I’m Learning

The coffee’s cold, the fish is dead, and little brothers don’t appreciate the cruel irony of their snack choices. 

The truth sinking into my bones and settling into my soul is this: learning is not separated from life. This school we’re creating is a boots on the ground, dirty fingernails kind of institution that takes us through every subject and every emotion every day. 

The fish died and we learned how saying, “At least…” to a grieving person is never an acceptable platitude, how “at least” never takes away the hurt like we wish it would. The fish died and we learned how to rally around someone suffering while also giving them space to feel and to process at their own pace. 

We’ve learned that phonics rules don’t make sense, they’re never absolute. 
“Biye” follows all the rules of silent e making the vowel say its name, and yet the word is correctly spelled, “buy.” 

Sometimes even when we do all the right things, even when we memorize the rules, there are times we still end up on the wrong side of things. Even though we do everything right, we somehow end up wrong. It’s phonics. And it’s Breonna Taylor and Sarah Everard and our Asian brothers and our Black sisters and our LGBTQ loved ones and I don’t understand it. It’s life and it’s hard. 

We’re working it all out with fear and with trembling, learning how to be humans together in the midst of suffering and loss and intense frustration. Just being people together is hard, especially in this boiled down concentrate of humanity that is our pandemic experience. 

But the things distilled reveal so much about human nature, about resilience and sin, about me. It’s uncomfortable and beautiful. The Refiner’s fire always is. Pain mingling with fury mixing with grace, as the coarseness is stripped away and we learn how to be with one another. Learn to be and stop pretending. 

This education I’m getting is owl pellets and copy work, repetition of days over and over and over, days so ghastly and gorgeous I ache for them to end while simultaneously mourning their loss. 

And that’s life. Life is the education, which I suppose is the point. I just desire to be a better student, to shake off my procrastination and grumbling, to look at challenge with curious eyes instead of cross resentment. I’m not there yet. I’m still learning. 

I’m learning to write and trust my words to Jesus, not to worry if you understand or misconstrue my meaning. I’m learning accept the humility that comes from releasing words into the world and letting that vulnerability stand under the scrutiny of strangers and the more worrisome eyes of those who love me, those I might disappoint. I’m learning to release and let my words dissolve like bread thrown into a pond, chewed up, swallowed, and spit out by fishes pleasing to some and to none at all. 

I’m learning to be more accepting of “close your eyes and hold out your hands,” learning to trust that I’ll be handed a blessing and not a snake. Why is it so frightening to trust? All is grace, after all. 

I’m learning is all. I hope you are, too. I hope your studies lead to the eternal conclusion that you are loved, you are loved, you are loved.

Let’s recite it and memorize it and copy it down in cursive until we know it as a truth more absolute than 2+2 = 4, more dependable than “I before E,” more real and pure than we could ever really fathom. 

I’m still learning. I hope you are, too.

Advent Round Up

Hey, gang! It’s the most wonderful time of the year, when we get to dig into the excitement and anticipation, slap some glitter on the world, and snuggle close to twinkly lights while we watch movies with impossible plots that get tied up too neatly with bows. Gracious, we need this time now more than ever, am I right?

DISCLAIMER: If you’re not boobs deep in garland right now, you can just excuse yourself. As for me and my blog, we holiday hard, mmmkay? Kthanxbyeeee.

I recently posted about our Kindness Elves on Instagram and have gotten some questions about our Advent traditions, so I figured I’d do a quick round up of what we’ve got going on around here this season in case you’d like some ideas to make the season special!

Did I sound like a real life influencer there? I hope so because that’s the vibe I’m going for. The truth is I posted *a* post about our elves and exactly *one* person mentioned it to me, sooooo now I’mma do a whole post about it like Buddy the Elf and no one can stop me! The real real truth is that I’m getting lonely in this one room locked down schoolhouse and I thrive on words of affirmation, which I strangely do not receive from the pupils here at the Delagrange School of Witchcraft and Other Crafts But Please Don’t Make Us Do Math.

What I’m saying is, I’ve had two good days of homeschooling in a row and I need to brag about it.

Also our traditions make me happy and I’m very opinionated about Advent and Christmas and that’s what the internet is for: sharing unsolicited advice and opinions.

