Monday, August 24, 2009

Great Big Year of Learning

My oldest daughter is going back to public school this year. After six years of homeschooling, she has an unquenchable desire to be around middle school girls. Not really a surprise. She never was a homeschool poster child. She never snuggled on the couch in rapturous love of read alouds. She never begged for the next hands on project.

On the contrary, Lonna watched the school bus go by and wished she was on it. She despised field trips and homeschool classes. She turned up her nose at pretty much every attempt I made to accommodate her learning style and interests. Lonna is a good learner, but she doesn't love to learn. She's not an academic. She just wants to be like her perception of everyone else, and she's still young enough to believe that's a goal that can actually be obtained.

So even though it literally goes against what I said I stand for, I'm sending my baby off to 8th grade on Wednesday. And even though we've known it's coming for a long time, it's almost unbelievable.

I've been thinking a lot about the first day of Kindergarten. I remember her so clearly standing in front of our house, posing for a picture with her seemingly giant backpack dwarfing her tiny, lovable cuteness. I remember walking her to her class while holding her hand just a little too firmly. I remember managing to hold back the tears just long enough to get to the parking lot. Then I let it all flow, sniffling and snotting the whole drive to work. I was a mess. This whole growing up thing wasn't at all what it was cracked up to be. I wanted to be the one to teach her things. To watch her grow and to share her life. Instead, we scurried through night after night of crazy busyness after I got home from work. Our lives lived separately. Our experiences individual rather than common. Homeschooling wasn't even in my vocabulary at that time, but my heart knew what I wanted, even though I didn't have the word to name it.

I also remember distinctly two years later when I went to her classroom to pack up her things for the last day. We were pulling her and her brother out of public school to embark on a new journey. Homeschooling. God had made a way in a way that I didn't even realize was a possibility. Just like something He would do! There was much trepidation and confusion, but there was an underlying support of faith and truth. We were doing the right thing. We were living our lives together. Whenever I planned for the future, I never calculated one of the kids going back to public school. Never once was it a possibility. Until it became a reality.

Homeschooling is not an educational choice. It's a lifestyle choice. It's who we are and how we interact. It's the rhythm of our day and the structure of our lives. If you don't live it, that won't make any sense, but if you do, you know how it's so much more than you can quantify or describe. It's an alternative lifestyle. It's against the norm. But it's our normal. It's us. We're homeschoolers. And now, our lives will never be the same. It's not just as simple as sending Lonna to school. It doesn't just change her life. It changes all of our lives.

I'm still trying to process this new dynamic. I look at my schedule and somehow my brain just can't grasp that she will be gone for almost 8 hours a day. I can't believe she won't be reading her History in the recliner with the cat on her lap. I can't fathom that she won't be complaining about those read alouds. I can't imagine that I won't be able to look at her face when I want to, just because I want to. I can't bear the thought of a house without her voice in it five days a week. It literally hurts with a crushing ache when I think about the depth of the level that I will miss her.

But I also know without a doubt that it's the right thing to do. I've always been quick to wax in poetic argument about how wonderful homeschooling is. How it is one of the best things that ever happened to our family. But the flip side of that argument also pertains. If I truly believe what I say, that homeschooling lets each family member reach his or her full potential, I have to also entertain the possibility that it doesn't work for one of my own family members. I've never been anti-public school. Rather, I bill myself as pro-family. What works for some families doesn't work for others. Don't just blindly follow our society's model. You don't HAVE to send your kid to school. Women don't HAVE to be career driven. There is another way. I advocate choosing what's best for your individual family. Not all mothers are built for homeschooling. There's no shame in that. Not all kids are built for homeschooling. There's no shame in that. But realizing that one of those kids is mine??? I did feel shame in that.

I felt like a failure. Like I didn't do enough for her. Like I just wasn't enough for her. But I finally realized it isn't me. Lonna is an individual. Doing what's best for her means saying she needs to go to school. Not because I can't teach her, but because I CAN teach her. I can teach her that I respect her and her choices. Even when they aren't the ones I would make for her.

So, this week, I sacrifice my dream of the idyllic homeschool. I lay aside my own plans. I let Lonna take the lead. She still looks so small to me, like the picture on the first day of Kindergarten. I guarantee I'm going to sniffle and snot my way through this day, too.

We're going to be a different family in many ways, but we're still us. Public school or homeschool. We're us. Nothing changes that. We're continuing to learn together, and as everyone knows, you learn the most from the lessons that are the hardest. My great big year of learning...starting now.

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