Sunday Scenes

I try to make Sunday a day that I do less of the ‘regular’ stuff, and do a little ‘filling the bucket’. I try to remember to change it up. I am not good at ‘relaxing’.

I address early morning sunshine like it’s my religion. Oh, wait. It is. Speaking of religion, both the laundry room and the kitchen sink are altars of sorts.

Nail painting. Iced coffee. Long walk to an early morning workout at our township’s new outdoor, (free) gym.

A novel I swore I’d never listen too, someone who slept in the yard and Footloose on the Costelloland big screen.

Tell me about your Sunday.

Dear Covid-Schoolers,

If it is unclear at this point, a “Covid-Schooler” is a parent/family researching homeschooling for a variety of reasons. It is not a phrase that is meant to be derogatory, only descriptive. One reason parents are considering homeschooling their children during this time is an ongoing fear and concern regarding the Covid virus, its transmission and its risk to their kids and families. Another reason is that families find the guidelines for returning to school outlined by the State of NJ as unacceptable in some manner. There are also people who feel like this is just the last straw in their decision to homeschool. This is a unprecedentedly difficult time to enter this fringe community. It is estimated that less than 1% of NJ school-aged children are homeschooled. It is true that we are small, somewhat close knit circles of families.

For as long as we’ve been homeschooling, we’ve become accustomed to jokes and snarky remarks made at our expense. We answer the same questions over and over in social settings. People have been downright rude about our lifestyle choice, often in front of our children. I am just giving you some background as to why many of us are not entirely forth-coming with ALL of the information you would like.

Some of us have a hard time quantifying some of the information that you want. Lots of theories about natural learning or the way our kids developed certain skills cannot be explained in a short paragraph on a Facebook thread. We are not trying to be evasive. One of my grown kids was very much self-taught and I can’t quite tell you how he developed his extensive knowledge of history or math and physics far beyond what his father and I do. You’d have to ask him (I hear he often replies TV). One of my kids learned to read all by his little self at just 4 years old. I have no idea how. He can’t tell you. Sorry. I’m not being trite, these are just realities.

One of the questions that gets posed A LOT by parents inquiring about homeschooling is some version of “What curriculum is best for my child?” To many veteran homeschoolers, this is a strange question that many of us feel ill-equipped to answer. You are asking strangers, who don’t know a thing about your child’s interests or intellect, activity level, challenges and gifts to make a recommendation. It takes time and a relationship to see how your child learns and when they are happiest and most productive pursuing and retaining information. Time and trial are truly the only way to gain this understanding.

I know you are in a rush, it just doesn’t work that way.

I am not being rude when I explain that your children having spent most of their lives in traditional school/institutional learning will be a serious detriment to your efforts to homeschool. It is the reason you will hear the word “Deschooling” so often in articles for new-comers. It was an extremely important part of our deprogramming as parents. This is not a knock at what you’ve done in the past. It is a real thing. One of the most important shifts from school to homeschooling is a child’s ability to pursue information on their own and not the expectation that they will be spoon fed tasks by a teacher. There are other factors like grades, bells and time shifts that need addressed. If you cannot hear this or are offended, just take a deep breath and give it some consideration. It also poses a larger issue for families who are looking at homeschooling as a temporary solution.

Please realize if you are of this ‘temporary’ mind set, you have a unique set of challenges that many of us do not face. Many of us are completely uninterested in keeping in lockstep with the local school district and most of us are not committed to staying ‘on grade level‘ (on either side of that curve). We’ve left traditional schooling for a reason and we may be of little help in this arena. I suggest you form a support system for yourselves in regards to this. We may be of little help because some of us simply don’t care for that ideology.

I have heard many questions from new homeschoolers that make me nervous. Some want to know if you can get paid to homeschool your own kid or someone else’s or refunded property taxes. Some parents want to seek support like computers, iPads and curriculum from school districts – because we all pay taxes, don’t you know! As homeschoolers, most of us have been very happy to stay away from our school districts (hence the whole homeschooling thing) and stay ‘under the radar’. We enjoy remarkable amount of freedom to do things how we see fit in NJ. We’d much rather be left alone than gain support from our local school districts.

