Everyday since we’ve made the decision, my heels dig further and further into the ground. Ask my husband; for someone who’s normally pretty open to debate about things (especially weighty, pivotal decisions concerning our kids.. after all, it takes a village), this is one thing I’m convinced can’t be done another way.
I have a lot of reasons for wanting to home school Mary in 7th and 8th grade. But one of the most prevalent - one of the reasons that just keeps bubbling to the surface like a beach ball under water, is the fact that my role in her life right now has become entirely too negative. My ability to parent her; to inspire her and encourage her and build her up to believe that she’s capable of anything she sets her inherent, female extremism to, is being smothered by my obligation to punish her so often for the dumb shit she does at school.
With eight hours a day there, (plus the all too occasional detention), friends and other family occupying so much of her time - I don’t get enough with her as it is. Whatever measly helping I’m left with at the end of it all is strained incessantly by the fact that she is so constantly on some kind of grounding-til-she’s-dead.
We’re caught in a cycle: She behaves well at home. She goes to school and gets into trouble. She comes home and has to be punished. She goes back to school and gets into more trouble. Eventually, we feel like we’re discouraging her by having to punish her so constantly, so we let up a little, hoping some positive family experiences will encourage her to put more effort into her behavior outside of the house. She goes back to school and still gets into trouble. She comes home and we have no choice but to punish her. It happens so often that I think she’s become numb to it, kin to the way a toddler doesn’t even hear the word, “no” after a while.
What’s really important about this time is that she’s still at an age where she wants to have a relationship with me. When we started scheduling her father-daughter nights, she was disappointed to find out that didn’t automatically mean that there would be regular mother-daughter nights too. Maybe she just wanted one more night a month to be to be spoiled with food I didn’t cook. But it still meant a lot to me.
I don’t want to shield her from the world or box her in. The motivation behind this is deliberately the opposite: to be a positive, proactive force in her life that she won’t want to ignore. Right now I’m a whisper among a thousand screaming voices, vying for her values. If I stay where I’ve been all year, it won’t be long before she doesn’t hear me at all. I’ve got to be someone she respects if I’m going to compete with all she’s up against in high school. I can’t do that if all I am in her life is a buzz-kill.
Homeschooling her will give me the opportunity to change that from up close and personal - to be a more present authority in her life, to make pleasant memories with her, to be someone she gets used to learning from and being inspired by. At the same time, I’ll have the chance to work with her academically one-on-one until the gaps she’s created for herself by getting so distracted early on in the school year fill themselves in. She’s gotten buried by her own, developing apathy this year and what’s worse: she doesn’t believe us enough to instigate a change.
I’m not a helicopter parent. But I’m stepping in because I know that if I don’t do it now - whether it’s because of behavior or GPA, I’ll wish I did when she’s in high school and too far swayed by the sketchy society of deeper New Castle for me to steer in a new direction.
Okay, so how do I do that?
Well, I don’t know yet. That’s what I’m trying to map out now.
We have our fair share of work to do academically. And because I’m new to this, I’m putting my sweat and blood and panic in that part most. We’re going with a Charlotte-Mason approach and we’re sparing no expense when it comes to curriculum - which is not the typical way for us to treat any kind of expenditure. (Just ask my husband - who’s worn the same two shirts for almost the entirety of our marriage, by the way - when the last time he bought a piece of clothing for less than half-off of a sale price was.) But we’re doing it this way because I want to basically idiot-proof myself with this as much as I possibly can. Knowing that we weren’t skimping on curriculum was important to me, so we decided to go with a complete round-up of all the most individually, highly-rated courses for seventh grade. Ones that weren’t just the most comprehensive, but the most hands-on and visually/physically interesting, because that’s how Mary learns. There are basically three different primary types of learning styles: visual, auditory and movement. Being just a heartbeat shy of hyperactive, Mary is definitely a mover. I also like this one because our math curriculum comes with every lesson on DVD, which is GREAT NEWS for the both of us. It’s the only subject I’m not actually geeking-out about getting the chance to teach. I’ve always been proficient in math, but it’s definitely the one subject from which I’m glad to have a little bit of the pressure taken off the top. I’ll have to know it well obviously, but it won’t be entirely on me to brainwash her into knowing.
