I am a woman who lives on lists. I used to think I was "scatterbrained" but I now suspect I might have a different brain that just functions divergently. But lists...well lists kept me focused. I wouldn't have finished my degrees (and both of those took an incredibly long time to complete) if it weren't for the lists I made up every morning along with my coffee. These lists littered my life, to do marked clearly on top with lines through what had been done although sometimes I forgot to do the lines.
go to class
library for research and books
takes notes for Jennifer's paper
H and I did our Masters with three small children. They were five and under when we began. We also started our homeschooling road at the same time. Our house was a happy chaos in those days. Papers everywhere. Books piled high on end tables. Our kids were more comfortable on college campuses then they were in classrooms. We read picture books in between our daily does of Foucault and Butler. Camille learned to untie shoes by hiding under the table in a conference room as my favorite professor and adviser lectured on theories of religion. They articulated complex thoughts about God and nature because they overheard H and I talking about these things. I still look back over those times with a fond eye...and oh the lists. They were there, coming and going as I moved through the complexities of thesis writing and through doubt about unschooling. They had become computer files at this point, and they still haunt me as I go to open documents.
When we moved to Athens, things shifted every so slightly in that I became a full time stay at home mom instead of a part time one. I spent a couple of years in a fog trying to figure out what this meant. My too do lists mocked me as I tried to organize my day around things that brought me little joy. Washing dishes does not answer the meaning of life. I focused my meaning on the children's schooling, and my to do list for them became complex diagrams that looked an awful lot like the pages of a lesson plan book. And then I had Jude, and when I decided to homeschool her, I told myself "Now you're going to have get it with it missy." I didn't think I could unschool Jude. The old fears that I'd ruin her crept in as I held her tiny body close to mine while I worried away at those future stones.
A couple of weeks ago, I went out to dinner with some of H's friends, and they started to ask me why we homeschooled, and as I tried to articulate why, I realized with a jolt how far I had drifted from those idyllic days from the past. I told H's friends that we hate how the system shapes children and that we wanted to shape our children with a different kind of ideology. I told them how confident our children had become, how sure of themselves. That what people had kept calling sheltering was actually a safe place to become who they were so that when they left our arms, they were proud of who they were instead of ashamed or beaten down. And as I talked I remembered Camille's only year of school and how shattered she had become and the years it took to heal those wounds left by a few awful people. As I talked I also thought about the books that were cluttering up my shelves, the binders, the lesson plans that were taking over the creamy smooth pages of my Moleskin journals. But the kids need this, I thought to myself confidently. I am just doing what they want.
We started "school" on Monday. I got up reasonably early (for me). I had a to do list for each child. Oh how the list had evolved. Things went smoothly until Camille woke up. I handed her the list and she looked at me askance. I knew resistance was coming and I steeled myself. Things went relatively well until I asked her to write a journal entry on the book she was reading. At first, she resisted silently. Sitting in the corner of the couch curled up around herself. I gave her space and did some things with R. Every once in awhile I'd remind her that she needed to do a journal entry. The tears came next. I looked over to see her silently crying over the journal and book. I sat with her and tried to talk to her about what to write. Finally frustrated I snapped "Do what ever you want. I give up. You're not going to get into college if you don't write." She quietly gathered her things and went to her room. H shoot me a look.
Maybe you should back off. he said quietly.
I sulked. And then thought back to how Umberto didn't really do anything until last year and really didn't blossom until this summer. I thought about my friend's son who was taking college classes at 16 after years of being unschooled. I took a deep breath and then another...Camille wrote for hours everyday. Her fan fiction covered our house in comics and filled screens upon screens on the computer.
Well she does write all the time. I said.
The raging came later as she lashed out against R. H looked over at me and said "We've seen this before." I went in to talk to her and she was lying on her bed with pages of writing before her and the book. She was trying to make a journal entry. For me. I felt the tears prick on the back of my eyes.
I hate this. she told me.
I rubbed her arm, and said "Then don't do it. Why don't we just talk about it once you're done reading." She nodded and gave me a small hug. I wasn't going to be one of those awful people. Later Camille will remember how light years are described in A Wrinkle in Time. Later we will watch the best of time warp scenes from Star Trek, and laugh over Shatner's hair and debate who was a better captain (Picard of course). And I will sit surrounded by these beings and remember why we began this journey in the first place.
Around this new turn, I find myself staring face to face with the past. We are taking a risk raising our children this way. A leap of faith was what I called way back when Umberto was five. And we have encountered doubts that blocked our way. Umberto wasn't reading at nine and voices were telling us to quick put him in school before we ruined him. There was something wrong. And there was a block but school didn't loosen it up. Epilepsy medicine did the job. A couple of years ago it seemed like all Umberto did was play Xbox, and I was worried. This summer he had to get a second summer reading program list as he had read too many books to list on his first sheet. I am not sure what the future holds for us, and I am sure that in many ways my children will see what we have done as a failure. But I also hope that they will be able to pause and say "Wow my life was pretty interesting and it showed me other ways of seeing the world."
I end this with remembering that time does not march straight ahead. As I rounded that sharp curve on Monday, I came face to face with a wounded six year old who hid from us for a long time. And I was able to hold that child now grown and turn around to see another image. Where we will go this year, I do not know but I do know that what I have created was a way to make meaning for myself. We have to sit down again and find ways that will sustain us all.