The Misadventures of Homeschooling: What Have I Done?
Sooooo we kinda decided to homeschool. Actually, we were forced into it via our spectacular lives. Gently forced into it…like a drug lord is gently forced into prison. Or maybe how a toddler is gently forced into a suit for Easter Sunday service. I digress.
It all started last year when I had a Joan-Of-Arc-Epiphany-From-God moment and KNEW we were going to try our darndest to add two more children to our family. Long story short, I had my eye on one of my daughter’s friends for a while…kept up with her, if you will. I knew this kid was sheer magnificence the first time I met her, but I had no idea she had been through hell. Seriously. Adults will sigh and say “Yeah, I KNOW…I had rough times during adolescence…” Puhlease. This kid’s mom died when she was eight, she watched her father crawl into a bottle and pop pills, got bounced around like a ping pong ball in the Child Services system, became a ward of the state and ended up 14, pregnant and living 100 miles away from civilization in a girl’s home/orphanage. By then her dad had stage four esophageal cancer…you get an inkling of the sitch here.
I will bypass the excitement and the surreal experience of having our private lives exposed to government entities, learning first-hand how broken the “system” is, spending long hours with our case workers …let’s skip to the good stuff. This young lady and her then two-week-old daughter came home with us. But Child Services had rules. This young lady – Sam – HAD to be in school or else the infamous truancy officer would hunt us down. Sam did not belong in public school. She was already behind and the stress of being subjected to the less-than-stellar environment that is public education seemed a cruel punishment. She was also breastfeeding, which to my Momness was and is the quintessential new-mother experience and should be protected at all costs. Screw pumping. Let her feed the baby! Let her bond! The answer seemed so obvious: HOMESCHOOL.
I boldly made the announcement to our case worker that we were homeschooling. I had already found a cover school and wrote a check. Done. I had already pestered the eyes out of one of my homeschool-mom-friends. I was ready to whisk brilliant Sam into the next era with an arsenal of curriculum and know-how. Our case worker looked perplexed and mumbled…I smiled demurely. I won.
Fast forward to now – a year later. Sam is doing great! Homeschooling Sam went so well that we eventually added our other three children to the adventure – which means I am now homeschooling four of our five kids. After the chaos of Christmas died down, I ushered our 11 year old son into the homeschool realm, allowing our 14 year old daughter and our 16 year old son to finish out the year in public school. By the time our southern summer season wrapped itself around us like a hot damp towel, ALL the kids wanted to try this crazy homeschool thing. I was like, “Sure. Why not!”
Homeschool was a dark mystery to me prior to our initiation. When my high school friend heard I was homeschooling, I received a text one evening. It simply said, “Hey. Heard you came to the dark side. Call me.” After copious hours of scouring the interwebs for homeschool know-how and cold calling homeschool friends, I was off to a good start. Who knew this alternate reality, this other world, was so vast and flexible and crazy? So many revelations about homeschooling entertained me. For example, I thought the term “unschooling” was hilarious because it sounded like a paradox. I laughed every time I sent in my attendance records…from HOME for HOMEschool because my kids attended school at HOME. I relished learning new stuff all the time as I worked on assignments for the kids. I kept thinking, “Why the heck did we not do this FIVE years ago??!” Notice I didn’t say ten years ago. Let’s be real. I know my limits.
My uber-cool homeschool-mom-friend recently started a co-op. I did not know what this was, but I knew enough to know that her 4 kids are crazy advanced and are graduating early and taking college tests at age 12 or something and they speak foreign languages. If Swiss Family Robinson mated with Einstein and Mother Teresa, this family would be the result. She explained to me that a homeschool cooperative is where kids go one day a week for enrichment classes. I was like, “Yes please, Sign me up!” She did better than that – she enlisted me as her co-cop sidekick, which means I have now been thrown into the ever deepening pit that is the world of homeschool.
At the first brainstorming meeting, my homeschool-mom-friend thought she would have four or five people show up. Try twenty! Now, there seems to be some weird unspoken law that if you are homeschool parents, you have a hundred kids. My husband and I have five kids – and whenever someone asks me how many kids we have, I always smile and say, “A hundred! No, haha, but we have five.” People stare at us like we are Mormons trying to populate our own planet or something. Geez people. Back to my story: I thought it would be a lovely ice breaker to ask each parent how many children they have. NO ONE IN THAT ROOM had one or two kids. NO ONE. I think the smallest family had four kids!! Is there a scientific link between homeschooler DNA and fertility? I was morbidly fascinated.
