Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Year Ago...(Part one in my series on reflections of our first year of homeschooling)

A year ago, I was dealing with an 8 year old who vomited every Sunday evening.  I would keep her home from school on Monday and she was fine.  By Monday evening, she was hysterical about going to school Tuesday. She had not done this in pre-school or kindergarten or first grade, so I didn't and don't think it was about missing me.  Her teacher even suggested that it was that P was a perfectionist and as they neared the standardized test, she was getting concerned about how she would fare.  The school recommended medication.  They told me that many children in our district were medicated, there was no shame in it.

A year ago, I was dealing with a 10 year old who woke up on the morning of the first day of the big NJASK test screaming that she could not see.  She was hysterical.  I seriously don't remember much of that morning, I think I was on complete adrenalin.  I remember that I realized it was stress over the test.  (Months later I read that under severe stress the pupils can dilate and obscure vision; I am not sure if that is what happened to my girl or not).  I was desperate to get her to school because there was no getting out of that test.  In our state EVERY child enrolled in public school MUST take test.  I  remember dragging her to school and having her guidance counselor tell me to leave her and suggesting that I call my pediatrician and put her on medication.  I remember getting to work and sitting there in the center of the library suddenly aware that I was there and then a feeling of utter panic came over me at where I had left my child.  

I considered homeschooling, but like many other people, I thought homeschoolers were weird.  I thought they wore prairie dresses and had long braids and were in complete submission to their husbands.  I thought their kids didn't brush their hair or teeth and said weird, inappropriate things.  I thought you needed unlimited patience and the ability to turn everything from folding towels to washing spinach into a lesson on geometry and science.  I thought you had to give your whole life up to homeschool.

But, our Catholic school was rumored to be closing (and it will close after this year) and private schools cost over 25K per student, which we could not afford.  I knew I had to do something...I didn't believe in a system that encouraged children to be medicated to take a test and I didn't want my children to be part of that system any longer.

Through facebook, I learned that a high school classmate was homeschooling her children.  She had been in the elite popular crowd, a cheerleader...I doubted that she owned a prairie skirt, so I contacted her and she was a wealth of information.  She told me to join the local yahoo group and start attending park days and other events to meet people.  She assured me that she had not seen any prairie skirts and that all of the kids were cool and not weird and the moms were all nice and helpful.

Around that same time, Jessica found my blog and we connected.

I went to some homeschool park days and realized that homeschool moms were just like any other mom.  Well, maybe there are some differences.  Homeschool moms aren't concerned with making sure that their children have what everyone else has, they are concerned with making sure that their children have what they need.  Homeschool moms sit and gossip about movie stars and complain about their husbands and talk about diets.  They wear jeans, they even drink cocktails and say the occasional bad word!!!  To be honest, although in some ways homeschool moms are pioneers, I have never met one that wears a prairie dress!

My girls were concerned that the kids would all be weird, but after a few park days, they realized that these kids liked Hannah Montana and American Girl dolls; they watch iCarly and Shake It Up; they have ipod touch and play video games.  They may not be competitive about clothes, most wear what is comfortable and right for them, but many of them do own some Justice fashions.  As a result, my girls have decided they don't like the garish colors of the Justice clothes and are open to shopping wherever we find something they like; they have stopped begging for cell phones and now beg for hamsters.
It's really nice that we get to see this smile again :)

When I think of where we were a year ago...the dread that lived with me every day as I dropped my girls off at a place where I was unwelcome.  I was concerned for my girls' confidence and self esteem.  I had doubts in the system and finally decided that I didn't want my girls in a system that made them so anxious that I was encouraged to medicate them.  They only have one childhood and I want them to enjoy it.

I had a conversation with my brother, a high school English teacher, at Easter.  He doesn't feel that it is the schools, teachers or administration that put pressure on the kids, his experience is that it is the parents who are desperate for their children to attend a top notch college.  Just this week, a mutual friend of both my brother and I, had an experience where a 15 year old girl was berated by her mother for over an hour because she got a B on a Biology test.  Her mother told her that she would never get into a good college.  I really don't know who is responsible for this thinking.  I saw the "Race to Nowhere" my feeling was that it's partially the parents, partially the schools and has a lot to do with living in a society where you  need a college degree, if not a graduate degree to get a decent job.  The pressure is on.  But I don't feel it has to be this way.  I feel like my kids can learn and grow at their pace.  I am without a doubt that they will do well enough to be admitted to a community college and transfer from there as my brother and I, my sister in law and so many of our friends did.  I think community college is a great stepping stone, a great place to take core classes with smaller class sizes.  I don't want to stress out and make my child anxious about going to a top college.  I don't buy into this.  It is not how we want to live our lives.

We have come so far in the last year.  My girls now own their confidence and self esteem.  It's theirs and it isn't based on what other kids or teachers or the system says, it is based on knowing what is right for them.

My girls are happier.  A had stopped cuddling with me a few years ago, but she is back to wanting to cuddle, wanting to be near me.  She doesn't give me nearly the hard time that she used to give me about everything from homework to cleaning her room to our decision not to get her a cell phone.  

We are all more relaxed.  We are all happier.

We live by our own schedule, what is right for us.  We don't worry about major projects being assigned over holiday weekends.  We can go to my parents' house for dinner mid-week.  We can take a vacation off-season in February when everyone is in school.

One caveat: homeschooling does become a lifestyle, but not in the sense that you have to teach geology while raking leaves or make washing windows a chemistry lesson.  Homeschooling becomes a natural extension of your family.  You go to a play together because you just learned about the characters.  You make the time to go to a museum together because they have an exhibit on something you just studied.  You spend an afternoon at the planetarium because you are learning about the planets.  

Homeschooling feels natural.

I was told that bringing your child home to learn was a lot like bringing them home from the hospital.  I wish I remembered where I read that, so I could give them credit, because it is SO true.  When your child is born you look forward to their first smile, their first words, their first steps...when they come home to learn you get to see their eyes shine when an idea takes hold in their mind, you get to see their face glow when something suddenly clicks for them, you get to hear them feel good about themselves and what they have learned and what they know.

Homeschooling is not for everyone.  But it is for our family.  It has made such a positive difference in our lives and I want to take this time to thank all of you who read my blog, comment on my blog and write blogs, for you support, encouragement and ideas.  I want to thank my parents and my uncle, my grandmother, Jason's brother, Rich and his father, Dick, for their support this year.  I want to thank my husband for always believing in me and my girls for putting up with me.  I love you all.  You have all helped to make this journey possible for us.