Our first day of homeschool and what happened all summer

It was with a great sigh of relief that I started our school year last Friday.  Granted, Friday seems like an odd day to start the school year, but for us it made sense.  In the midst of July boredom, my younger son asked me when we could start school.

(edit. y’all… this is long. and poorly written. and i whined. i’m so sorry. it’s raw and honest. it reflects where i was when i wrote it. but that doesn’t make it good reading.)

“Sometime in August” I told him.

“Mommy, could it be August first?” he replied?

Since August 1st was as good of date as any, I agreed and we pinkie promised. Then I looked at the calendar and realized it was a Friday.  Perfect. (NOT.)  But in the weeks that followed, I realized just how ready we all were for school to start.  I also realized that I would NEVER be completely ready.  I took comfort in knowing I only had to make it through one day of homeschool before I had a few days to regroup and replan and redo.

For the record, we celebrated our first day of homeschool in a way that was so perfect and so sweet and so healing.  We slept in. We had agreed that we wanted our school day to start somewhere around “nine-ish” so we could be done by lunch. My oldest didn’t wake up until closer to ten.  Our first lessons featured two sleepy boys still in their pj’s, lingering over their breakfast as we chatted.

No screaming about schedules.

No five minute count-down to lateness.

No frantic hunt for shoes.

No scramble to remember which uniform was for what day.

No whispered prayers as I hugged them goodbye.

Instead, my younger boy offered to open our school year in prayer.  He prayed for my nerves, that they wouldn’t be bored, that they would learn exciting things and that lessons would be short. It was the first time I’d heard him pray in earnest, and I was blessed.

Less than two hours later, our homeschool day was finished. The boys were in shock to discover how quickly we’d plowed through math, reading, spelling, vocabulary, history, and writing. They weren’t impressed to discover what “home economics” was all about, but they cheerfully joined in anyway.

 

It wasn’t until the next day that I realized just how much stress had melted away for me.

Sure, it was the relief that happens when you start any long anticipated project. Having taught public school for two years long ago, I knew to expect that. (What’s that? You didn’t know I used to be a teacher?  I taught Algebra and Geometry for two years right out of college. I’m also certified to teach English, although I never did so in the classroom.)  What I didn’t expect was all the OTHER stress that dropped from my shoulders. I hadn’t realized it was even there until it was gone.

I had been so busy focusing on the start of homeschool – the start of a new chapter in our lives and a very radical transition to our way of life. In the process, I’d completely ignored that the day also represented the close of another chapter. While much of our “old life” ended last May on the last day of school, this summer has been rather like an epilog. There was time for reflection, for healing, and for forgiving.

 

It’s only now, in retrospect, that I can really appreciate how much last year sucked.

 

It started before the first day of school, at the parent orientation meeting. When I couldn’t figure out what my (then) forth grader would be doing all day without a spreadsheet, I knew it was going to be a tough year. There was no possible way he could juggle the eight different notebooks they were asking him to keep up with (and carry around to three separate classrooms).  Even before the first day of school, my husband and I were scrambling to create margin for our son.  We knew he would need extra sleep to recover from school. We knew he needed lots of unstructured play time, preferably outside. We knew he needed my time and attention to balance him.  We tried. It wasn’t enough.

So it was a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that I waved goodbye on the first day of school. I went to lunch with a group of mom from school to celebrate our freedom, but my heart was elsewhere. As much as I wanted to celebrate, I was worried for my boy. Maybe that’s why I put my foot in my mouth over lunch.  I voiced an opinion that I felt strongly about, but my thoughts were neither welcome nor helpful. The table fell silent, and then the other women turned away from me to talk to others.

Not. Good.

If you’re wondering, I never apologized either. It’s not like I was given an opportunity. Until Christmas, every time I walked into the school building and interacted with these women, I felt I was given the cold shoulder.  I lost friends on Facebook. My son was left out of photos by the designated mom photographer. Women I had known for years suddenly asked me if I was new to the school.  If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a whispered “she” then you know how hard and hurtful it can be.

In retrospect, I was wrong. I should have kept my opinion to myself. While I still think it’s silly to begin planning the fifth grade graduation party while my son is in fourth grade, my opinion no longer matters. Given that we’re now homeschooling… well… let’s just say there might be other things I disagree with the school about.

