Friday, February 29, 2008


I just have to say that I do love dissections. Yesterday, in preparation for Joel's CC class today and for a biology lab for Matthew, we dissected a sheep heart. It was fascinating and fun...yes, fun. Tracing out the major veins and arteries that lead to and from the heart, refreshing my understanding of pulmonary and systemic circulation, finding the four chambers and seeing the thicker muscle wall on the left side of the heart where the blood passes before being pumped all over the body, seeing the "heart strings" as they are called, the tiny white chordae tendinae that connect the papillary muscles that control the opening and closing of heart valves to the thin membranous valves themselves and more. I can't wait to lead a group of four students through their dissections today. It is rich discovery learning. I hope I can ease a couple that I know are squeamish over their discomfort and into fascination this afternoon.

Monday, February 25, 2008

"Wise and purposeful letting alone"

Charlotte Mason said,
"We ought to do so much for our children, and are able to do so much for them, that we begin to think everything rests with us and that we should never intermit for a moment our conscious action on the young minds and hearts about us. Our endeavours become fussy and restless. We are too much with our children, 'late and soon.' We try to dominate them too much, even when we fail to govern, and we are unable to perceive that wise and purposeful letting alone is the best part of education."
fussy - worrying over trivial things, overly concerned about minor details, choosy, easily upset, requiring excessive attention to detail

restless - constantly moving, unable to be still, seeking a change because of discontent, worrying

Definitions help to give form to what CM was saying in the quote above. I am thinking much these days on the concept of masterly inactivity as it relates to homeschooled high schoolers. I want to define what it means in this phase of homeschooling. As our children have matured intellectually and morally we have certainly let them alone in an intentional way. Such letting alone has engendered creativity and initiative on their parts. It has also fostered a sweetness in our relationships that would be lacking if we were the fussy, restless, hovering types.

But I know that my letting alone has not always been wise and purposeful. Certainly I have stepped back at times out of frustration, confusion, ignorance, or weariness. I am working these days to evaluate my level of involvement and consider the question, "When do I step in and when step back?"

Yes, I have already gone through high school with three, almost four, homeschoolers. But the two still at home deserve my continuing thoughtfulness and I am quite sure I have room, as a homeschooling mother, to grow in wisdom.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Today in school

It's a quiet day of working away at our books. Here's a bit of what we are up to so far this morning....

We looked at different types of pollen grains under the microscope.

We graded a French vocabulary exam. Ouch for one person. Going from English to French is harder than French to English.

I wrote a short quiz on photosynthesis which M has to take later. He's studying for the Biology SAT Subject test. Better to take it this year while it's fresh in his mind.

We read aloud from All Quiet on the Western Front, The Yanks are Coming: The United States in the First World War, and The Roots of Endurance. From that last book, we are reading about William Wilberforce. We read early this morning, right after breakfast since we didn't have our normal family reading/devotional time since Andrew had to work.

The gnome worked on math outside again. Might be the last day he can do that this week since rain is predicted later today and tomorrow.

Everyone worked away on their own with math, history reading, science, and J did his geography work, mapping Asia and reviewing capitals. J also writes a narration each day on his history reading. I am so behind in reading his narrations. He types at least a full page a day, remembering and processing what he has read in The Story of the World, Volume 4. I am very pleased with the way his writing seems to be developing so naturally through these written narrations.

J is loving his current book, Let the Circle Be Unbroken by Mildred Taylor. He says it's sad, though. It is the sequel to Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.

I need to work ahead and scope out a reading schedule for the next American Lit. book that I'll do with M and his cousin. We're going to read Red Badge of Courage together. After that, no more war novels for the rest of the spring.

I've also got to do my reading on the heart and prepare to lead a group of students in a dissection of a sheep's heart a week from tomorrow at CC. Should be fun. I have a sheep's heart sitting upstairs on my dresser (sort of gross looking) and we'll dissect it next week so I can get more familiar with it myself and have a sample for the students to look at before they begin to cut!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

On a picture study and storms

Originally on Ebenezer Stories, 5/9/2007

One of the things we do in our little Charlotte Mason homeschool co-op is study the work of famous artists. This year we have focused on American artists. We spent the fall getting to know Winslow Homer. This spring we have learned about Benjamin West, John Singleton Copley, and Gilbert Stuart. We recently started learning about the Hudson River School. Our first Hudson River artist was Thomas Cole. Last week we looked at his painting, The Oxbow. While reading a little about Cole later, I came across this quote, which he wrote in his journal the year before he painted The Oxbow,

"I would not live where tempests never come, for they bring beauty in their train."

