The more you know…


On the way to school today, my youngest son Miles read every single billboard and street sign, offering a commentary on each one. He talked and read non stop. He’s wrapping up his last week of the third grade, his first year attending “real” school. He was a late reader due in part of our massively unstructured version of homeschool and in part to his unwillingness to WANT to read. Reading lessons with him were like pulling teeth- for us both. For this reason when he began school this year it was with great trepidation for us both.

I’d warned his teacher that he’d be coming in below level. I set the bar low but she didn’t believe me. Entering third grade he could barely decipher the world around him. When she tested him the first time she called me to say that I’d called it right. She was surprised but she was kind about it, not shaming him, not shaming me. We’re fortunate to have gotten this amazing talented teacher on our first roll of the real school dice. Within one school year he was able to find that sweet spot of learning and then something clicked in him and suddenly he was reading.

His teacher gave me his Spring results this week, he clocked in at the 85th percentile. We high-fived each other. I thanked her for her hard work but she thanked Miles. “It was his work” she said and she was right about that. He worked hard for this, not even knowing what the world would look like once he could read. I hadn’t realized that for him, the goal felt strange and intangible, it was a goal he was not even sure he wanted, like being offered food that looks weird when you’re not hungry at all.

This morning after he read out all the street signs and billboards and before he jumped out of the car to run to line up for class I asked him, “Do you remember what it was like before you could read? It wasn’t that long ago.” He marveled at the question, saying that it was hard to remember. It felt to him as though he could always read. But he did remember how he felt; he remembered the jumble of foreign looking symbols all around him, he remembered the headaches that came from puzzling through them, he remembered the frustration and the anger and confusion. “The more I read, the more natural it is and there are WORDS everywhere. It’s amazing.”

I was struck by how often I take that for granted, that there are words everywhere and I can decipher them, be a part of the ongoing communication they offer and because of that I can enter into the larger world…and it is amazing.



On endings and beginnings

The school year is crawling to a close. Finally.

Because of snow days this past winter, CPS extended the school year a full week and it’s evident. The kids are downright twitchy. It’s fascinating to watch in particular because it’s the first year all four of my children have been in “real” school.

We have our routine down to a science. We all know our way around our schedule now. We know our respective places in each of our environments. Summer time is when we move into some kind of weird lull, unstructured time, floating here biding our time until the new school year takes over. My kids can only see a week ahead right now. I am looking at September already because September is when college visits begin for my daughter, High School visit begin for my oldest son, a new school awaits my youngest boy and my middle son moves up to middle school.

We’re always in motion here, school years shifting, knowledge blooming, pants becoming suddenly too short, voices changing. There’s no standstill. I’m envious of my children and their short attention span, their short lens on the world.

As my children get older I find I’m in this “middle” place with parenting. When they were babies it was clear- keep them clean and safe and fed. Now, they take the reins on much of this and I’m tasked with that looking forward job. It’s no less exhausting.

I often wonder if people who have followed the more traditional approach to education (ie starting “real school” at pre school and continuing on til graduation) have it all figured out at this stage but I know that’s the trap of parenting- comparison and “if only.” It’s enough to make a parent crazy.

So today as I sit and savor the last 7 days of our lingering routine I commit to pull back from comparison, pull back from future thinking, pull back from the fear of an unstructured summertime looming. Today I’m going to be here now…at least until the second cup of coffee kicks in.

Letting go…

All four of my children will be in “real” school starting Monday. I’m having a bit of a freak out about that, I have to tell you. After receiving an email from the principal for my oldest son’s school, welcoming us, encouraging us, I broke down. It’s hard to let go.

We have been homeschooling in one way or another since about 2003. We brought our oldest home after a rough year in Kindergarten. She’s always been outgoing and friendly. She loved preschool and she liked Kindergarten, excelling in reading and math and general awesomeness but she got teased every day on the playground. She liked to play alone and the other girls in her school gave her so much grief about it she cried every day when I picked her up from school. Teacher meetings, parent meetings, long talks with my daughter, “grin and bear” it moments, all came to nothing. We’d already changed schools once going from the Montessori school to a school closer to our house. It was too late to apply or get into a third try for the coming school year, so we brought her home, always thinking we’d make a switch the following year.

All in all, it’s gone well, I have to say. As we added kids we just slid them into the homeschool routine. It worked well when we traveled, when we moved, when we were living on 18 acres in the middle of nowhere. We hung out, we asked questions, we made observations, we argued and we struggled and we cruised for a long time. For as long as I was holding things together it really was a phenomenal time and then life changed up and they all seemed to need different things, things I could not deliver with any expertise or consistency. Last year, my daughter, having been home for most of her educational life finally stepped into High School, real school, art school, as a sophomore. She loved it and it loved her back.

I wrote last year of my decision to send Henry to school. It was grueling. His way of learning was so different from my way of teaching and long story short, I was leaking out all over the place where homeschool was concerned anyway. I was losing my mojo, not keeping up with Henry’s needs, falling apart in the bathroom because I felt I was failing them. I finally enrolled him at the neighborhood school so that we could both get what we needed. He loved it and it loved him back.

