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Shabby Chic Homeschooling

I love the look of cottages. I love decorating and lifestyle magazines that feature the cottage look, especially the cluttery English cottage that probably exists only in someone’s imagination.

Slipcovers whipped up freehand, quilts tossed casually but perfectly over a slouchy sofa, distressed wood, old benches as coffee tables, slightly rusty birdcages as decor, cafe curtains made from vintage dishtowels — these are elements of that comfortable cottage style that look fun and funky to me.

I do not even think of attempting it.

I am a very messy person prone to extremes of clutter, and lots of dust bunnies. That “shabby chic” cottage style — or whatever you want to call it — merely looks shabby in my house. I have many good qualities, but the ability to pull off that artful artlessness is not one of them. I am comfortable with this, and I have learned to develop a style that (once you hide all the books and papers in the closet and give it a good dusting) looks good to me.

Here’s the analogy:

I read many lovely homeschooling blogs. Many of them are much more unschooly than I am. These mothers seem to pull together disparate threads of daily life and casually weave them into a beautiful tapestry of unscheduled, unplanned, and unparalleled learning and family togetherness. Just like how the cottage-style decorator seems to take a collection of random flea market finds, family heirlooms, and a cast off from an elderly neighbor and create a living room that is gorgeous, comfortable, and highly personal.

I bookmark these blogs and mark posts as “starred” on Google reader, just as I used to stack home-style magazines by my bed. I admire the sense of relaxation, the closeness to nature, the organic and authentic feel that I get from these blogs about happy “rabbit trails.” There is an attention to detail that seems to elevate random observations into exciting discoveries strung together by surprising, unexpected, yet profound connections. This kind of homeschooling looks gorgeous, comfortable, and highly personal.

But I can’t seem to do it.

I have various theories, mainly designed to make myself feel better about it, but in both home and homeschooling the basic cause is the same: too much stuff. There’s too much stuff crammed into my house, too many activities crammed into a day, too many ideas crammed into our heads. It’s that last bit that makes me feel better. There are several very bright people in our household, which means that we are bursting at the seams with stuff to think about and do.

Like many bright children, mine want to sing, and act, and play piano, and play soccer, and learn 2 languages, and also draw a comic strip and study Japanese history and be a detective and read Harry Potter 15 more times and go to the science museum and learn figure skating and plant a garden. If their parents are any indication, as adults they will want to sing, and act, and play piano, and tap dance, and learn guitar, and learn 2 more languages, and scrapbook, and write stories, and lead the parish council and the homeschool co-op and write the MOMS Club newsletter . . . We can’t do it all, but by God, we are going to do as much as we can.

So many interests and abilities on the part of so many people in one house requires a level of planning, scheduling, and organizing that I know would feel very limiting and very wrong to many people. Too much Martha Stewart, not enough Mary Englebreit. (Then again, I have always sympathized with Martha in the biblical story.) But for me it seems freeing — structure makes it possible to explore more of our interests and give more of ourselves than we could otherwise.

I had a chance to reflect on this while on “vacation.” As is often the case, I had a working vacation. As a self-employed person, I sometimes get frustrated that I am on-call 24/7. Add homeschooling to the mix and I sometimes feel overwhelmed with doing two 24/7 jobs at once. The flip side, of course, is that I *get* to do so many things at once: travel, be with my kids, write about Descartes or Martin Luther or Tristram Shandy, see my parents, knit, learn Chinese . . . It’s not easy to pack it all in, and our lifestyle is not for everyone, but for us it’s worth it.

When I look at it this way, my bloglust and envy subsides, though my admiration for those relaxed, unschooly families is undimmed. Likewise I am sincere when I gush over a friend’s fun and funky living room, decorated with garage sale finds and whatever the previous owner left in the attic. In my house, though, the pictures are all hung symmetrically, and I refuse to consider an overstuffed chair or a sofa with loose pillows in the back. My way looks good to me.

The longer I keep at it, the more I think my way of homeschooling is OK. Yours probably is too.

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