I love to watch you play: (or, why I will not be homeschooling my 6 year old)

I love to watch you play.

This post explains that these six words might change my life.  A friend shared it on facebook this afternoon, and I almost didn’t click.  I have things to do—that’s, uh, why I’m on the internet . . . (?) —and anyway, how often does Facebook sharing make the “life-changing” claim?  So, friend, you’ll need to specify: are we talking about the kind of life change that occurs when you realize that a coworker eats bacon with his chocolate?  Or is it the kind that means you can Lose Stubborn Belly Fat in 10 Days?

Fortunately, Audra posted just enough to let me know that this really might be relevant to my life.  And, because I like her and trust her judgment, and also because I love a good excuse not to exercise, I clicked.

And now I can tell you that the answer is: this is the kind of change that might make life easier inside my head and inside my house.  And friends, I’m all for easier.  I am a grade-a perfectionist, worrier, and control-freakista, and I can tell you that there is nothing inherently better, or bettering, about “hard”—not when it comes to domestic life.  There’s just the harder and the easier.  The undone, saved for the ideal time, and the done imperfectly.  The days when I wait for the moment of calm and peace, or the feeling that I have things under control (it’s a good thing I don’t actually hold my breath during these waits), and the days when I take it as it comes and dive right into the bedlam.

One of our church teens, and occasional babysitters, remarked the other day, “I am amazed that you and Craig are such calm people when you live with the children that you have.”  I wasn’t sure, initially, whether I felt offended or affirmed.  After a bit of consideration, though, I decided we need to take the truth where we find it—and this observation is Gospel.  In short, my people, my family is not making this look easy.  And that is fine.  Because it is not.

One thorny, knotty, rich-with-possibility-and-frustration, fraught-with-crisis-and-opportunity piece of this: homeschooling and my older son.  I am a licensed teacher.  My field is special education.  Early childhood special education, to be specific.  My son was five when we officially embarked on this experiment, and is what’s known in the business as 2E (that’s twice exceptional, meaning that he demonstrates both giftedness and one or more disabilities).  This arrangement—unfettered exploration, ample time to work on needed skills, project-style delving into passions—might have been perfect.

And yet it has not been, not for Soeren and me.  We have generally had a good relationship, but this change in the structure of our days, and my suddenly very direct responsibility for his learning, has put us on a collision course with one another.  Result: anxiety (both of us), frustration (both of us), yelling (both of us), tears (both of us, but not together).

Let me be very clear: I think homeschooling is a needed option in an increasingly widgetized, unrealistic, Matthew 25:29-inspired system of public schooling.  I particularly believe this for those children who really do march to their own beats.  You know if you have one.  (You know if you don’t have one because you may wonder what’s wrong with those other parents and/or their children.  My own personal journey with the children I have, whom I struggle daily to meet and walk with and honor as they are and as they may become, has persuaded me that “I know better” or “I could do better” is a function of the failure to truly apprehend that “there but for the grace of God.”)  I think that comprehensive, developmentally-appropriate school reform is needed, and I expect to continue to be a voice—probably an ever-stronger voice—for those changes.

In the present moment, though . . . there’s me.  There’s Ren.  There’s our dining table, and a reading book, and enough anxiety and stress between the two of us to power large-scale weather disturbances.

There is so much I want to teach him.  There are so many things I’d like to share.  And maybe someday, I will be able to.  Here at this table.  Formally.  In the meantime, however, I’ve discovered that it feels safe to learn from me only incidentally.

While disappointing and not at all what I expected, homeschooling hasn’t been a disaster.  Following Ren’s cues, and trusting his drive to learn and my own gut, we moved to an unschooling model and have witnessed excitement, growth, and stability in the day to day.  The kids are all right.  And, though visions of academic glory still make my pulse race a bit—in fact, because this is true—I am learning to accept that all right is excellent.  For me, that is.  All right is exactly what I need to learn.

It may not be what Ren needs to learn, though.  And in that case, it is only my pride and my fear standing between him and a different set of experiences.  It is my insistence on being the teacher, the judge, the enforcer, the critic, the cheerleader, and the support person that is making it, at this particular time with this particular child, impossible to fully be any of those.  And it is making learning more scary and stressful—for both of us—than it needs to be.  I choose to believe that something more wonderful than this is possible.

The public school system is an odd place to look for it, but I’m choosing, for this next year, to put my stock in faith and trust and pixie dust—the kind that the right teacher, like Tinkerbell, knows how to manufacture.

And so, I’m going to hand over the reins for a year.  I’m going to stand back.  I’m going to trust our team of professionals.  And I’m going to say, I love to watch you learn.

I give this gift to my child.  I give it to myself.  Ultimately, I give it to our relationship.

And as I commit to do this scary, beautiful, risky thing, I wonder where else this lesson might be useful.  Because it’s not only true for parents, or for credentialed educators, but for we who are invested in helping those around us grow:

Sometimes we have the responsibility to teach.

Sometimes we have the opportunity to learn.

And sometimes we are simply called to witness the miracle of the moment.  We are there to watch it happen, there to honor the journey, there to say the words: I love to watch you play.

What a sacred calling.

3 thoughts on “I love to watch you play: (or, why I will not be homeschooling my 6 year old)

  1. Your post articulates many of the reasons why I chose not to home school our kids. I could have done it– I could have even done it in Spanish– but realized it was not a good choice for any of us. Thanks for putting it into words.

  2. Someday I will write an addendum to this post called “The Knot in My Stomach That Wouldn’t Go Away.” Suffice it to say, our family’s schooling story doesn’t end here on this pat and pretty note. Like everything else, it mostly just doesn’t end. But neither did the homeschooling question. More soon, probably. In the meantime, whatever brings you here, wishing you all the best on your own journey with these questions.

    j

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