Covered Wagons and Bumps in the Road

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My post on my retirement from home schooling yesterday stirred some wonderful memories and sweet contact from people. I was intrigued by a question someone asked me about why some home schooling moms today seem to lack the joy of teaching their children at home that they remembered in their own home growing up. (If it came from one of my kids, they certainly would have been sporting a selective memory!)

When those of us in what is referred to as the first generation of modern home schoolers started down this road in the late 70’s and early 80’s, a part of the fuel that energized us was that we were pioneers. We had all been educated in public schools and were looking for an alternative for our children. (Again, please know that I am not criticizing readers who have chosen this route for your own children…it could be the right choice for your family!)

Pioneering isn’t for everyone. During westward expansion, I’m sure there were lots of really wise women who chose not to hop in covered wagons to set out to an unknown territory to face dangers about which they had only heard. In fact, remaining in the comfort of their homes was probably the envy of all who chose otherwise!

When we decided to home school “for one year” in 1983, we had two curriculum choices; regularly reminded our kids how to graciously respond to eyebrow-raised questions about why they were at the grocery store with Mommy rather than in school; worked hard to convince friends and relatives that I could actually teach them to read and add; and prayed that we wouldn’t be have “what in the world were we thinking???” regrets someday when our kids couldn’t get into college or support our grandchildren. Now, educating children at home is the fastest growing education choice in the country, according to the National Center for Education Studies, with a whopping 2 million children being taught at home.

Our home school covered wagon had it’s share of scary situations along the way. The first year of Josh’s standardized testing was when I realized that I — not he — was actually the one being evaluated. Then there was the money wasted on colorful looking workbooks we never got to and curriculum that didn’t work out. And I can still remember the day about 3 years into our journey when baby number five was on the way and Benny came home to a crying wife saying, “I cannot and will not do this anymore!” I was ready to pack up the wagon and head back east!

Then something happened.

Too often our love of ease and comfort tempts us to too quickly give up when obstacles line our path. A toddler throws a puzzle piece across the room when they can’t get it to fit on the first try. A new reader feels “stupid” because he can’t read as well as his older sister overnight. A teen walks away from a longtime friendship rather than take the risk of trying to work things out. A dad quits another job because of relational conflicts with a boss.

Or a home schooling mom gives up when the weariness or ingratitude or jealousy of watching friends who have more flexible schedules set in.

The crying wife Benny came home to that day was all of those and more. Weary. Feeling unappreciated. Jealous. But I was also facing the normal obstacles that line every path of every life in every season. Babies fall but get back up and try to walk again. Kids keep trying until they can finally ride their two-wheeler. High school students apply to college after college until an acceptance letter comes. Devoted spouses choose to overlook yet again, rather than camp on the road of bitterness and withdrawal. You and everyone you know is facing challenging situations that need grace and wisdom.

I don’t remember specifically how I worked through my “I can’t home school anymore” crisis. Should God have led us to put our children into a structured school, it would have been fine for me to stop then. But I knew in my heart that God was leading our family through my husband to persevere. He didn’t “make” me. I am blessed to have a husband who takes my thoughts and counsel seriously, and he certainly wouldn’t have wanted me to be miserable in our covered wagon.

What I do remember is experiencing the grace of God to follow my husband. It was his idea to start homeschooling in the first place. (I’ve laughed with other home school moms about how the guys who leave home every day have such faith for us to be at home teaching their kids!) And it was his desire for us to continue heading west. He didn’t communicate it strongly or in a way that obligated me. But I knew.

My biblical paradigm informed my conscience that unless my husband was asking or expecting me to sin I needed to trust in God’s loving and sovereign plan. He chose Benny and me to be married. He knew we would have a bunch of kids close together. He ordained my life and had brought me to a place of desperation, weakness and the normal weariness of life with small children.

Joy came when I looked up. God was at work. He was in charge! And the path to which He had called me came with a promise of strength and grace. I had been created and called to orient my life to the man He had given me and to have faith that my obedience would be met with His every promise of help.

Obstacles are meant to be overcome. Imagine the consequences of women not having the courage and perseverance to get back into their wagons when disease, delays or discouragement tempted them to turn back.

Charles Spurgeon said, “Many men owe the grandeur of their lives to their tremendous difficulties.” Amen. I owe the privilege of home schooling my kids to the power God provided to persevere through the daily challenges our education choice brought.

They use to sit around the dining room table doing school. Now they’re adults who are all taller than me! (Pictured here at Janelle’s wedding in May 2011.)

My prayer is that young moms who are considering or who are already on the road of home schooling will find joy there. Joy in being the one to teach your toddler to sound out his first sentence or watch the look on his face when it clicks that 2 plus 4 is always 6. Joy in having your oldest offer to do a math lesson with her younger sibling because it makes her feel smart and needed. Joy in getting those standardized scores back and knowing you did a really good job this school year. And joy…lots of joy…when they finally get old enough to come back and say, “Thanks, Mom.”

I was a pioneer. You can be, too. Having joy in whatever season we find ourselves in is taking the road less traveled. I think joyful home schooling in the midst of all the challenges could be the road west for today’s home schooling moms.

A friend asked me recently what my life will look like now after decades of home schooling.  I’m not sure. But I’m thinking it will involve another covered wagon.

I still want to be a pioneer.

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