Back to School Blues
Homeschooling wasn’t even on my radar when we started our family. In my head, there was a clear path to raising children.
Life had other plans.
We found ourselves homeschooling and surprisingly adapted faster than I expected. We concluded that benchmarks and milestones are a bunch of made-up bullshit. Who gives a fuck if my kid reads at 5, 6, or even 7 years of age? What’s that, he only reads graphic novels? Uh, he’s reading, writing, and utilizing critical thinking skills so take your Grapes of Wrath and terrorize someone else with that boring in no way relatable crap that a bunch of white dudes decided was “required” for an education.
I think we adapted quickly because of the threat of rare diseases and death changes everything about how you look at your world and your children. Test scores and labels of being gifted become a lot less important when you aren’t even sure your kid is going to live beyond their teen years. We weren’t experiencing life the way our neighbors who enrolled in little league teams and after school dance classes were.
Another reason, if you have yet to surmise, is my ingrained hatred of adhering to norms. I’m cool with social contracts but I often question why the rules are the way they are especially in the area of education. Often the answer is capitalism and finances. Rarely is it what’s best and developmentally appropriate for the learner. I get the need for a streamlined process, an agreed-upon vocab, and whatnot when you are attempting to educate thousands of tiny humans but more often than not what we do in our education system is harm.
School was a harmful place for me and the result is even more hours in therapy. It wasn’t that school was hard. The education part was easy. People love to share stories of the one teacher who inspired them to be better. I have stories of a teacher terrorizing me with a snake and another who made sexual innuendos to me and the other 7th grade female students. The guidance counselor telling me I wouldn’t have been assaulted by a group of boys one cold morning in 6th grade if I would just start behaving more like a girl. These are just a smattering of my experiences. Despite this, I still believe the majority of teachers go into this profession with the best intentions.
Homeschooling has both challenged and rewarded us as a family. When we settled in I then shifted my thinking that we would stay on this path through high school.
Life had other plans.
My vestibular injury meant I could no longer do much of anything. There was no guarantee or timeline for recovery. Suddenly, educating my kids became a much bigger hurdle. Add to the mix their age and it was time once more for a change. Thankfully, we were open to figuring out and options. When you can pay for education things are much easier and I’m well aware that we have that privilege.
We found a good fit. A place they could start part-time and in line with our values. The school was secular and approached every student as an individual. The program in place focused on project-based learning and less on arbitrary standards. Even better is they enjoyed it.
COVID arrived shortly thereafter.
Now they were back home. Except this wasn’t homeschooling. This was schooling at home amid a pandemic. Once again our worlds were radically shifted. So here we are at the beginning of a new school year. There are several options this year and each of the kids is doing something different but they are doing it with this particular school. This is the first year we have a true “first day” of school and I’m finding it difficult.
Often when I see parents post about how they can’t take it anymore with the kids or please can they just go back to school already because breaks are too long, I feel sad for that family. They’ve been conditioned to see parenting as burdensome and their children as something they have to endure. Because of the nature of the school, having the kids home for long periods is overwhelming, and slowing down and just existing isn’t an option because we don’t live in a society where that is seen as productive. Our social structure and set-up often do more harm than good.
I’m not struggling with the kids separating themselves from home base. Two of them will be doing virtual options so I’m not kid-free just yet. I’m struggling with the unhealed parts of myself. While the school has an approach more in line with our values, two kids are in high school and naturally what happens next is part of the agenda. Thing is I don’t give a fuck about SATs and “important” colleges with fancy names. If the kids want to attend a traditional college or university that still insists on using SAT scores and AP classes as a way to measure success than I will do what I can to help them achieve those goals. I’m also going to help them if they want to find a different way. Right now, I have one talking about getting trained in specific skills and trades and another looking at art schools. My issue is I already feel judged by the teachers, administration, and other parents and the year hasn’t even begun. I’m that weird parent who doesn’t do normal and just never fits in. Not fitting in often stirs up a lot of tough feelings for me.
I’m also overwhelmed with the amount of labor and energy it takes to manage three kids in school. I do all of it on my own. From drop-off and pickups, supplies, helping with homework and navigating the angst, anxiety, and turbulent feelings of the teen years, it’s all me, all the time. While I’m highly organized, it is a lot to ask of one person especially as I am not fully recovered from the nerve damage that kicked off this entirely new adventure.
So the pressure builds and my body typically chooses the freeze option on the fight/flight/freeze menu which eventually leads to me shutting down. This leads to the kids becoming super frustrated because they want something done on their timeline and I’m trying to explain to them that I will come through for them but it has to be on a different timeline. It isn’t just frustration they are experiencing because being a teen is the worst time for emotions so of course now their whole life is ruined.
I don’t have the time to be flighty because my brain needs to disconnect from reality. Because the kids are now schooling from home, I now have to be aware of how much noise I make which means shifting chores, meals, even rehab exercises. When we homeschooled we could devise a day that had downtime built-in for those times when psychological or medical needs required attention. Much of learning didn’t take place in textbooks either and we could get creative and innovative. That has been replaced and what worked for me is no longer what works for them. I’m working on figuring out how to manage this loss and a significant spike in anxiety.
I also am finding I don’t feel there is space for just me anymore. The theater wasn’t easy and yes, it was a job but it was also a clear break from my parent/caregiver/teacher duties and now that it is gone, I’m somewhat lost. Writing is an exercise in isolation and that isn’t always the best thing for me. I easily retreat into my head and world. The theater forced me to connect and remember not every human was a monster. It’s gone and there’s nothing I can do to change that. The world is different and so am I. What has taken its place is ongoing melancholy and a feeling of being trapped. This just leads me to be short-tempered and irritable. Not the headspace I need to be in as we embark on the beginning of a new school year.
Beginnings are opportunities and change. As with any change, adjustments are to be expected. I suspect both the boys and myself will encounter bumps and bruises as we start this new school year. I keep thinking they will bear it better than me. Thing is, I won’t know until it happens.
Life tends to have other plans.