Read on if you enjoy casually looking at the goings on in other people’s homes but don’t plan to execute any of their plans in your own abode.

Read on if you’re looking for some ideas that make you look like you’ve got your shit together, when in reality your laundry mountain is less and mountain now and more of a clean clothes version of a gelatinous cube that’s taking over your living room. It’s legit kind of cube shaped over here because it’s been in the baskets for so long…rectangular prism shaped I guess if you want to get picky, but like I said, I don’t do math.

Please do not read on if you’re already feeling vulnerable or less than and watching me blather on about my stuff will make you feel like you’re not doing enough. I swear to you, you’re doing more than enough and also you’re a majestic man or woman beast with great legs and gorgeous hair, some of which is maybe on your legs. We are here to celebrate that and not compare ourselves because I guarantee you that you’re nailing a bunch of stuff I’m not. Like math. (Though this seems like the right moment to humble brag that Facebook alerted me the other day that thirteen years ago I scored a 97 on a math test, so booyah!)


General Advent/Christmas Manifesto:

In this house we believe in Santa and magic and Santa Magic. I have a firm belief that if you stop believing in magic, then magical things stop happening to you. I will stand by that until my dying day. So, yes, we believe in Santa Claus, fairies, elves, Mickey Mouse, Dolly Parton, and all glorious magical beings. The end.

In this house we believe even more deeply in Jesus. So, while Santa brings us gifts, we do not subscribe to any belief or threat (however tempting it may be) that children who misbehave will not receive gifts. That’s bullslaw and we all know it.

Any time it comes up I remind my kids that we exchange gifts as a way to celebrate the gift of Christ…you know, the innocent baby who was God actively choosing to be born into poverty and who eventually grew up and died a horrible death for our sins because he wanted to be with us in eternity even though we most decidedly do not deserve that grace? Yeah, that’s the one. So yes children, you’ll still get a gift if you’re a punk, but please for the love of Baby Jesus stop being a punk.

We reinforce this by focusing on scripture, advent readings, celebrating St. Nicholas, San Juan Diego, Our Lady of Guadalupe and all of the other awesome feast days in December, etc. Read below for specific activities we do during Advent.

(No comparison, though, you cotton headed ninny muggins!)


Kindness Elves: Because of my stance on Santa, I obv have a great snobbery against Ye Olde Elf on the Shelf. He’s a nark and snitches get stitches. I do, however, love elves who are not tattletales, so we have Kindness Elves who engage in general tomfoolery and also leave us little kindness challenges. They might bring us fun new holiday scented soaps and ask us to pray for those fighting Covid every time we wash our hands. Or the elves might ask us to memorize a scripture or read a particular book about the nativity story. They challenge us to offer a rosary, bake for our neighbors, and all sorts of other good things. Sometimes they call us out for not speaking respectfully to one another (I’m not above using magic to further my own agenda, duh) but other times they just do silly things because silly things are good and necessary.

The children were scandalized by this and I am still laughing about it.

Preparing a Place for the Christ Child: We have an empty manger (basket) that we prepare for the coming Baby with straw (yarn). You get to put in a piece of straw every time you make a sacrifice, do a good deed or an act of service. It’s a really great visual for kids to see us preparing a space for Christ…and it’s oddly motivating to kids of all ages. And also their mothers. It also gives parents a good reason to call out good behavior and praise kids. I don’t know about you guys, but I praise and encourage a lot less than I correct and criticize. I’m working on it and the manger helps.

Letters to Jesus: We got this tradition from Bobbi Rol and I just love it. You can use Bobbi’s form letter or tweak your own, but the basic premise is that the kids are writing to Jesus and taking time to thoughtfully consider how they’ll prepare their hearts for him during Advent. There’s space to specifically lay out what they’re taking on or abstaining from (remember, Advent is technically a mini-lent but don’t shoot the messenger), who they’re praying for, and what gifts they hope to receive Christmas morning. It’s a really fun activity that hits the sweet spot between emphasizing faith and embracing the fun of presents.

