I’ve been flooded with a strange mixture of bittersweet nostalgia and excitement this week as classes begin in our area public schools. Seeing friends from Oakwood post their first day of school pictures and comments has taken me back to this time last year, when we were new to this stunningly picturesque, close-knit Dayton community full of hope for Luke’s first year in public school. We dressed him in new clothes for his first day of Kindergarten, helped him into a stiff, new backpack, walked the tree-lined streets with dozens of other parents and marveled at how the whole town comes out for the start of school. The excitement in the air was palpable. I remember standing in the schoolyard, my heart swelling with pride as Luke emerged with his class from the building, having completed roll call, walking single file to board the yellow school bus. In Oakwood, only Kindergarteners ride the bus. It is a walking community beyond that, and we were so hopeful about our role as a family in this new place that day.
Fast forward one year, one move to Columbus, and one prettttty long story…
Pouring my second cup of coffee at 7:36 this morning, I glanced out my kitchen window to admire the way the sun makes the grass positively glow this time of morning. Just that detail cues my mind that it’s school time. I would be walking the boys to school now. I might even be dressed for work in the schools, myself. Instead, I feel a solid kick in my swollen belly and smile, imagining Elise doing her morning karate moves. I grab two slices of wheat bread and begin to make Joe’s sandwich for work. He’s in the shower. Luke is playing “My Singing Monsters” on the iPad upstairs, Seth is still sleeping. He’s always been our “later gator.” We don’t start homeschooling until the first of September. On the corner out front a mother stands with her son.
Waiting for the bus.
Sure enough, I hear the familiar roar of that old yellow behemoth as I spread almond butter on the bread, and by the time I look up, mom’s walking away and a single boy sits in the back row of the bus as it roars off. There would have been two boys on the bus today. This is where, and when, I would say goodbye to Luke for the day. I thought about our homeschool notification letter, still circulating in the mail as we just sent it out yesterday. Since we’re new, the school district probably doesn’t even realize we exist in the first place, but I felt a nervous twinge that we’re bucking the system or doing something we shouldn’t by not putting Luke on the bus, but I reminded myself that we had a choice, we made a choice, and we were allowed to do that. I don’t have to rush around this morning. I only have to pack one lunch – not two- and the mixed feelings I’m having, full of memory and duty and choice and bittersweetness and sadness and ecstatic joy just have to be normal for someone like me on a day like today.
On my first Christmas, my father presented me with a beautiful, hand carved cradle for my dolls. He drew out the plans based on colonial cradle designs, cut a large piece of maple into complementary shapes and angles, working extra hard to make sure the pieces fit together well. He then carved in a daisy motif, which was a signature of many of his woodworking projects in those days, not to mention the flower of the times. He meticulously hand-painted the daisies, sanded and stained the wood to a smooth, shiny finish, and placed it under the Christmas tree that year with a bow and my name on it. Toddling over to admire the gift, I was almost small enough to fit in it myself, but I enjoyed endless happy years of carefully wrapping my baby dolls in blankets and rocking them to sleep in that cradle with a gentle mother’s touch. As I grew into a teenager, the cradle sat quiet, more a decoration and reminder of my early childhood until one day I moved out on my own, and it was time to pack things up.
As an Air Force brat, and then later as an adult, I’ve moved many times, always carrying this heirloom with me. From time to time I’ve wondered where I could put it on display, how I could release it from its cocoon in the basement and appreciate it out in the open. Anyone who knows me knows how I feel about pieces of my father’s woodwork. They are absolutely priceless to me. If he has built it, refinished it, painted it, or bought it at auction for 75 cents forty years ago, it is a priceless treasure to me – one I refuse to part with, once in my possession.
Until now. Having only ever been a boy-mom, I will have a daughter of my own in less than a month. I’m nervous. I’m sure things will be quite different this time around. We will connect differently, she and me, and that’s both beautiful and terrifying to imagine. I am wonder-filled, thinking about her. Will she have my hair? My eyes? Will she look more like her father’s side or like me? What else will I pass down to her? Some of my worst traits and tendencies, some of my talents and aspirations? I know that in so many ways she’ll be a completely different person – and in other ways she’ll find someday, hopefully not lamenting, that she’s “just like her mother.”
This weekend, I finally found occasion to rip the paper and bubble-wrap shroud from my beloved cradle (with the enthusiastic volunteer help of my youngest son) in preparation to give it away to the daughter I already love and have not yet met. After polishing each angle, curve, and sunflower to a brilliant maple glow, I set it in the sunny grass to admire it. I wonder if Elise will love the smell of fresh cut grass like I do? I hope she likes to play with dolls. And I hope she knows just how loved she is. For now, who she will be is still wrapped up in one magnificent little mystery.