I thought about this quote for awhile in light of some things that have been going on in my life. I remembered these words, "And clouds arise and tempests blow by order from Thy throne," from the hymn "I Sing the Mighty Power of God." I was reminded once again that God can use anything, including a homeschool lesson planned long before my own storm, to remind me of the truth of His indwelling presence and work in my life.

Thank you God for sending the storms. Your voice is in the thunder, your power in the lightning, your cleansing in the downpour. It's true...I would not want to live without the storms you send...storms which reveal ingrained sin, discontent, idolatry, and fear in my life. Thank you for the beauty of Christ and the forgiveness He purchased for me, for restoration and sanctification. Thank you, indeed, that the storms subside, leaving Your beauty in their train.

Reading at the breakfast table

Originally on Ebenezer Stories, 4/12/2007

If you call our house before 9:00 AM, you will probably be sent to voice mail. Sorry about that, but we are reading. We gather around the table and while I finish fixing breakfast or getting out the cereal boxes, Coty starts reading our current chapter book. I sit down and eat and then pull out my knitting. After the chapter book, we read the Bible and pray. We talk a little about prayer concerns and everyone prays. For the last year or so, we've been praying through our church directory. When we get to the end of the list, we start over again...but this post is not mainly about prayer, but about our chapter book reading.

One day last week, we finished A Tale of Two Cities. Over dinner on the deck that evening, we were talking about it and our discussion led to memories of other Dicken's novels we've read and then on to other books. I proposed starting a list. I grabbed paper and pen and began jotting down titles as fast as the boys mentioned them. The conversation lasted all evening. We moved from the deck to the screen porch and made phone calls to our two oldest, who are far away, to probe their memories. One recollection led to a string of others and the list grew. It continues to grow. I've been keeping it on the hutch in the kitchen and adding to it as we remember more titles. A word to the wise here - if you are a reading family, go now and buy a hard bound journal and start recording the books you read together. You will treasure that little record. I sure wish I'd done that long ago!

I am not including homeschool read-alouds in this list. This is simply the breakfast table list. These are the books that Coty reads to us. He is, in fact, the driving and sustaining force, the guardian of breakfast reading in our home. He eats early so he can read to us while we eat. And what a reader he is! We get accents, voices (he almost went hoarse doing Magwich from Great Expectations), and correct pronunciation of difficult words, unless they are French, and then Andrew helps out.

We have read novels, biographies, great literature and children's books. We have been encouraged, inspired, enlightened, and taught. We have learned history, geography, science, and even a little math. We 've had a few flops and a few books that we wondered if they would ever end...whew, glad that's over!

Mostly, we have grown as individuals and woven our lives together as a family with this reading. It was extremely precious the other night to hear the boys talking about the books - ones they loved and ones they didn't - and to hear someone say something like, "Oh, yeah, I remember that. I loved that book!" and to have five voices concur. Yes, this reading weaves our family fabric together tightly. You might not laugh if someone mocks anger and shouts "Guts!!" at you, but we will all chuckle because we know Ramona thinks its a bad word.

I could go on about how much better this has been for us than television, the computer, or even good movie adaptations of great books. I could tell you how much they have learned to think and how their imaginations have been nurtured by reading aloud. What in their mind's eye does Madame Defarge look like as she sits in the wine shop knitting? How do they think John Paton felt up in that tree all night as he listened to angry cannibals hunting for him? Why do some of us always cry when we read Patricia St. John?

Here then, is the list. It is far from complete. It is heavy on books from recent years and heavy on novels. It is light on historical fiction and biographies of famous Americans because we read those aloud in our school time. I have only categorized it broadly and not always listed authors. If you are curious about a particular book, leave me a comment. The list will continue to grow and we will continue to read. I expect that even after our children are all grown and gone, you will find Coty and me at the breakfast table reading, and the phone ringing on....

