Today, we start second grade.
Before bed last night, Jules told me for the fiftieth time that she is nervous about moving up a level in her schoolwork. All of the other children her age started second grade four months ago, why are we just beginning?
As soon as we could, Ben and I enrolled Jules in pre-school. Clementine was born a couple months later and we landed in the NICU for 3 weeks, we didn’t arrive home until the first week of September so Jules already had missed the first few days. That is when our vision of public school really started to become blurred.
I never took my kids out in the rain, water and medical equipment just don’t mix. Julia never took the school bus, I didn’t as a child and honestly the 30 extra minutes in the morning because we didn’t have to haul ass out to the bus stop was a life saver for us. Weather conditions and my willingness to find parking/put two children in a stroller at 8am weighed heavily on my mind from the moment I woke up. Jules missed A LOT of school, especially once Beckett and Clementine started to become frequent fliers in the ICU. I hated having two children at home in Connecticut and two children in the hospital in Boston. Often, we would move into the temporary housing at the hospital until Beckett and Clementine were discharged, pulling Jules out for days at a time. Ben and I contemplated homeschool quite seriously after the third or fourth hospitalization. The hospital hired tutors for the patients, but not for their siblings. Jules wasn’t lacking for education, what we needed most was consistency and a schedule, we thought if we could transport another part of home with us it would create a stronger current of normalcy.
In October 2014, we came home after 8 weeks at the hospital, Jules hadn’t been to school yet and we weren’t planning on sending her back until after Beckett and Clementine had passed. We wanted to spend as much time together as we could, with as little constriction as possible. We met with the school, discussed our plans and settled in for the long haul. In January 2015, Jules finally started the first grade but within weeks Ben and I realized things weren’t working. Julia wasn’t used to waking early or rushing around to get to school. She felt behind, her classmates had begun to bond and make friendships, and Jules felt strange about talking to her peers about Beckett and Clementine. She was trying to work through her grief and having to explain that to those around you when you don’t really have the skills or language to do so was extremely tough for her. Often at the end of a long day, she would be sent to bed early because she couldn’t stop crying because she was so exhausted.
In April 2015, I ordered Julia’s curriculum from Memoria Press and we pulled her out of public school. It was a huge transition for us. As a family, within a span of eight months we went from moving at warp speed to slowing to a crawl. It took quite a few months to get into a rhythm that worked for us. Jules gets up around 8:30-9am, eats and gets dressed. We start school around 10am and depending on her mood we finish around lunchtime or mid-afternoon. Jules worked through last summer and she will do so again this summer to get on course to start third grade this fall.
The question we get most often is about socializing, which I find strange. When Beckett was in the NICU Jules would “round” with the night nurses. In the hospital housing, in which 26 families could stay, there was only one kitchen. Julia ate injera prepared by an Ethiopian grandmother, and shoofly pie from an Amish family, she played with children from China, Ireland and Switzerland. Today she is a ballerina, gymnast, artist, Girl Scout and pianist. I have found that she has learned the most from the times outside of class and book study. This fall we began the concept of money, not just identifying coins, but monetary exchange. For example, Jules and I will head to the gas station, I hand her money and we go over what pump we are at and how much gas we need to buy. The first few times, we would head in together and I would wait silently by the door. Now, Jules heads in all on her own and when she comes out we go over the checklist: did you smile and make eye contact, did you tell them the right amount of money and pump number, did you say “please”, “thank you” and “have a nice day”? I stand by and give directions on how to open the gas tank and which buttons to press on the machine, the nozzle is still a bit too heavy for her so I move the pump in and out of the tank. We talk about how much gas costs, where it comes from, and why cars don’t run on frosted flakes.
There were many reasons we began to homeschool, the one I am most embarrassed about is I am selfish. I have felt guilty because of wasted time, minutes and hours spent traveling from one thing to the next, mornings spent losing my patience because Jules wanted to play when she woke up instead of running out the door to school, and nights we missed reading together because she collapsed onto her bed after a long day of “hurry up and wait”. Last night, we took our time. I let Wilbur brush his teeth even though I just went over them myself. I waited for Jules to put on her My Little Pony eye mask and adjust her covers sixteen times before laying her head on her pillow. I am in no rush, I would like to wake up early, but I don’t have anywhere to be other than where I am right now.