I don’t set my alarm in the morning. I wake up to the sound of Gideon, my preschooler, playing with his dinosaurs in falsetto voices and an occasional roar. Guinea pigs are squeaking as nine-year-old Kyler and seven-year-old Suzanne are feeding them breakfast and stroking their fur. My toddler, Eliza, throws her leg over me, opens her big blue eyes, and pushes her golden hair back from her face. She grins at me and says, “Bee cereal, Mommy?” She wants some Honey Nut Cheerios. We get out of bed and make our way to the kitchen. It’s nine o’clock in the morning on any random weekday, and everyone has eaten breakfast except for the two of us.
I ask if anyone has gotten ready for the day. These are code-words for being dressed with a bed made, teeth and hair brushed, and pajamas put away. Of course they haven’t. I have barely made my coffee and eggs. I sit down at the table with my laptop and take care of my online business while I eat and direct children in their chores. Chores take longer with little people helping, and often there are giggles and shrieks from playing or fighting.
Today is a grocery day. When we go to checkout at Crest, the clerk looks confused and asks if school is out that day. When I tell her that I homeschool, I’m guaranteed one of the following responses: “I don’t have enough patience.” “That’s great, if you can do it.” “How do you know they are learning the same as other kids their age?” “My kids don’t listen to me the way they listen to their teacher.” “What about socialization?” Or perhaps I receive comments from her about maintaining a clean house or how hard it must be to take care of the errands. She can’t imagine being a stay-at-home mother for eighteen years. “Do you ever get a break”, she asks. She says she had to work or she would have gone crazy.
I understand that every comment is stemmed from a fear that other person holds and that these fears can be overcome. I’m not a super-mom. I just have different priorities. My priorities challenge these fears. I work at finding solutions when a struggle has come up just like parents working within a school system do for their children to succeed.
I find that homeschooling my children develops my character. I don’t have patience naturally, but patience has been developed within me. Finding balance in my life, friends of my own, and time to enjoy my own interests helps me with patience. In order to keep homeschooling, I have to ask for help, and I have to avoid burn-out.
My school motto is “quality, not quantity”. Because of this perspective, I have found they need far less direction than most people assume. They aren’t being given as much memorizing and stuffing of their brains with things they don’t care about at that point in time. They are being given a taste of a new idea that leaves them begging for satisfaction and searching for answers. I’m honest with them when I tell them I don’t know the answer, and they are learning how to be resourceful to satisfy their curiosities. I find they are learning to take me seriously and be appreciative of my help when it’s given.
I remind myself not to compare my children to other children, because we study different subjects than other schools at different times. I don’t take down grades. We don’t repeat the same work. I circle mistakes, and my child corrects it. If the understanding isn’t there no matter how I address it, we let it go, and I see the connection made in another way, usually through living life. I don’t test their skill level or comprehension separately from lessons and life. This keeps my record-keeping down significantly.
I sometimes worry that they aren’t getting enough time with peers, but then I see them socializing easily with other people when they have the chance. I know that they will have more chances as their world broadens—as they gain more freedom with age and responsibility. I’m glad that for the time being, they focus on and get excited by their own passions without social distractions.
My children have tight and individual friendships with each other and with the few close friends we spend time with. These relationships teach them how to resolve conflict. They learn to tolerate the stages of children who are younger or older than they are, because they don’t have the luxury of avoiding the sounds of a sleepy, whining toddler or being free of the bossy older child. They don’t get the same treatment as people around them all day long every day of the year, and they are used to understanding that people need different things at different times.
The hardest part of homeschooling for me was the idea of being a stay-at-home mother once I felt the calling to midwifery. I suddenly understood why some women wanted to work. I struggled against following a career path from 2004 until 2010, but then, I couldn’t resist following my dream anymore. To serve women in childbirth the way my midwife served me became an important life purpose rivaling that of motherhood itself.
Then, I found a compromise. I challenged the notion that a homeschool had to have a full-time teacher to be successful. With only four children at different skill levels, I don’t have to spend as much time teaching as a teacher of thirty children in a classroom does anyway. The amount of time I spend directing their practice work, reading to them, listening to them read aloud, or taking them on field trips is the same amount of time that a mother of a student of public school spends with her children doing the same things in the name of “homework” and “school involvement”.
The difference between our school and any other school they could be in lies in the way they spend their time when I’m not “schooling” them. If they aren’t set in front of a television or video game for hours, they spend more time creating their own learning experiences based on their own questions. Why do I get zapped when I rub the ground and touch something? What do I need to gather to create this sock puppet? How do I spell the word “ocelot”? They are constantly learning, and they don’t wait until school time to do it. They don’t question if they can make snacks or tea for everyone or follow instructions to create a science experiment out of a new book from the library. I find that my second and fourth graders do not need as much supervision when I lay down safe boundaries.
As an added perk, we have freedom in our days that compliments a flexible lifestyle. We can spend time catching up on inside work when the blazing heat of the Oklahoma August sun threatens to send human beings into dehydration or stroke. We aren’t restrained to spend hours in traffic picking up children from school. I can turn an academic or networking opportunity for myself into a vacation or field trip for the children, or at the very least, they can pack bags of their own interesting books and activities to sit quietly in a childbirth meeting.
My children meet midwives regularly, and they know what a doula is. A doula provides labor support, and it’s what I am hired to do while I’m slowly pursuing midwifery. At seven years old, my oldest daughter says she wants to be a midwife’s assistant when she grows up. Maybe she will be. She sits with me near my textbook copying the words and drawing pictures of babies in mother’s wombs. She is upset when I tell her she isn’t invited to a birth, for she has been invited before. My daughter played in a birth pool with a client’s daughter while the mother labored through birth contractions. In the next hour, both girls were wrapped in towels, sitting on the laps of friends, and watching the mother birth her baby into her own hands. Sometimes, the kids have their father home from work unexpectedly or a friend over to babysit, so that I can serve another family. When I return the next morning, they recognize a shining upon their mother’s face, and they know I’ll share another story with them. It’s the story of parenthood: of overcoming struggle, of grace, and of joy.