Front Royal, VA. Every couple of weeks, my kids put out a hard-copy newspaper called The Lane Family Press. They’ve been doing this for two years now, and it is hands-down one of the coolest of their many projects. A number of their friends participate as staff writers, and together they have put out nearly thirty issues, with headlines such as “Local Canine Returns to College Campus,” about our dog going to work with my husband, and “Grown Man Collapses Under Strain of Standing-on-One-Foot Contest, Ten-Year-Old Wins,” about the shameful defeat of their uncle in said contest by the paper’s Editor-in-Chief.
As Copyeditor and Chief Typist, I have little say over the content of each issue, and anyways, my input is rarely needed. The poetry published in the Press is often quite good, and the articles are always full of interest. Last year’s call for Christmas article and story contributions led to an outpouring of holiday writing from the kids in our circle. This year, there is even a story being serialized.
My husband Chris and I are professional educators who also homeschool our kids, so things like the Lane Family Press ought to be right up our alley. And when the kids first proposed the paper, I recognized that it was a wonderful idea–but it also made me want to hide under the covers. I do want to be the kind of teacher who says “yes” when her students want to write a newspaper. I want to do the formatting for them, to pay for the stamps, and to write the occasional article under my fabulous Press pseudonym, Trixie McStreet.
But I must admit that I am not always that kind of teacher. Or parent. Or just person, generally.
In fact, last year I had to face the hard fact that I was overcommitted, fatigued, and irritable, and that it was having a negative effect on both my teaching and my family life. I was homeschooling, teaching a college night course, teaching one full day per week at a local school (with my toddlers in tow), and of course also trying to make riding, swimming, and piano happen for the kids–plus doing the laundry and cooking and cleaning, and buying all the birthday presents and making all the Christmas cookies and answering all of the 10-year-old’s deep existential questions. You know the drill. My husband is a great partner who always jumps in the moment he returns home from his demanding teaching job, but he was working hard all day, too–just in a different context and, it must be said, generally with people who had already been toilet trained.
I was feeling, in Bilbo’s words, “like butter scraped over too much bread,” and it was really starting to show.
But for the life of me, I could not figure out what to do about it. Weren’t all of my commitments important? Weren’t they all good? How could I say “no” to such good things? What would my family miss out on if I couldn’t make it all happen?
I have a Ph.D. and more than a decade of teaching experience, for crying out loud. I should be able to handle this. Yet if all these commitments were really so good, then why was I so miserable, and why did the thought of helping my kids do something as minor as type a newspaper article make me want to curl up into a little ball?
This is where the Lane Family Press comes in. You see, I am a committed education nerd. I have been thinking about questions of education since I was knee-high to a Dewey-loving grasshopper, and I have read, thought, and worked deeply in the field. I have strong pedagogical opinions, and in my ideal world, my kids would do formal composition and penmanship and the Press. I want to be John Holt, Charlotte Mason, Maria Montessori, and Socrates in my homeschooling, with a little bit of Oxford Don thrown in for good measure. In principle, I believe that education is broader than traditional schoolwork, but at this point I had only halfheartedly put that into action–because what if I missed something?
And so I had packed our days full, with plenty of playtime still for the kids but none for me, and I was holding myself to impossible standards so that, I thought, everyone’s needs would be met (excepting, sometimes, my own).
But while I was stressing away I also ignored the obvious: that while I was piling up activities and subjects so that my kids could have a great education, in reality they were already getting one.
Take the Press. What, exactly, could they learn from their formal Language Arts schoolwork that they were not already taking care of themselves through this wonderful weekly, multi-day project? Their newspaper allowed them to practice intensive nonfiction and creative writing; interviewing; collaborating; planning; reading (they even wrote book reviews!); researching; proofreading; advertising; and even addressing envelopes correctly. As a bonus, it got them walking around the neighborhood delivering papers when they otherwise might have been inside cutting the whiskers off their stuffed animals with nail clippers.
At some point around last March I finally woke up to this, and right then and there, we abandoned all English instruction (except reading) in our home school in favor of putting out the Press. And in doing so, I finally pushed back against that persistent fear inside of me that what I was doing would never be enough. In all honesty, I always knew that the Press was enough, from the minute the kids started writing it. But just as I kept on accepting too many teaching jobs and kept on signing the kids up for more extracurriculars, I just couldn’t get myself to treat it as sufficient. I needed to finally act on what I knew to be true: that good enough is good enough, and that more than enough is actually too much.
So over the past several months, I’ve gradually made changes in my commitments so that my energy levels have gone up and my stress has gone down. My kids let the Press die over the summer, and so when the new school year began, we pulled out the copywork books again and started back in on writing essays and stories and letters to my son’s stuffed wolf, Wiley. And that has been very good, too. But when my daughter handed me a new, handwritten issue of the Press to type up a few weeks ago, I was ready; this time, I let this experience work for us instead of just trying to pile it on top of all the other work.
Now, when the kids get an itch to write an issue every two weeks or so, we do it. And when they are more interested in making a tri-fold poster board project about James and the Giant Peach, we do that instead. And for my part, I am working on making decisions out of prudence and preference rather than out of fear and guilt. Good enough is good enough. My work as a mother, wife, teacher, and community member already requires tremendous self-discipline; in the areas where I have free choices, I am learning to choose what I actually want instead of trying to live up to baseless expectations. And it turns out that what I want is evenings by the fire, laughing with my husband over the latest issue of the Press while the kids play in the backyard with their flashlights.
Being a teacher is a demanding job, whether in a college, school, or home setting. It requires tremendous energy, responsiveness, and mental flexibility. It requires that you, the teacher, also be willing to let yourself be taught. I am thankful that for me, it required learning a lesson from the Press and resisting the call of “too much.”
Image Credit: Camille Pissarro, “Children on a Farm,” (1887).
Love this! I never learned more (or had more fun) as a child than when the absence of television or a budget for toys sent me scampering through the forests and fields, ransacking the library, and concocting stage plays for family and friends.
Thank you, Dawn! Life is such a good teacher.
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