As a homeschooling parent, I have a confession: I routinely think about enrolling my sons in public school, burning the homeschool curriculum stuffed in our living room closet in a glorious paper bonfire marking my freedom, and spending the time they are gone any damn way I please. Instead, I flop down in my bed, the kids reading on the couch, cover myself with the comforter, and hide in my private cave of blankness, waiting for the sensorial onslaught of the morning to fade. I lie there and wonder if I made the right decision for them, for me, for us. Parenting is full of these moments of doubt and I indulge in this particular moment at least once a week.
James, my husband, and I are fully functioning products of the public school system and doing anything against the “normal” path was knocked out of us early and thoroughly by that public school system. I really did not even know homeschooling was a thing until watching Mean Girls where it is described as kids who are “freaks” or “weirdly religious,” neither label I wished to bestow on my kids. In college, I met one friend who was homeschooled and she happens to be incredibly smart, well-read, and neither a freak or weirdly religious, but I assumed she and her siblings were the exception, not the rule.
And yet, when it came time to enroll my oldest son in Kindergarten, the tiny thought of homeschooling started creeping in. My oldest son, C, spent his days running, crashing, jumping, and smashing, a physical force that intimidated other children out of playing with him. He clung to interests that well outpaced his chronological age of six, fascinated with the Titanic, the French and Indian War, and building elaborate Lego creations that I had no idea how to build. His energy, curiosity, and creativity needed to be harnessed and nurtured, something I was not sure a school could do.
The thought only grew after Kindergarten Orientation, which took place in April before school started. Why was Kindergarten Orientation nearly half a year before school started? It certainly would not benefit C to go visit a school five months before he was to start there. And after I attended, I realized that the entire program focused on the school’s needs, not the child. The school needed parents to complete all kinds of forms to enroll their children, and corralling them all into one tiny classroom, calling us up one by one was a very effective way to do that. Meanwhile, the kids were put in another room, asked to color a picture and write their names as the Kindergarten teachers walked up and down the aisles making notes about each child on a card. “An evaluation for placement,” the teacher explained when I asked about the cards. “We have to know what we’re dealing with,” she said with a quick smile. “C did fine. He’s obviously very smart and,” she paused, “really into the Titanic.” Her voice lilted up at the end of the sentence like a question rather than a statement, a judgment more than interest.
As I walked away holding C’s hand, past the classrooms of kids sitting in neat rows, I could not help but feel angry that these kids were being organized, ranked, and judged for the ease of the school, not the wholeness of themselves. My son had already been through a Korean adoption system that did these things to him, made him a number, ranked his adoptability with labels convenient for prospective adoptive parents, and stole the possibility of wholeness from him when it failed to properly support his birth family. “I cannot do this to him again,” I thought as we pushed out the double doors of the school into the fresh spring air.
I spoke with an adoption therapist about the situation throughout the summer, someone who knew C well and who worked with us on attachment and helping him transition through the addition of his younger brother who joined our family earlier that year. In the annoying way of therapists, she refused to tell me what to do despite my pleas. After we talked through all angles of the decision, she told me to close my eyes, breath, and listen, insisting I already knew the answer and I just had to hear it. Despite the repeated thought of, “If I already knew the answer I would not be asking you!” I did as instructed. And slowly, eventually, I realized she was right. I knew I would homeschool C before I even knew that homeschool was possible. I knew it when I failed to drop him off at his daycare, just six months after he arrived home, because neither of us were ready and we refused to be on anyone else’s schedule. I knew it when I left my dream job as a lawyer at a legal clinic to stay home with C, to work on our attachment, and to give him the security he needed. I knew it when I pulled him out of preschool after we adopted his brother, prioritizing our family over my personal comfort. I knew we were going to homeschool because it was the best for our family, and the only thing holding me back was my own fear of being different, contrary, other, the space as a transracial adoptee I kept finding myself in.
And so, I fight the demons of my own otherness every day, the curious questions of people who see us playing at the park in the middle of the day, the neighborhood kids who chatter about their school day and wonder why the boys are not at school, the silent assumptions that we must have some medical condition making us susceptible to coronavirus. And many times, I lose the fight and end up under my blanket, overwhelmed, and wishing I had made a different choice, an easier choice, the choice everyone else made. But then I hear my sons, born of different mothers, and brought together in our family, giggling over the silliness of a book, and I remember us enthusiastically putting on a play about Charlemagne in the living room complete with costumes, dialogue, and scenery, or remember running around with their other homeschool friends on a 60 degree day in the middle of February, coatless, free and happy, and I come out of my bed, out of my room, and sit on the couch with them to find out what is just so funny.