The following is a guest post written by Amy Frank of Frankly Journaling the Journey.
The amount of artistic ability I have could easily fit in a thimble – which I wouldn’t be able to draw. When my kids ask me to draw an animal for them, I always persuade them that a rabbit would be best, since I can draw two basic circles on top of each other and add some ears and whiskers and call it done.
But even though I was never able to master any of the actual techniques I learned in art classes, I did understand one or two of the basic concepts, and the one that I found rattling around in my mind recently was the idea of negative space.
If my non-artistic brain understands it correctly, negative space is the space around the actual image in the artwork. It is not meant to be the focus, although clever artists do pay attention to how it affects the composition.
The parallel I draw to my life, though, goes like this: All of the efforts I am putting into raising and educating our children is the main focus of my “art,” and the negative space is everything around us that we are not doing.
For as long as I have been a mom – well really for as long as I’ve been alive — it has been very easy for me to focus on the negative space in a despairing way.
In other words, no matter how many things I am doing, something always catches my eye and reminds me of what I am not doing, and it becomes a point of distraction.
Perhaps mothers are faced with even greater measures of this thinking, since we have other lives at stake, not just our own. I had to laugh when I read that a Japanese word sometimes used for the concept of negative space is actually “ma!”
As a home educator, it usually plays itself out as I’m humming along with our well-researched and thoroughly analyzed curriculum and extra-curricular classes, and then I have a conversation with another homeschooler who has been taking her kids to fencing classes and now they’re excelling so much that they’re going on a trip to Europe to compete in medieval fencing tournaments, and they’ll probably get full college scholarships because who actually knows how to fence these days?
And all I can think is, “WHY ARE MY KIDS NOT TAKING FENCING CLASSES??”
At that point it doesn’t matter to me that my kids have been in soccer, baseball, football, dance, gymnastics, and tennis classes…THEY’RE NOT IN FENCING CLASSES!
Similarly, I may have very conscientiously weighed all of the pros and cons about whether or not my children should learn an old language like Latin or a modern one like Spanish, and have finally made my decision and bought the Rosetta Stone software, and the kids are a third of the way through it….
And then I have a conversation with someone about how important it is for kids to learn French so they can read literature and know how to pronounce words and visit France for a summer. And then all the bells in my head are ringing, “WHY AREN’T MY KIDS LEARNING FRENCH??”
All moms need to make decisions for their children, but homeschooling seems to compound the decision-making. When I grew up in the public school, many of these decisions were made for me. We learned musical instruments for band in the 4th grade, had to choose only between French and Spanish beginning in 7th grade, and were limited in the sports options we could pursue (no fencing).
As a homeschool mom I am faced with not only picking curriculum (Classical education? Charlotte Mason method? Unit-study based?) but also all of their other activities.
In our area there are homeschooling classes for sign language, sculpture, photography, debate, swimming, Lego robotics, and about a hundred other academic and non-academic pursuits (including fencing!), all of which make my head snap up inquisitively when I hear about them.
“Should we do that one?” I hear myself asking about 50 times a year.
Even without all the suggestions and voices from outside sources, I still find it hard not to focus on negative space within the walls of our own home. There are many goals I have each day and I am prone to focus only the ones that did not get done.
On any given day we may have been on track with our studies, had peaceful chore times, gotten to the violin lessons, and memorized a new Bible verse – but all of a sudden I’ll jerk my head up and think, “But wait – I never got the kids outside today!”
And this oversight, this thing we did not do, will be enough to derail the day.
My goal this past year was not to let the negative space focus drag me down.
My children will not excel in all languages and all sports and all musical instruments, and they may not even finish the curriculum for the year (gasp!), but when I focus on what we are doing, the art we are creating with our lives, my breathing can slow down and I can be thankful.
Interestingly, in art often the negative space can actually enhance the piece.
Maybe this is true in our lives as well; what we’re not doing can bring our focus to what we are, and make it more beautiful.
How do you keep your focus on what you are doing in your homeschool, instead of what you aren’t?