Homeschooling means facing uncertainty

I took the dog to Swarthmore. I didn’t initially. At first I told the boys we were each taking one backpack. And the cello, and the violin, and my laptop.

If you’re wondering how deeply I was in denial that I was really moving, consider that the boys and I wore the same three outfits for one month before I broke down and bought more clothes at Target.

I had my husband bring the dog. He said the dog would get run over in the city.

While I had the dog in one hand and I waved goodbye in the other, he rolled down the car window: “Are you sure? I’m not dropping everything to come back here to pick him up to bury him.”

If you’re wondering how deeply my husband fears his ability to survive in a city, consider that he thinks city people send their dead pets out to the country to be buried.

Now the dog and I wait to find out if my husband is moving here. And we keep on living here while we are not knowing. I thought the dog might entice my husband to stay. The dog is probably thinking the same about me.

I am cooking on a crappy oven while my $12,000 oven is at the farm. So I thought maybe I’d ship it here. I guess I should wait to see if he’s moving here. If he’s not moving here I should leave him an oven. Not that he uses an oven, but it doesn’t seem nice to leave him in a house with no oven. Or maybe I should only ship it here if he doesn’t move here because if he doesn’t move here then we are probably not married anymore and I don’t want him to get the oven.

Do I sound like I’ve lost my mind? Do I sound like I’ve lost track of what problem I’m trying to solve?

Do you know what this feeling reminds me of? Trying to decide to homeschool. I was worried about so many things that didn’t matter (learning to read) and I thought things were interdependent that were not (friends and school).

When you make a big change it’s easy to conflate small problems so they look like big problems. And it’s easy to get sidetracked by issues that have no solution, like, how will I ever feel like I have a home (how will I know if I’m teaching my kids enough?).

Okay. So I’ve been here before. If I could go back to the start of homeschooling I’d tell myself don’t worry so much. Things will be fine.

What is the corollary? I guess don’t worry – if he decides to move here or if he stays on the farm, the kids and I will be fine either way.

Okay. I can see that. But it’s not consoling to me. Which makes me think that people who worry about ovens and curricula are people who choose to worry because it’s comforting.

38 replies
  1. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    I don’t homeschool because I don’t have kids, and I don’t have kids for lots of reasons, and at 48 I don’t regret it for a second.

    But I have been married and then not married, and I have lived with partners and then not lived with them, also for lots of reasons. And one of those partners was a farmer, who was also an academic in Agricultural Economics, so I know a bit of what’s happening in your life.

    The Farmer loves you very much, and wants to be with you, but he can’t say it, and he won’t change, and all of the issues in your marriage will always be there.

    So you have a choice – be happy without him, or unhappy with him. And I think by moving away you have made your choice, even if that’s really painful.

    I left my farmer permanently, returning his key and he said to me that I shouldn’t leave it because I would need it. It was so sad. And I said if I kept the key, I would keep coming back and I needed to live my life differently, so I had to stop coming back.

    If you want your oven, get it, and then buy him a cheap oven if it bothers you that he won’t have an oven, even though he doesn’t use an oven. Leaving an expensive oven that you want is a way of you trying to minimise the pain of leaving. Know this, when the pain of leaving is less than the pain of staying, it’s time to go.

    It is difficult. But it is not your job to fix the Farmer. It is your job to be happy and show your kids that personal happiness is important and staying in bad relationships is a terrible way to live.

    I wish you much luck and good wishes. Thinking of you.

  2. Fatcat
    Fatcat says:

    I feel the opposite of the above poster. I think you should go back to the farm. I think putting your child’s cello playing (if that’s what this is) above everything else in your life is wrong for your life. If your child wants to make sacrifices later for his cello career, that’s his choice, but they say “i can’t set myself on fire to keep you warm” and I don’t think you should completely consume your life and your marriage for your child’s future career. Just an opinion. I’m not you, and I don’t know all the facts, so take this with a grain of salt. And take care of yourself.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Its actually pretty impossible to homeschool on a farm unless you do a very limited curricula. That is, everything for officially sanctioned schooling is available online. But almost nothing for self-directed learning is available if you can’t get it on a farm or in a book.

