Our oldest daughter (age 12) is soaking up the Lucy Maud Montgomery books and the manners and means of the early twentieth century, while daughters 2 and 3 (ages 8 and 6) are traveling west with the Ingalls in a slightly earlier time period. We're only a week and a few chapters into our unit studies and all the talk among the girls (besides the plans for the next tea party) is what it would be like to live a hundred years ago. At first glance, it does seem a very romantic notion. Of course, we'd love it!
But, would we really?
We were having a discussion about the realities of Victorian life the other night, after we tried to read a litany by the light of an oil lamp. The lamp had been long unused and dirty, and it took me quite a while that afternoon to clean it out, replace the oil, shine up the chimney and trim the wick, and I told the girls that this would likely have been the job of one of the children of the household a hundred years ago ~ and that there would likely have been many lamps to clean. Once the whole parade of 19th century chores was trotted out, daughter number 2 had to finally admit, "It would be pretty inconvenient."
Laundry, cooking on a woodstove, cutting wood, hauling or pumping water, traveling by horse, or more likely, by foot everywhere you wanted to go... Life was not easy for our great, great grandmothers! The prospect, when seriously pondered is daunting! The lazy among us would swoon, or hide ~ unless you were one of the lucky few who could afford servants (I somehow doubt that would have been me). It really was a hard life.
But is hard bad? Well, no, I don't think it necessarily is. People a hundred years ago were required to do more physical labor ~ this saved on health club bills. Many had to rely on the food they grew themselves ~ eminently healthier for them! Folks were less mobile ~ they loved their homes and relied upon their communities. People died younger ~ they were faced far more often with the prospect of their own mortality, hopefully to the betterment of their souls. Fewer things were taken for granted by those who had to work hard for everything.
It could be argued that the overall benefits outweighed the inconvenience.
Hometeaching is hard work. We have to keep a focus on each of our children, and everything going into each of their heads, in a very intense way. We have to make them be the ones that want to learn. We have to keep it interesting. We have to take care of all of them, body, mind and spirit. We have to truly be everything to each of them. That can be hard. But, in a way it can be easy, too. It's like that lamp I cleaned out. There was a lot of background work at the kitchen sink. Getting that wick straight and level took a couple tries. But, once I'd done all the "groundwork," the lamp lit as soon as I put the match to it, and glowed beautifully. If we have been carefully doing our background work as Catholics parents, as people who are excited about education ourselves; if we've carefully trimmed the wick of our daily habits, that light, we've found, can catch easily and burn straight and true.
We've graduated two young men so far, and we are proud that they are intelligent, hard working, good Catholics. We continue to pray for their strength and steadiness in the winds of the world, but they're off to a good start. The products (for the most part) of homeschooling. Two lamps going out into the world to light more lamps. It was worth the hard work.