Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while know that I’ve been tossing around the idea of homeschooling my kids next year. I’ve done it before (if you want to know why and how, click here) but for the last two years my kids have been going to the fabulous private school (more about that here) where my husband teaches. We’ve decided that they won’t be going there next year for a number of reasons (some are listed here) and so we are faced with a choice: the local public schools or homeschooling.
A year ago we moved into a home in a great school district. It was actually one of the selling points of the house. For ten years we’d lived in a home we loved in a gentrifying part of East Nashville, where the schools were “improving”. For any of you who have not gone through this process, let me just tell you, an “improving school” can be easily translated into more homework for the parents than the kids. There are endless PTO meetings, unofficial PTO meetings, late night phone calls, meetings with administrators and community leaders, research, fund-raising, and the list goes on. It’s important work, it’s rewarding work, it’s exhausting work. I admire the pioneers who send their children to schools that need help and then set about helping those schools. I tried to do it, but it turns out I don’t have the stomach for it. Oh well, you can’t be good at everything. So, one of the great things about this new house was that it came with a ready made school system. Add students and stir. So why,why,why would I not just send my children there?
I’d already come up with my very ridiculous list of homeschooling pros and cons. After that I went to visit the middle school with my eldest daughter. She was not so impressed, but as my wonderful step-mother reminded me, any school, even college, would be underwhelming after the private school she’s been attending. Still, her reticence, mixed with my own memories of junior high, went a long way in tipping the scales towards homeschool. And then I entered an essay contest.
I was supposed to write a personal narrative about a history that was important to me. I ended up writing about my journey from being an only child to being the mother of five children. As writing often does, it forced me to really consider why I’ve made the decisions I have. Why do I have such a large family? After all, no one can suck at birth control that much. I was surprised by what I discovered. Here’s what I learned: I have five children because I actually like children. Believe me when I say, this was shocking in and of itself. Not only that, but I have a lot of kids because I want my children to have a support system, a colony of people with whom they share a common history, people to call when the therapist is on vacation. I felt like I learned so much just writing that essay – and then I WON. (You can read the essay here.)
What? Winning meant, among other things, that I had to read the essay in front of a room full of people. Reading it out loud, to strangers, cemented this is my mind: I may not have any idea how to raise a brood of kids, I may not have any idea how siblings are supposed to interact, how they are supposed to handle day to day squabbles so that they can grow up to be close confidants – but I’m pretty sure that they can’t do it if they aren’t actually around each other but 15 minutes a day. I mean, you spend that much time with the cafeteria workers at your school. Right now, 15 minutes is the most I can hope for from any given weekday. If my children went to public school here in the neighborhood, they’d get three hours a day together. Of course, during that time, my older children would need to do homework in a quiet place (like upstairs, far from the preschoolers) and squeeze in any after school activities. Then there’s dinner. That only takes like 30 minutes. So, all of that time excluded, we are up to 30 minutes a day of playtime. That’s plenty, right?
I might think so if it weren’t for the fairy box.
This weekend we weren’t busy. With five children, that’s an anomaly. No birthday parties. No sleepovers. No performances. No recitals. My kids were stuck with each other. What did we do? Well, I’ll tell you what my eldest daughter did: She dragged out the glue gun and the pom poms and the markers, and helped my three and four year olds make a mail box for fairies. Then, in the morning, magically, a fairy left a letter for them to find. Can I tell you how excited they were? Probably not. Think Christmas in May. They jumped up and down with eyes as big as saucers. I’ve got a feeling that they will remember the fairy box for a long time. Especially if the fairy has time to continue writing letters. This is the stuff histories are made of. This is stuff that carries you through all those times when your sister yells at you to get out of her room and your brother pinches you in the back of the minivan.
In the end, after months of hemming and hawing and can I?, should I?, it finally came down to this: I may not be the best chemistry teacher in the world. I may not be able to cement the difference between the pluperfect tense and the past perfect continuous tense into the minds of my children. It doesn’t really matter. They will have plenty of time to relearn these things later. What they will never again have is the opportunity to grow up together; the opportunity to be something more to their younger siblings than simply that much older brother and sister who moved out and freed up an extra bedroom. And I’ll never again have the opportunity to watch them do it.
So it’s official. We will be homeschooling next year.
Send good vibes. And wine. Lots of wine.