Lately, I've been overtaken by an odd sort of nostalgia, or maybe just an awareness of passing time: these kids I've got are getting bigger, and the clock keeps marching forward.
That's true, of course, but in a way the sense is detached from the reality of the now. A bus lumbers through the intersection in front of me, bearing an advertisement for a local urgent-care clinic, with a photo of a smiling eight- or nine-year-old boy, his hair mussed from having just taken off his hockey helmet. And I think: Ah, those were the days! But that's ridiculous, because I actually have an eight-or-nine-year-old boy, not a hockey-playing one (Deus avertat) and two younger ones coming up behind him, and I am only 38 and Still Have It, at least in the way that "It" matters for the purpose of this question, and for all I know there may be more.
Is it that my oldest is nearing thirteen? That I have lost the innocence of the mother-of-littles-only, and passed through that stage where your parenting theories are all still shiny, new, free of scuffs and dings? But I am thankful for that gift of experience, of wearing down the edges and corners of myself.
Maybe it's the slouching onward from being the young mother (not that I was ever super-young -- I had my first at twenty-five) to being the lady with all the kids (not that four is really all that many).
Part of it I think I know.
I am about nine years in, homeschooling, and just in the last couple of years I've felt myself hitting my stride. My third child is in first grade and so now I am doing some curricula for the third time, but I'm still tweaking and innovating and discovering the differences that different children bring to the schoolroom, and that they're really all getting individualized educations. I've got a great co-schooling routine twice a week; at the same time that I'm working on lengthy translations with the teens, I'm now back to amo, amas, amat with a batch of young elementary-school children, and am midway through my second trip through American history. And on the other side of co-schooling, I'm at peace with letting go of the control and allowing someone else to teach my children entire subjects. I've recently had to rough out plans for a high school curriculum so that I could get eighth grade squared away, and it looks do-able, not overwhelming.
All this happened slowly and with a great deal of focused work. Everyone who tackles the task of managing her own children's education brings something different to the work -- we are all entrepreneurs, free agents, distributed, running on our own operating systems. I brought an intense preference for tweaking curricula to suit my vision, for careful scheduling so there would never be a question of "what should we do today?" I brought a need to figure things out in writing, a thrill at learning while leading kids through subjects I don't have a strong background in (why would I want to teach French? I already know it), and a penchant for flow when I stay up at night, fueled by coffee, books splayed out on every surface, working out which passage to read when, and which concept needs more coverage to balance the other concept.
I do not have a penchant for flow when actually teaching children, except maybe when I get to sit next to just one child and teach math. I have some hopes to catch a little bit of it when I teach high school-level geometry next year.
Anyway -- who else out there is nine years into their career? After nine years, we should all be hitting our stride, getting better and better at the thing we do, and each thing we do prepares us better for the tasks ahead, right? Having invested so much time and training and experience in ourselves, we are specialists, confident, experts.
This is clearly, by now, the thing that I do. And I survey my younger children -- my daughter's got eleven years of education yet, and my youngest son hasn't started yet, I suppose there are fourteen or fifteen years ahead for him --
-- and don't forget that I Still Have It --
-- and, while the future may bring many things and I could make a different path at any time if necessary, it's apparent that this, this up-at-night-with-the-history-spreadsheet, this sitting-down-with-the-pattern-blocks, this hey-you-put-that-iPod-down-and-come-write-your-journal-entry, this will go on being the thing that I do.
And I am okay with it. I really am. I enjoy it. It is truly challenging, in the best way that an occupation can be challenging. I am one of those people who never stops moving -- that can be a character flaw, and is for me sometimes -- but one thing about that, it suits this thing I do very well.
But occasionally I find myself astonished by what I have done, and by what I plan to do.
I am living in a life that once seemed too improbable to even give voice to desiring. And I have tossed myself in, senselessly. And it's exhilarating, and difficult, and way more messy than I can stand, honestly.
And I have slowly realized that nine years of specialization helps, but that it doesn't guarantee that I will be an expert in whatever happens in the future. And eventually, no matter how expert I am at teaching my small children, biology will say to me, "You're fired."
Nothing in this life looks like an advertisement, that's for sure.
The astonishment is that (a) this situation is permanent, and (b) that it never stops evolving. Though I may have many years left of it, I now know from experience that nothing in it can be held firmly, it is always slipping away, and that is what makes it so very, very important, every minute of it, present, now.