It was not the first day of school.

The bus rolls by our house each morning but no longer stops at the end of the driveway.  It rolls on by, whisking the eager and not-so off to school, a hefty mile down the road.  This year Isadora is not joining them.  She’s already at school when the blur of orange is framed within our picture window for a split-second.  Or more importantly, she’s not at school.  Starting this year, she’s a homeschooler.

What a strange vantage point I have in telling you all this.  Half of me has seen this coming from a mile away.  (have you, too?)  It’s a rather common component of this very deliberate path we’ve been forging for our family, so much so that homeschooling has felt somewhat inevitable, perhaps since the day we booted the tv out of the house.  It’s a slippery slope, this counter-culture lifestyle business – adopting one seemingly-radical change-for-the-better fosters an environment where any sweeping change might be possible, homeschooling included.  And what might have been the status quo based on family and geographical influences has been supplanted by the examples set by so many of the like-minded women I check in with nearly each day.  You can’t swing a dead cat in my world (virtual and tangible) without hitting other folks who make their own yogurt, uphold a vintage typewriter as The Best Toy Ever, and homeschool.  So, yeah, it’s felt like a foregone conclusion.

But the other half of me fought it like hell.  I cried a handful of tears, then CHEERED when the school bus whisked away my girl for the first time, opening up that delicious block of time for Me! when The Boy was napping.  I couldn’t even fathom how free I would feel when the bus whisked the both of them away.  To have a seemingly-giant block of time there before me, time I didn’t have to claw and snarl to get, time I could use to work.  Oh, I want so much to work.  To lay out a goal, put in the time, achieve that goal, and then be able to say, “Hi, I’m Mary Jo.  I’m a _____. I also have these two terrific kids.”  I’ve never wanted to be defined by my kids, any more than I’ve wanted to be defined by my marital status. (It’s Ms. and if you ever call me Mrs. Andrew in lieu of my first name, I might…)  Being at home with my kids was never what I set out to do, never what I wanted to be when I grew up, but has become, for me, the Very Best Thing I could do for them, the very best thing I wanted to do for them, personal goals aside.  I suspect the rest of parenting is like that too, full of seemingly-opposing forces, but I’m only a rookie.  Homeschooling, then, has weighed heavily on my mind for years, as That Thing I Should Probably Do But Don’t Want To Do, a looped refrain playing at low volume in the periphery.

Cue the First Grade.  Oh, it was a tough year for that girl, with problems manifesting only a few weeks into the first quarter.  We worked throughout the year with teacher and principal, both genuinely invested in finding ways to improve the situation, warm and open and continuously relaying her progress.  There was some progress, to be sure, waxing when we considered making changes, waning later on, the way your car stops making that noise the moment you pull into the mechanic’s lot.  Isadora became infamous among her classmates as a troublemaker, or one of the kids who was being redirected a lot.  She had escorts accompanying her to the bathroom to make sure she didn’t tarry, and when she went to see the nurse for an upset stomach, which she did nearly every day.  We witnessed her losing her magic, day after day, losing the nearly visible spark that crackles around her like an electric current.  It broke our hearts just as it was breaking hers.

One day, in the last handful left before summer, I met her at school to take her home.  She walked through the threshold of her classroom, burst into tears, and sobbed so hard I nearly cried with her.  Momma Bear woke up.  This was First Grade – FIRST GRADE!  Nothing about it should prompt that kind of sorrow.  This just wasn’t working, for any of us.  I knew what I had to do, what I was so lucky to be able to do.  And somehow, the roadblock I had perceived in homeschooling – the sacrifice of myself – crumbled before me.  I don’t remember a specific “aha” moment as much as a gentle tectonic shift within me when I realized that these admirable women whose blogs I read every day, who had planted this homeschooling seed in the first place, all had their own work.  Amidst the yogurt-making, cloth-diaper-washing, long-division-teaching there was a place, squirreled away and protected with fierce determination, for that Mama to feed herself, through writing, soap-making, pattern-drafting, publishing. I realized immediately that in addition to one-celled organisms and the history of Wisconsin, I wanted to teach Isadora about mothers as people, who attend to their needs just as they attend to the needs of their family.  I don’t uphold the Mom-as-Martyr model nor do I want my daughter to uphold it as her own when it is her time.

So with a nod to the many advocates before me who worked so hard for the right to school our children as we see fit without undue bureaucratic impediment, I filled out a blessedly short online form, clicked “accept” and our status as homeschoolers became official.  Here we stand, at the beginning of this grand new journey.  It promises to be challenging, refreshing, liberating, uncertain, monumental, but it will not be solitary.  There are so many of you out there to lean on, learn from, share with.  I am glad to be among you.

 

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22 Responses to “It was not the first day of school.”

  1. Ellen says:

    Congrats on going with your gut – truly the best advisor when parenting. My son (now 10 and in 5th grade) really struggled in the early school years. Did very well academically, but had a hard time finding friends and was much more interested in an imaginary world he had created than the real one. Then, on a whim, I decided to tour the nearby Catholic school. I was sold, and my normally resistant-to-change child transitioned smoothly as silk. We do not regularly attend church and I never thought a Catholic school would be the right choice for us. But it was. For him, our daughter, and all of us. Sounds like the same process you went through and sounds like both stories will have a happy ending. Can’t wait to read more about it this year.