We have sacrificed a lot in the way of finances, including second incomes. It might be fine to ask, respectfully, if anyone chooses to address the serious issue of finances. It’s a real thing. Many of us committed to homeschooling not really knowing the full impact of it and how we would address the financial deficits, but like anything else in life, not every thing is for everyone and it is a very personal issue as to how you make it work.

Also, please know that our lives as homeschoolers has been shaken up too! Our co-ops will face similar challenges to what is happening with schools. People are unsure how many kids we can have in our buildings and if our buildings are still open to us. Many co-ops were already at capacity and welcoming ‘newbies’ might not be an option at this time. Families that participate have differing opinions and concerns about the safety of their kids, just like people looking to leave the school district.

Many of us rely on historical sites, museums, nature centers, zoos, aquariums, libraries, parks and other experiential learning settings as part of our educational lifestyles. Yeah. Many are closed and are being severely financially impacted. Many music and art teachers have cancelled classes. Our regular programs as been immensely impacted. If we come off as ‘unhelpful’ or ‘unwelcoming’ – forgive us. We are also forging new ways to structure our lives and our kids’ educational opportunities.

Many of us are not broadening our social circles and that might make us seem ‘exclusive’. This is not the intention.

I have some advice, for what it’s worth.

One idea is to consider waiting a little longer for your school districts’ directive. Maybe it won’t be as bad as you think. There is no time frame for pulling your kids out of school. You can do it at any point.

If you truly desire a very ‘schooly’ approach to homeschooling with the intent to return to public school, find a group of like-minded people, people who are experiencing exactly what you are going through. I have found through many challenges that I have faced in life, a small group of people sharing an experience with me is indispensable support.

There is another option as well. You could embrace a year of homeschooling in the truest sense of the word and with the vast freedom allowed by NJ. Eschew the school paradigm to create something new and radical. You could allow your kids to develop their hobbies, bake and build, play board games and ride bikes, watch documentaries about endless topics and watch great movies. Let them read for pleasure, play with science kits, and craft. Let them explore math without pressure and more fun – like this, or this, or this. Sal Khan is always there for you too.

My friend Mariya, The Happy Homeschooler, has taught me a very important life lesson. I believe it is particularly valuable at this present moment. She always says, “Do what is right for you and your family.” She always means it.

I say do that.

How To Make Sense

Nothing makes sense right now. Concentrating is difficult and nothing feels right. I feel off-kilter and uncentered.

But, if I smooth out the sheets and prop the pillows just right and square up the seems on the comforter, other things feel straighter and smoother too. Something has definitely been accomplished, just like this guy says.

When I do laundry, NOTHING unexpected happens. It goes in dirty and comes out clean and cold and ready for drying, fluffing and folding. It is divine and is warm and lets itself be rolled or folded into neat bundles. It is so predictable and I don’t have to wash my hands when I am done.

I can make order from disorder. I can make an utter disaster into peace & calm. I’m not getting that feedback in any other area of my life right now. So I forge ahead with my spray cleaner, scrubby sponge and microfiber cloths.

I take Melissa Maker’s advice because I am a devotee of her cult of cleaning. She preaches the sermon that is my salvation. It is well with my soul when each new task is completed.

I can stack and order and line up books. I can place small tokens of love and life on shelves and they stay right where I place them. Pledge is a balm for my soul. I remove dust and scuffs like it is my religion.

Amen.

She Was Lost

For years, I’ve been looking for a house. We had out grown our previous house many years and several kids ago. On my tippy toes, I could touch the ceilings upstairs. We were literally bursting at the seams.

We wanted to stay close to everything and everyone we know and love and the activities that make up our lives. We needed better school options for our kids who choose to use them. We needed to be near ‘Ethan’s life’ which included being 3/4 of a mile off a pubic bus route in order to ever utilize Access Link and near his beloved day program. There was Dennis’ job to consider. We needed So. Much. Space. We needed bedrooms and bathrooms – and a lot of them! We dreamed of a two car garage and space for my mom. Stay tuned, as our family delves into intentional, multi-generational living.

We’ve seen a ton of houses, each with their unique assets and definite drawbacks. The price points where we live are very high and discouraging. Taxes can be prohibitive. Attempting this move has been frustrating and exhausting at times. Like most house searches (that include a budget) something has to give.

