Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Habits: A Running Fire

It was to have been our first time away, other than hospital trips for having babies, oh, and 2 short overnight trips ... since Cherub 1 was born nearly 16 years ago.  Five glorious days in California .... rest and relaxation, sight-seeing, quiet dinners.  It sounded wonderful !!  The tickets were purchased and basic arrangements were made.

The time drew nearer and nearer ... until it was just a few weeks away.

So, as I planned my trip to California, I also started making lists.  This will not come as a surprise to those who know me well.  HA !

A packing list.  A chore list.  A grocery list.  Meal plans and cooking instructions.  Lists of school assignments.

But as I made those basic lists, they began to g-r-o-w.  And g-r-o-w.  And g-r-o-w.

It was during this time of preparation that I grew concerned .... had I forgotten to teach it, oh so many years ago, and did not realize ?  As the lists grew and the worries escalated, I realized that I had failed to hear Miss Mason when she said ....

"Let children alone-...the education of habit is successful in so far as it enables the mother to let her children alone, not teasing them with perpetual commands and directions - a running fire of Do and Don’t ; but letting them go their own way and grow, having first secured that they will go the right way and grow to fruitful purpose."

My lists began to include A LOT of reminders ... to brush teeth, to feed pets, to wash faces, to give pets fresh water, to get the mail, to wear "town" clothes for various outings, to wash dishes after dinner, to brown the ground beef BEFORE putting it into the crockpot when making chili ... and those reminders plagued me .... would they remember to do ____ and ____ .... did the horses have plenty of water ... did they brush their teeth .... was school work being completed.

I hesitated to go, nearly canceling the whole trip two days before my flight ... but the tickets were purchased ... and I felt so guilty after all of the planning and expense ... after all those years without time together ... and so I packed, and continued making lists, carefully reviewing them with the Cherubs.

And I worried ....

Finally, departure day arrived ... and after more reviewing and earnest promises and reassurances from the Cherubs, I left for the airport, heavy-hearted .... I left the Cherubs with Grandpa, exchanged many fond kisses, a gazillion hugs, and L-I-S-T-S .... lists of reminders, mostly reminding me of my own failure to teach good habits so long ago.

And hope ... I left with hope that maybe they did hear ... maybe the habits were there ???  Maybe ....

While in California, twice-daily phone calls were a mix of conversations ... I miss you ... I have a cough ... what did you do today ... I love you ... did you feed the pets ... have you brushed your teeth ... did anyone remember to refill the water containers in the barn ... tell me about your history readings.  And the texts, "did you remember to ____" ... what did we ever do before texting ?

It was then that I realized even more .... the extent of the damage ... the reality of it all ...

I had spent far too many many years of  "perpetual commands and directions - a running fire of Do and Don’t".

School was going well every day ... lessons completed, readings done, narrations given, notes taken, assignments checked.  Education, in the school sense, is a habit now, thank goodness. 

But life ... the Education of basic good habits for living life like remembering to clean up after meals (including the stovetop) and making sure animal's water buckets were emptied and refilled with fresh clean water ... making sure dirty clothes made it to the hamper and that laundry was done ... every day ...  I had failed to teach LIFE lessons.  The truth was there ... clearly ... in BIG BOLD PRINT ... right in front of my eyes (and ears)

I failed to provide our Cherubs with a good foundation for LIFE, built on good habits of LIVING.

Thousands of miles away, as DadToCherubs and I drove from place to place, soaking in the sunshine and cool breezes, as we stood in awe on the beaches of the Pacific .... I pondered ... not "how did we get here", because I knew HOW ... it was the "perpetual commands and directions" I had given far too often.  But rather, I wondered "where do we go from here".  Where to begin the changes .... how to build so late habits so basic ...

I arrived home, exhausted, and still wondering ... without much hope.  The conversations had told it all ... in gory detail.  I walked in to hugs and kisses -- greeted by happy, RELIEVED Cherubs; relieved because Mom was home and order would be restored.

I spied a mountain of laundry (and a still-full container of laundry soap), a very sticky nearly unrecognizable stovetop, something oozing down the refrigerator door, piled sleeping bags in the library, duffel bags unpacked and overflowing with our Scout's weekend WET camping gear, bathroom sinks full of crusty toothpaste, and icky water buckets in the barn (but there was water, at least) ...

But how to restore the order ... where to start ... that was the question.  Not the chores, but the LIFE.

First, we spent two full days cleaning and washing, catching up laundry, scrubbing, reorganizing.  It was hard work, but needed to be done.  And as the Cherubs worked, they seemed to acknowledge how they had gotten to this place ... and almost everyone was thankful for some leadership in righting the situation.

And I prayed .... I prayed the house clean .... asked for guidance, instruction, from MY Father.  I prayed for humility ... and courage to put aside the books and lessons, and to focus on the basics of living.  I prayed for understanding ... for knowledge.  And I prayed for patience .... and GRACE .... and I begged forgiveness, for failing, for letting them down, for neglecting these things ....

We looked to Him ... to be clean, sparkling, renewed .... rejuvenated.

