In January 2000, Darren and I went on our first date. He took me to an indoor amusement complex, where I redeemed some tickets for a little plastic caterpillar that I named Andromeda. At the end of that visit, I left Andromeda on his stack of Bar Exam study books, along with a flirtatious note. That pretty well settled his intentions for the coming year.
And it was a good year, judging by the fact that we were married before it was over. Within the next decade, we had two girls and two boys, and we spent the next decade homeschooling them.
Now it’s January 2020, and I can’t resist the chance to look back on where we’ve been.
2006: I began formally homeschooling Bookgirl, who was 5 years old. I discovered as much about myself as I did about my young student. I loved teaching reading, and I could come up with creative games on the spot to teach math concepts. I despised the guide that came with our chosen curriculum—not because it was bad, but because I felt locked into a system I didn’t choose. (This reluctance to conform to someone else’s system is not my primary motivation to homeschool, but it sure as heck is a factor.)
2008: I was homeschooling 7-year-old Bookgirl and 5-year-old Gamerboy. They were doing well in reading and math, and every other week or so Darren would bring home a stack of science- and history-related library books for them to read. The kids were less cooperative in handwriting, but we still had time to make that up.
I was proud of myself for what I accomplished that year, because it was the year Sparkler was 2. You know those helpful blog posts about how to keep your toddler busy during the school hours? Yeah, I didn’t write those. Sparkler wanted all of me, all the time. If I was holding a pencil, she wanted that pencil. If I was reading with Gamerboy, she grabbed the book. If I was doing math with Bookgirl, it was over Sparkler’s whines for attention. The only thing I found that would keep her occupied was a series of baby sign-language videos. She got a full semester’s study in sign language that year. And our summer vacation started in about April.
2012: As we entered the 2010s, I was homeschooling Bookgirl (10), Gamerboy (9), and Sparkler (5), while also keeping up with Ranger (2). Things were not well with me. Every day had become drudgery. I took no joy in teaching reading or discussing history. In fact, I took little joy in my kids at all. I felt as if I’d hit a wall and couldn’t get back on my feet again.
At this point, Darren and I had to face some issues we’d been avoiding. Our church was unhealthy and putting far too much pressure on us. We both had some unresolved grief from our pasts. And the way we “did marriage” and handled the homeschooling no longer fit who we’d become. It took us a little too long to figure things out, but eventually we made some very important changes.
First, we found a good counselor who listened to us and showed us how to have hard conversations with each other. Second, we enrolled Ranger in preschool for three mornings a week; as a bonus, there was a one-day class for Sparkler’s age. This arrangement gave me a hand with their education, and freed up time for me to devote to writing. Third—and most far-reaching—Darren realized that I couldn’t do all the homeschooling by myself. Either we needed to find a co-op, a private school, or he would have to step in and shoulder some of the burden.
2016: We were homeschooling Bookgirl (15), Gamerboy (14), Sparkler (10), and Ranger (7). By this time we’d settled into a comfortable way to work. Darren—who loves fresh starts, creating courses of study, and spreadsheets—shopped for curriculum and wrote out the weekly school plans. I—who am good at persevering through the middle of things and who can adapt plans on the fly—oversaw the daily school routine. I sat down with the elementary schoolers for one-on-one lessons, and Darren taught the high schoolers in the evening. The kids also learned to work independently much of the time.
2019: With the help of online classes, co-ops, a language tutor, and Darren’s spreadsheets, Bookgirl graduated high school in June. We didn’t have much time to catch our breath, of course; we’ve got three more lined up after her.
2020: Who knows what this year will hold? Gamerboy has one more year before graduation. Sparkler doesn’t remember anything of that baby sign language, alas, but she still loves learning. Ranger’s last year of elementary school is going well; he’s not as fluent a reader as his siblings were before him, but he’s the only child of mine who hasn’t had nuclear meltdowns over handwriting.
Every year, Darren and I have to adjust schedules according to what the kids need, what they enjoy, and what we can handle in a week. When I say that it’s good for homeschooling moms to ask for help, I know what I’m talking about. When Darren talks to homeschool groups about dads being involved in their children’s education, he’s speaking from experience. It’s hard work, and we’re not doing everything right; but it’s rewarding, the children are thriving, and it gives us joy.
Darren and I have come a long way since that giggly date in 2000. In 2020, we’re happy with where we’ve been, and look forward to where we’re going.
(P.S. And Darren kept that plastic worm, Andromeda. She lives on his desk at work.)
Photo Credit: iStock.