He barely flinched as I swiped my freshly licked thumb across the last salt deposit marring his face. His concentration was too deep for even a "mo-om" as he played with the numbers in his head, then on paper. I watched him. Watched his face. Watched it scrunch with frustration, then relax with relief as he realized that it was a TWO! The number two belonged in that box on the kid sudoku puzzle on the menu in the restaurant. Victory was his, and he celebrated with a bite of blueberry pancakes and a swig of juice. "Mom," he said, "I think I learned more from this menu than I would have at school today, anyway."
And that was it. That was the day I became a homeschooling mom.
I guess it all started when the kids were born. The idea that it might be possible that I had more to offer them than "the world" did. I am their parent after all, and I was slowly beginning to realize that there was a lot of power and control and importance in that title. It isn't a passive thing, to be a parent. Sometimes it looks like it. Sometimes it feels like it. But even the most laid back of parent feels that constant surge of energy and awareness coursing through their body even while they sleep. That forever-ready feeling of fight or flight; but mostly fight; that is fueled by the love for their children. The older they get, the more I consider their future. No longer am I left worrying about SIDS or the color of their poop (yay!) or cradle cap or nicking their skin while clipping their nails. These worries are exhausting and tangible and very real. I mean not to minimize them. But they're in the past. They've been replaced with something vague and dream-like and impossible to vision. The Rest of Their Life. What I want for it, what they want for it, what God wants for it, and what The World wants for it. These wants are at war. Can't have 'em all...
Eli isn't the type of kid that does things just because he's asked. He wants to know why. And if that why isn't good enough, he doesn't want to do it. As he grows older and his empathy and sympathy develop further, he is more gracious with his why's. A "because I'd like your help" is enough for him. But a "because I said so" doesn't work for shit. Public school is all about the "because I said so's."
His first defined struggle began with the 100 sight words his kindergarten class are "encouraged" to memorize. They aren't mandatory, no. But that doesn't stop them from being the focus of the ENTIRE BACK WALL of the classroom. Each kid receives a different colored heart for each set of 10 sight words memorized. Some kids have all 9 colors, plus a gold heart to represent their 100th word. Some kids have no heart. Again: SOME KIDS HAVE NO HEART. Do you remember kindergarten? I do. I remember nap time and the big box-turned-post office. I remember stories and singing and dancing and SPACE TO MOVE AROUND. Like physically. There are 35 kids in Eli's class, and some of them have no heart. And none of them have space. One day when Eli came home from school and we were about to work on his sight words, he lost it. "I can't read. I am bad at reading and I don't like it. I'm bad at it. I'm bad." But he isn't, I told him! And it is true. He is a great phonetic reader. He can sound out most words, and knows lots of letter combos like ow, and sh. But all he knew was that he didn't have as many hearts as some of the other kids. And for a visual learner like himself, for his perceived failure to be displayed for all to see, it was too much. He shut his brain off from reading all together. I spent some time after this episode Googling the importance of sight words. That's when I learned that their ARE NONE. Studies show that kids who are taught the sounds of letters and letter combos pick up sight words organically. Just like you and I most likely did.
Thoughts of homeschooling started obsessing me at that point. Before, I'd allowed myself to daydream about it, half-heartedly consider it, then dismiss it. Mostly because I didn't trust myself. I wasn't sure that I could juggle anymore than I already was. I was scared and I still am.
A few months later, Eli told me that he had missed a performance of Don Quixote that was being performed at a school assembly. I asked him why, and he told me that it was because they took a long time to get through "stamina." Stamina is where 35 kindergartners are asked to sit still and silent for a block of 15 minutes to look at books. They are timed. Stamina is morbid. Again, I went to Google. Apparently this practice of stamina came about because kids of all ages and intelligence are performing better on the first part of their standardized tests than the second part. Apparently they can't sit still concentrate long enough to finish their tests strong. So they're starting the conditioning of sit down and shut up as young as possible to combat this weakness of standardized testing. Perhaps the worst part? Eli told me this is his favorite part of the day "because it's the only time it's quiet."
Not long after that, Eli got in a punching match with his best friend on the school bus. Eli started it and was in the wrong as far as how he handled the situation. I dealt with that accordingly. Hitting isn't okay. But the reason behind the hitting killed me. His friend switched from one bus seat to Eli's half way through the ride and Eli didn't want him sitting there. Eli wanted to be alone and didn't want to talk, so he punched him. His friend didn't understand, and I wouldn't expect him to. His friend wasn't the problem. The previous 3 hours of chaos and noise and work was the problem.
I started doing a lot of research about homeschooling, how it's done, pros and cons. It began to feel more manageable, as do most things we are passionate about and educate ourselves on. (Yes, I learned a great deal on my own. Without school. Hmm... food for thought...) I asked Jordon about it and he said he supported me 100%. He trusted that if I said I could do it, I could do it. At first I felt a little dismissed, as I tend to do. The more I thought about it however, the more it hit me. HE TRUSTS ME. HE SUPPORTS ME. Jordon isn't trusting by nature. Not superficially supportive for that matter, either. But he's with me on this, and not blindly but because he believes what he says is true. That I can do it.
A few weeks later I couldn't get Eli to get ready for school without tears of panic and frustration. He was fed and he'd slept long and well. He just didn't. Want. To go. To school. He tried so hard to fight the feelings, push them down as he brushed his teeth and got dressed. He knew he should go but his emotions were winning out over his logic. Or maybe his emotions were more logical than the seemingly logical thing? This went on all the way to the school drop-off zone where I witnessed what could only be described as a 5 year old panic attack. I dropped off Braedon, took Coral to my mom's, and went to breakfast with Eli. We chatted for a bit, did the menu crossword and sudoku puzzle, and just hung out. He was relaxed. More than he had been at home for weeks. And so was I. I knew right then we'd never have to fight that morning battle again.