Simplifying and becoming a working homeschool mom

Beefy, our bull calf, sometimes got his second bottle at night

Wow, has this been a year. I started the year as a stay-at-home homeschool mom with an expanding homestead and ended it as a working homeschool mom trying to simplify my life to preserve my health and sanity.It seems obvious, but one cannot keep adding responsibilities without giving up others in return. This year drove that home to me.

Surprises lurked within ourselves

Cali, our sweet lineback/speckled park heifer
Cali was going to be our milk cow, until I accepted a job offer and became a working homeschool mom. I wouldn’t be able to give her the attention she deserved.

At the beginning of 2023, Jeff had trouble with his right foot. He could barely walk. Physical therapy kind of helped, but the problem kept returning. Then in late spring, his left hip started giving him trouble. He again went to physical therapy. The therapist found so much inflammation that he couldn’t even test the hip for damage. For weeks, Jeff took anti-inflammatories and did therapeutic exercises to reduce inflammation so he could get the muscles working properly.

At the same time, I was researching milk cows. I thought it would be a good idea to get used to keeping a heifer alive before we have to care for a bred heifer, watch over calving, or manage a cow-calf pair. I looked for a future milk cow nearby that someone else could deliver to our property. We have no livestock trailer, so delivery was essential.

Cali, an 8-month-old lineback/high park cross, joined us in mid-June. I figured she’d be a hardy girl for our Wisconsin winters. Around the same time, we brought home a 5-day-old bull calf, who we named Beefy, from a local dairy so she’d have another bovine and we’d grow him out for beef.

Beefy, our bull calf, sometimes got his second bottle at night
We picked up Beefy from a local dairy that was selling all the calves. He was supposed to be a dairy/hereford cross, but I’m not certain of that. We bottle fed him using the biggest bottles I’ve ever seen. The larger one held three liters!

In late June, right after Cali and Beefy joined us, Jeff’s physical therapist sent him to see an orthopedist for imaging. The anti-inflammatories and exercises weren’t helping. An x-ray showed that the cartilage was gone in his left hip and osteophytes, aka bone spurs, were trying to immobilize the joint. The treatment? A new hip.

That went downhill quickly.

Nicki’s axiom for summer 2023: Holy crap, I’m tired.

Jeff already had his right hip resurfaced in the UK a couple of decades ago. He found a Dr. Derek McMinn at The McMinn Centre, who did hip resurfacing for people like Olympic Judo players so they could return to competition. Jeff is not one to accept limitations easily, so he found the best of the best to fix his congenital hip dysplasia and arthritis. Fast forward to now—Dr. McMinn is no longer operating, but Dr. Koen DeSmet in Belgium uses the next generation of McMinn’s hip resurfacing. Jeff booked a flight to Europe and a ship ride back from Europe to accommodate a late August surgery date. All we had to do was survive until then and Jeff should arrive home in much less pain.

Since Jeff was obviously out of the picture for farm work, I needed to manage almost all of the farm chores. Our homestead is not a one-person undertaking. I let my seedlings wilt under the grow lights. It seemed like a waste, but I knew I’d never keep up with them outside. My time planting would give us little to no benefit.

No garden + no workouts + no self care = no good

If there is any year to skip a garden, this was the year. We were under moderate to severe drought conditions most of the summer. Even the weeds barely survived. My garden would have died without a lot of care, and I had no care left to give.

I skipped workouts to tow hay and feed to the animals. Since we still had goats, who occasionally tried to headbutt me because they didn’t like me preventing them from stealing my tools, I had to do all of the livestock care alone. No one else was big enough and moved well enough to help.

By the end of every day, I was BEAT. And not just tired, but beat up. The goats never managed to get to me, but holding a bale of hay or a lamb while trying to kick the goat away on uneven ground (for example) is not good biomechanics. Neither is pitching a 45-pound bale of straw over the 4-foot electric fence while trying not to get zapped or smush a lamb, or pulling a garden wagon with well over 100 pounds of feed on it over lumpy, hilly ground. It was all great exercise, but not the kind that preserves my hypermobile joints or gives me more energy the next day. I had no time for self care, despite knowing how important it is, and got progressively more tired.

