The sonorous scales of the harmonica intersect with the dulcet tones of a little girl’s voice, in vain trying to overcome the musical accompaniment. I open my eyes, disoriented to encounter the beginning of another day. Once the kids’ breakfast is on the table and my coffee is brewing, the nagging feeling that will accompany me for the rest of the day sets in: there must be something I was supposed to do today or maybe yesterday, in addition to the usual stuff (homeschooling, feeding all these people, laundry, laundry, and laundry), but I am forgetting it. What is it? Most likely, it’s an email response I owe someone.

For years now, I have lived my life in fear that I will forget to respond to some very important email, thereby offending someone quite thoroughly forevermore, or maybe just dropping the ball on a project, delaying and inconveniencing the work of others involved on said project. This fear, especially acute during my time in academia, has only mildly lessened since transitioning to my new routine outside of it. As a result, I generally try to answer emails as they roll in, with as little delay as possible. And yet the fear persists because the life of a homeschool mom is endlessly chaotic in ways predictable yet new every day. Perhaps the best book that might describe my life of late is If You Give a Mouse a Cookie—except there are no mice. There are, however, plenty of cookies.

It is, I realized, handy to have a proper template handy, ready to use, should my fears come true, and I discover that I really did forget to answer an email for a few months, and then need to send a very thorough and sincere apology. In fact, it is possible that such an email is buried somewhere in one of my three inboxes right now, awaiting this very reply:

Dear So-and-So,

The gentle sun of the early fall, not-so-warm anymore in the crisp Midwestern mornings, has reminded me of your missive, which you had sent to me back when the strawberries were in bloom in the early summer. I truly appreciated your email, and meant to respond right away, as is usually my custom. But then an unfortunate sequence of events hindered that response until now. I cannot honestly remember exactly what happened that fateful day to impede said reply, but I can attempt to reconstruct the sequence of events with reasonable certainty.

The fact that a blank draft response message to you exists in my inbox suggests that I truly did press “reply,” thinking to take advantage of the brief lull in household activity that generally occurs mid-morning. But then, I think, a little girl began to cry upstairs. So up I went to see what happened, to learn that her feelings were hurt. The world, she reported, is deeply unfair. I believe I inquired what exactly she meant and learned that there was nothing specific that prompted her distress, but it was just the general unfairness of the world that had upset her so deeply. I suppose you too can relate to this feeling, even if you likely do not go about your days randomly bursting into tears over it all. But if you do, I’m certainly not judging!

In this house, we believe in mourning with those who mourn, so I comforted her for a while. Finally, intending to distract her from overly existential questions that she really ought to save for conversations with her dad when she is older, plus realizing that it was right about time for a morning snack for the kids, I called them both to the kitchen and fixed them a snack. It probably involved slicing some fruit and cheese, as well as getting some crackers from the pantry. Since each of the children only likes one particular type of crackers at any given moment, I had to make sure to put the correct ones out for each of them, and hope that they still liked it that day.

Once I finished serving the snack, sweeping the floor was obligatory. I am not sure why children of a certain age shed remnants of meals on the floor even when eating something that doesn’t seem overly crumbly, plus they are eating that food on a plate and at the table, but it is just one of those mysteries of the universe. I suppose we could always get a dog for clean-up purposes, as some have recommended, but I’m afraid that would only add further chores to the never-ending list already involved in my day. Besides, what if the dog doesn’t like the same crackers as my children?

Anyway, once snack and post-snack clean-up were over, I realized that I needed to check my son’s work on the math lesson from the day, since he had left his math on the kitchen table earlier for that purpose. And checking math reminded me of the one mathematical certainty in my life: there was still a load of laundry in the dryer from last night. And so, off I went to the basement to get that load processed, folded, and put away. While I was at it, I started a new load, since my husband had asked for a favorite shirt that has, apparently, been languishing in the basement laundry room, pitifully awaiting its turn to be washed, for weeks already. Since every single shirt he owns looks pretty much the same, I am not entirely sure what makes this one his favorite, or how he can even tell it apart from the rest, but there seems to be no point in making a mountain out of this molehill.

When I returned upstairs, I think I had to deal with additional hurt feelings—this time, from my eight-year-old son. Really, parenting so often feels like you are providing therapy and conflict mediation services all day long—even while probably creating new reasons for both you and your offspring to require more therapy later in life. At any rate, on this particular occasion, investigation revealed that his sister had deeply wounded his feelings by refusing to memorize lines from a new play he had written, involving gruesome details from Egyptian mythology, complete with some hieroglyphics that he had taught himself a while back from a book.

He thoughtfully included a hieroglyphs decoder in his play script, but that was not helpful for sister, as she cannot yet read in any language. Not even Egyptian hieroglyphics. Disappointing, I know, and an obvious failure of both parenting and homeschooling that we fully intend to remedy in the future. In the meanwhile, however, this left an urgent need that I was summoned to fill. I had to read “cold” to see which part I might earn in this play. As you can imagine, this was serious business that occupied me the rest of the morning. I must say, a decoder of the hieroglyphs proved quite useful. It really was so considerate of him to provide it.

Then it was time to make and serve lunch, check over my son’s Greek homework, and so on—but you get the idea. The day continued to roll along those lines, and after the children at last were down for the night seven or eight hours later, there was an avalanche of new emails in my inbox, plus I really wanted to finish reading a book that was due at the library, I needed to edit a book review, I think there was some writing of my own I had hoped to do, I rather wanted to spend some time talking to my husband about something other than his favorite shirt, and all thought of replying to your email had utterly slipped from my mind.

Truly, I sincerely apologize. I wish I could say that this would never happen again, but it is not in my power at present to make such promises. All I can say is, thank you ever so much for your message.

Sincerely etc.,


P.S. I realize that I did not, in fact, respond to your original query. Another email to come with further apologies and, I can at least hope, an answer.

Image credit: “Mother and Daughters Playing Chess” by Francis Coates Jones via Wikimedia Commons

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Nadya Williams
Nadya Williams grew up in Russia and Israel, and after thirteen years in Georgia is now a resident of Ohio. She is the author of Cultural Christians in the Early Church (Zondervan Academic, 2023) and Mothers, Children, and the Body Politic: Ancient Christianity and the Recovery of Human Dignity (forthcoming IVP Academic, October 2024). Her newest book project, Christians Reading Pagans, a guide for Christians on reading the pagan Greco-Roman Classics, is under contract at Zondervan Academic. Along with her husband, Dan, she gets to experience the joys, frustrations, and tribulations of homeschooling their children.