If my 37th year had an album title, it would be “Variations on the Theme of Waiting.” And it would be full of surprising melodic turns, and soft resolutions. The returns on investments I didn’t mean to make have been humbling and bountiful.
I have not been particularly patient; I have mostly indulged in worry over these things. But God chose the timing of several aspects of our homeschool, and the fruit of his wisdom nudges me, not as a rebuke, but as an invitation to wonder at its beauty.
God is always right.
Here are some things he has been right about.
Having shaken off almost every convention of progressive schooling and inverted every part of its paradigm, I still, subconsciously, clung to this notion that orchestra instruments start in 4th grade. I grew up in a family where piano began as early as possible, and a second instrument started with 4th grade lessons. This was tantamount to law.
But for me, obstacles arose in the form of oboe prices, scarcity of oboe teachers, multiple military moves, and my husband’s contention that I was making up this whole law about 4th grade. This dragged on until we had a second rising 4th grader. Eventually we even owned both girls’ instruments, but still couldn’t make the thing work.
Over the last year, another recurring obstacle, my second daughter’s anxiety issues, slowed our progress on many fronts. My foreign language goals were repeatedly thwarted, and an oboe and a trombone gathered dust in the corner.
When everything goes poorly, we retreat to what we know. We brew tea. We circle up. We repeat Psalms and read poetry and novels.
Quarantine sent us retreating even deeper into soul-sustaining stories. At the same time, it gave my anxious daughter a quiet space in which to grow. And it forced music teachers onto online platforms. Then one day recently, amidst the quacking of our new oboist and the sound I won’t describe that budding trombone players make, I saw it. A beauty was unfurling that spoke to perfect, ordained timing.
Over the past few years, while I was worrying and occasionally beleaguering my husband about lost time, the girls had both turned a corner in the piano lessons I was giving them. They had come to value it for themselves and to practice without sighs (or threats or bribes). This, and their increased music-reading capabilities, was priming them to start their new instruments with excitement and confidence.
I had forgotten how waiting can make the transition all joy and no burden.
At the same time, each of my older daughters started a new language course with none of the stress that had accompanied my earlier attempts. I had resorted to writing simple stories in Italian, my ancestral language, to read to them, and singing little songs, all the while feeling irritated that I couldn’t make more solid progress.
Now suddenly, my oldest, with a year each of Latin and Greek under her belt, wanted to take in grammatical Italian this summer as well. Meanwhile, my second daughter, who spent most of 4th grade panicking over everything from bed-making to math to swim lessons, was suddenly eagerly stalking the mailbox for the arrival of her new Latin book. She turned to me, ten minutes into her first lesson, and said in shock, “Mom, I understand pronouns now! I never really got that before.”
Readiness is beautiful. The only time lost is that spent in hand-wringing.
Still more humbling is that fact that, nine years into homeschooling, I am a big evangelist for waiting. The first thing I tell the younger mom, bubbling over with zeal, is to file her big ideas into long term goals and then just relax into those early years. I tell her to play and make puzzles and catch lizards and read stories and trust that the reading and adding and telling time will click when they will. I say these things, which I learned from older moms in theory and from loosening up with each successive child in practice, and yet I still succumbed to worry over languages and music.
But “You still the hunger of those you cherish; their sons have plenty, and they store up wealth for their children. And I—in righteousness I will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness” (Psalm 17:15).
We retreated into what we knew and trusted, the tutelage of Words, and even though my trust proved frail, to that God added even more. He is a gentle teacher, for all teachers to imitate. And when I put first the first things, the time spent in “seeing his likeness” puts the seeing of declensions and time signatures into their proper place. I am reawakened to the beauty of divine order.
Homeschooling can feel like a very small stand to take against the tide of culture and our odd place in history. Yet the pace and proportions of my work are perfectly ordained by the one who sees all ends. My plans are pretty good when they are informed by wiser minds and submitted to the headship of God. Outrunning their pacesetter, those plans are hollowed and drained of life.
I am in every way a student in my own homeschool. This lesson bears repeating:
“Wait for the Lord. Be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:14)