This morning I thought of young Classical Conversations families while on an endurance bike ride. As I mulled over what I would write this month, I was struck by some interesting similarities between this long distance ride and my twenty-one years of homeschooling. With three years to go before my last teens graduate, the end is on my mind while I continue to sweat out the last few miles (so to speak). However, since the journey has given and taught me so much, I want to cheer on those who are coming along after me. The road teaches me three things:
- The Lesson of the Terrain
While some sections of the journey undulate with hard climbs and effortless downhills, others are long and flat. Homeschooling with toddlers and pregnancies was a grueling stretch and during it I climbed steep hills more than I care to remember. I still shudder at the I-can’t-believe-I-am-doing-this moments every time I had to bring all my children to a prenatal visit. It seemed like some kind of Job’s test. “Let’s see what she does with three in car seats, at nap time, in heavy coats! Oh! And how about a snowstorm!” [Let me say here that bootie camp transforms beautiful brides into tenacious mothers who will push through any hardship in order to see their children walking in wisdom. None of this hardship is wasted. What does not kill you makes you tough, right?]
Every labor eventually has its rest. The downslope on the other side blows a cooling breeze on sweat and tears. In Classical Conversations we experience this when Memory Masters are recognized, when Mock Trial is over, when thirty lines of Shakespeare are delivered to enthusiastic applause. And for some of us, summer is that long break before the next hill.
I find the school year has long, flat stretches, when every day seems pretty much the same and holidays fade in the distant past. For me this happens in September-October and January-February. I have learned to make the most of those weeks because Christmas and spring serve as magnets to pull my children away from their studies. Keep steady on the flat stretches.
- The Lesson of the Senses
My husband explains our increasing absentmindedness this way: “You put your two cents in, you get a penny for your thoughts, and after a while you are too poor to pay attention!”
We do forget to pay attention; have you noticed? When we practice mindfulness we gather treasures to store in memory. As I rode through the valley on this exquisite June morning, I came through clouds of the sunbaked scent of hay ready to be cut, the heady perfume of wild roses, and the pungent aroma of pastured horses. Noticing them, really observing, plants memories deep, ready for vivid and warm recall in the future. I will remember this ride.
I remember the blue sky and plump clouds on the April day my five year old son made the leap from “d-u-c-k, duck” to comprehending the whole word and the sentence, reading at last. This was a gem of a day. I have a necklace of such rare moments. Another jewel on it is the image of sunlight in “the golden hour” shining aslant through a slice of lemon, making it glow. When I made a quilt for my daughter, I loved the feel of crisp, clean fabric and the humming vibration of the sewing machine under my deftly moving fingertips.
Are we those who go through life half-asleep? No! We gather memories as though collecting frosted sea glass at the beach to keep in a jar.
- The Lesson of the End
If your children are very young you are going to have to trust me on this one. You cannot see the finish line from where you ride, but I can; I have seen many cross it. Your children will eventually graduate and you will be out of a job. (Yay!) Classically trained Christian children are strong and beautiful people. When students graduate Classical Conversations they:
- can entertain an idea without swallowing it;
- can recognize specious arguments and faulty reasoning;
- do not unthinkingly accept an assertion;
- can discuss a controversy with courtesy and respect;
- study hard and expect to continue learning;
- take up a new study and systematically come to grips with its grammar, logic, and rhetoric;
- perceive connections between disciplines;
- believe character matters more than conforming to the culture.
In my extended metaphor we are pedaling through varied terrain, paying close attention, while reaching for a goal still out of sight. Storm clouds have gathered overhead and we are very likely to be in some trouble before we are done. Do we pray the storm goes away? Go home and hide? Trust we can outrun it?
If we can find any road that is comfortable in this age, it is not the one for us! Ours is narrow and only the free can submit to its call.