“The curse didn’t make me change easily. I had to concentrate every second. In my mind, I repeated my commands in an endless refrain.”
This quote from one of my favorite books, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, describes Ella’s struggles under a fairy’s “blessing” of obedience. This gift, which Ella had long ago realized was a curse, compelled her to obey any direct order. In her first month at a finishing school, her teachers peppered her with casual commands like “don’t slurp your soup” and “don’t bounce out of bed.” Ella’s entire being was consumed with obeying all these new orders, which let her in for a pretty rough month or two until the new behavior became a habit.
Although I’m not living under any fairy’s curse, I have to say that I strongly empathize with Ella in this part. It’s exactly what it’s like for us, as a homeschooling family, to start a new school year.
For the first few weeks of school, we all struggle with the new routine and workload. This year, I have two high schoolers taking online classes as well as all their other subjects with Darren and me. Meanwhile, my oldest daughter started a couple of classes online with the local community college about the same time she started her first job. My youngest still needs me to sit down and work through his lessons with him. Every day, I’d help everyone manage their time, keep everyone’s weekly lesson goals in mind, and catch the brunt of their anxiety and frustration.
I felt just like Ella. I’d wake up in the morning already reminding myself of what I needed to do that day. Class times, assignment due dates, work schedules, guitar lessons, weekly fitness class—I noted it all on a marker board so I wouldn’t forget anything. Ella and I were constantly whispering to ourselves, “Don’t blow on the porridge. Don’t leap about. Leave by 2:45 to be there by 3:15, but get back in time to start supper because there’s Scouts tonight.”
And despite all my effort, things fell through the cracks. Someone was late for a class or missed an assignment. My already anxious student would melt down and blame me for the error, which infuriated me considering what I juggled every day. Crying, shouting, storming off to bedrooms, and slamming doors . . . and it wasn’t just the kids. Later, after the storm passed, I’d go back to apologize, reconcile, and work out the conflict, which usually meant more tears and long talks. I’ll be honest, it was a rough few weeks.
I have a few homeschooling years behind me by now, though. I remembered vaguely that, in general, January isn’t as bumpy a ride as September. I forged ahead, like poor Ella, hoping that things would smooth out.
This week as I was sitting down to do school with Ranger, I glanced at the marker board. It occurred to me that I hadn’t updated it recently. In fact, only one sentence remained on it: Sparkler essay due Saturday, October 23.
I blinked as I realized how out of date the reminder was. Sparkler had turned in that essay and gotten a good grade on it—and had completed a month’s worth of additional school since then. Bookgirl balanced her own school assignments with her work schedule. Gamerboy had taken ownership of his challenging math class and generally stayed on track with only occasional help from me. Ranger still wouldn’t do any school if I didn’t sit down with him, but even he had developed his own schedule to complete his independent work each afternoon.
We still had the anxious days, tears, and conflict. But it wasn’t the constant, every-moment struggle it had been a few weeks ago. We had adjusted.
As I think of everyone else homeschooling this year, I suspect that we’ve all had to weather some pretty rough weeks. It’s hard on everyone—kids, parents, new homeschoolers, veteran homeschoolers. Sometimes you just have to persevere through the adjustment until, finally, the routine settles in.
As Ella put it, “And gradually, it all became natural. Light steps, small stitches, quiet voice . . . My progress in all my subjects astounded my mistresses.”
Of course, Ella fell asleep dreaming of making her own choices and not conforming to others’ commands. Not me. That’s one reason why we homeschool in the first place—to enjoy the freedom of choice and our own style of education. But I won’t lie, it’s been a bumpy ride this year. We still hit potholes on a regular basis. And while I don’t have a curse to break like Ella does, I have to say that the holidays are looking pretty good about now.