That day came with the birth of our older surviving daughter more than 10 years later, after I’d spent nine years as a public-school teacher and had suffered the miscarriage of our oldest child. And then, less than a year after that daughter’s birth, we welcomed her “Irish twin” little sister into the fold. I’d quit my job when the first was born because my husband and I wanted our children raised by us, and I pulled out the idea of homeschooling while the girls were still babies.
My husband wasn’t so sure. He knew and respected the families with whom I’d spent time. But both his parents had been public/government school teachers, and he didn’t know any homeschoolers beyond those two families. However, when the girls were toddlers, he took on the position of interim youth pastor at our church, and that sealed the deal. In that role, he met teens who’d run the gamut of educational experiences – government school, private magnet school, faith-based school, homeschool – and he came home one day extolling the virtues of the homeschooled kids. He said, “If that’s what homeschooling does, I’m in.”
Though people teased me about being an “overachiever,” we joined a local homeschool association when the girls were about three and four – not to get them going on formal academics but, rather, to begin forming relationships with other home-educating families and to learn about methods and materials from their years of experience. And over time we’ve participated in and eventually led many group activities – field trips galore, dances, parties, camping trips, support meetings, talent shows, musicals, choirs – and the girls and I have met our best friends among the group’s members. As I watched older members’ kids grow up before my eyes, I got ideas and inspiration about how to proceed and was encouraged to persevere on our journey.
Along the way, I tried my hand at several educational approaches and used a whole bunch of different curricula. Some resources were tossed after a couple of weeks…and a few never even made it out of the box! Others worked well for a season. And still others became tried-and-true staples I used for many years and still enthusiastically recommend. Even the “bombs” served a purpose and didn’t hinder my kids’ overall academic growth; in fact, every resource we’ve used has contributed to revealing how each of my kids has been wired as a learner, enabling me to fine-tune as we went.
And now we’re at the end of the line.
Because my girls were born so close together, they’ve progressed through their academic “careers” together, and will graduate from our homeschool together next spring. And that means I’m currently in the midst of a year of “lasts.”
We started our last “fall term” in mid-August, and enjoyed our last not-back-to-school breakfast when the public-school kids had their first day of the year a couple weeks later. The girls are in the midst of rehearsals for their last choir performance with our group. They’ll soon venture out on their last father-child campout with my husband and attend their last fall dance. Before we know it, we’ll be getting ready for their last “Snowball,” their last father-daughter Valentine’s dance, their last spring formal, their last teen bonfire, and their last “girls’ group” outing. Though they’ll have a few academic activities to complete this winter and spring, it’s our goal to finish most of it before Christmas. Thus, they’ll soon close the cover of the last book in our long-standing, beloved history curriculum for the last time, and soon write their last book reviews. And then sometime next spring, they’ll do their last math assignments, turn in the final drafts of their senior research papers, and have their last civics lesson with me. On June 6, 2020, they’ll graduate, and my homeschooling “career” will end.
I want to cry just thinking about it. Because as much as I’ve sought to be physically and emotionally “present” for my girls for all these years and to pour into them as best I could despite all my faults and weaknesses, it’s all gone too quickly. I don’t fear not having done “enough.” I just grieve that I can’t do more. That I can’t have more time.
By God’s grace, I have great relationships with both my girls, and I fully expect (and pray to that end!) that their foray into adult life will include me in significant ways. I’m excited to see how their plans unfold and so proud of the bright, capable young woman each has become; I’m grateful that I’ll get to cheer them on and coach them in new ways. But I know it won’t be the same as it’s been. And that’s as it should be if we’ve done our job as parents correctly – i.e., our kids are supposed to become independent and self-sufficient. But it still hurts to “lose” my little girls.
My goal for myself in this year of lasts is to make the most of each moment without falling into a sea of melancholy – to acknowledge the significance of each “last” and enjoy them instead of getting maudlin. So, too, I encourage you during this “school year” – wherever you are on the journey with your precious children – to make the most of it. It’s quite true that some days are long (very long!)…and that some situations in which we find ourselves as home-educating parents are very stressful. But the rest of the adage – that the years are very short – is equally true.
So please listen and take heart, and aim to focus on the big picture rather than the exhausting, anxious, maddening little moments. Before you know it, you’ll be in the middle of your own “year of lasts,” and you’ll want to walk that journey wishing for more, not craving the end. To make that happen, you’ll need to know you’d prioritized your relationships with your kids – letting the academics flow as a secondary, natural corollary to that – instead of getting stuck in minutiae. So, seek the long view this year starting right now, and every year yet to come.