Tuesday, August 19, 2014

It's the most wonderful time of the year...

Do you remember that awesome commercial for "back to school" sales, the one where the father is skipping through the store (was it Staples?) collecting school supplies while his children followed along with long faces? Here it is - in case you don't remember it.

My daughter started her fourth year of college yesterday. We drove her there on Saturday morning, unpacked the car, bought her a few groceries at the local Trader Joe's - and by 1 pm, we were on the road heading home. No tears. No sadness. She was ready to catch up with friends and get her room organized. She was ready for us to leave her to her new life.

Today my son started classes at the nearby community college. Only two classes. Only two days per week. He will take two other classes online. This week, he will drive back and forth to school with me in the car - and on Friday, he will take his driving test. If he passes, when he passes, he will begin to drive himself back and forth to school, without me in the car. He will get up in the morning, get himself ready, and head out into the big bad world all by his lonesome. What a concept!

So it's official - my days as a homeschooling mother are over. No more lesson planning to do. No more class preparation to do. No more tests or quizzes or papers to read and critique and discuss. No more panicky moments wondering what to have them do, have her do, have him do.

I'm sure there will still be panicky moments when I suddenly worry if he's okay, if he has arrived there safely, if the car is running properly, all that stuff. Plus in the wake of all the horrible stuff happening in Missouri these days, I will add to that the fear of my beautiful, biracial son being stopped by fearful people carrying weapons and armed with prejudice. In other words, I will be plunged into all the stuff that other parents of teenage boys have been worrying about for two or three or more years already (he will turn 18 next month) - but stuff that I have been able to postpone because of homeschooling and his lack of interest in getting his driver's license.

Ever since the day I left my job as a Spanish teacher and college counselor in 1993 because I was pregnant with my daughter, I have been and continue to be enormously blessed and profoundly grateful for the freedom to stay at home, to not have to earn money in order to support our family. Throughout my twenty years and ten months of motherhood and seventeen years of homeschooling, I have wondered what it feels like to send the children to school, to actually have a start date for when the children are out of the house for most of the day. I remember when we lived in Norwalk, Connecticut, watching the boy who lived across the street stand at the corner and wait for the school bus, rain or shine, freezing temps or heatwave notwithstanding. We would sometimes take him a cup of hot chocolate to sip on the most frigid mornings. We felt sad for him and all the other kids who had to wake up so early and spend so much time away from their parents and their homes.

I have often been asked what made me decide to homeschool. Simple: I didn't want to give Kristiana up. When she was a baby, I took grad school classes and had to put her into daycare for six weeks two summers in a row near the school I attended. The women who cared for the children there were loving and kind, patient and gentle, and they really seemed to like my baby girl. But I hated being away from her. I hated not knowing what she was doing and how she was doing. The thought of sending her to school for 180 days a year saddened me. Deeply.

At the time, we attended a church where the senior pastor's wife was homeschooling their three sons. I had never even heard of homeschooling before that, so I began to take out stacks of books from the library and read about it. I would read passages to Steve and ask him what he thought of it. He was more excited about it than I was; my husband thinks that kids should be allowed to be kids for as long as possible. His parenting philosophy is this - They will have their whole lives to work hard and pay bills and be serious. They should be allowed to play and sleep and read and watch television and travel and listen to music and enjoy themselves until they head off to college and then out into adult life.

At first, we figured we would keep the kids at home for the early years; I would teach them to read and write, and then we would send them off to school. After a couple of years, we changed our minds. We decided that if they wanted to go to school, we would not prevent them from doing so, but it would be their choice. We wanted them at home. Kristiana never asked to go to school. Daniel asked to attend 6th grade at a local private school. We had one rule - if he went, he had to go for the entire year. He couldn't drop out at Thanksgiving or Christmas. He agreed. By Valentine's Day of that school year, he had to decide if he would return the following year. He chose to come back home and has been homeschooled ever since.

This year, as a senior in high school, he has embarked on a program of transition into college life by taking these community college classes. And I have embarked on a program of transition into school life by watching my son step out from under my teaching and into the next phase of his young adult life.

Now that my children are growing up and out and away, I have begun to ask myself - what's next for me? Whenever I take a break from pondering the answer to that question, someone else asks me. Friends ask me on the phone. Two pastors have asked me - unbeknownst to each other. My children ask me. Neighbors ask me.

Last night, I talked to my husband about this lingering query of mine.
I said, "So here I am - I'm boobless and wombless. And now I don't even have any kids to homeschool. So who am I now? What am I supposed to do now?"
He said, "You've just been whittled down to your essence, to your soul. All that other stuff is a distraction that takes you away from that."
Good answer. But seriously - what do I do now?

I've thought about applying for various jobs - teacher, translator, flight attendant.
I've thought about going back to school - perhaps even to seminary.
I've thought about escaping to Spain for six or nine months to rest and recover from homeschooling.
I've thought about sleeping late for three to six months and reading the dozens of books I have piled around me.
I've thought about writing a book - but whenever I think about that, my creative juices freeze up solid in my veins.
I want to plan a couple of trips - when in doubt, I say, hit the road.
Perhaps a friend or two, or a sister-in-law or two will come visit me.
I've already got several teaching and speaking engagements lined up in the next few months.
So much to think about. So much to pray about. So much to decide.

For now, for this week, I will ride along with my son as he begins his college career.
I will try not to check up on him or his assignments too often - he must write his own story now.
I will try not to check up on my daughter too often either - she must write her own story now.
I will start to declutter and give away textbooks and other school supplies we have accumulated over the years.
I will give my house a more thorough cleaning than it has had in a while.
I will exercise regularly and drink lots of juice and smoothies and perhaps try a few new recipes.
I will sew a few new garments and produce some more homemade skin care products.
I will spend more time thinking about and writing my own story.
And I will also pump up some music, dance, sing, and celebrate because it feels like this is, indeed, the most wonderful time of the year.

All shall be well. All shall be well. All manner of thing shall be well.

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