“I hate homeschooling.” I told my husband in a text in mid-May.
I was very serious.
I had just shooed the toddler off the dining room table where he was dancing on the English papers. The curtain was smeared with scrambled eggs. Every. Single. Book. from the lowest bookshelf had been macerated into a pile on the floor. We’d collectively agonized nearly three hours over math so all the other subjects backed up behind us. I hadn’t managed to eat breakfast yet, but leftover eggs congealing in the pan didn’t look very appetizing. I wished the maid hadn’t taken the day off (like she does every day). The baby was hungry, the kids needed separating, the clean tissues needed restuffing back into the box. It was raining outside and we still had errands to run. It was a typical day, and no one was very happy about it.
You might think I’d have this down after having six children. You might. But this past year, I felt as lost as a toddler under a Wal Mart clothing rack, pressed in by so many little-sized t-shirts that it felt almost suffocating. There was so much to react to every day that being proactive about things like schoolwork often seemed like a pipe dream. People commented, “How do you do it?” I simply shrugged. I didn’t have a good answer. I wished I knew how to do it too.
I had an infant, a crazy busy toddler, a preschooler in a wheelchair, and three elementary boys with fidgety ants in their pants when they sat still too long. And we were all crammed in a small house where quiet study seemed an oxymoron. I staggered out of bed many mornings, bleary eyed from lack of sleep with a nursing infant. Sometimes I managed to get up for a few minutes of quiet to read and pray and simply think a complete thought before the morning madness pattered down the stairs. Many other days I was shaken awake by the four year old’s ritual patting of my eyelids and singing the song of his people, “Mo-om, I neeed chocolate milk!” Some days I wanted to agree with the condescending naysayers who looked at me and clucked their tongues. “You must be busy!” they’d say as if they knew better than to tread in my shuffling footsteps. I myself didn’t question if I had enough love for my kids. But I did question if I had enough time to enact that love through an elementary education.
Granted, there are many great things about homeschooling. I get lots of together time with my kids. We can incorporate chores and life skills. We catch teachable moments. Younger ones benefit from trickle-down learning as the older ones do their lessons. We can work around illnesses and vacations and doctor appointments. I can cater to my kids’ individual learning styles – honing their strengths and gently stretching the muscles of their weaknesses. I don’t have to pack lunches every night or scramble everyone out the door on bitter early mornings all winter. We can foster healthy socialization in multiple peer groups beyond just physical age or ability. I can protect them from bullying and peer pressure while they are still young and in need of a champion. I get the singular joy of being the one to see the lightbulb turn on when they realize they’re able to read. And of course, I obey the command of God who led me and my husband to train up our children in this way in the first place.
But there’s a lot that the curriculum writers and Pinterest sites and positive statistics don’t reveal about homeschooling. There are a lot of dark days in November and February when no one, least of all the teacher, want to do school, and the house is buried under months of snow and clutter and unfinished projects. The toddler occasionally really does get neglected and does lots of pen and ink art on your white sheets. The four year old hides pepperoni in the hole of the guitar. Long division blurs the lines between logic and inhumane punishment. The baby is colicky or teething and practices pterodactyl screeching though the morning lessons. Everyone has a different learning style. Mom has a headache for a straight month (that was the dreary month of April). She gives up on science completely and also vows never to allow play dough or glitter to enter the house ever ever again. She yells and feels guilty and lets them eat sugar when they really need a simple consequence and a carrot for a snack. She cannot seem to teach spelling. She feels like a complete and utter and lonely failure at this simple job of motherhood-marriage-homemaking-teacher-cook-chauffeur-planner-nurse-friend-plumber-seamstress-ultra marathoner-counselor-mortician-beautician-podiatrist-bug-killer which she is sure everyone else just does naturally. She feeds her family cold leftover lasagna for supper because she’s in such a hurry for bedtime. And she prays Dear God give me a bigger house because I will explode if we’re all on top of each other 24-7 for another year. And she really thinks she might.
So it was with much prayer and a deep breath that I rolled out of bed on the first day of school this Fall. I sat up – and killed a spider before my feet even hit the floor. Great. I hadn’t even said a word to the kids and already guts were everywhere.
“You’re sure you want me to do this?” I asked God for the thousand and eleventh time as I wiped spider legs off the baseboard. “You remember me, the girl who hated math, who is anything but a leader, who has a baby and a crazy toddler, and who, I might add, knows some really great teachers – You’re positive that I’m the one most qualified for the job educating my precious offspring this year?”
And as He does, God gently pushed a verse into the fuzz of my morning brain. “Follow Me, and I will make you…”
I know the context. Jesus was talking to Peter in a heart-to-heart on the beach. He had died and come to life again, but He wanted to hang out with His friends before He headed home for a while. Peter had been shaken by his Friend’s death. Peter had been so brave and strong, so outspoken, so sure of himself all his life. But he had crumbled like an October leaf when following Jesus turned out not to mean a valiant revolution ending in glory, but an unjust slide into humiliating torture and shameful death. When push came to shoving, Peter’s ego had fallen in the mud. It was in this humble place, hearing Jesus’ invitation, that Peter had accepted the greatest job of his life. It was the job he finally realized he was unqualified to do. It was only Jesus’ call that qualified him to do it.
So I got up. I fed my kids. I read to them. I cleaned chex mix off the floor and taught the four year old to hold his crayon right. I practiced multiplication tables and phonics. I showed them how to clean toilets and empty the dishwasher and pretend to let the 2 year old help. I nursed the baby and studied earthworms with the four year old in the garden. And you know what? I still yelled some. I still felt frustrated and overwhelmed. I still have trouble teaching spelling. But maybe not so much. Because He’s making me. And that’s a process. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Neither are children.
Neither are teachers.