Novels - what you would call literature:
Great Expectations; David Copperfield (twice); A Tale of Two Cities; A Christmas Carol; The Lord of the Rings trilogy; The Hobbit; The Talisman; Fair Maid of Perth; Ivanhoe; The Heart of Midlothian; Alice in Wonderland; Through the Looking Glass; Pilgrim's Progress; Pilgrim's Progress:Christiana; The Holy War (also by Bunyan); Red Badge of Courage; The Old Man and the Sea; the first book of Les Miserables; Tom Sawyer; Huckleberry Finn; Silas Marner

Children's chapter books:
Call it Courage; Strawberry Girl; Roller Skates; Lyddie; Johnny Tremain; Heidi; Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates; all the Haffertee Hamster books; The Jungle Books; The Jungle Doctor books; Treasures of the Snow; I Needed a Neighbor; Three Go Searching; Twice Freed; The Tanglewood Secret; The Secret Garden; The Railway Children; Five Little Peppers and How they Grew; My Side of the Mountain; all the Narnia books; Ramona books by Beverly Cleary; The Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome; several books by Madeline L'engle

Missionary biographies and autobiographies:
Bruchko; The Good Seed; And the Word Came with Power; The Autobiography of John Paton; Mountain Rain; The Little Woman; Green Leaf in Drought Time; Mrs. Howard Taylor's biography of the Stams in China; Shadow of the Almighty; William Carey; Adoniram Judson

Other biographies:
Never Give In (Winston Churchill); Carry a Big Stick (Theodore Roosevelt); biographies of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson; The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin; selections from the John Marshall biography by Smith; Aim High, Dave Johnson's Story; Ed Viesture's No Shortcuts to the Top

Doctrine, devotion, and the like:
Redemption Accomplished and Applied; Don't Waste Your Life; A Godward Life Book 2; The Moral Compass; The Book of Virtures

Ring of Bright Water; Eats, Shoots, and Leaves; Haroun and the Sea of Stories; The Royal Road to Romance:Travel stories by Richard Haliburton; Longitude; short stories by various authors including Poe, Flannery O' Connor, O'Henry and others

The current breakfast chapter book is Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, perhaps the most well known Nigerian novelist. Never heard of him. Now you have! And after that?? Well, suffice it to say that the list will grow on...

On a college decision and a joyful fruit of homeschooling...

Originally on Ebenezer Stories, 2/7/2007
For those of you who may be wondering...Thomas is planning to attend Covenant College in the fall. He did not receive the McClellan Scholarship but his participation in the scholarship weekend convinced him that he really wants to attend Covenant, McClellan Scholar or not. He did receive a Presidential Scholarship and a leadership award. Those grants combined with work study and his own hard work and saving in the meantime will make attending Covenant this fall a reality, Lord willing. We are thankful, encouraged, and excited for him. Thanks for your prayers on his behalf.

We are now planning for his graduation with the Cabarrus County Homeschool Association. He’ll be the first of our Pinckney Family School graduates to “walk” in a high school graduation ceremony. Even homeschoolers get to wear a cap and gown.

I am in awe and wonder that Coty and I have now guided three children through 12 plus years of schooling. My honest answer to the frequently asked question, “How do you do it?” is “by the grace of God.” And I don’t say that in a flippant, cliché sort of way. It is God’s grace alone that has enabled us to pour into our children’s lives in homeschooling. God has so graciously provided the resources and given us the strength, wisdom, perseverance, patience, humor, and encouragement to pursue a life of learning with our children. I could not do it on my own. I am humbled and grateful.

And then today I was given yet another joyful reminder of why we homeschool. This year Matthew, Joel, and I have been working on memorizing more poetry. So far we have memorized The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Lord Tennyson, Macbeth’s soliloquy upon the death of Lady Macbeth by Shakespeare, O Captain, My Captain by Walt Whitman, and portions of The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere by Longfellow. This morning it was time to pick a new poem. I thought the guys should choose since I’ve done all the choosing so far, so I asked for their ideas. Matthew immediately suggested that instead of choosing a poem, we memorize a book of the Bible. I asked if he had anything in mind. He has been reading Isaiah and promptly suggested that we learn Isaiah 59. His reason – it presents our sinfulness, God’s righteous judgment, confession and redemption in one very poetic chapter.

To have a child that would choose such a chapter to memorize for the reasons he stated is for me the God-given fruit of long ago decision that God would not be kept in a box and brought out on Sunday only. Our long ago decision to homeschool meant that God would be an integral part of our daily lives and the center of our homeschool. His glory would be the goal of all our endeavors, educational and otherwise. This decision has given us the freedom and time to read, discuss, pray, and live with our children in an extraordinarily close way.