This month, I’m purchasing the whole curriculum so that I have the entire summer to make my way through it myself. I’ll identify possible trouble areas, plan corresponding activities/field trips and basically plan out the year around her elective/extra-curricular activities. I figure I’ll make a rough sketch of our year to start with, and maybe a few weeks in, reevaluate it based on our hands-on experience. From there, I’ll set up a more concrete routine on a month by month, week by week and day by day basis.
But we have other things we want to work on from home, too. Things like self-esteem, organization, character, life skills, and faith.
Self-esteem is number one. Mary oozes confidence on a superficial level. She’s beautiful, funny and incisive enough to know it. I worry about her below the surface though. She gets frustrated easily and quits things before she has the chance to fail. She isn’t easily bothered by disappointment. She doesn’t often get her hopes up about things.
This is an age of transition and the first real steps she’ll be taking to self discovery, so I don’t get my panties in a bunch over the fact that she’s trying on different skins right now. I used to wear a wallet chain for crying out loud. But I am bothered by the fact that she’s emulating so many dozens of girls who don’t have a positive self-image, who do even the right things for the wrong reasons. I want her to have such a rock solid foundation of self-worth that nothing can break it down. I need the chance to watch her succeed and be there personally, to high-five her for it. You know, like a Sunny D commercial.
Organization will be at the ground level of everything we do. It’s just one of those life-skills she’s gotten by with never really picking up on for way too long. Like covering her bowl of oatmeal before she puts it in the fridge to save for later. (Or even bothering to take the spoon out, which she has been not-bothering-to-do for six years now.) I start the beginning of each school year gearing Mary up with all of these cute products and folders that I think will motivate her to stay organized or take even some level of pride in her work - and in a week, everything I’ve bought is in shambles. Binders are coming apart at the seams, papers are shoved into every crevice of her book bag, pages are falling out of brand new books. In a month, all 100 pencils, 10 pens, at least 1 notebook, a ruler, both sharpeners and a calculator are invariably lost forever.
She somehow beats everything that she’s ever been handed to a pulp. (I’m talking technology to top-of-the-line furniture to small pets.) When Mary was at school all I could do was nag her to take care of her stuff and then pull my own hair out when she didn’t. I’m looking forward to teaching her more than just how important it is to take pride in her work, in herself and in her things. I want to actually follow up with all of those irritating lectures by giving her fool-proof, practical ways to achieve organization in the first place, and then helping her to maintain them with little bits of regular, low-hassle, upkeep. These are the little ways I can see being both an invested parent and a teacher will mesh together nicely to benefit her as a whole. She’ll be accountable for more than just the final product handed in at the end of the class. Which is really just a not-so-threatening way of saying that I get to be on her ass like wet on water.
She’ll be taking notes, keeping logs and contributing to the maintenance of her portfolio and school room. (Which of course, makes her want to not have a school-room at all - ah, this is a fun age.) I want to make it fun, though. One idea I had is to challenge her - once she gets her laptop this summer - to try one, new Pinterest idea a month that she thinks might help her to become more organized. (Being crafty is definitely one of her strong suits.) And then together, we can make a project out of it. (Note to anyone who actually knows Mary: I’ve brought this idea up to her and have mentally recorded her saying it could be fun. So before she gets her too-cool-for-anything-I-ever-suggest-ever pants on and tries to tell you that it’s dumb just because I suggested it, I have proof otherwise. So suck it. I mean, so there.)
We’re also going to be finishing the back room of our basement (something we were going to do anyway) and use it this year for a classroom! Once we get the drywall up and slap some cool paint on it, I want Mary to have a say in how we set it up, organize and decorate it. It should be a really cool project to help get everyone excited about the upcoming change. I’m thinking colored chalkboard paint, walls of stenciled pegboards, a clean, white, oversized dry-erase boards and cool, Pinterest-y ways to display all of her projects.
Character development. We’re going to be focusing on social priorities by hopefully getting involved in volunteer work or charity events this year. Right now the most important thing to Mary is impressing her friends, which is normal - just like a toddler being maniacally possessive over every toy within his field of vision is normal. I’m not trying to stop Mary from being twelve, but I do want to teach her that there’s more to being popular than just keeping up with trends and pretending you get all of your clothes from Ambecrombi and Fitch. There’s a social responsibility that comes with having a lot of people look up to you - whether they’re friends or smaller siblings - and she has the attention of both. I’ll admit that this one is a little intimidating to me because I’m not sure where to start yet. But this is something I’ve had planned to do with her for a long time, so I’m really psyched that we’ll finally have the time to find a good cause for which she’s qualified to lend a hand. An animal shelter? A children’s hospital? A local event for a cause? Maybe I could just have her read to her little brother without calling him names or making him cry three times in the process. Would that count?