 

That was August.  By September, I was working on my October blog series. The one on anger.  I’ll keep it short and tell you that writing that series tore me up and spit me out. The posts that I left on the floor or balled up for the trashcan rocked me to my core.  I realized I had some thinking to do and it shook my confidence as a blogger and a mom.  I’ve healed, I’ve grown, I’ve prayed. But I still keep a yelling notebook.

October was a blur of pain. Not just from writing. That was almost welcome in comparison to my knee. I’d put off knee surgery until the pain was more than I could stand. Every step felt like there were tiny Legos under my kneecap. I couldn’t walk, I avoided the stairs, and I was counting the days until surgery. After surgery they told me my meniscus was over 70% torn. No wonder it hurt.

In the days that followed surgery, it just got worse. Y’all, I fell off the toilet. I was that weak. I got out of breath walking to the car. Worst of all, I discovered that the pain meds for my knee gave me grade A anxiety attacks. Even weeks after I stopped taking the pills I still struggled with the shadow of anxiety.  I wanted nothing more than to escape from the pain and the fear and the mess that was my house.

Ironically, that’s about the time that they discharged me from physical therapy.  As far as the insurance company was concerned, I was a functional person again and not in need of therapy. I could climb the stairs, do the laundry, cook a meal, drive a car, and shop for food – but I was far from better. I was about as far away from better as I could be.

 

Thanksgiving wasn’t very thankful. I did my best, but I was facing a very real and ugly problem. With even a few days away from therapy, I could feel my body deteriorating. Walking and stairs were a struggle. Getting up out of a chair was struggle! If I kept going that direction, I was convinced I would end up in a wheel chair – fat, old, and unhappy. I knew the cost was too high. I didn’t want to lose out on being the mom my kids deserve. I didn’t want to ruin my marriage.

I started making changes. Starting in December, I went to the gym every day. I poured every bit of my energy into growing stronger and gaining stamina and flexibility. Not because I want a thigh gap or to fit in a size six, but because I want to live. I’ve stopped drinking wine because it made weight loss impossible. I’ve dropped fifty pounds (with more to go).  Running away from the wheelchair feels good and it’s worth every sacrifice… but it’s been a huge change.

When I heard Jon Acuff speak, he said that you’d know you found the right goal when it was one you were willing to get up at 5am for.  I’m not a morning person. I don’t function well until the sun is up. So that thought stuck in my head.  I’ve heard Jon’s voice almost every morning this summer as I’ve drug my hind end out of bed at 5am to go to the gym before my husband leaves for work.  Fitness has become a huge part of who I am.  I can’t explain it, I don’t know where the story will lead. I just know I have to keep following this path.  I also know it’s not something I can write about. There’s still messy parts inside that just don’t want to be talked about yet.

By Christmas, I felt like I could breathe for the first time in months.  We’d survived the first semester of school without too much drama. The other moms even spoke to me at the Christmas party.  The house was clean enough to invite family over for Christmas brunch, a huge accomplishment for me. I won’t say that I felt hopeful yet, but at least I didn’t feel total despair about my life. For the first time in months, I walked without a cane or a visible limp.  I was new to the whole gym thing and unsure of how long I could stay committed, but at least it had gotten me through Christmas.  It had given me enough stamina to clean my house, decorate for Christmas, get caught up on the laundry, and begin actually cooking again.  Maybe, just maybe things would get better.

 

Then I put my foot in my mouth.  Again. It seems to be a theme for last year. The new year wasn’t even two days old. I had written a blog post about Grace that got all up a family member’s craw.  She came at the story from a very different perspective than my own and the gap was just too much. Ironically, that gap was what the post had been intended to be about.  The louder she screamed for me to take the blog post down, the harder it became for me to write anything else.  It still saddens me that anyone would be hurt by a story about grace and love and forgiveness. It certainly wasn’t what I’d intended.

In case you’re wondering, I did apologize. I did my best to fix things. Because it hasn’t been discussed since, I have no idea if my efforts to apologize were well received.  The whole mess brought back the anxiety attacks every time I faced a keyboard or looked at Facebook.

The whole mess had a rather chilling impact on my writing. I’ve always known that friends and family members were reading what I wrote. It wasn’t the first time I’ve upset someone with my words. It wasn’t the first time I’ve written a blog post that got an unexpected response. It’s just that until this year, I haven’t had someone with the ability to send me text messages at 2am over something that I wrote.  Until this time, I’ve never had someone “tattle” on me for what I put in my blog.

