Focus, Farrar

I was having a conversation the other day about how hard it is lately for me to focus.  It’s like my brain is pulled in a million directions at once.  Sometimes I think doing anything for more than fifteen minutes is a chore.

Part of it, inevitably, is the shallows of the internets.  I’ve been cutting back for Lent and thinking of detethering myself from parts of it.  But it’s still a great tool.  And a source of happiness and enjoyment much of the time.  Like everyone else, I know I’m looking for the right balance.

But another part of it is the nature of this stage of homeschooling, at least the way we’re doing it here.  I spend a huge chunk of my day sitting at a table with my kids running around doing, doing, doing.  I have to be there.  If I’m not there, a huge amount of the school work that needs to be done can’t be done.  While the boys have slowly gotten more independent with much of their work, we still read aloud, watch videos and discuss them together, do poetry teas, and have me doing direct instruction for spelling.  I still sit next to them to help walk them through math lessons and check their work as they go.  And even though they’re often doing things like piano practice and math drills on their own, I’m always working with one kid.

I don’t regret that a bit.  I think really being with the kids, one on one, is one of the benefits of homeschooling.  I don’t think workbooks and fill in the blanks are the best way to learn.  I think interaction is key for most kids.  That’s a huge part of why we do what we do.  Especially for things like writing and math, I think you get out of it what you put into it.

The thing is, the vast majority of the time, I don’t need to put my complete focus on the kids.  If I try to read a book or even a long, involved article, there’s no way I’ll get very far without my concentration being broken.  I can’t organize things or write more than a few sentences.  I can’t get up and sweep the floor or do the dishes.  I can’t start sewing or painting something.  I suppose if I knew how to knit, that might be useful.  Mostly, I can browse social media, play 2048, do sudoku or crossword puzzles, and just…  wait.  I wait to be needed, wait to be asked a question, wait for my moment to walk someone through a tricky math problem or work on revising a piece of writing.  And huge swaths of my time are spent this way.  I don’t wait long, but it adds up.

It’s not just in schooling either.  I wait at soccer and ballet because it’s not long enough to go anywhere.  I wait at art class.  I wait at the park while they play in the creek in the middle of a nature walk.

When we’re home, not doing school, the kids are pretty much self-sufficient.  But they still come interrupt me.  It’s still hard to know that I’ll have that whole hour without someone coming to ask for something.

Part of it is just the stage, but I’m finding it frustrating.  I’ve always been a person who needs to waste time in order to give my brain room to be creative or focused.  I’ve always been someone who needed to veg with TV or play Tetris on Gameboy before diving in to write that paper or finish that thesis or prepare all my lessons.  But this feels different.  I’m out of practice with determination and focus.  I don’t have a job to go off to or a project that has to be done by a certain time.

Having plenty of time that is all in tiny little chunks isn’t really helping me value when I have longer chunks.  It’s killing my focus.

I’m not sure what the conclusion of this rambling post is.  Mostly I suppose, just a recognition of how oddly difficult and disjointing my life is at this moment, even though I don’t have the excuse of a baby or a crisis or being overly “busy” that having kids, even big kids, still takes a lot out of us and I need to learn to shut the door to them more, and fight to find the space I need.  And the focus!

“If you would shut your door against the children for an hour a day and say; ‘Mother is working on her five-act tragedy in blank verse!’ you would be surprised how they would respect you. They would probably all become playwrights.” – Brenda Ueland

Just reminding myself with one of my favorite quotes.

14 thoughts on “Focus, Farrar

  1. This is one of the frustrating parts of homeschooling to me (and life at this stage with kids). I have a hard time waiting and feeling like I waste a good bit of time waiting. I’m trying to find useful things to do while they’re working and I’m waiting. If I occupy myself in some way (trying to avoid social media while doing that), I sometimes am then frustrated by the interruption. Doing dishes is about the only thing I’ve found that works for me in this case otherwise I get too distracted. Even if I try sweeping I just end up with a pile of mess in the floor instead of a cleaned floor. But I can always see some progress with the dishes.

    I also have a hard time if more than one kid wants to be doing school work at the same time because inevitably I’ll be pulled 2 or 3 ways at once and for me that noise and chaos is worse. So, I wait on each kid individually. I really need a remedy for that in my life. 🙂

    Good luck finding your focus.

  2. You named and aptly described what I struggle with as well. I feel unproductive as I wait… But if I get too focused on something else, I resent the “interruption.” This dynamic has caused me to put writing on the back burner until recently, but it’s still a balancing act. I believe your focus will return. Nice post.

  3. When I was a child, my dad worked from home. We were very strictly trained that if dad was on the phone, we had to be silent in the room he was in, and quiet in the adjoining rooms. As the quote says, children can be surprisingly respectful of adult work time. I like the idea of afternoon quiet time ( is a nice overview). I know that if/when I’m a home educating mother, I’ll cling to that hour like a life raft!

