Tuesday, September 9, 2008

This and Me Were Meant to Be

Warning: this post is really, really, ridiculously, stinking long. Read at your own risk. (Or, and you know who you are, grab a cup of tea and settle in. It's time for a Becky-chat.)

I can't count the number of times I said I would never homeschool. Never, ever. Not in a million years.

Well, actually, when Jeff and I first got married, we talked about homeschooling and thought we'd like to go there. Once at a dinner party, a friend shared with me her passion for homeschooling, and I was hooked.

At the time, I had one kid under two, and I was somewhat emotionally stable. And I thought I could handle my life. Then the second kid came along, and I had two in diapers, and my hormones were totally out of control, and I began to show signs of fibromyalgia (even way back then), and my kids hung off my legs all day long every day, and I forgot what grown-up music sounded like, and I was daily scarfing down all the food I've since discovered I'm allergic to, and I had no friends. I spent all day every day with two children who couldn't talk to me and wouldn't listen to me. There's nothing quite like trying to remain calm when a tiny person is screaming at you, two inches from your face. Especially when God designed your body to release a hormone every time that tiny person so much as makes a peep.

I wanted out. I wanted out BAD.

I told myself if I could just tough it out until the kids were in school, I'd be fine. I dreamed of having days to myself, so I could do whatever I wanted to do. No one to wipe snot on my pants, no one to monopolize all the media sources in my life (Fruit salad...yummy, yummy...), no one to disturb my nap, no one to demand my attention, no one to scream while I talked on the phone.

But we didn't want to put our boys in our area's public schools, and we couldn't afford private school, so it looked like we only had one option. Homeschool. But what a prison sentence.

I explained tearfully and passionately (and hormonally) to my husband that if we homeschooled, I would have to wait EIGHTEEN YEARS for all the time to myself I'd been dreaming about. And I just couldn't do it. I begged him not to make me. He said my sanity was important to him, but we couldn't afford private school.

I said I would rather work to pay for my kids' schooling than school them myself. So I got a job. I went to work in my church office and spent 12 hours a week away from my children. My darling two-year-old and precocious four-year-old were suddenly bereft of their mommy.

Our whole family fell apart. My husband resented my absence. My children had one meltdown after another, after another, after another. And something in me changed. I no longer wanted 'out'. For the first time, I actually missed my children when I was away from them. I missed them until the ache filled my insides with lead. I wanted to be home with them.

Then my oldest turned five and went to kindergarten at a private school. Except no one told us you're supposed to make late summer birthday boys wait a year, so his first year of kindergarten was really, really difficult for him. He didn't understand what was going on, most of the kids in his class would soon turn six while he'd barely turned five, he is borderline OCD and things were way out of his comfort zone, he got picked on at recess, and we had one little meeting after another with faculty and administrators in an attempt to teach them how to teach him. I attended one of those school mom prayer group things and requested prayer for him. One of the 'seasoned' (i.e. arrogant) moms there looked me straight in the eye and said, "Oh, is THAT all? Listen, one thing I've learned in life is don't sweat the small stuff, and it's all small stuff."

What a crock.

I never returned to that prayer group, obviously. What mom wants to hear that the heartache she carries for her struggling child is 'small stuff'?

After the first tough month of kindergarten, I quit my office job and came home. But I still worked from home, 8-16 hours a week.

Then I faced a devastating personal crisis and fell flat on my face, spiritually. I still haven't recovered, but God is keeping His promise to heal my broken heart and bind up my wounds.

The remainder of my son's first kindergarten year went by in a blur. He struggled, because he actually should have been in preschool, and I was numb with my own issues. His little heart suffered so much, and I closed my eyes to his pain because it hurt me too much to think about it.

Finally, the school year ended and we were all free for the summer. And after years of wishing I were 'anywhere but here', I was finally glad to have both boys at home with me every day.

And God chipped away at my stone-hard heart.

But out of my mouth still came the words, "Never, ever. I will never homeschool."

James loved his kindergarten teacher, so it was with great sorrow that he enrolled in first grade last fall. And remember how he struggled in kindergarten because he actually should have been in preschool? Well, multiply that times ten and you get his struggle in first grade--onaccounta he actually should have been in kindergarten.

Every day when I picked him up from school, I asked him how his day went. After about two months of school, he finally sighed and said, "Mom, I think you should just stop asking me that. Every day is horrible."

My heart shattered. I didn't know what to do. After another month and several conversations with good friends later, I finally called the principle and told her I wanted to put James back in kindergarten, with, as it turned out, his own age group. She said she thought that was an excellent idea and went on to share with me some of the struggles he was having that I hadn't even been aware of.

So the first half of last year was first grade, and the second half of last year was Take Two of kindergarten. James did so much better in kindergarten the second time around because he was finally working at his comprehension level.

