So much of family life is helped by me embracing the I don’t know. Maybe this comes from a reaction to my upbringing – my mother comes from a large family that from my observance seemed to establish and repeat variations of the party line (“Our family had a lot of warmth,” emphasized despite many stories of strife and dysfunction amongst those of love and connection) and worse: labeling (the “slow”, “ugly”, etc children have a lifelong subscription to those roles). (Incidentally, no fair to use these opinions of mine to pedestal my father’s family – they pretty much don’t / didn’t spend time on personal reflection as far as I could tell. One time I heard of an instance where my father and his siblings discussed their childhood). For these reasons I suppose, I don’t like my experience being discounted for a larger established storyline; I don’t like being told how I felt growing up, or being cast for life (“selfish”, “strong willed”, “smart” etc) despite however I might mature, grow, or change.
Maybe my embrace of the I don’t know comes from more relevant, recent experiences. Sometimes it seems the exact measures I’ve taken to ensure some sort of family value system, some sense of pride in our choices, some sort of continuity – these have ended up biting me on the ass. You know how people proudly trumpet their family “traditions” and insist how much everyone liked them? I never want to do that. For all I know our evening ritual of taking a bath does not fill my children with a sense of being well-cared for and a soothing ritual; maybe they’ll grow up and say, “Jesus mom, you were so obsessive about keeping us clean!” So I try to keep a light hand on what we do around these parts; yes, we take a bath every night. Feel free to feel however you want to about it.
It helps me in the now to embrace the I don’t know even while I do my best to raise my family according to my own preferences and personal integrity. I daily try to avoid the impulse for perfection, to make the “right” plan, or to even believe too heartily in a plan – especially when that plan involves three other people in my family. This in turn helps alleviate – although doesn’t seem to eliminate – my stress when my family doesn’t cooperate. This week we started homeschool and although my daugther takes well to the program, my son has not enjoyed our forays into the YMCA’s Goldberg room where the computers and teacher advisors reside. Nels, just like his sister, does seem to enjoy actual academic work – he watches over her shoulder and demonstrates remarkable reading and spelling skills. I didn’t know how this first week would go down; now I’m finding out.
In starting homeschool I am once again a novice: having given myself the charge of teaching my children how to read, write, study, do homework, and mark progress in their learning, I become more fully aware I am not a trained educator. In many ways I’m flying by the seat of my pants. How much easier it would be (or was, last year, to an extent) to put my child in “the system” and believe she would be handled better by what we consider experts – every now and then to visit the school and be assured by cheerful bulletin boards of art lining the class hallways, by test scores and assignments brought home with big red circled “Good job!”s applied by another hand. Nevermind that I was in the classroom during the last year – in fact, far more than any other parent – and saw the system truly has nothing to offer the kids we can’t offer it at home (I’m not touching on the undesirable “extras” like bullying, homophobic and sexist value systems, busywork, etc). This may not seem incredible to many, but does to me. See, I’d believed in school – rather, kept it holy. I don’t have anything against it now – in fact, our current educational program for Sophie still financially supports our local public school district, and this was a huge factor for us in choosing the program – but I’m definitely experiencing an, um… change in mindset (yes, I worked hard to avoid the phrase, “paradigm shift”).
And who knows if, in weeks, months, or years I’m gratefully dumping my kids off for the day and whizzing onto something else.