Thursday, March 3, 2011

a mum first…

Three days ago, and possibly a lifetime away from now, my girl was in tears again, over maths.

AGAIN, you say? Why are you doing this to yourselves?! you say. Stop now; it's too painful to read about! you say.

I know. I hear you.

These tears were because we bumped into the same wall, the one we've been bumping into for almost a year now. The one where she doesn't understand something, feels like she'll never get it, can't see a way out, and panics. The wall where she starts speaking Really Really High, and says things like, "But if I don't get it right you'll make me do it again!" (Which makes me feel awful because weeks ago I unthinkingly, and without being mindful, suggested she do some online questions again, saying, "You only got a couple wrong. You may as well get them all right!" Which I totally apologised for then, and felt terrible for saying, but which, weeks later, was firmly stuck in her brain.). The wall that makes us both unhinged. The wall where I think, We'll never find our way to joy, and I panic too.

The wall where we both end up in tears.

Three days ago my girl and I, leaking, decided to take ourselves upstairs to the big bed. We lay in a sad cuddle, our arms around each other, nose almost to nose.

And there I said, You were doing fine with maths at school; you weren't scared of it at all. I feel like I stuffed up. I worry I'm not doing this right, that it's something I did to make you scared of maths.

No, she said. It wasn't you, Mummy! It just seems so hard. I wish it wasn't so hard.

And she cried some more.

And I said, I don't want to make you sad. I don't want to be The Teacher who makes you do things that make you sad. I just want to be your Mum.

And then I leaked some more.

Because I realised that that's how I feel, all the way through, all the way to my bones.

I don't want to be my childrens' Teacher.

I want to be their co-conspirator. I want to answer their questions as best I can. I want to help them find out information and I want to learn alongside them. I want them to come on the journey willingly, and I never want to be someone they blindly obey. I want us to question, be excited, feel the ups and downs together, and I want to be beside them in that journey.

I have this image in my head, of my children and I walking side by side on our Homeschool Adventure. Not me in front, saying, It's this way. Come along now.

Sure, I love the idea of one of us running ahead to see where a path goes, running back and saying, Wow! It's cool that way! Come see! It's awesome! There have been things I've found—internet sites, books, games, curriculum, ideas, and I've brought them to the kids, saying, Look what I found! Want to try/play/do this?

If they're interested, they pore over it, engage with it, learn from it. If they're truly not interested, then learning hardly ever happens.

That's been my discovery over the past year, as we've gone deeper into the Freedom Experiment, into Life Learning, into our Particular, utterly Individual Homeschool journey.

When I play the teacher, and make mistakes, like set up in my daughter's head that I will only be happy if she gets the questions "right," then I'm not on my true path. I'm not in the roles I cherish, which are:

Mother. Dreamer. Life embracer. Learning Facilitator. Adventure taker. Learning Lover.

All the things I want my children to see, when they look at me.

I know that being a Teacher—guiding someone from not knowing to knowing—can be an incredibly beautiful role to play. I've played it, am playing it when I talk to my workshop kids about writing techniques and things I've learned over the years about words. I've had teachers change my life. I've been inspired, I've been moved, I've been altered. My kids have an art teacher, music teachers, and a pottery teacher. Their dad is a teacher. Their Nana is a teacher. Their aunt is a teacher. These people rock

But as wonderful and inspirational as being or having a teacher can be, to my children I always want to be their Mum first.

I am flawed and I make mistakes. I can totally not know something, and have to admit it. I often have no idea what the answer is! Finding it out is beautiful. And sometimes, teaching the kids what I already know is incredible too.

I just want it to be as natural as breathing. The knowing, the teaching, the flowing of ideas, the learning, the loving to learn. I don't want any role that inhibits that journey. I want to be free to follow my kids, as they say, Look, Mum! Look what we found out! It's awesome!

Three days ago, my girl and I talked about how learning is hard sometimes. Learning something new. That you always start from not knowing, that not knowing and making mistakes is part of learning. I said I was sorry if I had muddled that up and I would try not to ever do that again. I talked about my own childhood struggle with maths and how much I'd learned and come to love about maths since starting homeschooling. We talked about other things too. We rambled on! 

And we said that we loved each other very very very very very very much. 

Our smiles came back. We returned to our day, and found Happy waiting for us. 