      No dance.
      No Chinese.
      No music.
      No pottery.
      No international cooking.
      No fashion.

      Of course every location has limitations. But when I have two kids who don’t want to farm and don’t learn from books, being on a farm doesn’t work. It’s stifling.

      Its true that I love learning from books and I love gardening on the farm. But families are about compromise. There are always people who are better suited and worse suited for the life the family is living.

      In my mind, the compromise the kids make — no cello no tutors — is extremely limiting for the rest of their life. Whereas if my husband stops farming for seven years while we raise the kids, we can both go back to the farm after that. To me this is the way each family member gets closest to getting the life they want.

      I’m not saying my thinking is right or not right. But I am saying that Lots of adults make career adjustments fir their families and I think its complete BS that farmers think they don’t have to.


      • Elizabeth
        Elizabeth says:

        I agree. It is BS that farmers shouldn’t have to make compromises, but farming is one of the oldest industries on the planet, and they think if they leave, then their farm will fail.

        I don’t know if the Farmer has enough staff and support that his farm won’t fail, but I suspect it’s all he’s ever done and all he ever expected to do. Asking him to give that up is hard – what would he do?

        If you support him and he can’t make money and he can’t spend most of the hours in the day out in the open air making things grow, what will he do?

      • Bostonian
        Bostonian says:

        I hope this comment helps others see more sense in your recent decisions; it helps me. As a person who chose to raise his children in a city, I can’t disagree with the assertion that many things are more easily pursued in a city. Perhaps it could have turned out differently if the children had been more interested in things they can effectively learn in nature or over the internet?

        As for it being unreasonable that the farmer won’t just leave his farm for seven years, and then go back again… well, he can’t really do that, can he?

        Farming is a low-margin business requiring constant work. The herds need to be managed. The land needs to be tended. New techniques need to be investigated and deployed to remain competitive. You wouldn’t leave your dog alone for the weekend, what should he do with all those pigs and cattle? Hiring someone else to run it in his absence would zero the margin at best.

        It may be true that farming skills don’t grow stale as quickly as, say, IT, but taking seven years off would basically break the business. Being a farmer isn’t like being a teacher or a nurse or a telecommuter, it’s not portable because the land isn’t portable. Asking him to leave his land, sell all his livestock, and shutter his business isn’t asking him for a compromise, it’s asking him to give up.

        There are other possible compromises. Your kids could be ready for substantially more independence much sooner than seven years from now. A shorter span might be crossed with a different type of bridge.

      • BenK
        BenK says:

        Well, this is where the rubber meets the road for the relationship, it seems. That is a serious issue above and beyond education.

        The kids will turn out very differently depending on what they learn, but they can learn amazing things on the farm, or in the city. Many ‘greats’ learned in the periphery. It isn’t the trend in this time of hothouse flowers, however, nor is it a sure thing. The long tail never is secure or certain.

        As for the farm, they say that it takes 10 years to create a garden and 6 months of neglect to destroy it. Look at Mt. Vernon; what George Washington built in his life decayed very rapidly. This is also a serious consideration.

      • Jennifer
        Jennifer says:

        Adults do make career adjustments for their families. but I’ll bet it’s more often the women doing the adjusting. Especially if the man’s job is only available in one area (farm.) And I get what you’re saying about nobody second-guessing parents who move to train their Olympic athlete children, but I’m guessing if those parents had a blog like yours taking comments from people, plenty of them would say “you’re living vicariously through your children” or “you’re stealing their childhoods” or “you’re putting them under too much pressure.” One reason is that not everyone understands that if your child is a genius at something, you must range farther afield to find sufficient challenge for them, and putting them on hold for years waiting to be challenged doesn’t cut it. That said, if both spouses don’t agree to the move, then it may not work out unless you can work out an occasional visiting schedule that works for everyone.

      • Fatcat
        Fatcat says:

        I see what you’re saying about making sacrifices for the music and I sincerely hope it works out for you. I hope your family does not end up being sacrificed because that price seems too high.

        Wishing you the best.

