Somehow summer is gone, it’s like I blinked and it was over. So many changes around here, the big one being that my 15 year old has gone to school for the first time. He’s been talking about it for quite a while now, so it wasn’t exactly a surprise. Philosophically I prefer the freedom that home education provides, the chance for learning to be seamless and organic and self-motivated. But I also know that the important thing is a happy child, and there are many paths to take. Homeschooling in the teen years is tough- some families can manage it successfully, but so far my kids always end up wanting more and public school is what they choose. It’s not the same as when they are little, and their needs are easily met. In most places, school is the community, and replacing that in a way that makes sense for the changing needs of adolescents has so far been a challenge that our family hasn’t been able to overcome.
Mostly I’m just proud of him, and us, for getting to this point. The kid who would have been completely bouncing off the walls in kindergarten is now a calm, mature sophomore in high school, well-read and articulate, good at math (where did that come from?), quiet and perfectly able to focus when he cares about something. I don’t believe that my son ever had any kind of a learning or behavioral problem, he just had a ton of energy and a will of steel and needed to grow up in his own wild way without fitting into any boxes too soon. Reading came when he was ready, along with all the other developmental stages and abilities. I feel a little wistful that I wasn’t able to keep him happy without school until college, but I’m glad that I was able to protect him in the early years when he needed it, that he wasn’t forced into formal learning before he was able to appreciate it. So much learning was taking place in those early years, but none of it looked anything like school.
Now he can spread his wings, and I’m happy for him. One thing I’ve noticed is that he is very secure in his own opinions, and doesn’t care so much about pleasing everyone the way that I did. We are taking the same approach with him that we did when our older two went to high school: they are there by choice, and they can handle it however they choose as long as they don’t break any rules. They can take the classes that interest them, and handle homework and studying as autonomously as possible. Similar to the way college works- you’re there because you want to be there, and it’s up to you to do well (or not). No shame, no rewards and punishment, just learning for its own sake.
My dear husband, who is my rock when it comes to this stuff- he handled all of the enrollment process for Jesse, just like he did for Alex and Emily- reminds me that this is our philosophy when I start to forget and freak out because it’s so hard for me to step away from the person that *I* was in school. A person who was super sensitive and conscientious and always did what I was told, always went above and beyond and tried harder and worked more and played less. Until I finally stopped caring my senior year, deep in the throes of teenage angst, worn out by the game and the relentless grind of being the good girl, the good student.
I wanted something different for my own kids, a lighter, happier childhood, and I guess I’ve given them that. But eventually community becomes important too, and if you can’t find that elsewhere then you have to turn to school to find it. It broke my heart last year, seeing my kids not fit in with the neighborhood kids because they weren’t in school and we weren’t there long enough to really try to make friends. I vowed that I wouldn’t let that happen to them again, that if homeschooling means being lonely then something needs to change. And so we compromise, finding the middle ground and knowing that there is no perfect way, only good enough.
The school was so welcoming, and my feelings of dread were quickly replaced by excitement for Jesse. It was also an eye-opener when he said to me one day, “I wish you would be more supportive”. I took that to heart, and changed my attitude. It’s a small school, a little over 300 kids. Similar to the school that Alex and Emily went to, but this school has a different feel. Maybe it is the location- quiet, rural towns with a large proportion of retirees and vacation homeowners who live and work and go to school elsewhere (Massachusetts). Maybe they’re just thrilled to have kids for their school. Maybe the younger generation is changing the system, bringing progressive ideas and actually implementing them. Maybe technology plays a role, virtual schooling is free and easy in New Hampshire and parents have a lot more choices when it comes to education so public schools are becoming more competitive and open-minded.
Maybe it’s a little of all of this, but whatever the reason, I’m happy that it was a fairly smooth entry in the system. It’s a big deal to go to school for the very first time at 15 1/2! I’m proud of him for doing it, and handling it with a minimum of fuss.
