Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Guest Rena Jones

Today's guest is Rena Jones, author, mother, homeschooler. She and I met online when I first was published with 4RV. Rena's book A New Job for Dilly was her first published in the Dilly series and she has several other children's books to her credit. I asked Rena to write something about juggling being a mom, writer, and homeschooling and everything in between.

Balancing Family, Writing, and Homeschooling

When Elysabeth asked me to write an article on balancing family, writing, and homeschooling, my first inclination was to look up the word balancing. I know what it means, but I wanted the exact definition. According to The Free Dictionary balancing means …

Keep or put (something) in a steady position so that it does not fall.
Remain in a steady position without falling.

Balancing is to put something in a steady position or to keep from falling. I fall all the time, and by that, I mean I sometimes fail at doing everything I want to get done. Personally, I think juggling describes me better …

Continuously toss into the air and catch (a number of objects) so as to keep at least one in the air while handling the others.
Cope with by adroitly (skillfully) balancing.

Balancing/juggling my family isn’t as hard as it used to be. My children are older now and can do many things themselves. Long gone are the days of diaper changes, fighting with strollers, or struggling to get a wiggly child into a high chair. My kids are 22, 21, 12, and 10. They’re far from helpless, though many days I have my doubts. By the time my boys came along, my girls were old enough to fend for themselves more. They could read quietly while I got a baby down for a nap. Or they could help with one of the boys while I did something with another. It actually worked out pretty well for us. On top of that, my husband has always been very supportive. Not only has he supported our decision for me to stay home with the kids, but he’s also supported homeschooling, as well as helping with things around the house. I’m blessed … or spoiled … take your pick.

Balancing/juggling my writing isn’t that hard, either. I tend to write in spurts where I will write all the time or not at all. Summer is my writing time because that’s when we’re not busy with school. However, I have two very imaginative boys who are always giving me ideas. We can easily get distracted in school for a half hour talking about a story idea, character, or even a book title. In fact, it was my boys who came up with the idea for one of my picture books. We had just finished a week-long study on The Gingerbread Man where we read different versions of the story and compared them. Some of the titles were The Gingerbread Baby, The Gingerbread Boy, The Canjun Gingerbread Man, and so forth. My boys came up with the idea of a man made of marshmallows – and hence, The Marshmallow Man was born.

Balancing/juggling school was harder when the kids were younger. There were many days when I thought I was going insane. However, I have two things in my favor now. One, my kids are older, as I’ve said. And two, this is our 15th year homeschooling. It’s nothing new. I don’t have to think much about lesson plans, curriculum, and things of that nature. Like an old dog, we’re set in our ways and settled in a routine. I like to do each weekly schedule on Thursdays just so I don’t have to worry about it over the weekend. That doesn’t always happen, and many times I’ll be typing it Monday morning while the boys are eating breakfast or getting dressed. Again, time is on my side because after fifteen years, I could probably do it in my sleep. My problem is that I want to do so much, but there is not always enough time. Or something comes up and puts everything on hold. I’ve learned not to stress over it. We don’t have to finish every page in every book or do every single assignment I planned. We do what we can and that’s fine.

After so many years, I’ve learned to prioritize better than I did in the early days. I ask myself what needs to be done first, either by importance or deadline. I work from there. Time and experience have made this easier, although it wasn’t like that in the beginning. There were many days when I didn’t know if I was coming or going. There were many times I wondered if I was doing the right thing by choosing to stay home and homeschool my kids. My husband worked in law enforcement and often dealt with the local schools. Many times he would come home and say, “I am so thankful you’re homeschooling the kids.” That helped validate it for me.

My friends tell me that they don’t know how I do it all – raise a family, take care of the house, write stories, and homeschool my kids. Of course, some days I wonder that myself. I usually end up saying the same thing back to them. Some of their kids are involved in so many things – school, sports, scouts, music, dance – it seems all they do is take their kids from one activity to the next, as well as working and taking care of their homes. To me, that seems more exhausting than what I do, albeit just as important. One way isn’t better than the other. It’s what works for your family. As with everything, there are trade-offs. I don’t work outside the home, so I don’t socialize with other adults much. I’m home most of the time, so I don’t need to maintain a fancy wardrobe. I spend most days in work-out clothes because I like to exercise once we’re done with school. That’s my time. It’s the time I don’t have to think about the house, school, writing, or anything. I just exercise and listen to my music. I don’t spend school hours shopping or watching daytime television. And for me, that’s okay.

I have learned that in order to for me to balance or juggle everything that I want to get done, I need to simply take it one day at a time. When I first started homeschooling in 1996 someone asked, “How are you going to teach trigonometry?” There was a look of horror on her face when she said it. I replied, “I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.” At that particular time I needed to concentrate on 4th and 2nd grades, not advanced math. Why worry about trigonometry when we needed to learn the basics? Again, prioritize.

But finally, the main thing to keep me focused is the ability to stay relaxed. I’m a pretty laid-back person. I can get along with just about anyone. I’m one of those stop-and-smell-the-roses type people. While many moms have a death grip on their kid’s arm walking through a parking lot, I’ll be the one to spot out a rain puddle and encourage my kids to stomp in it. While most people are racing around Disney World from ride to ride, we’re the kooky family near some obscure wall studying the colors on a lizard or taking fifty pictures of a duck. I’m lucky because family, writing, and homeschooling all work together in that respect. I’ve learned that we don’t have to do it all. We just need to make the most out of what we do.

AUTHOR'S BIO: Rena Jones is a children’s author, specializing in picture books for kids ages 4-8 years. She has also written three middle grade novels – Coffee for Collie, Bananas Don’t Dance, and Encroached.

She has seven picture books published with 4RV Publishing LLC – A New Job for Dilly, A New Friend for Dilly, Lemur Troops & Critter Groups, Stork Musters & Critter Clusters, Pony Strings & Critter Things, Rhino Crashes & Critter Classes, and The Marshmallow Man.

Rena also self-published a non-fiction picture book called MOUNTAIN GOATS are KIDS like YOU! which is available @



Susanne Drazic said...

Hi Elysabeth! I enjoyed Rena's guest post on balancing/juggling family life/homeschooling with being a writer. I was familiar with a couple of her books before reading her guest post, but there are several other ones I'll have to check out.

Rena said...

Thanks for featuring me on your blog, Elysabeth. I really appreciate your support. :)

elysabeth said...

Rena, I think you have some pretty good books and it's hard not to support a friend and person published with same publisher. Thanks for stopping by and being a guest on my blog. - E :)