We never planned to. The Skeptic and I were great at school, and I’d been deeply committed to my career before stepping away to have kids, so we – quite reasonably – expected I’d find new work once they settled at school.
They never did.
That’s not the school’s fault. It was straight-up AWESOME.
They did everything right. No – better than right, because they taught me everything about understanding howbehaviour communicates needs, about the diversity of needs and behaviours, about teaching and modelling emotional regulation and non-violent conflict resolution.
I know! Not what you’d expect from a school, but then, this place was truly special. Their democratic, play-based approach to learning informed everything, and it was so small, it worked. As a community school, families and former students were always welcome, so there was plenty of help when things got messy – which was often. For several years, that extra pair of hands was mine. I logged a lot of observational hours, I cleaned up all sorts of … stuff, and I learned HEAPS.
My kids, not so much.
Mr Pixel, of course, came with significant challenges: chronic ill health, anxiety, perfectionism, SAF, and a brain teeming with Big Questions. He had no idea what to make of kids who just wanted to run round yelling and throwing leaves at each other, nor of work that focussed on tiny little concepts like words and sums. He didn’t participate much and was terribly anxious about everything he did do, so, although he was well liked, easily accomplished any work he did attempt, and even had a teacher who specialised in giftedness devise work tailored to his interests, it’s fair to say he never saw the point. Therefore he bitterly resented my making him go, and he sure as hell wasn’t staying without me. (Did I mention the SAF?) He was able – so able – but school for him was war.
CraftyFish, on the other hand, slotted straight into being the fastest runner throwing the most leaves as she led a small posse of girls through 900 activities a day. She’d race in, belt out her work in two minutes flat (almost illegible but 100% correct), and race back out to add another layer of monkey-bar blisters to her hands.
For two years, this was fine. Her wonderful teacher let CraftyFish work at her own pace and level (wherever that might be on any given day) and handled her emotional outbursts with a skill and sensitivity I’m still trying to emulate. But instead of allowing CraftyFish to write stories and then work on corrections, for instance, her next teacher insisted that story-writing came after mastering /ee/ spellings. Way to slam the brakes on, lady!
Meanwhile, the social side was also fraying, as some in her posse began excluding her. Unfortunately this teacher’s skills didn’t extend beyond, “Our rule is kindness, okay? So be kind, please, girls,” which was even less effective than it sounds. (She was new and not adapting well.)
When CraftyFish developed visual migraines from the stress and anxiety, age seven, the writing was on the wall. We battled through another two years (!) because CraftyFish wanted to win back her crown, because I had chronic fatigue and was still desperately hoping they’d go to school so I could get a freaking rest, and because, sigh, my kids’ SAF didn’t come from nowhere.
But when, after five years of solid struggle, I found myself sobbing all the way to the first day of year six, even I had to admit defeat.
That was hard, you know? Really fucking painful. Parents are told, we’re responsible for everything our kids do or don’t do (and when they do it). We’re supposed to control our own destinies, too: set goals, work hard, persist, success, right? I’d been quite good at that, pre-kids. Now I was finally accepting that I couldn’t even get my kids to do the most basic thing (it seemed) every other kid managed – enjoyed – rocked!
And my kids knew it. Having emotional OE up the wazoo meant that by the time we quit, all three of us were pulpy with misery, anxiety, shame, failure, frustration, and whatever the word is for, “what on earth is WRONG with us?!” The Skeptic, who is far more institutionalised than I am, was baffled and frankly terrified as we finally staggered off-piste.
So I’m sorry to say, we didn’t come to homeschooling via lofty principals, cool appraisal, and/or a thoughtful response to our kids’ needs. It was more like one of those old cartoons where the jalopy’s wheels pop off one by one, the chassis ploughs into the mud, springs and bolts fly every which way, and once it’s finally ground to a halt, the doors and bumpers drop off as well. It was pretty much exactly what you don’t want for your family.
Why am I sharing this?
Well, rumour has it that when, after months trapped in the ice, Endurance finally sank in Antarctic waters, Ernest Shackleton said, “Ship and stores are gone, boys, so now we’ll go home.”
That was the chance I had. All that time I’d been learning about our wiring, and about the parent I wanted to be, while still bombing down the same road. Wrecked, we had to spend time repairing our health, our emotions, and our relationships, and reevaluating our values, needs, and goals.
Since then, we have—well, this side of adolescence I won’t risk saying “we’re home”, because any second now the kids will start up heir own jalopies and they’re bound to head down a few wrong roads themselves.
Point is, sometimes we have to crash and burn, to get our own attention. It’s awful and painful, but it is survivable. Modelling self-forgiveness, the process of grief and recovery, learning to change course according to your needs – those are absolutely essential life skills, especially for out-of-the-box kids growing into a world of increasing uncertainty – and crashing out makes you do it. That’s not ‘silver-lining’ BS, btw. It’s your lifeline: kindness and compassion for yourself and your kids is how you survive.
Of course, if you read this as a cautionary tale and change course before the wheels start flying? That’s even better.