And second, we held a family meeting.  We prayed for grace and mercy, and direction.  Grievances were shared publicly --- I hate it when I look for my town pants and they're still in the hamper because no one did laundry ... I hate it when I am dressed to go to my activity, and then get milk all over my clean shirt because someone made a mess on the counter and just left it ... I hate not being able to find my shoes because they were lost ... I hate it when ____ fails to do chores ... I should have known better, but I didn't .... I didn't think it would get that bad, that fast ... I hate it when things are messy .... I meant to do ____ but kept putting it off until it was overwhelming .... tears were shed, frustrations vented ... and an apology was given, by Mom, for failing.

Tears, by the millions, fell ... from my mom-is-so-sorry eyes.

So, where do we go from here ?  To the beginning, of course.  We go back to the "place" where the habits (obviously) did not begin ... and where the "perpetual commands and directions ... do and don't" took over.  Back to the place where I failed them ...

I giggled as each Cherub made his own list, of his own accord .... wake up, wash face, brush teeth, get dressed, take clothing to hamper, feed pets, clean water buckets .... then breakfast ... then morning chores (kitchen too) ... and so on.  One, a neat chart ... another few handwritten lists ... one in pictures.

We discussed in detail the how-to of every project as we went along those two labor-filled whirl-wind cleaning days .... beginning to end ... cleaning the stovetop .... doing the laundry .... checking for spills .... basic recipes .... how to clean water buckets and why it's so important ....

Today, I try to greet them each morning with Good Morning ... and either polite "chit chat" conversation or simple silence ... rather than greeting them with reminders, "commands", and "directions".  Old habits die hard !

At first they used their self-made lists, reminding themselves, carried all day by hand from room to room ... and now I am beginning to notice that some are flying solo a bit more, sans their list in hand, or only stealing an occasional glance.  They are going about their day almost as if the habits are in place ... almost ...

So we continue, building habits, in LIFE. 

John Adams said: 
“There are two educations. One should teach us how to make a living, and the other how to live.”

I realize that in teaching my children ... homeschooling ... I focused the bulk of my energy on one education (school), and neglected the other (life skills).

Thank goodness we discovered it now, rather than much much later, when the stakes would've been much much higher .... when a few days of scrubbing and catching up would not have been enough .... when the messes would have cost so much more ...

Thank you Lord for this time of discovery ... for those tears ... for showing the failures and the weaknesses ... for cleansing us of these bad habits, and giving us these new lessons to learn ... thank you for guiding us ... for our being made new in You.  Thank you, Almighty God.


5buntings said...

Thank you for being humble enough to share this. There are more of us moms who needed such things brought to our attention. You are giving your children such a blessing by teaching them to be self motivated. I hope you enjoyed that much needed vacation.

Hope said...

So, it's a good thing I never made it over to do damage control?? :)

Funny, I just had a little dawning of my own this week. It went something like this..."How is it that I have a 17yo, 15yo, 13yo and 9yo left at home and I still feel like I am fighting city hall to get everyone out the door for church on Sunday morning?" It starts on Saturday night..."Do you have laundry clean?"..."Have you had a shower?", etc. Now maybe this is not too bad to do with a 9yo, but the rest? Come on! It's just plain ridiculous. So I resolved to buy everyone alarms and have "get ready for church practice". They will practice on a weekday morning being ready to go by 8am...showers, clean clothes, breakfast and they will be expected to help with the potluck dinner too.

I'm sure there are lots of other areas too. This is good food for thought for me. On one hand, I feel like it IS my place to be the "manager of the home" but then there is the aspect of training them. Hmmmm.

I guess this is what we get for being so good at being bossy! haha

Jill said...

What a beautiful post! Oh, so enlightening! Thank you for reminding us of the "habits of life"...we so often forget those!

paisley said...

Thanks for the great post - and great idea for me to write a post.
We are on vacation, and everyone from 10 year old to 4 year old commented how much nicer Grandma's is because it is clean. Hmmm. How could our house be cleaner, do you think?
And, yes, I do give comments and criticisms all day long - a running diatribe. That is not the voice I want in their heads when they are on their own - the ranting, pleading voice. I want the thankful, encouraging voice to be the loudest one they hear.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom said...

I think we all have these awakenings and then one day you realize they don't need you too much anymore. I went away for two weeks this past fall with my hubby and daughter ....the three boys were left at home. I came home to a clean house, no laundry, schoolwork fairly well done, and smiling faces. They have grown up. Sigh. It is a mixed blessing. :)

Great post.

rachaelnz said...

Oh, this post describes me to a T!!!
I could "school" all day, and sew all day....but the chores are not happening smmothly as I would like. I think I like your idea of getting the children to make their own lists.
Thankyou so much!

Beck's Bounty said...

The below comment is from Rachael Z but couldn't publish it b/c of BlogSpot error. Sorry Rachael.

"Oh, this post describes me to a T!!!
I could "school" all day, and sew all day....but the chores are not happening smmothly as I would like. I think I like your idea of getting the children to make their own lists.
Thankyou so much!

{ jamie } said...

Thanks so much for sharing so honestly!

MommyDesiree said...

beautiful. Your heart reads well here, and speaks volumes to my own.

School for Us said...

What a wonderful post! Thank you fo much for sharing. This is a big eye-opener for me and I think I'll work on some habits with my daughter starting today! First habit: to automatically feed the dog after dinner without any reminders. :-)

Thank you for being so open and helping the rest of us, too.