  3. Cáit
    Cáit says:

    I don’t understand why living apart for a few years before your kids turn 18 means divorce. Is this just a passive aggressive way of doing that on your part? I don’t think so actually. Is it that him moving would make you feel loved for certain? I don’t know really what’s going on here.

  4. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    We just moved again for my husband’s career. We seem to move about every three years, so one would think we would be used to it by now, but this move was harder than the others. For one, my youngest child who is 5 years old has made most of her memories at our last house in the LA area, and she was making significant progress in speech therapy. Now she has gone from hotels, to corporate housing, and in another month to our new home in the Minneapolis area. And I have to hope that she doesn’t regress at all with her speech. She is having a difficult time with all the changes. Even as I try my best to minimize them and create short term routines for her. My middle daughter lost all her acting friends. And if she even senses that someone doesn’t instantly love her she starts bawling. My oldest actually got to move near her dear friend, mbl’s daughter. So it’s easier for her because she compartmentalizes exceptionally well.

    The homeschooling feels chaotic, we don’t have any of our books, just a few they brought with their luggage, the rest are all in storage. We don’t have all our technology either. Just my laptop which I loathe to share. No art supplies. No space. Just a view of the capitol building. And cold weather with mostly short sleeve shirts and shorts for the majority of our clothes. I’m sure it will warm up soon!! Right? Right?! Heh…

    So I guess we are going to do this old school. Find a library and go to museums often. Not even a quarter of the options we had as homeschoolers in CA as far as classes and enrichment. My 10 year old is now asking to go to school! I have so many different balls in the air…and I don’t know how to juggle.

    I feel for you! I know our circumstances are different but I know you will make it through this! We both will!

    • Bostonian
      Bostonian says:

      My sympathies are with you, YMKAS. We have had several close brushes with moving in the past five years, and I know the effect on my son would be traumatic.

      If you don’t know how to juggle, try setting one ball or another down for a bit. Your ten year old might enjoy school, or might not – and by the time you figure that out other things may have settled down.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        Thank you for the well wishes everyone. I am very grateful for this little community we have here. :)

        Penelope, it really is exactly that. Little things aren’t little when one moves across country. We are in this weird position of deciding if we want doubles, or even triples of things because everything is in storage. So I bought a coffee pot that is exactly like the coffee pot we have in storage. We need paper and pencils and art supplies and printer paper and a printer! So now I will have more printers than we need when we are done with this move! What do I hold off on and wait until our goods are out of storage? What do I buy doubles of now? We have one pencil and one pen for 5 people. But I have hundreds in storage.

        Bostonian, I could have lived in the LA area forever and been happy. My oldest had all her math and science needs met there. Speaking with people in the twin cities area makes the prospects sound gloomy for her, which is why she is asking to go to middle school next year. It’s hard when people in the homeschool community here tell me outright I won’t find what we had in CA to meet her needs. But with career moves, I am sad to say this probably won’t be the last. We may very well end up on the east coast where this company’s headquarters are, in the next 5-10 years. I hear from my friends who are psychologists that moves like this give kids a huge boost in resiliency. It doesn’t really have any front end benefits it’s not like traveling for vacation, in my estimation the benefits of moving are on the back-end.

        • Bostonian
          Bostonian says:

          YMKAS, I will suggest that a strong desire to learn math and science at the middle school level isn’t among the best reasons to return to school.

          I don’t know about resilience as a singular concept. I think moving helps with moving. It gets easier. I spent 8th grade in one state, 9th in a second, 10th in a third, and the following year (freshman) in a fourth. I was downright adventurous by the time I was eighteen. These days I’d hate to move, but for most of my life picking up stakes wasn’t much of a big deal to me.

          Minneapolis/St.Paul is a major metro area. Surely you can find like-minded folks out there. A cursory search suggests to me that there’s more going on out there for homeschoolers than there is in my area. Hs adventures dot org has a pretty incredible events calendar.

          It’s hard to lose your connections and your routines, but maybe in time you’ll make even better ones. Try to go to some new places as soon as you can, and kickstart your personal geography of the area.

