Ten Apples up on Top: My Homeschool Journey

Okay. I can do this. I was a teacher, after all. I can homeschool my son. I just need a timer, a whiteboard, perhaps a bulletin board. Oh and a desk. And a planner, definitely can’t function without a planner. Third grade. All right, let’s go. 

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One mom, one teacher, one kid. One apple. No problem.

Ah, first homeschooling year. How I weep when I think back on you. My schooly approach was so me. Schedules, timers, and worksheets, oh my. I thought I could knock out school in a couple of hours and have more time to play with my kid. Real World Alert: Ten math problems can take ten hours to complete when a kid isn’t interested in doing them. Tears and tedium. That was the theme of year one.

If one apple isn't working well, why not try two?
If one apple isn’t working well, why not try two?

The next year, I found my true calling in life: Researcher and Implementer of Curriculum. I read books, spent money on curriculum, tried more books, more curriculum, repeat, repeat, repeat. If I happened upon a forum post that included something I wasn’t already doing, I felt a burning need to try it. Now, keep in mind, when I say try something new, I don’t mean substitute the old with the new. I mean add on the new on top of the old. I think my stack of curriculum choices was taller than my fourth grader.

Are your apples cooler than my apples?
Are your apples cooler than my apples?

Oh, hi, Mrs. Jones. Fellow homeschooler. The one with all the cool bookshelves and art station and observatory and backyard wetlands and gymnasium. In your house. My little homeschool world looked less shiny compared to those homeschoolers who seemed to have it all together, all the time. I knew I could never win. I was working so hard to provide an education for my kids (younger sister had entered the mix by this time), and then I would meet someone doing what I was doing, but for seven children. In her spare time after her full-time job. Seriously.

So many of the early years of homeschooling were filled with my struggle to overcome anxiety and a sense of inadequacy. I hadn’t been trained to homeschool, as it turns out. Being a teacher helped not at all. I felt stressed and tired all the time, and I had just two kids and no job.

I had learned some tricks, though. Tears flowed a lot less often. I discovered ways that my kids liked to learn and really didn’t like to learn. Gone were the timers, the long math sessions, and many curriculum choices.

I was finally getting into a groove. I aspired to be more like the mothers who approached homeschooling with a relaxed, flexible attitude. I started to view other homeschoolers not as rivals, but rather as wonderful mentors.

Balancing apples while skipping rope is a lot like teaching math while folding laundry.
Balancing apples while skipping rope is a lot like teaching math while folding laundry.

Then, since the kids seemed a bit lonely, I decided to join a co-op. Cue Mrs. Jones’ friends…

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Sure. I’m teaching my fifth grader calculus, and my first grader decided to learn to write using a quill and ink. She only writes in cursive, of course.

Actually, co-op was wonderful for our family in many ways. I got access to a wide variety of homeschool styles and finally had the chance to mentor others, for a change. I noticed how many first-year homeschool moms were terrified and convinced they couldn’t do it. Since I had begun my homeschool journey from a “let’s do all the things all the time” perspective, I usually wasn’t the best person to talk to a new homeschooler on the edge of losing it. But I could point them in the direction of some excellent laid-back moms!

We're living a crazy life: with the kids 24/7, chauffeuring across the state for music/art/drama, and learning to love a house that never gets clean. But we're in it together, so it's okay!
We’re living a crazy life: with the kids 24/7, chauffeuring across the state for music/art/drama, and learning to love a house that never gets clean. But we’re in it together, so it’s okay!

Our homeschool community is a busy place. We come in all sizes: unschoolers, classical educators, “let’s not do math this year” types, and everything in between. In my area, though, one thing we homeschoolers have in common is a life of busyness. We’re similar to our schooling friends in that way: lacrosse, drama, music, art, Krav Maga, and field trips fill our days. We never knew a car could keep driving with 200,000 miles on it, but we’re determined not to miss anything. We’re chasing that misguided idea that the perfect opportunity for our kids is the one we haven’t done yet:

In the cart! Everyone! Quick! All the life-fulfilling activities are just ahead!
In the cart! Everyone! Quick! All the life-fulfilling activities are just ahead!

Eventually, we each end up here:

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Life causes us to stop and regroup. Perhaps it’s the winter storm that keeps us housebound for a week, or the surgery that means no one gets driven to band practice, or maybe it’s the end of a marriage that brings activity to a halt. It’s hard to be grateful for these moments of boredom, pain, and anguish, but I can find some gratitude in the enforced pauses. After a Kablam! happens in my life, I’m not quick to pile the apples back on top of my head quite so quickly as before. I’ve finally found a way to let some opportunities pass me by, to evaluate carefully whether or not it’s worth taking that class, traveling to that tournament, or participating in that concert.

And although my life is still one of busyness, I take comfort in my homeschool community.

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We’re all balancing a tall apple pile. Mother, teacher, wife, friend, coach, nurse – we homeschool moms do so much. It’s nice to know I have my posse of homeschool moms to support me in this wacky life choice.

Here’s to all the apple balancers everywhere. What fun! We will not let them fall. [Although when they do, we’ll be there to help you pick them up and make a nice pie with them.]

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