 

Last spring break, I was hoping to put the whole messy year behind us. We weren’t going anywhere, but I had plans to have a great stay-cation break. My mom and I were going to take the kids somewhere fun and amazing every day.  Things didn’t exactly go as planned.  The Monday of spring break, my in-laws showed up unexpectedly.  They’d had doctor appointments in town.  (One of those “Houston things” – people come from everywhere for the big Medical Center and all the specialty medicine it provides).  My father in law had just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and they needed to regroup.  By Tuesday, they were shopping for assisted living. My mother in law is a stroke surviver and has advanced MS, so it’s time. My husband in an only child, so there isn’t a big group of family member to walk this path with us.   Sometime this fall, my husband and I anticipate that his parents will be living a few miles away from us in a senior living center.  It’s a big change for all of us.

 

Are you keeping track?  I’m obsessed with fitness but can’t write about it. I’m scared to write about family matters.  We’re at the start of a rather private and scary journey with my in-laws. I’m still battling anxiety. I’m fighting a daily battle to declutter my house and dig out from a year of not being able to clean it.

 

And then, school.  It wasn’t the normal spring fever that follows spring break. I wish it had been that simple. By April, my oldest was at risk of failing for the year.  A’s on tests and F’s for homework and daily grades. The jumble of folders and binders and composition books was too much for him to manage. We fought almost every day over his homework, the state of his backpack, his grades, his appearance, his attitude…

His favorite books are the How to Train Your Dragon series. I kept imagining the movie scene where Hiccup’s dad gestures to him and says “this” and Hiccup says “you just gestured to all of me.”  I worried that my son felt like Hiccup.

As I’ve already shared, it got dark and scary.  One afternoon, he lay across my lap in tears.  “Mommy, I’m too stupid to live. Please kill me now!”  We had three weeks of school left for the year and I was tempted to yank him out that very next day and begin homeschooling. I didn’t. I couldn’t.

We decided to focus on the idea of finishing strong. I let him blow off as much homework as he could afford. It became a team effort to help him survive and pass.  It was the right choice. He chose not to quit – not to give up on himself. He learned that failure has consequences but that he is still loved even when he fails.  It was a hard choice, but it was the right one for him.

When I started looking with a critical eye, I realized that our school choice was no longer right for either son.  My older one needed a different style and pace of instruction – that much was clear.  For very different reasons, so did my younger boy.

The younger son found school too easy.  Somewhere along the way, he found a way to make it harder.  He was (and is) demanding perfection from himself. He was upset when he got a 99 instead of a 100. He was stressing over every rule violation. He would stress if my signature wasn’t neat enough on his school work.  Somehow, in all the drama and messiness that my older son was going through, I totally overlooked the blossoming of OCD under my nose.

Yeah.  Mom of the year for me.

 

(In case you haven’t figured it out, I’m raising TWO twice exceptional boys.  2x2E.  This is going to be fun in a roller coaster riding kind of way.  They have different OE’s and learning styles, just to make things more interesting.)

 

As a blogger, I felt like a total fraud.  It was just a few months prior that I’d written glowing posts on how much we loved our school and how awesome private school was for our family.  Ouch.

As a mom, I felt like hiding. I’d failed to protect my children from harm. Even worse, I’d actually PAID for someone to do this to my kids.*

As a blogger who had recently put her foot in her mouth, I felt tongue tied. I was unsure what I should share and what was just hurtful. I was angry and wanted to avoid being spiteful or causing strife. I was unsure how much of my children’s struggles were “fair game” to share and how much should be kept private.

I still am.

 

*In the interest of honesty and clarity, I don’t believe that the school intentionally harmed my kids. They are well intentioned and Godly people. They are competent and passionate about what they do. They did not doing anything horribly wrong. The school is still a good choice for some families.  I’m not critical of those who still have children there.  It’s just not the right choice for either of my children right now. They need something that the school could not provide. And that’s ok.

 

The choice to homeschool was made in an instant.  I made it in the 2.3 seconds following my son’s anguished cry for help. Getting comfortable with that choice took slightly longer. I had to go through a period of whining first. Giving up long lunch dates and solitary trips to Target isn’t easy. Letting go of the idea that I have time for a new hobby (quilting) was hard.  Adjusting to the idea that I’ll won’t have regular periods of solitude for writing has been tough.  Adjusting to the idea that I don’t have a moment’s peace is even tougher.  In some ways, I’m still adjusting (and whining).