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

            I appreciate your outsider perspective, Bostonian. It’s a lot harder to “see” when it’s all happening in the moment and feels chaotic and disorganized. There is certainly a lot the twin cities has to offer us, much more in the liberal arts arena than we are used to.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thank you for writing about how hard it is to move. I really had to minimize that in my head in order to get bravery to do it. Then I was blindsided. Your comment helps me see how real the problems are. Simple things are hard. Like, I set up the boys loft beds with desks underneath and then felt sad that we brought none of their trinkets so the attached bookshelves are empty. And we did the first night of Chanukkah without menorahs because I didn’t pack candles…


    • jessica
      jessica says:

      Ha! We’re in the same boat. In London, home storage in NYC, hotel apartment as we wait for our new home to be ready.
      Temporary Chaos doesn’t even start to describe it. :)

      I don’t think I could do this again as the kids get older.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        Wow! Yes, jessica, it does sound familiar! We are doing the waiting game for the house as well. Is your family doing a full move to London?! How exciting! We will be in Cork, Ireland several times a year for the foreseeable future.

  5. Elaine
    Elaine says:

    Humans are hard-wired to worry. I recommend The Worry Solution:
    It’s a whole program to work through. Basically, if you can’t do anything about any particular worry, don’t worry about it. If you can do something about it, but you decide you are not willing to do that something, don’t worry about it. If you CAN do something about your worry, figure out what you can do and take action. The whole issue is not simple or easy. But with this system you can eliminate two whole categories of worry fairly quickly, and that’s a good start. And I will admit that clear thinking and decisions in the face of uncertainty can be hard.

  6. Bostonian
    Bostonian says:

    Comparing the frequency of posting now vs the frequency of posting five and a half years ago, one might suggest that the uncertainty involved in whatever PT is doing now is greater than the uncertainty involved in beginning to homeschool.

    I do not wish to be judgmental. I will say that whatever this is looks very sad to me. The dog looks very sad. I hope the children are happy.

    The comment about the dog struck me.

    PT’s interpretation: “If you’re wondering how deeply my husband fears his ability to survive in a city, consider that he thinks city people send their dead pets out to the country to be buried.”

    My interpretation: Home is where the Farmer believes the family belongs in life and after death. It is where he will bury his parents, where he will be buried someday. If the dog is part of the family, the dog should be buried there too. Just putting a dead dog in a trash bag, and flinging it into a dumpster, like city people do, would be inconceivable to him.

    I don’t know how many generations of the Farmer’s family lived on that farm, but the idea he will leave it to move to Swarthmore is absurd. He will continue to make his farm prosper by raising grass-fed beef and heritage pork (if I lived nearby I’d be one of his customers). It looks like a beautiful place, and his business looks to be thriving.

    I hope other previously regular commenters here are doing well.

  7. QP
    QP says:

    I think sometimes we use worrying to feel like we care and have some kind of control. Especially when we don’t have control.

    And it’s not comforting at all to let that go.

  8. Amy
    Amy says:

    Families are separated all the time. A spouse serves in the military, or as a contractor, or endless other reasons. Love causes them to endure. Love, and no ultimatums. IF it is best for the kids to be in a more populated area for their type of learning, Swarthmore is not the only option. There are doubtless college towns much nearer to the farm that have a plethora of tutors and continuing ed/cultural opportunities. It is NOT Swarthmore or the farm. That is a false choice.
    OR if it IS to be Swarthmore, why can’t you go back for a week or so every quarter, or have him come to you during downtimes? And maybe in a while, other options may present themeselves – if the kids go to an arts camp in the summer, you could spend that summer at the farm with him. Or whatever. My point is – the future is unknown for a multitide of reasons. But for today, if love is there, it can/will keep you together.
    PS WHO ON EARTH believes city people put their dead pets in a trash bag in a dumpster as an earlier commenter posted? I’ve found that city people are extremely attached to their pets and go to extremes in cremation/burial. It is the country folk who tie a bunch of kittens in a sack and throw in the creek, right? Geez.