The rest of last year went great, and as late as this past April, I could still be heard saying, "Homeschool? Not in a bazillion years. My kids need social interaction! They need to be this new politically correct term I've just learned: socialized! That's right. My kids need to be socialized. So they better stay in school."

And James was absolutely bringing home social behavior patterns. Tons of them. I was constantly caught off guard, having to ask him again, "Where did you hear that?" From so-and-so on the playground.

One of the behaviors James learned to recognize best was name-calling. They say in kindergarten the kids are too young to be mean, but that's a lie. I can't tell you the number of times James came home calling himself a name someone else had labeled him with.

I got to thinking. Did I really want my son to learn social behaviors from a bunch of six-year-olds? What did they know? I began to be impacted (and horrified) by the realization of just how many hours a week James spent a) away from me and b) being negatively influenced.

To top it off, James is a very meticulous little guy, and he panics and shuts right down if his ducks aren't right in a perfect, straight row. I've been dealing with this aspect of his personality for these many moons. But his teachers were often at a loss as to how to handle him. By the end of last year, I was simply tired of teaching his teachers how to work with him. I knew what he really needed: me.

Meanwhile, Jonathan attended our church's preschool and thrived, thrived, thrived. Most popular kid in class. Loved by all. Totally opposite experience.

I realized that no matter what social setting Jonathan was placed in, because of his personality, he would always thrive. And no matter what social setting James was placed in, because of his personality, he would always struggle. Unless I could spend some dedicated time working with him while he was still young...

And God chipped away the second iron-clad stone blocking my heart against homeschooling.

After school ended this past June, my family went on vacation. Our first stop was my aunt and uncle's house, where I spent some time interacting with my 15-year-old homeschooled niece. She is competent, confident and beautiful of spirit. Gracious, loving, well-spoken. Completely socially adept. My uncle said in passing around the dinner table, "I'm not saying homeschooling is for everyone, but for our daughter it was exactly where she was supposed to be, and exactly the childhood she was supposed to have." And I could see that he was right.

Then another thought occurred to me. Where was it written that my kid had to be 'socialized'? Was that in the Bible? Thou shalt socialize thy children? Indeed not. Where did that idea come from, anyway? And for that matter, why was my life so frenzied? Why did I feel pressured socially to do certain things and have certain things and attend certain things and participate in certain things? I took a look at my schedule and realized I and my husband and two children were involved in enough activities for ten people, not four.

This sickening thought brought me to a resolution. I was going to simplify my life. I was no longer going to have three lives. I just wanted one. And I wanted that one life to include my children. And I wanted them to be at home. With me.

And God came in with His giant chisel and shattered into tiny bits of gravel the last big stone in the path to my heart. Then He rushed in like a mighty river and washed the gravel away.

With great trepidation and humility, as we drove away from my aunt and uncle's house, I said cautiously to my husband, "What do you think about homeschooling?"

Wanting to contain his excitement, he responded just as cautiously, "Uh...what brought this on?"

I struggled to put all my jumbled thoughts and feelings into words. Wishing it would cover it all, I simply wanted to say, "I went into the woods because I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep, and suck all the marrow out of life."

After listening quietly, and convinced I was serious and not just being whimsical, Jeff replied slowly, "Well, you know I've always wanted us to homeschool..."

Done deal.

We went home and announced our intentions to everyone. The rest of the summer blinked by. I quit my at-home job at the end of July, and we spent the entire month of August throwing parties for family. Somewhere in there, we ordered our homeschool books, albeit a little late, and if you follow my blog, you'll know they arrived last Thursday.

Since last Thursday, I have not stopped prepping, reading, making checklists, creating charts, tweaking lesson plans, remaking checklists, perusing school materials, and falling asleep in front of my laptop. Just eating it all up. So excited.

But James was nervous. When the books came in the mail, he only liked one of them, and he claimed the rest were 'boring'. Not enough pictures. He was sure homeschooling was going to be a drag from the pit of hell and he was eternally doomed. I explained to him that he could create pictures in his mind while I read to him, which he deemed impossible. I reminded him that he enjoyed our family's reading of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Did he see what was happening in his head while I read that story? Yes? It would be the same for his schoolbooks.

I further explained that Daddy and I had specifically chosen the least boring homeschooling method on the market. I told him, "You know how other textbooks are? Other textbooks would say, 'In the early twentieth century, archaeologists discovered dinosaur bones in Montana.' But our schoolbooks are different. Our schoolbooks will say, 'Once upon a time there was a little boy who lived on a farm in Montana. One day, a man rode up on a horse and said he was an archaeologist. When he asked the little boy if he could dig in his backyard for dinosaur bones, the little boy stuck his hand in his pocket and fingered the strange-looking bone he'd found himself, just the day before.'"

James's eyes shone. "Did they find more bones in his yard?"

