by Jackie ~ Guest Author
Today is my overwhelmed day. Right from the start it was bad. Before I rolled out of bed, I heard my 10 year old daughter reading a book to my husband. Good, right? No, bad. She pronounced Colorado like, well, Clorox. Five minutes later, she was arguing that Montana is a big city in...Canada.
When I showed up on the scene to scoot my daughter to her appointment with a cereal bowl, my husband gave me that look of "are you sure this homeschooling thing is a good idea?" I've seen "the look" many times over the past five years so of course I gave him the quick, confident smile and the enthusiastic response he needed so that 'the look" would go away and his mind would wonder to something else like bagels or stocks or toe fuzz.
Too bad no one is here to do that for me. I'd like to think about something other than homeschooling. Toe fuzz would be nice. The beach sounds insanely good. Fat pieces of chocolate and steaming gourmet coffee---pure heaven. Most weeks I don't need to think about other things. Most weeks I'm happy in my universe and homeschooling is actually our stabilizer.
Not this week. This has been a bad homeschooling week. On Monday my first grader began his CAT test, his first one ever. This is the test I started worrying about last year. This is the test I dreaded, but talked myself into believing was the best option for satisfying our state's proof of progress. All of my friends, my wonderfully supportive friends, backed me up, assured me that I would laugh at my worry once the test envelope was signed, sealed, and delivered.
Hah! Wrong, wrong, double-wrong. The test is a struggle: a flip-floppy-sweaty-boy-body, smudged up answer book, "mommy, why is it so hard?", headache-inducing struggle. At night, after the children have gone to bed, I look over his work and count the wrong answers. . There are...a lot. He'll pass. Probably. Barely.
Gabriel is my outside of the box kid. He didn't make gibberish sounds as a baby, no consonants, no vowels. Then suddenly at 18 months, just when my worry was at its height, he began talking in sentences-- no prep work, no drill and practice, just "ta-dah, look who's talking." I’m waiting for the "ta-dah" with reading. It will come of course, but hopefully my nervous breakdown doesn't arrive first.
I don't care about the test. It is a bureaucratic hoop we must jump through in order to keep our son home for another year: my sensitive, thoughtful son who is a target for nasty little bullies at the park if we arrive after 4:00 p.m; my mechanically-inclined, creative son who would carve out his own cracks in public school and then fall through them; my imaginative, joke-telling son who would be the cause of more than a few gray hairs in a well-meaning teacher's scalp.
But not in my scalp. I love the way my son learns. That test can't count the number of working contraptions he's built. It can't count the number of technical words he can read. It can't count the dozens of hugs he's given his younger sister when people don't understand her because of her disability. It can't count or even read the half dozen or more notes he writes to me each and every day.
On the other hand, it can count my stress level which rises in direct correlation with each wrong answer. It can count my son's age which is 7 and far too young for standardized testing. It can probably count, in some round about way, the number of trees my son has climbed instead of reading books. It can certainly count the number of words my son can't read. And the saddest part is it does count because a low score on that test can make homeschooling harder for us in subsequent years.
Personally, I don’t believe standardized testing reveals anything significant except an ability to think a certain way. My 10 year old, the one who can’t read Colorado, gets near perfect scores year after year. Of course she had her "ta-dah" moment with reading six years ago. She can ace the test even though she spends more hours hanging from the monkey bars, searching for critters, and lecturing her family on the proper care and feeding of the environment than she does actually "doing school". Ironically, she wishes she could be more creative and funny like her little brother. He, of course, wishes he could read as well as his big sister.
I know here is where I’m supposed to pull out the surprise "life is great" happy ending. This is where I tell you that Gabriel did pass his test and gee, what a lesson I learned, and isn't testing really wonderful. This is where I tell you that I bought Sequential Spelling and Clorox Colorado mix-ups are a thing of the past.
Today is my overwhelmed day and as homeschoolers we have them, especially when bureaucratic crap threatens us. It's okay, normal, natural and necessary to feel overwhelmed sometimes. Educating our children is a big deal. Raising our children is a big deal. Loving our children is a big deal. I don’t take any of it lightly so sometimes the weight of the world falls into my arms like, well, a million pound test. Good thing I have big arms.
And that’s another thing, while we're on the subject, when did I get such big, hard arms? Was it after the first baby or the sixth? Is it muscle or just...hard fat? Hmm, maybe the real question should be how do I get rid of big, hard arms?
No, I'm kidding of course. These arms are necessary for carrying around teething babies, two dozen library books a week, exuberant 10 year-olds, too many groceries, a heavy, heavy testing envelope on its way to the mailbox, crying 7 year-olds, and, well, the world. But I wouldn't trade this life. Nope, nope, nope. Test-taking, on the other hand, I'd give up in a swift second.
Jackie has been homeschooling for six years and has six children.