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I am on a lot of different networking platforms comprised of both parents and educational professionals of kindergarten through college-aged students. Every year around this time in the semester, there seems to be a central theme – one of chaos. Guidance counselors are noticing students are struggling. Teachers start looking for ways to bring more engagement in the classroom. Parents of college students are worried after receiving tearful calls about midterms or feeling lonely. In homeschooling groups, parents start to wonder if they aren’t cut out for it anymore. At the same time, as a homeschool group support leader since 1994, it has also been the time an influx of inquiries about homeschooling start filling inboxes after parents have felt that traditional school is just not working. With the newness and excitement of the semester long gone and the end of the school year far away, this seems to be the time of the year where everyone wonders, “Will it be okay?”

In one recent Facebook post, a fellow parent reached out to see if the feelings of being overwhelmed were shared, and many resonated that they were struggling too. While those who have been through similar times shared such feelings are usually a season, it is understandably difficult to see when you are in the middle of a storm.

We first started homeschooling eighteen years ago. That year, we also moved into a new home on a fall crisp day not much different than this past weekend. Our subdivision has beautiful mature trees. It was one of the things we loved about the yard, which it was gorgeously lit up with colors on the day we moved in. That year was a year of new beginnings in many ways, and we were excited to be embarking on a new adventure.

Shortly after our move, those gorgeous mature trees began to drop their leaves. We had owned a home before and already had a supply of rakes. Based on the needs of our previous property, we grabbed a couple of packages of lawn bags at the local hardware and got to work. We could see what needed to be done, and it didn’t seem like a difficult task. However, it didn’t take us long to figure out we were a bit in over our heads. We had absolutely no concept of what we were in for and exactly how many leaves would drop from those trees. To explain how off base we were with our expectations – each year we gather over 100 bags of mulched leaves. It was a month-long project and a race to get everything cleaned up before the snow hit.

The following year we decided to go another direction. We hired an outside company. Six men showed up at our house with blowers, blew a massive amount of leaves to the curb, and sucked them up with a huge vacuum into a large truck that hauled away our frustrations. For a while we thought it was worth the cost. After all, we saved ourselves several weekends of hard work and our yard was spotless. Then a wind storm came through, knocked off the remaining leaves still hanging, and our yard was completely covered in leaves again. While the service took care of the immediate needs, there was still work to be done. We eventually stopped using a service because we realized while it gave the perception of an easy fix, it was costly, only temporary, and with mediocre results.

As I was cleaning up leaves this weekend, I reflected on how we continued to refine the process and make improvements over the last 18  years. Each year the process became less overwhelming. We purchased bags in bulk at Costco, instead of a couple of small packs. Our expectations of the work required changed and we mentally prepared ourselves to stay the course. Eventually, a riding mower with a mulcher and bagging system was added to our tools. We purchased extra mower bags so they could be quickly dropped and replaced with empty ones to simultaneously collect and bag. We discovered leaf funnels, which we originally thought were overpriced gimmicks, made packing leaves into bags much more efficient.

Sometimes our refinements had nothing to do with tools. I’m embarrassed to say that it took us a while to figure out to take the bag off the mower at the bottom of the driveway rather than the top, which required the extra step of dragging the bagged leaves down to the curb for refuse pick-up. So simple, but something we couldn’t see when we were too overwhelmed. Thinking smarter, changing the mindset, and being prepared were just as important as the physical tools. We learned how to work through the overwhelmed feelings, adjust expectations, utilize needed tools, and get to the other side of green grass in the spring.

If you look around our neighborhood, you’ll see each home handles the clean-up a bit differently. Some use mowers, others use rakes and tarps. One neighbor obsessively sucks up one leaf at a time literally all fall with a handheld outdoor vacuum. They are walking their yard at all hours anytime a leaf drops. Some wait until the very last minute and scramble before the snow hits. A few use a service, but most have realized they need to put the work in for the best results. This year, we have a new neighbor who looks completely overwhelmed, much as we were the first year, raking away by hand. I imagine he’s benefiting from seeing we all have the same leaves needing tending.

Regardless of each individual approach, there is something to said for seeing that we are all in this together. Neighbors outside give a quiet nod of acknowledgment as we work in our yards together. It also isn’t uncommon for passing drivers to have mocking smiles of astonishment at the job to be accomplished and expressions of “I’m glad that isn’t me,” as they pass by bag after bag lined up at the curb down our street. I can only imagine they live in a cookie-cutter subdivision where developers plowed down all the variety of trees to make construction easier. I’d much rather have clean up for a few weeks and get to enjoy the beautiful variety of trees in my yard the rest of the year.

Aside from gathering leaves this weekend, we also moved my daughter into her new apartment after graduating from college in May. Eighteen years she has lived in this home. While she’s lived at school and even in different states for summer internships for the last four years, but there was no permanence to it. This time is different and her room is now empty. It is the start of new beginnings. With the crisp air and crunch of leaves under my feet, I couldn’t help but reflect on the parallels. Parenting and homeschooling have seasons as well.

When we first started homeschooling, I focused on how fun learning together would be. Don’t get me wrong, it was. I also think I read too many homeschooling blogs and magazines that exuded only the positives. As much as I had an ideal vision that parenting and homeschooling would be carefree like the summer and never experience storms, that just isn’t how it ended up. In particular, it seemed at this time of year our homeschooling often felt as chaotic as the leaves blowing all over the yard. Sometimes we had it under control, much like my neighbor who tackles the job one leaf at a time. However, other times all it took is one big gust to set a spiral in motion to where we felt like we couldn’t recover. There were times of storms and times of calm. We refined each year a little bit, adjusted for the season, and in the end, we experienced results of our efforts with growth. Sometimes it was a small growth and other times it was the full bloom of your oldest moving to her own home.

Please be encouraged that this is a season. There is greener grass on the other side, but you might have to work through the chaos and wait through some darker and colder days before you see the efforts of your labor and new growth to appear. Some of you may be in the midst of a huge gust of wind that seems to be bringing down more problems than you currently feel you can handle. Unlike leaves scattered across a neighborhood, it is hard to see what others are experiencing. Instead, we picture everyone else with a pristine, cleaned-up yard and think that is what our homeschooling yard should look like as well. In future posts I plan to share some techniques and tools to make the process a bit better. While tools and ideas can be helpful, sometimes what is more important is to just know that you are not alone with a head nod of understanding to just keep on raking.