It Seems Like They Change Every Year: Some Thoughts on Routines and Striving for Perfection

Sometime when Katie was in preschool or kindergarten, my mom gave her a magnetic calendar. It had bright, colorful tiles, with places to note the weather and the season and the user’s current mood.

It was the perfect addition to our nascent homeschool, and I was diligent to use it as a part of our routine. Each morning, as the kids were finishing up breakfast, I would bring it to the table and we would walk through each section, reviewing seasons and days and months together.

“If yesterday was Wednesday the 27th,” I would say, “then what’s today?”

Most of the time, Katie would answer correctly. Abby would parrot her response just a few seconds later and a small part of me would think, “Well, if nothing else, at least I’ve taught them that much.”

I’ve been in the thick of homeschool planning the past few weeks: researching various resources and methodologies, comparing recommended book lists against the offerings of our local library, sorting and organizing and ordering supplies.

Last weekend, I had finally whittled down all the possibilities and settled on what feels like a reasonable plan for first and third grade. As we drove home from church, I told Jonathan that I felt I had a handle on things, that I was looking forward to the upcoming year. I had this image in my mind, one that consisted of us gathering in happy harmony to study and learn and grow together. It was beautiful.

And then? Then Monday hit.

I don’t have an explanation for what happened, really, except that some days are just hard. And this one was a doozy. The girls woke up on the wrong side of bed. Or I did. Or, more likely, we all did. We grated against each other. There were battles over chores and schoolwork and piano practice. Some of us cried. Some of us yelled. All of us were unhappy.

It was not a pretty picture.

It felt unfair, somehow. I had this great plan, this beautiful vision, so why was it so hard?

Somewhere along the way, I dropped our calendar routine. It might have been in March or April of 2020, when we were stuck at home and the days began to run together, or it might have been a year later, when I was deep in the throes of first trimester exhaustion and sickness.

(Then again, it’s all too likely I just stopped doing it at some point, and there wasn’t some big reason as to why. But I’d prefer to think it was some cataclysmic, life-changing event that caused my lapse and not just my own fallibility.)

Regardless, for months, the poor calendar hung unused and neglected, perpetually stuck at a day in the distant past. At some point last autumn, I realized it had fallen into complete disarray. Nothing in its proper spot. Tiles going every which way. Months and days and years all a jumbled mess.

I’ll be honest: in some ways, its new arrangement felt like a better representation of our days than when it was neatly organized with everything where it belongs.

In this day and age, one can all-too-easily fall down the rabbit hole of homeschooling possibilities. You could spend months researching various curricula and resources and barely scratch the surface of what’s out there, and don’t even get me started on all the different methods and styles people use.

While I’m certainly grateful for those who have gone before me, and I’m glad I don’t have to do this thing from scratch, the sheer abundance of resources could be a recipe for disaster for a recovering perfectionist. They make it far too easy to fall into the trap of thinking everything will be lovely and idyllic and wonderful if only we find the right book, the right schedule, the right way of doing things.

(Ask me how I know this.)

A few weeks ago, I was reading a book to the kids that listed, among other things, the days of the week. It soon became apparent that Abby didn’t know them in order, not really. And Katie was rusty at best.

They know we go to church on Sundays and to co-op on Wednesdays. They know piano lessons are on Friday afternoons and bible study is Thursday night. They live for Saturdays, when Jonathan is home all day.

But they couldn’t quite put the days in order. Couldn’t rattle them off easily.

For a brief moment, I had the sudden thought that this was all my fault for falling out of our calendar routine, that it was surely a sign I was failing my kids, that if my daughter didn’t know the days of the week when she was five, then she was doomed, just doomed, to live a life of misery and ignorance, forever questioning why her mother thought herself competent to educate her.

But I am ever-so-slowly learning to shoo such thoughts away with the truth, to remind myself that education is a lifelong pursuit, that my kids are continually learning and growing, that babies have a habit of upending routines and that all of this is ok.

A few nights ago, I was chatting with a friend who is a few years farther down the road in this parenting and homeschooling journey. We’d both been considering a history curriculum, one that’s meaty and rich and comes with glowing recommendations, but I’d decided it just doesn’t feel like a good fit for our family right now.

“I think I might give it another look in a few years,” I told her, “when I feel a bit more settled into a consistent routine.”

She smiled. “It seems like it changes every year.”

“The curriculum?”

“No, the routine. It seems like every year, it’s different. It’s always changing and adapting.”

And why should this aspect of parenting, of life, be any different from the rest, after all?

Time ebbs and flows. We have good days and bad ones. Routines shift and change and adapt and move.

I might find the perfect curriculum. I might settle on just the right approach, find the method that is an ideal fit for our family. I might figure out a schedule that just works.

Or, more likely, I won’t.

But either way, we’ll be ok.

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