Apparently I forgot to ask an even more important question, which these parents pretended I asked and each began answering anyway. The invisible question in question was “How long have you been homeschooling?” Like survivors at an AA meeting, each proud individual enthusiastically outlined their personal homeschool history, complete with footnotes about curriculum as well as their personal opinion about – dare we utter it – the public school system. Imagine the looks of shock and pity I received when I stated – upon being asked – that my kids spent their entire little school lives in public school until this year. A few moments of uncomfortable silence later I added, “because our son wasn’t getting what he needed…” to which the others in the tribe exhaled with relief and nodded vigorously. It was at that point that I realized I needed to figure out how to blend in, at least until I had a better plan of action.
There are two kinds of homeschool families. The first type of homeschool family we shall call the Outies. These Outies are out and about everywhere all the time learning about everything. The offspring of these individuals are amazingly cool, extra-intelligent renaissance kids who can juggle, speak fluent Dutch, master calculus in their living room while eating fruits grown in their own garden and paint portraits in oils after dinner. (See above reference to my homeschool-mom-friend). These types of kids know EVERYTHING, but not in your typical know-it-all way. These kids read books like Imelda Marcos bought shoes. Their conversations are punctuated with puns, literary references, double entendres and trivia. While it is exciting to be around such homeschool specimens, it also causes a middle aged woman such as myself to wonder, “What have I done with MY life?” The Fruits-of-My-Loins are already morphing into the homeschool version of these brainiacs – as if staying in your pajamas while you read The Iliad in bed causes a chemical reaction with time and space formerly unavailable in the sterile hallways of public school. In the words of Gandalf, what sorcery is this?
We will call the second type of homeschool family the Innies. This kind of homeschool family was sorta the reason homeschool never appealed to me in the first place. If you took an Amish family and mated them with Billy Graham and Ronald Reagan, this is would be the product. It has been my observational understanding that the offspring of these homeschool species are also highly intelligent, but heavily guarded by a deep respect for religious and/or denominational influences and are typically more sheltered from the outer world. The dress code for Innies involves long denim skirts, expertly crafted hair buns, long sleeves in summer and the occasional pair of Birkenstocks. I have no doubt that the offspring of Innies will grow up to change the world, albeit with a cautious view and a select diet devoid of sugars and caffeine. One of the driving forces behind an Innies decision to homeschool is the fact that public schools are no place for God, wholesome family values and moral conduct. Having endured the ups and downs of public school myself, I can somewhat appreciate this sentiment. But where else is a first grader going to learn how to do armpit farts and shoot spitballs out of a deconstructed ballpoint pen? Just sayin…
So last night was the big meeting where everyone registered for this year’s co-op classes and volunteer teachers were initiated and trained. In my work life, I often do speaking engagements or work with groups of people. I always use humor and my goal is to always make people laugh – it’s my shtick. Sarcasm flows through my veins and my wit cannot be stopped. Humor is how I have survived all these years! I decided to rely on the one thing that has gotten me through every unimaginable circumstance for decades: being funny. Enter 24 homeschool moms/teachers. Everyone scribbles their name on a fluorescent orange sticker and pastes said sticker to their chest. I was wearing a sundress so my nametag rebelliously drifted into the safety of my armpit. And the marker was cheap so I had “SARAH” poorly tattooed in six places across my chest as it journeyed to the netherworld. This was a good omen, I thought. This is funny… Then came the introductions. You will NEVER guess what the first question was!
“How many kids do you have?” Hundreds. Thousands. We all had soccer teams living in our abodes. We all drove minivans and Suburbans and Yukons, and perhaps a horse and buggy somewhere. All that was missing was a geneticist in a lab coat scribbling our fertility data onto a stainless steel clipboard. I was struck by how so many of these precious little children had Biblical names. As I quickly tallied up my grocery list and checked my mental calendar for next week, female voices would bring me back into reality as I heard phrases like, “And Jebediah is now two so he’ll stay in the nursery…” and later, “Daniel and Malachai will need biology if you know who’s teaching…” I quickly thanked both God and my husband for giving our children strange Irish names…perhaps we could blend in after all.
Suddenly one lady began telling us how she once visited the funeral home across the street. She regaled us with the hilarious tale of how her husband’s zipper busted and he was one of the Pallbearers so she had to follow him into the men’s restroom and safety pin his fly shut. I again noted my surroundings as I bit back the urge to say “Pallbearer? You mean BALL Barer!” I laughed and laughed on the inside and doodled on the teacher’s guide for comfort. I told myself that I will adapt with time and I will infiltrate the tribe to discover who is funny and who is not. No need to waste golden humor just yet…there is still plenty of time. Taking a deep breath, I dug the nametag sticker out of my armpit and looked around the room. Then I asked myself the Important Question: Did the Piggly Wiggly sell wine this time of night?