Sarah Avery (dr_pretentious) wrote,
Sarah Avery

Farewell, For Now, To Homeschooling

Today I walked my six-year-old to summer school. He was excited to go. He likes his new teacher, though he dislikes having to listen to her -- in almost exactly the way he dislikes having to listen to me. Gareth is not big on having to do anything. For three hours of my morning, that got to be someone else's problem.

I hired a sitter for my three-year-old and spent those hours writing. Like a person, with a self or something. As if I were actually a whole me even while my children were awake.

No wonder most parents don't homeschool.

Oh man, this past year was a rough one for kindergarten.

We moved twice. We spent eight months in limbo, crammed into two tiny attic rooms in a relative's house where we lived under a relative's rules. The immense kindness and care of that relative made it only a little bit easier. We left behind a neighborhood full of friends in New Jersey, made new friends for eight months, and left them behind, too. Every form of child-care arrangement I came up with for keeping Conrad occupied so Gareth and I could do a little seatwork three days a week crashed spectacularly, as everyone I'd found to babysit Conrad was incapacitated by various illnesses and injuries within the space of a month. Trying to conduct seatwork with an older child while the younger child interrupts an average of three times a minute -- no, seriously, studies have shown that three-year-olds literally interrupt their caregivers with demands an average of three times a minute -- is about as effective as you'd imagine. And while Gareth and I worked on phonics, penmanship, math, and whatever else, we could never find whatever book we were looking for. Because it was the book we needed, it would inevitably happen to be in storage.

Oh, and Gareth had a magnesium deficiency that made him act like he had ADHD. We only figured out the cause after establishing about ten months' worth of bad habits in our parent-child dynamic, at which point magnesium supplements could no longer Just Fix Everything.

After nearly all my local relatives ambushed me for a series of interventions in which they told me I was suffering from burnout, and that they couldn't bear to watch me do this to myself anymore, I conducted a little funeral for my ideas of what homeschooling for Gareth's kindergarten year could have been like, and got on with things.

Homeschooling didn't work this year. Probably school wouldn't have, either. There's no form of sustained learning that would have been easy under the conditions we were living in.

Last September, he was ready to learn many things. He just wasn't ready to learn them by keeping mostly still and following directions for six hours a day. He did, in fact, learn many things. They just weren't the same things the Common Core standards insist on, so this year he's doing kindergarten the way schools do it now. Which is fine. His father had to repeat kindergarten, and now he's a person with patents. If the school can hand Gareth back to me around this time next year and he can read independently for five minutes at a stretch, and if I can keep Conrad alive despite his daredevil streak for another year, we'll be able to reconsider at that point.

Homeschooling a basically literate seven-year-old when your youngest child is about to turn five would be a whole different game from homeschooling a completely illiterate five-year-old when your youngest child is about to turn three. The folks who made the It Gets Better video for parents of toddlers told the truth: five years and one month is the magic age at which a child suddenly transforms from a bottomless pit of need into a being who can meet some of his own needs pretty consistently. It happened for Gareth, and it'll happen for Conrad.

I have all the same misgivings about the public schools that I had before. I have all the same hunches that homeschooling would ultimately work better for the kids I happen to have. What I don't have right now is enough spoons to act on those beliefs. And a burned out teacher is bad news, at home or in a classroom. (Weirdly, I find tutoring my shiny new student to be energizing. It seems to be specifically homeschooling that I'm burned out on.)

But if someone else is wrangling the kids, suddenly I have enough spoons to write. This morning, I got as much done as I usually accomplish in a week -- twice as much as I'd hoped to.

It turns out, it doesn't matter whether it's selfish of me to want my spoons back for my own ambitions, because this year I could have given as many spoons as I have in a day to the kids, and that many again to the move, and that many again to the daily household tasks, and it still wouldn't have been enough.

So if the only sustainable option is to avail myself of the public schools for a year, I might as well accept the lovely side effect that I can get a little work done before 10pm. Not selfish. No, not selfish at all. (Perhaps by September 2015, I'll be able to say that with some conviction.)
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