, he was doing an inexact job.
In a sudden fit of frustration he threw down his project, crumpled it up in his tiny fingers, and screamed, “If I can’t do right then I don’t want to do it at all.”
I was shocked.
First of all, this is a child who spilled an entire bag of flour over my kitchen table and added spoonfuls of water to make pancakes. When it didn’t work, he simply sprinkled sugar all over the mess and licked it.
“Tastes the same, Mama.”
But more importantly I was shocked because, only the night before, I had said this exact phrase to my husband.
“If I can’t do it right then I don’t want to do it at all.”
It was particularly memorable because I was soaking wet at the time. I know, sounds thrilling. Truly, it was just because my baby puts me in chokehold any time water runs out of the bathroom faucet.
The phrase would have been lost to time.
Except it wasn’t.
It was sitting on the lips of my five year old.
I called “time out” and decided that we needed to regroup. Something about my son had changed- I was sure of it. I decided to spend the rest of the week carefully watching him. And what did I conclude?
Well, my son is a sponge. His mood is immediately lifted when we are laughing. He is concerned when his brother cries. He has memorized several well-worn books on his bookshelf. He pouts when he doesn’t get his way. In short, he currently (and accurately) reflects the world around him.
He hadn’t changed.
I had changed.
And he was reflecting that back to me.
I can’t speak for everyone but, in my life, personality changes tend to take the scenic route. It’s only after years of journaling and reflection that I can see the boulders that moved my boat into different, and sometimes difficult, waters. But in this particular case, it was glaringly obvious.
My increased need for perfection started the moment my husband and I made the decision to homeschool our children during their early years. I can remember the immediate sense of duty and weight that accompanied our decision. I had a new hat.
And I wanted to wear it with pride.
I was excited.
But with that excitement came a tinge of uneasiness.
I have worked in public schools.
I have worked in private schools.
I have worked outdoors with children, in camps, at libraries, and in museums.
I know what the general population thinks about homeschoolers.
Homeschoolers are unsocialized.
::beats dead horse with another dead horse::
Homeschoolers are weird.
Yeah, probably. But weird kids are weird- no matter what four walls you drop them into.
Homeschoolers are behind.
You know, except for all the stupidly evident examples of homeschoolers who excel at the same rate as their peers.
The funny thing is- people don’t seem to often question your decisions and motives when you take the “traditional” education route.
They don’t assume that you are anti- “whatever the other person is doing.”
SPOILER ALERT- we’re not.
They don’t assume your house must be a wreck.
They don’t assume that your children are being socialized improperly.
They don’t hold your life up under this tiny little microscope and say, “Oh that weird behavior- IT MUST BE THE HOMESCHOOLING.”
Unfortunately- even people I generally adore in every other realm of my life have not always been accepting concerning this particular choice.
And instead of letting that go, I decided to show them up.
I know, how gracious and Catholic of me.
Homeschoolers are dumb.
Fine- then my kid is going to read classics ONLY. We are going to have a rigorous curriculum, never mind that he is in kindergarten!
Homeschoolers have messy, unorganized lives.
Fine- then my house is going to be immaculate!
Homeschoolers aren’t socialized.
Fine- then we are going out every day and I will show you just how motherlovin’ friendly my kids are!
Clearly- this had become a little demon foothold. It was not only perfectionism but pride. I now carried the weight of everyone else’s opinion on my shoulders. I had fooled myself into believing that I could be a perfect Catholic and a perfect mother and a perfect teacher and a perfect homemaker…
Clearly I forgot- perfection is not a part of the human condition.
It’s a part of God’s condition.
I need supernatural grace.
I cannot get to heaven by myself.
I need the church.
Moreso, I was robbing my children of a parent who was pushes down into the grittiness of life so that I can grow, confess, and be changed by the gospel. Who needs confession this week? I have this life handled!
I was robbing my friends of true intimacy that is built on a foundation of understanding and service. Instead, I built up walls of judgement and resentment. You don’t like what I am doing? Well, look at how more put together and calm I am? You wish you were like me!
I was robbing my spouse of opportunities to serve our family. He will just mess this up anyway! I need to do it!
I wasn’t just setting a bad example for my son- I was slowly curling my fingers around the fruits of original sin.
Perfect people don’t need God.
They don’t need the sacraments.
They have this life thing handled.
I wish I could have some incredible conclusion to this cautionary tale. I wish I could say I “figured it out.”
I don’t have very many lightning in the sky moments.
The people who thought we were crazy- still think we are crazy.
But should I be seeking their approval? Should I be worried about debunking their stereotypes? Or should I be concerned about the particular stewardship that God has given to me and be seeking His approval?
“For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? or am I striving to please men? if I were still pleasing men, I should not be a servant of Christ.” -Galatians 1:10
I don’t have it figured out.
Maybe all my critics will be right and next year we will be putting our kid on a bus to public school.
Maybe all my critics will be wrong and my family will homeschool everyone until they are brooding, smelly high schoolers.
Maybe, as a Catholic and a homeschooler, I just need to focus on my particular children and ask myself every day, “What’s God’s story for us? What does He want our particular situation to look like? What will bring Him glory?”
This week- it meant something real simple.
I sat down next to my son and I took out the coloring book. I grabbed the markers and I scribbled outside the lines.
Donald looks fabulous.
And when my son freaked out and told me I was doing it wrong I simply said, “It’s okay, it doesn’t have to be perfect to be something beautiful.”