January-February 2008 Selected Content
Confessions of a (Spasmodic) Homeschooling Mom - Laurisa White Reyes
Okay, I know what you're thinking: not another "why-I-homeschool" story! Maybe you'll breathe a sigh of relief when I tell you this story is not your run-of-the-mill homeschool story. Most of the homeschool moms I've met are what I'd call all-the-way homeschoolers. Either they've been teaching their children at home from day one without ever stepping foot in a public school--or their children started off in public school and somewhere along the line they became disillusioned by "the system" and pulled them out.
Only on occasion have I met other moms like me who claim to be homeschoolers, but who are in fact straddling the educational fence. That is to say, sometimes our children are in and sometimes they're out. These moms, myself included (and I use moms because isn't it usually we women who make these kind of decisions?), are well-intentioned and want what is best for their children and families. Overall, they are unhappy with the public school system and entertain grand notions of homeschooling their four, six or eight children all the way to college, with every last one of them graduating from Harvard Suma Cum Laude and being hailed as the most brilliant of humans--all because they were homeschooled.
Unfortunately, reality strikes the best of us at the most inopportune times. Just when our dreams are the most glorious, real life shatters them. Let's face it, it's not always the Garden of Eden having a bunch of kids running around all the time bickering, whining, smearing their dirty sneakers on the carpet and emptying the fridge. The constant tumult and chaos homeschooling brings is more than many moms can handle for long without suffering a complete spiritual and intellectual breakdown.
I've heard my share of "Oh, I could never homeschool my kids" comments over the years from public school (PS) moms who count the days until their youngest kids are finally in school so they can enjoy a few hours of uninterrupted peace and quiet. These PS moms are unapologetic in their "me, me, me" attitudes. And why shouldn't they be? Their homes are cleaner, their temperaments are less frantic, and they have seemingly endless hours in which to nap, read or watch Oprah--without anyone else demanding that they get up and make a peanut butter sandwich right now or they're just gonna die!
When surrounded by such women, what is one insignificant homeschool mom to do? Very often that homeschool mom starts longing for the very pleasures in life she's been convinced she's missing. She gets a little testy with her precocious children, and starts to resent being stuck at home all day while her husband is off at work enjoying whatever sanity the business world has to offer. The more she notices the chaos in her life, the more she pines for the order and structure public school offers: up at 7:00, breakfast at 7:30, kids out the door from 8:00 to 3:00, homework, dinner and bed. Hmmm. That doesn't sound half so bad, does it?
I didn't think so either. I was wrong.
Carissa was four when I enrolled her in preschool. She hated it. Every morning I'd drag her into that room, peel her off my leg and distract her with Legos or puzzles so I could slip away before she knew I was gone. I had a new baby at home and I needed those few precious hours to nap with him. However, if I said it didn't break my heart to see her so miserable, I'd be lying.
When it came time for kindergarten I made what was the perhaps the first right decision of my life--I kept her home. I had heard about homeschooling and thought it was an intriguing idea, this teaching-kids-at-home thing. So I taught Carissa kindergarten. And I taught her first grade, too.
By the time second grade came around, I was pregnant with my third baby and was mentally and physically exhausted. My friends kindly suggested I put her in school so I could get my rest and have time with the baby once he arrived. I thought about it. And prayed about it. And cried about it. And in the end, despite the sick feeling I had in my stomach, I enrolled her in the school around the corner.
Do you remember the first time you ever smoked a cigarette? Or drank alcohol? Or ate too much of something that it made you vomit? That first time was probably awful. Why? Because smoking and drinking and stuffing yourself silly are bad for you, and the nausea or choking or vomiting is your body's way of telling you to stop. But if you keep going, eventually those things stop bothering you so much. Soon you actually like smoking or drinking or binging.
That's the way it was with me and public school. At first it made me sick to think about putting my child in an institution whose main objective was to turn her into a worker drone, but it was amazing how quickly I came to love school. I loved the quiet mornings, the long phone calls with my friends, the uninterrupted naps. Wow!
And it wasn't so bad for Carissa--not really. She was a straight-A student. She was quiet, obedient and respectful and her teachers just loved her. Of course, had I paid more attention to those compliments I might have heard different words, words like passive, submissive and subservient.
Second grade came and went. Third grade started off well. The teacher praised Carissa up and down. "She's always the first one done with her assignments," she said.
