You don’t know until you do it

By Mir
August 8, 2013

I had a nice chat with one of Monkey’s virtual teachers this year (uh, she is not virtual, she’s a real person—a real teacher—but she works with the Virtual School, I mean) wherein I said something in passing about how this is our third year of homeschooling, and she uttered the dreaded phrase:

“Oh, I just DON’T KNOW HOW PEOPLE DO IT. I could NEVER homeschool my kids!”

I have an arsenal of standard responses to such statements: that I didn’t think I could until I did, that one of my kids is still in public school, that we utilize a lot of resources like Virtual School, and—my personal favorite, as it really gets to the heart of the matter—that I never planned to, but with Monkey’s particular set of needs being incompatible with a conventional middle school classroom, I simply didn’t have a choice.

But the truth is that a huge part of the reason I hate that phrase is because I probably said it to homeschoolers, myself, a hundred times before we found ourselves homeschooling. The implication is admiration, but the subtext is disbelief that anyone could survive it.

Much to my chagrin, the decision to homeschool a child doesn’t come with a standard-issue unicorn and the patience of Job and the wisdom of Buddha. If we’re being honest, I shouldn’t even COUNT the first year of “homeschooling,” because he wasn’t HOME (he was at Hippie School full-time). Last year he was only home half-time. Even this year, home nearly-full-time, he’s taking a full load of online classes, and THANK THE LORD, because I haven’t the faintest clue about how to plan and maintain an entire curriculum, never mind get my kid to pay attention to me for an entire day. Plus, you know, I have that whole pesky career thing going on where I couldn’t just give up working so that he could argue with me about silly things like grammar because how could I possibly know anything about writing that matters to someone who believes in SCIENCE? (I wish I was making that conversation up. It happened, I promise.) (For the record: I, too, believe in science. I just don’t believe it absolves you of the obligation to punctuate your sentences correctly.)

Confession: I was sure I would hate homeschooling. That’s why we went for a full-time SOMEONE ELSE HANDLE THIS PLEASE option for the first year. (Well, that and I was worried about the socialization thing.) It would ruin my career, ruin our relationship as mother and son, ruin his education, blah blah blah I COULD NEVER blah blah. Last year as we settled into a sort of half-time homeschooling routine we both managed to get our legs under us and realized the advantages of this particular setup, both academically and quality-time-together-wise. We found our groove; I remember the realization of how grateful I was that we had this option.

I started telling people that I really LOVED homeschooling. Monkey was making fantastic progress on all fronts and the flexibility was nice and I was still managing to work and hey, this isn’t bad at all! What was I afraid of?

Well. Cue the start of this year. FULL TIME HOMESCHOOLING, BAYBEE. For the record, today is Day 4. And today when I said to Monkey, “Go put on your bathing suit” and he grumbled, “Why should I?” I considered responding with, “So that I can drown you in the pond and make it look like an accident.” You know, because I LOVE HOMESCHOOLING SO MUCH.

We’re both getting over a cold, and after a couple of days of waking him up early, I’d let him sleep, this morning. He didn’t get up until after 10—a sure sign that he really needed the rest. But the first thing he did was grouse at me for not waking him. Then he dawdled over breakfast and was reluctant to start working. Fifteen minutes in, he received a notification that a math quiz he took yesterday had been graded, and that’s when things went awry. The quiz was only 10 questions, and he got 3 of them wrong.

A 70% on a quiz is cause for Total Brain Meltdown in Monkeyland, dontchaknow.

At first I tried to go over the quiz with him and see what happened. It quickly became clear; one question he got wrong because he made a careless error, and the second one he just parsed incorrectly, and then the third question hinged on the (now incorrect) answer to the second. No biggie. In the grand scheme of work for this course, this grade barely matters, and he will easily wipe it out with other, higher grades.

