Sometimes you begin writing about one thing, and it turns into something totally different. Be prepared, this is a more personal post for me than I’ve written in a long while. And it’s long. While it started as an intro to us beginning our homeschooling journey, it became more about my fears all last year, where I was at (since I was not blogging) and where I think we’re headed(?).
The idea of homeschooling has been discussed in our household for the last four and a half years. Since we had H, in other words. Rick was all for it from the beginning. Me, on the other hand, as the one who would be doing the “home teaching,” I’ve been unsure.
We can see a lot of benefits of homeschooling. One of the biggest draws for us is that our kids can move at their own pace, and hopefully will always be able to be challenged and not bored. Boredom, I think, is one of the worst things that can happen in education. I know it really made school tough for me, especially in high school when we were graded on attendance, regardless of test scores.
A big drawback/fear in homeschooling has been whether I can actually teach our kids. I’m pretty type A. Take for example the time that we did a craft project at E’s birthday party and three year old H started putting the stickers (a sun, some clouds) at the bottom of his project instead of the top. I started to correct him (the sun and clouds go in the sky, of course), when my sister, who is a preschool teacher, shot me the relax-and-let-him-do-it-you-crazy-control-freak look, wherein I promptly backed off. Quite literally. I had to leave the project table to prevent myself from squashing his creativity. I have to constantly remind myself that he is perfectly within his rights to color an alligator purple instead of green – without comment from me. The fear is that I will crush their creativity out of them and turn them into neurotic perfectionists or something.
Oddly, my fear has never been about socialization. That question just never made sense to me. We socialize with all kinds of people now, and I don’t anticipate that changing, no matter what kind of education our kids get. I also have always thought the structure of public school – where everyone is the same age together, is a little odd. As an adult, you have to work with and live with people of all age groups, and meet them where they are at.
When we put H in preschool one day a week last summer, he started coming home with all kinds of new behaviors, habits and sayings. Some of which were fun and cute (new songs, funny phrases), but the majority of them went from annoying (nose picking) to down right against what we’ve been working for four years to teach (foot stomping, talking back, fit throwing). Of course, some of those behaviors happen naturally at certain ages, but when my veggie loving four year old tells me he doesn’t like spinach (when I know for a fact he loves the stuff) and I ask him why, he says “Sam always says that – he doesn’t like vegetables.” I find myself cursing little Sam and having to hear for weeks now about all the things H “doesn’t like” even though he goes right on eating them. Annoying and now a habit that we have to try to change.
Of course that’s a minor example. There have been words we have to talk about not using, even though friends at school use them and behaviors (like that foot stomping). And it was helpful that my sister taught in the next classroom and could provide us with insights like, oh that Brady kid, he always throws fits when he doesn’t get his way… fits that look oddly similar to the ones H’s suddenly trying on for size. This is not the socialization I’m loving. I feel like that forces us to do more damage control than teaching.
One thing that has been extremely helpful to me in aiding our decision to start homeschooling has been the great variety of people we met at the farm that home school – all different reasons, shapes, sizes, etc. Some un-school, some follow a curriculum put out by the state, some do it for religious reasons. They all look different, but they all have a few things in common. Their kids are getting educated, they are well spoken, polite and very well behaved. And they have no problem conversing with both adults and the littlest kids on the farm. These were never the kids that I had problems with H being around (like the kid to wanted to torture toads, the liar, or the one who pushed him down in the sandbox every week).
But, even with all these great and different examples before me, I still felt uncertain. All last year, I really struggled as a parent. I had major symptoms of postpartum depression (or maybe just depression?), but not the more morose symptoms, I had the angry, raging symptoms. It was part of the reason we put H in preschool that one day per week. So I (and he) could get some tiny break and maybe take a nap once in a while. I was completely overwhelmed with life and parenting, and the idea of adding homeschooling to our lives was nearly enough to send me over the edge. I felt like my sanity was hanging by a thread as it was. I was taking supplements, trying to get out of the house and get some sunshine, trying to exercise, I even went to see a therapist twice. I was praying a lot. Mostly not to mess up my kids and that love would cover over everything – God’s love, since mine was not that apparent, though it was there, buried under all the rage. I knew breastfeeding hormones were contributing, but I wasn’t about to cut E off, and I didn’t want to be on medication.
One very helpful resource for me during this time was my friend, Annie. She is a doctor and married to a doctor and home schools four kids and has a real life and is honest and kind and genuine. She invited me to her house and to the zoo a couple times last summer. She shared bits of her homeschooling journey with me, and was a gentle listener as I lamented feeling alone and far from all my friends and scared of messing my kids up. I met her at the farm our first year and I wish we lived closer to each other.
When I got pregnant unexpectedly 31 weeks or so ago, I was totally freaked. I was overwhelmed with two kids and felt almost paralyzed with fear at the thought of adding a baby to the mix. But a good thing happened then too. See, when I’m pregnant, I have to eat an insane amount of food to counter the insane amount of barfing that comes with my pregnancies. I realized that food was the thing I had been missing for all those months of anger and depression. Not that I wasn’t eating – I love food and I was eating. But I wasn’t eating enough. I realized my habits went from a tiny rushed breakfast at around 7:00 to waiting until 2:00 when both boys were napping before I carb-loaded myself with lunch. Then dinner (the only real balanced meal I had everyday) around 6:30. This was not enough food to sustain anyone, let alone a breastfeeding mom. No wonder I was crabby all the time. Not to say that this was the only reason for the depression, but so much was relieved when I changed that pattern. I just didn’t see it until I HAD to eat more, being pregnant.
