Friday, September 10, 2021

Welcome to KTU (I guess we're homeschoolers now.)

I wonder when the morning buses going by will stop making me sad.

You know what the kicker is? My kids never rode them. Aside from the occasional field trip, they just weren't bus kids. First because I was neurotic and couldn't believe that my car-seat sitting Kindergarteners were just supposed to slide into big benches on a long tin can with wheels. But then it was because I saw how long it took for the buses to reach our unfortunate "last stop before the depot" location. Rather than have them take a daily tour of our town while their homework sat undone in their backpacks, I picked my boys up each day so we could spend that time burning energy on the playground. It was also my chance to speak to other adults for five minutes.

Homeschooling Mom thoughts.I didn't particularly like being my own sort of bus driver - my day bookended by trips through annoying car lines, interrupting whatever project I had going on at home. But I did like to toss them a final "I love you" at the last possible second before they started their day. And I loved to see their excited, smiling faces as they raced towards me at dismissal. 

And maybe it's those things I'm really missing when the buses whiz by. The buses were always there while I did my taxiing, of course. I guess they've become big, diesel-scented, banana hued reminders of all that my kids are missing out on.

There's always this moment on the last day of school where the buses drive around in a loop in the parking lot, honking their horns, little hands waving out of all of the open windows as all the teachers and staff and parents stand on the sidewalk and cheer, blow bubbles, and say goodbye to the kids for the Summer. It's stupidly emotional, and I've stood there and watched it with my kids every year. 

The year my oldest left elementary school was a particularly emotional one. It was 2019. I stood there next to the school attendance clerk (who knew us well because of said oldest son's health complications), and she looked down to my littlest who would soon be a Kindergartener and said, "this will be for you next year, right?" I have it on video because I was recording the whole ordeal. 

Turns out, it didn't happen for him the next year - because it was 2020. And it didn't happen the June after that, either. And this school year, when it happens in 2022, he won't be there to see it.

And it's stupid, and inconsequential, and I highly doubt that when my boys have grown into men and are looking back 20, 30, 40 years into their childhood - it's not going to be the last day of school bus parade that their memories land on. It's ME that those moments are special for. It's ME who is sad that such a sweet little spectacle was stolen from their school experience. But understanding that doesn't take the sadness out of the situation. Or the mild anger I have over the way life lately has just endlessly plucked this thing and that thing away from my boys' lives. 

It's only mild anger because (if I do say so myself), I'm pretty fantastic at making the proverbial lemonade. I love getting creative and making sure my kids get a memorable, celebratory experience for every holiday and milestone at our disposal. In fact, while they were certainly different and a little lonely, last year's Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas were some of my favorite holidays on record. I'm not sure if my kids feel the same? But I do know they were still smiling and making memories and given everything I could possibly give them while still keeping them safe. 

I guess I just never thought that school itself would be totally removed from their lives.

I mean, okay...they still have school. Just, very different school. They now have taught-by-mom-at-the-kitchen-table school. They're not getting up early and groaning while they get their hair combed before being stuffed into coats and then cars before rushing off to greet their friends and incredible teachers. Taking the road less traveled with school. They're not a part of the community in the way they once were. They're not growing their friendships through unique daily interactions. And yeah - there are pros and cons to all of that! From the tiny bits (like not having to wear a mask all day) to the big bits (like missing out on the school events and clubs). It's just...taking a while to come to terms with it on all sides. I think more for me than for them.

Maybe because I went through the entire institution. It feels odd to me as an adult who spent ages 4-21 in classrooms Monday through Friday, navigating life as it was laid out for me. But before cracking a single book this school year, my kids were already used to swerving. They did the whole asynchronous thing at the end of 2020. Then they did the full days on a chromebook virtual thing last year. They're used to swerving. It's ME that's struggling.

My youngest told me that while he remembers what school looks like inside, he doesn't remember what it's like to do a school day. And it's the things like that that worry me. What happens if he's ready go back next year and he starts third grade with the school adjustment capabilities of a mid-year Kindergartener? What happens when my middle son jumps into middle school a year after his classmates already figured out how the whole middle school thing works? What happens to my oldest when he's gearing up for High School with friends that have moved on without him? Those are the things that keep me up at night.

But I made the homeschool decision anyway. 

My therapist reminds me that even though it was a choice, it wasn't just a "because I wanted to" thing. My hand was forced by covid. And I'm trying to see it that way, as though it really wasn't my choice, but it's hard when most parents around me scoff at the very idea of homeschool. So, so many community parents have weighed the options and the risks and came out in favor of traditional school, and at times that makes me feel crazy. Like, why didn't my calculations come out like theirs? What am I not seeing?

As a sort of meeting-in-the-middle result, I had hoped that the district would change its mind and offer a virtual program again this year. I guess I mostly wanted that so they'd stay on track with their curriculums and classmates and still get to interact with teachers in their schools. But if I'm being honest, despite our wonderful teachers, virtual school was kind of terrible. Helping my kids navigate three separate but congruent schedules was like spinning plates and juggling at the same time. And they certainly hated sitting still and staring at a screen for hours every day. Kitchen Table University In actual execution, homeschool wins over virtual school in most areas. And so far, my kids have been motivated and waking up with smiles on their faces as their bodies rather than their clocks tell them what time to stop sleeping. I've watched them taking interest in things and learning things as we explore and study and create. When I set my sadness down for a minute, I often see that this is kind of amazing.

It's just that I'm a mom. And so I want everything, all of it, every last bit for my kids. I want them to have their cake AND eat it. I want to spin plates and juggle for them. I want them to have everything they need, plus everything they want, with sprinkles on top.

So while I wait for my mind to take its sweet time with acceptance, the buses make me sad. 

I sat near the window with my coffee this morning thinking that the first day I smile and think, "suckers!" as the morning buses go by will be the day I've gotten over it. Which will still be a coping mechanism, naturally, because a part of me will always be second-hand jealous for my kids. There's no off switch for that regardless of the subject. (Believe me, I've been looking for it for nearly 13 years.)

It all is what it is, and here we are. 

We named our homeschool Kitchen Table University (KTU for short), for obvious reasons. We declared that we are the "east campus," because my best friend of nearly 30 years is also homeschooling with her kids this year and they are just a few towns to the west. Having their family take the same unbeaten path as ours has been a comfort, for sure. 

So. I guess we're homeschoolers now.

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