But noooooooo. The teacher was wrong. The test was stupid. ANYONE with autism would’ve parsed that problem that way, was I asking him to CHANGE HIS BRAIN?? It’s not his fault he’s autistic! Is this class BIASED against AUTISTIC PEOPLE? I let him rant and rave until he started screaming about how it’s my fault and his dad’s fault that he’s autistic, ANYWAY, so really it’s OUR fault he failed the quiz. He didn’t fail the quiz, but he WAS being an enormous butthead, so I sent him upstairs to cool off.

“You need to stop talking,” I pointed out, and he continued ranting on his way out of the kitchen.

“No, YOU NEED TO STOP TALKING!” he yelled, stomping up the stairs.

He certainly told me. Weird, though, that I haven’t seen that particular scene of family harmony played out in any depiction of homeschooling on TV or in magazines or whatever.

I gave him five minutes, finished what I was working on, then went up to tell him to put on his bathing suit. And when he said, “Why should I?” I didn’t threaten to drown him. Instead I said that we clearly needed to work off some energy and clear our heads, and I’d meet him down by the pool.

And even though I would like to have skipped the meltdown and the yelling, and even though I was annoyed to be delayed on the work I needed to finish, we swam a few laps and discussed today’s biology lesson, and then came back in for showers and lunch. Monkey finished eating, sat down at the computer without complaint, and did his work for the day. He even let me read through an essay before he submitted it, and told me I was “really very good at editing” when we finished.

“Did you want some help wording an email to the math teacher about that one problem you thought was confusing?” I asked. We’d talked about it some in the pool, and he’d maintained that the question was poorly written.

“Nah, that’s okay,” he said. “I know what to look for now, for next time. It’s not a big deal.”

Not a big deal, of course. Except for him, “not a big deal” is a huge, triumphant, amazing big deal.

We shared some potato chips to celebrate when he turned in today’s assignments. Now he’s done for the day, busy playing Minecraft, and I’m doing my own work.

I could NEVER homeschool, you know. I’m not cut out for it. It’s just my very good fortune that Monkey is, I suppose.


  1. Sara

    I remember when you were struggling with this decision and I left comment about how you’d do fine with homeschooling and that Monkey would probably love it. I am so happy to know I was right. :) Seriously though, after the last couple of years you guys deserve to be able to appreciate how much better things are going for your family.

    People tell me all the time that they could never homeschool. The truth is that for many people there is no good other option. Plus I hate getting up early. :)

  2. navhelowife

    That last line is what sums it all up. “I could NEVER homeschool, you know. I’m not cut out for it. It’s just my very good fortune that Monkey is, I suppose.”
    That is the key. Not every child will thrive in public school, not every child would thrive in private school, not every child thrives in a homeschool environment.
    I loved home schooling my boys. But there also came a time when it was no longer working. It’s not just that it was no longer “fun”, it was no longer providing the educational basis my kids needed. And that was sad. But they’ve done fine in public schools, and have discovered new things they are good at, and learned what they needed to learn, for the most part.
    The key, I think, is looking at each kid as a real person, with real needs and real differences in learning and thinking and growing. And in looking at what you, as a parent, have as strengths and weaknesses as well.
    And sometimes just hoping for the best !

    • suburbancorrespondent

      What navhelowife said. There is no one-size-fits-all education solution. Each family and each individual student is different. We have mostly homeschooled (because I’m such a paragon of patience, wouldn’t you know!), but I am constantly re-evaluating our choice in light of how our kids change from year to year. And when they have online courses, I don’t even get involved much. I have found, through much sorry experience, that the last thing most teens can stand (even non-autistic ones) is constructive criticism on their schoolwork from their mothers. I break out into a rash just thinking about it.

  3. Brenda

    I love that there are so many options for homeschooling now. It hasn’t been all that long since I was homeschooled, but it seems so different now (in a good way). Even though I despised being homeschooled with a passion, if I ever have kids I’m game for whatever works best. I do sort of miss the days of easy schoolwork and homework, although my occasional panicked nightmares about being half a semester behind on homework might suggest otherwise. :)

  4. Caz

    Pretty sure a lot of that meltdown was Monkey being a typical 13-year old. As much as I’d love to maintain that I was an angelic teen I am 99.99% sure I had a meltdown of the same epic proportions over some other unjustly-unfair thing that happened to me and how it was all 100% my Mom’s fault and I hated her and wished I’d never been born. Or something like that.

