Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Heart & Soul Homeschool Mama ... By Gena Suarez

Thank you to TOS Magazine for asking me to share this wonderful & funny article. Makes me feel so much better to know that I'm not alone ...
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I am sitting in a coffee shop today, working away like a busy bee. Lately I've had so many emails to respond to, I feel like a hamster on a wheel (the emails are never-ending). I need to create at times, too, not just stay buried in "send and receive" all day long. So I thought I'd put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and write you a letter.

So . . . what to write? I need a prompt. For now, as I start my "magazine work" day, I've just come across a Facebook message sent to me privately by a homeschooler who had some questions about "balancing it all." She said she has four kids she's trying to homeschool and is wondering how I (with my six kids AND a magazine to run) am managing. How do I do it; how do I keep it all together?   

That's Hilarious

After sliding out of my cafĂ©-style, overstuffed chair laughing maniacally, I cleared my throat and started to type. And here I am. [Chuckle] This is funny. Me, balanced? Me, organized? I don't think so. I mean, I am blessed—Paul is home full-time with me. We both do the magazine and manage the staff and handle the travel and everything that comes with publishing a magazine of this size. But guess who is teaching Sani to read? (Paul) Guess who handles all the house errands and takes care of me? (Paul) Guess who is teaching Levi to drive, helping Paulie fix his motorcycle, and talking about quilting with Julia? (Paul—and yes, he quilts. LOL) Okay, so that aside, I still have a lot on my plate. There is the staff and all that comes with TOS, but there are also (far more importantly) my kids: their hearts, their relationships, their high school credits (only two of our kids are being homeschooled right now; two are graduated and two are babies).

So how do I do it all? Like I said, I don't.

We're Just Slobs . . .

I think I've come to realize after all these years that first and foremost, I want to be a "heart and soul homeschool mama." That's all that really matters. My house is a mess (stop by unannounced and I probably won't answer the door—my living room is a disaster). Take a look at my kitchen; normally you will be hard pressed to find the counters. My couch (what couch—where'd it go?) is overrun by clean laundry waiting (patiently and forever) to be folded and put away. Hey, at least it's clean! My bedroom door stays closed, because, well, never mind. I won't even go there because to describe the clothes behind closet doors, make-up spilled on the counters, and a toilet that looks a little . . . well . . . not as white as it used to, would just be embarrassing. Seriously. My house is pretty messy. For the most part it's really sanitary, though. I have an obsession with "cleaner wipes," as we call them. My kids are constantly wiping down furniture and doorknobs, tables, chairs, and the counters—when we can find them. I love to cook and wash my hands too many times. We're clean. We're just . . . slobs. Epic success!

I'm Not That Smart

So I am not a "house-cleaning super mama." I gave up that dream long ago, like four minutes after I said, "I do." Nor am I a "brainiac homeschool mama.” My kids have gaps, holes, and stops in their education. They did alright; the two who have graduated went on to do a few semesters at college and got straight A's in everything they took, even all the math (yuck). Well, Lukey got ONE B (history). Other than that, they are 4.0 college boys. So something went okay in the homeschooling, I guess. But yeah, there are holes. We didn't dissect a frog—ever. That is just sick and I am not going there. My house is gross enough as it is, and knowing us, someone would lose a liver in the clean laundry and we'd never find that frog. One of my friends ordered a cow's eyeball and it was delivered via MAIL (oh, my, gross). She rolled that puppy right onto her kitchen table and sliced and diced away with her kids. Then they stored the thing in her fridge. Okay. Well, then.

I am not a "brainiac homeschool mama"—sorry, just can't do it. First of all, I'm not a brain like my cow eyeball-wielding friend. I have another friend who is a homeschool mom who also happens to be our lawyer. Her child probably could have graduated when he was 13. She's a constant stream of brainpower, and she imparts it all to her lucky boy, who is almost as smart as she is by now. Crazy. I can't do it. I am simply not equipped. But we did the basics and had loads of conversations and put the time into a bazillion documentaries and traveled around on business, plus read books aloud when we could. We also did loads of reading comprehension. Epic success!  

