By Amanda Graves, KPA mom and JH Volleyball Coach
In the movie “Finding Nemo,” Dory is a forgetful but selfless fish that has set out on a daunting mission to help Marlin, a random clownfish who had lost his son. Like any good movie, the journey is full of unknown adventures, doubt in one’s ability to complete the task or survive, and perseverance. At one point in the story, when faced with adversity, Marlin begins to give up, but Dory comes along and begins to recite over and over, “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming, swimming.” This melody has often been my mantra in life, and like Dory, one I share with others in tough times of endurance.
Our family jumped into the deep end of KPA in second grade. We didn’t get the opportunity to become accustomed to the waters or build up our endurance through years of homeschooling before hand. Instead, we floundered our way through Shurley English and doggy-paddled with our heads barely above water all year.
My child loved KPA school days! He loved his teachers and his new friends. He would share about everything they were learning in class and was excited to go each day. Home days, however, were excruciatingly tough. There was lots of arguing…lots! We had frequent moments when I lost my patience and said things I later had to apologize for. There were more weeks than not when we were still doing school on Sunday night in pajamas, and there were definitely times I questioned if this was something we could make work in the long run. Even if my 2nd grader and I could survive, would we ever actually thrive in this arrangement? Could my house survive yet another flood of the toilet from the toddler flushing who knows what while I taught math? Would I ever get a moment to catch up on laundry? Would we ever learn to swim effectively and keep from drowning?
The answer is yes. With practice, we learned to stay afloat and actually survived that first year. It was tough, but my 2nd grader and I both learned about grit and perseverance. Time management on both of our parts got better and better. Although home days at times brought out the worst in my children and myself, it also gave us some really beautiful moments together. I distinctly remember practicing for the biblical character presentations and having a deep conversation about the implications for the things he was learning and how they applied to us even today. These sweet moments enabled us to keep going.
Being at home also helped our family come together. Sure, we also had way more sibling bickering, but with one kid in second grade and the others too young for school, finding creative ways to include the younger siblings (so that they didn’t spend time throwing toys in the chandelier or painting the dog’s nose) where imperative. Simple things like reading our novel to them, printing out the handwriting worksheet and letting them color along with us, and especially taking recess breaks together made everyone feel more connected.
After that first year, we decided not only to continue with our oldest child at KPA, but to add another child into the home days as well. Thankfully, this child started in Kindergarten, which meant she wasn’t jumping in, but rather it was a much more gentle acclimation to the water. I also wasn’t trying to learn to swim with them, but rather had already acquired some valuable lessons the year before, and was able to give support when needed. Now, you would think adding a third child to the mix would again make it more difficult, but I found it easier on myself, and even the kids did better. When I told my second child to go listen to the Shurley Jingles, she just said them, right there, without the CD, because she had already heard them for the last 2 years. And when she needed to recite her history timeline, it wasn’t just her saying it, it’s her and her big brother doing it together. We have significantly less complaining about how long it takes or how much work there is because we’re all doing it together, and because this is our “normal.” Don’t get me wrong, we definitely have some home days still that are real doozies and times when it feels like we’ve regressed. But the grit, perseverance, and time management skills that were so hard to grasp that first year were more natural. We were not just doggy-paddling, we were actually swimming!
Just when you find your groove though, things are bound to change. Here in the kiddie pool of elementary school, moms are right beside their kids and the water is calm and predictable. As they get older though, kids move away from that safety of parents. Teachers and coaches are there to lifeguard, but there’s way more kids in the pool, and it’s not the same as a parent. Some of these kids are near and dear friends they grew up with, and some of them are kids they’ve never met offering false flotation devices or short cuts. So like any other mom I have ever met, I worry about my kids and if they will be able to handle the waves of life and if they will stay true to who they are and if what we have worked for will matter.
Well, let me just say, it does matter! This semester I had a really amazing opportunity to coach KPA Middle School volleyball, and what I saw was so incredible. I witnessed girls choose to focus on their studies rather than electronic devices and quiz each other while riding in the bus to an away game the day before their big test. I watched the girls persevere through a tough season of inexperience, when not only were their opponents bigger, stronger and more experienced, so were some of their own teammates. Instead of just giving in, the girls fought harder, and at the same time humbly accepted that everyone plays a role and God has designed each of them with different strengths. Time and time again, I observed the older girls, without even being asked, take a younger girl to the side and explain a skill or encourage them. I have no doubt it’s from the years of practice they’ve had at home with younger siblings or from experiences they gleaned from a school that fosters mentoring among grades. Over the season I was blown away by the camaraderie of not only the girls but the connections they had for their classmates as well. The first week of practice when they begged to get out early, it wasn’t for selfish reasons, but so that they could watch their siblings and their friends play at the football game. Their strong connection to their family was also evident in our daily prayer requests. They often shared about how a parent was traveling or sick or taking a new job.
Watching these girls and being a part of their lives is helping me to “keep swimming” with my own kids at home even now. I am exhausted beyond belief, the house is a complete disaster, and there are still some really tough days, but ultimately I know the lessons we are learning now will have a huge impact on my life, my children’s lives, and our family. I am less worried about their future and more excited to see the fruits of all our work. So weary parents in the midst of all the struggles I say this, “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming.”