Written by Hannah Vanderpool of Praying With One Eye Open
I’m a writer who likes fresh beginnings and well-timed endings. Middles? Not so much.
When I think about the middle of, say, a novel manuscript, I imagine a hammock creaking under the weight of a couple of lemonade-sipping kids or a dad who really ought to be mowing the lawn.
Creative writing instructors refer to these in-between pages as the dreaded “saggy middle.”
They teach rookies and published authors alike how to push through their own saggy middles with enough energy and forward momentum to keep readers engaged until the end.
This is important because it’s easier to start a story, and even to finish it, than it is to keep putting one foot in front of the other when you’re in the middle of a thing and can’t see your way to an ending yet.
As it turns out, writing is not my day job–homeschooling is. I’ve been on this particular journey for nine years now.
Our family started strong when my three kids were barely out of Pull-ups (yes, I was over eager). I hope to finish well, too, when my youngest daughter is finally ready to fly my little coop.
But all three kids are in middle school now and, like the middle pages of a story I love, I’ve found that this season presents new challenges.
I have to discipline myself not to become bored, irritated, or anxious to skip ahead in this chapter of homeschooling.
I remind myself that there is much to learn in the middle of things.
Still, let’s be honest. Despite our best intentions, in the thick of hormones, squabbles, and burgeoning “Give me liberty, or give me death” speeches, things can get hairy for a homeschooling mom in the middle years.
Here are some tips that help our family navigate the pitfalls:
Make sure your middle schooler is getting enough exercise.
The other day the kids and I were working on memory drill and they kept yawning and looking off into the distance.
I grew increasingly annoyed with each slow blink because A) I know they get enough sleep, and B) their schedules are remarkably roomy. All I ask is for a little focused attention now and then.
But then it struck me. Maybe if we get our blood flowing … And that did it. After two minutes of jumping jacks they were ready to join me again. Their eyes were clear, they were laughing. Problem solved.
Note to self: exercise is the answer to a lot of attention/focus issues.
Prepare for (your kids’) mood swings.
It’s not just girls who experience them, I’m here to tell you. For both boys and girls, middle school is a season of life that brings with it the gift of happy-sad-angry-confused-elated-bored feelings in manic little loops–several times a day.
I know this, but I forget sometimes. Reminding myself that these seesaw emotions are a natural, normal part of growing up helps me not to take everything so personally (not…that I ever do that, of course).
Note to self: sometimes we all just need a big time-out.
Read to your kids, even though they are tall and wear deodorant.
Middle schoolers aren’t completely sure they want to grow up. They still have one foot firmly in childhood most days.
It’s a dance we parents do, trying to decide what’s what for a kid who isn’t sure what he wants or needs.
One way to express love to, and maintain closeness with your middle schooler is to read aloud to her. This is something I do with my kids every day, and we all cherish it.
My kids are able to read on their own, of course, and they do, often. But the time we spend reading together allows them to be little kids again, to temporarily set aside the quest to grow up. It allows me to hearken back to a simpler time and to remember why I love homeschooling.
Note to self: I love this life. I always have. Even now, with hormones.
I look back on our homeschool beginning with fondness. The journey stretched before me then, a fresh path with no footprints in it.
I imagine its end will be bittersweet, too.
I’ll long for the days when we all woke up under the same roof, when we lived like we had forever together.
But I want to be a person who cherishes these middle years, too, because the middle is where most of life happens.
I want to put one foot in front of the other, not grudgingly, not skimming these pages. I want to live the middle years with my kids intentionally.
I want to smile. Making sure we get enough exercise, show each other grace, and stay connected makes me feel like I can.
Are you homeschooling through the ‘saggy middle’ right now too?