I just can't keep all the ducks in a row anymore. When my kids were little I used to tell them make like ducks and we'd get in a single file line to walk through the grocery store (because how obnoxious to walk 5-wide down the aisle). They were good kids, obedient for the most part, and they'd line right up behind me and march along.
This, of course, was once they were too big to be in the shopping cart. Carts are the best place to contain small children in a store, but at some point you have to transition them to Walking Nicely. A good time to teach Walking Nicely in the Store is after your child stands on the side of the cart and tips it completely over - spilling the other toddler, the baby in the infant seat, and the groceries you had squeezed in around them. In Walmart, no less.
So keeping the ducks in a row helped me cope with the growing brood and the expanding groceries. Ducks-in-a-row gives a mom a sense of accomplishment and maybe an extra gold star, because kids all lined up like that just look so darn cute! and how obedient! and my, you've got your hands full!
That last one especially, because as a mom of little you always have something in your hand - a spoon, a cup of coffee, your head, the scruff of a small child's neck.
The other awkward thing was being in the store with this brood in the middle of a school day, and the inevitable questions about what grade are you in that homeschooled children can never answer.
"I'm in 5th grade math but my spelling is 4th grade and I read at a 10th grade level...so I'm 8?" Sheesh.
Or, even worse - "Grade?".
We've come a long way. When my daughter turned 12 I called the police station to ask at what age it was legal to leave a child home alone. I learned that there is no age - this is an arbitrary decision made by parents according to the child's maturity level and the situation.
And trust me, the kids were just as happy about this change as I was. It seems no one enjoys long trips to town or that crazy cycle of loading carts, unloading carts, loading carts, unloading carts; loading the van, unloading the van, loading the cupboards.
Someone has to come up with a better system.
So my ducks don't line up anymore and being that gold-star mom has turned into something more elusive and beyond my control. My parenting awesomeness isn't evident in quiet toddlers, easily pleased and scheduled and managed.
Maybe there never was any awesomeness and I'm just imagining - the way we do - that things used to be easier and they used to be better and everything is different now.
It's also likely that God uses kids to work out all the kinks in parents because we're just big kids ourselves, throwing tantrums about the ways we want to spend our time. Likely.
We encountered a bit of homeschooler-profiling the other day. The associate at the Sports Authority was shocked to learn that my daughter was homeschooled because she walked into the store alone (this is multi-tasking: you look for your shoes while I run to Staples), asked for specific help with an item she was looking for, conversed knowledgeably and even joked with the associate, and wasn't at all awkward or sheltered about it. I showed up towards the end of the transaction, just in time to hear him ask what school she went to and to witness his surprise. It was a different kind of shopping-with-homeschooled-children experience. Maybe a full circle?
I'm not earning points or trying to keep the ducks lined up anymore, and there are so many things we could be doing more of and doing better at - my kids, for the most part, would rather be on a screen than reading a great work of literature; the older ones watch movies with us and they get some of the jokes now, if you know what I mean; I feel like a World Class Nagger when it comes to bedroom floors and chores and did-you-finish-your-school; and for the life of me, I can't seem to sit with my youngest and patiently read The Boxcar Children again.
But I feel like we're winning at a lot of important things - great conversations, hard talks about real things, silly inside jokes. We are working and praying through mistakes. We are living with needy people and seeing how we can help meet those needs. We're talking about scriptures and song lyrics and worldview and eye-rolls, and we're noticing God together.
There aren't actually gold stars for moms, you know. There's just a lot guilt to battle down, lies to defeat, mistakes to mend. Hopefully there are also glory days with glimpses of all your mothering-dreams and parental schemes, coming to light before you.