Today marks two milestones:
1. 180 days logged for our first full year of homeschooling, and
2. The last day of classes for my first year back teaching online.
Many parents and teachers were thrown into these scenarios unexpectedly and unwillingly a couple months ago, but they have been our normal for quite a while already. And honestly, we love them.
We love Mondays, when my husband works from home (even long before COVID) so that I can have an hour in class in the middle of the day while he teaches the boys and plays with the baby.
We love singing silly phonics songs together, computing with marbles, writing letters to friends and family, reading books aloud to each other, planting seeds and watering the garden, playing baseball in the basement when it rains, using arithmetic at dinner to count bites of vegetables, studying the legends of St. Patrick, rapping Dr. Seuss, building maps and dungeons with Duplos, inventing every possible mash-up of known fictional characters, practicing piano, and saying “goodbye” at bedtime in Hindi.
We love short lessons, long lessons, cross-curricular learning, small class sizes, and individualized attention that caters to personal interests, which we employ to strengthen personal weaknesses. We get a lot out of bookwork and leave busywork at the wayside. We Skype with our supplemental instructor–Mimi–for story time and show-and-tell. We work on potty training at our own pace and build good habits in a secure environment.
Most importantly, we establish home as a nurturing, safe, warm, welcoming, happy place, where you can really trust the people you’re closest to, and everyone wants to be with each other.
Not because there aren’t days when I want and need not to see a single soul for a few hours.
Not because we don’t fight or drive each other nuts.
Not because everybody always gets what he or she wants, right when we want it.
Not because my husband and I are perfect parents with an endless supply of patience (in fact, my husband will probably tell you I’m one of the most impatient persons he knows).
It’s because we value strong relationships with our kids above almost everything. It’s because we believe doing conflict well is a vital part of building strong relationships. And it’s because we don’t see how to build a solid relational foundation with our children unless at least one of us spends the majority of the day, every day, in close proximity to them when they are little–i.e., under 12.
Most out-schoolers (non-homeschoolers) don’t see the sense of item number 3 there, and most homeschoolers don’t practice values 1 and 2–at least not together, in my anecdotal experience.
So combined, these values make our family pretty weird, though you don’t notice it til I spell it out. But it’s that weirdness that has made quarantine under COVID shockingly easy for us.
Quarantine didn’t use to be easy. And by that, I don’t mean what you think. We’ve only homeschooled seriously for about a year. My own sordid history with isolation precedes that adventure, starting some decades ago.
My parents were religious fundamentalists who rarely attended church. My father was an isolationist, prepper, and serial abuser. We moved endlessly from one state to another until I was 13 years old. Even after that, we never set down roots or grew close to any local community in any real sense. My father preferred no one else influence his thrall over his family, so I and my 6 younger siblings were homeschooled and kept as far apart from the rest of society as he could manage. This meant months at a time of seeing no one outside of ourselves–and my father also estranged us from each other, pitting us against one another and against my mother.
We developed friendships online as best we could and escaped abusive torment through books and video games. All of us developed Stockholm syndrome: home was a trap, and even those who did our best to leave always ended up back there. Even now, with the homestead sold off and the family splintered across the country, most of us have remained in the toxic mental state my dad cultivated in us for decades.
I was so used to home being a painful, broken, destructive place, that when I finally grew up and built my own home with my husband and children, I couldn’t stay there. I couldn’t find rest. I was always leaving–trying to find solace in another family’s home, in running errands, volunteering, going to church, taking walks, playing at the park, going out to eat. The longer I stayed at home, the more I felt threatened.
And yet I still wanted to homeschool my children. A core part of myself knew that homeschooling wasn’t the problem: my parents had been the problem.
Home school, done right, could save my children from the troubles I had faced, and even better than a public or private education outside of our home could. Homeschooling, restored to what it ought to be, could provide them with the close, caring relationship I never had with my parents, and which my own kids could never have if they spend 30-40 hours away from home every week for twelve years.
This meant that I had to reclaim my home. Specifically, my own sense of security and place, within myself, amongst my new family, so that I could leave it as an inheritance to my children.
Building a familiar place of comfort and security from scratch is one thing; building it in the crater of a previous wrecked domicile since blotted from the face of the earth, amidst the rubble and smoking ruin, is another thing entirely.
It was hard. And not just for me.
Yet, when COVID quarantine loomed two months ago, it turned out–to my surprise–that I could actually face it. The slow work had built and built, and then when the time came, I had a final realization–
This wasn’t a quarantine inflicted upon me by one immunocompromised elder solely to protect his health and interests, which is what my dad did. It was, rather, a quarantine I had to elect to take up, one that no one else was going to enforce, and it was for the literal life-saving (non-optional) benefit of thousands.
Home suddenly becomes a lot more welcoming when you realize it is not, in fact, a prison. I had been running from it because I feared staying too long would trap me again. Choosing to stay showed me the freedom I had in that very choice: I cannot be jailed in a place I freely choose to remain. My fear melted in light of this experience.
On top of this, I had previously chosen to build a life at home that focused on the good of others, especially my children, not on all my own personal desires. Following my husband’s example, I had intentionally built into this. The fruits of that labor on both our parts have been nurturing for all of us–and, as it happens, a perfect preparation for COVID.
This is not my parents’ homeschooling.
“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” ~Rev. 21:3-5
You might have supposed, as I did, that revisiting a state of quarantine would throw me back into a very bad mental place, since I spent so much of my childhood there (yes–we literally called it quarantine then, too). But this quarantine has been nothing like the other. Speaking personally–I am aware this is NOT true for so many, and I do not downplay that in any way–but for me, this quarantine is–
Far, far easier. Kinder. Simpler. Pleasant–actually fun, in fact. And SAFE.
It has been a huge step forward in my trauma recovery process to redeem this space of home, even this space of quarantine. I never could have asked for that kind of healing, and I didn’t know how much I needed it.
There are many people out there right now who cannot say this because they are trapped in the same kind of quarantine that I lived for years–but it’s worse, because their abusers are using the whole of society against them now, too. At this moment, it is very likely that in the few lingering places where I could always catch a flickering glimpse of hope, they see none.
“I am making all things new.” I came across this verse halfway through college and clung to it. I needed that promise. I needed that hope that things would be different–completely transformed. The prospect of a decade hence felt like a lifetime away, then; in some sense, it was. The journey to get here, however, has been more sure than I ever realized while I was on it.
Homeschooling and quarantine both: God has made them new for us.
So from this place of security, of joy, of contentedness in the transformed life God has given me and my new family–from the place where I can walk through COVID quarantine and not falter at the shadows it casts of a previous life–I reach out to the rest of you lingering in the darkness.
I see you.
I hear you.
You’re not alone.
And, as the Lord leads you, the darkness in your life can propel you, one day, further than you ever imagined into the light.