The Day I Quit Trying

We sat at the kitchen table and both of us cried.

That was the day I quit trying.

The steam rolled out of my coffee cup and my tears fell and mixed with the hazelnut creamer.

“I don’t think I can do this anymore.”

He hunched over the table, his mug untouched.

“Me neither Mama.”

Here we were, not yet halfway through the school year, both of us ready to quit kindergarten.

It was my fault. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was pushing him too hard. Or maybe not hard enough. Kindergarten was a lot more difficult than preschool. This wasn’t fun for anyone anymore. I was failing him.

The discouragement filled the house.

The tears rolled down our cheeks and we both sat slumped, me over my coffee, him over his milk, both of us resigned and weary at the kitchen table that early winter morning.

When we’d officially registered our boy as a kindergartener, checking “homeschooled” in the box on the paperwork, I was sure he’d be reading the Scripture passage for the Christmas program at church in December. Positive of it. I even told my husband that.

“He’ll be reading strong by December for sure.”

He was a precocious child. He’d been read to every day of his life. He knew his ABCs and he knew all his sounds. I was a strong reader. Why wouldn’t he just pick reading right up and take off with it?

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But it didn’t come that easy. I began to notice the subtle cringe when we brought out his Pat and Nat books. I puzzled over why he couldn’t sound out the simplest of words, ones he’d already sounded out before. I pushed. If we could just do it enough times…

I’m ashamed to say, there were tears on the face of my little boy more than once when it came time for him to work on reading.

After weeks of popping in a Dora the Explorer tape for the toddler after putting the baby down for her morning nap, then grabbing him and cuddling up on the floor with his reading box only to have our session end badly, I was done. I’d had it.

Something inside of me died a little as I told myself I was wrong to think I could ever homeschool my children. I was sure I was doing them a huge disservice and the public school, the professionals, could do a much better job.

Part of me gave up.

Which was a huge blow to my mama heart. Because I really loved homeschooling. We’d done it the year he would’ve been in preschool…just to try it on. I wasn’t sure how it would all work, logistically, should we send him to the local elementary school. Having a baby, a toddler and a kindergartener to get out the door in the dead of darkness and at temperatures below zero would’ve made our mornings something I didn’t want for our peaceful little home.

On top of the easily explainable, those logistical arguments for homeschooling, my heart just wasn’t ready to set my boy out into the world. I didn’t have to. So why would I want to?

I was his teacher. I was the one who taught him his alphabet, taught him how to bake cookies. How to count to twenty, the names of all the road signs, and the brands of all the different cars. At home we learned his colors, his shapes, favorite Bible verses, how to feed the dogs, how to open doors for ladies, how to make a bottle while Mama changed a diaper, how to gently hold a baby.

In the hush of our home, he was learning the foundations to the academic skills he’d need someday for college and vocation, but more importantly, he was learning all the character skills he’d need to be a good man, husband and father.

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I didn’t want to – I wasn’t ready to-  hand him over and let someone else be responsible for teaching him how to read, how to do big math, how our country came to be, the latest theory on the origin of humans.

It was my job.  In a different situation or a different place, I might feel differently, but with this child, at that time, I saw it as my job and my husband agreed. We’d keep him home.

So when it didn’t go as planned, in my mind it was naturally my fault. I defaulted back to the “someone else could do it so much better than I” self-talk.

Somehow at the kitchen table that morning I’d forgotten. I’d forgotten that Scripture verse I’d underlined in Isaiah when the babies first started coming. That one that had greasy finger marks by it and wrinkly paper from the drying of teardrops. That one that always brought comfort, always assured me, right there in 40:11 it’d remind me…

He gently leads those that have young.

How could I have forgotten that?

Over my coffee, God reminded me again that morning, and that was the day I decided to quit trying.

Pat the Rat was going up on a shelf, I told my son, and relief flooded his face. Before the seconds-ago tears of disdain were even out of his eyes, joy spilled through and pushed them rolling down his cheeks to the big smile waiting.

He tends His flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart…

I gathered my boy close to my heart and we hugged long. I asked him to forgive me for pushing him so hard. Told him I wanted to be a good teacher and that I needed to figure out how he learned. The way I was doing it wasn’t the right way. Told him I wanted him to always love reading and that if we kept going this way he would hate it so we weren’t going to keep going this way.

I released him from my expectations.

And three months later he started reading.

Not the Pat and Rat books, they never came back to my boy’s reading pile. But his new book, one that proudly graced his nightstand, a complete volume of Dick and Jane he’d started reading at night with his Dad. A three-sentence chapter every night. Relaxed, cozy in his bed, close to his Daddy’s heart. Most every evening for six months.

By the same time the next year, he was on to emergent readers, excited to learn new words and read “big books”.

By the time he was in third grade he had a stack of chapter books as tall as him on the nightstand and carried one everywhere he went. His Hardy Boys collection was his prized possession and he’d proudly tell anyone that he’d read every single one.

It wasn’t that my boy couldn’t read.

I just had to figure out how he learned. And how to know when he was ready.

I had to know when to push to make it happen or when to quit trying so it could happen it its own time.

That’s my job as his teacher, as his mama.

Thankfully God doesn’t take a learning curve for His firstborn. He doesn’t have to travel through the hard lessons of parenting like we do. He knew what He was doing and knows what He is doing and He tends us like a shepherd and He gathers us up. When we’re not ready He knows, but when we are ready He’ll push gently and always, always, He carries us close to his heart.

And He’ll lead us when we have young.

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Our fourth child just started kindergarten here in our little homeschool. I’ve learned some since that tearful morning long ago. I’m a drastically relaxed version of that first-year homeschooling mama. And thankfully, in spite of that first year, my firstborn is a relaxed and happy student. In the sixth grade now, he loves to read. He loves to learn. He loves to do his schoolwork in the home we learn and love in.

And my girls, my middle students, they delight in reading to their little brother and helping him make new words. Pat the Rat has made an appearance or two but there’s no pushing this time. When it goes back on the bookshelf, it isn’t because there have been tears involved.  It’s because it’s just time for a new book. There are no high expectations of when my kindergartener will read or how he’ll read or what he’ll do once he starts reading. He’ll read when he reads.

Until then, we’ll keep on doing what we love to do. We’ll learn new things. We’ll play new piano songs and bang on the drums. We’ll stretch ourselves in math. We’ll study the foundations of our country and we’ll create beautiful art work. We’ll enjoy the Bible and we’ll love on the library and we’ll learn how to write better and we’ll grow in grace and knowledge.

And when it comes time to read we won’t cry.

We’ll smile.

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4 thoughts on “The Day I Quit Trying

  1. Missus Wookie

    What I didn’t expect was that I’d still be reminding myself of that need to find out how they learn and let them do things at their own speed now that mine are adults. A good reminder that we are all still growing learning and loving – until the day we die.

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