This May Take Awhile
Depending on the hour of the day, I vacillate between the deep euphoria that comes with being so close to a type of freedom I have not known for eighteen years, and utter devastation at the loss of nearly everything I have known for the last eighteen years. The pendulum swings and I feel every bit of beauty and pain this transition has brought forth, as all mothers before me have felt. I don’t want to do this today. I want to go back to the tiny nursling whose dependent gaze traced my every move. To the babe who understood Tupelo Honey is a perfect lullaby. To a younger me who was so clear on her purpose. Everything was simpler then.
Equally, I am desperate for everything that stands before me now. The unknown, and even more. I want it all.
I can taste the horizon, it’s right there. Non-homeschool-mom-me is in sight. So close. She looks sort of lonely, kind of afraid, totally ready. I can tell she is searching for solitude and deep rest. She feels guilty about this. I wish I could tell her to relax her shoulders, their slight upward turn reveals she has carried too much for too long. She can let go now. I’ll be standing beside her in just a few weeks and it will be the first thing I say to her. Let go... rest. Then I will tell her it’s okay to still love fiercely. Actually, that she must still love fiercely.
Meanwhile, I am rendered speechless by this young woman before me. Memory tells me I had a significant hand in raising her, but we are such different people, I’m not really sure where my influence lies. Most of the time I feel inept at channeling her gifts and interests, so I just refer to the most utilized play in our made-up parenting handbook: Get out of the way.
It’s not exactly that simple, of course, but mostly it does feel like my best work over the last six years of homeschooling has been spent getting out of the way. As a result, she has come into her own so fully that I’m never sure if I should be proud or envious. I’m definitely in awe. What I see before me is not a result of anything extraordinary that we’ve done; I couldn’t say exactly what created the commanding, self-assured, smart young woman we call daughter. I do know that when I held our newborn for the first time, I made a promise to myself and to her that I would base our life on love, respect, trust, non-judgment, and that it would be void of shame. Everything else would just have to work itself out.
Last night we attended an exhibition round as part of an open house for Emily’s debate school. This is a real treat because debate is not typically a spectator sport, we almost never see our kids debate. But the last few months Emily and her partner have been on a tear in the debate world; they’ve placed First Varsity at UPENN, Third Varsity at Yale, First and Second Varsity Individual Speakers at Yale, and Emily is ranked Second Place Varsity Individual Speaker in the state of Connecticut, 2016. They amaze me. So yes, it was really nice to see them in action last night. Proud, envious... in awe.
One of the greatest benefits to homeschooling is the time it affords a young person to go deep with an area of study or skill. Our days are spacious and parameters are loose. To the average onlooker this can appear imbalanced, that perhaps the student is lacking in certain areas while greater emphasis is placed on another. To the fortunate student, it is clear that balance is an impossible achievement no matter what model of education you follow, and that to do anything one way means you must give up doing something another way. What is discovered however, is that learning without boundaries actually brings entire diverse bodies of knowledge and skill closer because “learning” and “education” do not lose their beauty or luster under the guise of something we must get through. Learning is coveted and continuously sought after, usually without us even realizing it. Humans are curious beings and when a new idea or topic enters the psyche, we naturally want to explore it. When intrinsically motivated, learning is not an obligation or an item on our to do list, instead it feels worthy of our attention, even if challenges and hard work present themselves along the way.
Competitive debate has been Emily’s “thing” over the last four years. With a healthy degree of confidence I can say that debate has influenced the trajectory of her life, thus far, more than anything else she has done or been exposed to. No, she has probably not dissected the number of animals the average public high schooler has dissected, but is that really necessary? Is the average public high schooler able to skillfully stand before a full auditorium and argue the ethics of assisted suicide, or, whether it is in Iran’s interest to develop a nuclear bomb, and is it really necessary for them to do so?
Sometimes I think people view our homeschool story as an example of “success” because Emily has naturally gravitated toward academics and that feels safe to many of us. To me, that is a limiting mindset and one that I would discourage. Because believe me, standing here on the cusp of our final homeschool days, I do wonder if there was some way I could have convinced her to fall in love with preparing meals... or growing food... or sewing clothes... or... or... or. She can do all of those things, and she will help whenever needed, but these are not areas of interest that she initiates or takes ownership in. Don’t we all have things we’re just not into? I know my list is pretty long.
And isn't this the way for us parents, often finding ourselves in that “what if” place? Did I miss an opportunity? I try to talk myself out of such thought patterns as they arise, but oh man they do show up again and again. On the flip side, this kid of mine is good at tapping trees and hauling sap, she also has decent knife and ax skills... so I imagine she’ll find her way beyond the podium and mic just fine, if needed. You may want to hold off on asking her to cook you dinner though, or you’ll likely be dining on fare from the closest takeout place. Of course, five years from now I could be telling a different story, and that wouldn’t surprise me in the least.
All this to say, as if you couldn’t tell, I am so unbelievably deep in processing mode right now. And I struggle to write my way through this while maintaining the privacy and humanity of those that do not write here. So, for what it's worth, I'm here... closing one chapter and trying to find my place in the next. This may take awhile.