Darren and I always intended to homeschool. We were pretty sure that we knew how to do it. After all, we’d been homeschooled during high school, he already worked for HSLDA, and we had a seemingly endless supply of glossy magazine pictures and highlight videos to show us what homeschooling was really like.

When I imagined being a homeschool mom, I saw all my children seated around the kitchen table, the morning sunlight spilling over their open schoolbooks. I sat with them, cultivating their love of learning and possibly even providing the sunlight.

Sometimes I even went all 90s homeschool mom with unit studies, “minute books,” project portfolios, and murals. I guess I assumed that once I put on a denim jumper, a love for crafts would magically blossom within me.

I expected that I’d do year-round schooling so the kids’ skills didn’t get rusty. We’d go on a lot of nature walks, finding interesting mushrooms and playing in water. I knew I wouldn’t be exactly good at managing six or seven kids, but all I had to do was teach my older children to help out with the younger ones. The path before me was long but straight and clear. It was basically a “just add children” situation.

Darren and I did just that, in pretty quick order considering that Bookgirl was born three months before our first anniversary. Over the next eight years, Gamerboy, Sparkler, and Ranger followed. I officially began homeschooling when Bookgirl was five years old.

It took about half an hour for my illusions to form the first fracture.

“We’re going to make a ‘minute book’ about rainbows,” I said. “Here are seven little pages, and we’re going to color each one for the rainbow. This first page is going to be red.”

Bookgirl objected, “I want to draw a dragon.”

“No, this is a schoolbook about a rainbow.”

I hate rainbows! I want to draw a dragon!”

The morning sunlight spilled through the window, across the table, and onto Bookgirl’s prostrate, wailing figure on the floor. I realized that I sympathized with her. Coloring a page red was boring, and I didn’t like doing crafts. What was I thinking?

“Okay, here’s an idea,” I said. “Draw a dragon looking at a rainbow.”

Over the next several years, more cracks appeared in my homeschooling fantasies. Year-round schooling, it turned out, meant that school just never really ends. Why didn’t anybody mention this to me? Nature walks were also a disappointment in suburban Virginia. Unless we wanted to drive fifteen or twenty minutes out of town, my kids’ “nature” consisted of our back yard with one tree. Also—something else these beautiful magazine pictures didn’t include—a nature walk meant finding socks and shoes for every child, and once you finally got outside, the whole thing was over as soon as somebody saw a bee.

My plans of having a houseful of six or seven children got pared down by reality; I hit capacity at four. Bookgirl and Gamerboy aren’t the nurturing older sibling types, which is just as well because Sparkler and Ranger didn’t sign up to be nurtured. Sparkler wouldn’t even let Bookgirl hold her hand in a parking lot, while Ranger simply ignored any orders he didn’t like. If my children had ever been left on their own when they were young, they definitely would not have set up a functioning household in an abandoned railroad car.*

All those rosy homeschooling fantasies are in pieces now. Darren and I knew a lot less about homeschooling than we expected. It’s hard work, and we’ve had to adjust and adapt more times than I can remember. Throughout the years, however, we forged our own family identity and our own style of learning. We’ve now graduated our older two and are looking forward to high school and middle school with our younger two.

The reality is much different from my expectations. And it turns out that we like it this way.

—Sara

* Boxcar Children is about four children's adventures while solving mysteries!