My mother was the first one of us to encounter Distributism. (She’ll find that out when she reads this article!) But when she made the decision to cast aside a job title and paycheck, in the eyes of the world, to begin the world of our family with my father, she was on the path. Deciding to homeschool was just the next logical step. There was something so wrong with sending us away to school, she tells me now. Feelings of inadequacy made for hesitancy then, but with the help of friends and armed with love, the risk was taken. Education came under our own roof. Three faces staring back at my mother across the kitchen table. She taught us how to walk and talk, why not how to spell and multiply? I remember making that first day miserable for her. As a first grader, confused by my religion text, I couldn’t wrap my mind around the idea that God was my Father and that I had to love Him more than our daddy on earth. Naturally, I burst into tears and my mother had to rekindle my faith, tend to a three-year-old and my older sister’s mathematics woes in almost the same moment. She admits it was hard to keep her sanity at times. Years later, my parents are still armed with a whole lot of love and the wisdom of G.K. Chesterton as confirmation that they are doing what is right:
Women were not kept at home in order to keep them narrow; on the contrary, they were kept at home in order to keep them broad. The world outside the home was one mass of narrowness, a maze of cramped paths, a madhouse of monomaniacs. It was only by partly limiting and protecting the woman that she was enabled to play at five or six professions and so come almost as near to God as the child when he plays at a hundred trades.
Making our home the center for learning not only set an example for their children, but, I believe, an example for society. My parents were (unknowingly) distributists, leading family life to the forefront, reclaiming a task for the home too easily lost generations before. My parents saw it as a great investment for our future, and a blessing for our present, not a quick or easy solution. (I hope I would have made the same choice, were I in their shoes!) Truly, they made my school years some of the happiest, freest years of my life. My mother banished boredom by filling even our spare moments with activity and creativity, encouraging us to try at a hundred different trades. We were each free to make our decisions and pursue these little individual goals, under the watchful care of the parents who knew what was good for us (another distributist idea, I’ve found). Particularly with creative projects, my mother would be there helping us from the idea’s conception, encouraging us to the finish. It was show and tell every day when my father came home from work. We would race to show him our accomplishments, or seek his assistance. Chubby little faces and paint smeared hands vying for his attention with shouts of “I did this!”,“I wrote this!”, “I made this today!” with barely a foot of his across the threshold. “It’s wonderful!” he would smile, “Now, what exactly did you call it, again?” We were something like creators.
How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone?
My parents let us be children, a novelty in many families. We had our responsibilities, but they sacrificed much in order to leave us free to experience the simple joys that came with precious childhood. “Always stay small,” my mother continues to advise—“you’ll be closer to Jesus.” (small is, indeed, beautiful.) We relied so completely on my parents, and as a family we relied on the Lord. We were a family unit, not merely individuals, and we didn’t dream of isolation. My parents threw open the door to a world that we could enjoy in light of what they had taught us. When we stepped out of the home together, we recognized the value of community and joined the ranks of a larger family. Some of my fondest family memories have occurred outside the home—and inside our community theater; for when I fell in love with theatre, my family fell in love along with me.
“Right now is the happiest time in the world”—a line from Cheaper By The Dozen muses. (I can recall thinking of that quote in dozens of circumstances.) Time was always treated as something sacred in our house, it was up to us to decide how to use the time we had—the hours of a school day, or the years of a life. Our time and talents were on loan from God, our responsibility was to use them for His Kingdom. As students and children, we were free, but we worked and lived under our parent’s perimeters; as a family in a community, under lawful authority; and as children of the Father, “under the Obedience”. We did not seek to rebel, as from under a tyrant, but lovingly followed. Please God, we are journeying as a family on the road Heavenward. That is the mission my parents laid hold of at the moment they said “I do!”, the mission they prepared us for, and the sword we daily take up for ourselves. The times we live in must be borne with the help of those around us, as a Distributist knows. The weights of the world must be thrown off and the sweet yoke of Christian life taken up as we band together with the joy and determination of obedient sons and daughters.
In future articles, I hope to illustrate my reflections along this road, with Chesterton, Catholic home life, Distributism, art, beauty, community and the faith to light the way.
“To whom much is given, much will be required” (Luke 12:48)