Friday, September 21, 2007

The Imp of Illusions

We're heading into week five of homeschooling here at the Cardigan house, and once again we're being visited by a Creature.

It's not that bad, of course. The Creatures that show up later in the year tend to be much more troublesome. But the Imp of Illusions can be annoying, especially since he's invisible.

I first suspected his presence when I noticed how ambitious some of my schedules for these first few weeks have been. We were going to do every assignment! In every book! Plus every workbook activity! Plus outside projects! All of it with exuberant enthusiasm and a love for learning that would almost be palpable!

We were going to immerse ourselves in math in the morning, linger over lunch for literary discussions, and sneak in a little dictionary work while preparing dinner. We were going to festoon every inch of the refrigerator with examples of flawless work and inspiring creativity.

We were going to whistle while we worked.

Reality has a way of gently encouraging us to reexamine our plans; gently, in the way that a speeding locomotive demolishing a stack of priceless porcelain is gentle. But in the aftermath of the train wreck that is reality hitting, the sly little Imp arises, the ghost of the wreckage of our overconfident and overextended ambitions. He points not to what we can do, and do well, but to what we thought we could do, and do excellently. He creates in our mind the illusion of ourselves as the Perfect Homeschooling Mom, the one with boundless energy, limitless imagination, degrees in math and English, the patience of a saint, the creativity of a DaVinci, the craft skills of a Martha Stuart, the homemaking talents of the biblical Martha, the kitchen science of an Alton Brown, the organizational skills of the Flylady, and the cheerful good nature of a Pollyanna. And, of course, with perfect children.

The Imp is the one whispering in your ear that you should be able to teach difficult math concepts while putting the ingredients for dinner into the Crockpot by no later than eight o'clock in the morning. The Imp is the one who insists that other homeschooled children don't get distracted and begin surreptitiously cutting out paper snowflakes instead of finishing their religion questions. The Imp is the one who tries to get you to cancel science experiments or art projects on the grounds that they're too messy. The Imp is the one who pretends that everyone else in the world lives in a home that is neater and tidier and better-furnished than yours, and that other homeschoolers have actual classrooms, complete with (non-plastic) globes and large American (and Papal) flags at the front of the room, displayed in such a way as to leave plenty of room on the full-sized chalkboard for writing the Latin Word of the Day and the Literary Concept of the Week. The Imp is the one who pretends that all the other homeschooling moms out there assign every question in every book on every day of every week, in addition to workbook activities and outside projects.

Fortunately, by the end of the school day today I had discovered the Imp's presence. Equally fortunately, he's pretty easy to dispel, once you know he's there--in fact, I've already gotten rid of him.

Unfortunately, getting rid of the Imp doesn't automatically get rid of the effect he's had. My schedules are still a little too ambitious, and will need some serious rethinking and retooling if they're going to work. But it's amazing, once the illusion of perfection has passed, and you start to realize just how much you've already accomplished in four short weeks.

New math concepts. Great discussions about the meaning of Divine providence (followed by an equally great paragraph relating same to the life of Joseph and his brothers in Egypt, written by my oldest DD). Nouns in apposition tackled and conquered by my second DD. A science experiment involving water in a cup and a piece of paper which was supposed to have a prism effect, in which the hypothesis that the experiment wasn't working properly because clear plastic doesn't refract light as well as glass was tested and proved by my youngest DD. Learning going on all around me, even when that learning involves the number of snips to make in the paper snowflake you're really not supposed to be making just now.

The Imp doesn't stand a chance.


Hélène said...

Mine are too young to homeschool yet, but I know when I do I will be attacked by the Imp. I tend to be very idealistic and when reality hits I become pessimistic. You are right though, that if I recognize that I suffering from illusions of being the perfect educator, it will be easier to not become discouraged. Hopefully I will remember that in a couple years.

MommaLlama said...

It's nice to hear that the Imp visits other homeschooling mothers... not that I wish he would, but at least I know that I'm not the only one fending him off as we head in to week 4.

Good work getting rid of him!