There was an essay contest, and I wrote a piece for it. And then, I wrote another piece. And what I couldn’t rectify is that my life isn’t really made up of single decisions. It is a world of decisions each and every day that could have gone differently. Little moments defining and shaping character in the mundane. And in my quandary and my inability to edit my writing, I missed the deadline to win my $3000 and a trip to New York. Alas, all is well. Because now I still own my writing and can share it here, with you. Here is one of several answers I could have written.
What Single Decision Changed Your Life?
“Are you Christian or hippie?”
I stared, a little confused, not understanding the question. She went on to explain that the only other person she’d met that homeschooled children had told her that all homeschoolers were either Christian or hippie. (That other person turned out to be my future homeschooling momma friend who falls squarely into the hippie category. I mean, she’s certified La Leche and she makes her own sunscreen.)
Meanwhile, I was standing in this woman’s Annie Sloan paint shop, holding a quilted cloth bag I had sewn myself, wearing a tank and shorts and a bandana doorag for hair decor, when she asked me that question. And I believed in Jesus. Oh, the indecision was excruciating!
The main problem with my internal struggle was not exactly how I might answer the question, but that I would have been mistaken for any kind of homeschooling momma in the first place. I hadn’t actually started homeschooling anybody just yet. It was summer. All I had done to that point was pay sixty five dollars so that I could legally pull my kids out of the public school system and join a private accountability group. So maybe, technically, I was a homeschooler. But seriously, I was clueless.
It all started when my husband, Michael, took a job that moved us from our big capital city with a NASA public school and a park in our front yard to a small farming community with an overtaxed school district and overcrowded classrooms. One small, southern Baptist, private school offered our only nearby alternative. While touring the public elementary school, I just kept asking over and over again how they met the needs of their students. The principal, my tour guide, continued to point out the new iPads and bulletin boards in order to reassure me they had it all under control. In the first grade, the student ratio could be as high as 28:1 before the district would send in help. No assistants. One literacy coach or reading recovery employee per school. In order to qualify for thirty minutes a week with said employee, a student must be two grade levels behind in reading. Coming from my sweet suburbia with a 12:1 ratio in first grade and assistants provided and support staff available, I wasn’t quite sure what to do. Our little one struggled with reading, but at this rate, he wouldn’t qualify for help. The principal offered the PE coach as a tutor, if we got to school before 7am. All I could think was that I had quit my sweet part time job to do this whole move for the husband’s career, and now that the little one was going off to school, I had plans. Career re-entry was on my horizon. It was time to go back to work. And that school tour was messing with me.
At the end of the tour, I shook that principal’s hand, told him thank you, and that I’d see him in the fall. He answered back with doubt about our reunion and went back to his office, leaving me wondering what in the world he could mean. There were only two choices – his school or the southern Baptists – and I really wasn’t aiming for devotionals in math class.
Back in the city, several friends had gone the whole homeschool route, and I had laughed, saying they were C.R.A.Z.Y. Yet somehow they must have planted that seed, because some nights later, I told Michael I wanted to consider homeschooling. His main concern was that I would become overly stressed and take it out on him when he got home from work. Or worse yet, make him teach the kiddos something. I promised that just. would. not. happen. (Wives and husbands everywhere know I was totally lying through my teeth at this point.) We agreed to let the idea sit with us for a week before making any rash decisions.
The next morning, the kiddos had soccer, and when I walked up to the field, an old friend was standing there. First thing out of Dee’s mouth, she blurted, “Don’t think we’re crazy, but we’ve made a big decision. We’re homeschooling next year!” And with Michael standing right there, I ran up, hugged her, and exclaimed, “We are too! How wild is that?!” Poor, poor, Michael. He never stood a chance.
In that brief moment, a random encounter with a rare friend in a parking lot out of town, I impulsively declared a path that changed my whole family.
Four years later, we have started another year of homeschooling. We’ve all grown up quite a bit in these past seasons. I work harder than I have ever worked before. Life is very, very different than any of us imagined. Our educational lessons now extend far beyond classroom walls and seven hours for 180 days. We can also more easily handle the questions thrown at us, such as Christian or hippie? Inclusive is the correct answer, by the way.
We are inclusive. We soon discovered that homeschoolers are what I affectionately call fringe people. People that dance on the fringe of society. Fringe People. There are a lot of reasons to choose to educate children at home, and no one family holds the same reason. Therefore, it is easy to band together as a minority, but it is also easy to segregate because of the plethora of differences. We have attempted fitting in the various boxes to no avail. Years one and two hosted many trials with other people’s boxes. Year three held the dream for something more. And this year, we embark on a new journey, an educational cooperative that two friends and I designed ourselves. It is aptly named Learn Bravely.
Sometimes we play the What IF game at our house. And then we thank our Jesus we chose the winding, hippie, occasionally rocky, path we did. Me with a spontaneous declaration to a trusted friend, Michael with his support for his slightly off kilter wife, and the kids with their enthusiasm for adventure – I wouldn’t change any of it. And none of it would have been possible if we hadn’t made the leap, however C.R.A.Z.Y. it may sound.