By Andrea~Guest Author
This is the time of year that seems to make even the most seasoned homeschooling parent question everything. Catalogs stuff our mailboxes, convention notices appear everywhere, and much advice is shared among friends. From methodology to curriculum brands, from expert to guru, all these things have swirled around me these past two seasons, without having an effect. They seem to blip on my radar briefly enough to be noticed, then they are gone again unmissed.
I suppose it could be the knowledge I have one child going to college in the fall. He's in, his place is secure, plans have been made. One foot is half-way out the door already. Some of his things are even packed. It could be that, knowing one child of mine has made it through our big homeschooling experiment, knowing that not only can the kids do it, but that I, as a parent, can do it. Maybe if I stopped and dug through my foggy memory, I might give credit to our stricter days when we had just begun.
No, I don't think it was that.
On September 30th, 2004 at around 9pm, just when the sun was setting, my oldest child at 16, Addison,was heading home on his bicycle from an event downtown. He had called ahead to say he was leaving and my youngest, just a toddler, was drifting to sleep in my lap.
He was almost home, three blocks from our house, when the front tire of his bicycle lodged in a hole in the shoulder of the road. He flipped around still gripping the handlebars, bicycle tangling in his legs, and landed on his head.
It broke his neck.
The next call we got was from a stranger at the roadside. Traffic was backed up almost to our house by the time the ambulance arrived. My husband beat them there. I had heard my son's voice on the stranger's phone, scared but there. Alive.
The rest of the night goes through my head in waves of clarity. I cleaned my windows while waiting, they have never been as clean as they were then. I called my mother and told her what happened – the worst phone call of my life. I rode in an ambulance to a hospital almost two hours away, where they could better deal with his injury, speeding through the night and the fog, flashing lights bouncing off the settled clouds.
In the ambulance the nurse was talking, I think partly to keep my mind off things, partly to break the tense silence. We finally got around to homeschooling, as all my conversations with strangers do. I am tired, I am worried, I am scared, but I am polite and I answer her common questions briefly. “I'm sorry,” I want to say, “But his social life and how is he going to get into college really seems irrelevant now. I just want him to make it through the night.” I meet his eyes briefly in the dark and I whisper, “Love you.”
He spent nine days in hospital, three of those flat on his back in bed, strapped to a device to straighten dislocated vertebrae. We brought in our anatomy books, partly to help explain the injuries to our younger children and partly so the doctors can help explain it to us. They draw lines and arrows enthusiastically, circling bones that have been crushed or split, following with a pen the nerve pathways down Addison's arm. They strap a halo frame to his skull, a metal ring around his head with bolts to hold it still, connected to metal posts down to a chest brace to keep his head from turning. He came home on his sister's 14th birthday, walking from the car to the back door under his own power. He had limited use of his right arm, but – in what we felt the funniest of ironies - he is left-handed. The only other answers the doctors could give us was to wait and see.
Weirdly, the second most common inquiry we heard during his recovery was to do with his schooling. What were our plans now? How soon could he go back to studying? Would this delay his plans for college? Would he still graduate?
That afternoon in September, he had been working on history. A looseleaf page of answers was on his desk. It lay there for six months before he threw it out. As the months went on we came to realize, not just for him but for our whole family, that everything that had looked like school in our house had fallen by the wayside. I confess, it didn't have far to fall, but what little notions we had left were quickly swallowed by the realities of job losses, hospital bills, dealing with insurance companies, physiotherapy, and some days just getting out of bed in the morning.
The questions at the back of the chapter went neglected by everyone. The drills, the worksheets, the tests, and even the worrying about how they were doing academically got lost in the shuffle. We didn't miss it.
We already had a big test, an important one that, thankfully, many families do not have to deal with to learn the lesson. And better yet, I think we passed with flying colors. One that Addison passed, right into manhood. One where we, as parents, learned when was the right time to let go.
Because, we found out that in the end life isn't about school, it's about living.
Andrea Rennick has been a homeschooling mom since 1994. She writes slice-of-life at her own blog, and contributes homeschooling musing at her husband Ron's blog. She also runs homeschooljournal.net, a free blogging site for homeschoolers. Her four growing hungry children keep her busy and in her spare time, she thinks about writing.