I must also extol my husband’s faithful, daily Bible reading and leading in prayer, as well as his consistent modeling of spiritual disciplines. I am so thankful for a Godly husband whose influence in the lives of his children is so tangible. Yet, I know that any good that has accrued to our children as a result of our schooling choice or our imperfect striving after obedience is all a gift from God.

Matthew’s chosen chapter ends with a very precious promise that I will hang onto with thanksgiving, as my children and I repeat the words of Isaiah 59 this month til they are firmly planted in our mouths and hidden in our hearts:

“As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord. “My Spirit who is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will not depart from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children, or the mouths of their descendents from this time on and forever,” says the Lord. Isaiah 59:21


Winter reader

Originally on Ebenezer Stories, 12/5/2006

Joel has taken to reading in one of the blue Adirondack chairs in the front garden. Behind the boulders, on a bed of fallen oak leaves sit the two sturdy chairs, painted bright blue on a whim a couple of summers ago. At this time of year, they are the brightest thing going in the garden - besides Joel, that is. The sun streams down on them through the last straggling oak leaves and my winter reader has found them a particularly pleasant place to go for a good read.

Notice the bare feet...I think this boy belongs back in the 19th century on a farm or somewhere in Africa. He is not a shoe loving person. I guess the hat and hoodie make up for the loss in body heat through the feet! Tasha Tudor would understand.

On top of the math hill....

Originally on Ebenezer Stories, 11/21/2006

We had a very funny conversation about math last night. It was prompted by Thomas and Andrew's visit to Davidson yesterday and questions about math in college. You may know that Coty was a math major and I never took a math course in college. Opposites attract, I suppose! Our children have varying degrees of aptitude and love for math. Most of them are good math students, but so far, no one has demonstrated a real passion for it. That may be my fault for conveying my own fear and mental block toward anything mathematical. I know I need to be rehabilitated, but honestly, I think it's too late! Anyway, the conversation went something like this:

"If Daddy is so good in math, how come none of us are math whizzes?" (I'm not sure that's true, I mean the part about none of them being whizzes)

"Is Jonathan taking any math at Gordon? Did Erin?" (I don't think so...)

"Calculating determinants makes my head hurt. I mean it's not hard, it's just takes so long. Why does it have to be like that?" (I agree, that's how I felt, though I don't remember anything about determinants)

I like my math. Geometry is neat...I mean, I learn something new and cool every day." (Well, yes, I did like geometry in high school)

Well, it's downhill from there - just wait til you get to Calculus." (I never did!)

"I guess I'm on the top of the math hill, then." (Let's hope it's a plateau for you and next year you'll still enjoy the view from the top!)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

My Greek Scholar and Delight Directed Learning

Originally posted on Ebenezer Stories, 9/29/2006

On Wednesday Matthew told me something very interesting. He said that he tried to take notes on Sunday’s sermon in Greek. It took me a minute to realize what he meant. Then I asked to see the bulletin he used. He fetched it from his Bible, and there on the teaching notes page were Greek words interspersed with English. He actually did a Greek/English weave translating Greek words written in the Greek alphabet script when he heard them in the sermon. He even transliterated some of the English words into the Greek alphabet. I was amazed.

Some of you know that back in August, Matthew asked to start learning Greek again. Coty had shown him the New Testament Greek language program developed by Professor Hildebrand at Gordon College, under whose teaching Erin happily fulfilled her college language requirement. We had bought the teaching CD and book and that’s what Matthew chose to use. Now, this is truly “delight-directed” learning at it’s finest. How did it happen?

I had exposed Matthew to the Greek language three or four years ago. We were studying the Ancients and one of the things we learned about was the Greek alphabet. Matthew thought it was very cool, like a secret code, and asked to learn more. At that time, I purchased a program for him called, funny enough, “Hey Andrew, Teach Me Some Greek.” (Actually, our Andrew is the French scholar in the family, but that’s another story). Anyway, for a couple of years Matthew plugged away at this user friendly and decidedly child directed language program. He enjoyed it but after about Level 3, his enthusiasm flagged and I let him stop. I was planning to do French with the boys, anyway. So, I chalked the couple of years of late elementary, early junior high Greek learning up as a fun learning experience whose time had passed.