Jesse Tree: This is our first year to do a Jesse Tree and I can’t decide if it’ll be great or stressful. I’m totally fine dropping it if it doesn’t work out. I snagged the Ann Voskamp book Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas from the library. So far I really like it. But, I mean…it’s Ann, so prepare ye the way for lots of words. (I said it. She’s verbose. Wordy. Long-winded. I know, I know, I am the epitome of the pot calling the kettle black. It cannot be denied. How many more words will I write before I’ve sufficiently beat this horse? Three more words. Exactly three.)


Recent Homeschool Fun: Here’s the section of this post where I tell you all about how much fun we’ve been having at our homeschool…please read that as: how much fun we’ve been having in the last two days because the days before that were decidedly un-fun. Because things had been so un-fun and because it’s Advent, I wanted to shake things up a bit and try something different. For the next few weeks, we’re stepping back from individual lessons in our textbooks and mainly doing group work with a few individual things thrown in. This has already changed my life and it’s only been two days. Praise the Lord and bless His Holy Name is what I say.

For example, today we read aloud two books (The Twenty-four Days Before Christmas by Madeleine L’Engle and The Snowman by Raymond Briggs). One is chapter book length and the other is a wordless book. The kids took turns narrating the wordless book, trying to use the most descriptive words they could think of. We covered parts of speech, figurative language, critical thinking, and then took a foray into art because they noticed that a painting within the book looked an awful lot like Van Gogh’s sunflowers.

The placement of this book strategically hides the mountain ‘o laundry. I’m no amateur.

Then we took a foray into crying under the table because someone got interrupted by someone else who allegedly gave up interrupting people for Advent.

After that, we created our own wordless story, practiced some poems we’re memorizing, and worked on some spelling words. Over tacos for dinner, we discussed which type of book we preferred and why (wordless picture book, or chapter book with few pictures). Throw in lots of playing in the snow, math games on the computer, prayers, Jesse Tree readings, and a viewing of The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats on Amazon Prime (and a discussion of his art and influence) and I think it was a pretty stellar day in the ‘ole homeschool.

Also there were lots of video games played and we watched Frozen after dinner and I’m not sorry. Holla atcha mother.

Anyway, here’s the fun Advent-y homeschool-y activity that I think everyone should do regardless of whether or not you formally celebrate Advent or homeschool. It’s just real fun.

Stuffed Animal Census: Okay, gang. Buckle up because I am about to blow your minds. We did a math activity that took the entire day and I, the person who hates math, got so into it I was manipulating data like my life depended on it and then ended my night trying to learn Boolean algebra. I genuinely don’t know who I am any more, but I kind of love it and now I want everyone to do this project because it was such a joy!

We started by learning about what a census is since that’s the main reason Mary and Joseph were traveling at Christmas, you know? It was such a fun conversation about taxation and the Romans and tax collectors and then also about equal representation in government…I’m sure they soaked it all up like the little sponges they are.

Then we rounded up every single stuffed animal in the house and counted them. They were also sorted according to species, original owner, and current owner. Yes, some were classified as “disputed ownership.” It was so much fun to play with the data and make graphs to see how many of which type of toy we have most of and which kid has stolen inherited more toys than anyone else (spoiler: it’s the youngest). The kids all loved this activity and it was such a fun real-life connection to the nativity story.

It was real fun for everyone except this kid who was somehow convinced we were getting rid of all of his toys even though we assured him several times we were only counting them.

So, that’s the Advent Round Up. I’m sure I’ll have hundreds of other thrilling ideas for you, but this is already longer than Ann Voskamp’s daily emails, so I must be stopped. If you’re one of the two people who made it this far then I say to you, “Hi, Mom and Dad! Yes, it’s still snowy, but we’re safe. At time of publication, we still have power despite the snow storm. Talk to you soon!”

Pride Comes Before the Fractions

We’re deep into the weeds of homeschool around here. I mean, we’ve been at this for a week and a half, and it feels like a lifetime. Now obviously I’m a newbie and I’ll be the first to say that I’m no expert, but…like, at what point in this homeschooling gig will suggestions and gentle corrections not be met with eye rolling and/or aggression from the pupils??

Asking for a friend.

J/k, it’s me.

I’m the friend.

