Tuesday, June 7, 2016

A few million stars, revisited

I pride myself on being the kind of person who doesn't get too sentimental about things. But I have to admit that I got a little teary-eyed just now.

You see, I was reading an old blog post of mine, and I got to a part of it that made me tear up a bit.

The post was about homeschooling, and the last paragraph of it is as follows:
Because a few million stars from now, I'll be watching some poised and eager young women take their first steps out into the world, as they discover their vocations and find God's will for their lives. And in their faces I'll see the frowning concentration of the first-graders who struggled to make a letter "B" that wasn't too "bendy;" I'll recognize the focus and direction of the girls who were determined to understand long division; I'll see the joyful spirits of the young ladies who acted out the lessons on proper introduction from the grammar books; I'll see the thoughtful introspection of the daughters who read, a chapter at a time, the story of their salvation from the religion texts. And I'll see other things, too, things I can't even imagine yet (algebra, anyone?), things that will give my girls a chance to grow in grace and wisdom toward the lives to which God will call them.
And I teared up just a bit (not too much! I'm still a redhead!) because those few million stars slipped past almost too fast for me to notice.

Which is a fancy way of saying that my youngest girl, "Hatchick" on this blog, has now joined her sisters as a homeschool high school graduate.

And I am now a retired homeschooling mom.

It was almost sixteen years ago when I started teaching our oldest (we started kindergarten early, and given her determination and drive which are still huge features of her personality it was definitely a good thing), and I am finding it a little hard to believe that we are actually finished. It really is bittersweet, because I'm so proud of all our girls and eager for Hatchick to follow her sisters into this great adventure called "college" and also a little curious and excited about what I'm going to do with myself come fall (though you know writing will be a huge part of my daily life)-yet, at the same time, there's a wistfulness that comes over me when I remember our adventures in education together and realize that life is going to be different now. Of course, one of the first things you learn as a homeschooling mom is that life isn't what you think it will be anyway; maybe there are homeschooling families whose uniformed children gather happily around the kitchen table at six a.m. and begin making up mnemonic devices to help them remember the names of all the counties in the United States while flawlessly filling in college-level math workbooks and cracking jokes in this year's foreign language (Gaelic) that are only funny if you remember the atomic mass of every element in the periodic table, but I have yet to meet that family. 

I have met (both in real life and online) actual homeschooling families who have all sorts of amazing skills and talented children, but the real-world picture often includes those afternoon temper bursts that send the least-favorite textbook flying across the living room floor (and it's bad enough when it's the child doing the throwing...I'm kidding! Really!), not to mention some very real academic struggles that are--guess what?--just like the academic struggles children might have in different school environments. If there's a difference (and I believe there is), it is that Mom can easily look for a different grammar book or math book, or seek help or tutoring online or in real life, or do whatever it takes to make sure that the child in question gets to an appropriate level of understanding in the subject in question. I think most of the really dedicated school teachers out there would like to be able to do the same for the children in their charge, but one of the sad ironies of our age is that we create educational slogans like "No child left behind!" but then impose realities on teachers that force them to decide between leaving a child or two behind, or slowing down the whole class to the point that the ubiquitous and looming standardized test may reveal that slow pace to angry administrators. My sympathy for classroom teachers has grown over the years, and I think the next catchy educational slogan ought to be "No teacher left behind." (Okay, there's the one about no male body parts in girls' locker rooms, too, but that's a topic for another day.)

The truth is that this business of teaching and raising children isn't easy. No matter how you go about it there will be triumphs and setbacks, joys and sorrows, because we are fallen human beings temporarily occupying the vale of tears. But for me, homeschooling has really been not just joyful, but a privilege. It was a privilege for me to stay at home with my daughters and be their first teacher through the early years, and having taught them how to walk and how to talk and how to use the bathroom and how to eat with utensils and how to be nice and take turns and share and so on, it just seemed natural to keep going and teach them how to make letters and numbers and then how to combine those letters and numbers in new and fascinating ways to unlock the mysteries of the universe--or, at least, those mysteries that come up in the first eighteen years of life. Natural; but still a privilege and a gift, to get to know these three amazing young women and to be so proud of them and so delighted in their company on a daily basis.

The great thing about being a retired homeschooling mom is that it's only the homeschooling part that comes to an end. The "mom" part is a life-long joy, and I'm ready to be here for all of my daughters as they head out into the vast world. They all want to find out God's will for them and to live whatever life He calls them to live, and it's an honor for me to be present as they begin these new journeys just as it has been an honor to be both mother and teacher to them all these years.