I was sitting at my computer putting the details of the past five months onto my daughter’s transcript file when it clobbered me over the head like a pile of ragged textbooks tumbling from the top shelf of an overstuffed locker on the last day of school.
I’d just homeschooled my first child from birth through the end of high school.
How the hell did that happen?
Honestly I’m still not exactly sure how it happened, though I can tell you what we did along the way.
We stayed up late, we slept in late, we baked cookies. We did puzzles and solved murder mysteries. We went to the animal shelter and we went to the beach (always on a school day). We made art quilts and we held “Santa’s Workshop” days in December.
We went to the bakery a lot too – the one that has the balcony overhanging the giant open kitchen and big comfortable chairs to just sit and observe. We did a lot of writing practice there too, and sometimes math.
But mostly we observed how the bakers measured pounds and pounds of butter, how they mixed gallons of dough, how they made perfectly uniform cookies, how they spread dozens of cakes with icing and never ran out, how they matched colors on wedding cakes and sculpted sugar figures for birthday cakes.
We watched them work independently and we watched them work in teams. We talked about how each person played an important role in the operation of that bakery, even the person whose job it was to crack dozens upon dozens of eggs and the one who rolled the giant garbage cans out the back door (maybe especially that person).
We called it “Bakery School” and it was one of our favorite activities. If there is such a thing as a real, living, breathing Richard Scarry’s “Busytown” (minus the bear on a bicycle with a baguette in his basket), this bakery is it.
And sure, there were traditional academics along the way too – math, history, grammar, science, etc. Some grades, some assignments, some tests. Not too much though, just enough to legitimize the transcript and get her on her way to the next step.
In comparison to the average kid’s path through public or private school, it was highly unconventional, but by homeschool standards it was pretty typical.
Let me clarify - by secular, eclectic homeschool standards it was pretty typical. We are not a religiously-minded homeschooling family, nor are we a super-high-achievement focused family.
We’re a “let’s-live-life-and-explore-the world-together-without-the-confines-of-traditional-school” kind of family.
And so when she told me that she didn’t want to participate in any kind of graduation ceremony (of which there are many options for homeschoolers, believe it or not), I should not have been surprised.
And yet I was, and maybe a little bit hurt, too.
But her reason was completely logical, I had to give her that. She wondered what the point was of going through a graduation ceremony?
“What does it symbolize for me anyway?” she asked, her voice full of faintly smug, skeptical sarcasm, the kind that only comes with being 18 years old.
Answering her own question, she said “It’s pointless. It’s an artificial transition between two phases – high school and college – that were never separate for me to begin with. I’ve already started my college degree, I’ve had a professional internship, I’ve lived on my own in New York for several months.”
“Why would I want to go to a ceremony that welcomes me to the rest of my life, when I’ve been living it all along?” she said.
“It’s kind of dumb, I think,” she added.
And I agreed with her. It was true - graduation was in fact a meaningless ceremony for her. How could I argue?
But it wasn’t meaningless for me.
It wasn’t that I had an urge to see her wear a cap and gown or hear Pomp and Circumstance being played. I didn’t care one bit about that, to be honest.
So what was it that was bothering me?
It’s that finally the uncertainty is over, I thought to myself.
It’s hard not to doubt yourself when a well-meaning stranger (or even better, a friend) asks “Do you plan to homeschool your kids ALL THE WAY THROUGH HIGH SCHOOL?!?” with a slightly dumbfounded look on their face, as if you’d just suggested that doughnuts qualified as a nutritious school lunch (guilty, on some days – the best days, my kids will probably tell you).
And I always gave the same response of “We’ll take it one year at a time and see how it goes. We’re not locked into anything.”
Which I suppose is what they wanted to hear but in my head I was thinking “Oh hell yes I plan to homeschool them through high school, I haven’t come this far to quit now” but it’s always easier to just smile and give them the answer they want to hear.
Ah, OK, they’d usually say, which I think is code for “You’ll probably change your mind soon when you realize how hard it is and what brats teenagers are and that kids need to be in school to be properly socialized and prepared for college.”
But we didn’t change our minds.
And neither did my daughter about attending the graduation ceremony.
As several days went by, I realized that her attending or not attending graduation had absolutely nothing to do with me as a homeschooling mother. Sure, I had done my part over the past 12 years to get her to this point (18 years really but who’s counting?), but the fact remained that the ceremony was about her and her choices and her achievements, not mine.
So I picked out a necklace from the Uncommon Goods catalog and emailed a link to Doug saying “I deserve this as a graduation gift” and within seconds he messaged me back with “Yes you do, consider it done.”
And necklace aside (which I love and wear with a great feeling of accomplishment), it dawned on me that I got exactly what I deserved at the end of this homeschooling journey with my oldest daughter. We started this journey together, she and I and her younger brother and sister, to forge our own path and to create our own program of study that was more practical and relevant and rewarding. We crafted something that was uniquely hers, and hers alone.
And to that end, she didn’t see a graduation ceremony as part of that plan. She made the decision that suited her best, which is everything I wanted for her all along.
How could I feel anything but pride about that?