The moment when I feel great

We are at an indoor-playground type place, and it’s all boys, from about five to ten years old

The place is sort of out of the way. The moms talk about how they had to drive twenty or thirty mintues to get here. They ask me how long my drive was.

I say, “Two hours.” And I can feel tears coming. Because the driving is too much. I don’t think I can do it. I say, “I know this isn’t working. I’m coming up with a new plan. I have only been homeschooling a few months.”

The moms try to be supportive but I can tell they think I’m out of my mind.

I am scared to respond to emails on my iPhone because the moms are knitting and breastfeeding four-year-olds. It’s not a work-from-the-playground sort of group. And I want to fit in. So I stare into space.

The boys are running and screaming and they don’t slow down for an hour. Then they line up and appear to choose teams and pair off.

Then, on the floor, wrestling. Standing on each other, dragging each other by the feet, rolling around like new puppies in spring grass.

I say to the group of moms, “They could never do this in school.”

And another mom says, “Yeah, it takes all a teacher’s energy just to make sure this doesn’t happen.”

This is the moment, so far, when I have been most certain that my son does not belong in school.

16 replies
  1. Christina @Interest-Led Learning
    Christina @Interest-Led Learning says:

    We have a place like this only two minutes from my house. I wish yours was closer :( My son and daughter would absolutely love playing with your boys. A big part of their days involve wrestling and running around, even cooped up in the house during the winter.

    Your post was so refreshing. You are so honest in all your feelings, whether it’s joy or frustration. I loved the quote by the other mom you were with. I’m a former public school teacher, and it really is all about restraining kids from what they do naturally. Boys especially are biologically built to move – a lot! When we take that away, we are doing them much harm. I believe that’s a lot of where adult male agression comes from in our society – they didn’t have a safe way to release that energy when they were growing up.

    Take care. I look forward to reading your posts.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I like hearing this from a teacher. Sometimes I think things are true but then I think to myself: no, it’s too crazy, this can’t be true. Hearing that a teacher thinks school is focused on restraining boys’ movement – that makes me feel better.


  2. Leanna
    Leanna says:

    Great post. I’d tell you it gets easier, but that’s not necessarily true. Thank goodness for these little moments to remind us why we homeschool, when so much of our time is spent second-guessing ourselves and feeling overwhelmed.

  3. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    It’s too bad many public school teachers are not allowing some roughhousing among the kids. At least it seems so. I think a long, long time ago when I was in elementary school we were allowed to play … really play as you have described here. I did a search for “roughhousing” to see what’s being mentioned about it on the Internet. I found this book on Amazon – ‘The Art of Roughhousing’ ( ) – recently written by an M.D. and a PhD (Psychology) that has many favorable reviews. It really strikes me as ironic that one of the big reasons you previously had for having your youngest go to school was so that he could play and roughhouse with the other kids.

  4. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    Penelope, your homeschooling insights and honesty is totally refreshing. In our work at North Star we deal with parents anxieties about their decision to homeschool all day, and often it’s voices like yours that help them feel less alone.

    This post in particular reminded me of number 2 on this list of guiding principles for homeschooling/unschooling:

  5. Karen
    Karen says:

    I find the contradictions of your life fascinating. You want, or more likely need, the peace and calm of the farm and any other somewhat rational person would concede that this is a choice that limits the range of opportunities your kids have regarding activities, lessons, etc. You will instead make sure that they still have access to all of it even if it kills you. You have taken on the job of homeschooling your boys even though it is interfering dramatically with a career that is extremely important to your sense of self. Some might call you crazy; I believe you’ve called yourself crazy but I don’t think that’s quite right. I think that you love your boys unspeakably and they are very, very lucky to have you.

  6. Gwen
    Gwen says:

    I don’t understand why you want to fit in with the mom’s so much. It’s been my experience that if the kids get along and the parents act with a minimal amount of decorum, you get invited back.

    I always have a few books on my phone, and I check my email whenever I want. I bring a laptop and a cell modem. Occasionally the other parents invite me into conversations, and if I’m not swamped with work, I engage. If I’m swamped with work, I am polite and talk the minimal amount and go back to work.

    As long as you don’t make giant errors like telling the mom nursing the four year old “you know, there’s no real benefit after two years and you’re just doing that for you,” it’s all good.

