Today is the first day back to school in our area. For us, that means making sure that our Declaration of Intent to Homeschool has been submitted to the district superintendent (it has) and making jokes about the neighbors trudging out the door at 8:40am while we sit in our pajamas until 10am. Ironically, part of the reason we bought this house is that it’s within walking distance of the elementary school. And for the year and some odd months that The Kid went to that school (for first grade and a few months of second), Husband and I loved walking him over. I liked the seven-minute walk with him, but I hated the actual drop-off and pick-up. I always felt so wildly uncomfortable around all the other parents. As an adult, I’ve cultivated a social circle of people that understand me and that value “different.” I stick to that circle as much as I can. Waiting around outside the school with other parents—the yoga-pant-wearing mom groups, the career go-getters, the football-jersey wearing Dads, the over-enthused PTA clique, and on and on—always made me feel like *I* was back in school again and made me feel like the weirdo I was often called. I always stuck out like a purple-haired thumb during my own school years.
Seriously. My hair went from blonde to Manic Panic black to purple to blue to every shade of red imaginable, accessorized with combat boots I’d purchased at the Army Navy, fishnet stockings, a leather motorcycle jacket, and odd pieces of jewelry… in rural Pennsylvania in the 80s, this was not acceptable or common. It wasn’t just my outward appearance that drew fire, either. But though I was consistently mocked and stared at then, I at least had the fortitude to stick with it because I didn’t know how to be anything but myself. My son was already starting to get some of this push back—he’s a little goofy, likes his hair wild and long, and has his own unique style, which thrills me to no end. It pained me to see him having a hard time fitting in already, but it also made me really f*cking proud to see that he, too, would not and could not change himself just to suit the whims of his classmates.
So to say that, during our brick-and-mortar-school days, I was not enthused about all the back-to-school stuff would be an understatement.
I’m excited about Fall, though. I always am because I cannot stand Summer. (More on that later.) I love Fall but I hate “back to school” because I dreaded sending The Kid back. Whenever I say that I like having my kid around, rather than celebrate him going away for 6 hours a day again, someone inevitably takes this as judgement about themselves… it’s not a judgement, it’s just a fact about myself. I love my Kid’s company, I enjoy having him around, and I always liked having the opportunity to do fun things with him once the Summer crowds packed it up and went home. I also know that he couldn’t stand school and had the same angst that *I* had about being sent to an environment that not only didn’t work for me, but caused irreparable harm to my self-esteem and self-worth—not just from the other kids but from the teachers. In fact, I’d say that the teachers were the worst, in that respect.
So on these days, I don’t laugh and share memes about moms getting together to get smashed on vino after the first day of school drop-off, to celebrate “surviving” the Summer. This makes no sense to me. I was more likely to celebrate making it through the school year. All the join-y, “community” school spirit stuff made my skin crawl. During the time that The Kid attended regular school, Husband and I were aghast at the school concert where the kids sang while the music teacher just hit the play button on the music accompaniment recording. (I know I’m somewhat middle-aged and all, but when we were young, music teachers like… played an actual piano?) The constant paperwork, check-ins, weird and slightly colonialist “culture day” events, the lack of art programs, the infuriating “fitness tests” and sit-ups during gym class (excuse me, I mean, P.E.), the teacher conferences, the school spirit events, the harassment over yearbook photos we didn’t want (Yearbooks? For first grade??) etc etc etc. It was just too much for me. Being told that he’s “right where he should be” when his reading scores were at a level years ahead, but still having to fill out a weekly “reading log” to prove he reads for twenty minutes a day (he reads for hours) without any guidance or support for a kid who could already do what he was in school to learn how to do… it was too much for all of us.
So we opted out.
I’m a member of several Homeschool forums, and someone posted that they were ready to try homeschooling but were concerned it would be too hard in a family full of ADHD.
I had worried about that before we started, too. Not so much the “family full of ADHD” because I didn’t know (officially) about myself yet, but I did know that I have a hard time managing my own time and remembering things. But it turns out that homeschooling is infinitely easier than dealing with the demands of either private or public school. We were a little scattered the first year, as I allowed us that time to experiment and “find our groove.” I found an online program that, while not the most creative, helps keep us on top of the basics and allows me to customize his grade level to his abilities (seventh grade reading and language, fifth grade science, third grade math, and fourth grade social studies). Knowing that the fundamentals are covered, we’re free to spend the rest of the time on Spanish, higher reading and writing through John Hopkins online classes, various other online classes and resources, field trips, and…. coding. Programming is his real passion, so that’s what we spend the most time on. He’s been doing Scratch and Java through Minecraft and Roblox. This year he’s learning Python and Unreal. (For real!) Some homeschool parents—particularly of “gifted” kids—seem hell-bent on pushing their kids to get to Harvard by the age of sixteen. Everything they do is targeted to college requirements (which makes sense for teenagers, but not so much for a ten-year-old?) That is not us. My own experience (dropping out of high school and going to community college) has taught me that if he wants to apply to a proper university, community college will be the way to get there and anything we do (or don’t do) now won’t wreck his chances.
But as a parent, it’s so much easier for me to stop pretending to care and put effort into a system I fundamentally don’t believe in. It’s easier for me to focus on things that we feel are actually valuable. I’ll happily run him around to Parkour, archery, and coding camps a few times a week because he loves those activities, but running around for school activities right down the street was soul crushing. (And I do think Parkour is far more valuable than sit ups and running a mile around a dog-shit covered field in the hot sun for the sake of “fitness tests.” But that’s just me.)
I was terrified when Husband and Kid agreed to take the plunge. I wondered what the hell I got us all into, even though the option to return to public school is always there. I had a very, “Well, I got us all into this, now I need to make it work” attitude. With our first full year under our belt… I think it’s safe to say that we will never, ever, ever go back.
So yeah. The Kid and I have both been really looking forward to the first day of school, but for different reasons than everyone else. We’ve held off all Summer on trips to the Zoo, Seattle Center, museums, etc. Too damn crowded. But now? The zoo is ours, once again.