May 28, 2011

The History Behind My Homeschool Decision

I was a pretty wild young lady. I was pregnant by the age of 14, and had experienced things most people don't until well into adulthood. I grew up too fast.

When my family found out I was pregnant they were extremely loving and supportive, but I experienced a lot of rejection from other kids at school, strangers, and church members. Many of my friend's parents would not let them associate with me because I was a bad influence.

I was not only pregnant very young, but I committed the crime of having a baby by a black man in the south. I remember walking through my neighborhood with my daughter in her stroller when an old "friend" hurled a very racist insult in my direction.

On the outside I appeared very responsible. I was a good mother. I worked, graduated from high school, and attended community college. My school adviser suggested that my test scores were so high that I should major in pre-science and go on to a medical career. He also suggested I find a 3rd shift job at a hotel, where I could study and earn money at the same time.

Thus started my career in the hotel industry. I loved my job. I met lots of interesting people. One of which was the security guard, a transy named Dee. She was an amazing person and taught me many things about overcoming rejection. We became very good friends. I will never forget her. I met a lot of "party people" through work too.

I was still living a lifestyle that I would later come to regret. I got pregnant (again) at 18. I had to make a change, and I needed to make it quickly. I couldn't live with Mom and Dad and raise 2 children. Leon and I had just begun dating. I had no idea where our relationship was headed. He lived over an hour away, so it was almost a long distance relationship.

I dropped out of community college, and worked at the hotel full-time. Leon and I decided to move in together. Later, we decided to get married and that I should stay home with the kids.

After I gave birth, I had some serious postpartum depression. Leon worked 2 jobs to make ends meet, so I was home alone most of the time. I channeled all of my regrets and loneliness into self loathing.

That fall Leon's son came to live with us full-time. I instantly became the mother of 3 at the age of 19. My stepson started kindergarten at the local school that year. He was a very difficult unhappy kid who didn't want to live with his step-mom. To say he was a handful is an understatement. I loved him and did what I could to show him as much, but I could never replace his mother and that pissed him off. I was overwhelmed.

As my hormones started to balance out, I found redemption from my self-hate in extreme religious conservatism. I felt that if I lived the rest of my life perfectly, I would be worthy of my salvation. I didn't believe that I was buying my way into heaven, but that I was "fixing" my past.

Meanwhile, my stepson was dealing with many emotional issues of his own. He stayed in the public school system for 2 years. He was angry and acted out so much in class that he was not even learning how to read.

I never planned to homeschool. I was very excited about Kelsea's first day of school and all of those other happy school memories that she'd have: field trips, plays, class parties, field days, etc.

However, the school put Kelsea into an English integration class. She was only 1 of 3 kids that spoke English in her classroom. The school reasoned that the English speaking children would help reinforce the language for the Spanish speaking children. Kelsea was doing most of her learning at home.

In fact, I spent so much time going over school work with the both of them, that the thought occurred to me that I could just keep them home and teach them myself. Then, we could have our happy little evenings together again, instead of wasting it on all the schoolwork they weren't getting at school.

Leon and I talked about homeschooling as an option. He was eager to pull them out of the system, I was still very reluctant. We even moved to get into a different school zone; but just after we moved-in, they rezoned the district and put us back at the old school.

My aunt homeschools her children and has a very happy family. I talked with her about homeschool options. She was very supportive and gave me a lot of encouragement and advice.

Eventually, I sent in my "notice of intent" and bought a bunch of school books. I was nervous, but we agreed we would only commit to doing it for one year. Of course, the first year was hard. I bought a "canned-curriculum" and spent every day reading the script that was given in the teacher books.

Two things happened that kept me going the next year. For one, my stepson started doing very well academically. He showed an aptitude for math, started reading on his own, even his handwriting improved dramatically. Second, his behavior took a whole new turn. He was no longer an angry little person. He still longed to live with his mom, but he was a completely different kid.

I did ditch the stuffy curriculum we were using and we moved on to more of an "unschooled" approach that worked well for the next few years. We used a curriculum for math, but I mostly used the library for our resources. We learned through everyday activities.

Despite how it may have seemed at the time, I didn't start homeschooling for religious reasons. It was more of a practical affair. Had the kids done well in school, I would never have ventured out to teach them on my own.

I do thank God for the turning point in my life. I'm still a conservative person, for the most part. I believe in family values and the fundamentals of my faith, but I'm no longer trying to pay penance for my past.

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