I’m trying real hard lately to pay attention to my strong emotions and trace them back to their roots. It’s this new thing I’m doing called self-awareness. I highly suggest it, but also it sucks.

The situations that get my blood boiling most these days (aside from medical atrocities being investigated at the border and general worldwide awfulness) stem from semi-regular moments in instruction with the kids. (I’m not naming names here because the team is getting older and I think they deserve their privacy.)

It feels like there are moments when literally everything I say is dumb and every gentle correction is a personal attack. It also doesn’t help that their father can do no wrong. Dad is brilliant! Dad is funny! Dad is cool! Dad explains so much better! Dad buys us fruit roll ups!

Dad teaches them the exact same math lesson that Mom attempted (but cut short due to tears and theatrics) using the exact same examples that Mom used and they listen to him as though his words drip honey and claim they’re hearing them for the very first time.

If I sound like I’m jealous, it’s because I am.

I admit it, I am horribly jealous of the camaraderie the kids have with their father, especially when it comes to school. If I’m not careful I start believing the lies my jealousy is telling me so the jealousy grows into anger, then resentment.

It hurts that they don’t listen to me the way I think they ought to. It hurts to feel misunderstood and second rate. It hurts when the message I’m receiving from the kids is that what I’m offering is garbage.

I recognize that this sort of thing is a completely normal facet of the mother/child relationship. I grated against my own mother when I was their age. Shoot, I still do it if she offers me a suggestion! It’s growing pains and tough transitions and I get that. The kids are stuck in a house with me all dang day. Of course a different voice is easier to listen to; it’s literally the only diversity in teaching they’re getting so it makes perfect sense. Of course they resent my criticisms. No one likes to be told they’re wrong, especially by their mother.

But I’m still resentful. I’m still jealous.

When I dig even deeper, I see that there’s a part of me that struggles with what I can only identify as the “moms are dumb” vibe. Culturally, it seems like moms are always the butt of the joke. Moms are the overlooked, overworked ones and it feels like dads get to sweep in and have the fun and be exciting. Dad is novel and Mom is humdrum and I resent that a lot. I want to be fun. I want to be exciting. I want to be the one that everyone is thrilled to see. I want to be special, and listened to, and loved.


Just writing that out and stepping back is so helpful. Again I’m tracing these feelings back to their root and remembering what’s true. Upon further reflection, it’s easy to see how hollow that “moms are dumb” argument is. It’s just as culturally acceptable to present dads as the useless, bumbling ones. I mean, watch any sitcom dad ever, right?

I also have to recognize the other side of the coin, to give weight to the fact that my husband sacrifices time at home to provide for us, purely so that I can stay home and have the opportunity to teach our children. He is a novelty to them precisely because he’s not able to be here all the time like he’d rather be.

And honestly there are plenty of times that the kids do prefer me. My sweet husband has endured literal years of babies refusing to be comforted except by me, fed by me, cuddled by me. They come to me with their emotional wounds and worries while they connect with him in different ways. It’s completely fair and right that there are times when I’m not the best person for the job.

He can have math and video games, I guess, and I’ll take my heart to heart bedtime chats and book reading snuggles.

The truth is, these children need both of us. I am not enough on my own because I was not designed to do this alone. I have been gifted a partner who loves us all and who shows up daily to do this soul wearying work alongside me without complaint. What an absolute gift he is.

So the problem is not the children or the husband, but my own disordered desires for control and approval. This thing that’s causing me grief, these little moments in my day that cause me to boil over in frustration are mirrors into my soul, opportunities for me to examine my motives.

Am I teaching my children so that I will be liked or so that they grow in intellect and holiness? Am I allowing myself to believe a lie that pits me against my children and my husband? Or am I noticing the places in my heart that lack holiness and taking these as opportunities to do better? Am I quick to anger when my children push back, or am I leaning in to learn a new way to connect with them? Do I receive their contrary attitudes with my own eye rolls and impatience or do I view their pushback as a barometer of where they themselves are feeing inadequate and vulnerable? Am I praying for my family as I ought to be?

I’m not going to nail it every time. I think the desire to be approved of and appreciated will always be a struggle for me. Yet, motherhood is sanctifying. My ultimate goal and deepest desire is to get my kids, my spouse, and myself to heaven. If that requires less of me, more of my spouse, sharing the spotlight, deeply appreciating the souls in my care, and heaping lesson upon lesson of humility, then so be it.

