The week of getting back to school is almost always a painful one. Plowing into the grind of math and history and reading and advising and checking and repeating and prodding and encouraging. We’re still awash in summer, all of us, with tomatoes and squash all over the counters, and apples and grapes ripening on branches, and the pool glittering next to our scalding-asphalt driveway, all begging us to stick with summer.
But I start to count the math pages that need to be done this year, to remember that my almost-4th grader needs multiplication tables and a gaggle of teenagers need chemistry and a certain sweet first-grader really needs a phonics review to get rock-steady at reading.
And so we plunge in, all unwilling, every single one of us, with me in the lead all heavy and grownup. The first days the unwilling just about drowns me, coming as it is from me as well as the children, though some of them are less unwilling than I.
Always I know there are options. In weary moments I try them on for size, striving for objectivity, even as a little voice inside whispers I’d be betraying my ideals. The truth is we could send our children off to school, I know we could. I know many families for whom public school works brilliantly, for whom it is an excellent choice. The temptation looms mountainous some days. To let other folks battle unwilling ones, cajole kids past the clueless moments.
Except I know in my soul no one– no one — will coax our 15 year old to do her best as insistently as I. No one but I will care as much about the friends our children make. Few others will know when English vocabulary words start wooshing over our Ethiopian daughters’ heads. And I doubt that a teacher with 28 kids in the class will correct kids who randomly skip plurals and other small details of sentences. (If you don’t think little words matter, try sitting next to a kid taking a standardized test who just chose the exact wrong answer because he skipped the word ‘not’ in a sentence.)
And then there is the thought of my little 6 year old marching away with a backpack to be gone all day. Daggers to my heart.
Yes, I would have morning peace — but only after an hour or two of bleary-morning chaos, getting kids hurry-scurried to the bus. My current morning math-checking and reading would be replaced by endless homework between 4 PM and bedtime, homework dictated by others. And the kids who had years without a mom– well, they’d be spending most of their waking hours away from a mother once again.
For many families, school away from home may be an excellent choice, with lots of good reasons to proceed peacefully and confidently in that direction. In no way am I casting aspersions on the choices of other families. But even in my weakest, tiredest, unwilling-est, early-September moments, I cannot honestly find peace with that option for the family God gave me. And so we plod forward, learning in spite of ourselves, with me reminding myself once again that though these first weeks are painful, if we don’t give up we will eventually gain momentum and settle comfortably back into the fall routine.
This is the path for us. Just keep walking. One step at a time. Don’t give up.