Thursday, February 5, 2015

First frost, two teens, public school defended, other shocking points of interest

This year our first frost took me by surprise. Everything in the garden turned out okay, tucked in under manure and coffee grounds and maple leaves, thanks to my amazing team (of child labor, a-hem). I do have to remember to wrap the resurrected fig tree though, before temperatures dip much lower at night.

When last year's hard winter apparently killed my fig tree I shed a wee tear (sobbed like a baby). When it sprouted anew late in the summer I rejoiced! And then when I accidentally hacked it off with the weedeater I cried again while all of my children and my husband assured me it would grow back, which it obligingly DID. That tree deserves better but it has me; it's put down roots and we've been through a lot together.

Similarly my Meyer lemon is blooming with incredible vigor. I painstakingly pollinated it via paintbrush (say that ten times fast) because although the book says "hardy to 17 degrees," the ghosts of my three prior Meyers decline to testify. The fig would live inside too if only the farmhouse weren't, you know, a pair of tiny former logging camp cabins cleverly joined with hand milled fir planks and lumberjack artistry to make a home for seven.

Despite the trials of the tropical plants, the rest of us are settling in to a routine. Three years at the "new" little farm. Three years of watching the light weave patterns through the forest, watching leaves clog the stone culverts, watching the horses figure out the zoo-worthy fencing in order to break into the pond. Three years of making hay and driving to dance. That about sums it up.
I think we just started our sixth year of having school at home. I don't write very much about "homeschool." Polarizing issues paralyze the blog writer in me. And recently I came to understand, again, how damaging any sort of label can be. Homeschooler. Gifted. Special needs. But I get ahead of myself.

We jumped into the deep end of teaching our children at home without a philosophy beyond what we knew of ourselves as parents and what we knew of our individual children's needs. For three years after Madeleine, Sarah and Grace were sitting at the kitchen table (and couch and car) with their books I still volunteered in the community school and my husband still chaired a committee dedicated to helping our tiny rural school survive. And then when we moved away from that area our love of community and our belief in the power of education didn't fade away. Of course not.
 Members of my family and so many people I deeply respect work in public education. Our nation is so lucky, fortunate, ridiculously blessed to have access to free school. I hope we, corporately, don't take that for granted. You know what else we are lucky to have? Choices.
 My children are amazing. Ask anyone. They are also beautiful, and sensitive, and gifted, and different. A couple of them might do fine or even exceptionally well in traditional brick-and-mortar school. One of them would likely spend more time in the hospital than in the classroom. Hospital, "resource room" and school nurse in rotation? Or home? Which would you choose, if you could? And then, when you were choosing, would you reflect on how privileged you were to be able to have that time with each of your little people? Watching them change and grow is one of my miracles. Being present for them is a gift to me.
And we know families whose choices to teach their children at home are as different from ours as night from day. Perhaps they have strong political or religious beliefs and are passionate about remaining separate from the world. Perhaps they have very exacting academic standards and are dedicated to high achievement. Their home might be too remote and the commute too taxing. The list goes on and it even includes those who think young people shouldn't spend time with the opposite gender outside of parental chaperoning.

We don't have school at home for any of those reasons. And our reasons have evolved as these years have passed. What started as a medical necessity and an academic convenience (one of our children was so far ahead of her grade level that the school ran out of ideas/patience/books and threw up its administrative/educational hands, leaving her to "help" in class (read: "be tortured by the bigger, tougher children from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.") (and then note my double parenthetical statement and feel sorry for the twisting logical meanderings of me, again)) morphed into a lifestyle of joy in learning together.

Theatre and dance are so consuming for our older girls; having flexible school hours allows them to read and write and learn on their own schedules. The time to form ideas and act upon them is a gift. The time to take a trail ride after school and before rehearsal is a gift. Time, it passes, and the spending of it is a lesson too. Or can be.

Somebody is going to say we are not even a true "homeschool" family because some of our children are enrolled in public, virtual charter schools that allow us to choose and design our own curricula. Somebody is going to believe it's less-than, or selling out. I respect that opinion too but I have to say I am grateful for the option, choice, the gift of time. I'm grateful that my children will be able to choose universities, or not, and that their choices won't be limited by mine.

It's a dance and not a ballet. We all waltz this way, parents. We make the most careful choices we are able to make and we thank God for the blessings we have and can share.

*just a note: I wrote this in November and have been immersed in all of that living-spending-time-learning stuff since. I still think about polarizing issues and have cold sweats over controversy or the whiff of it. I still love you if your children are in public school or private school or hacking school from the internet. I especially love you if you read this far.