Saturday officially marked one year down of homeschooling my youngest daughter. I am not sure how many years we have left to go because as of now, we are taking it one year at a time. But the fact that we made it to one year does make me feel a sense of accomplishment.
When we pulled Ella out of public school last October, it was a solution to a problem. The problem was that she wasn’t able to progress any further due to her anxiety. Over the past year, however, through therapy, support, lots of love and deep conversations, we have come to realize that it wasn’t just anxiety but rather a lot of factors that made her physically (and mentally) unable to attend public school any longer.
Because we pulled out of school mid-year and at such a rapid pace, we didn’t have any resources or know where to turn. I scrambled to find anyone who could help me but I found out quickly that most homeschool aids like cooperative programs (homeschool “schools” that they can attend with parental involvement) and meetups, had already formed and weren’t accepting new members in the middle of the school year.
We plugged along with things I would find online, in Facebook homeschool forums, and through a local library that had a homeschool specialist along with a couple of random programs. But it was after Christmas break when I kind of unraveled.
Okay, REALLY unraveled.
With little homeschool support and winter being very winter, I became very depressed and alarmingly anxious. To give you a small glimpse, the entire month of February I thought I was having a heart attack every other day. My anxiety was at an all-time high and nothing was helping, not even weekly therapy. It was ugly, depressing and very lonely but it really needs to be talked about because my GOD what I would have given to read these words in a blog for myself.
Homeschool, at first, was a mama bear instinct to a problem that was not getting any better, but it ended up feeling like a prison sentence for me and maybe a little for her as well.
It slowly got better as the weather began to thaw and we got outside of our home more but we still weren’t finding our homeschool tribe even six months into it and I began to lose hope.
In late April, we went to a homeschool event at a local library where we usually had success. The only two kids at the event didn’t even look up from their projects to acknowledge us and neither did the instructor. After spending a half-hour drawing on paper in silence (something we could have just done at home), we walked out.
On the way home I told Ella, “that’s it! No more homeschool events for the rest of the school year!”
She was in total agreement and I could see she felt relieved but I felt horrible for my very social daughter and a little horrible for me as well.
Sure, we had met a few homeschool “friends” but the majority of the people we were meeting up to this point were either not a good match or had completely opposite views of teaching homeschool than we did.
“WHY DOESN’T THE UNIVERSE WANT US TO SUCCEED??”, I would sob into a pillow each night.
We ended her fifth-grade year a week and a half early because I just couldn’t plan one more week of lessons. It felt so draining and like I wasn’t even reaching her and in turn, I was starting to feel like a huge failure.
Summer was on the horizon and it was just what we needed to regroup. She saw her public school friends regularly, we were doing so much more because we weren’t constrained by a homeschool schedule, her big sister was home from college bringing with her new energy, and Ella was starting to get that sparkle in her eyes again.
She was “her” again and I was “me” again as well.
But I knew if I wanted to survive the next homeschool year, I needed to make some changes.
At the end of May, Ella began riding at a new barn with her best friend. Her old barn was a great start but it wasn’t vibing with her nor us and in talking to her friend’s mom, we both thought they needed a fresh outlook.
Along with their new horse riding coach, the two of them rode together alone every other Sunday and it was so good for both of them. They were getting one on one instruction for just a tiny bit more in price at the new barn, their coach was young, confident, and loving, and they were getting scheduled time to see each other AND horses.
Then in early June, my husband, Ella and I met with a homeschool coach (who was a former public school teacher) at a local library in hopes of making the next school year tolerable. She told us that we were doing just fine and that we were being way too hard on ourselves. That we should have taken off a solid two months last October before diving into homeschool because Ella needed to “unschool” and since we didn’t do that, taking the summer off early was not only acceptable, it was completely recommended.
She gave us curriculum suggestions and gentle guidance on books we might benefit from. She gave us advice that we needed to hear, not what we wanted to hear. That we needed to give ourselves grace and know that the act of pulling her out when she needed it was truly better than finding the “right” curriculum. She said things like “trust our journey” and “learning comes in many forms”, and “teach to her ability, not to her grade level”.
Is it normal to hate schooling on most days? HELL YES.
Does making brownies from a recipe count at doing math? HELL YES.
Is it okay if I take off schooling when I am not feeling it that day? HELL YES.
I wanted to kiss her on the lips when we left but instead gave her the tightest hug while trying to fight back tears.
But in August, I was beginning to dread starting another school year and even moved back our start date to after Labor Day because I just wasn’t ready no matter how many tools for success I had amassed.
Then, as if an answer to a prayer, I found a homeschooling mom via a Facebook group I had been in all along and it changed everything. My homeschool angel, as I like to call her, lived only five minutes away and has a daughter who is Ella’s age. Would I like to get together?
“ARE YOU KIDDING?? COME OVER NOW”, I wanted to say. But we lined something up a few weeks after the initial message because it was in the middle of Anna getting ready to go back to college.
We met one hot summer day and the girls hit it off instantly as did the mom and I; she almost as excited to meet us as we were to meet her.
She then introduced us to more homeschool friends who were nice, outgoing, and kind. She was able to get us into her co-op (right under the deadline) which happens to be only ten minutes from our house.
We signed up immediately and have been going for over a month now and Ella looks forward to that day more than any other (well, besides horse riding).
To be honest, so do I.
Through these new friends, I have mom’s nights with women who understand what the hell I am going through. They swear and drink and have fun and are real. They are loving and supportive and inclusive.
Ella now has a math tutor (thanks to another friend of mine) and now she and my friend’s daughter go together once a week. So not only is she getting math instruction from a teacher for one of her harder subjects, but she also gets to see a friend from her old school every week.
Through another Facebook group, we found a hip-hop empowerment class that she has attended for six weeks. The teacher suggested that she move on to a more advanced hip-hop class that meets twice a week. It seems that in addition to horse riding, Ella is really good at dancing too and to directly quote her, “I never realized how much dancing fills my soul”.
She is now meshing her homeschool and public school friends in social settings which is kind of cool. She is creating her tribe, her circle, of both girls and boys.
Do they have tween problems? TOTALLY.
Do they always get along? LORD, NO.
But she now has the confidence to stand up for what she believes in and doesn’t put up with the behavior she has in the past. She also is open to be herself without feeling as much judgment as she did in public school.
My therapist tells me that I am doing the hard work to get her back to her. To build her back up again so she can wear her new armor and take on anything. At first, it felt like we were running away from our problems but she said quite the contrary. I am making her brand new again by buffering her with love and patience; kindness and grace; filling her world with people who are a softer place to land in a tough time.
She has a tight bond with family and friends, she can hold her own in a group of adults, she has more confidence than I do, and she is doing so much better than she was when she was in public school.
Does it mean she will homeschool forever? I have no idea.
But she has it for now and she is happy, well-adjusted, and thriving.
And you know what? So am I.