When Matthew brought up his desire to learn Greek again back in August, I was happy to oblige. I figured he could pursue it as much as he wanted, and we’d still do French together. If he stayed interested in the Greek, fine, if not, fine.

A month into his studies, he is happily listening each day to his CD lesson, reciting Scripture in Greek, and telling me about declensions. This kid loves Greek. That’s what I mean about “delight directed” learning. He is delighted with his studies. He is delighted at the sound and appearance of the language. He is delighted with the differences in Greek and English and the clarity of Greek. And this delight is what directs his learning. I don’t have anything to do with it, except marvel. He is completely self motivated. Not only is he learning, he is now actively applying what he is learning. Taking sermon notes in Greek is a case in point. I must say, I am thrilled. I hope that he has now reached a level from which he will not want to retreat.

I pray that as this homeschool year proceeds, more of our studies will be characterized by this kind of delight. Imagine learning to balance chemical equations with this attitude. Thankfully, we are beginning to experience some thrills in our study of chemistry - the elegance of the Period Table, the still-to-the-boys mysterious way that electron arrangement determines reactivity. I keep saying things like, "You'll really think it's cool when you understand it." I'm waiting on the edge of my chair for those "ah, hah!!!" moments. They're coming. I can feel it in the way they ask questions. They know they're about to figure out something really amazing. And I'm not going to tell them. I am, hopefully, going to guide them to the discovery and when they make it, it will be their own, not just a fact learned, but a mystery revealed.

When I think about learning this way, I am intensely grateful to "dear CM" as some of her devotees call her. Reading Charlotte Mason has helped me more than anything, to want my children's education to be filled with relationships to their learning; to learn about rhetoric or reagents, algebra or atoms, Greek or grammar, not because we have to, but because we are greatly enriched by new knowledge and delighted in it. And I want them to understand, as I am quite sure she understood, that our delight in learning should be not only in our subject matter, but first and most in the Lord, the creator and sustainer of life, who is the author of all true knowledge. To Him be the glory!

By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches. Proverbs 24:3,4

Music to my ears

Originally posted on Ebenezer Stories, 9/4/2006

This evening as we returned from the International student cookout, the boys in the back seat were discussing tomorrow morning. I heard the words, “Yeah! We’re doing school tomorrow.” I perked up. I turned around. I asked, “Who said that?” Andrew smiled, and I asked, “Did you mean that?” He said, “Yes!”

Need I say his words were music to this homeschooling mother’s ears? We started “back to school” last Wednesday, took Friday off for Matthew’s birthday, and today off for Labor Day. So we’ve only been at it for two days since our summer break ended. I hope that Andrew and the other boys will feel that same sense of anticipation throughout the year. I pray that they will be excited about and thankful for the privilege of learning together at home.

By God’s grace, I am more organized this year. I have devised new assignment spreadsheets and done a better job of scoping out our year. I am using more AmblesideOnline suggestions and trying a couple of new resources, i.e. Friendly Chemistry and The Easy French. Do you detect a theme here? Actually, I’m very impressed with both resources. Friendly Chemistry is just that, very user friendly, but also quite thorough as an introductory chemistry course. I’m using it with Joel and Matthew, 7th and 9th grades. The Easy French is new to me, too, but was recommended by Carla. After email correspondence with the creator, Marie Filion, I decided to take the plunge and order both Levels 1 and 2. Level 2 just came out in August. Actually, my French books haven’t even arrived yet so I am hoping they come sometime early this week. In the meantime, we’ll continue with the Rosetta Stone computer course.

I am also joining forces with Carla this year to do a small co-op. We were quite inspired by our friend Amber’s comments about her co-op last year and also by several speakers at the Charlotte Mason conference at Gardener Webb University back in June. Carla and I attended the conference together and came home so encouraged and energized. In our co-op we’ll be doing picture study - CM style starting with Winslow Homer; Shakespeare – Macbeth this fall; Nature Study –learning about squirrels by observing, drawing, and reading A Squirrel of One’s Own; and French – using some of our Easy French activities and hopefully learning a French folk song or two!

At home right now, we are all studying early American history. The older boys are reading Paul Johnson’s History of the American People as well as selections from Churchill’s History of the English Speaking People, Volume Three. Our breakfast read-aloud is Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography. The younger boys and I are reading H.E. Marshall’s This Country of Ours and Genevieve Foster’s George Washington’s World. We’ll continue adding to our family Book of the Centuries and read some historical fiction along the way. I love homeschool history lessons!