Yes, this vocation is sanctifying me, but only if I let it.


When I’m particularly struggling with the sin of pride, I like to go over the Litany of Humility. It is hard to pray and even harder to pray with true sincerity. I often find it necessary to add, “Lord, help my unbelief,” to the end. You can find the prayer here. You are so loved my friends, even in your pride and your jealousy, even in your less than pretty moments, you are indescribably loved.

No trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide you a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.

1 Corinthians 10:13

Homeschoolers

Welp, no sooner did the announcement about becoming homeschoolers leave my lips than my children began adopting all the stereotypes.

I kid you not, we told the kids they wouldn’t be returning to school in the fall and the next morning my eldest started researching mimes.

Since then, we’ve done various and sundry nature walks, which we call creek rambles because we’re both homeschoolers and hipsters. (Mayhaps I shall have my young pupils create a Venn diagram of those two terms as a little exercise this week.) On our rambles we’ve discovered minnows and tadpoles, accosted a blue heron, discovered and identified local fungi and then got real excited because we learned it was bioluminescent. We gathered old scraps of ceramics in the creek, which we are collecting to use in a mosaic project later this year.

And, while I’m new to this homeschool gig, I have lurked on the outskirts for quite some time now, so I know that we’re not allowed to just focus on the forest fairy school part of this new way of life, but we’ve also got to nail down some very niche weirdness, too.

Luckily, we’ve got that covered as (again) the eldest read Roller Girl and has declared her desire to join a roller derby team just as soon as those sorts of things become available again, and the other children have been spending all their time encouraging her new passion by practicing hip checks on one another. So, library and gym class done.

A love of obscure sports inspired by a graphic novel isn’t really weird enough, though, so my children took it a step further and decided that today should be Halloween. So they got all dressed up as a ghost astronaut, Peter Pan (but he’s a firefighter who’s dead), a Dementor, and a hag. The hag did quite a big of research on her Kindle re: hag attire/facial attributes and then she added stage makeup. To everyone. Using only purple eyeshadow and whatever markers she found under the couch, she decorated everyone’s faces with under-eye circles, blood, moldy bits, and holes through which one could “see” their teeth. So, anatomy and theater done.

And then they all decided to ride bikes out front, you know, so the neighborhood could enjoy the spectacle of weirdly dressed, makeup-ed kids, terrorizing the block like a Halloween parade gone very very right. Our elderly neighbor didn’t bat an eye when she came to say hello, so that obviously means that she’s used to this shiz and we haven’t been fooling anyone.

Then we watched bees pollinating our flowers and got into an argument about whether or not they collect pollen on their legs and their faces, or just their legs. And after that exploded into violence and people served their time, everyone got to go in and trick-or-treat through the upstairs bedrooms/bathroom and eat candy in their beds, which is normally an illicit activity but was ignored by their mother who just wanted a damn minute to herself. So, science and civics done and done.

Also, we took a break in there somewhere to make a South Korean omelette called “gyeran mari” for lunch because somebody saw it in their Kiwi Crate book and wanted to try it and I’m all for egg lunch. So, home economics, world studies, and math done.

So, basically the only conclusion I can come to is that this is who we’ve been all along and I just really can’t wait for our official denim jumpers to arrive in the mail at which point we’ll really be official, card carrying homeschoolers and I can feel confident that we’re doing this all correctly. Rest assured, I’m here for it.

Pandemic Survival Guide: Throw All the Advice in the Garbage

Sometimes I feel like my life’s work can be boiled down to two messages: “you are incredibly loved” and “you’re allowed to feel your feelings.” Admittedly those aren’t very original messages, but that’s usually what’s on my heart. So, here goes for today.

Mamas practicing quarantine and social distancing, listen unto me: This time with our children is a gift and you are allowed to use it as you see fit.

If you want to focus on academics and stretch those homeschooling muscles, you’re allowed!

If you want to snuggle on the couch and watch 8,000 movies a day, you’re allowed!