Another big change happened when I got pregnant. We finally realized we could no longer put off the bad situation we were in with Josie. Poor Josie. Our wonderful, horrible, funny, crazy, ill-behaved mutt. Things were never easy with Josie. She had food allergies that caused us to spend unreasonable amounts of money on her diet and separation anxiety that destroyed so much of our house and the apartment we had before it. She was ridiculously athletic, able to jump our six-foot privacy fence in pursuit of a squirrel… and she did this with some regularity. She was not good at socializing with other dogs, although we did all the right things when she was a puppy. And she didn’t like sharing us with the boys. Add to it the fact that at eight years old, her hips were really, finally hurting her, and we had a one-year-old with a toddler’s balance that could (and would) easily fall on her while she laid in her bed by the couch. She growled at E every time he came near her.
One day, E fell on her back legs and she snapped at him. All of this added up to a dog that was unhappily chained in the back yard when she was outside (so she wouldn’t jump the fence) and being shooed around the house from basement to kitchen amid a tangle of baby gates when inside (so she wouldn’t have to be afraid of getting fallen on and hurting her legs). It wasn’t working anymore. She was miserable, we were stressed. After months of me “jokingly” asking our neighbor if he wanted Josie, he wisely suggested that maybe we should honestly look at either finding her a new home or putting her down.
I don’t think I would have heard anyone else. He told us that he knew we were worried about her biting one of the kids and that it wasn’t worth the risk. And he even offered to take her to the pound for us. I am very thankful for his frankness in a really tough situation. I cried and he brought us smoothies.
It was still a few months before we decided to actually do something. I loved Josie, and I didn’t want to be one of “those people” who treated their dog like a child until they had kids and then just tossed the dog to the wayside. But we were in a holding pattern with her and no one at all was happy. We couldn’t risk a bite to one of the kids, not to mention the fact we now had another on the way and we couldn’t possibly ask Josie to wait out one more toddler.
We went round and round with trying to find her a new home, versus a shelter, versus putting her down. We really felt like we were asking a lot of anyone to adopt an eight year old dog with hip problems, food allergies, separation anxiety, who liked to roam and that could not be with other dogs, cats or kids. We really felt that no matter what, in the end, she’d end up in a shelter at least once, but most likely multiple times, finally getting put down. I couldn’t bear the thought of her thinking we abandoned her and then having her put down by strangers regardless of how we tried. We decided to put her down ourselves, out of respect for her… she’d never have to be frightened in a shelter and we’d be with her until the end.
We should have done it right away after making this decision, but by then it was only a couple weeks until Christmas and we wanted to wait until afterward (I don’t really know why, looking back now). So I spent that few weeks, incessantly crying and questioning whether we were making the right decision or not. We tried to make the last few weeks extra special for her – spoiling her with every kind of food and table scrap and letting her on the furniture. Then Rick took her and we switched roles. Now he cried and questioned.
Oddly though, as soon as it was over, a huge weight was lifted from me. I was suddenly much more patient with the boys and I realized I was yelling a whole lot less. We were all happier, even though we all missed having our dog. I’d like to get a dog again at some point (Rick says when the new baby is around two we’ll talk), but I have large reservations about it even then.
Now, I was missing H on his school days too. It was nice to have extra time with just E, but I dreaded the two days recovery H would need after his school day to get back into our routine. And we realized that his school’s new curriculum was not teaching anything to help him prepare for kindergarten.
Additionally, he missed the cutoff for being able to start school in 2011 because his birthday is in November. I have huge reservations about holding him back a whole year based solely on his birth date. The school district we live in is one of the worst in the state, and when I called to get info about School of Choice to enroll him out of district, I was basically laughed at for wanting him tested to see if he was ready for kindergarten early and wanting him to go out of district. The people I talked to were condescending, rude and impersonal. I couldn’t help but wonder why these are the same people who are always harping on the socialization question for homeschoolers.
I got off the phone and cried to my mom about not being able to put H through all the drama and cog-making that I saw happening in public schools. Once, Annie shared on her blog about how the neighbor kids “learned to stand in line” on the first day of school. Barf.
So Rick and I decided that I’d home school H for kindergarten. We figured it’s a year “early” for him to start anyway, so if it doesn’t work, we can always have him repeat kindergarten in public school (or private or charter?). And, maybe I’d find that I liked it. I already had plenty of friends from the farm doing it, offers to join home school groups, etc. I feel pretty supported in the decision.
And I feel good mentally and emotionally. I’m a little afraid of what it will be like with three kids. A little afraid the postpartum will come back and bite me again. But I do know that I learned a lot last year, and Rick did too. And we’re planning on being proactive on that front this time around. And I’m taking joy in my kids instead of just trying to manage.
All in all, I’m excited to start school with H this year. And for what the future holds for all of us, including the new little baby who helped clue me into what was wrong with me and nudged us towards taking care of things that needed taken care of – no matter how hard they were.