Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Homeschooling, our way

Back six years ago, when we first started homeschooling, I used to go to the public library to read the two homeschooling magazines they subscribed to in hopes of grasping that indefinable how, the exact potent compilation of lessons, duties and activities that would make me the perfect mother and my kids brilliant and capable of speaking classical Latin by the end of our first week.

Those two magazines, the grandaddies of all homeschooling publications, were both famous for the photographs on their covers. One of them might depict an adorably gap-toothed first grader cuddling a puppy; the other usually featured a family of nine children arrayed in matching outfits, kind of like the von Trapp kids when Maria got hold of those curtains. They both projected an image of perfection that I instinctively knew it was going to be impossible to attain.

It's not that I have low standards. No, as a typical first-born child, I have a streak of perfectionism that borders on a moderate case of OCD. I've been known to polish my stainless steel sink to a formidable brightness that allows it to double as a makeup mirror. In college, I was always in the front row with my arm in the air, feverishly taking notes and agonizing over test scores. An A would please me for a span of ten minutes before I started worrying about the next test; an A minus could bring tears to my eyes. Where did I go wrong?

So there's nothing wrong with my standards. Nothing at all. Well, okay, maybe something. That kind of drive can eat holes in the lining of your stomach and make you struggle with insomnia. And heaven be thanked that I'm not that whack...oh, never mind.

Anyway, I had this strong feeling that holding myself to impossibly grueling standards was one thing, but what about Meelyn and Aisling? Sure, I could crack a whip and make them wear matching outfits and force facts into their heads, but I was confronted by the knowledge that heavy-handed pressure makes Meelyn dissolve into puddles of quiet tears. Not to mention the fact that pressuring Aisling into anything is like trying to thread a needle when the thread is made out of Jell-O. Which is not such a great quality if you're trying to teach the child how to divide fractions, but will presumably work in her favor if anyone ever tries to peer-pressure her into taking Ecstasy.

We kind of just muddled along by forging our own path ahead of us. Occasionally, I would have these moments of bleak self-doubt where I'd have nightmares that the girls were applying for colleges and I realized that I'd forgotten to teach them about the Punic Wars and then I'd realize I was still awake. Math has always been an issue, but we've plugged along and I've reminded myself that I am a complete idiot in math and yet I've managed to have a very successful adulthood, completely free from strangers buttonholing me on the street and asking me to name the square root of 794.

I keep waiting for someone to buttonhole me on the street and ask me what a gerund is or how to say umbrella in French or to name all nine Supreme Court justices, but that hasn't happened either.

Mostly, I'd say that what we are is average. We're always going to work hard on math, but the girls are not likely going to be engineers or doctors or research scientists anyway. They do well with their French and language arts and history. They like doing science experiments. They're really, really good at memory work and their study skills are coming along nicely. They both have a tendency to expect answers to simply leap off the page at them, getting frustrated and sullen if they actually have to think. My husband says they inherited this from him.

It's been such a good year - a good, happy year, our best yet. I am tired, but it's a good tired. We've worked really hard and we're looking forward to our summer break and I've been at this long enough to know that I will feel enthusiastic and well-rested in September, but by November, I will be saying "Why? Why am I doing this?" I'll be berating myself for not sticking to the impossibly demanding schedule I will have set up in July, when getting up at 6:30 a.m. doesn't seem like an unreasonable thing to do. I'll be unwisely comparing us to some über-achieving homeschool family and wondering hysterically if we shouldn't try to grow our own wheat in a city yard that's the size of a pocket handkerchief.

Come January, I'll be ready to start drinking hard by 10:00 a.m., possibly relating this activity to a lesson about time zones and how it's always five o'clock somewhere. We'll all be regretting the end of the Christmas season and itchily anticipating the rapid approach of Lent. I'll be worried when calculating the amount we spend on piano lessons and art lessons and the French tutor and gas and tickets to the theater and think that we could be making vast inroads on our 401(k) if all that money were freed up.

By April, everything will have lightened up, literally and figuratively. The end of textbooks will be in sight. As we move into the last week of May, I'll invariably be saying, "This has been our best year yet" as we get out the pool floats and the coolers and the towels and the toys to take to the swim club.

And it will have been. Average, just the way we are. With our un-matching outfits and our occasional yelling and the days when we stay in our pajamas and don't brush our hair, next year will be the best year, too.

1 comment:

Kbg said...

Yes, it will be the best ever...and I hope I am there to see it! You are doing a great job with your girls!