    I’ve never been big on myers briggs, but I’m an INTJ, to give you some perspective. People seem to intuit that pretty quickly. They seem to get that I’ll bend over backwards to help someone who needs it, but please don’t ever make me go shopping or talk about the weather. (Well, unless, of course, the weather discussion is scientific in nature.)

    The point is, the other homeschooling parents don’t seem to hold my behavior against my children.

    One other thing I’ve learned over my years of homeschooling. I only schedule driving events for three days a week. Co-ops, play dates, extra lessons, … all happen on the same three days. On those three days, I don’t try and get any school work out of the kids. (Daddy reading Huck Finn to them at night? Nah, that’s not school work. Mommy listening to a neurobiology audio in the car on the way to a play date, nah that’s school work. Mommy and daddy watching NOVA. Nah, that’s not school work. They learn a lot from that stuff and it shows later on, but they don’t feel like they’re doing school.)

    This gives me a break. Driving sucks. I give myself four days a week of non driving. The kids don’t get play dates on those days. That’s fine. They play with each other.

    • Karen
      Karen says:

      This is my experience with other homeschool mom’s too. Our group gets together every week for swim lessons and some social time at the library afterwards. I’m also an INTJ and not really into chitchat so I’ll frequently go off to the stacks by myself and it doesn’t seem to offend anyone.

  7. katie
    katie says:

    Check your phone. Be you. Life’s too short not to, and you know it.

    OTOH, knitting is fun too. :)

    Don’t try to fit in. Be you.

  8. kristen
    kristen says:

    School is awful..blah,blah, blah. Ok, now that we’re past that on which we can agree, how are you going to manage all the driving? I’m waiting with baited breath to see how this story turns out. I, too, live on a farm and have honestly considered going even deeper into debt to buy a condo in the city. I want to eat my cake and still have it too. I’ve also thought about how fantastic a farm upringing is for little boys but once they are teens perhaps we should migrate back to the city. My husband says we can come visit him on the farm. :(
    My eldest will read for as long as we drive but my younger one isn’t there yet. And he may never be. He is more active and doesn’t like to sit still for that long. What to do? What to do? Well, we’re not homeschooling for another 3 years so we have some time to figure it out…and see how you do it. Thanks, keep blogging.

  9. Rachelle
    Rachelle says:

    When my son was diagnosed with a social deficit I was told that I should take him to the Early Years Centers so he could socialize with other kids.

    It was awful, I too wanted to fit in but stuck out like a sore thumb. I had to take calls while I was there, and was surrounded by clickey women of a very different cultural group. They would sit around and talk in another language. I did not enjoy it at all but my son did but not really for social reasons…he just went off by himself and played with lego. All round fail.

  10. Pamela
    Pamela says:

    Best post yet! We went to one of those places a few weeks ago and you could just feel the joy in my kiddo for a couple of days. And I had the same reaction as you did–this is the right path, this is the right path.

    I will admit, however, that the noise in ours was nerve rattling. Fortunately, most weeks we’ve got our park playdate, which is a little quieter.

  11. Amy
    Amy says:

    I love these moments. I remember my first one; My sons and I were eating lunch and my oldest stretched out his hand into mine. We held hand while we ate. I kept thinking to myself ‘If he were in school we would not have this moment together.’

  12. Will King
    Will King says:

    “Cliches are truths repeated so often they lose meaning”

    My grandfather always told me that, and in this case, it’s true – Boys will be boys.
    At this point in history, it probably should be changed to “Boys should be allowed to be boys”
    They need that rough-and-tumble, the symbolic violence and the competition. It helps them find their place in the world, burn off the testosterone and learn. In our tightly-controlled, litigious society, that sort of behavior is just not allowed. When you keep the lid on it so tight, though,
    the pressure will vent in other ways.

    As to fitting in with the group – The only thing you have in common is a desire to let your boys play. Staring off into space doesn’t make you fit in, rather it would make you stand out more. Answer your emails – your kids don’t need you, and there’s really nothing that you gain from ‘fitting in’ with that group – it’s the playground that facilitates the kids’ interaction, not the parents.

    Eventually, your children will develop their own web of relationships and you won’t be needed to do more than chauffeur them to their own playdates.

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