Great Expectations: My Life in Fairy Tales

The fairytale of the little girls in the white dresses, living happily ever after, well, I’m still searching for that. I’ve learned that little girls in lacy white dresses get dirty. And that mom does a lot of laundry. It’s been my experience that parenting is like that: at times, the fantasy fades.

In the scrapbook, the kids are perfect; the memories are momentous. After they’re all tucked into bed at night, the day seems idyllic. Real life, though, and real parenting, isn’t a scrapbook montage. Home educating has been much the same as the reality check on parenting. There are things I wasn’t expecting.

Cinderella keeps a constant handle on the broomstick and though the hearth has been swept, it needs to be swept again, and again. A friend recently said that she sweeps the kitchen ten times a day. I don’t know if she is serious, but somehow I imagined this would not be necessary now that we were all at home–many hands make light work. Reality check: when you live in the house most of the day, it most certainly is not tidier.

Only Sleeping Beauty can claim enough slumber. The rest of us need to regulate our bedtimes. With inadequate sleep, I fumble with words and am irritable, edgy, and unclear in thought. Troubles abound when mixed with early mornings. Short nights and impertinent children: mountains made out of molehills. Is there help for my weary soul? Get to bed on time!

I don’t know who took care of Jack and Jill after they tumbled down the hill, but when someone in my home is ill, I am the caretaker, whether I am as badly ill as anyone else. One morning, after a sleepless night of sickness, I got out of bed to do the paper route. I was off to the van, had Zach strapped into his toddler seat, handed him a bit of banana, and boom, puke everywhere. Our oldest, Hannah, bathed and dressed him. I dismantled the newly installed carseat and gave it a bath. “Call in a sick day”, my husband emailed. Yes, why is that so difficult to do when I’m not bound to anyone else’s schedule?

Snow White’s seven dwarves all demanded different attention. Attending to the older girls’ seems more immediate, as they have specialized requests, like learning to calculate the area of a parallelogram or translating the sewing pattern. Trying to rush through a math lesson because you hear the toilet flush in the bathroom when everyone of flushing age is in your room requires great patience. Intentional time to read Little Mr. books or throw a ball needs to be set aside. Although our youngest kids have had the earliest exposure to anatomy, they require me to rejig my priorities for one-on-one time.

There are no fairy tales where the mother figure has a temper tantrum. Well, I can imagine the Old Woman in the Shoe doing so, but in illustrations, she looks very, very happy. I’ve spent more time than I imagined determining how to appropriately deal with frustrations because someone won’t listen or someone whacked someone or … you fill in the blank. I have heard many mothers say they wouldn’t home educate, because they simply couldn’t imagine that much time with their offspring. If you haven’t figured out how to interact with them, deal with their idiosyncrasies, or your own, like how not to yell, not to be unreasonable, or give them everything they want, the home educating lifestyle will definitely afford you the time.

Sometimes when the princess kisses the frog, she finds out he is just a frog. “I can’t do it if the answer isn’t eleven!” Rachel declared with frustration. The question: 8+4=? Well, what is a mother to do? The answer can’t be eleven just because she wants it to be. How do I cleverly respond to that? Understanding what the child understands is essential. I can’t just presume that she is going to understand the first time either. It takes patience. What better way to learn patience, then to try and try and try again…and there’s lots of opportunity.

Much like the Beauty attemtping to tame her Beast, I had great expectations in my maternal role: a pristine, pretty world, orderly, generally quiet, with ongoing family harmony and undisturbed happiness: rather gargantuan hopes. The reality is I get all of those things, but usually in no particular order, with a helping of disorder, dirt, and dysfunction. We all have expectations, but, as Belle discovered, the exterior is never the full representation of the experience.

The story is unfinished. The plot thickens as each child gets older. Chapters are added as each year is completed. The climax might be when all four kids weren’t sleeping through the night, perhaps when the three girls are teenagers, or any number of storylines I can’t yet predict. No question, though, our life isn’t a fairy tale. Yet I keep writing the stories and anticipating a happily ever after. The days are long, but the years are short.