We tried a “real” school with Chet last year too, thinking the “game theory” approached they offered at the Chicago charter school would be perfect for him but you know, there is no perfect and he had trouble adjusting. He did great with the work but the classroom was overwhelming for him and often the chaos in the classroom kept them all from doing the work, which was the only thing Chet really wanted to do anyway. He did not love it and it did not love him back so we brought him home and I spent last year swimming in the guilt of being unprepared, questioning everything I tried, worrying about the present and the future and the past and all the while poor Miles cruised along doing his own thing, a little lost in the shuffle.

As the youngest in our family, Miles has the cushiest position and yet the strongest opposition to falling into line. His reading lessons probably sounded like I was driving spikes under his fingernails because he hated it so much. I was already burned out and he was getting the dregs of what I had left to offer and the guilt about that gnawed at me daily. I knew I’d put them all in school this year and the pressure ramped up then to “get them ready” for it but the more the deadline approached the worse we seemed to do. It remains to be seen how things will roll when Monday comes. Even so, when I questioned him on it this week he said, groaning, “Geez, mom. I’ll adapt. I always adapt. I’ll be fine, you have to let go sometime.”

And so, there it is. I am letting go a little, reluctantly, expectantly, with great fear and trembling and excitement because I have no idea what this year brings for us all. I imagine it will be a new kind of struggle and a new kind of joy and a familiar struggle and a familiar joy too. I imagine we’ll have moments of great regret mixed with moments of great relief. I imagine that I will adapt and that I will be fine because I have to let go sometime. It’s what we do as parents. We wish for them and we hope for them and in it we are always teaching them how to be their own people in the world. Parenting is letting go, a little at a time- crawling to toddling to walking to running- hair blowing in the warm wind, face to the sun, into the future.

bracing for the light…

It has been a strange couple of weeks which finally culminated in a short walk to our neighborhood grade school to enroll my 10 year old son, Henry. It is his first time entering a “real school.”

By way of back story I’ll tell you that I have been homeschooling my kids since my oldest was 6. She is now 15 and entered an Arts High School as a sophomore this year. My son, Chet found his way into a charter school based on game theory, his love language. Henry and Miles I had intended to keep home a couple more years. My educational focus for them had shifted though. In the past my aim has been for us to pursue what they love, to find the connections of everything, to be together and learning in a familiar place, at their own pace and this has been amazing. But this year I hit a wall and I began to feel more and more agitated, under pressure, ready to blow at any small event. I signed Henry up for a Virtual School, thinking this would be a good way to alleviate the fear of his never learning what he needed in order to enter school and to get him ready to enter the “real school” world next year.

So for the first four weeks of the school year I sat down with Henry every day and did all the school work that he would have done sitting in a CPS classroom all day. The curriculum was fine. The materials were fine. The pace was even doable except that I hated it. I hated every moment of teaching to the book, the computer program, the test, the oversight, the standard. Every fear I had about him entering the system was triggered. Every insecurity I had fostered all these years of homeschooling rose to the surface and presented as a roaring bad mommy monster and I did the thing I promised myself I would not do with homeschooling my kids. Instead of drawing out his strengths, instead of nurturing his interests, instead of laying down a standard and helping him find his way toward it I criticized and belittled and guilted him every day as we sat there plowing through his work. As we descended into this educational hell hole poor Miles sat on the couch waiting for his instruction, for the attention I told him he’d get when his older siblings would be in school.

Virtual School didn’t work for me and I would lay awake at night and despair and wallow in the guilt for having poisoned the well with my beautiful and intelligent son. Henry, the cuddly one, the creative inventor, the clown, the stylish guy. I was slowly tearing him down and I could find no way to stop it, except to quit.

I procrastinated because guilt is strange and slippery and because feelings of “failure” and “what if” plagued me doggedly. I spoke to his teacher at the Virtual School but nearly nothing made me feel better. So, I made a phone call to the neighborhood school. I spoke to the principal and I wavered.

The next day, when the principal told me that I only had 2 days to left to register him for this year, I gathered my resolve and walked to the school. We took a short tour, I dialed back tears and I filled out the paperwork. The moment I finished it was as if someone lifted a three hundred pound gorilla from my shoulders.

The night before he started school I asked Henry, “Do you think you’ll be alright?” He swelled with tears for a moment. “I want to stay home.” I nodded and said, “I know.” I told him how I felt and how much I loved him. I told him that I didn’t want to be the meanest teacher he ever had and that I felt I was headed in that direction. “What if I get a mean teacher anyway?” he asked. “You might,” I admitted, “but then you’ll be able to come home to the nicest and most loving mommy in the whole world.”  He climbed into my lap, long limbs leaking out over the edges of the chair, arms wound around my neck as he lay his head on my shoulder. We stayed that way a long time, quiet and sniffling a little, content in that moment, weathering the storm, bracing for the light.

learning to be creative…

I’ll tell you upfront this vid is 20 minutes long. If you have an interest in education at pretty much any level this is worth watching. For me, it cements in the reason I continue to choose the way I do along educational lines.

Also, Sir Ken Robinson is an entertaining and insightful speaker…
so there’s that.