I can so clearly remember the dread that enveloped me as a child those nights after the first days of school. Each year, I was typically excited about the first day back to school, even after a fun summer break. I loved shopping for new school supplies, and I always looked forward to seeing my friends again, meeting my teachers, and getting a glimpse into how my school year would look. First days were so fun.
That night, however, I would realize suddenly that after every first day…came a second day. And a third. And so on. It hit me that those days would not be as fun. And it occurred to me that I had no choice but to participate in them, to meet their demands. Furthermore, I was depressingly aware that even my parents did not have much of a choice. Since homeschooling never seemed to enter any of our minds (least of all mine), it appeared that we were all at the mercy of the traditional school system.
Since I actually kind of enjoyed the traditional school system once it got rolling, I usually rebounded quickly from my funk and moved on with the business of the school year. However, there was always that brief time each fall where I suddenly felt trapped by the crushing burden of eight hour days, 40-hour weeks of enforced learning schedules. I felt like a helpless pawn in an unalterable system, a system over which I had no control.
(And yes, I know that I might have been a morbid child to delve so deeply into despair each year. I think I get that tendency from my father. He once told me of a time when he saw an airplane fly overhead while coming back from squirrel hunting to his rural Kentucky home. Instead of excitement at seeing the airplane, my dad was filled with depression at the thought that he would most likely never fly in such a contraption. Like me, he felt trapped in his world. However, I generally had much less reason to feel trapped than he, as I was the privileged daughter of a man who, as a business executive, flew in lots of airplanes.)
That dread came back to me at the beginning of this year when I sent my kids back to school after Christmas break. Often, parents are somewhat relieved to send their kids back to school and to settle back into their normal routines. Not me. To me, it felt so incredibly wrong. We had enjoyed such a wonderful Christmas holiday, and the few weeks of together time just made me want more. Thus, it was with deep mourning that I packed my son off to his eight hour school day at the beginning of January. I told myself that it would be good to get back into a routine, that once I started teaching and everything settled down, I would be thankful for our highly ordered days.
Instead, I found myself feeling slowly trapped by our routines, and that familiar feeling started creeping back up on me, that morbid awareness that we were part of a system that dictated most aspects of our lives. For example, Luke’s school schedule dictated our family time, limiting it to the 3:00-7:30 pm window between school dismissal and bedtime. Family time was further cut short by church commitments two nights a week at 5:00 pm, and by Greg’s work schedule, which took up three nights a week. Then there was the homework for Luke and the teaching prep and grading for me, which stole away even more family time. Because we felt so squeezed, Greg and I opted not to enroll the kids in any extracurricular activities, like sports or art classes, because we didn’t want to give up even more weeknights, and certainly not our cherished weekends. That was a shame because I really think my kids would benefit from some extracurricular opportunities. I also began feeling more and more stingy with our time, reluctant to do even good things, such as service or outreach, because our hours together as a family were so precious to me.
Now, I can just hear the chorus of those who have “been there and done that” saying, “Welcome to reality.” This is the new normal: two parents working (often both full-time), kids in school all day, a host of extracurricular activities in the evenings and weekends. So many people’s plates are much more full than ours, and they seem to be managing, and even enjoying it. So why can’t we get with the program?
I, on other hand, didn’t enjoy it. Thus, my question was: Does this have to be reality? More and more, I feel squeezed in to this mold, this lifestyle, that I really do not want. I don’t want to be forever frantically running around feeling two steps behind. I am keenly aware that I only have one life, one chance at this thing, and I want to spend my time on what is most important to me, not on priorities that culture decides for me. Maybe “this is the way things are,” but right now, I am rejecting the way things are. I am blessed to be able to choose a different reality instead.
In my chosen reality, I want to spend my time serving my family and my world. I want to devote my days to the relationships that are most important to me, which will in turn allow me to more freely give my afternoons and evenings to the other work that God has for me. If I’ve spent a full day with my children, I will not resent going to tutor in the evening or volunteering some “family time” at World Relief. I won’t mind going on a weekend youth trip, or worry that it is taking time away from the children whom God has given me. In short, by taking back time for our family, it seems to me that we will have more time to give to others. Service won’t just be one more thing to squeeze on top of a forty-hour school week; instead, it will be something we can weave throughout all our days.
Those feelings of dread and reluctance formed the “kindling” to our homeschooling flame. Back in January and early February, Greg and I circled ’round and ’round the homeschooling option, mulling over its benefits and drawbacks. Our exploration of this option was prompted by my trapped feelings. When I am feeling romantic, I describe the “kindling” factor in our decision to homeschool as:
Power to the people, and all that! Down with the Man! We are taking back our precious hours and devoting them to the pursuits that are most important to us. So…in your eye, cultural expectations!
And when I am in a more prosaic mood, I simply say,
We didn’t like our schedule.
Because, you know, that’s true, too.
So how do you handle the busyness in your life? It seems like completely rejecting one’s lifestyle is a tad on the dramatic side. Do you have any strategies that are perhaps more reasonable?