Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Misery Breeds Contentment

A perennial topic among homeschoolers always seems to revolve around the "How does it work for you?" thread. As in "How do you get your kids to _____?" (insert what you like here: do math, smile, read a book for fun, wake up, etc) Behind it all, you know, is the "what am I doing homeschooling these kids who don't seem to be having any fun at all what was I thinking?" mentality. I know this feeling because I was there once, a long time ago. 

And you know, it doesn't help when all you hear is Other People saying glorious things about their own homeschooling ventures: "Oh my Giotto is the most expressive artist his teacher has ever encountered - we're thinking of sending him to Paris for the summer!" or "Little Copernicus spends hours on his telescope every night - it's all we can do to get him to eat dinner!" or "Antelope is so enchanted with mosiacs that she retiled our entire front vestibule - it looks like something out of a Kaffe Fasset book!" It's depressing, particularly when the only thing you managed to do that day was get your child to stop dropping their pencil on the floor. I used to joke that on a good day my son could recognize the word CAT. Seriously. Funny, in a poignant is-that-kid-ever-going-to-read way mostly, but still, I worried. I wondered constantly why it only seemed to be me having these sorts of difficulties, getting the homeschooling life to work for us. I struggled a lot in those early days, getting the kids up, getting them fed, cajoling them into good moods now and then, not to mention wondering if I was short-changing them if we didn't do every single thing every one else seemed to be doing. Might I be ruining their futures if we don't study the DNA sequences of the Western White-tailed Hawk? Do they need to know every constellation myth? Quick! We need to study cloud formations! 

(yes, laugh all you like but I do tend to think in exclamations) 

It didn't help that I missed my days of independent adult-ness. Being at home with kids all day isn't terribly glamorous, particularly when they're still needing to be dressed and washed and given puréed food. When we lived in a big city I noticed that some people sidled away from me at parties when I said I homeschooled my kids. Mind you, these people were the type who would also say, perfectly seriously, things like "He doesn't understand that I'm an intellectual!" so what did I expect. And not only that, but there were also the people around us, none of whom seemed to hesitate IN THE LEAST in relaying off the cuff remarks about my decision: relatives, paranoid my common sense had gone AWOL ("you aren't a qualified teacher - do you really think you can teach them?" "you are getting, err, religious are you?"); good friends, childless friends, convinced I was a nutjob for wanting to be home with the kids all day ("won't you get bored?" "don't you have a masters degree? kinda wastin' it aren't ya?"), working friends, friends with kids, convinced I was a nutjob for wanting to be home with the kids all day ("oh gawd, you aren't serious are you?" "I'd go crazy if I had to hang out with my kids all day"), and finally, the people we knew casually who would say things like "Aren't you worried about socialization?" while throwing worried glances at my kids. 

This is easily the most over-used phrase people direct at homeschoolers. What do people mean by socialization? That my kids will be tucked away in the back room not noticing that there are elections and earthquakes and plagues and satellites revolving around the Earth? That my kids won't know how to play with public school kids? That they might stand awkwardly in a group, unable to speak in full sentences? Either way, it drives me nuts, because a) it assumes that there's only one way to skin a cat, and b) that there's only one way to skin a cat.

(not that I would ever skin a cat, I'm speaking purely metaphorically here, so so sorry dear Toffee) 

A few years down the road and I no longer feel quite so angst-ridden in my homeschooling ventures. For one thing, I've realized that everyone has their hot button topics, and for a lot of parents who send their kids to public school, it's homeschooling. Partly because some see my choice as a subtle criticism of their choice. And partly because they've heard about those clusters of RRH (Really Religious Homeschoolers) out there. Not that I fit into either of those groups, but they don't know that, they just know that suddenly One Of Them is in front of them, alive and breathing! I used to be unabashedly irritated with people like this, but now I hardly meet them anymore, so I've mellowed. And for another thing, I know that my kids will survive, and even thrive, despite not knowing all the cloud formations. I don't stress over what we're not doing quite so much. I have twinges, but that's all they are now. Twinges. 

As for hearing about all those little Giottos and Antelopes, well, I've come to realize that so much of it is Creative License: we parents tend to use only the best material when boasting about our kids. Why write about the miserable, whiny, hard, despairing days? Who wants to hear about them? But we all have them. For me, the trick is to remind myself of the truly great moments in our day. I may not be surrounded by little Copernicus', but my kids enjoy what they study, they're not shy about telling me how much they love me, and they appear to be extremely contented with their life so far. So far so good.


Anonymous said...

Well, it is still early days for us. So thanks for these words of wisdom. And the 'names' in your examples: hee-larry-us!

Nicola said...

Love it! Thanks Sheila.

Mary-Sue said...

just what i needed to read today, Sheila! Thank you so much! i love your blog, and always get a good giggle, but this one post seemed written just for me. thank you!

sheila said...

Love your icon, subspace. I miss that show.

Thanks, Nicola and Mary-Sue. It's funny how the same things come up for all of us, isn't it? I used to be way less amused by it all; the older I get the more humour I see in it all.