His head was already on the dining room table in defeat. He was crying over the chicken I’d served for dinner. Because Why wasn’t it hot dogs?? But when he picked himself back up toward the end of the meal and looked at me again, there was a completely different question on Lyle’s mind: Why won’t you just homeschool me?
When I am being my best Mom self, you know, when I have time to sit there with my kid and my glass of wine and fantasize right along with him, it’s well worth doing. I remember sitting with this same child 5 years ago, him crying on the floor before preschool because he wanted to stay home with me (anyone notice a theme here?), dreaming up how we would spend the day if we were together. In the end we wrote “Watch Backyardigans” on a piece of paper and posted it right by the door so we’d remember immediately after school that we were going to do that together, and then he wiped his eyes and headed out the door for school.
And so, rather than dismissing this new request by saying, Oh, don’t be silly, you love school! or But what about all your great friends? (or even There’s no way in hell I could afford to quit my job! or, what would’ve been the worst dream killer of all, We aren’t even together all five school days!) I let him spin this thought out tonight as far as he wanted, saying, Wouldn’t that be great? I wonder what it would look like if I homeschooled you? He had a lot of great ideas, so I used another one of my favorite parenting strategies, and told him we’d better write them all down because they were so important. When we do this, we don’t just jot them down on scrap paper; I make sure we get a legal pad from my home office. It’s official that way. You wouldn’t believe how happy it makes kids when we take their ideas seriously enough to write them on a legal pad. He wanted to write them himself and he immediately brightened.
He created one column for the benefits of a homeschool life and one column filled with his brainstormed ideas about how we’d spend our days. I loved this process because it gave me a window into what he was craving: mainly, homeschool would be quieter. He wouldn’t have to rush in the morning and neither would I. There would be no fire drills and he could avoid his least favorite classes, choir and Spanish. What I heard was that the chaos and noise of school is feeling like too much right now, and so I verbalized that and empathized with him. He’s hoping we could have a Minecraft class every day and take a lot of field trips. He wants to do art with me daily, and have the freedom to take a bathroom break any old time. And he’s dying to study topics of his choosing. Who can blame him for any of those wishes?
He decided to type up his list and I agreed that would be a good idea. When he was finished, I suggested he put an asterisk next to the things that were most important to him, but instead he made smiley faces next to those – there was a smiley face by each line when he was done.
On his own, he brought up the challenge of income for me. He thought maybe we could homeschool on MWF and I could work T/Th and weekends. He’d come along to my office when I had to work and play games on his iPod Touch all day (how generous of him!). I simply told him it was a pretty big decision to homeschool and change my work around, and we were only having the first conversation about it. He was satisfied with this and went off to read in bed, relaxed because he’d gotten to share all that was on his mind and knew he’d been heard.
I don’t expect to homeschool Lyle. It’s true that I was originally planning to be a teacher before speech pathology called my name, and it’s also true that many times when the boys were younger I marveled at their quick minds and interest in everything I told them, and thought, Wow, would it ever be cool to be this kid’s teacher! Lyle’s ideas about how we would spend our days are also appealing to me, minus the Minecraft class. But the reality is, I love my career. When I stayed home with the boys for periods of time over the years, it didn’t feel like a good fit for me. I also have a belief that my income is important because it is currently paying for many critical things. And so I have never seriously considered homeschooling them.
But when Lyle and I were discussing this tonight I’m sure he believed I was open to the idea because, in fact, I was. My interest in his thoughts about it were sincere and I let myself imagine it along with him. If there is one thing I’ve learned in the last couple of years, it’s the importance of being fully open to new ideas, to turn off the I can’t voice and just listen. I could never have made the big decisions I’ve made in the past year without that openness. Could I be divorced? Could I be a single mom? Could I live in an apartment in another neighborhood? Where do I want to live? Chicago? Evanston? Our own condo? Should I go work for someone else? Should I reorganize my own practice to make it work better? What would each of those paths look and feel like? I fully explored every option, quite often going down multiple imagined paths simultaneously with complete openness, until I finally chose certain ones. Which is, I believe, how I ultimately landed in a new life and work situation that feels very, very right to me.
My guess is, Lyle will bring up homeschooling on occasion. We’ll revisit his list, probably add to it a few times, and I’ll watch and see if he continues to feel so strongly about this once we transition into summer and leave behind the extra end-of-the-year chaos that has been especially tough for the two of us this past week. Chances are, he will find quite a few good reasons to go back to school in the fall, and will be happy to have come to that decision on his own. But if he doesn’t, I will continue to imagine it along with him and perhaps we’ll eventually find ourselves on some totally different path we’d never have expected in a million years. To me that would mean we’re living an amazing, full life.