Twice a month my kids and I spend the day running errands instead of doing school at home. It’s once every two weeks, almost always on a Friday, and I’m starting to collect all these experiences I have with strangers on those days. I compile them in the back of my mind, thinking, “Surely, one day I will look back and laugh. One day, all of this will be a drop in the water compared to everything else that is challenging about homeschooling my kids.”
Since they are starting to crowd my brain space, I thought I’d share my most recent trip out into the great unknown with all my students in tow. Truth be told, we didn’t go much further that our immediate neighborhood stores and places of business, but that doesn’t matter. I still have the ability to elicit shock and surprise when I go out with my kids.
This last Friday we went to the post office first. I had to mail a manuscript to England, so I had to stand in line. They don’t let you ship anything out of the country from the kiosk. I actually made it there 15 minutes before the doors opened (shock and surprise on my behalf!), so we stood in the air conditioning with another lady who was also waiting for the inside doors to open.
The room where the mailboxes are located is fairly small; our post office services a small, rural outlying area of Phoenix. It’s hard to not strike up a conversation with someone when you’re standing a few feet away from them staring at a metal accordion door waiting for it to wave open and let you get about your business. I smiled, said something small-talkish, and let Butter get down to play with the big kids while I waited.
She smiled back, then turned to my children, “No school today?”
I regretted my smile. It never goes well after this. The people who bring that up never seem to be the ones who understand that homeschooling is just as good or better than public school. They’re the ones who look at me like I’ve grown a third arm out of my belly button and am wagging it around like it’s nothing. Maybe homeschooling is the equivalent of a radiation-induced extra limb growth, but I like to think it’s the result of free-thinking and the consequence of poor local schooling options.
The conversation then proceeds something like this:
“Oh, we homeschool.”
“So, you guys got all your work done already this morning. That’s impressive.”
My kids don’t know what to say to this; there really isn’t something to say, let’s face it. It’s 8:45 am. Clearly, she’s prodding me, so I try to recover gracefully.
“I school year-round, so missing a day here and there isn’t really a big deal.”
“Oh.” She pauses, thinking. “That’s a pretty good idea…you get like, special permission from the school, then?”
“Nope. We just teach the regular subjects at home.”
“Hmm. So, you guys do everything online then? All the kids’ schooling?”
“Well, there are companies who sell curriculum to homeschoolers as well as private schools and public schools. I use that curriculum at home.”
“Hmm.” My son begs me to be picked up. The older kids nervously poke at one another, trying to make each other laugh. The tension is thick, and the air conditioning doesn’t seem to be working as well as it was when we first walked in. She’s done talking and is now looking me over.
Maybe she sees my scars, my gauged ears, my summer casual wardrobe that hasn’t been updated since I started having kids, and she’s thinking that some punk kid like me has no place teaching. Maybe she’s going to take down my license plate number and call CPS when we leave the building. I have no idea. When people have that reaction, I just never know.
We are fully within our rights, homeschooling our children. In fact, we school more days out of the year than any state-run institution. I take off weekends and December (sometimes), plus two Fridays a month. Public schools have days off for vacation, summer break, teacher in-service days, national holidays, and spring break. We don’t take those days. My kids are learning about more things than I did when I was their age. They go on more field trips and do more activities than I ever had access to. During our last vacation, we did school on vacation because that’s how we do things.
Of course, I don’t articulate these things because then I feel like I’m being defensive and I have nothing to hide, nothing to defend. It doesn’t hurt me any if you don’t agree with my children being out of the “regular” school system. I do get tired of being eyeballed for running my errands, though. I don’t want to hide out during the day like some parents do so no one will ask questions. The more we hide, the more strange we look when we do surface. I just want to post my mail, wash my van, and buy groceries.
If you homeschool, do you you hide out during the day? If so, why? I understand the temptation, but I also think that we have to learn to be visible, and to deal with curiosities with grace. I like to think that people can tell my kids are well-adjusted and bright, but who knows. I do know this: if more people see homeschooling as viable, then we all win.
**This post originally appeared on BlogHer 8/24/15**