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.