    • MH
      MH says:

      I don’t get why P picked Swarthmore. Chicago is closer to the farmer and has a world class symphony and instructors.

      • Cáit
        Cáit says:

        The real reason is because it’s basically part of the megalopolis and people from the megalopolis find anything to the west a notch down intellectually.
        The real takeaway from this blog should be that the hype about vibrant “liberal”
        cultural centers (college towns) in the middle of nowhere is a joke.

        • Bostonian
          Bostonian says:

          Cait, this comment seems very unfair to me. PT has said specifically that she moved to Swarthmore because a particular cello teacher lives there. I’m sure if the cello teacher her son wanted to study with lived in Cleveland, she would have moved to Cleveland.

          It doesn’t hurt that this teacher works at Juilliard, usually considered to be the best conservatory in the country – or that the place frequently considered to be the second best conservatory in the country, Curtis, is right there in Philadelphia. The top seven conservatories are pretty much all somewhere in “the megalopolis” between Philly and Boston, so the odds were pretty good they’d be headed this way in pursuit of music.

          But a little farther down the list you get Cleveland Institute of Music, the San Francisco Conservatory, Peabody, Eastman, Oberlin, Jacobs… If the teacher worked at Jacobs and lived in Bloomington, instead of working at Juilliard and living in Swarthmore, would this still be some sort of copout to you?

          • Penelope Trunk
            Penelope Trunk says:

            Wow. You know a lot about the music world, Bostonian. We looked into so many of the cities/conservatories on your list. And if Swarthmore weren’t a possibility we’d probably be at Bloomington.


          • Bostonian
            Bostonian says:

            PT, I do know a lot about the music world. It’s not because I think my son is a prodigy; I don’t. He loves music, loves it, and spends hours on it each day, and it is wonderful. He does well in his orchestras, he really enjoyed junior districts, and his voice is finally stabilizing again (he’s a bass!). But he isn’t winning any concerto competitions, and I don’t see him being invited to From the Top any day soon except as a supporter. A lot of kids at his conservatory have a steeper trajectory. And that is fine with both of us.

            I know a lot about the music world for two reasons: first, I come from a family that is full of musicians on both sides. Within two generations we have a bluegrass fiddler, a heavy metal bassist, a lieder singer, a jazz clarinetist, an opera professor, and a whole lot of folkies. Second, I spend most of Saturday at a major conservatory listening to other conservatory prep parents and students. I hear them play, I hear about what they do, and I hear about where they go.

            This is why I believe it to be true that you couldn’t find appropriate instruction for Zehavi in Chicago after a certain level. You had to move from Suzuki to traditional European methods to progress, and you had to move closer to a real conservatory. Because it is hard to find someone, as you said, who will teach a cello concerto to an 11 year old. At a major conservatory, however, this happens every day.

            It is also why I encourage you to find peers for your son, so he is not going this path alone. It is not necessary for him to be alone, because there are thousands of other kids on the same path right now (just not in rural Wisconsin). Your son also should be broadening his study beyond solo work to orchestra, chamber, theory, and composition, because this is what his competition is doing at his age.

            Your son’s teacher works at Juilliard, and Juilliard has an excellent pre-college program. You should be asking her about it, and planning to spend your Saturdays in New York as soon as she thinks he’s ready. That won’t be this fall, unless you’ve already done this.

            In the meantime, before your son can join in a full pre-collegiate program, you should take advantage of other more local opportunities. You are fortunate that Philadelphia has one of the best youth orchestras in the country. Of course you should talk to your son’s teacher about it, but I can’t imagine she would say otherwise. Your son would be eligible to audition for two different levels, the PYAO and the PYMO (from what you say, he’s too advanced for PRYSM). Those auditions are in May and June.

            For this summer, I expect you already have his camps lined up. But in case you haven’t, the Philadelphia Orchestra has an excellent summer Symphony program, as part of the Philadelphia International Music Festival, that our son would be participating in if he didn’t like his more local options so much. It is still not too late to sign up for that, and 11 is the youngest age.

            Philadelphia really is a great base for a young musician. It’s significantly cheaper than the other end of the “megalopolis,” and it has reasonably good access to the Baltimore/Washington area as well. Best of luck!