If you want to tackle all the project ideas you’ve ever pinned on your Pinterest board and learn to make homemade bread and read all the read alouds and journal all the nature journals and perfect all the math skills, you’re allowed!

If you want to park the kids in front of the computer and let the kind souls of the internet entertain and educate them while you eat chocolate chips in the pantry, you’re allowed!

If you want to try elaborate baking projects and let the kids help, you’re allowed!

If you want to throw a family sized bag of Lucky Charms out in the middle of the floor like you’re feeding chickens, you’re allowed! (Let’s be honest, it’ll all end up on the floor anyway.)

If you want to construct elaborate mazes and obstacle courses through your house, you’re allowed!

Repeat after me: There is no right way to parent in a quarantine.

People are doing such good things for our kids in all this. Zoos, museums, children’s book authors, celebrities are all pitching in to help entertain us while we’re stuck at home. What a gift! Teachers, neighbors, friends, and internet celebrities are furiously sharing actual tons of phenomenal resources and information to help our kids learn and be engaged while coronavirus does its thing.

But what I fear might be happening is that you moms are hearing a subtle message in this flurry of sharing. I have a sneaking suspicion that in the midst of the links and the videos and the educational games, you’re hearing a voice that whispers in your ear, “You’re not good enough if your kids aren’t doing fill in the blank.” I worry that you’re feeling pressured to achieve certain standards, to make the “most” of this time at home whether that consists of drilling them on multiplication tables or making perfect memories. I suspect that you might be feeling “less than” because you’re not doing all of the things.

If that’s how you’re feeling, you just drop that right now. Put it down and don’t pick it back up. Mama, if you’re making sure your kids know they’re loved, you’re doing enough. This is just like when you brought them home from the hospital and everybody and their grandma had an opinion on every move you made as a new parent. Friend, everyone has opinions on how to best navigate this unprecedented time at home, but no one knows your family like you do.

I wouldn’t call myself a Pinterest mom, per se, but I do love an elaborate theme party, and face paint on a Tuesday, and creative cooking, and science experiments. I’ve toyed with homeschooling. I’ve been reprimanded by my husband for using glitter in the kitchen…on multiple occasions. I used to lead a popular family story time at a public library. I’m also a former Disney cast member. Entertaining kids is kinda my jam. But even I am a bit overwhelmed with the amount of resources streaming in from various sources. Not gonna lie, the internet is making me feel a little pressured to make everything a Magical Moment (registered trademark) and I’m not sure I have that in me right now. As a side note I think it’s important to consider the mental and emotional toll social distancing is taking on us. Sometimes you can’t stay sane and do all of the internet story times even if it is Mo Willems performing them.

There’s no way to do it all. There’s no expectation for this or for you. If you are a “Pinterest mom” or you’re the opposite, you are enough just as you are. And for your children, you just being you is more than enough. We’re not getting a grade for how much we accomplished during the quarantine. As Teddy Roosevelt so famously said, comparison is the thief of surviving global pandemic and quarantine.

The only way to win or lose at this goes as follows.

You will be losing if:

  • …you spend the entire time ignoring your children with your face stuck in a phone obsessing over news you can’t control.
  • ..you spend the entire time ignoring yourself and your own emotional/mental needs. We gotta self-care the heck out of this, friends.
  • …you kill yourself and make everyone miserable trying to be something you’re not.
  • …you let fear control you.

You will be winning if:

  • …you find some sort of balance. As Olaf says, “all good things, all good things.” All these resources and websites and projects are great, but even with all the time in the world there’s not enough time to do it all.
  • …you make certain every single day that your children know how precious they are to you.
  • …you look in their faces and listen to them when they speak.
  • …you cut yourself some slack and give everyone some grace. Sometimes grace looks like extra screen time that isn’t remotely educational and sometimes it’s taking the time to say a family rosary together.
  • …you prioritize prayer and quiet. For everyone.

At the end of the day, you are the exact mama your babies need. Dig in and love, love, love them whatever that looks like for your particular situation. No one can do it all, but you can do small things with great love.

And for the record, yesterday we had a dance party with balloons. As usual it ended in fisticuffs and tears. However, no blood was shed so we’re calling it a win.

Peace and perseverance in all things,

Mary Susan