I prepared pretty well for this school year. Taking into account the fact that we'd be meeting someone brand new just as the year got really underway, I crafted my plans in such a way as to (try to) keep things simple. And it's working. Well, most of the time.
Since you don't exactly know what any particular child's temperament will be until you actually live life with them for a while, I conjured an image of the most high maintenance, time intensive infant my imagination could muster, coupled with what I already knew of Oli's very time consuming needs, with a side order of Mani's two year-old penchant for needing 110% of my attention 150% of the time.
Assuming the worst, I figured, was only bound to lead to relief rather than frustration. Thus far, I haven't been disappointed.
It's turned out that Seven is the easiest newborn I've ever had. She may surprise me yet, of course. But so far, she contentedly sleeps an 8 hour stretch at night before waking up to nurse and then happily drifting back off for four more peaceful hours. She only naps in little one-hour snippets three times a day, but I'm not complaining. In addition to giving me plenty of nighttime rest, she's also got a sweet disposition. She's happy on anyone's lap, will grin for any and all takers, and gleefully passes time in the ergo, the bouncer, the sling, whatever. She's just ... delightful.
Mani has been less of a challenge than I'd feared during school hours, but only slightly so. Like Logan before him, Mani wants to feel involved. He will demand markers when the older kids are working on maps. He will clamor for a separate Bible story after our morning study. And, oh yes, he will remind me ever so vigorously that he likes puzzles. Lots of puzzles. And a movie, too, if you don't mind. All in all, though, this is what I expect of a toddler: a healthy appetite for being in the mix.
And then there's Oli. Unable to play on his own, he shadows Mani so closely that my younger boy has started flinching whenever he sees his big brother move toward his space. "Oli! I not playin' dat!" is the constant refrain. Oli copies Mani like a parrot. If Mani is sprawled on the floor with Rescue Heroes, lining them up and making them talk, Oli will shoulder in and grab a guy, then bounce it on the floor in imitation of what he thinks his little brother was doing. Mani has given up trying to engage Oli in his imaginative play, realizing that Oli just can't manage it. And so, Oli drifts, or pesters Mani until he shrieks, or sits on my lap trying to scribble with a pencil, or catapults himself angrily to the floor when he can't get a toy to work the way he'd like. I'll be honest: it's frustrating. It's loud. And it is constant.
And yet, I'd say this school year has been a success thus far. My planning has smoothed the way, yes ... but the real triumph has been in what we're learning in the day-to-day. I lowered the bar in terms of academic expectations, and left room for the unexpected, but opened the door for something else entirely: God's lesson plans.
Last year, Jo read Plutarch's Lives, The Last Days of Socrates, and Herodotus' Histories. This year, she's learned how to play alphabet games with a toddler, doula for a newly post-partum mother, and manage her own schedule a bit more. She's still learning math, science, etc. But added to it are lessons in making healthy snacks, grinning at a newborn, and humbly asking younger brothers for help.
Atticus has had a crash course in patience--one area where he needed, desperately, to be stretched. Redirecting Oli, waiting his turn to do his math on the computer, and singing "Twinkle, Twinkle" ten times a day with Mani have greatly improved his ability to die to self. He's delighting in his special ability to make Seven laugh out loud. Logan has been able to develop his natural gift of nurturing by reading to Seven, cuddling with Oli, and learning to make simple lunches.
As for me, I'm trying a allow God to grow me, even as I run up and down the stairs, fold laundry, make meals, teach, and read board books. Some days, I'm not sure I've learned anything. Where was God among the diaper changes, the shouting toddlers, the surly adolescent who doesn't understand why sentences always start with capitals? Other days, I am overwhelmed with the strength He has given me, or the gifts He has poured into me that so perfectly seem to match up with the needs of my children, or the opportunities He has offered that allow me to draw closer to Him.
In this place of chaos and busy and plain old messy life, I am keenly aware that I am living, daily, in God's classroom. I could have never have scheduled a season this perfectly designed to craft my children and myself into the people He wants us to be. I'm so glad that I didn't lock the door on His gentle teachings by insisting on adhering to a timeline of structured learning.