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Six words sum up my life so far: Old maid becomes wife and mother. The term “old maid” is out of fashion, and rightfully so, but that’s the way I felt about myself. My desire for a family did not prevent me from turning 32 without a man in sight. I had a good life, and was busy with my job, ministry, friends, and family. But every Wednesday when I did my grocery shopping, I would go down the cereal aisle to grab a box of oatmeal bars and end up looking longingly at the baby items that, unfortunately, shared the aisle. I would eye bottles, formula, and baby food and wonder, would I ever get to shop for those things for my own itty bitty baby?
Now, almost ten years, one husband, and three kids later, I’ve spent more time than I care to think about in the baby aisle. And I’ve gotta say, the magic of shopping for baby products faded pretty quickly. But having a family? Being a mom? Watching my boys grow? That doesn’t get old at all. Oh, it’s exhausting in ways that I never could have imagined. But I wanted to be a mom long enough to know that motherhood is a privilege to be cherished.
The privilege of motherhood aside, I have to admit that I was looking forward to my kids becoming school-aged. I happily left the workforce to stay home with my oldest boy when he was six months old, but two more difficult pregnancies, feelings of loneliness, and (dare I say it?) boredom with day-to-day life left me longing for the days that my children would be ensconced in the bosom of our local public school system by day, to come home to my loving arms in the late afternoon. My boys would regale me with stories of their day during our healthy snacks of apples and oranges, then complete their homework as quickly and easily as the little geniuses that they are. We would then enjoy our evenings with playful banter over a healthy dinner, followed by board games or kicking a ball in the back yard (in my fantasies, I’m always at least 30 pounds lighter and blessed with an athleticism that comes on as suddenly and mysteriously as early-onset menopause).
Our weekends would be equally idyllic, in part because of (or maybe in spite of?) my boys having a Puerto Rican engineer as a mother, a woman eager to spend her weekends sharing her heritage with them by way of required reading, and imparting her knowledge of computer programming so that they could start their own businesses in middle school. I would be eager to spend every second of my weekend teaching my kids because I would be doing what I wanted to do during their school days – getting another degree (should it be a Masters in Engineering Management or Biblical Studies?) or starting my own business. Some days would get pretty harried, of course. After all, our responsibilities in local community groups and the PTA (in which we would be entrenched, thanks to my husband, a former public school teacher) would place demands on our time. But nothing would be able to break our strong family bond.
And then my firstborn started kindergarten.
It was an exciting day. My beautiful boy was eager to return to the bright and cheery classroom with the nice teacher that he met on “Meet the Teacher” night. We all went with him – me, my husband, my almost-3-year-old, and my 3-month-old. The grandfather of another excited student took a picture of us outside the school.
Don’t we look happy? There were no tears, only smiles. Even from me. I had a nursing baby that wanted me and only me every second of every day and every night, so the thought of having one of my kids happily playing and learning in a safe environment during the school day, leaving me with one less child at home that needed me and only me, felt like a vacation.
As a matter of fact, I’d planned to put my middle son in Mother’s Day Out for a few hours each week, giving him a way to satisfy his extroverted tendencies and giving me even more freedom. Alas, potty-training, the great equalizer, has yet to go smoothly in our house and served as a roadblock to my visions of Motherhood Nirvana.
It didn’t take long for Nirvana to grow even more distant. As tired and stressed as I was, as much as I’d looked forward to the school years (for both me and my kids), it somehow felt….wrong…for my five-year-old to be away from home for such a large part of the day. He didn’t come home eager to discuss the day, but tired and ready for some alone time (he’s a social introvert, but an introvert nonetheless).
Meanwhile, my extroverted middle son, who’d missed his brother so much during the day and was ready to play, would end up disappointed that his older brother wasn’t in the same frame of mind, resulting in bickering. The burgeoning friendship that my two oldest boys had enjoyed before Michael entered kindergarten was disintegrating. Even as I write this a year later, I’m grieved by it.
As a matter of fact, my relationship with my firstborn wasn’t thriving, either. There was another woman in his life, a very nice and capable lady that he spent more daylight hours with than me. I could sense Michael’s confusion. Was his teacher equal to his mommy in his life? Shouldn’t she be, since, in his eyes, we’d turned him over to her care for most of the day?
The “ten” minutes of homework I did with Michael each evening didn’t help our relationship. I put “ten” in quotes because that’s the official amount of time that the school asked parents to work with their kindergarteners every day, but it usually took me longer than that to get him agreeable enough to do the homework. And when he fell behind in language arts, we were asked to spend extra time on that subject. Doing what, I wasn’t sure, because I didn’t expect to have to teach my child, only to help with homework.
And yes, I know that sounds ridiculous, but I was delirious with lack of sleep and grieving the death of the fantasy I’d cherished for my family, a fantasy which was slowly being replaced by a nightmare. What I saw in our future were not evenings and weekends spent in idyllic familial harmony. We would spend our family time talking and thinking about the school that they’d been in all day, worrying about academic progress and family bonds. Our boys would eventually join tribes of friends that would be wholly and completely separate from our family. There would be no time for extra studies in Puerto Rican history AND computer programming AND sports AND music lessons. We would be in survival mode for the better part of the next two decades.
Well, that may be overly dramatic, and the reality, had we stayed in the public school system, probably would have played out somewhere between my fantasy and nightmare. But my disappointment in how the school year was playing out made me ask myself if there was another way. I started to consider homeschooling, something that I’d always said I could never do.
In the meantime, we gave public school our best shot. I could see that the school’s method of teaching reading (looking at the pictures and guessing what the words say) wasn’t working for my son, so I ordered Hooked on Phonics because I’d remembered seeing their commercial years ago. It was a STRUGGLE, but his reading improved dramatically, and Michael and I both felt accomplished by the end of the school year.
Our focus on phonics also helped us to open our minds to homeschooling. It just didn’t make sense to endure the disruption that a traditional school inflicted on our family life when most of what I considered to be meaningful learning was happening at home.
Once our minds were open to homeschooling, we saw other benefits. The change in lifestyle could result in improvement in our relationships. We could choose curriculum that would fit my children’s specific needs and learning styles, and move at their pace. And those non-typical subjects, like Bible, Spanish, and programming? They were back on the table and could be integrated into their school work. We could also focus on character and leadership skills.
Now that we’ve begun our second year of homeschool, I can confirm that our hopes have been realized. School work still isn’t Michael’s favorite, but he is flourishing academically with curriculum and learning methods that work well for him. My three boys now love to play together and are best buds. And my relationship with my oldest has improved dramatically, as well.
Homeschooling isn’t for everyone, and I can’t say that we will never go back to a more traditional school, but we’ve fallen in love with the lifestyle and benefits that homeschooling has given us.