the rustle of leaves / going on a journey

So apparently some grading milestone has just passed, because we got a different grading report this week. And it turns out our unschooled daughter made the honor roll.

This is all the more impressive (to me) given she has had two near one-week absences already for family time, and I know she didn’t turn in all the necessary makeup work for those intermissions. (Getting an organized list of make-up work is weirdly logistically difficult… children have incredible amounts of homework assigned to them these days and I think overworked teachers can’t always keep it straight).

I’ve thought a lot about writing about our family’s experience of the eldest’s foray into schooling – especially since I’ve been asked to write about it. Long story short: my daughter is killing it. Meaning: she genuinely enjoys school and is a faithful and willing participant. She seems to be managing the social stuff well, although let’s be honest – if she was being a shady Ass she might not be willing to report to me. Time will tell; further observation will tell.

Academically, she is one of those bright kids praised for critical thinking, leadership in discussions, and friendly deportment. No one reading here is surprised. She is ranked the top reader of the class and … bottom… math-er (how would you put that?).

The math bit is interesting. Phoenix is catching up very quickly, positing that a child who’s never touched┬ámath workbooks in a classroom can catch up to five years’ of public school in a few months. [ inserts tongue into cheek ] I am not even kidding about how much she couldn’t do worksheet-math when she started. Her first week at school she’d look up at me and say, “What is ‘5’ plus ‘2’?” Part of her difficulty with even simple exercises in a math worksheet seemed to be her own conviction that she “didn’t do” math (her words, although of course she’s managed many fiscal matters quite sensibly and plays video games which involve math, estimation, and strategy). Part of it was she was a bit overwhelmed with those first couple weeks. She is now quite calm about math and cheerfully enough completes the volumes of homework required. As I type this she is downstairs filling out a bunch of balls’-numbing long division problems. You know, one of those things we grownups use our calculators for.

School administrators and staff are very interesting to work with. I live in a small enough community I will keep some of my opinions to myself, although I am fine with a one-on-one or email conversation for the genuinely curious (I am not down with gossip, so you will get nowhere with me if you try it). I will say that school staff seem to know school isn’t so great for kids and this knowledge is reflected in an odd combination of muffled obfuscation and obsequious, careful sizing-up while talking to a parent. That said, from what I can tell the staff are adults who genuinely enjoy children. I ain’t gonna lie, some adults like kids inasmuch as they can boss, rank, file, and even tease them. But that doesn’t mean they don’t love them, too.

The logistics of school life is a tiny bit tricky, but we are making it. Phoenix and Ralph get up quite a bit earlier than Nels & I (except for days like today, when Ralph was out of town and I got the opportunity to take Phee to school). We drive nine-point-four miles to get her to a bus stop (then back to town or work). With our car and gas situation this is often sketchy, but it has worked out and it is a nice break, a nice bit of family-only time. I’m still glad we chose the school we did for a variety of reasons, and my daughter feels a part of the school community.

So far, so good.

I don’t pine for my daughter like I did at first. It is still amazing to think of her just doing some shit all day long and I have no idea what it is. I am really glad for our family’s intimacy, though, and it keeps us strong. I enjoy having more time with just-my-son, and I enjoy having some work time. I enjoy watching my daughter build a life of her own.

My daughter is still one of the most directly affectionate people I know. When I pick her up from school at the end of a little rural road she walks right into my arms and kisses me and I hold her for a bit. We walk back in silence or talk about our day. I can see that friendship between us and I know that although it’s not a sure thing it will remain strong, so far it has been so wonderful, so rewarding. My daughter is probably the easiest person on the planet for me to be around. She is pretty special. Whomever she shares herself with is very lucky indeed.

I know over the years of writing here I have influenced many adults who are trying to figure out what is best for their children. I earnestly hope I have done more help than harm. As an unschooling parent for about a decade now, I have a few words as we journey through this latest bit. Parents and carers, if you are involved with your kids, love your kids, pay attention to your kids, and are brave enough to consider going against the grain – please don’t listen to what anyone ever says about school performance. Kids aren’t meant to be ranked and filed, “kept busy”, discussed like show dogs in a lineup, labeled, and with regularity told when they can eat and when they can take a crap.

Now if that’s your kid’s daily reality, Cool Beans, it’s one of my kids’ daily realities too. But I still say; if you’re thinking about it, YES, it is VERY WORTH IT to put off that reality for as many years as you can. Today, so far, I am pretty comfortable as a parent-whose-child-chooses-school, but to be fair it’s nothing I’ve done personally – it’s trusting Phoenix. We trusted her enough not to send her to school and let her be her. It was a smart investment.

It is an honor to be her mother and friend, to accompany her on her journies. I look forward to the next chapter.

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