I'll be chatting pleasantly with someone when suddenly my conversation partner would look over at cute Baby Tess, grimace and mutter "I bet that new baby is really messing up your older kids home-schooling experience!"
It happens over and over again.
I first noticed this phenomena while talking to my OB. He's says "Abby, do you need any birth control?"
"No!" I giggled. I smile at the baby in my lap and 3 bored children hanging off of various pieces of medical equipment. (Because that's how we post-NICU mother's roll. You must take all FOUR children to a post-birth vaginal exam because your poor husband has already exhausted all of his 2010 sick leave.)
"Instead, you'd rather have a tutor! Right Abby?"
"You know, a tutor . . ." my doctor said uncomfortably "for your kids . . . because your home-schooling is going so badly this year.
Until I started getting bombarded with criticism, I didn't think our home-schooling was going so badly this year. Since my 1st and 2nd grader can discuss organic chemistry with their Dad on weekends and polish their basic phonic skills with Mom on weekday mornings, I figured we were we solidly on track.
Granted, as the sleep deprived mother of a newborn, I'm not the most creative teacher this Fall. Home-schooling comes behind making sure that Baby Tess is healthy and growing, insuring my Family has clean clothes in their drawer and good food in their bellies.
All the same, the stream of comments started getting under my skin. So during Thanksgiving break, I kicked our school lessons into higher gear.
Which all explains why this morning I was sitting in front of a chalkboard with Baby Tess trying to teach my seven year old daughter Hannah double digit addition.
We'd hit a rough patch. Hannah could add double digit numbers when they were listed out horizontally (10 +15 = 25) but she was having trouble when the equations were listed out vertically. Suddenly the number 1,105 was showing up as an answer to the above equation.
I could tell that Hannah was about to lose it. When things get tough, my sanguine tends to fly off into an 'This is too hard and I can NEVER understand it" tantrum. I could see the cracks beginning to surface. We were way past my usual line "Jesus likes it when we do hard things for him, it's called perseverance!"
Totally inspired, I picked up sweet Baby Tess and used her as a ventriloquist.
"Shh! Don't worry Hannah, I know the answer." I had the speechless baby say to her sister.
Then I picked up a piece of pink chalk and put it in the baby's hands. I had Baby Tess assume the classic Thinker's pose.
"Hmmmmm!" Baby Tess said. "What can be the answer to 10 +15? I know! I know!"
Putting my hand on top of Baby Tess I had her draw out a bottle under the equals sign!
"That's it! That's it!" I had Baby Tess sing out merrily! "Hannah the answer to all of life's problems is always a bottle of milk!"
My stressed Hannah went from mad, to confused, to side splitting laughter. She thought my little comedy routine was the bees knees.
After we'd played out the comic math lesson, giving the further answers of "a pacifier" and "a clean diaper", I shrugged my shoulders.
"Maybe you should take another try" I suggested gently. "It doesn't seem like Baby Tess is much help on the math section of your Quiz Bowl Team!"
Hannah happily picked up the pieces of her math equations and went on to correctly answer 4 new problems.
So that would be the answer that I'd hand my doctor and all those naysayers out there.
Yes, babies are hard work. Babies are messy. Babies do tend to throw off your normal routine and spiral your life into chaos.
HOWEVER, at the exact same time babies can help propel your entire family forward.
If my Hannah was an only child, I'd have many more hours each week to go over double-digit addition with her. Most of that "extra" time we would have spent butting heads and becoming increasingly miserable.
Sometimes what you really need is a silly, giggly, newborn baby Sister in your math class to make things come out right.