    Embarrassing now, weekly occurrence 14 years ago.

  5. Nichole

    You didn’t get your unicorn? You should contact someone about that.

  6. Anna

    A whole basket full of hearts for you. I love that you have the voice to share your public-to home school journey. This expresses so much of what we all go through- no patience of Job, just the determination based on the needs you have identified for your family.
    I have the same conversations with my 11yo daughter VERY frequently, and I’m finding the “You need to stop talking now” card really, really helpful. She knows what she’s saying is totally untrue, I know she doesn’t mean it, but she’s just spewing in the heat of the moment.

  7. bryan

    My response (and I may have said it to you, or at least just thought it in your general direction) is that when you figure out that your kid needs homeschooling, somehow you summon up the ovaries to do it. Some people are born homeschoolers; others have homeschooling thrust upon them. I was definitely the latter, but I would love to be able to do it again.

  8. Sassy Apple

    When I first began my teaching career (and dinosaurs roamed the Earth) I had great disdain for homeschooling. Who could possibly do a better job educating children than ME?!? Then one day I found myself consoling a friend who was in tears because her special needs daughter was being bullied daily by the other girls in her class (and NOTHING can compare to tween girls’ sly cruel torture) I was horrified by her story and realized a child’s emotional well-being was more important than ANYTHING I was teaching. I have never forgotten that lesson.

    Bravo Mir!

  9. Ann Woodruff

    Loved this post….and that you titled it “You don’t know until you do it”….which in the grand scheme of life is pretty universally true. I do home school, but it looks differently than most of my friends…..and you…and so many others. THAT is what makes it work. Few kids will thrive on the “conveyor belt” of public education. Sounds like Monkey has figured out a lot and learned so much more than academics today! Three cheers for him!

    • TC

      Actually, MANY kids thrive on the “conveyor belt” of public education. Just not all. And just not all the time. But why the judgmental and demeaning phrases like “conveyor belt” to describe the well-thought-out decisions other people make about how their children should be educated? It’s hurtful and unnecessary.

  10. Lucinda

    I said for years I could never home school my daughter. It wasn’t because I thought home schooling was overly hard or that I wasn’t cut out for it. It was because I knew my daughter. She and I would clash and it would never work. Eventually I gave in and we tried it. It lasted 2 months before I sent her butt back to public school because she was refusing to do any work at all. I mean hardcore refusal and since this was something she had asked for, I didn’t believe I should work harder at it than her. Long story short, she ended up with an amazing teacher, finished out a successful year at public school and the home schooling conversation has been put to rest.

    My point? When I say those words, it’s about me and my daughter and our dynamic and how I always knew it wouldn’t work. Nothing more or less. I suspect the same holds true for many others. It works for you because it is the best choice for your family. Just like many others. And I’m so glad.

  11. Lisa Kay

    In a couple of weeks, we will begin our ninth year of home schooling. When we started, waaay back when, I imagined us being this happy, carefree homeschooling family that would cheerfully practice math facts while running errands and gleefully rattle off the capitols of all the states while fixing dinner together while the sun shined and birds chirped on our window sill.
    Ummm…I stopped trying to drill math facts or spelling words in the car after hearing, “Mommmm, we’re not in SCHOOL!” for the eleventy-jillionth time. I love home schooling, and I would not do it any other way. But it isn’t all sunshine and roses and my unicorn went on strike when my daughter hit second grade. (Heck, I practically went on strike when she was in second grade! It was a TOUGH year!) One thing that I do know is that when The Kids hit eighteen and head off to college or wherever, I will feel great satisfaction in knowing that the one thing that I will not say is, “Gee, I wish we had spent more time together!”

