Thanks Mom, For Making Sure I Didn’t Turn Out Weird
Homeschooling was a large part of my childhood, and I’m thankful for all the sacrifices my mother made to do it right.
Growing up, my friends thought the fact that I sometimes received my lessons in my pajamas was the coolest thing ever.
“You don’t even have to wake up early?!” They thought that not being on a strict schedule was the best thing about being homeschooled. They were jealous, wishing they didn’t have to wake up to catch the 7 a.m bus.
I thought it was pretty great too, although, I usually got dressed in the morning and woke up at a decent time to get my work done. I wasn’t lazy, plus, the faster I got things done the faster I could go outside to play.
But looking back, my homeschooling experience was more than just getting to sleep in.
My mother’s decision to homeschool is probably the biggest factor in shaping who I am today. I was only homeschooled from the first to eighth grade before attending “real school,” but those early years taught me a lot about independence, a love of learning, and a whole lot of self-discipline.
I remember meeting new kids and dreading the “what grade are you in?” question.
“Well, I’m in six-grade math, but I do eighth-grade English,” I had no clue how to answer. We didn’t really keep to a “grade level” because my math lessons didn’t depend on how well I was doing in science or geography.
“What do you want to learn this year? I’m ordering books” is how mom started off every school year. We ordered a homeschool kit of the basics — math, science, history, literature — but all the extracurriculars were up to me. If I showed interest in the stars, she would order me workbooks on astronomy, and if I was interested in the sciences, we would order home science experiment kits. Additionally, there were also a few things she thought I needed to learn at a young age, like typing and financial literacy.
Choosing my own books, as well as my own hours in which I learned, taught me that my education is up to me — no one else. Yes, I was under the supervision of my mother, but much of my schooling was self-driven. I started when I wanted to, read the day’s lessons, and finished the prescribed ‘homework.’ She then checked my work at which point my school day was done.
Giving me a sense of control over what I wanted to study made learning less of a task and more of an opportunity to explore. I remember pointlessly researching things for hours, taking notes for no reason. I had a notebook full of lessons and notes I learned while playing the Magic School Bus computer games.
I always say that my mother homeschooled me because she was a hippie. She was a real “stick it to the man” type. There was no religious reason or anything of that sort, although we usually claimed religious reasons to the state because we didn’t want too many questions. I learned mostly the same stuff a student in the public school system would have learned.
What she didn’t like was the idea of putting her children in public school where we would have to stand in neat little lines and continually test our ability to cough up information during Virginia’s Standards of Learning tests, or SOLs, or as my mother called them, the “shit out of luck” tests. It was a big commitment, but since my family lived in a small town and mom was a stay at home mother, so we had no reason not to.
That was another thing about being homeschooled, I never received a grade. Either I got the information or I didn’t, there was no need to put a letter on it. I would get star stickers when I was younger if I did really well and if I did bad we just went back and reviewed the content until I got it. We did pass state tests so that we could prove that we were actually learning something, and we passed with flying colors every year.
Everything turns into a lesson when your mother is your primary teacher. Even regular trips to the park were educational. I remember taking molds of animal footprints with Plaster of Paris and pressing leaves into books to learn about the local plant and animal species. Cooking at home turned into a lesson on math and measurements.
Telling people now I was homeschooled usually receives a funny reaction. “But you’re not weird?” is a common response. There is a narrative, and I won’t say it’s completely wrong, that homeschooled kids are strange because they didn’t get to socialize with other kids.
My mother was very aware of this narrative and did everything she could to get my siblings and myself out into the community. I mean everything. We were involved in our local theater and recreational sports for every season. I took karate classes and participated in reading days at the library. We were a part of the junior ranger program with the National Park Service, active members of the 4-H, and went away to multiple summer camps. We also volunteered in every way we could in our community.
Mom would just sign us up for random things. CPR class with the local fire department? That sounds fun. How about a gardening club? Mary Lee, I’ve signed you up for three shifts at the 4-H food stand at the county fair, you need to be ready to go around three.
My resume by the time I was 18 was packed with work and volunteer experience.
Being homeschooled was always my choice. Mom would ask every once and a while if I liked it and if I wanted to continue. It wasn’t until I got to eighth grade that I noticed some things, particularly math, were getting difficult.
My mom, who had a master’s degree in English, and my father, with an art degree, were not very helpful when it came to algebra. That, along with a want to continue to play sports, pushed me into deciding it was finally time to go to “real school.”
I’ll never really get to thank my mother for all she did for me. She died when I was a senior in high school, just after I turned 18. I hadn’t yet really understood all the sacrifices she made for me.
My mom was a superhero. Not only to me but for the entire community. I think our small town’s entire population showed up at the wake, we had a line waiting to come into the building that was two blocks long and it shut down the traffic on Main Street. The church didn’t have enough seats for the funeral, so some people paid their respects outside.
Because of her, my education didn’t start or stop in books or piles of homework, but it extended out, touching the lives of others. I learned about pollinators and photosynthesis while planting flowers in the town’s public parks and learned about the arts and leadership while volunteering with our local children’s theatre productions.
My mother taught me that life is her own teacher and there is a lesson in every experience — you just have to be willing to learn. I’m thankful that I didn’t spend most of my childhood experience in a classroom and every success I’ve had in life I have her to thank for.