  2. Nicole L says:

    Claire’s declaration after a two days of kindergarten that she wanted hot lunch did not please me…

  3. Regena Fickes says:

    Good for you! I watched my two middle grandchildren struggle to fit their little souls into a soulless environment of the public school. Their parents went thru bouts of indecision the last year they attended and made the decision to homeschool. I hope they never change their minds. The children are flourishing! Yours will also. God bless.

  4. Amy Johnson says:

    Bravo Ms. Mary Jo!! What a step…and what a piece of your soul you have shared with us. It doesn’t just speak to your decision but to so many emotions we parents feel when we’re still growing as individuals.

    …and so beautifully, eloquently said.

  5. Nancy says:

    Let us know if you ever need a guest teacher or playmate. :-)

  6. Cathy Peterson says:

    Good for you, I applaud you and your family. We are all here for you and sending encouragement and love.

  7. Emma says:

    Yay you!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. Amy Sue says:

    Wonderful Mary Jo!!! I know you have struggled with this for so long and now you are going with your heart, yay!!! I am going to miss seeing Isadora’s shining face at drop off and pick up times. She is such a wonderful girl!!! Wishing you all a delightful school year!

  9. Kris says:

    Wonderful!! This is something I still regret not trying with my own children, especially my son. At the time, I had only heard of one other family who was home-schooling. Good luck to you!

  10. amysue says:

    Best of luck in this new adventure. Sending lots of love.

  11. Lori says:

    it’s completely possible to have your own work, your own life, and homeschool. letting your children see you pursue your own work is one of the greatest things you can share. good luck!

  12. Rose says:

    Your experience sounds remarkably similar to ours. I pulled my son out of public school halfway through his disastrous first grade year. That was nearly two years ago and I’m just now starting to “get it.” It’s taken me a while, but I’m totally there. Congratulations! It’s a fun ride!

    • Mary Jo says:

      Thanks, Rose. It’s nice to hear we weren’t the only ones struggling with 1st grade. Thanks for the encouragement – I imagine it will take me a long time before I feel like we’re totally in the swing of it.

  13. Annette says:

    After years of trying to make public school work, we have decided to pull our 6th-grader 3 weeks after the start of the year to homeschool. I am relieved and thankful to finally have my husband on board. This post has been an affirmation for my feelings…thanks so much for sharing!

  14. Rachel Wolf says:

    Damn, mama. This one made me cry. Blessings on your journey. There is so much on the horizon. xo

  15. What a lovely, brave story. I so agree about the “slippery slope” of alternative living. It got us too – homeschooling and all – much to my surprise! But, we love it. My oldest is in 2nd grade as well. And, thank goodness for online businesses (I’m a quilter/teacher/blogger) who give us an “outside” life too. A blessed balance!

  16. Slippery slope indeed! Home birth was a revelation for me, and the turning point after which I began re-evaluating EVERYTHING. :) But it’s amazing, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  17. amy says:

    This post resonated deeply with me. I remember my tears shed over the decision to take my children out of public school. in order to homeschool them. I was grieving the lifestyle that I was going to lose. Now, we are starting our 5th year of homeschooling and we have our good and hard days, certainly. But I know it is the right thing. Thank you for posting this.

  18. Tricia says:

    “We witnessed her losing her magic, day after day, losing the nearly visible spark that crackles around her like an electric current.”

    I found your website when I googled ‘sweater mittens’ :} I’m trying to find a way to homeschool and this line here is what I fear the most. Thanks for sharing and doing what’s right for your little girl!

  19. greelyrita says:

    My youngest daughter was given her own chair (where you go when you’re not behaving properly) in kindergarten, because the chair that was for the rest of the class would be taken too often already by our sweet baby. She wouldn’t stop chatting, or singing or sit still, I imagine, or listen. I didn’t find out about this until the end of the year and by then, I didn’t really want to know her sins. I figured she’d grow out of all this by grade one.

    She didn’t even mind school much at first but her initial thrill to be able to get on the bus with her sisters was certainly gone. I should have done what you did. She’s 25 now. She soldiered through school though it was hard for her. She sure knows how to work at a task that she’s finding difficult. I always said to her, that after high school, she’d be able to learn only stuff she was really interested in; that she’d bounce out of bed, eager to get to school to learn what she wanted to find out. She went into graphic design. The program was definitely more to her liking than school had been, but it still didn’t feel like this wonderfully fulfilling experience that I had painted. I feel like I failed her. And then to top it all off, are there jobs for her now? To succeed, she has to transform herself into a super-confident A-type, someone ready to crow that, “Oh yes, I’m the best for this job; no one could be better!” And has school made it possible to feel like that about herself? I’m not sure I could have done it with homeschooling but she’d have been closer. big fat sigh.

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