My son has been having hour-long cello lessons for the last year. His new teacher wants him to do half-hour lessons. She says a cellist must learn to approach the craft with focus and intensity. She says he first needs to learn to sustain it for a half-hour. I want that approach for everything he does, and for everything I do, too. But I can’t help thinking that we could sidestep the labors toward intensity by popping an Adderall before the lesson.
We are going to the Apple store because they give free, one-on-one classes. I’m so excited that I don’t have to teach my kids how to add a movie to his blog. The Apple guy is going to do that. And I don’t have to teach my other son to find cool apps on the iPad. The other Apple guy is going to do that. I was never a die-hard Apple user until now. Until Apple made me love that I live in Wisconsin, where it seems that no one else signs up for one-on-one education.
I’ve started lesson plans for math and Hebrew to meet monthly goals. I worry that the kids learned to read Hebrew way faster than I thought they would. Maybe we should move on to Spanish.
And then I think: Maybe I should not invest in Spanish curriculum because this morning my husband left. He said he was leaving only for the day, because the next day he wants me and the kids out of the house for good.
This is not new for us. I mean, us fighting and me reporting it is not new. But if he really does throw me and the kids out of the house, I’d need a lot of cash. Fast. And then I started thinking about what I’ll tell the kids if he’s not back by the time they wake up.
How does anyone think about curricula when life is so hard?
I am making a list of things I don’t like to do that maybe could count as homeschool projects:
Dusting the floor boards.
Cooking Spaghetti 0’s.
Cleaning out my car.
Calling my dad to say hi.
Now that we do not have to prepare for impending strict hours of the start of school, we are visiting family more. Relatives ask if I’m really going to homeschool. They ask it like they can’t believe it and they have to hear it in person.
They ask questions like, “What about high school?” I think, “What about next week?”
I am worried about next week. Should I sign my six-year-old up for two hip hop dance classes, or only one?
He can spin on his head. My six-year-old. I taught him a headstand, thinking I was teaching him yoga. I know that children who are optimistic are happier as adults. So I decided I would teach my kids optimism. And people who do yoga every day have more optimism.
My son did not think of the headstand as a yoga move. He remembered the spinning headstands we watched high schoolers do in Central Park.
I remember the moment he saw it. He was freezing because I told the kids to pack light because New York City is not as cold as the farm, and then it was. And my son had to pee and he wanted to pee in the park, on the grass, and I kept saying, “This is not a farm.”
I want to tell my family that I am focused on optimism, not high school, and when the boys are in their teens, we’ll go to New York City and spin on our heads.
When I brought my first baby home from the hospital, I thought, “Now what? What do we do now?”
And that feeling has never completely disappeared.
I still worry that when I have uninterrupted time to be with the kids, I just sit with them. I’m not sure what to do.
Now if I feel like when I’m at a loss, I can assign them homework.
I meet with the elementary school principal. I bring her lunch so it feels more like friends having lunch and less like I am the most demanding and unsatisfied parent in the school.
I’m a half-hour late, which is an improvement from last time, when I missed our time slot completely. The principal is incredibly forgiving. She has a son with autism and understands, more than most people how I can be brilliant at some things and absolutely incapable of doing other, very basic aspects of life.
Sometimes she has an obvious agenda, like when she had to tell me she was sending me to the truancy officer. Sometimes I have the agenda, like this time, when I tell her I’m taking my kids out of school.
She says, “I know. I read your blog.”
I tell her I don’t exactly want to take both kids out. I want the first-grader to come to school three times a week because he loves being around the kids.
She says no. He’ll fall behind.
I point out he’s two grades ahead.
She argues that he’s not gifted, but I think it’s more about setting an example for the other parents.
Parents want to take their kids out for cattle shows in Colorado, and Disney World in November, after the corn harvest is done. The school would go to mayhem.
I show her my doctor’s note. I think it might work. Because no other parent in the district would think to do this. The note says my son is gifted and he needs to go to enrichment classes outside of school two days a week and his mental health depends on this stimulation. I thought it would be good to add the mental health part because it sounded more like a medical thing.
The principal reads the note. Twice. She looks at me and says, “Did the doctor laugh while she was writing this note?”
I get a lot of free books in the mail because my not-homeschooling blog is so big. The topic of all the books is “how to have a great career” and I throw almost all of them out.
When I was dating the Farmer, he used to feed the extra books to the pigs. Now that I actually live on the farm with him I see that was sort of a farm trick. Real farmers wouldn’t do that because the books don’t have enough calories. Pigs won’t get fat on books.
This is the story I tell the boys while I force them to play Art Memory from the Chicago Art Institute. They want Sponge Bob memory, but I promise that if they put up with flipping Picasso instead of Patrick, I’ll tell them a funny story.
I wonder, though, what really is the value of tiny paintings turned face down? I fear the nutritional content might be similar to feeding books to pigs.
I’ve been doing homeschool math experiments all summer with my older son. I started division in April, when I realized it’s a third-grade topic that his third-grade classroom was not going to get to. At this point, we’ve been doing long division for six months and he still can’t do it.
I’ve sat next to him for every long division problem. We used Kumon, and School Zone and random downloads. Nothing works. Today I slammed my hand on the desk and said, “Focus on what you’re doing! You just did this yesterday!”
I broke a lot of blood vessels in my fingers. Not all of them, but just enough so that all day I have this bruised feeling on my hand.
This seems like a good time to tell you that my first job out of college was at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. I was an arbitrage clerk and I used hand signals to tell traders on phones what prices were trading in the open-outcry pits. I did not get the job for any skill; traders in the pit wanted someone good to look at.
So I flashed numbers with my fingers for about three months, and then the Berlin Wall came down. The markets went up and down so fast and I couldn’t remember if numbers were higher or lower than previous numbers.
That day I was fired, and that day I realized that I had a disability. People who struck me as uneducated and stupid were able to keep track of what numbers meant in a market going up and down.
Today my son did the same long-division routine over and over again and he could not see he was learning a system to solve a problem. And everything came back to me. My own math gap, the Wall falling, and the teachers who told me I wasn’t trying my hardest and left me bruised.
I have no business teaching any kid social skills. I have terrible social skills, and my younger son, the one who does not have Asperger’s Syndrome, just amazes me when he can make conversation with anyone. My younger son should be giving us all lessons in social skills. But the truth is that I’m not even sure someone with Asperger’s will learn, because we don’t care. We are fine just not talking.
So I know my son is not going to learn anything about being socially competent at home with me all school year. But I wonder, why does everyone talk so much about social skills in homeschooling?
Maybe really all we need our kids to have is self-knowledge. I understand that my social skills suck and that everyone else wants friends but I am not like that. I understand that I have to be careful what I say to peoples’ faces because people feel uncomfortable around me.
But what about all the people who have careers they hate? How come we are not panicking about that? Are you teaching your kid to deal with having to earn money? Are you teaching your kid that someone is going to tell them what to do every day at work? Because only about ten percent of adults can support a family working for themselves.
Adult life is full of tradeoffs and disappointments, and the people who do the best are those who are forced to learn what they are great at and focus on that, because adults who have the most flexibility in their lives and control over their lives are people who do that. This is the real opportunity for a homeschooling parent.