My Hair Is Whacked and I Can't Match My Clothes to Save My Life

I am not a "fashion-ado homeschool mama." I'm chubby! My hair gets brushed (and I am serious) two to three times a week at best. It's frizzy—why would I want to comb it out? Then it would be an afro that would touch the ceiling and put people in danger of being static-shocked. My babies would get lost in it. So keep it tight, leave it alone, slather it with gel if someone is coming over—good enough. I'm like a female version of Ronald McDonald and I am NOT the only person who's told myself that. So, fashion is not really me. I'm not beautiful like some of my homeschool friends who look so well put together. They have gorgeous manes that they probably comb out every day. Their shoes match. And their teeth are straight and white. Makeup? Can you believe some people wear it daily (more maniacal laughter—sorry)? Fashion Gena is just not in existence. Never has been. This homeschool mama cannot even match her necklace to her shoes (although I did try once). My hair is kinda clean and I wear deodorant. Epic success!

Field Trip? You Wanna Go WHERE?

I am not a "field trip homeschool mama." Okay, these mamas are great, but I cannot keep up with them! They have a field trip experience for every other day of the week. Their kids have been to the Grand Canyon (mine have not). Their kids have visited flight museums and experienced Jamestown and all the reenactment festivals for both sides of the Civil War (mine haven't). They can recite the Gettysburg Address and know all the historical/educational landmarks of Philadelphia (mine don't). Busy, busy learning by experiencing. They'd fly to every planet for a field trip if they could. And my hat is off to them! Look at the investment they are pouring into their children! Hands-on learning—can't beat it. Just wish I had time for such a thing (I think). Sounds exhausting and I'm tired even thinking about it. I am not a "field trip homeschool mama" like several of my better friends. But we travel when we can, visit faraway places in books, and get out here and there. Epic success!

What kind of mama am I? I don't have the corner on a clean and lovely home. I am not a brain who can pontificate over my children, pouring set-to-memory knowledge in their craniums (I don't have that much stuff memorized!). I am not that well put together—Mrs. Ronald, remember? (I stopped dyeing my hair red because the resemblance is then even more uncanny and it's disturbing.) And I am not constantly whisking my kids away to the Alps for P.E. or to the Golden Gate Bridge or Crater Lake for geography. I am a "heart and soul mama." I'm here for them when they need me; relationships are first and foremost, and I want them to know the Lord their God with all their heart and soul. I want to get to their hearts and have an impact on what happens with their souls. I want to bare my own heart, and I want us to build on that as our family continuously draws closer to each other and to the Lord.

It's the Lord who reaches the heart and soul, and He uses us moms in many ways to do it. By REGULARLY speaking to their hearts and guarding their souls, we are creating an atmosphere for flourishing growth. Is that a perfect picture? If comparing it to fine art, it may look very abstract or even Impressionistic in style (crazy swirls and wide brushstrokes) and sometimes quite messy, but keep walking (even if you're not as organized as you'd like to be), because it IS a form of fine art, divinely inspired and very much a part of His sovereign plan for our lives. He directs our steps if we follow Him. And He values your children even more than you do. He loves them. He loves you. Keep walking.

Here is a poem I wrote JUST for you!

I am a little chubby,
My house is never scrubby,
Still we eat good grubby,
And the kids make it to the tubby (once in a while).


My hair is sometimes brushed,
And often we feel rushed,
The babies have to be shushed (if we DO make it on the occasional field trip),
But our homeschool spirits are never crushed!

Always someone with a runny nose.
The dish pile in the sink needs a pressure hose.
Look at all my wrinkled clothes!
But the love in our house grows and grows.

My house is the black hole;
Forget the toilet bowl.
In the mornings I look like a troll,
But we have heart and soul!

Sing it with me!

