Monday, September 5, 2011

Retracing Our Steps

We "officially" start school today. Carys, the youngest, is "officially" a kindergartner, which means we have "officially" entered a new phase of our lives, quietly closing the door to the baby years behind us. 

Carys, age 5, doing her first kindergarten work.
While this is our sixth year of homeschooling, it is our first year doing so with all three girls. I have been planning for months to document our homeschool efforts, but kept putting it off (Hence the "Homeschool" tab on my blog menu with its perpetual "Coming Soon!" placeholder). I'm glad now that I waited since this year really marks a new era for our family.  As such, this seems like a good time to look back and remember how we started homeschooling in the first place.

I wish I could say that it was a deeply spiritual conviction that sent us down this path. That came later, but it isn't how it all began.

It started with something very simple. I was sitting at home, 5 months pregnant with Carys, and I realized that Bronte would be starting school soon. This seemed like quite the bittersweet milestone at the time, sitting in my sunny living room on a bright spring morning, practicing effleurage on my rounding stomach. But then my thoughts clouded over and I knew:  I could not put Bronte on a bus.

I don't mean that I would shed sentimental tears as I hoisted her up on the first step, followed by a hyperventilating phone call to Anthony as the the bus rumbled down the street, around the corner, and out of sight, but then eventually I would be okay and even laugh about my histrionics later.

I mean: No way. No how.

Yes, I know that this is a moment untold millions of mothers have survived, and I'm sure, if forced, I would have, too. But facing this inevitability several years ago, I felt I could not do it. This was my first inkling that maybe I could avoid it. Maybe I could find away around it.

And so, the idea to homeschool was born, not as a calling, but as a cop out. A way to cheat the system of motherhood that says I must pass my children along to someone else for most of 180 days a year.

I seized on to this idea and started asking around, starting with my mother who had homeschooled some of my younger siblings. She was all for it.  She encouraged me and she imagined with me and she told me to pray about it, saying, "Really, why wouldn't God want you to homeschool them?"

And the idea, and my excitement, grew.

But there was a problem. Anthony was not into the homeschooling idea. And he definitely was not into me quitting a well-paying job and effectively cutting our income in half. I had mentioned it to him occasionally over the years as something of a joke and a few times recently not as a joke, only to be met each time with a response that amounted to "Forget it." If I was going to get him on board, I needed something more than "I can't face putting my child on a bus," because all that was going to get me was a stern "Suck it up, woman!"

In the end, I came back to the thing that was bothering me about having the girls in daycare. They were out of the home for 50 hours a week. This seemed excessive. As I read and looked over lesson plans and came to understand that with a one-on-one education, my children did not need, especially in the elementary school years, to be in a classroom for 7 hours a day, my idea became more refined:

  • I want my children to be at home more than they are away from home.
  • I want my children to learn from someone who loves them more than life.
  • I want my children to learn efficiently, but at their own pace. 
  • I want my children to have time to be children. 

Armed with this new-found educational philosophy, I was ready to approach Anthony again, convinced that this was the right thing for our family, sure that this was what we were meant to do. I knew what his two biggest concerns would be: socialization and finances.  I was ready with my rebuttal for the socialization argument:  it only takes one other person for one to be "socialized" and with homeschooling, I manage how and with whom my children are socialized.  But there was no positive spin to put on the fact that if I quit my job, things weren't just going to be tight. They were going to be impossible. I had crunched the numbers every possible way: If we stopped this and claimed that and sold this and quit that and ate Oodles of Noodles and I didn't have a cell phone then...

The best case scenario was we would be short $1,000 a month just to pay our bills.

So, I prayed.

God, if I am supposed to homeschool my children, You need to convince Anthony. And also? I need a $1,000 a month to come from somewhere. 

Something told me to put off my big talk with my husband and to keep quiet a little longer.

A week later, I went to get the mail. In it was a letter from the landscape architect we had hired to build a stone patio for us. He had taken a job in Houston and would not be able to do the work for us.  He was very sorry, but here was a list of references we might contact and a check returning our deposit of $12,000.

I had my $1,000 a month for the first year.

I bit my tongue as Anthony, totally unaware of what I was planning to spring on him, said he would start calling the landscaping references the next day. Don't say anything yet. Then he started talking about ditching the patio altogether and doing some work to the basement, putting in a bathroom, and finishing off the gym. Don't say anything. Don't say anything!

I couldn't not say anything. Finally, I decided to say just a little bit:  "Look, I don't want to get into a big discussion about this now, but please just don't spend that money yet because I wasn't joking before when I said I wanted to quit my job and homeschool."

Now he was the one biting his tongue. And shaking his head. And looking not happy.

I didn't say anything else.

Another week went by. We didn't talk about the money or homeschooling or my job. And then one day Anthony called me into his office (we worked together at the time), and I sat down across from him at his desk.

"So," he sighed, and leaned back in his chair. "Tell me how this homeschooling thing would work."

And that was it. He was on board. In the end, it wasn't my new-found educational philosophy or my Excel spreadsheet that was the turning point. It was me staying out of it and letting him work it out with God or rather, letting God work it out with him.

Once we made our decision with the security of having that check to cushion the financial blow, our faith was tested. Everything in the house broke down, one major appliance and HVAC system at a time, until the money had evaporated and we were back to staring at a deficit on our spreadsheet.

But by now we were convinced. This is what we were to do and whether we knew how it was all going to work or not, we were going to trust that we were doing the right thing.

So, an idea conceived in fear was born out of faith. 

There were many days in the beginning of our homeschooling pilgrimage when it seemed like we were wandering around aimlessly, when my certainty faltered and I missed the familiarity of past routines. There are days now, five years into it, that I think "Where are we going with this?," when I look around and see nothing but rolling dunes in every direction. 

But every day, even the roughest one, has its stream in the desert moment, a reminder of why we love homeschooling, one that shores up our confidence in what we are doing and why we are doing it.  We keep putting one foot in front of the other regardless and reminding ourselves of this scripture that we claimed as our family motto that first year--  

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going (Hebrews 11:8).

From left to right: Chloe (2nd grade), Carys (Kindergarten), Bronte (4th grade)

1 comment:

Crystal said...

Awesome, simply awesome.