A few weeks ago I gently ripped open a little paper packet, tipped some seeds into my hand and dropped them into the earth in an even line. Using the flat of my palm to pull some soil across the row, I breathed in the sweet smell of dirt, bathed in birdsong and allowed the sun to drape itself across my shoulders like a familiar shawl. In a few moments, the children came tearing out into the garden, rolling over each other like a pair of lion cubs, tugging at each other’s ears, pressing their thumbs into the other’s arm pits, cackling wildly. Soon the youngest was in tears, as red in the face as the radishes I’d just sown. Their play-fighting had inevitably, painfully, turned into real fighting.
It was time to stop parting the earth and start parting the children. No longer could I crouch and sow, pushing aside worms and soil. Sighing deeply and brushing the dirt from my hands, it was time to return to the other ‘dirt’ of my life—the sweet and fertile soil of being with my children all day, every day, with all the laughter and tears that brings.
In the UK, homeschooling is still very much a novelty: it’s something unusual and special. There are only two homeschooling families in my town, and at home ed meet-ups we see the same faces, the same handful of families who are striking out on this uniquely less-trodden path. When I tell other people we meet that my children are home educated, their eyes fill with wonder and they usually breathe, “That sounds hard.”
Maybe they think I’m ringing a bell in the morning and teaching my children subject after subject of material I haven’t seen since my own days in primary school. Maybe they’re wondering how I manage to teach two children of such different age and ability. Maybe they can’t figure out how I can stand being with my children all the time. In their eyes I can see what they’re thinking: I must be incredibly patient, intelligent, even martyr-like. I must be able to do things and maybe I even know things that they don’t know. I must somehow be special.
Yes, being with children all day is demanding. The intensity of being forever on call, available, responsible is tiring. In some ways, things were easier when my older children trotted off to school and I could canoodle with my baby. But I missed my children; oh how I missed them. When they came home with their tales of playground pettiness and teacherly impatience, I’d suffer and seethe with indignation and impotence. Now that we are homeschooling the responsibility firmly resides with us. I prefer it that way.
Yesterday my youngest child and I tipped his little troop of caterpillars into a tray and sat side by side with our chins resting in our hands. We watched them wiggle about and crawl over the leaves. My nine year old, reciting her seven times table under her breath, stopped to watch the caterpillars too. “Wow, those are amazing,” she said.
“I know,” my son replied with shining eyes, resting his cool hand on the back of my neck. “They’re so beautiful I can hardly resist them!” Then he made two little fists and squealed in a way that made my tummy cartwheel.
I’m no martyr. Being with my children, taking responsibility for their education, guiding them into a life of contentment: it’s what I choose and enjoy. That’s not to say it’s easy. But it’s definitely something special.