We have heart and soul!  [grin]

Did you like my poem? I made it up while listening to weird music the coffee shop is blaring. I think it served to inspire the quirkiness of the poem (if you can call it poetry—I tend to liken it to prattling babble). Anyway, so I was thinking about the lady who asked me how I "do it all" and I thought, "Hmmm, I wonder if a lot of others are feeling bummed that they don't ‘have it all together’ or that they're just not well put together enough as a homeschool mom?” Perish the thought! Here, make a list if you need to. You want to be organized and that's a good thing. Being orderly is right and necessary. But don't beat yourself up if you can't do everything you think should be happening. That's where your list comes in. Make three categories, maybe something like this one of mine, below. We're talking priorities here. What's the most important, then second most, and then wishful thinking (but may be possible by 2019 or something). Okay, so like I said, here's mine. Now you make your own.

Heart & Soul Homeschooling: My List!

A. Highest Priorities—Must Happens (And don't get me wrong—I fail here too.)

• God's Word and prayer daily in me
• God's Word and prayer daily in the kids
• Love my husband—treat him right as head of home and family and make sure he knows he's better than Superman and Batman put together.
• Relationship with the kids—are there clear channels of communication with each one? No barriers? If any walls up, break those down NOW.
• Halt everything and do "Talk Time" with anyone following me around staring/frowning with that "need-to-talk" face.
• Siblings loving each other (or at least I should be threatening that they'd better or else, heh heh)
• Some kind of food (preferably nutrient-dense) for everyone at some point (preferably three times)
• Schoolwork—is learning taking place even if at a slow and steady pace?
• Kids clean and teeth brushed with happy faces at bedtime
• House is sanitary enough in case health department stops in (they better not)


B. Pretty High Priority but Not Die-Hard  

• All school topics covered within reason
• Exercise to point where heart rate is up and muscles are being toned
• Tidy house, even the dishes all washed and couches exposed to daylight
• Decent meals (3 times) with more than one item on plates
• Read aloud with the kids, play games, maybe cook together, lengthy conversations throughout the day
• Sweep something, maybe even mop a floor and wash the tubs
• Friends who need help/counsel—be there  

C. Would Be Nice (Dream On)

• Take a trip to Greece to see ancient ruins and the Colosseum
• Fix the house up
• Clean my bedroom
• Dress to actually match
• Brush hair more than three times per week
• Have a yard sale and get rid of all this JUNK
• Roller skate
• Just for fun, let's see if EVERYONE can wear shoes today (even me)
• Create some sort of diet that makes sense (these things take time/planning)
• Watch a great film or a play in a real theater with Paul and the kids
• Go on a date with Paul and ditch the kids

So, yeah, I think I've droned on long enough, and I thank you for staying with me up till this point. I don't have much more to say. In fact, I have nothing left to say. You already know what you've been called to do, and you're walking securely with the One who loves you most. He has your family in His Palm and your kids are doing fine. Are they perfect? Of course not. Whose kids are? Are you always dressed to kill and ready to throw open the doors of your home to any friend who comes knockin'? Three hot meals on the table with nary the nagging word, day after day? Do you bestow upon your husband a perfect love, greeting him each day paradisiacally with fluttering doe eyes and a sparkling smile? Not really? Okay, good; you're normal. So, strive for betterment always (wherever you're at on the journey); work on your list, taking care of the priorities (heart and soul, my friend!); and keep walking. Your Heavenly Father will never leave you. Walk with Him.

Love and hope,

Your heart-and-soul friend,


Paul and Gena Suarez reside in Gray, Tennessee, where they homeschool(ed) their six children: Paul (21), Luke (19), Levi (17), Julia Rachel (14), Susanna Hope (3) and Chloe Abigail (18 months). They enjoy long country drives in the van while listening to books on CD, hanging out with good friends, and staying up late. By the grace of God, the Suarez family publishes The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC. Let Gena know what you thought of this article at her personal email address, gena@tosmag.com
Copyright, 2011. Used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally published by The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine.

Visit The Old Schoolhouse® at www.TheHomeschoolMagazine.com  to view a full-length sample copy of the magazine especially for homeschoolers. Click the graphic of the moving computer monitor on the left. Email the Publisher at Publisher@TheHomeschoolMagazine.com.


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