Pure Protein chocolate protein bar
I relied on protein supplements like Pure Protein bars and Muscle Milk, alongside a random carbohydrate, to have sort of balanced nutrition. They are relatively affordable when purchased in bulk through Sam’s Club.

By late summer, I snapped at the kids too much and increased my caffeine consumption just to get through the day. I had too many chores to get enough sleep and too little sleep to recover from the chores. I also developed acid reflux that had left me alone for several years and upper right abdominal discomfort. Just as Jeff was getting ready to leave for Europe for about three weeks, it morphed into moderate, intermittent stabbing pain.

Ugh, I don’t have time for this!

I went to urgent care so we knew what we were dealing with before Jeff left. An ultrasound confirmed gallstones, which is what I suspected based on the spike in symptoms after indulging at Mader’s, an old German restaurant in Milwaukee (I recommend going there, if you have a chance). They also found kidney stones and nearly critically dangerous potassium and sodium levels. The doctor suggested I drink a bunch of water and have the electrolytes retested to confirm the likely diagnosis of dehydration. Thankfully, that diagnosis proved accurate and the electrolytes were easy to remedy.

Not so with the gallstones. Once gallstones are symptomatic, they likely will cause problems again with no warning and no pattern. It could be mild, or it could become severe suddenly and require emergency surgery. My family also has a prevalent history of gallbladder problems, so it’s likely I’d have to have it removed at some point. But not yet. Jeff was leaving in a few days. As the only parent and farm caretaker staying in this country for the next few weeks, surgery was impossible short of an emergency.

I lined up a few people for childcare in case I had to go to the emergency room while Jeff was gone. It gave me a little trouble, but not enough to slowed me down. I also made sure to avoid greasy food, just in case.

Working homeschool mom? Or just working mom?

As all of these medical problems were going down, I received a job offer. I had been applying for jobs for well over a year to try to improve our financial situation. We weren’t quite scraping by on a single income after all of the unexpected expenses for our house and homestead. We needed something to supplement Jeff’s full-time job.

My requirements were very specific. I had to work from home, the hours had to be somewhat flexible, and I needed to earn enough to pay down debt at a reasonable rate while paying a nanny. That’s a lot to ask. By some miracle, however, I landed a suitable job in the same field as my earned doctorate.

School supply list for the local public elementary school
The supply list was minimal, but it added up quickly. I had two kids in 4K, two in first grade, and two in second grade.

I signed the job offer on the day that Jeff left for Europe. My estimated start date was in a month and a half—plenty of time to completely rearrange our lives to accommodate eight hours a day, five days a week of work for me.

Public school, at least while I settle into my job, sounded like a promising option. The fall semester started three days after I accepted the job offer. My task list was huge. I had three days to register and prepare six kids for their first day of public school. I also had to find a daycare for the toddler. Long story short: I did it. In the space of three days, I arranged everything (besides daycare). I didn’t sleep much.

Foregoing homeschooling is not “simplifying”

Then I encountered the reality of public school. We live in a good district, so the school itself wasn’t a problem. The mass schooling model was.

Holy cow, did it not work the way I thought it would. I got less sleep than when they were home, the kids were crabbier for the short time they were home, and it really only bought me about five hours of work time each day because of logistics. To be clear, a full-time job requires eight hours a day.

The details of that trial are a story unto itself (read: future blog post). Suffice to say, we made it about a month in public school before we started advertising for a nanny to watch the kids for part of my workday. Since my company is on the east coast and I’m in the central time zone, I could fit in a few hours before the kids get up and finish my day while they have rest time. Becoming a working homeschool mom looked a lot simpler than becoming a working public school mom!

But first… rearrange most of my life.

To be continued.


  1. June Schiffer

    You are the only person I know that has done so much. I’m sorry I can’t be of more help.

    1. admin (Post author)

      I’m trying to do less now :-P.

  2. Pingback: Becoming a working homeschool mom: a few last hurdles - Bustling Home

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