  4. Man, you hit the nail on the head. Waiting is not high on my list of skills. I haven’t solved the problem of waiting while their doing paper work but during kempo class I have most of their curriculum on my iPad and usually have 30 minutes where I can sit and read ahead or take notes. Or just read a book on my iPad.I’m getting better at reading in small chunks but it really is one of the most frustrating things. My kids are in an outdoor program for 4 hours, once a week, I almost don’t know what to do with myself with that kind of uninterrupted time.

  5. Your post reminds me of when I was pregnant. I have only one child now, but with all of the information at my fingertips – the internet, local libraries, museums, nature spots – I feel pregnant with possibility a lot of the time. With homeschooling, as I’m gathering ideas I start “nesting” and adjust our learning space to accommodate whatever we’re learning. After we are done, I’m zapped and still energetic…but the exhaustion shows up in other ways. Like not being able to focus, and just needing to be still (my body, thoughts) and tend to my daughter. I feel like a nurse who is on call and never has someone else come in to take her place when the sun starts going down and I feel like it is time for “shift change.” Except it doesn’t change, it’s still me.

    Thank you for sharing all of your thoughts, the wonderful resources you’ve stumbled upon, and the great pictures of your boys. Helps me know I am not alone, and makes me feel part of a larger community of women. I hope that you will be able to “refill your cup” and have a chance to veg out on tv or read a book or nap or whatever you like! Time and space to do whatever you want for a while. That is my wish for you!

  6. Farrar: Knitting might help, seriously. You can put it down, pick it up, get totally lost in it while zoning out quite happily. I can read while knitting.

    But back to your point: I feel these are truly the hump years of parenting, the Wednesdays of our parent/workweek. I am not saying it is a race but geez my kid is 10 and I only (only!) have 8 more years of having her under my direct gaze. It kind of hurts, knowing her childhood is half over, you know? I mean, we homeschool to be on that journey with them (or most of us do, anyway) but the older they get the less direct involvement they need from us. It is both good and bad.

    (For me this works because I work and homeschool at the same time. And yes, I feel scattered then too but at least my nonschooling downtime, what downtime it is, is time I am getting paid for.)

    So: knit? or a job? 🙂

  7. I am so there as well, and with only one kid. I’m actually smack in the middle of figuring out some ways to give myself a little more room to do the things I need as well. Knitting is one for me, I can do it while sitting with a math lesson and it keeps me present enough to make her happy but distracted enough to keep from interfering too much. I’m also working out one day a week with a friend to bring her 2 children to my house, her son is 12 and capable of making lunch and keeping the peace for an hour or two while I’m still in the house but not on active duty. We’re also working on adding back in a quiet half hour, when I can at least get projects organized, if not done.

  8. You obviously struck a chord that rings true for many of us. I’m finding it more difficult as DD becomes more independent. I have free time, but not enough to do anything. Like Rawhomeschoolmom, I have found myself being irritated when she “interrupts me”. Cue smiley face. (:

  9. Ah, focus. I am finding study a great boon. It’s amazing how well I can focus when I’m a paying customer 🙂 Somehow, I don’t seem to need the lead in time either. Ds working quietly on something ? Grab a pen and paper and scribble down some thoughts for that essay. Crochet is good too.

  10. Okay, this one clearly did hit a nerve. I’m really glad I’m not alone! I’m trying to mostly just be more mindful of my needs in this regard. The boys are doing a playground design project and they wanted me to stay and just watch them work at the playground (they had to measure and map it as an opening exercise). And I had to say, no, I’m going to go do the dishes! Which, okay, that sounds lame, but it really felt a lot better than just sitting there and watching them work. I’m going to be clearer and lock the door against the kids sometimes, figuratively speaking. And maybe learn to knit. Someone gave me cool knitting yarn recently and some extra needles she didn’t need, so it does feel like I ought to.

  11. I always bring a book up, one that I may finish someday but isn’t going to be overdue at the library in two days if I don’t get it finished. I’m right there with you. I sat down in this chair at 8:30, and it’s now 8:54 and I’ve said nothing. The kids are finishing up writing projects. After this I’ll give them another assignment and sit here for another half hour. It’s obnoxious, because I know from good experience that if the phone rings and I have to walk away, the work will stop or someone will have 15 different questions. I love that I am still needed. I do. And I love what I’m doing. But I wish I could have an assignment that I could finish in just the amount of time it takes them to do something. I do have a project I’m sort of working on… taking a book written in German and translating it and seeing if my translation matches up with the published English translation. Long exercise in futility, maybe, but I figure it’s also a way to immerse myself in the language without paying to go to Germany. OK, this is long-winded. But you definitely aren’t alone.

  12. Wow. What a relief to hear that others struggle with the same issue! This “hanging out” is one of the toughest things for me about homeschooling.

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