One of the best resources for a homeschool parent is kids who were homeschooled and are now grown up and hated it. It’s kind of like knowing your personal weaknesses so you can avoid them. It’s always important to hear the negative opinions.

The most common complaint I hear is that kids were sheltered from scientific basics, like evolution, and they blame their parents for keeping them in the dark in the name of religion. That’s a good complaint for me to hear, because I’ll never do that to my kids so it makes me feel safe.

The second most common complaint is that the parents were incompetent at teaching math and science so they let the kids fend for themselves. There’s a good chance that I am guilty of this neglect as well.

I was in my son’s room while he was learning metric conversions, for example, and he didn’t realize that you actually need to memorize the conversions. He thought somehow he’d just figure it out by getting problems wrong and then seeing the right answer. And, actually, he would eventually figure it out, but I think he’d also figure out that he would learn math much faster if someone were helping him.

Then we took a trip to Seattle. (For music camp, of course. It’s always music camp.) My son brought his biology textbook. It’s the type of textbook that I used in high school. Or actually, didn’t use in high school. It’s so heavy that I stopped taking it home with me which means I pretty much stopped doing homework. My high school had a rule that you couldn’t graduate without a science class. But they didn’t have a rule against getting d-minuses, a loophole my teachers mercifully understood.

So anyway, at the airport we had to move the textbook into a different suitcase because it was ten pounds too heavy.

At the camp, which is at a university, we slept on bunk beds in dorms. My cousin slept in the bottom bunk his freshman year of college and his roommate rolled off the top bunk and spent freshman year in traction. I told the kids this story while they complained that I was putting the top bunk mattress on the floor.

Next day. Imagine me, on the mattress on the floor in the midday sun. The textbook is in between me and my son on top of rumpled sheets and he is taking the end-of-chapter comprehension test. I try to think, in hindsight, what in God’s name made me think I could help him with this task. And I think it was the cross stitch project by Alicia Watkins. It is biology, but it speaks to me. Each microbe is quaint and tidy and beautifully envisioned with perfect little x’s. I like needlepoint, even if I’m not great at it, and then I like the Whooping Cough one.


So I thought, I guess, that I like biology.

Now imagine me going through the chapter trying to find the part about hierarchical taxonomy. I try to tell my son what we are looking for. “We are skimming,” I say, as the impatient corner-cutter talking to my rule-following son. I cannot tell him what we are looking for, though, because I cannot pronounce the word taxonomy.

Have I ever heard someone use this word? I don’t think so. I have no idea what it means, but it reminds me of the IRS, which is, after all, very hierarchical.

My son realizes I have skimmed the chapter twice to no avail. He puts his head in his hands. He says, “This is never going to work.” He says, “We can’t do this test.” He says, “This is taking so long.”

I must have post-traumatic stress from the three years it took my son to play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on the violin, the hours of arguing and crying and me telling myself, “I can’t give up. It will be worth it.” I tell him, “We are not doing this again. You are not throwing a fit. I’m not listening to complaining every day for the rest of my life.”

He says, “Mom. I’m dying. I can’t do this. It’s too slow. It’s not working.” He whines with that learning-Twinkle whine.

I skim, telling myself just look for an x. Not many words have an x. But it turns out, in biology, lots of them do.

He says, “Mmmmmoooooooommmmmm.”

And I tackle him.

That’s right. Tackle.

I have a rule in my head. An unbreakable rule: I cannot hit my kids. But tackling somehow seemed okay. I sort of jumped off the mattress enough to get on top of his head. I wrapped my arms around his head, pulled him close and took him down like a football player, and said, “No! We are not doing this again! Stop complaining! I’m just trying to help you! Shut up!”

Then I got up. He was crying.

I told him to go outside and take a walk.

I sat alone, on the mattress, with the biology book. And realized it’s time to get at tutor.