autumn days

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Journeying from Homeschool into Public School

I've been homeschooling my children since leaving my public teaching position when my oldest child was 10 months old.  This constant togetherness and synchronicity is our life.  My first child had three child-centered classes each week from that time to now.  Our second child had about one class a week from age one to four before joining his sister for most of her activities at age five.  Our third child joined us eight months ago.  She has not attended any baby activities, very unlike her sister and brother.

Life as an "attached parent" is intense.  The co-sleeping and homeschooling without any childcare, other than my working-seven-days-a-week partner, is consuming.  Throw in daily meals, driving with a screaming-while-detesting-car-time baby, home tasks, the endless academics, my partner's expectations that our children be far above average in every way possible, a son who loves to argue, and life with my three beautiful children is slowly becoming overwhelming.  My partner supports us in infinite ways, such as running errands with and without our older children, doing the grocery shopping, laundry, dishes, home maintenance, transportation to some activities, and being with three children while I have a weekly bath.

When I venture out into the world with my wee babe, leaving the two older children with their dad, it is to have adult connection with my supportive, female friends.  With them, I feel validated, understood, cherished.  Coming down from the high of connective friend time back into my privileged life, I have withdrawals that include my biased view of how consuming my "attached parenting" lifestyle is, how much of my time and energy I give to others, my unmet needs for solitude and exercise.  After adult time, I see my need for exercise without the usual hiking while carrying a baby and negotiating with my strong-willed son.  (Why do we argue as we hike through the forest?)  I see that my times alone are my weekly bath and taken in the middle of the night in the dark on the bathroom floor four feet from my sleeping baby.  Not only am I sleep-deprived, I have busy-brain-insomnia tonight as I write.  When I mention as gently as I can to my partner my feelings of being out of balance and desiring more time alone to exercise and think, he points out the sacrifices he makes to be home with us every evening, how he prioritizes gym time over social time, how he takes care of the house, how my saying I need more time alone feels to him like a slap in the face that he's not supporting me in all the right ways, how this is the phase of our lives for sacrificing for our children, how our lives are so amazing there's no valid reason to complain.  This conversation between us has gone in circles and repeated itself a hundred times.  I hear his words and have nothing to say.  He's right.  He supports us in so many ways.  Yet, even reflecting on the blessings of my amazing life, I sometimes feel like I am drowning in the needs of others.

Something has to give.

I chose to homeschool my children eight years ago because it felt like the right way to support the children I adore.  Time caring for my children was and is very rewarding.  With my previous experience teaching in public schools, I knew what the public system looked like from the inside.  I knew I could improve upon that through alternative education.  And I did.  I call my partner the Tiger Dad because of his high academic standards for his children.  He says he wants his children, now ages five and eight, to be two years ahead of their grade academically.  He says he isn't the one who chose to homeschool, so he shouldn't be the one to do the teaching, nor is he equipped to teach.  (We all enjoy his spontaneous lectures and quizzes on every subject.)  So it falls upon me to meet and balance high academic standards with the developmental needs of my young children.  For me, this reflects the public school setting where there is a disconnect between expectations and the developmental needs and abilities of children.  Homeschooling with three busy children feels very different than it did when I began with a toddler eight years ago.

In the search for balance between academic excellence and the feeding the delicious joy within my children, we have found awesome programs to support our needs: classes and co-ops that teach, inspire, and delight.  My son has always efficiently and easily pushed my buttons.  He has great knowledge and interest in hitting me where it hurts.  His dad taught him the lyrics to Eric Clapton's Tears in Heaven.  For me, this is a sad song written by a father about his son falling out of a window to his death.  I explained to my son why I feel sad when I hear this song.  I asked him to please stop singing it around me.  In response, he sang the song over and over on a loop next to me for a solid half hour.  He stopped after I had sufficiently ignored the words.  His dad found this funny.  "The boy has good taste in music!  That's a good song."  So my son and I get into some hot spots in our long days together.  Those spots are getting too hot for me and I am beginning to crack under the pressure.

What about public school?  If my son attends public school for a year, we will have a bit of time apart, a different perspective on our relationship, and a little space in which to grow fonder of time with one another.  It's a relief to think about public schooling as an option.  I imagine I will have exercise and fresh air while walking through the local park to school each day to drop off and pick up my inquisitive son.  In our free time, we can play together in the natural setting of the park in all seasons.  He will learn to make friends, negotiate, and solve problems without a parent right next to him.  He will build upon his existing skills of getting along in a group, socializing, and staying on task.  He will befriend local kids his age.  When presented with these ideas, he's thrilled to try out our public school, to make new friends, to have lunch and recess with so many other children, to have P.E. and music.  Kindergarten is a great time to take public education for a spin.

If my son is sold on attending public school for a year, my daughter flatly says no.  She sits quietly and cries when we want to discuss it.  Now, if she continues on with her homeschooling activities and her brother has his own scheduling needs of getting to and from school, our wee third babe gets even less of my time and attention.  I'd be even more frazzled than when homeschooling with three children.  My partner and I are discussing with our oldest daughter the many benefits for our whole family by trying public school for one year.  Here are some of the perks.  Baby will get to attend library story times and a baby-centered class like her sister and brother did.  She will get the quiet naps she needs.  She will learn to nap off my body (not in a carrier nor by breastfeeding) and then I will get personal time.  I will get to go shopping with only one child.  We will save money by investing in free education instead of super-awesome-yet-definitely-not-free private programs.  Extra funds could be used for a taekwondo class to increase focus, determination, and precision.  My older children will learn to make friends, solve problems, meet new challenges, be held accountable to other adults for their choices, and learn a new system with same-age peers without a parent nearby.  They will get to try new and challenging tasks and get through with grace and confidence.  They will see how a simpler routine will help their parents be more peaceful.  I feel relief and joy just thinking about the possibilities.

At this moment, my oldest daughter has no interest in public schooling for a year.  She wants to stick with our existing academic and social communities.  I don't blame her.  We will be stepping away from an amazing bounty of resources for one year in public school.  In my ideal world, this whole homeschoolers-spending-a-year-in-public-education scenario would all work out with grace and joy, leading to more peace, balance, and growth.  I continue to make my lists, to find the silver lining in journeying into a year of public education, to sell my daughter on the possibilities.  An experiment with my family.  My family continues to connect, learn, play, and create our plan together.  What a gift to have the choice of how to learn and grow, how to be apart and together.  What a journey we share.

Time to play in the park

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