Wow. So that came up quickly. Change their diapers, teach them their alphabet and... BOOM... they're driving to the post office to mail their transcripts to colleges. It's a little like sitting in the front car of a roller coaster waiting to roll over that first giant hill.
No... wait... it's a lot more like being on a perpetual roller coaster. The coaster tunnels are like the fleeting respite of sleep; dark, but not quite long or quiet enough.
But the journey, fast and furious though it has been, has been amazing. I wouldn't change it for the world. And very little worth doing comes without a challenge...
Don't you even tell me how homeschooling is too hard, overwhelming, or stressful for you. I am living it. It's all those things, I know. And don't forget that I'm perpetually inadequate, worrying, catching up, and falling down. I am not impressed by your failures because mine are looming so big that they're blocking yours out. My biggest homeschooling success is that I simply have been too stubborn to quit.
And yet... somehow we got one through.
Homeschooling is not about short term success. If that were the case, I'd have checked out long ago. Homeschooling is an investment of long, bloody days that somehow form a complex and incredibly rich tapestry of joy... for the sake of individual souls and the glory of God.
I like to make things particularly hard on myself by not following a particular method. I don't really know how to answer people when they ask "What kind of homeschooler are you?" The first thing that comes to mind is usually something like...
"I have no idea."
"A confused homeschooler."
"A tired homeschooler."
"I dabble in a little of this and that with a load of laundry on the side (otherwise know as 'eclectic')"
"I try to teach my kids stuff and sometimes it works."
But if you were to ask me what the key to sticking it out through the years is, I wouldn't hesitate to tell you:
Heavy doses of God's grace along with a fierce commitment to first principles.
In my house, that first principle echoes that of St. Ignatius whose First Principle and Foundation begins like this:
The human person is created to praise, reverence, and serve God Our Lord, and by doing so, to save his or her soul.
All other things on the face of the earth are created for human beings in order to help them pursue the end for which they are created.
It follows from this that one must use other created things, in so far as they help towards one's end, and free oneself from them, in so far as they are obstacles to one's end.
So at the risk of sounding like a Catholic hippie homeschooler... the foundation of our homeschool is Love. Of Jesus Christ. Of each soul. How we get to the goal is a marvelously messy affair and I can't quite even say how we managed it with this child. But we have reached this one big milestone and are prepared to now support him through the bigger ones that will follow.
The irony is that even though he will make most choices independent of my oversight now, I will still feel the sting of defeat and the thrill of victory in his life keenly. I suppose that isn't really a homeschooling thing... but more of a mom thing. And come to think of it...
That's really what homeschooling is... just parents and kids making messes and memories together.
There's a popular (but erroneous) idea floating around out there that homeschooling moms have a special "calling" to do what we do. And I'm telling you plainly that it isn't true. There's no magic dust and no special graces outside of those sacramental graces every mom gets the day she is married. In fact, I wouldn't say that my temperament is particularly suited to this. Or that I wouldn't shine a whole lot brighter in another work. But that's not what this is about...
Homeschooling is a prudential choice within the vocation of marriage. Nothing more. We are here to raise kids and to give glory to God. If we speak of it as anything more or less, it either undermines the herculean effort of homeschooling parents... or confers honors where they don't belong.
We think it's good for our kids. We think the effort is worth it. We roll up our sleeves and we pray and work and give thanks without ceasing.
The photo below was my kid at the beginning of our homeschooling journey. The pic at the top of this post is of that same kid toward the end. Everything in between... well... that's just life. Call it homeschooling if you want.
I know some of you will have questions about the nitty gritty and I know that I am not great at answering them to anyone's satisfaction. But here are some details to satisfy the curious:
- I made this kid color a map when he was 6 years old. The directions said to color it and so I instructed him to do it. He moaned and groaned and disliked schoolwork for the first time. I never made him color another worksheet again. He made X's and labeled but never colored. He has thanked me for that multiple times over the years.
- For every hour that he pretended to do his math and did not, he spent 3 hours studying liturgical theology and playing Wii with his brother. I am not going to stress about the ultimate outcome of those choices. I'll leave that to his bishop or his wife.
- He is graduating slightly early. It was always my hope that my departing teens would not have to spend the remaining days within the fold of their family in a flurry of frantic study and stress. There will always, always be work left to do. At a certain point, I believe it is okay to just say, "Let's enjoy the time together."
- It is his intention to head to college seminary in the Fall. Paperwork and interviews need to be completed yet but that is the general hope and direction. He has decided to give God the opportunity to use him in the Church first... and will continue discernment in that direction until either ordination or marriage. (I will not be answering questions about his destination at this time since we have a few months before all paperwork is signed. Besides, it is not my journey... treading respectfully.)
- No, his siblings are not like he is. And yes, they are very much like he is. Same family, unique souls. I have no idea how they will all turn out. I am still on the roller coaster and I've got a good 20 years left. I often wish I drank coffee. Or had a one-way ticket to Hawaii where I wouldn't ever be tempted to throw anyone's belonging onto the front lawn... Or neglect to plan meals and consequently serve eggs for 3 dinners in a row.... Or say stupid things to people out of fear or anger...
But that's okay. I've said it before and I'll say it a million more times...
It's okay to fall sometimes. It's the rising that ultimately counts.
I'm incredibly proud of my boy. I pray that he remembers the joy and the goodness in our home more than he remembers the times of our failure. And that the most important lessons have not come from his books, but from the love of his family and his God.
To conclude this rambling reflection on the graduation of my firstborn, I have to say:
I love homeschooling. It is the hardest thing I've ever done. But God never promised that the good things would come easily. And I love my kid. In the interest of full disclosure and charity, you should know... that his greatest accomplishments came through his desire, his commitment, and his hard work... not mine.