I never thought I’d homeschool. Not in a million years did I want to be associated with the families in denim jumpers, with awkward social skills, knowing lots, sure, but not knowing how to live in the world. Why would I want to do that to my kids?
And what about myself? Of all the things I could be doing with a PhD–to teach my own two children, to spend so much time and energy to educate just these two–and in doing so ensure that I’m not teaching the potential high school or college classes I could pursue. Or I could work as an editor for a small press, or take up journalism, or, or, or, or…
I could. I could put them in school–there’s a very good public school right down the street. And that would be lovely. They would have dedicated teachers, make new friends, learn things I hadn’t thought to teach them, learn the crucial skill of how to survive with a pack of kids. And they would ride the bus–which, to Madeleine, is the single most important symbol of really being in school.
And I would breathe a sigh of relief, as they rode off on the bus, and I’d walk home and get ready for work. And I’d have a salary. And I’d have something interesting to say when people ask me what I do. And my parents would have something interesting to say when their friends ask them what I do. And I’d spend time everyday with adults. We’d have meetings and make important decisions, and we’d blow off steam at happy hour every now and then. And I’d have a salary. I’d buy new clothes, look sharp. I wouldn’t think twice each time I pick the organic option. We’d buy plane tickets and stay in Air BnB’s around the world.
But, just like when I was about to put Madeleine in preschool, and I found Free Forest School, I realized–I don’t need to put her in a school so she can learn and make friends. We can do that ourselves–with this woodsy group of people who want the same things for their kids. We’ ll band together and build a moat of protection around these kids and let them play in the wild kingdom of nature–taking risks and making experiments, learning how to balance on wobbly trees and how to walk down a slippery slope, mastering the art of playing with sticks and rocks without clobbering your friends.
And we’d have time. Time, that most valuable of commodities that is not a commodity at all but is existence itself, there for the living. Time to move more slowly, time to cuddle and read together, to say yes to one more book and have the kids think they’re getting away with something. Time to have another cup of coffee. Time to spend outdoors, in nature, in the park, in the garden. We could plant and to watch things grow–every day. What happens to the flower on the okra plant? What does the young shoot of broccoli look like? What happens to asparagus fronds when they grow tall?
Over these forest school preschool years, my desire for a successful career has loosened until my hands are just open.
I had thought my life was leading towards something that would make it worthwhile. A title. A salary. An office. It wasn’t. It was always leading towards right here. The present. Learn to live in the present.
The life of the home, the natural world, the family, community are not in service to the career. It’s flipped upside down. The career is needed to support the life of the home, the community, the family–lived in broader community with the natural world as we all work to find food, to weather the elements, to care for this space we share, to enjoy the breeze.
People whose survival is threatened know this. When people in war torn regions are asked what they really want, they often answer, just peace. Peace to live and to love.
What if that is the whole purpose of life? Just to seek and create and enjoy peace. To live in this stunning and strange world and take a look around. To enjoy the company of those we are here with and to learn from how they see the world.
My life has been unfolding into that realization for years–maybe all of them. It was a slow and hesitant epiphany to realize that homeschooling could be a way to live out that realization.
It seems like a gift that’s too good to be true (in the abstract of course. The reality is full of bickering and messes) that at this point in my life–I’m inching closer to 40–my job could be to take another look at everything that is most amazing and wondrous and mysterious, to seek answers to difficult questions, and to get to share this journey with the two people I love so deeply that it’s like a wound.
Add to that that we can do this in a community of people with a similar vision, who love the world and who want to share its beauty with each other. Who share their wisdom with me and help me figure out the nuts and bolts. So the kids and I can be in community–socially engaging with a range of ages and personalities and so many minds to learn from.
And in all this I can have time to write–to live fully in that part of my being–because I have time. And because my friend is watching my kids. And it’s 11 am on the first day of school. Because we can do school after lunch. Because we have time.
I do want to underline that I’m not arguing that this option is the best choice for everybody, or that other careers are wasting time, or that all women should be home with their kids. Certainly not. This complex world needs all kinds and people find joy and meaning in different ways. I’m just trying to articulate why this choice brings me joy, because it’s something I’ve grappled with. And I’ve come to believe that following what brings you joy can be the best marker of which path to take.
It does seem too good to be true. But that’s how true goodness is, isn’t it? Like a blackberry, growing plump in the woods, hanging on the vine when you come around a corner.
At least that’s how it feels on this first day.