I thought from reading the listing of Brook House, it was very close to all we could ask for. I looked at every house that came close to my crazy specifications just in case there were hidden assets or magical extra rooms. I went alone as Dennis was on an adventure with Sean.

I walked into the Open House at the same time as another couple. After about a minute, I heard the woman exclaim, ‘Oh, hell no.’ They left shortly after. Her comment was in response to the copious amounts of dirt and the sheer volume of tragic cosmetic issues. I know. Everyone says “It’s just cosmetic”. That would come back to us in the coming weeks.

We confirmed with the previous owner/builder (not the people who destroyed it) that this rug was circa 1978

I am not gifted at looking past certain things, but I really could see the good bones in this one. The spaces were generous and flowing. The first floor was practically elegant. The kitchen was at least giant, if not filthy. A huge, luxury Theramador range was tucked away in a corner – covered in a thick layer of grease, along with every other surface in the kitchen.

I found an extra room and then a bonus room and stairs up to plenty of bedrooms. I kept finding more space and more horrible dirt and grime. I wandered, counted, measured and inspected. The closer I got, the worse the dirt became. But I overlooked it. When I opened what I thought was a closet in the family room and found a stairway I was surprised. The realtor admitted that she knew very little about the house, as it was a bank sale. I hoped to never get involved in a bank sale.

Secret Stairway

That’s when I found my magical rooms. My mom’s space materialized like the Room of Requirement I am so fond of in Harry Potter. Other than the obvious ‘cosmetic’ challenges, it was exactly the space she had been describing that she needed for herself and I kept explaining was not going to be an option – houses in our area just weren’t constructed with these types of ‘in-law’ spaces and our price point would probably never allow for it. But it was there with all it’s 1980s carpets, lavender walls and filthy bathroom.

I exited through the two car garage hanging with cob webs and stinking of mildew, to walk the perimeter of the large, rectangular and very level yard. I needed to overlook the moss on the exterior of the house to see it. I had to look very closely.

But then I saw it. Yup, this is the one. I found it.

The End of An Era

As I was finishing cleaning out the house we have inhabited for almost 22 years. I looked around at the empty space and realized it is a crucible in which my family was formed. Does that sound extreme? It has been.

Suddenly, alone in the house doing the last of the vacuuming, I notice I am crying. I am crying because I thought moving would be different. I thought it would organized and calculated and there would be a more formal way of saying goodbye to all we have known. I expected a flamboyant and final farewell. But instead, we literally abandoned ship on a Friday afternoon in the middle of this ‘Covid-19 Crisis’ . The uncertainty about our ability to rent a truck, find moving help or to what extent the ‘stay-at-home’ orders would infiltrate our lives, Dennis and I made a last ditch effort to get the most important items and our beds moved in the back of his pickup truck. Moving was unsettling and the ‘world pandemic’ produced anxiety and uncertainty at a completely new level. I have felt as though I am free-falling for a couple of months now.

And just like that, we moved into our new house with no official way to welcome ourselves or our friends. No housewarming party or celebration – as is our style. No fanfare. We just did. It is not how I pictured any of this.

Unhappily, I discover that I am also crying because I’ve been left alone in the house. Normally, that would be a very welcomed situation for me, but I have become accustomed to four very different walls and seven additional people with me at all times. We have developed a specific choreography to our isolated days, and right now, deviating from it seems wrong and uncomfortable. That in itself is distressing. I am upset that I am alone, and then upset that I am upset about it. It’s a vortex.

I turn back to thinking about our little house. The house meant everything to us. It took us a few hours to move into it as we owned absolutely nothing. Ethan and Dennis and I had all the space we needed and I was pretty certain that we would not have any other children.

<Insert laugh track here>

If there is anything that defined this house it was children and parties. My sister’s kids and mine were raised like siblings here. Picnics on the driveway were a common occurrence. There were birthday parties, countless holiday parties and a New Year’s Eve party that hosted 70 people! There were sleepovers of all types, children who joined us for 1 night or several weeks through foster care. Once, adoption papers were signed at our dining room table as there was not another feasible location for the family to do it. We homeschooled our kids here comfortably. Our family was ridiculously happy in this house. The 1400 sq. ft. of that house lived super-BIG and we could not have asked for one more thing.

Except for a BIG, new house for a new chapter in our lives! I can’t wait to tell you her story. It’s amazing.