Ever since our firsts were babies, Hannah's home has been a place where I can count on a comfortable chair and a cup of strong, hot tea, moments after walking in the door.
I hope she would write that my house is a place where she can count on a bar stool, a counter, and a cup of hot, strong, and not-too-stewed black coffee!
When those first littles were little, we hashed out all manner of plans and philosophies over those steaming cups. For a long time, she would bake bread with the children while I worked on my doctoral thesis at the kitchen table. For a while, we made dinner together and packed it home to our respective families. Sometimes we did housework together. Sometimes we both goofed off, kicking off our shoes and ambling into the grassy back yard to watch our kids play in the sun. Often we found ourselves taking simultaneous breaks to sit and nurse a baby, a good excuse to put feet up and have a chat about whatever was going on. Always there was the cup of tea in the morning and the cup of tea in the late afternoon.
For a little while when our firsts started homeschooling, before we gave in and began schooling together, we weren't having our tea together. We should have known there was a problem just from that. I was trying to teach my son my way, and she was trying to teach her son her way, next to each other at the same table; but not really together. Tempers ran short, the boys made faces at each other, we barely got all the work done. At the beginning of the day we had to jump right on the work, lest we run out of time; at the end we rubbed the cricks in our necks, and scrambled to clean up and to get started on dinner.
We must have each slurped down some tea at some point, otherwise I think we'd have collapsed, but it's all rather a blur in retrospect.
When we sat down together to design a new approach to co-schooling, we weren't exactly sure what the days would look like, but we were both independently certain of one vital component, one thing that we thought might help fix all our problems in one gulp.
Our co-schooling days would begin and end with tea.
A chance to sit down on a comfy chair with a steaming cup.
An inviolate half hour at the beginning of the day for catching up, briefing each other on how our own kids are doing, taking note of potential problems, and laying out plans for how to spend our day.
An inviolate half hour at the end of the day for discussing how the school day had gone, briefing each other on how the other's kids are doing, and laying out expectations for the upcoming few days.
Opening rituals. Closing rituals.
This time at the beginning and the end is good for our kids too. They need our greeting time to greet each other, to talk excitedly about the latest Wii game or Lego set. They need our closing time to blow off steam from the school day, tussling or playing video games together, or heading outside for some solitude on a bicycle. Some time away from teacher-moms, before the long car ride home or the job setting the table.
Maybe the best thing the tea ritual gave us was instant success. When we first tried to set up the true co-schooling schedule, we weren't exactly sure how to divide up the day, and we knew that it would take some tweaking. But even though it had been a long time -- too long -- we remembered how to have a cup of tea together. That was the first change we made. And it was an easy change that felt good right away, started and ended our day off right. It set us on the right track. And I don't think we've missed one since.