"Wellllll...that was just a made-up example story, but the point is that our schoolbooks tell stories like that. I don't think you'll be bored."

Partially convinced, he was willing to try school on Day One, which was just yesterday. And at the end of school, his huge grin said it all. Was it boring? NOPE! The second morning, this morning, the boys wandered all around the house aimlessly, waiting for me to say it was time to start school. "Mom, can we start yet? Are you ready?"

"I just have to finish tweaking this checklist again, and then we're good to go."

Day Two went even better than Day One. Such a praise.

I've marveled continuously over the past several days at the change God has brought about in my heart. Such excitement and such overwhelming peace and joy from a heart that for years claimed "never, ever." That is a miracle from God.

And here's another miracle from God: Sonlight. Did I mention that Sonlight is a newbie homeschooler's dream? It is fabulous. They thought of everything. Well, they thought of everything *I* wanted, at least. They keep saying in the literature, "Be sure to customize this and make it work for you..." Well, I actually love it just the way it is. It matches my personality precisely.

One of my concerns regarding homeschooling had been that my boys would not be able to sit still for lessons. So in my planning, we broke the day up with activities. At first, I thought it was overkill. SO many get-up-and-do things. But the boys are READY, every single time the schedule calls for get-up-and-do.

We begin with prayer. I ask the boys if they have any prayer requests, and they list several. They mostly request new pets and toys. We pray together as a family, with Daddy leading. Then we read a Bible lesson. And yesterday, I announced our Scripture reading and was delighted to hear James respond, "Mark? That's my favorite book of the Bible!" Then we work on memorizing. This week, we're working on Psalm 1:1.

The Bible lesson and Scripture reading are part of the Sonlight curriculum schedule, and I'm so glad. Short lessons, deep truth, lasting impact.

Sonlight also gave me a five-page list of lifeskills K-3rd graders are 'supposed' to know. Can your kid throw a ball 19-34 feet? Can your kid walk across a 4" board without falling off? Does your kid know his full address and phone number? Does your kid know how to shop for and put away groceries? And on and on. (Of course they don't say 'kid'. That's just a Becky-ism.)

So after our Bible lesson, we work on lifeskills. We go out in the yard with Daddy and hop across the yard with our eyes closed, skip across the yard with our eyes open, jump as high as we can to touch the leaves of our giant maple tree, and have a marvelous time.

After lifeskills, we come back to our desks, and James does Sonlight history while Jonathan does Costco alphabet worksheets.

Then while James does his reader (his new favorite book he keeps in a special place), Jonathan does ten minutes of training on the Wii Fit.

Then they swap. James does the Wii Fit while Jonathan reads to me one of his beginning readers.

Then, believe it or not, it's time for recess.

After recess, the boys eat a snack while I read aloud to them. This week we're reading Charlotte's Web.

After our read-alouds, we talk about anatomy. So far we've discussed skin, hair and nails. Today we recorded our thumbprints and discovered which of the four basic thumbprint patterns we each have. (This is not from Sonlight. We haven't ordered our Sonlight science stuff yet.)

Following anatomy is something the boys requested to be part of their school day. It's called "Imagination Time". This is where we jump through a spot in the living room and enter another world. (Did I mention we're reading about Lucy's wardrobe right now?) We spend Imagination Time running around the yard playing 'holiday sports' like Marasaurolophus Races. (A marasaurolophus is a mythical creature that exists only in our imaginative world. It's kind of like a parasaurolophus.)

After Imagination Time, we head back to our desks for math. We're still waiting on our Sonlight math stuff too, so in the meantime, James is doing Hooked On Math and Jonathan is doing Dora Math, both from Costco.

And our last subject of the day is Spanish. So far, we've learned Hola and Adios from the Hooked On Spanish program, but this paltry showing was highly unsatisfactory to James, so I recollected my high school Spanish to teach the boys how to introduce themselves completely. Me llamo Jaime. Me llamo Juan.

We close in prayer, and the boys sprint out into the yard for some more marasaurolophus racing while I enjoy some totally uninterrupted Wii Fit time of my own.

Already, three or four times, Jeff and I have been able to deftly nip in the bud incidents that would have meant a discipline note from the principal at James's old school. That alone makes everything worth it.

But beyond that is still just a lurking awe in my soul that I'm here, doing this, and loving every minute of it. Like a hammer and nail, like sock and shoes, it turns out me and homeschooling go hand in hand like rhythm and blues. (Anyone remember that country song? One of my favorites.)

Today, as Jeff walked through and checked on me to see how everything was going, I just shook my head at him in wonder, with praise to God in my heart, and said, "It's been a long time since anything felt this right and this good."

Thank you, Abba, for putting me right where You want me to be, and for sustaining me here.

And thank you, all my dears who've read to the end, for listening. I love you!