The science that is studied in the home is the greatest and most glorious of all sciences, very inadequately indicated by the word education, and nothing less, at least, than the mystery of the making of men.
– G.K. Chesterton
This is my first year as a homeschooling parent. I never thought it would be easy, but I also never knew it would be this hard. My wife, who has homeschooled our children for years, started a real estate brokerage last year. I recently left my job to join her in this growing family business. Working for ourselves and doing it mostly from home has made it possible for us to more fully share the tasks of raising, educating, and keeping the children from killing themselves or each other.
In the short time I’ve been doing this, I’ve found it both tremendously rewarding and unbelievably challenging. I expect that in most families, the homeschooling is conducted principally by the parent who stays at home, just as it was in our family before I left my previous profession. And in most families willing to homeschool, that parent is the mother. As a man, I have come to develop a new and profound appreciation for stay-at-home, homeschooling moms who keep a tight ship, a tidy house, and food on the table. When my wife is busy and I’m at the helm, I’m thrilled when my children are wearing more than a pair of tattered underpants, and if I’ve gotten through all the subjects without losing my cool, that’s a big win for the day.
Now I just have to master doing that while doing the work that I need to do for the business, staying ahead of the tidal wave of messes, and keeping some semblance of order. For posterity, I decided to take some notes today on my attempted routine:
The alarm on my phone goes off, and it’s just way too serene and peaceful to motivate me. It sounds like something a Chopin wannabe would compose, and I could easily just keep dreaming right through it. But our oldest daughter has to get to school, so I yank myself out of bed and hit the shower, regretting that extra time I spent staying up last night catching up on Breaking Bad. Don’t judge me.
I’m in the car, riding shotgun with a half-liter mug of Earl Gray to keep me company as our new driver tackles the morning commute to school. The Catholic high school she attends is 17 miles away, so I practice clenching and unclenching every reflexive muscle in my body for half an hour as we make our way through the outlying DC-area traffic to get there. When we finally switch seats upon arrival, I’m left trying to get my 6’4″, 285lb. frame into the space left by a 4’11”, 95 lb. girl. Luckily, she at least slid the seat back for me. Unluckily, the seat height, steering wheel adjustment, and every mirror on the car all need to be completely changed. I’m sure it looks totally normal the way my head is at a 45-degree angle to my body as I pull away.
I arrive at home, and breakfast is in progress. Sort of. My wife, brilliant delegator that she is, has the children peeling potatoes, which she then cuts up for frying. She hands the cooking over to me so she can take care of some client issues, and soon I’m peeling strips of bacon into a pan and flipping eggs over easy like a short order cook. There are five kids at home, so this process is as industrialized as I can make it. (I’m trying to make myself sound efficient, but don’t be fooled!)
Faces have been fed. The new dishwasher is broken, so we used paper plates this morning, making cleanup marginally less of big fat pain. A particularly difficult client issue leads to the cancellation of a contract, and I offer to make the run to pull our marketing collateral and lockbox from the property. One of those times where it’s just better to cut your losses. I catch a little talk radio on the way, and hear about the poor parent in Maryland who got arrested for questioning the imposition of the Common Core curriculum in his district. I thank heaven for homeschooling and wonder how long it will stay legal.
I’m back from my trip, and it’s time for me to teach my subjects: history, religion, and science. English and math have already been covered. But my wife has another client meeting and she hands me Liam, our extra-wriggly 6 month-old baby as we jointly try to solve a tech problem with one of our electronic business documents. After a number of attempts, she just prints the thing and leaves for her meeting. I resign myself to the fact that I probably won’t be teaching anything until the baby goes down for a nap and head to the living room to see what the other rugrats are doing.
The boys are buried in a pillow fort, glued to their daily round of Leapfrog videos. Strike that. Jude, the two year-old, for whom the videos are actually playing, has snuck out of the room. He’s most likely somewhere standing in a puddle of his own making, or else trying to climb on top of the fridge or up the pantry shelves to get whatever treat he’s decided he deserves just for being awesome. I’m attempting to get some writing done on my iPad, but after five minutes the keyboard battery dies and I realize I’m going to have to go back to my aging PC and hope that I can knock it out in pieces without the older children killing Liam with “affection”.
I dispatch Sophia, the seven year-old, to perform reconnaissance on the Jude situation. She reports back from the front with unwelcome news. He’s definitely made a puddle. She says it’s a big one, and when I get there I see that she’s right. I’m tempted to call upon Moses to part the waters, and I find myself wondering how such a small person can produce so much fluid. Luckily there’s a dirty towel in the laundry room I can use. I briefly consider mopping, but when I think about actually filling a bucket, adding cleanser, and squeezing out a mop, I opt instead for Clorox spray and paper towels. It’ll have to do.
I’m in my office at the PC. I’ve reclaimed Liam to keep him safe, and he’s wriggling away on my lap. I try writing again when I realize that Alex, the four year-old, is wailing, and the doppler effect tells me it’s getting closer. This is not a sound like crying, mind you, but an inhuman noise that literally short circuits all rational thought. In short order, he transitions to ranting, offering lamentations about how I’ll only let him watch educational shows. During school hours. I’m a cruel taskmaster. I should be teaching him, but I can’t really teach anything because of the wildly fidgeting Liam who kicks masterfully at my keyboard and mouse, adding characters and deselecting windows just as I am about to complete a coherent thought. I hear myself literally saying these words to this cherubic, mischevious infant: “Here, why don’t you play with this marker? That seems like a great idea.” Alex, growing tired of my non-plussitude, storms out the back door, no doubt with the intention of setting up residence somewhere in the woods. Speaking of markers, I notice that someone has written on my computer screen witha purple one. Yay.
