We are not a homeschooling family. This is not a world we are familiar with. A year ago today, I was still virtually teaching my middle school students for our parochial school that has long been a part of my life. My sisters and I attended school there from K-8, my mother taught there for almost 20 years, my cousin was the pastor for several years, and my kids attended school there. It felt like home for our family.
Quick rewind: I graduated from university with my degree in Civil Engineering. I had a very successful career in engineering when the Lord blessed our family with our first two kiddos within a year and half, and I felt the tug to make a change. I slowly transitioned into teaching, bringing my love of engineering, math and science into a classroom, while having the flexibility to spend more time with my family. I went to school and came home with the kids, worked with an amazing team of teachers, students and families, and had summers off to enjoy with my kids (and work on little never-ending projects around the house).
Suddenly, our very small den was converted into a three-desk, plus one high chair, office with all members teaching or learning live for 8 hours, then homework. For families who had to abruptly switch to work and school from home, the scene is all-too-familiar. Me working live with100+ students, with a potty-training toddler in a high-chair next to me, and my elementary aged kiddos within arms-reach using technology for the first time to be in their classes as their teachers and classmates also learned this technology for the first time. My husband is a front line worker and very often was having to isolate from us because of his continuous exposure. It wasn’t long before we realized we could not keep this up, and I would have to make another change.
Making the choice to cut one salary from our household was not an easy decision. Our 2000 and 2005 Chevys with 200- and 300,000 miles would surely need to be upgraded soon. Our home, built in 1970, needed new windows, and likely a new roof soon, never-mind all the upgrades we wanted to do on it. There were probably a thousand reasons I could have come up with how it was financially unwise. But despite all the logical arguments in my (very busy, never quiet, always calculating) mind, I knew the tug when I felt it. God was using this moment to call our family to something new: Homeschooling.
God was using this moment to call our family to something new: HOMESCHOOLING.
Enter endless google searches, nights of worrying if I could actually handle this, and getting it all done rather quickly. What would we do about First Holy Communion? Our new 3rd grader had missed his when it was cancelled with the first wave COVID shutdowns, and our new 2nd grader was due to receive that and First Reconciliation this school year… yet here we were still attending virtual mass.
After many, many prayers (and sleepless nights), I decided to roll forward with what I could. I chose curriculum for the core subjects first and then added in the rest as we went into the school year. It was already mid-October and my internal alarms were sounding that we were WAY behind! There were so many empty check-boxes on my imaginary to-do list, it was overwhelming. There was no first day of school celebration, or special activities. We had to get things done.
As those first hectic and overwhelming days and weeks started to fade, something beautiful started to happen. As I saw how quickly we could make progress on all of those checklists, I eased up and we started to slowdown to smell the roses, per say. We started traditions like morning prayers, reading stories together, learning about saints, and using breakfast and lunch as family learning or talking time. The whole family got nature journals(including mom and dad) to enjoy the quiet moments we took to enjoy the little things in nature (even if in our yard). And most daunting of all, we started preparing for First Reconciliation and First Holy Communion.
Somewhere between the lesson planning and ongoing searches for new ideas to implement, schedules to try and worksheets to check, I started to learn alongside my kids and enjoy these little moments, instead of rushing through the checklist every day. As I read Religion aloud, helped them create a special project or bake something yummy to celebrate a feast day, my heart began to open in a completely new way. We celebrated Lent as a family, created new meaningful traditions to bring into our home the very rich traditions of our Catholic faith, and it has blessed our family in more ways than I could have dreamed. In April, with many precautions still in place, both kids were able to do their First Holy Communion with our parish family. Their faces were so full of joy, it was obvious to everyone how much this day meant to them. We didn’t get to include our whole family, or have the big celebration we normally would have, but I cannot say it wasn’t absolutely perfect on every level.
It was on that day that I realized how much homeschooling had provided for our family, as I reflected our unforeseen journey to get there. Had we not been in the COVID-pickle that we found ourselves in along with so many other families… had we opted to go the “safe” or “normal” route leaving the kids in school… had we chosen to keep our finances as priority… had I chosen to ignore that familiar tug… we would have all missed this moment. It might have been passed over with busy schedules, trusting the heavy lifting of sacrament formation to the school. But God called us to more this year. It became the foundation of our entire year, and in the formation of two first communicants, every single one of us grew in in the fruits of this foundation.
In our totally new little homeschool, God was working each day. When I least expected it, when I was most overwhelmed, when I worried if I was doing enough… He was in the midst of our “mess”, guiding our hearts into a grace I had never experienced. Isn’t that the beauty of God’s plans for our life?
In our totally new little homeschool, God was working each day.
As we excitedly, humbly and gratefully begin our second year of homeschooling, we will be bringing many lessons learned our first year, but open to learn many more along this beautiful journey. I pray that God continue to weave our busy days into something beautiful that only He can create. I pray for all of those families starting homeschooling this year, like we did last year, and for all of those preparing their students for sacraments this year. And I pray for all of the veteran families that are beginning a new school year with new adventures. May we feel His grace in the moments we need it most, His guidance in the little moments that build up to be our year, and His love ALWAYS.
Saint Maximilian Kolbe, pray for us.
PS. Another unexpected blessing for our family this year is that the Lord led us to join the Kolbe family, where I am now blessed to be working with yet another amazing team, and our children will be attending and joining such a wonderful Catholic community. We are overjoyed to be here.
Vanessa Delgado graduated with a BS in Civil Engineering (FIU) and worked in the field for several years before feeling called to transition her work into Catholic education, focusing on STEM. She started an Engineering Academy at her alma mater, and taught middle and high school before joining Kolbe Academy. She resides in South Florida with her husband and three young children.