Even though I'm on the board this year and am supposed to be partly responsible for it, I left the homeschooling support group meeting before it was over; my nursling was at home without me.
Ever a well-appreciated meeting format and easy to throw together with a couple of weeks' notice, the Panel Of Four Experienced Homeschoolers had drawn an audience of a dozen or so.
How do you make a seven-year-old just, you know, do her math sheet?
I don't understand why my curriculum provider has thirteen subjects for a fourth-grader. It's ridiculous. How do you do them all?
Is it okay that my daughter holds her pencil in this funny way?
I put my four-year-old in preschool one day a week for socialization, and he loves it and is thriving. How can I homeschool a child who really likes to be around other kids?
What do you tell the naysayers?
How do you keep up with the grading when you have more than a couple of kids?
I'm not one of the Panel People yet. My oldest is in ninth grade. K on the panel has an oldest who is in tenth grade; but K is one of the grandest multiparas in our co-op, with eight children, a levelheaded former accountant. Of the others, one has five children with the oldest a senior in high school, and the other two have graduated multiple children. I'm not there yet.
Increasingly, although I still think of things I'd like to ask, I no longer feel like a questioning member of the audience either. I know how to write my own curriculum, how to adapt a purchased curriculum to my needs, how to stay a few steps ahead of the kids learning a subject that's new to all of us. We've tried things and discarded them many times, and so we've learned already what takes time and experience to learn:
What works for one family won't work for another family.
You have to figure out how to make the curriculum work for you, not the other way around.
You discipline your children to do their schoolwork the same way you discipline them to do anything else they have to do that they don't want to do.
In some areas you must be firm, and in other areas you must be flexible, and figuring out which is which takes trial and error.
Some things that seem super important turn out, in the end, not to matter all that much.
Listening to a few members of the audience sharing stories of how they won over the children's grandparents with twice-yearly piano performances and poetry recitals, I felt like chiming in with my own perspective but didn't. Especially, I was thinking of friends who have children with disabilities, and the many, many children who don't win national spelling bees or play instruments well or send the achievement-test bars into the ninety-ninth percentile, but nevertheless thrive at becoming themselves in their family environment. I was thinking:
Some people in your lives will always be naysayers, and no amount of your children's accomplishments will ever win them over. I say fuck 'em.
But I felt unsure that it was my job to deliver that message, so instead I went and poured myself another cup of decaf from the carafe on the counter, there in the parish school library.
+ + +
I'm partway through my career: not an expert yet (despite loving to share what I've discovered), and not a newbie either. By the time my last child has finished homeschooling, I expect I will be rather skilled at teaching my own children. I will have lots of experience, highly specialized to work with these particular five people.
And when they are grown, my job (so to speak) will have entirely disappeared. I will be a highly specific expert with no outlet for my specific expertise.
+ + +
In the cold car, I punched the radio button for NPR and found Terry Gross, the host of Fresh Air, interviewing the director of the new film Rosewater. Oddly, the director had the same name as Jon Stewart, the host of the comedy/news program The Daily Show. A couple of minutes into the interview, I realized that both Jon Stewarts were the same person, and remembered that Stewart had been on an extended absence from The Daily Show with John Oliver subbing in, and of course it made sense that he was off making his documentary then.
Towards the end of the show (about 38 minutes into it here), Gross asked Stewart about whether he feels conflicted between moving on to new projects and staying on at his own show.
TERRY GROSS: I'm just thinking of the difficult spot that you're in... because maybe you're going to try something else... restless... on the other hand you're so darn good at doing The Daily Show! ... I was just wondering about the conflict that maybe you'd be feeling, about knowing how special this thing is that you created, and yet, perhaps, wanting to do something else.
JON STEWART: It's always difficult. I do feel like I don't know that there will ever be anything that I will be as well suited for as this show. That being said I think there are, there are moments when you realize that... that's not enough anymore, or that maybe it's time for some discomfort...
I'm certainly convinced I'll never be able to find the type of people that I've been able to work with in that environment... and be able to have that feeling of being able to utilize every part of something that I think I can do, like I utilize to full capacity on that show. I'm still really proud... of the work that we do day in and day out...
That is the difficulty, is.... When do you decide, that even though it's this place of great comfort... when you feel plugged into something like you've never been plugged into anything else that you've ever done, you know, but there are other considerations, like family, or just... not wanting to be on television all the time! [laughs].
You can't just stay in the same place because it feels like you've built a nice house there.
I found myself listening to Jon Stewart more intently than I thought I would. You can't just stay in the same place because it feels like you've built a nice house there. It's so true. He is talking, of course, about creative pull to do other things; but it's completely true that no matter how good he is at The Daily Show, he can't do it forever, and he won't. And no matter how good I get at homeschooling, I can't do it forever, and I won't.
My favorite feeling is the feeling of competence, of flow, of being lost in my task.
The longer I do this the better I get at it; and the longer I do this the closer I get to when the job is simply done. And then what?
+ + +
Maybe that's the day that I sit on a homeschooling-expert panel in the parish library and tell the audience: You'll have naysayers no matter what you do. Fuck 'em.