Part of me is still in shock.

The other part of me is realizing that I’m a better mom these days, that my kids are happier, and that our family seems whole again in ways that I can’t explain.

 

By the last day of school, the little writer voice inside of me was gone.  It’s weird to explain, but normally when I sit down to type, I’ve already written. I’ll be folding laundry or sweating on the elliptical machine and there will be phrases and ideas rolling around in my head. An hour later, there are whole paragraphs in my mind, just waiting to be typed.  By the time I get to sit down at the computer, it’s all my fingers can do to keep up with the words as they flow out.  Seriously.  What I type comes out with punctuation and spelling. It’s normally just a case of figuring out where the paragraphs go, adding a few details, and editing for length.  I love it when writing happens  that way.

For the entire school year, that little writer voice got harder and harder to hear. The little editor voice got louder and louder.  It’s the one that says “no, you can’t share that, it might hurt someone’s feelings.”  It’s the one that says “no, you can’t write that, this isn’t a fitness blog.” It’s the one that says “no, you can’t think about that, it was too scary and the wounds are too fresh.”

For the record, the editor voice is often accompanied by the voices of fear and doubt and unworthiness.

 

We took an amazing road trip for all of June. It’s the longest vacation I’ve ever taken in my life. It was so good for us.  The boys healed from school. We rediscovered each other. My writer voice was still gone, but at least the editor voice was silent as well.  I had nothing to say, but since we had no internet connection, it wouldn’t have mattered anyway.

Then there was July. I was a woman obsessed with homeschool. I think I changed math curriculum six times in one week (not that I bought the books).  All I wanted to talk about was educational philosophies, curriculum choices, subjects, and school.  My kids developed a healthy obsession for Roblox and Pikachu and lizards.  There were days they raised themselves. My husband would come home in the afternoons to find the kitchen strewn with cereal bowls and smears of peanut butter and jelly. He just smiled and rolled his eyes, he knows not to mess with me when I’m obsessed.

That’s when the voice came back. At first, the little writer voice was so quiet I almost missed it. I couldn’t hear it over the chaos of my home. But it was there. I’d be folding laundry and there would be these… thoughts. I’d have whole paragraphs pop in my head and demand to be written down.

 

Except… the laptop wasn’t charged up… the kids were busy… my wordpress stuff needs updating… it’s not the perfect time yet… I might be interrupted.

 

The excuses flowed faster than the paragraphs in my head. The plain truth was that I was (and am) scared. I didn’t know what to say. I’m unsure of how to make it all fit. I’m not sure anyone cares.

 

As so I sit here on a Sunday morning playing hookie from church. I told my husband I needed silence in ways I couldn’t explain. I made half-caff so I could have a second cup of coffee as I wrote.  The words have tumbled out faster than I would have ever thought.  And they are not the ones I was expecting.

The writer voice in my head sounds different, she seems older and stuffier now.  Perhaps it’s the result of all the dry reading I’ve done this summer. Perhaps she will grow younger and more playful as I listen to her each day.  I don’t know.

 

I simply know that the start of the homeschool year yesterday was more liberating that I could have ever known. It allowed me to walk away from a year of hurt and doubt and anxiety. It allowed me to start anew – not with my blog, but with life.

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Susan Baker
I have a passion for encouraging weary worn out mothers to find joy in everyday motherhood and peace in unlikely places. I have two elementary school boys, one nerdy husband, and two cats. I have a strange fascination for bad puns, the color pink, socks, and books. I worry about running out of toilet paper, wine, and chocolate.. I serve an amazing God. I live an ordinary life filled with wonder.
Susan Baker
Susan Baker

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Comments

  1. Welcome back! I’m so sorry you had to go through so much in a such a short time span. I’ve missed reading your blog posts so I’m happy to see that you are back and I look forward to your posts. By the way, I thought of that Dr. Seuss quote as I read through this, the one about speaking your mind (I’m sure you’ve seen it all over Pinterest as well).

  2. I’m sorry you had such a rough year. But good for you to make changes rather than just spiraling deeper or thinking things will change. A fresh start, on your own terms, is quite liberating. Good luck!

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