I haven’t mentioned Robinson Crusoe (our current “school" read-aloud), writing, vocabulary, science for the big guys, math, literature, hymn study, or composer study but if I’m going to be awake for all the reading aloud tomorrow, I’d better quit and get to bed.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Learning from the Wrens

Originally on Ebenezer Stories, 8/16/2007

I used to know things. When my children were younger, no not the very early years, but by the time my six children ranged in age from 12 to 1, I felt pretty confident. I’d had lots of experience by that point with birthing and raising little ones. I’d been through potty training several times, sorted out many sibling squabbles, and dealt with medical emergencies both major and minor. I had trained a small army of household helpers who could do anything from laundry to lawn mowing. I knew how to navigate restaurants, grocery store check out lines, airline security checks, and dental waiting rooms. My children were generally well behaved and respectful and I often basked in the glow of admiring glances and heard complementary words from complete strangers who were occasionally amazed and usually baffled by a mother with six children who seemed to be enjoying it.

Back then, I also felt pretty confident about my homeschooling decisions, and was mostly pleased with the progress of my young scholars. They learned to read with a minimum of fuss, practiced math facts with games, sat quietly during read aloud time, and put on plays in the basement. Various children sang in the choir, took piano, guitar and cello lessons, rode horseback, and had roles in church Christmas plays and community theatre. We cross-country skied, hiked and camped, organized a track program, and participated in Junior Olympics. Life with our gang of six was full.

Like any mother, I had moments of doubt about my abilities as a mom, but generally felt pretty settled in the routines of my life with kids. I had read lots of books on child rearing principles and it seemed that the practice flowing from those principles was resulting in a pretty good job of “training up my children.” My confidence was tinged with a bit of sinful pride, to be sure, but there was also just the confidence that comes with experience, of having gone around the block a time or two and having learned a few things.

In this looking back, the sharp edges of memory have, I’m sure, become fuzzy. Was I really as confident then as I make it sound now? Was I doing the right thing? Was I teaching what they needed to know? Was I disciplining well? How would they turn out? I asked all those questions and more. But still, by the time my oldest was almost a teen, I was enjoying the settledness of having done something for 12 years straight. Practice makes, well not perfect, but easier. Time and experience gave me a sense of knowing what I was doing.

Fast forward to now. My children range in age from 23 to 12. One has finished college and married, one will be a senior in college this year, one leaves tomorrow for his freshman year in college, and three will remain at home, still homeschooling. All are loving and respectful, hard working and helpful, kind to their mother. They have excelled in learning and have developed their own talents and gifts. They still do laundry and mow lawns and go on their own to restaurants, grocery stores, and dentist offices. They fly on airplanes to far away places and drive cars long distances. I do not generally worry about their safety and I don’t (usually) fret that they are doing things they should not be doing. They still have their share of sibling squabbles, which I mostly stay out of. They sometimes forget to do the dishes, give me phone messages, or feed the cat. On occasion, they are late getting home.

So, why is it that I sometimes feel as though I don’t know anything anymore? Why do I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and feel confused and bewildered? Why do I sometimes feel as though I am a complete novice, without a clue about how to be a mother to these grown and still growing children?

This lack of parenting confidence is humbling. I quake at the exhortation in Titus 2:3-5 given to older women to train the younger women to love their husbands and children. How can I possibly train anyone when I feel so weak myself, how give answers to others’ queries when I have so many of my own? Thankfully, as an older mother, I am not alone. Over coffee, I have talked with other experienced mothers who wrestle with doubt. Like me they feel, at times, so inadequate for this task of mothering older children. What has changed?

The issues these days, certainly, are quite different than the issues of younger days. Sharing toys, cleaning your room, coming when called, and eating your vegetables seem so simple when compared to relating to the opposite sex as a teen, choosing a college, choosing a spouse, battling depression. If your child messes up on sharing toys the consequences may include gentle coaxing, a firm reprimand, or the loss of a coveted toy for a while. But if he exercises poor judgment while driving or makes a foolish decision in a matter of the heart, the consequences are likely to be much more painful and long-lasting, more severe and possibly devastating. Is this what wakes me up at night - a fear that one of my children will have to endure terrible consequences and deep pain?

