The Rub of Reality

It’s that time of year again when conferences and conventions spring up around the country to give homeschoolers a new lease on life.  Whether they provide new insight, philosophies, and ideas, or strengthen and renew the old ones, they are an indispensable boost to many a homeschooling parent.  As someone who has attended numerous conferences, both to learn and to teach, I’d like to say a word about the difference between what you’ll see and what you’ll get.

One of the most oft asked questions of homeschool veterans is one that’s made me cringe.  I admit I’ve asked it myself over the years, but when it’s asked of me, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.  “What is your typical day like?”

Rutted routines make me cranky.  I like education to be an adventurous discovery, so a question about a typical day has often implied to me that I should have a regular, everyday, habitual schedule.  I don’t.  At least not in terms of rigid timetables and plotted to-do lists.  I usually have an agenda, but there’s a fluid element to it. So as a presenter who tries to inspire a love of adventurous learning, my inability to describe a typical day as something standard (which new homeschoolers crave) makes me feel slightly inadequate.  In my presentations, I talk about the great things we’ve done and demonstrate the possibilities.  I highlight our best days.  I don’t talk about the days that flopped, dropped, and just plain didn’t go well.  I suspect many conference speakers are the same way.

Now before you cry, “Foul!” and shout that you’ve been robbed, consider this.  When missionaries go out to share the gospel, they don’t knock on a door and say, “Hi.  We’d like to share a message with you about how you can live a life full of callings and meetings and demands on your time.  You can have kids galore for forever, give lots of your money away, and always berate yourself over being imperfect.  May we come in?”  People sharing the gospel share the joy, the good news.(1)  Likewise, so do proselyting homeschoolers.  There is much joy in homeschooling.  There still must needs be opposition.(2)  For all our good intentions, homeschoolers are still mortal and subject to all the thorns and thistles of a Telestial world.
If we investigate the word typical, we find that the synonyms of usualnormal, and standard are only one side.  “Typical” has the same root as “type,” which is derived from the Latin typus:   image, and the Greektypos:   impression, model.  Applicable words synonymous in this way would be kindsort, and nature, implying essential resemblances.   In this sense, synonyms of “typical” would include characteristic, andrepresentative.  So while I don’t put every single day into my PowerPoint presentation, I do select the models—the days representative of the nature of my approach to education—that will inspire my listeners the most.

What about the “bad days” then?  They exist.  Don’t go home from a conference, have a bad day (or a string of them) and think you can never live up to the model.  The reality of homeschooling—or anything worthwhile—is that life is real, and sometimes real hard.

Take this last week of mine for example...  Months ago I scheduled a couple of field trips to Astro Camp in Ogden, Utah, which is 45 minutes from my house on a good traffic day.  I had to have a minimum number of participants in order to attend.  For whatever reasons, it was a struggle getting enough people to sign up.  My entire Monday, which is “typically” a day for getting the house back in order after the weekend and getting some good time in on our current unit study, was spent doing administrative emails and phone calls trying to pull off these field trips.  With the exception of a few math assignments, the kids were fairly free to fly under the radar.  I then had to drive an hour or so away for a baseball double-header with one of my boys.  Upon returning home, I found my husband in dire straits with a health issue that consumed us throughout the night and almost had us in the ER.  Next morning, I was supposed to be preparing for our weekly Science Club, but had to insist that my husband find and see a doctor—which meant that I found the doctor and got him there.  The other mothers in Science Club took my kids and went on with the show; my 7-year-old took it upon himself to do my part.  Meanwhile, my father called to discuss my sister being diagnosed with Melanoma, which consumed much of my thoughts for the rest of the week.  Tuesday night, while trying to have an at-home date night with my husband who was in a brief reprieve, our area was accosted with high winds which took our family’s much needed trampoline (a great recess activity) and blew it through our yard, flattening cemented metal clothesline poles, breaking a 20-year-old tree, shredding the trampoline and bending and twisting the metal frame like Popsicle sticks.  I woke up early Wednesday morning to a blizzard, in which I had to drive a van full of happy Astro Campers through a mountain canyon.  Thankfully, the field trip counted as school.  My formal living room was a disaster because the previous weekend I’d had my big boys gut their bedroom and unload everything in there to clean things out.  Of course, then I couldn’t stand it and much of their week was spent putting things back together.  My husband’s health concerns continued, and since they did, I got to take the car into the shop, run his errands, and cover for him.  This meant that after a visit for tests at the hospital and one more drive to Astro Camp on Friday, I came back home, only to turn around and drive back the way I’d gone and on across the West Desert of Utah to a baseball tournament in Nevada that my husband was going to go to but now couldn’t, to accompany our son. I was then unable to get some things in order at home for our next school week, and worried about my husband and sister so that I couldn’t think it through very well while gone.  Of course, when it rains it pours, so then every single one of my children came down with a respiratory illness over the weekend and who knows what “school” will be accomplished this week.

I could say this was a really bad week, but somehow I don’t feel that way.  I could say it wasn’t picture perfect, but even with all the insanity I still took pictures.  Few of this week’s activities were normal.  Still, we had typical days.  They were typical because they were characteristic of what’s important to us.  We spent time together as a family doing things that we enjoy; we learned new things in adventurous ways; we prayed together and looked out for each other.  I like what Mother Teresa said, “I don’t pray for success, I ask for faithfulness.”  It goes along with my motto for this year, “What you are becoming is more important than what you are accomplishing.”  Even in crisis mode, if we keep what’s important at the center of it all, the realities of life don’t have to rub us the wrong way. 

(1) For clarification, a houseful of children and opportunities to serve in the Lord’s kingdom, pay tithes and offerings, and to better oneself are good news.  But not everyone would see it that way at first.

(2) See 2 Nephi 2:11