Tuesday, December 14, 2010

How this Christmas Season is Different...

My friend Karen at Homeschool Girls asked me how this Christmas is different from last Christmas.  Ever since she asked me that, I have been thinking about it.

Not long after she asked, we attended our local high school's holiday production.  The set was amazing, the costuming was fantastic and the acting was superb.  I sat in the audience with some friends whose children were on stage, and I thought, 'A and P will not get this opportunity if they are homeschooled..."  then P climbed on to my lap because she couldn't see and I found myself leaning over and whispering things in A's ear to make sure that she understood the plotline.
Cuddles and snuggles and silly faces.
Last year, first of all, we were unable to attend the high school production because we were so frazzled and stressed.  Both girls had projects due the week before Christmas.  A's teachers were giving mid-year assessments AND trying to finish up whatever chapter in each subject they were working on.  The two weeks before Christmas were spent studying and quizzing, building a homework machine, preparing an oral report, writing book reports and dealing with little girls who were excited about Christmas, but were given little time to enjoy the holiday season.  Each of my girls had at least an hour of homework each night.  It never occurred to me to send in a note that they were emotionally incapable of doing the work, so I grinned and beared it and pulled my hair out every evening.  Our schools also no longer allowed 'holiday parties' because of food allergies, so the teachers took to assigning lists of craft supplies that needed to be purchased and sent in for your student to participate in an in-class holiday project.  We spent a lot of time running around hunting down these supplies last year.

Even if we had found the time to attend the high school production (there were only 2 kids my girls ages in the audience and that was because they had siblings in the production), my girls would not have cuddled with me.  We were all at each other's throats.  They were harried and stressed from school.  I was brainwashed into believing that I was the only one that felt this way and that I NEEDED to make sure my girls did everything and did it well.  I was pushing.  And I didn't like it.  I was NOT ENJOYING my girls or their childhood one bit. And my girls were NOT ENJOYING their childhood or the holiday season one bit.

When the girls were little, we always found time for Christmas productions.  We spent time visiting and going caroling and making gifts and baking.  The last few years, I baked alone.  We were hard-pressed to find time to see one holiday production or do any visiting.  Forget making gifts and I did all of the baking myself.  The girls would whine when they got home from school about homework and how they wanted to bake, but, I would point out, "Your job is school and this is what your teacher wants you to do, so this is your first priority, if there is time when you are done, we will bake," but by the time they were done it was time to start dinner and after dinner we were all exhausted and fell into bed so that we could do it all again the next day.

Last year, the week leading up to Christmas Eve, A had 6 mid-year assessments, a Social Studies test, a Science test, a Reading test, a Spelling test and a Math test.  Plus, homework every night.  She was in fourth grade.
Making holiday gifts.
This year, we took the entire month off.  Well, basically.  The girls do math and handwriting every day - even weekends! - and we are reading and discussing the novel Little Women.  Last Saturday, we started making Christmas gifts.  We also went to see Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.  We saw our local high school holiday production.  We attended the Faraday lectures at Rutgers (post to follow) and went out for a fun dinner.  We have visited with friends and family.  We are looking forward to spending time with out of town friends.  We have baked several batches of cookies, and the girls usually at least start out helping, but then while a batch is in the oven....they wander off and I finish putting the rest of the batches in the oven.

A has read the entire Samantha and Julie series in American Girl and all of the American Girl holiday books, along with several Judy Blume books and Rip Van Winkle.  She is almost done with a new book, TouchBlue by Cynthia Lord.  P read all of the American Girl Christmas books and several of the Addie books, and is now 2/3 of the way through Mackenzie Blue Secret Crush.
Sisters enjoying each other.

A spends her days creating gifts, playing with friends, helping bake and writing stories.  P has been practicing her recorder (the girls were unable to bring their instruments home from school because they may not bring them back, which I can understand, but then they were also unable to practice).  P has been making little houses for her Littlest Pet Shop pets out of all kinds of boxes and things; she has also been writing stories and designing fashions and playing games on facebook.

In short, last year there was little time to enjoy the holiday season, we were stressed and pressured, harried and miserable.  This year we are relaxed, we spend our days creating gifts and baking and our evenings reading together, visiting friends and family or attending holiday productions.

As I watched our high school production, I thought of the trade-offs.  Maybe my girls wouldn't get to perform in the high school play, but they would have a relaxed childhood, they would enjoy the holiday season and they would feel the warmth of their mother's arms around them.  Maybe they won't have the friends in the halls, catcalling to them on-stage (unless they choose to return to high school or vocational school for high school) but they will have a sense of self-worth that is not defined by others, but by themselves, which I think is healthier.  Suddenly, as I watched the play, I realized that the very woman, Karen at Homeschool Girls, who asked me how this December was different from last December, is the mother of a homeschool girl who is in many, many plays and productions.  So those opportunities do exist for homeschool kids, we just need to find them, if and when the girls are interested.

If you are new to homeschooling, how is this holiday season different for you?  If you are a veteran, seasoned homeschooler what does your family do to enjoy the holiday season?