Mary has had to learn this year that sometimes, just because something is good for you, doesn’t mean that it’ll be easy. Even after she accepted that home school was probably the best thing for her, she struggled with the fact that just ‘accepting’ it wouldn’t be enough. I expected more than the bare minimum of effort out of her and I think that came to her as a big surprise.
For the past few weeks we’ve wrestled with the idea of who is in charge. It wasn’t easy for her to get, at first, that just because I want the best for her, doesn’t mean that I’ll bend to her every whim. Just because I trust and value her input doesn’t mean that I want her to call the shots.
For the first time in the history of our relationship, we’ve fought. It was rough on me because I’ve never genuinely “fought” with one of my kids before. Matthew’s always been the one to defy me, and because of his age, it’s always been easy for me to see past the verbal jabs he took for what they really were - a cry for attention, a need for rest, a rush of emotion too big for him to handle all alone - but with Mary it was different. She’s at an age where the opinion she voices can sometimes really sting; her words carry a weight with me that suddenly pack a punch I can’t so easily dismiss. I have to have the will and patience made of solid steel to decipher in the heat of a moment, where what she’s saying actually stems from. She just got loud with me: Quick! Is she testing my resolve right now, or does she really not understand why this assignment is important? Is she being insubordinate, or did I do something first that made her feel the need to get defensive?
More to the point, she can’t learn if she’s unhappy. And that posed a problem I couldn’t conquor all alone because she was determined, with all the wrath of a woman scorned, to be exactly that: decidedly unhappy.
At the price of too much of my sanity (literally, my hair is falling out by the fistful), we’ve reached an easy understanding. Everyday we make it to the end of a school day feeling good about what we learned. I like to ask her at the end of a particularly grueling assignment: “Whoo! So, do ya feel smarter?” and she’ll answer every time with a non-begrudging yes. We hug easily four times as much as we ever did before. At first it was just because we fought so often that making-up happened more too. Now, it’s just the way we like to start and end a conversation.
I worried, when we got into the nitty-gritty of this, if it was going to hurt our relationship more than fixing her social-educational life was worth. After all, as the mom, so many other facets of her well-being depend on the two of us being at a respectable standing with one another. If she keeps losing respect for me because… let’s face it, I’m not perfect at handling all of this sudden controversy under such a stressful load of responsibility - then, what?
But everyday so far for more than a week, she’s grown in a visible way. Without being asked, she takes care of her little sister. The sister that, to be perfectly honest, I didn’t even think she noticed half the time before. Now, she’s doing her hair and bathing her and changing her diaper and insisting on putting her to bed. She works side-by-side with Matthew everyday, even on things that he sometimes is too young to help out on without hindering production. She’s become patient. She’s become softer. She’s become impressively considerate. More importantly, she’s learned more than I could have ever hoped to teach her before about how to voice opinions in a way that won’t show disregard for someone else’s.
It’s been hard on her to separate from the friends she had at school. Don’t get me wrong, there isn’t a doubt in my mind that it needed to happen, but I can’t ignore that it’s been the roughest part for her. She’s come to depend a lot on the girls on our street for companionship. They come over everyday after school and go places together in the afternoons. She’s joined a youth group that she has an absolute blast at every week - but she takes her best friend, and that’s probably slowed her from reaching out to other kids there yet. I know it’ll happen for her, but she’s voiced that it’s tough to reach out and find friends when you aren’t surrounded by kids your own age all day long. She’s never had to put even the smallest effort into finding friends; they’ve always flocked to her because of that outgoing, clown-around personality. Next week she starts girl scouts with two of her friends, and soon she’ll be getting into 4-H, too. So we’ll cross our fingers and see where that goes.
Despite that hurtle, though, her self-esteem is through the roof. Or so it seems, at least. For the first time in… well, probably as long as I’ve known her, she just looks proud of herself all the time. And it’s manifested itself in such positive ways, too. Everyday she asks to help cook, for instance, and without looking for constant reassurance or bragging, she just looks and sounds so pleased - graciously saying thank you when we gush over how awesome she is, offering to do it again as much as we want her to. I’m not sure how to explain the difference between how she is now and how she was then, but she looks like she feels more at ease, if that makes sense. More content. So much less defensive. In a word: happy.
I never expected her to be super-grateful that I was putting so much of myself into this effort. I mean, first off, she’s twelve. Secondly, this wasn’t her choice. And to boot, there were a lot of things about this that we went into it knowing wouldn’t be easy. But honestly, she has been. Not from the beginning, no… But she has been, despite everything else. And that takes character that I wouldn’t have guessed her to have. Character that I don’t think most kids have at such a tender age. I don’t think that I can credit home schooling itself for turning anything around. I don’t. That’s really all just books and worksheets and projects. I think it’s probably more to do with the time we’re forced to be around each other, and the position we’re in to depend on every member of the family.
We’re uncovering things about ourselves through the rough patches of this experience that we didn’t know were under the surface. Myself included. And when things get rough, we don’t get an hour between dinner and bed to hash it out and then a night and a day to almost forget that it happened. We have to solve it. We have to get to the other side of the experience, and we have to do it together. And I don't know, I think we've done pretty well.