“Now…what are the major school subjects, again?” – Joe
Last week I announced our decision to try homeschooling this year and invited you to follow as I share this big, new adventure/experiment. I’m not writing as a homeschool expert or even as a veteran teacher (or parent), but as the novice I am; feeling a little scared, a lot clueless, but venturing forth on a journey I feel compelled to take. Several friends already shared my first post. Thank you, and please keep sharing! I’m feeling so encouraged and energized by comments from both friends who don’t homeschool and just want to walk this road with me and new homeschool mom friends, mostly introduced to me by my non-homeschool friends. Now how cool is that?
Going back to that day Joe and I sat down at the dining room table, looked at each other and said “so we’re going to do this, right?” what we knew we were doing was cutting the ropes that kept us comfortably grounded and letting the balloon soar God-knows-where. Certainly past the euphoric feeling of flying. Definitely into uncharted territory, probably into realms where we’ll give about anything to just tie down again and feel secure. We won’t be able to rely on (or blame) public schools or teachers for Luke’s development this year. We even passed up on the opportunity to join a co-op that would cover half the subjects (even delivering the content and assessment material for those subjects) for us. No, instead, we sat down and did what maybe most people would do in our situation; we made lists. The first, a list of subjects we needed and wanted to cover. By “need” I mean things like Math and Reading, and by “want” I mean underwater basket weaving. Kidding! Then we went online to shop for curriculum.
We were already having our first hot air balloon moment; we were in uncharted territory, gaping in awe at all the curriculum choices – our choices – on a single website! Narrowing the field to, say, “Science” and “First Grade” there were hundreds of choices, and whoooosh that balloon was flying a little high for my comfort level. I’m like this at a new restaurant, too. As much as I love to try new foods, and I love so many foods, if there are too many choices on the menu, I am quickly overwhelmed and helplessly (pathetically) asking Joe to order for me. Taking a deep breath, we decided to anchor our choices by at least reviewing the content standards for our State, as well as the Common Core (national standards) that forty-some states have already adopted. I will say briefly that I am not a fan of the Common Core or what it represents for our public schools, especially after spending years on curriculum and pacing guide committees as a teacher, meticulously mulling over the standards appropriate for our state and school district – but for a host of reasons; that our kids’ peers will be held to these standards, that we can use them as a springboard and jump higher if we want to, that it’s just nice to know what the competition is up to – we reviewed them, and it did help narrow topics within a subject. Of course we are adding plenty of our own.
Joe and I were feeling pretty good about ourselves once we filled that online cart with $400 worth of curriculum. Oh yes, we are dreaming big. There is no possible way we could go through all this curriculum, I’m thinking (and the field trips we want to take, and the music lessons we envisioned, and some kind of sports team for Luke…). And frankly, right now, there’s no way we can pay for all this curriculum. We will have to prioritize and take it a little at a time. But it’s so exciting to shape what our boys are learning. At this point, I walked away with a feeling of empowerment, and a thought was running through my head “Those he calls, he equips.” I Thess. 5:24 and several other verses reference this truth about God that I’ve heard my pastor illustrate many times; God calls you to do something first. THEN he equips you. When we made the decision to homeschool, it was terrifying and I felt completely inadequate. But almost immediately after making the decision, we were able to focus on those curriculum choices, write a post announcing our decision, and through that post I have already begun to build a network of friends and family who will support me on my way. And I had been afraid that maybe none of my non-homeschool friends and family would want to talk to me again!
Then, just when I was feeling on top of this thing, I saw this third and completely different list come through my Facebook feed this week:
Now this list brought me right back to earth. These are the things I really want my boys to walk away with when they leave my “classroom.” And through homeschooling, spending all those extra hours with my boys, I will get to know their character a whole lot better – both their strengths and weaknesses – this will be my work, and honestly, this is the hard work. I learned quickly as a parent that kids don’t simply listen and apply our character lessons immediately. They don’t even mimic every good thing we “model!” Some parents wait a lifetime to see the “fruit” of the seeds of character they’ve sown. Yes, this is the hard work. And I will need continual equipping the whole way through!
We’re still in the “big dream” stage of homeschooling. What would be your big dreams, if you chose to homeschool, or what were they when you started out?