Did it bother me that she finished so quickly that she spent most of her time in school reading? Did it bother me that other kids were cheating off her paper so often the teacher had to put up a partition to isolate her from her classmates? Did it bother me that Carissa complained day after day that she was bored? Yes, it bothered me, but not enough.
Then one day she came home in tears. The principal had visited her classroom that day and saw Carissa reading a book while the other students were working on some assignment. The principal scolded Carissa--in front of the entire class--and told her that if she didn't get to work she would have to visit her office. The teacher immediately came to my daughter's defense, but it was too late. My quiet, obedient, respectful daughter had been publicly humiliated in front of her peers. The damage was done.
I did what I should have done long before--I pulled her out of school the very next day. But did I learn my lesson?
When my fourth child was born, I put Carissa and her younger brother, Marc, back in school. It was only temporary, I rationalized, just until the baby came and we were settled in our new home. At the end of the year Carissa insisted on coming back home, and I reluctantly obliged. But Marc was more than happy in school. He was far more social than Carissa, and would surely be bored at home. He needed to be with other children his age. He needed friends.
Well, these friends repeatedly stole his lunch money, lied about him behind his back, taught him bad words, and more or less battered his already fragile self-esteem. Worse than any of that, he was being bullied at school--by a girl. There is probably nothing more emasculating to a boy than to have a girl beat him up every day in front of his friends. Once again, I did the right thing and pulled him out of school.
By now I considered myself a pretty entrenched homeschooler. I felt pretty smug about it, too. I was better than those public school moms because I was willing to sacrifice my time and my sanity for my kids. What a noble thing to do! I succeeded in converting three friends to homeschooling and I even started teaching classes in my home to other homeschooling kids. But--dare I confess?--secretly I had one foot on the road and the other in the stream.
My kids were driving me crazy. I felt frustrated and angry most of the time. There were things I wanted to with my time besides multiply fractions and memorize state capitols. I wanted to fold my laundry. I wanted to go out to lunch with my friends. I wanted to go back to school! If God had intended me to waste away my life sitting at the dining table gluing popsicle sticks together, then he wouldn't have given me a brain! Just the thought of my college degree gathering dust at the bottom of my hope chest made me want to cry.
Looking back, I know the kids sensed how I felt. They started acting really awful--I mean even worse than usual--and I started in with the threats. "If you two don't stop fighting, I'm going to send you back to school!"
I was depressed. My kids were horrible. Our home, and my life, was an utter mess.
The solution? Public school! Enroll them all in school and get them off my back once and for all. I had the papers all signed. Everything was set to go. There was just one small problem.
I felt sick--again. I felt guilty. I felt like I was abandoning my kids. But, I reasoned, they would be all right in school--wouldn't they?
In August, my five-year-old started kindergarten and I planned for the others to join him soon. But by December he had reached a point that seemed all too familiar. I would take him to school each morning, pry his little finger from my shirt, and bribe, cajole or threaten him into staying in his class. Then one day, just to keep him happy, I volunteered in his class.
The teacher and I divided the class between us and worked on various projects. My task was to help them write "I like ice. Ice is..." and then fill in an appropriate adjective. I quickly discovered the children had differing levels of abilities. Some kids completed their assignment without a hitch. Others struggled just to get a few letters down on paper. Every child demanded my assistance and attention. I could give it only in snippets, a few moments here, a few moments there. It was simply impossible to give any one child my full attention. As a result, none of them really got the help they needed. It occurred to me that despite all the best intentions in the world, one teacher couldn't possibly meet the needs of every single student--and I did not want my child to be the one left behind.
That was the last day Stuart went to school.
Up until that day, for eight long years, I viewed public school as my safety net, the place to send my kids when things went wrong at home. Though I would not have admitted it, I was never fully committed to homeschooling. Not until I saw first hand how other people's children desperately needed a loving, caring grown-up to give them her full attention, something that would never, could never, happen in school, did I realize how wrong I had been.
I went home that day and tore up the enrollment forms for my other children. In my heart I waved good-bye to public school. I knew at that moment that it would never been "an option." As long as it was, I could never truly be a homeschooler.
I can't describe how it feels to have such a burden lifted from my shoulders, for it was a burden--the weight of trying to be like other moms, of trying find peace and happiness in solitude. Instead, I have discovered a remarkable treasure--that true joy and peace of mind is found in the very place God intended--in my home with my children.
© 2008, Laurisa White Reyes