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Labor of love


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 13, 2001

Maria Tompkins met her husband while she was studying to be an architect. Today, Jack Tompkins, a financial planner, calls his wife "an architect of a family." The couple are raising eight children, and Mrs. Tompkins is home-schooling all of them in their home on the outskirts of Carrollwood Village.

"I enjoy what I do, and I wouldn't trade it for anything," says Mrs. Tompkins, 40. "When you give so much of yourself to the people you love, it all comes back."

Says daughter Marisa, 16: "She's an extraordinary woman. She's very unselfish. She puts us first, and you hardly ever hear her complain."

As in most large families, the Tompkins children, who range in age from 10 months to 18 years, pitch in and do their fair share of the household chores. The older children take turns making dinner, and everyone folds his own laundry and puts it away. Their reward: A few minutes playing video games on the weekend.

Weekdays are more for study and prayer. In fact, the family, who belong to St. Lawrence Catholic Church, chose home-schooling partly to incorporate more prayer into their daily lives.

They also wanted to be closer as a family. When the children were in school, "we were running around a lot and going our separate ways," Mrs. Tompkins said. "Home schooling gave us the ability to work together and learn together and not be as rushed."

Lessons last from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The older children -- Jack, 18; Marisa; Ryan, 15; and Joseph, 13 -- work independently while Mrs. Tompkins teaches Vanessa, 10; Robby, 8; and Angela, 5. Teresa is under a year old. At night, after the children have gone to sleep, she looks over their work and grades their papers and tests.

"The best part is watching my children grow up," she said. "I feel blessed to share their lives."

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