Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Why I Homeschool...and Why I Almost Refused To

(Before we get started, I must warn you: this is a God story. Not a particularly rosy or sentimental one—I hope to avoid sentimentality, that is--but still, a God story.

But then, I am myself a God story...)

So far, we have a mother (me) crying her heart out for her four-year-old la-la land daughter (I say with great affection) who has just suffered sand and mulch in her pants at the hands of two blond-haired, beautiful pre-school monsters.

Enter the child’s father, my wonderful and almost sweetly obtuse husband, who adores his children, adores his wife. Who would do anything for us. Who wants only the best for us.

Who, unfortunately, has really bad timing.

Really, really bad timing.

We talked about homeschooling before we had children, but it had always been in a far-off kind of way. A dare we? kind of way. It had been nebulous and sort of sepia-tinted and very, very good. A sunshine-and-squeaky-clean-house kind of good. A kind of good that you can only talk about in the future tense. The kind of good all of us are full of when we’re newly married and not yet pregnant.

Can you see the two of us? Fixing up an old house, him a traveling ultrasound tech, me a middle school teacher. The two of us, painting walls and dreaming. Sowing new grass seed over our enormous, muddy side yard and sighing, wistfully, over things to come.

Fast forward two years. See the yard now, weedy (again), but with the grass we planted. We’ve finished the attic bedrooms, laid new linoleum in the kitchen. There is a lavender room with a crib and a changing table—my most recent painting project.

I am lying in bed, exhausted. It’s the beginning of August and hot. Midday sunshine throbs through three big, dusty windows. Abby was born a few days earlier, and we’ve only been home from the hospital since yesterday. The baby is healthy; my milk’s just come in. Physically, I’m recovering, and yet, I am in a very bad state.

Hormonal. Fat. Unshowered.

Weepy. Ugly. Spent. Utterly post-partum. Horrifically so. Almost suicidally so.

Despite everything, despite the lavender walls and the dressers full of baby shower gifts and hand-me-downs, despite the brand-new diaper genie and the basket brimming with freshly folded burping rags. Despite all evidence to the contrary, I just want it all to go away. I am lying in bed, praying, “Oh, God, please, please, please undo this.”

I admit it: that is me in that bed, eyes closed, trying to pray my baby away.

I want Him to rewind time. To undo everything we’ve been praying for.

I can’t stop thinking, eighteen years. I have to be this person’s mother for eighteen years.

My depressed, frightened little heart does not, in this moment, understand that this creature won’t always be a helpless, whimpering newborn. That my breasts, though forever changed, will not always be filled with concrete. That they—these new, foreign, kind of terrifying boobs—will not be leaky and painfully huge for the rest of my life.

That eighteen years does not begin to cover the span of my life I will give—will, very soon delight to give—to my tiny baby girl.

My husband Danny has the opposite reaction. Abby’s arrival has exhilarated him. He’s brimming with bright, fatherly wishes for her. He, too, is sweaty and sleep-deprived and dirty, but in a carefree, throwing-off-all-the-constraints-of-real-life kind of way. He, filled with ambition and hope and manliness, has been attempting to fix the ice-maker on our ancient refrigerator.

Remember, I have just given birth. The house is a disaster. We have approximately zero groceries. And he is trying to fix the ice-maker.

Which has been broken, by the way, ever since we moved in.

And then, finally giving up on the stupid ice-maker--but not cleaning up any of the various ice-maker parts--he bounds into the bedroom, sees that I’m awake, and without preamble, speaks of homeschooling.

My baby is three days old. I weigh a thousand pounds. I own a single non-maternity outfit I can fit into. My heart is weary; I am unbearably sad.

We will homeschool, he says. This, of course, is untrue. If we homeschool, there will be very little we in the equation.

This is not because he wouldn’t do it, but because he makes too much money, and me, a struggling writer with a degree in middle grades education, too little.

We both know the truth: it will be me to commit myself to the inside of this house with this needy, fragile, crying creature. I will never work—in the grownup-put-some-makeup-and-a-nice-dress-on way--again. Or leave the house at all, it seems, unfettered and free.  

Danny is so excited. I am sure a part of him sees that I am in no shape to discuss any of this, and part of his euphoria is, no doubt, fueled by adrenaline and giddy-exhaustion. It’s sweet, too. It really is, how excited he is, contemplating the future laid out before us, our new little family--brimming with so many possibilities.

I finally really fall apart, sobbing jaggedly, wildly, and Danny, sobering, takes charge. He calls the doctor, hands me the phone, and I have to explain to an old man I’ve never met—my own doctor is not available—how awful I feel. Lexapro is prescribed. I take a bath. Drink a glass of wine, per my older sister’s instructions.

After the wine and the bath, Abby and I begin the excruciating process of learning to do the most natural thing in the world: how to breastfeed. Over the next couple of weeks, my breasts shrink a little—praise God—though I will continue to be uncomfortable and unable to sleep on my stomach the entire time I breastfed. (As a side-note, dear big-busted friends: I don’t know how you live like this.)

Abby grows, turns scrumptious and smiley and brilliant. She blinks about, in that relentless and bold baby way, taking in the world. She learns how to smile, laugh, play. She begins recognizing me, reaching for me. By the time she is six months old, I lie in bed at night, tired in a good way, happily anticipating waking up to another day at home with my gooshy-delicious, fat-cheeked baby.

I lose all my pregnancy weight. I can wear my old clothes.

And yet. And yet. Years later, when my sweet little girl has such a hard time in preschool, when she so clearly, in my eyes and in my heart, needs my protection, I dig my heels in once more. I do not want to homeschool.

I had Abby in the middle of working on my master's degree. By the time she was two months old, we had become so proficient at nursing that I could simply prop her up on a boppy and set my laptop on a TV tray above her head. She ate, I typed. And, on the night of her third birthday party, I received my first short story acceptance. The day I came home from the hospital after having my second baby, a boy, when Abby was almost four years old, I had an email waiting for me: a small press wanted to publish my first novel. 

What a very large part of me wants to do is send both of my children to school—away, away from my house for several hours a day—as soon as possible. Aiden is almost one year old by now, and I'm looking into five-day-a-week morning toddler schools. Still considering kindergarten for Abby. I just want to—finally—write.

But even as I am telling Danny, God, my parents, and everyone I know that I simply cannot do this homeschooling thing, I know. I know.

Have you ever known you were supposed to do something? I mean, against all reason? Against what you really want to do?

The best stories, I'm convinced, are the Noah stories. The build-it-and-they-will-come stories. The faith stories.

These stories are, I believe, fun to write about. Fun to watch Kevin Costner act out.

Hard to live, though. Impossible, it feels like.

 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

I say, I’m not equipped. I’m not ready. I’ve done enough already. I’m tired.

Then, I heard the voice of the Lord saying, Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?

And I—hesitant, heart-sick, tired, uncertain, disorganized, selfish, scared—said, Here I am. Send me.


sheryl monks said...

Oh, Susan. Thank you for doing this. Writing your heart. Inspiring. Beautiful. You.

Heather said...

Wow, I love this. Your description of how this is something you were supposed to do feels so honest.

Kathy Waller said...

Not rosy or sentimental, but lovely. It occurs to me that the Bible's God stories aren't rosy or sentimental either. Hmmm.

Pauline Stoney said...

Thank you. This is a God thing and I'm having the time of my life. Thank you too, God. (but then, He already knows that)