A few things to note, for those who are interested in more specifics of an always homeschooled kid going to school…
The school implemented a later start this year (8:15), in response to the studies about teens and sleeping patterns. I appreciate the gesture, but it still feels awfully early to me. He still has to get up around 6:30, and although school gets out at 3 his day isn’t done until 5 because of cross country, even later when there are meets. Eight hours of sleep will be a challenge, and he will probably not get enough sleep during the week.
He refuses to even try the cafeteria food, says it looks gross. At first I thought it was just the lunch was stressful (the hardest thing about assimilating into a new school, who do you sit with?), but now I’m thinking it really is the food because he doesn’t seem to mind the social stress that much. There is one other new kid in the sophomore class so they sit together even though they don’t seem to have much in common. Since I like to feed my kids, and I have more time on my hands now, I’ve embraced the challenge of school lunch and it gives me another little homemaking project. I found this little bento lunch box online, after a long search because he doesn’t want anything too big. Or too girly, little kid-ish, or adult. It’s definitely small, but cool and I still put it inside another bag so I can fit a few extras and an ice pack. I get up and make him breakfast and lunch and then sometimes go back to sleep- I’m willing to shift my schedule but so far not having much luck getting to sleep early enough to get enough rest myself. I was sleep deprived most of my life, and at this point it’s a big deal for me, for my health and my sanity. It’s nice now that my husband works from home, except for when he’s traveling, so really both of us are available to help care for our kids. We may not have ever had the village thing, but we have each other and I’m grateful for a man who cares about being a good father, the father he never had. And I have to say, I totally see a need for a stay at home mom whether or not kids go to school. Different strokes for different folks, but there is still plenty to do.
His school does longer classes and fewer of them, so he’s taking Geometry, Spanish 1, Architectural Design, and Photography. Not a bad schedule for a first time student. I strongly suggested he take regular classes rather than honors, because I know him and I didn’t think he would appreciate the extra work that honors classes require. I craved that stuff, but I was a very different kid. I realized a long time ago that my kids weren’t all clones of me, and that’s not a bad thing. It was a tough call, because of all the associated and underlying stuff that goes along with what kind of classes a student is in. Teachers and the system in general reward the honors kids, the “smart” ones. It’s the whole point. Maybe not everyone, but there’s definitely a preference for working hard and being smart. Being average isn’t exactly desirable. But already he’s talking about the kids in his classes, how they don’t really pay attention or do their homework, so I’m trying to walk a fine line here and explain the pros and cons of both types of classes, how his experience with his peers might be very different if he were in honors classes. I figure if he’s bored he can always move up, but I’d rather he not be discouraged right away because he’s surrounded by kids who have been spent their whole lives being inculcated with different values- getting good grades, being the best, all that competitive stuff that drives our society.
He is also running on the cross country team, and he loves it. The days are long, and we’ll see what the future holds. It’s only his second week, and he knows that he has options- he can go back to being a homeschooler and take certain classes and participate in sports if he wants to. For now, I have no idea about the future. He seems happy, and it’s made my life a whole lot easier so I have no complaints. Moms and teenage sons are a weird combination- adolescent boys need lots of time with other adults and their peers, they need to be busy to work off all that restless energy. I recognize that things have changed and we have a more peaceful relationship with him gone a good portion of the day. He actually talks to me more now that we don’t spend as much time together, and I am grateful for each word, each confidence and bit of his day that he shares with me. I’ve learned a few things along the way, and one is to cherish the teenage years, because they’re awesome and special, a gift for all the sleepless nights and dirty diapers, the endless care that little ones demand.
We’re in a new stage as a family. I’m now a homeschooling mom of one, which is weird but in a good way. I’ve got Nick signed up for all kinds of stuff to keep him busy. Life is all about the ebb and flow, finding the balance between too fast and too slow. Nick has been wanting to play soccer for a while, so I signed him up for a recreation league and that’s been a new and interesting experience. 26 years of parenting, and our first time as soccer parents. There’s been some catching up to do, but he’s having fun and that’s what counts. I don’t regret the ways we lived outside the mainstream, all the alternative things we did, the gift of a slow childhood that I tried to offer my kids. But change is good, being open to new experiences and able to use a new lens to view the world.