When I was a little girl, I played school. I was the teacher. I don’t remember this, but my mom does, and has pictures to prove it. I do remember writing countless poems and stories, though, since I was old enough to put a pencil to paper. In high school, I had a wonderful English teacher who helped me develop a stronger vocabulary and a love for all aspects of English/Language Arts. In college, my work-study boss at the preschool showed me the power of a high quality, organized and thoughtful educational program, which – suffice it to say – bears a complete contrast from a view of any typical daycare or even preschool you might have seen. I switched my major from the nebulous “English” to “Elementary Education” and never looked back.
Now, with fifteen years of public school teaching under my belt (definitely dating myself here), I find myself in uncharted territory: Three months ago, I removed my son from the public school he was attending just one month shy of Kindergarten “graduation,” and today my husband and I officially affirmed our decision to homeschool him for First Grade. I’m terrified.
In fact, I’m so scared, I’ve been running from this decision for seven years – back when my eldest son was just a “bean.” An idea met me in the recesses of my mind, asking me if I wanted my bean to be educated in the same way my students were being educated. Well, why not? I was a dedicated, conscientious teacher. So were all of my friends and, well, most of my colleagues. There are always exceptions in any field. I loved my work, it was rewarding and I had such a sphere of influence, even though I couldn’t speak publicly about my faith. Growing up a military brat, I had a mixture of public and private school experiences, switching schools every couple of years throughout my education. Joe grew up in a single public school system from kindergarten through high school graduation. Funnily, he also had questions about how we would school our own children. We were on the same, uncertain, page.
Over the next several years, as Luke developed from a bean to a baby, toddler, and then preschooler we felt the decision pressing in on us, the pressure only intensifying with each new article or blog post we read about the issue. We discussed the topic carefully with a few trusted family members and friends. Part of me hated the very fact that parents have a choice in how to educate our children. I see how asinine that is now, how privileged we are in America to still have a choice. But since the overwhelming choice (looks like around 97%) is public school education, homeschooling is far and away a fringe option. And when choices counter the trend, they are often viewed in the narrow, the negative, the anti-.
Neither Joe nor I have considered ourselves conformists, so it was quite a surprise to both of us that last year, despite seven years of ideal-discussing, we enrolled our child in a public Kindergarten “just to see how it works out.” I, for one, was afraid to buck the American School Experience ideal unless I was sure-sure it wasn’t right for us. Well, after an intense yearlong battle to make it work, it simply didn’t.
One of the things I read in all those homeschool blogs and articles over the years was that it’s best to have a good, solid reason to share with folks who ask why you have chosen to homeschool. A diplomatic response is best, reduces the chance people will be offended by your choice. I get it. Some people are going to respond defensively “You think you’re better than me?” (I’m hearing this in a funny New Jersey accent like I did in a recent sit-com bit). Others are going to assume you’re one of thooooose people. A few might just watch you fumble along and wag their heads, snicker when they hear you mention struggling, needing a break from the kids, low on money because you gave up that $80,000 earning potential. It’s a fool’s decision. Well, after seven years of thinking it over, I’ve heard every reason for choosing or not choosing homeschooling, and while I agree to varying levels with some and disagree completely with others, I’m just not ready to espouse one. I’m a bit of a slow-processer, maybe. The truth is I just couldn’t run away from the nagging suggestion that I should do it. Or at least try. That’s all I’ve got.
So far, I don’t feel equipped for this on the merit of having been a teacher for fifteen years. Strangely, that has made me feel less equipped. I don’t have any friends who home-school. In fact, almost every single one of my friends is a public school teacher and everyone in Joe’s and my family has chosen public schooling for their children. It feels like a lonely road ahead. I’m nervous about being asked to justify the decision on the spot. I’m anxious about judgments and hard feelings. This is a lot of what stopped us from making this choice sooner.
What I want people to know on this big decision day is that this is a scary, exciting new adventure for my family. I’d like to invite you along on the journey as I try to blog about these new experiences. I’m not writing as an expert or from some elevated homeschooling platform as you might have heard others speak. I’d just love to have you follow along with me on this little experiment; I don’t know if this year in homeschool will be any better than last year in public school. I expect bumps along the way; fatigue, fears, anxiety, financial woes (since this is my first unpaid teacher gig), and hopefully some triumphs. At this point, if you have never homeschooled, you know about as much about it as me! So please, friends, share your thoughts and feedback with me as you join me on this new adventure. And if you’re enjoying my posts, share them, too! Nothing is worse than writing for the crickets…