Tuesday, September 02, 2014

No First Day of School

The past several weeks Facebook has been replete with photo posts of bright, shiny faces toting new lunch boxes, and chalkboard signs thrust into their hands upon which is written, "First Day of School, 4th Grade".  There are the Kinders, whose moms are catching the moment through teary eyes, there are middle schoolers whose tolerance of the camera allows mom to capture a fleeting glimpse of the very last remnants of childhood on their faces. Most of them harboring mixed emotions, one part dread, one part anticipation, as they adjust backpack straps and head off to school.

I realized that we have not continued that First Day of School Photo tradition.  I felt a brief stab of guilt, knowing I had not satisfactorily captured those images to look back on years from now.  How could I fail this way?  Why didn't I think of this?  Homeschooling shouldn't mean we give up every cultural ritual, should it?

Leave it to the kids to help me gain perspective.

Over lunch as corn dogs and Dagwood-style sandwiches were being consumed with gusto, I brought this very thing up.  I wish I could share the look I received, it was priceless...quizzical...a big ol' wordless "Huh?".

"Uh...Mom...why would we need to do that?" Kenny asked.

Silence greeted his question, as if I could almost see a comic book style word bubble hovering over our kitchen table.

"Well," I replied, "To help us remember what you looked like each year as a new year begins, it is a tradition!  We took photos the first day of school when all of you were in public school."

More silence.

Then Matthew ventured a comment.

"But mom, we aren't in public school anymore.  Those aren't our traditions.  Why would we do that?", he asked.


Why would we?

One last weak attempt.  "Do you think we should take one today?  School really just started, we could pretend it was the first day of school."  My voice drifting off at the tail end of the sentence.

Angela spoke up, "I don't think we need to, you just took some great pictures of us when we were camping last weekend. I mean, school pictures are really life pictures for us, aren't they?"

Man, have I missed the point all along.

School and life are not separate things for us.  We don't have a beginning and end point other than completing one book and and starting another.  Life IS learning, and wasn't that my goal when we began homeschooling?  Wasn't it about creating an environment where learning happened organically all the time?  So why was I trying to create separate boxes to place "school" and "life" into?

Cultural norms are hard to shed.  From time to time, part of me really wonders if the kids are missing out on something by homeschooling...and if I am being honest, I wonder if I am missing out on something.

I miss the casual hallway conversations, waving at other moms in parking lots, attending school events where everyone is abuzz with excitement.  I miss fitting in, not being constantly questioned when out and about during the day.  I miss the easily created Rights of Passage that are simply part of a public school experience.

Oh, the list of what I don't miss is a mile long...enormous Back To School Supply Lists, exorbitantly priced photo packages you are expected to purchase or are classified as an uncaring mother, bullying, trying to make square pegs fit into round holes.  I don't miss IEP meetings where tears of frustration trailed down my cheeks as I kept my anger in check as best I could.  I don't miss peer pressure, hours of homework each night, and concerns over all that comes with the social expectations typical of American Middle and High School attendance.

There are things that are missed, but there are things that are gained.  I had a long Facebook conversation with someone considering homeschooling for the first time, looking for some suggestions and information.  It was an important reminder, and the timing was perfect to put my mind at ease.  Our kids won't be missing  something that is not part of their own cultural educational experience.  Instead, they will look back fondly on time spent snuggling on the couch reading together, long and deep debates and conversations over Things That Matter.  They will have been able to discuss God and faith as they relate it to their own lives and overlay it on the history of the world...something that would never be allowed in a public school setting.  They will recall having time to explore anything and everything they want to, library and field trips, and most importantly, perhaps, they will recall the many special people who have entered their lives and taught them something interesting.

OK, so I don't have cute Facebook photo to post, with an adorably crafted chalkboard sign.  I guess the trade-off is worth it.  They know there is no real "first day", for learning happens every single day, as long as we pursue it.

Besides, I don't know how to make that cute lettering anyway:-)

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