Life skills. I really try not to peg my kids’ personalities too much. I don’t want to bog them down with my own expectations. But I can tell you right now, Mary isn’t going to be the type to settle down early like I did. I think if she does, she’ll regret it. She’s a lot different than I am and a cookie-cutter lifestyle won’t satisfy her itch to move around. Even as a kid, I always got the most enjoyment out of thought-provoking, stationary activities: reading, writing and carving away at an easel on the back porch until my butt went numb and I had to readjust my eyes when I looked away. Mary’s a mover. She’s going to need a flexible, physical job; she’s going to need freedom and she’s going to need life skills beyond knowing her way around a garden bed. We always half-earnestly joke that she’ll either grow up to be an apartment hopper like too many people we know, never staying in one place long enough to house-train whatever pet she bought on a whim that month, or travel the world.
Before she’s an adult, Spencer and I want her to learn things from all sides of the spectrum, like how to ride a horse and shoot a gun and make a soufflé and drive a boat. We want her to feel capable going into adulthood and I think having a wide range of skills to draw from is essential to that. I really like this homeschooler’s ideas on teaching her kids about being street-savvy (reading subway maps, navigating a new city…) and understanding that there are layers to the world around them, so that when they are “backpacking through Europe or Asia one day,” they will have no fear of the unknown. Of all my kids, I picture Mary when I read that. I don’t want to stop her extracurricular activities at sewing and softball. I want to give her the first-hand experience of being out in the world, around all different kinds of people in new ways, so that she can learn to navigate any situation with a balance of pure heart and endowed judgment. I want this for all of my kids.
And there’s faith, bringing this post to a record-breaking four pages in length. If you’re still reading… One of the dumbest decisions Spencer and I made early on with Mary - although we had our reasons for it at the time - was taking her out of a religious, private school, incredibly small classroom setting. In hindsight, I’d kill for that kind of “unsocialized” environment now, but by the time we started to feel like it would be a better fit for her than the other options available for free, the school closed down due to a shortage of funding.
I don’t like talking about our religious beliefs in here because, even though personally, I’m very strong in my convictions, I’ve honestly never come across a devout disciple who was an effective converter. Talking about religion to anyone other than people who completely share your beliefs is painfully uncomfortable for everyone involved - even just people overhearing the conversation. To say that it’s not is naïve. As sickening as this is to say out in the open, I’d rather talk about sex than religion. Most people would. Most people do. I think the general consensus is that if we’re vocal enough about what we believe, (not unlike the topic of sex over the generations) people will stop being uncomfortable about it. But I’ve only ever witnessed it turn people that much further away. That, I am afraid of. As a Christian, it’s my responsibility to preach my beliefs - but you know that saying: ‘do what you can to help people, and if you can’t help them.. At least don’t hurt them’? That’s kind of been my approach. If you want to ask me about my beliefs, I’ll talk openly and genuinely. But I don’t want to risk turning you away forever because, being the questionable source that I am, I sound like a nervous, fumbling idiot.
I don’t know the Bible inside and out, but I’ve read it when I wasn’t obligated to. I’ve gone to church because I was compelled by more than guilt. And I’ve taken some of the greatest joy parenting has had to offer in teaching my children about the magic of what I believe to be truth, however hard it may be to believe for other people. I pray with Matthew three times a day, (we have a daily morning prayer, an over meal-time prayer, and our night-time prayer) but I’d be lying if I tried to say that I’ve done much more for Mary than answer a few here-and-there questions and drive her to church. I’m afraid of doing it wrong. I am. And that scares me. But I intend to take baby steps to change that. We aren’t going to delve into memorizing scriptures. Religion is an intimate, personal endeavor and it should be taught that way. I plan to be a lot more of a parent here than a teacher. I’ll open up to her on a personal level, if only a little bit every day and let that go where it goes. Hopefully it’s a place that is good.
So there it is. Please, tell me what you think. Comment. E-mail me. Call me. I will literally listen to anyone with experience or opinion on this until you feel like shutting up. I really, really want to do this well.