Twenty Minutes of Joy
What did Melville write again, “The damp, drizzly November in my soul whenever I find myself pausing involuntarily before coffin warehouses?”
Exactly. Only forget November. Having died before reaching the age of one hundred seventy-two, Melville missed out on seeing November voted National Decorating Season by the American populace. I feel certain that if faced with an inflatable singing Frosty the Snowman, he would have forgotten all about coffin warehouses.
No, in the modern day, that damp drizzly gray time is now. “Tis the season of Christmas past, marked each year by the ceremonial curbside dumping of the Christmas tree.
Yes, you say, but the liturgical season of Christmas is still going on. Let the world strip its altars, we have until February second! True. I’m all for keeping the caroling and presents going for another month as long as I can write caroling down as school and unwrap some math work sheets under the tree.
Christmas may not be over but the holidays are. I don’t mind. The holidays have been going full blast since Halloween and I are glad to do without hearing Rudolph the Retail Reindeer everywhere I go.
This time of year is hard for other reasons. By now, homeschoolers have used about a year’s supply of energy on the first semester alone and are staring into the face of an even longer semester and wondering how they are ever going to get it all done. You know the stare. It’s the kind people go up to and wave their hands in front of as if trying to rescue you from drifting into a permanent hypnotic state – which wouldn’t be so bad.
Fine. There’s work to be done. Everything seems to urge it. Daylight is scarce. Darkness creeps up before supper. If it’s cold where you live, you spend more time preparing to go out than you do when you’re out. You tell yourself, just stay in, obey the weather, and hit those books. You want to be done in the spring, don’t you? One hundred twenty days to go. Hurry up!
Stop. Stop everything.
You may be running a school but you’re not running a business. This is a family. While homeschooling is important, it does not come first. Family life does.
That’s why you home schooled, remember? You did it out of love for your family – for a close bond, for a culture of faith in the home, for happy children.
People tried to talk you out of it. “It’s a big job,” they’d say.
Perhaps you answered, “No. It’s a vocation.”
The years went by and you discovered that a vocation feels a lot like a job most of the time. A big job.
Didn’t somebody say that once?
At this point, it’s best not to think of the bigness of it. It’s overwhelming. You just go day by day. You just do your job.
That’s okay. Just keep in mind that the children don’t see the scope of all you are doing with the same wide angle lens that time and experience has given you. They see the process, the details, the day in and day out. For good or ill, they are forming a lasting impression – of family life, of homeschooling, of Catholicism.
What will they say eventually? Will they remember the job or the vocation?
Job: “People with big families are too busy to pay attention to each child.”
Vocation: “We knew our parents loved us.”
Job: “I’m never going to home school. It’s too stressful.”
Vocation: “Homeschooling brought us closer.”
Job: “Catholicism is all about rules.”
Vocation: “The Faith is so rich.”
You know how it is when you have a lot of duties? It’s impossible to get them all done sometimes so you focus on the most urgent and let the others go. Then you find out that the ones you let go grew urgent in your absence.
That’s true of joy too. Go ahead and work your heart out during this damp, drizzly season. Get school caught up to where it’s supposed to be. Just don’t forget that family life needs attention too. So stop. Interrupt school and add a little sweetness back into your day. Here are a few ideas.
Begin every school day with a favorite read aloud book. Choose a classic that packs a lot of drama or comedy. Resist the urge to assign a book report on it. My kids were vaccinated against hating literature by doing just one book report in all the years they were home schooled. Result: a vibrant love of reading.
Even if you just put these things away, the kids will love helping you unpack just one string of white Christmas lights. Wrap them around a tall plant or around a large window.
Go on a snack run. This advice comes straight from a holy missionary who enjoyed a cigar whenever a certain tiresome woman called. Sometimes life is enough of a fast.
Call another homeschooling family and make plans. Share the food prep and bring paper plates.
Go outside. Go when the sun is highest, every day. Breathe the fresh air, feel the sun warm your face. I know it’s a bother to get the kids dressed if they are little. Do it anyway. Make a game of it. Take them out even for just ten minutes. Wave your arms, sing, play tag. If your neighbors have cabin fever too, they might just turn away from the TV set to watch.
Bake a dessert with the kids. Write it down as school. When you consider how many people consider slicing frozen cookie dough as home baking, it is school.
Talk to your spouse and the kids about an upcoming day trip, vacation, or day off. Imagine it. Decorate a box to save up for it.
Forget about your own cabin fever and check on an elderly neighbor. Have the kids bring along some of their home drawn pictures.
It’s easy to put off these things. After all, they do take time. But it’s time that you won’t have to make up later because you’ll be way more productive in the time you have left. Twenty minutes of joy can yield hours of lightheartedness and even provide energy for those math sheets.
Soon, the piercing wind will settle down. In Pennsylvania where I live there is always a mid-winter thaw before the final icy blast. It’s not spring. But for a day or two, the gray lifts, the sun warms the earth and there is a whiff of spring in the air.
No, it’s just rotting leaves leaving their fast frozen state. Their black nutrients penetrate deep into the soil, renewing it, feeding the earth, the brown sod, the brave onion grass, the irrepressible dandelions.
A yellow dandelion smiles up from a crack in the sidewalk. It grows low and snug against the gray earth. The kids probably planted it when they picked the white fuzz balls and blew the seeds into the air- not knowing the bother they were causing speckling the yard with weeds – not knowing the joy that one bright survivor would bring on a winter day.
It’s there to remind you that your purpose for this day, for your home school, and for everything you do is for love.
This article was originally published in the Christmas 2014 issue of The Latin Mass