Some of the lessons I learned along the way of 2019 include:
* There is such a thing as divine discontent - an unsettled disruption deep within one's soul that doesn't allow you to stay where you are.
* There is grace in doing new things. Keeping open conversations going with Alan and each of the kids was key and helped us stay united as a family, even though we were each navigating different things.
* Choosing something different for the sake of personal growth, family, community, and the gospel can be both awful and wonderful at the same time.
* Stepping away from anything necessitates processing and often healing, and stepping into something new takes humility and hope. Learning to rewrite your own narrative is worth the work. And choosing gratitude goes a long way.
* Also, slowing down enough to find your center again is life-giving and necessary.
Wanting to take advantage of the perks of homeschooling, we renewed our state park pass and embarked on a massive garden project including planting 40 blueberry bushes and building 10 raised garden beds.
By January of 2020, I had just set up the front room as our homeschool room when covid hit, necessitating a repurposing of the room into my husband's home office and also transitioning the older two boys to e-learning. Eventually Alan switched jobs within the company which meant he was headed back into downtown, at which time the older boys commandeered the home office/school room to better focus their studies. To survive, we boiled everything down to bare necessities and did as much as we could outside until our 180 days were accomplished.
I'd honestly hoped to send all four kids to public school in the fall of 2020, but as district decisions were made, we decided to go ahead and continue homeschooling the younger two. The older two would navigate the hybrid in-person/e-learning labyrinth adequately, but keeping the younger two home seemed less stressful to me for this season. Along the way I was able to serve as an educational consultant for multiple families and a local church that launched a number of e-learning pods for at-risk students. (The e-learning pod consulting role allowed me to bring my elementary kids along and to see for myself how the district was handling virtual learning for younger students. This pushed me to introduce my own kids to Google classroom - not for everything, but enough that they would be familiar with it for when they do transition back to school. And I decided to use Khan Academy for Math, along with Reflex Math for the youngest who is still working on fact mastery.) We continued to do Science and History together and to work on their Language Arts one-on-one. And we continued to hike and purchased a swim membership to stay active.
Then I looked at my calendar for November 2020, and I realized that I had almost nothing for the two and a half weeks leading up to Thanksgiving! At this point in covid, I was admittedly feeling a bit restless. We had just about gotten to the unit on Lewis & Clark and Westward Expansion in our homeschool History curriculum, and between having a fourth grader eligible for the Every Kid Outdoors' National Parks program, reading Creative Schooling by Ken Robinson, seeing a friend's family take advantage of their remote work situation, and making our own successful trip to see family in Ohio with my homeschoolers in tow, this opening in my schedule flipped the idea lightbulb on in my head!
Why not road trip!?
I presented the half-cocked idea to Alan, and to my surprise he was immediately on board! Accommodations fell easily into place, and we loaded into the car for an epic road trip that would take us through vast portions of the Midwest including the following national parks and memorial sites:
* Mammoth Caves (KY)
* Gateway Arch (MO)
* The Badlands (SD)
* Wind Cave (SD)
* Mount Rushmore (SD)
* Indiana Dunes (IN)
**We also were able to visit the Crazy Horse museum & monument (which is not officially a national park because they've committed to completing the project without government funding) and the Custer State Park in SD.
The morning we left, Alan had his own lightbulb and decided to purchase a round-trip ticket to Rapid City, SD, to join us for four peak-experience days in the middle of the trip! Along the way, we listened to at least a dozen audiobooks, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Chronicles of Narnia, several Magic Tree House stories, two novels from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, lots of Adventures in Odyssey - American History, and multiple chapters from Story of the World, Vol. 3. The kids completed multiple Jr Ranger activities, and we logged enough miles to need an oil change before returning home! We stayed with friends on the weekends in Iowa on the way out and Wisconsin and Illinois on the way back, and got to see family in Ohio before heading home again for Thanksgiving. We were definitely ready to be home again, reunited with Alan, the older brothers, and their dog Morwen, and sleeping in our own beds!
And I've learned these things as we've wrapped up 2020, one of the most unusual years to date:
* Respect for others goes a long way. We're not always going to agree on politics and personal decisions. Reserve tight-holding-onto of opinions for the most important things. Listen to other people's reasons for why they're choosing something different than you.
* Embrace the random.
* Prioritize mental health - and help your own family recognize stress responses and appropriate ways to stay healthy. Talk often and take time to intentionally rejuvenate.
* Sometimes the crazy times are the best times for adventures. With so many people cancelling travel plans during the pandemic of 2020, it might not seem like a great time to travel. But for us, it was perfect! Hardly anyone was out in most of the Midwest, and yet the national parks remained open and off-season hotel/airbnb prices were quite reasonable. Plus, field trips are always a great idea!
* One of the best parts about going away is how much you appreciate coming home.
* Simple holiday celebrations and heartfelt conversations are among my most favorite things in the world.
In many ways, 2019 providentially set us up for 2020. I had already stepped away from teaching in the classroom. We were already homeschooling. We already had a garden... So oddly for us, 2019 was our rougher year, and 2020 (though not without its challenges) actually turned out to be a year full of opportunity and growth. And though there is plenty to grieve, there is also so much for which to give thanks and be glad.
No matter what this year has been for you, I pray that 2021 brings fresh hope and clarity and that God gives us all the courage to move forward in faith with love.
Multiplied grace and peace,