I have not yet completed a paragraph. Jude is back, and he’s demanding “a jinka wadder” so he can make another puddle fifteen minutes from now when I forget to send him to the bathroom. While in the kitchen, I notice that the screen has fallen off the fan vent on our range hood. When I go to replace it, the other falls off and behind the stove. I decide that the damned thing is just going to have to stay there for a while because there’s no way I can get to it and if I try to move the stove at this moment I just know that some new evil will befall me. I finally can take no more of the squiggling, so I lay Liam down in his crib despite his intense protests.
I have now finished a fourth paragraph. I realize everything I’ve written thus far is disjointed and stream-of-consciousness, so I begin re-ordering things. Ivan, the six year-old, comes to inform me that Alex has stolen my iPad and is playing games on it. He hands the confiscated device to me and Alex appears seconds later, asking about what Ivan told me. I tell him, and I inform him that he will not be playing games during school. He repeats the question “but WHY?” infinity-hundred times as I attempt to peck out another sentence. Finally, just as I feel that I’m about to experience a life-ending aneurysm, I clamp my hand over his mouth and tell him that I don’t have to explain myself to him, followed by a completely irrational attempt to do just that in the hopes that he will just. stop. talking. He does. I experience much rejoicing.
I realize that all of the children have disappeared out the back door. I find them all down by the driveway in various states of dress, throwing rocks. Fantastic idea. I tell them I don’t want all the landscaping in the driveway then quickly go inside before I have to enforce anything.
I hear the triumphant music of the potty chair. Jude has made no puddle this time, but actually went to the bathroom where he is supposed to. He yells out, “I did it!” and I congratulate him with as much sincerity as my divided attention will allow.
Liam is screaming again. He has been asleep for less than half an hour. I want to scream, too. I absently wonder if Jude is scaling yet another kitchen edifice to award himself with chocolate for his bathroom accomplishments.
I acknowledge defeat. I will write no more this day. I had planned to make a quick, unhealthy lunch and then launch into the afternoon’s lessons, but Liam has decided to make any such attempt impossible. It occurs to me that the dishwasher replacement will be here within the hour, so the kitchen will be out of commission until then. It also occurs to me that in only one hour’s time, I have to go make the second run to my daughter’s school to pick her up. When I come back from that, it will be time for figuring out what the heck to make for dinner, which I swear I just did yesterday. Luckily, I’ve left some things to defrost so there’s a small victory, at least. I did not, however, complete any of the tasks I had placed on my mental to do list this morning, and probably won’t.
I can’t believe I’m out of bourbon.
I finally retrieve Liam, who is not going back to sleep, and return with him to my desk. My children are complaining of hunger. Do I actually have to feed them today?
I was going to continue, but it’s death by a hundred whiny requests in here. For reasons I can’t fully explain, my desk has somehow spontaneously piled up with shoes and baby toys, and I can barely move my hands through the clutter to type.
I know one thing: my wife did this on her own for years, and even started running a business at the same time. She is a superhero. She did so much more, and she did it so much better than I do. In fact, I just re-read this, and I realize that despite the title, I never even got to actually homeschooling today. I’d tell you maybe I’ll just do it later, but who am I kidding, really? The evening won’t be any less chaotic. We’ll just have to play catch-up.
Sure, I’ll get better at this with time. My wife reminds me frequently that she’s been doing it for 10 years. Even so, this is no job for the faint of heart. Men, if your wives are doing most of the heavy lifting on homeschooling, housecleaning, meal making, and overall home-running-without-burning-downing, don’t you dare put your feet up when you get home. Did you have a stressful day? So did she. Unless you routinely take your entire brood for a whole day without her there for backup, you probably have no idea what it’s like.
So pitch in. Unclamp the kids from her body. Bathe them — they’re sure to be sticky somewhere. Read them bedtime stories, preferably with funny voices. Cage them if necessary. It’s good for you and them to spend that time together anyway. But it also helps you to let your wife know how much you appreciate what she is doing for your family by giving her a much-needed break. I don’t care if you’re a professional rocket surgeon who commutes 3 hours each day. I used to work full time in an office with all the attendant stresses of management and difficult customers, and this is definitely the more challenging work. And the outcome is far more important.
Homeschooling moms are in a thankless profession tackling at least two full time jobs: teacher and mother, to say nothing of housecleaner and chef and COO. They are unappreciated by a world who thinks they should be working, and quite possibly by those who don’t know all that they do and think it must be easy just because they make it look easy. So I’d like to take this opportunity to say thank you — first and foremost to my own wife, who is nothing short of amazing — but to you other moms too. You are doing the vital work of teaching the next generation how to think critically, how to explore and learn and grow, and how to be the salt of the earth in a society that has lost its way. You are on the front lines of the culture war, and your yoke is not easy, your burden not light.
But it is so tremendously worthwhile.