  12. ~zandra~

    I homeschool my 14 and 8 year olds and have from the very beginning. And yes, I despise when someone tells me “Oh, I could *never* homeschool!” Well, you could, if you wanted to, or needed to, or whatever. I’m not trying to be Supermommy, it’s just a part of our lifestyle. Had someone say it to me the other night, in fact, and I bristled, but I’m not going to convince someone otherwise unless they specifically ask if I think they can do it.

  13. Brigitte

    Wish I could hit “Like” on a lot of the comments! I’m guilty myself of saying I could never homeschool, but I guess it’s a case of Never Say Never, if your child needs it, you do it!

  14. Melissa M.

    I’m sending my oldest child off to college in two weeks. We homeschooled her from day one, and it’s nice to be able to say that some of that learning must have stuck in her brain. Also, she wants to be a concert pianist, and she could never have found four hours a day to practice if she’d been at a public school (New York is crazy with the homework). I’m still homeschooling the younger two, and while my unicorn galloped off with a herd of wild horses years ago, it works for us. I figure that I taught my kids for the first five years of their lives. I can just keep doing it. Plus, it keeps the quadratic equation fresh in my head.

  15. Leanner

    Reading this post gave me the warmest fuzzies. I’ve been reading your blog for many years and it simply made me smile to hear about how well everyone is doing now (meltdowns and all 😉. It also helps calm my concerns about the future for my young Aspie. He’s in a fantastic K-8 charter school currently and hopefully will be able to continue there until he finishes middle school. However we know every year is different and we work on sticking to our baby steps, taking time to reflect back and appreciate the many accomplishments. Congratulations to you and your family for persevering in order to now be in such a good place.

  16. Pam F.

    I don’t hear “I could never homeschool” as much as I hear “I wish I could homeschool, but I can’t.” I always just smile, because at the end of the day we all do what we need to make it work for our kids. I knew you could make it work!

  17. Chewie

    Ah yes…and then last week a discussion group leader from church said to me “another homeschooled kid is joining our group this week…he, like yours, is likely needing some socialization since the only time he gets it is at church on Sundays.”

    I just sort of stood there…and the thought cloud above me grew so full it hung low…but I just said, “Oh..that’s nice..we know that kid.” Cause sometimes I just don’t have the energy to fight for homeschooling. so I let the results speak for themselves. My kids are so social I’m worn out from the meet and greets, but I didn’t have time to stop the momma taxi long enough to school this man. HA

    We do what we must to make it work for our children, don’t we? Now if someone would give me a homeroom helper to keep up on grading, I would be eternally grateful!

    p.s. don’t even get me started on the dumb things I hear regarding the kids’ adoptions..walking through life with four kids of different hues who are homeschooled…I should have just painted a red target on my forehead on day one! HA

  18. Daisy

    I found both the post and the comments fascinating and inspiring – seriously, because I go back to school in my role as Virtual School Teacher in a few weeks. Or sooner. I try not to look at the calendar too often in August.

    But in all truthfulness, I have had a handful of students on the spectrum each year I’ve taught at this unique public charter school. It can be a great way to excel academically without the social pressure and – you know the rest.

    Have a great year — all of you.

  19. Kyle

    Many years ago, an acquaintance got mad at our public school and decided to home school her children – a feisty group of four, ages 5 – 13. The oldest flatly refused and stayed in school. She home schooled the others for a month before sending them back to school. She wasn’t prepared for the time and effort involved.

    Home schooling is an incredible responsibility. I admire you for giving your child what he needs.

  20. Asha Dornfest {Parent Hacks}

    You have put into your beautiful words exactly my experience with homeschooling. I, too, “never thought I could do it,” and said so many, many times. And then I did it, and it didn’t look, sound or feel like what I thought it would. We did it. Many days were hard, messy, with no visible progress. But, in hindsight, not a single day was unproductive.

    My son has been back in public school for the last two years. Proud and thrilled as I am for him (he’s happy and thriving), I would be lying if I didn’t say I miss that time together. Amazed to say that as many of those days contained rants and refusals. But there was so much gold there, too.

  21. Heather

    Awww I <3 grammar ;-) Glad you and Monkey are finding your balance!

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