Sunday, December 20, 2009


Little and I are winding down our homeschooling time by choosing to do some things we've been putting off. We made a field trip the the Sciencenter a few weeks ago, we visited a great nature area and dog park near our house, and we've been making Christmas cookies. Last week I asked him what else he wanted to make sure we got to do together before he started school.

Take a bus, Mama.

Oh, okay. Great. Where do you want to go on the bus?

No place in particular. I just want to ride the bus.

Okay, but buses go places. We have to choose some sort of destination, just because it's winter and we'll want to get off and get warm at some point.

Ok. Let's take the bus to the mall.

And so began our most recent field trip. The bus. To the mall.

Now, let me tell you something about me. I am not a city girl. I rode a big yellow bus to school every day, and that is the sum total of my experiences with public transit of any kind, and buses in particular.* I don't know how to read a bus schedule. I don't know anything about bus stop etiquette. I don't know where to sit, how to pay, whether I need a token or change or a pass or what. And frankly, I don't see why I need to find out about these things, since I have two perfectly decent cars sitting in my driveway.

But Little wanted a bus trip, and I knew my reluctance was just snobbishness, so I did the research, and we did our little trip this week.

We got to the bus stop way too early, and it was a freezing cold day, so we ducked into the nearby gas station for a snack, then stood outside in the cold. He complained, and I refrained from reminding him that he'd chosen this trip, so no whining allowed. I sometimes need to be reminded that just because he's chosen something doesn't mean he has to like it.

But then the bus came, and we giggled the whole way. There was hardly anyone else on the bus, and it was fun to see all the familiar sights of our town through different windows. Visiting the mall by bus somehow offered a different perspective. We didn't have a place to leave our coats. The whole thing was somehow more leisurely, relaxed, perhaps because we knew we could only leave at certain times.

We had lunch, we got a Christmas present for Big, we walked around. We gave the guys at Radio Shack the third degree about cell phone plans. We examined Fossil bags at Macy's. Little played with video cameras. It was great.

And then we caught the bus back home, rang the bell for our stop, and walked home. We strolled happily back up our street, to our house, where our cars sat in the driveway. It was a whole new way of looking at the day. I might even do it again.

*This is not entirely true. In my misspent youth, I actually took a bus from Ithaca, NY to Pocatello, Idaho, and then back again. It took four days and nights of bus travel to get there. I remember sitting with a guy who told me he was a professional football player. I believed him.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

ending beginning

Little and I are coming to the end of our homeschooling time together. Just before Thanksgiving, Joe and I decided that the time had come for Little to go to school.

It's good news, really. When Joe first lost his job, we really didn't know what to expect. We knew I needed to start substitute teaching and looking for a permanent teaching position, but we didn't have any idea what Joe would be doing. We thought it was possible that he would be collecting unemployment and homeschooling Little. That was, I admit, not our first choice, but it seemed entirely possible.

Instead, he's found that there are lots of people who would like to have his research expertise and insight on their new projects, which means that he's busy. He still doesn't have a job, and the day when he gets one is probably still a long way off, but he has lots of consulting work. That's the good news. We are both delighted that he's got plenty to do.

But it means that Little is going to public school as of the first of the year, simply because there won't be anyone at home who can pay attention to him, let alone school him. I am of several minds about this. I am delighted that I'm not going to be stuck at home all day, all week anymore. For myself, the news that I can now resume my teaching career and get the hell out of the house is nothing but happy.

But for Little, I wanted something different. I believe he'll be fine in public school. He's reading, he's very socially aware, he genuinely likes people and is looking forward to making new friends. He's excited about the change, and I'm sure this is partly because Big has made such a beautiful transition to public school. As a sixth grader, he's around a bunch of other guys all day, he's learning some cool things from some fabulous teachers, and he's loving it. Not every aspect of every day, but the benefits far outweigh the problems.

However, Little will be starting school for the first time as a first grader. When Big started, he was already well on his way. He has enough of a background in progressive education that he knows to value autonomy and an intellectual challenge. He also has the maturity to suck it up when those features of an excellent education are absent.

Little has no such grounding, and no such maturity. He's going into a system much larger than himself without the tools he needs to negotiate it when things don't go his way. I really wanted for him an early elementary education in which I could count on the adults in his life to be conscious, intelligent, attentive, and flexible. Also one where he got to play a lot and spend lots of time outside.

Certainly there are many families who manage to raise awake, alive, interesting children, even as they send their kids to public school. Perhaps ours is one of them; Joe and I both survived the experience more or less intact.

I admit that my fears of public school for Big have not been borne out in his experience. I have every reason to hope that school will go swimmingly for Little. Perhaps the professionals at my neighborhood elementary school are there because they care about elementary education just as much as I do. We shall see.