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        MH, just because a city has an amazing symphony doesn’t mean it has amazing teachers. Also, it takes a special teacher to want to work with a young child. There are relatively few teachers in the world who have experience teaching a cello concerto to an 11 year-old boy. We have to go to one of those teachers.

        Something that amazes me is that when we watch the Olympics and hear that some family moved to train for the Olympics, no one second- guesses the need to move. So why is it dofferent with music? I don’t understand; music is more competitive than the Olympics because in music you keep competing til you are 60, so a 25 year old is competing with everyone who has come before him — no one ages out.


  9. Lindsey
    Lindsey says:

    Oh man. This is hard. My husband and I did long distance for three years because I could simply not handle moving into the rural mountains (which I did anyway). I had double of everything and never seemed to have the thing I needed in the place I needed it. And, we’re attached to our things…there is a lot of comfort with them and it’s hard to be without things that make us feel settled and peaceful and home. (It sounds stupid but it’s actually stressful because you have 4 pairs of heels at one house and 1 pair of tennis shoes with you, and you’re just trying to go to out to dinner for christs sake.) I spent a tremendous amount of time just managing the details of my life. So, I can only imagine all of that with kids.
    also, I come from a family of dairy farmers, and I just couldn’t imagine them living off the farm, much less in the city. The farm is bred into them in this weird way–it’s like their air. Any other profession and I’d be all feminist about men and fair compromise, but farmers on a farm? Ah. That’s so hard.
    Maybe you should leave the stove. It’s bait to go back to the farm one day. Fill your home with things that make it feel like home; but the stove is a sacrifice for now, because everyone sacrifices a little to make it work.

  10. Dee
    Dee says:

    Farmer without farm is like Penelope Trunk without wifi. You wouldn’t be with someone who insisted you destroy your laptop for 7 years, I imagine.

  11. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    Yeah, the farmer isn’t leaving the farm. Maybe you can ship him the crappy stove so he won’t be stove-less, and then you can have the nice one.

    7 years isn’t so long, but that’s assuming your kids do leave you at 18. I can see your younger son leaving the nest as soon as he can, but what about the older one with Asperger’s?

    I will say that living in the middle of nowhere was his best bet for getting into an Ivy League. Maybe you can use that as an excuse to drag the kids back to the farm in a couple of years.

    Either way I hope you get to move back to the farm some day because it sounds like it made you happy.

  12. Tina
    Tina says:

    From the posts, I hear that you are sad. But it seems like you are glossing over the real issues that caused you to leave the farm and the deterioration of your relationship.

    I seem to recall that there have been significant problems with the farmer from the beginning. He broke up with you many times in the early years, conflict with his family, domestic violence and intense fighting.

    I don’t think that you really left the farm because of the kids. You left the farm because you didn’t want to live that life anymore and the kids were your excuse out, which is fine. But you won’t be able to move on in your life until you can admit why you left and deal with those issues for yourself.

    And I don’t think that you are being fair to the farmer. Your kids are not his kids. Most families prioritize the parents working over the kids wants. He will raise the kids, but he doesn’t want your kids to run his life what if you decide in 2 years that Swarthmore isn’t working out and you need to move again? The kids could get what they need just about anywhere. The farmer can only get what he needs on the farm.

  13. jessica
    jessica says:

    I’ve noticed most people run their lives as a series of investments. I have friends that will not move, due to their social investment in their community and their financial investment in property. The payoff is greater than moving for a career. The other half of friends move due to the investment value being in career capital and achievement. I think the farmer is a property/land and social investor, and you are a career investor which is a major fundamental difference to contend with. You two value different lifestyles. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but finding a resolution is going to continue to be difficult.

  14. Sue @ The Study of Humans
    Sue @ The Study of Humans says:

    I’m trying to make sense of all this.

    It seems like you’re the one ending this. Not the Farmer. Are you trying to push him away because you anticipate him leaving you?

    Or maybe you’re too afraid to end what you think needs to end, so you just make decisions that are detrimental to the relationship until he ends it for you?

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