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Homeschooling Role Model

Before we ever knew we’d be homeschoolers, we got to know our first homeschooling role model. Our daughter, newly turned four, was not having an easy time at preschool. In hindsight, I know that we kept her there way too long. But my image of my life had so far not changed: I’d get both of my kids firmly settled in their schools so that I could have that coveted alone-time that would keep me sane. When I picked them up from school, I imagined being able to focus on them so much better, having had time to do what I needed for myself.
It wasn’t working out that way. Our daughter was clearly distressed by preschool. Long since potty trained, she was wetting her pants daily. She was having nightmares and wetting her bed. It wasn’t a cry for help — it was a scream.
When we finally gave up, it was on the advice of a wonderful family therapist who has this way of asking us the important questions: Does she really NEED to be in that school NOW? Well…no.
So we took her out. I put an ad on the Cabrillo student employment board, and immediately got a call. I spoke to Vanessa for a while about our situation before she said, Wait, what’s your daughter’s name? Of course I know her!
It turns out she was the wonderful substitute teacher who had been so unflappable and kind with my daughter in her most difficult weeks after a favorite preschool teacher suddenly resigned.
Vanessa is, to my mind, a perfect product of homeschooling. She doesn’t run her life in a way that has anything to do with what she is supposed to do. She does what is right for her and her family. It turned out that we had other connections — when her mom had had to go back to work, Vanessa had attended the charter school where my son was in first grade. She was in the process of getting her AA degree and getting ready to get married, so our situation worked perfectly.
She became my daughter’s best friend when she was unable to form friendships with people her own size. They would look at the photos on Vanessa’s cellphone and go on shopping trips together. Vanessa would tell her all the details about her upcoming wedding. My daughter was happy when Vanessa was around. This was a major change in our lives, and such a relief.
When you have a child in emotional distress, there is nothing better than seeing your child in a situation where she can relax and act like a “normal” child. It reminds you what the goal is, and that the goal is attainable. Vanessa reminded us that our daughter would not be confined to “home arrest” indefinitely. She also redefined what it was — not arrest, but choice.
Through Vanessa I got a much more positive view of homeschooling than I had inherited from our culture at large. Like most people, homeschooling to me was something that people did to keep their children away from our general culture. The most prominent homeschoolers are, of course, Christian homeschoolers, so it’s not uncommon for people to have that view.
Vanessa’s homeschooling was more like what I’ve encountered since. It was the choice to educate children in a freer, more creative way. Vanessa’s mom knew she could do a better job than the school they were attending, and she did.
It was a full year from when we hired Vanessa to when I came to the grudging conclusion that I would have to homeschool our daughter. In the intervening months, Vanessa got married and got a full-time job at the preschool. We chose a small, intimate kindergarten program where we thought our daughter would thrive. That started a whole new nightmare, a reprieve of the first. Along with the bed-wetting and nightmares we got self-portraits labeled with the word “BAD.” Clearly, we needed to ask that important question again: Does she REALLY need to be in school?
I started this schoolyear with one resolution: This year, homeschooling would be our choice, and we would celebrate it. Vanessa came by recently with her new baby, and I asked her whether I could write about her in my blog. Because one way of feeling comfortable about an unusual parenting choice is to be able to cite role models. And I can’t think of a better one than Vanessa. As a new mom, she is still a homeschooler, educating herself and making choices based on her own reasoning, not just what is expected of her. I can’t think of a better role model for my daughter.

Posted in Homeschooling, Parenting.

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