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.