And three days later, the tears, the talk, the understanding that came from it, has created a new, fresh path for us to follow. Ah… A lot of calm and a lot of joy has followed those tears.



  1. Lovely post, Helena. I sometimes worry that I'm not teacherly enough, but I'm with you, providing the opprtunity to learn in a cooperative environment has a totally different feel than "teaching" your kids what you feel they should know. It also has a way different feel from the "here you go, kid, you're on your own" that some people think of when they hear about unschooling :)

  2. Sending well wishes to both of you!

  3. Helena, I love the way you write? Have I mentioned that about 2zilliontimes??? Beautiful, lovely, teary eyes, post.

    You are such a wonderful Mom. It oozes from you...your love, your wanting all the best for your 2 beauties.

    Love this post.

  4. Now I'm crying, Helena. Not fair.

    I'm sorry I don't remember the exact age of your girl, but do you think some silly math books might help? Like maybe -

    Times Tales (Trigger Memory System)

    Books by Marylin Burns, Theoni Pappas, Kjartan Poskitt (The Murderous Maths of Everything - what a great title!), Greg Tang, Cindy Neuschwander, Luetta Reimer (Mathemeticians Are People Too), Pam Calvert.

    I would link, but you have that whole Lives In Exotic Other Country thing going on, and my links are all to Amazon in the US.

    XO to you and your girl.

  5. Big hugs to both of you. I think being a mum in the first place makes you a natural teacher. There is nothing wrong with that. Your gentle nature shines through all the time so stop stressing and judging yourself. Like us, kids have meltdowns all the time and you are doing exactly the right thing by listening to your girls thoughts and fears. Many people would not you know?

    As for the math. I would just go gently. If something is not working, take a break then try something else. I found with Zak that I automatically went with a hands on approach. Lots of visual and touchy type activities. Looking at a book while it worked for his brother was not his cup of tea when he was younger. Even now he gets frustrated at times.

    A lot of people I know swear by Mathletics and I did consider buying it but then realised I was doing much of the same with stuff around the house. It is good in the theory though, that a child should master one subject before moving onto the next. No grade levels at all. DVD turorials, Cute songs and hands on blocks etc.

    I am currently leaning towards buying either right brain math or Brainetics. Mainly out of curiousity as they swear ALL kids get it easily. It is also only $20 which is affordable. LOL AND it is supposed to be fun.

    Keep smiling lovely! YOU are doing a fantastic job! Hugs and smoochies xoxoxox

  6. Thank you all SO much for your beautiful, kind comments! They mean so much to me. Really.

    We're slowly making our way through the muddle and the worry and the fear…slowly, slowly. Facing some things. Leaving others. I am going to look at those books (thanks, Deb!), more games, but at some point, I also need to breathe and let go. Ah…When to let go and when to keep trying…always trying to find that balance…

    But the last few days have been lovely. Like the tears cleared a path for clarity and understanding. You know, how after a storm everything's all bright and clear and shining? That's how it feels. :)

  7. Thanks, too, Karisma, for your suggestions! They are lovely. Going gently is exactly what we're aiming for.

    We tried Mathletics. A bit too many timed activities and math races for us. Same went for Smartkiddies (now Study Ladder). A friend of mine is getting Brainetics—I have heard that's best if you already know your times tables. My boy LOVES LOVES LOVES Life of Fred. Have you tried that? That's maths in real life, and it's super funny. My girl can't wait to try them—but needs to be comfortable adding and multiplying first.

    Anyway, we have tried an awful lot of things. It gets a bit overwhelming, so my aim now is to use a few things, mostly games, fun books, and hands on learning, like you've all suggested. I hope the day we had a few days ago is the last (cross fingers!) we'll see with maths tears in it :)

  8. Do you ever think that sometimes we are presented with a challenge so great that the only thing we can hang onto is the knowledge that when we get through it we will be so much stronger from it? For you this challenge is math. When you and your daughter get through it she will know undoubtedly that she can count on you for unconditional love and support with any of life's many challenges. As my mom always said, This too shall pass...... Blessings!

  9. I am wiping tears from my eyes. What a lovely post and how generous of you to share it with us. My DD was crying because she just couldn't understand a science concept, so we snuggled on the couch and talked (and leaked). Loved it!


I love hearing from you! Thank you for your heartfelt, thoughtful responses—they lift me, and give me light.