Or perhaps it is a sense of losing control. When your children are small, you pretty much call the shots. You’re bigger than they are and though they may test you to the limits, they really know that you’re the boss - or that you ought to be anyway. As your children get older, your control loosens. It can start with something as simple as no longer being able to read every book they read. Then you send them off to places without you and before long - in a blink really - they are making major life decisions. Though they may still seek your counsel, it’s their decision, not yours. You’re not in control anymore.

Or maybe it’s the prospect of loneliness. I remember the days when I couldn’t go to the bathroom without company. I have my privacy now. And I remember the days when going to the grocery store was a major outing requiring advance planning which, if successful, resulted in companionable perusing of the produce aisles and little hands cheerfully unloading cereal boxes and apples onto the check out conveyor. I can get through the grocery store faster now, but I no longer hear gales of laughter when the mischievous son successfully sneaks a bag of chips under the bottom of the cart and it gets all the way to the front before being discovered. When the phone rings and my far away daughter asks for a recipe, it is bittersweet. I am happy for the call, but wistfully remember the times we made meals together, mother teaching daughter, the two of us working in the kitchen, chopping onions, stirring soup, kneading bread. This fall three of mine will be away from home. The brood around me is shrinking. The prospect of all of them being gone from home, though still several years away fills me, at times, with a sense of dread. I already miss my two oldest terribly. I’m facing the next couple of days with a mix of excitement and trepidation as one more leaves. And then three more will spread wings and fly.

I watched a wren couple this past spring as they made their nest in the garage. When the eggs hatched, Mama and Papa wren flew in and out, bringing worms and insects to their babies. I stood still on the cool concrete and listened as the young ones chirped. I walked near to the shelf which held the cleaning bin that sheltered their intricately woven nest and they grew silent. A few days later, the young wrens fledged. I knew it was happening as soon as I approached the garage that day. Both Mama and Papa were in the Bradford pear at the end of the drive, calling to their young ones in a tone very unlike their usual lilting song. The notes of their raspy, rapid, insistent calling urged the little birds out of the nest, young wings unable to fly but a few feet across the garage, toward the door, and out, out, into the big world. I happened to walk into the garage just as one of the babies reached the door. Mama and Papa ignored me completely as they kept up their urging. I stood in the doorway and they landed on the fence rail a foot away, seemingly oblivious to me. Their sole concern was to get their fledgling baby out of the garage, out of harm’s way, safe from the prowling cat and into the brush on the other side of the fence where young wings could rest, hidden and safe.

I keep imagining those wrens when these clouds of parental anxiety overshadow and confidence is fleeting. If God so teaches the wrens to guide their young ones out of the nest and into the world, will he not guide me? And if he so teaches the fledgling wrens to travel in a few short hours from the safety of their concealed nest to the height of the pear tree, from the security of parents supplying predigested worms to the necessity of seeking their own sustenance, will he not also guide my fledgling children?

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?” asked Jesus, “And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.” Indeed. At these words, I take heart. There are many things I do not know about mothering my older children, but this I do know - they are worth more to God than the sparrows or wrens. He knows and guides all that will happen to them, their successes and failures, the heights to which they will fly and the depths to which they will plummet. Though I would rather see them reach the heights, I know that He is in the depths, too, and I must learn, in my unknowing to trust the hand that holds fledgling wren…and child…in his loving grip.

Actually, I do still know a few things. I know that adult children need love and attention. They need parents who will listen to their music, read their books, and welcome their friends. They need support and encouragement. They need care packages and letters, emails and phone calls. I know that adult children still need parents who are always ready to listen and who will not condemn them for wrong turns or false steps, but who will be there to hold them in a warm embrace, helping them find their way back to the right path. They need parents who love each other and model strong, God-glorifying marriages. And they need parents, who though weak and fearful at times, yet know and trust God’s unfailing grip. I am exchanging confidence in my parenting these days for greater confidence in God. As I let go of my children, I hold tighter to Him and cry out for deeper trust. And this - I know - is the message from this sometimes fearful, often uncertain, aspiring Titus 2 older woman to a mother of any age – in order to love your children, whether babes in arms or young adults out the door, cling. Cling tight, trusting God who gave you these child gifts for He, the Lord of the sparrows and wrens, is faithful, always.