"You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.” -Kahlil Gibran
When my firstborn was very young, I pounced on each “learning moment,” overly eager to make sure my daughter received every possible kind of support and encouragement for learning. If she showed even the tiniest interest in a subject, creature, object, or concept, I rushed in with resources, manipulatives, books, toys, games, and real life objects. Caitlín was the only 3-year-old in her playgroup who had her own toolbox with real tools, an extra large set of Cuisenaire Rods, or a chess set. Still, my daughter, and her younger sister, Laurel, did not latch on to any particular interest, although children all around us were doing so.
The sons of a friend displayed early and avid interest in baseball. I recall one very young boy bringing a Duplo bricks board to his mother, on which he had placed bricks to make two squares abutting each other. “Oh, I see you made the number eight,” the mom said to her son, “that’s Cal Ripkin’s number.” I felt grateful that my children were not into baseball, especially to that degree. I would not want to have to fake interest in my children’s interests, and that would be the case with baseball, or most any team sport. Nevertheless, I wanted my kids to have interests. It seemed the natural, normal thing.
Having read David Albert’s “And the Skylark Sings With Me,” which includes stories about his children’s amazing interests and their ingenuity and drive in following them (Building a huge telescope! Picking up the violin at an early age! Playing the violin to earn money to buy another violin! Trekking into the wilderness to study wild wolves!), I was anxious for my own children to display some kind of steady interest. They didn’t have to be prodigies, mind you, just demonstrate that they were, indeed, learning, and that they were, indeed, becoming themselves. I was so desperate for them to have something with which to identify that I might have even breathed a sigh of relief had they chosen baseball.
During those early years, I spent a lot of time and money buying every imaginable educational tool to support my daughters’ vague leanings. Most of these books, magazines, toys, manipulatives, games, and other resources have been disposed of—sold, given away, or donated to VaHomeschoolers’ Used Resource Sale—having never captured my children’s interest. Fortunately, I do learn, eventually. I long since backed off on buying things for my children without their explicit request.
Very gradually, Caitlín and Laurel developed interests in history, theatre, English literature, and the cinema. Now, at 16 and 13 years of age, they produce a biweekly e-zine, called “The Talisman,” that includes their book and movie reviews, plus poems, how-to’s, polls, quotes, and more. They played Captain Smollett and Mrs. Hawkins, respectively, in Homeschool Theatre Troupe’s recent rendition of “Treasure Island.” The older girl has decided that—despite her teenager’s inclination to reject any resemblance to her mother—she likes sailing, and she is currently reading her way through the Horatio Hornblower novels. After the girls viewed four borrowed tapes of the A&E “Hornblower” series, my younger daughter insisted that I purchase the eight-DVD set with her money. The girls watched them raptly, declaring them “brilliant.” A couple of weeks ago, Laurel, the thirteen-year-old, noted matter-of-factly that she had just finished reading the unabridged “Pride and Prejudice,” and today added that she has since then read “Sense and Sensibility,” and plans to read “Emma” soon. Both of my children are avid readers and writers, keeping daily journals, corresponding with several pen pals, creating mock movie trailers in PowerPoint, editing my writing, and making regular requests to go to the library for yet more books.
My girls have clear interests now, but being teens, they also demand a great deal of privacy. They made it known that I am privileged to be on their list of recipients of “The Talisman,” howl in protest if I come into the room while they are writing, and they shoo me away from their theatre rehearsals, refusing to even let me hear their audition monologs. While I do have a general sense of what they are learning, and what they know, their educational journeys are largely hidden from me.
When writing about my children’s education, I search for that anecdotal evidence that learning happens—a task that is frustrated by my daughters’ need for privacy, for their need of identities separate from my own. Therefore, I am making the conscious choice to back off, to allow them to just be who they are. After learning from them for sixteen years, I have finally dropped the idea that I need to examine and explain these girls, and let go of the idea that I must hold them up as proof that I made the right educational choices for them. At last, I can allow each of them complete freedom in building her own “house of tomorrow.”
Shay Seaborne is an edgewalker, known to leap empty-handed into the void. Fun and magic are crucial elements in the design of her life. Shay filed her first Notice of Intent to homeschool in Virginia in 1995. She loves living and learning with her two daughters, who are turning out well despite being raised far from the turbid waters of the mainstream. Shay’s homeschool blog is called, “Anecdotal Evidence,” and her Web site is SynergyField.com.