That’s what I texted Greg (yeah, I text now. What of it?) after I got home from Joel’s preschool tour yesterday. Despite Joel’s protests that he didn’t want to go, I found myself blindly determined, scrambling to get the kids all dressed and somewhat presentable and out the door early yesterday morning (ok, it was 10:30. That’s damn early for us, believe me). Sometimes I ignore my better judgment and just press forward, convincing myself that something is for the best. This usually leads to trouble. Yesterday was no exception.
One thing about homeschooling: you never feel like you’re doing the right thing. Or, when you’re around other homeschoolers you do and idealistically, your reasoning may be sound (I consider mine to be) but you are never getting that validation from most of the people around you. Mostly everyone you talk to about it, or mention it to casually, smiles and nods but has that incredulous look just below the surface. Some people are downright blunt and ask direct questions like, “How will they learn math, though?” or everyone’s favorite: “What about SOCIALIZATION??” (God forbid they don’t learn all the ins and outs of Hannah Montana (that’s not a show anymore, is it?) or what clothing styles are “in” for pre-preteens). Self-doubt seems to come with the package.
I guess that’s why I forced ourselves to go on the preschool tour yesterday. Though I had been through what I will call a little taste of preschool hell with Ruth just a few years ago, and the bitter taste of lost money and my own stubborn stupidity are still very vividly on my tongue, I had to do it again, if just to prove to myself that yes, this is what I think. No, the school system has not changed in the past three years. (Plus, though I really dislike many many things about the school system, I’m actually not totally opposed to one or more of the kids going for one or more years at some point on this educational journey, if for nothing else than to understand what it is we are choosing not to do. That’s part of the reason we settled where we did. If and when one of the kids wants to try school or if and when I would ever need/want one of them to go, we have a safety net. It also feels like moving to a place with highly ranked schools was a little bit of a personal test for me because now, at least to the outside world, there is no reason why I would choose to homeschool, it’s simply my choice (where before I lived where the public schools were supposedly not the greatest and so if I couldn’t afford private school, clearly my only option would be homeschooling. Of course this is all if you buy into the whole school ranking system in the first place, which I don’t. If I don’t believe in standardized testing for people, why would I for schools?)
In any case, there we were, in shabby but clean clothes, with brushed hair and teeth for once, promptly at the school for our 11 am tour. I should have balked when a few seconds after entering into the darkened reverberating halls Miles suddenly started clinging to me with a death grip and cowering against my shoulder. Joel’s hand in mind felt tense and clammy. Ruth seemed to be the only one putting on a brave face, perhaps for the benefit of Joel or perhaps because after all it wasn’t she who would be asked to be left alone in this place. As we approached the office, I was greeted with faltering smiles (I’m not sure if this was because of my three kids (“This lady is clearly a breeder”) or my torn jeans and faded t shirt or both) but either way, I was instantly underwhelmed by my reception. Strike one. First impressions may not be everything but they’re sure important.
The lady recovered, introduced herself and began our tour down to the preschool room. Or should I say the “dingy daycare room of doom?” Ok, that sounds harsh but let me explain. On Sunday when I talked with Greg, I said, “You know that with the university so close it’s going to be all college students, don’t you? It’s going to be basically college students babysitting my four year old is what it’s going to be. Why do I need to pay an exorbitant amount of money for my kid to be babysat by college students? I could just watch him myself.” And when I stepped through the door, I couldn’t ignore the sinking feeling in my heart. The room was small, poorly lit and just…dingy. It was painted a color that made a person feel sickly and unwell, sort of a prison wall yellow. I looked at the teacher. 25 years old. Max. “Hello,” I said. She mumbled a greeting but quickly went back to babysitting, I mean teaching her group of students. Strike two. If you expect me to leave my kid with you, you’d better be all warm and friendly up in my grill.
I kept my reservations to myself and continued following the tour lady around the room with a big fake smile plastered on the old face. I can be quite the phony when I set my mind to it when the situation arises. It was just depressing is all I can say. All those young children separated from their parents in the care of these…strangers. These apathetic strangers. I might catch a little hell for saying that but if I’m honest, it was what I was thinking as I was standing there all plastic grin in place and cold sweat in my armpits. ( I understand that for some, there isn’t much choice in the matter. Also, people from other situations would jump at the chance to send their kid to a place like this. However, I am who I am and that’s not my situation. I am able to be home with the kids and so if I were to make a different choice, I would have to be convinced that was somehow superior to just keeping the kids home. Each of us makes the best decisions for our families based on our experiences, situations and choices).
We moved on to the outdoor play space. And I will be honest: it was awesome. It was such a cool space with a stick fort, outdoor music instruments and huge mud kitchen. It was the most excited I was able to authentically get since stepping through the doors. The kids instantly started playing like crazy despite the fact that everything was soaking wet and there was a steady drizzle on our heads. But I noticed as soon as I started to talk that I had to raise my voice in order to be heard. That’s when I realized that the outdoor play space, cool as it was, was located only about ten feet from a busy street, four lanes of heavy traffic. Not only was it agitating to have the noise and movement of the traffic so close by, it also made me nervous about the kids’ safety if there was an accident or something nearby in the street. Strike three.
Sigh. At this point, I told Greg, I feel like I’ve gone too far down the path I’m on to ever go back. I feel like I’ve opened Pandora’s box and can never see things the same again. Whenever I’m in a school, all I see is marketing, people trying to make money off of me and my kids. When I’m walking in the door, I am aware of the sense of losing my identity, or submitting to a giant powerful system that doesn’t necessarily care about what’s best for me or my children.
Yet I feel it’s something I’m going to have many years of struggle surrounding. What I mean is feeling all of this pressure and allure to send the kids to school, try it in one way or another, and then have to admit to myself over and over again that my feelings are leading me elsewhere. It seems that as a homeschooler, my decision is one that will come under constant scrutiny, mine and others, and will be a decision that I won’t make only once but many times over.