January 5, 2013

Why It's Time for My Kids to Go Back to School

We home schooled for many years.  School vacations would roll around and wind down, and I would hear my friends say it:  "I'm ready for the kids to go back to school."  I didn't understand.

Having my kids home all the time wasn't perfect, believe me.  A lot of the time, it was hard.  We argued.  We were always in each other's space.  All too often it seemed that formal learning was overwhelmed by the tasks of daily living (most memorably when I was down with a bad case of double-pneumonia).

Now that all three are in full-time school, I sometimes wonder if I enjoy our 24/7 time together only in retrospect.

But there were good times.  We read so many wonderful books together (after the requisite twenty or more minutes of me nagging, "Come to the couch!" and them calling back, "As soon as I get something...").  I think those are everyone's favorite memories.  I fantasize that someday they will read those same books aloud to their own children, recounting when they first heard me or their dad read to them.  ("This is the part where Mom always got choked up."  Doesn't matter which book.  It happened every single time.)

There were other good times too.  Most parents appreciate being there for their child's first steps or first words; being there when they began to grasp phonics or fractions or Latin declensions or how to punctuate a quote was just as special.  While it was time, it was hard to send them to school.

We're on the cusp of the first anniversary of my emancipation from being full-time teacher as well as mom.  I still miss them when they are gone, but I understand better -- differently -- why it's time for vacation to end.

It's not so much that I want them gone -- although I find myself missing my space and my quiet more than I care to admit.  The past couple of days (as my family would emphatically confirm), my mood has deteriorated markedly.  But it's not just a longing for my now-familiar peaceful and quiet days.  My kids need something to do.

When we home schooled, my vision (never fully realized, it's true) was to have a feeling of seamless integration between living and learning.  There were always rhythms of work and rest -- much easier to manage without what I've come to think of as the tyranny of the school schedule, with its early start and homework that keeps my teens up past my bedtime.  The days had a sense of ease, but we still needed breaks from the formal school work.  We took as long as we needed, but when we grew restless with resting, we'd start up again.

We've come to the restless place.  Too much fun.  Too much Christmas and sleeping in and Netflix.  Not enough sense of purpose.  I'm ready for them to be challenged again.  I'm ready for them to resume the grappling with expectations and deadlines.

That's been a real gift of the school grind.  When we home schooled, I wanted them to learn that life is all learning.  Now we get to help them to learn that, even with early mornings and homework, there is still time to make a life worth living.  It's time for them to get back to the hard work of discovering how to live for the moment and for something beyond this moment.

It will be a challenge to remember the gift when we're back to packing school lunches and rising to pre-dawn alarm clocks.  The calm in between their leaving and their return will have a little extra tinge of loneliness at first.  But it's time for my kids to go back to school.

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