Many, many people ask me why I homeschool, how I began to homeschool, and what made me decide to homeschool. I have answered that question no less than 250 times, (and that may be a conservative guess).
I have decided to tell that tale here, just to write it down. The farther away I get, the less shocking it seems. People who know me now don’t understand that I haven’t always been an avid homeschool activist.
Once upon a time, I was a young, idealistic, pregnant, soon-to-be new mom. I had graduated from veterinary school in May of 1998, after marrying my husband, Marty, in October of 1997. He was in graduate school for Meat Science at LSU, and I went to work just east of Baton Rouge. I was working full time as a large animal veterinarian (not making the big bucks, but much less broke than my college days). I found out that I was pregnant in November of 1999. We had just purchased a house with 10 acres in the rural countryside northeast of Baton Rouge. We had never given one thought to school systems or childcare or any of that. I just assumed that I would put my child in daycare after 6 weeks of maternity leave and return to work. Assuming is not good…
My firstborn son arrived 4 days late, in the middle of a HOT July summer in south Louisiana. I delivered him after a harrowing ride to the hospital, having 1 minute apart contractions, getting pulled over by the police at nearly midnight, my water breaking on the way, and rushing up to the delivery room in time for the doctor to catch him at 2:21 am on July 18, 2000.
Now I had my precious newborn son that I had zero intentions of putting into anyone else’s hands for care. After 7 weeks, my poor boss called to ask when I was coming back to work. I told him there was no way I could come back full time. I would work on a part time solution. My sweet youth pastor’s wife had just given birth to a son in January, and she volunteered to keep Paycen with Abel at her home 3 days a week. I reluctantly agreed to that, because I couldn’t leave my poor boss working by himself.
Fast forward a few months. I simply couldn’t be without my child. I decided to build my own clinic next door to my house so that I could have him with me. I didn’t have a choice to simply not work, as I had incurred quite a bit of student loan debt throughout my college years. (I highly recommend ZERO college debt.)
I opened my own veterinary practice in September 2001. Yes, my first few days were the days of 9/11 – very scary days. But my personal “office” consisted of a playpen and a toybox for a 1 yr old. He grew up in that clinic, watching surgery, “helping” bathe dogs, and generally playing with a lot of animals. Once I had my 2nd son, Owen, in 2003, I hired a nanny to be at my house with the boys during the day, but I walked home for lunch and any free time. (The nanny years are an entirely different saga.)
Now, when Paycen turned 4 years old I sent him to the local day school. It was an ABEKA program that lasted 3 hours each morning. I took him each morning and picked him up every day at 11:30 am. It was a sweet little program, where he quickly learned to read. One morning as I was dropping him off, I heard him correct his teacher’s grammar. He wasn’t rude, he simply repeated what she had said, using the correct grammar. (It was a small, rural area, as I’ve said.) It was then that I began to worry a bit about his school years.
Again, I had assumed that I would simply send him to the local public school because that’s how I had been educated. However, the local public school wasn’t really fit for any child, as it was failing according to all standards. I had two options for private schools. One was a 45 min drive north, and the other was a 30 min drive south, both one way. So now what was I going to do? I had a thriving veterinary practice, which kept me extremely busy, a very intelligent kindergarten-ready child, and a 2 yr old at home. Could I drive that much every day? (As a side-note, my husband was traveling for work every week, so he wasn’t home to help.)
I was lamenting my woes to a friend one day when she said the fateful words, “Why don’t you just homeschool?”
Homeschool? I didn’t even know what that meant. I had a clinic, employees, a husband out-of-town most days, and a 2-year-old. How was I supposed to teach this advanced little boy every day? But she reassured me that there were programs available that would take care of the teaching; all I had to do was set up his work, grade his papers, and check his work.
I began looking into ABEKA DVDs (that was back in the day of Bob Jones satellite programming) and found that sweet K5 teacher, Mrs. Baer. We set up a desk, a TV, some bookshelves, and we began our homeschooling journey.
Everything went well, Paycen enjoyed his K5 year, but then he started complaining at the end. Why were we reviewing everything that we already learned? I was concerned, so I spoke with my homeschooling mom teacher friend. She said, “If he has learned it all already, just skip the 1st grade.” WHAT?!? Obviously, I was still a baby at this homeschool thing. But I followed her advice, we skipped 1st grade. We went into 2nd grade Bob Jones the next year. He did so well! As he finished 3rd grade, I had my 3rd child, Landry, and I became overwhelmed. The practice, the employees, 3 children, emergencies; it was all too much. I sold my practice to another young veterinarian that had come to work for me, and we moved to an area with “good schools”. Paycen was asking to go to “real school”, and I was tired. I still was only homeschooling because we had no better option. (I didn’t realize there really is no better option.)
We moved (no easy task with 3 children, cows, horses, cats, dogs, chickens and more) and enrolled Paycen into 3rd grade (yes, he had already done the work, but he was a July baby and one of the youngest in the class – I wasn’t going to throw him into a class with students almost 2 years older than him.) and Owen into K5 at the local public school.
All went well for Paycen. His teacher adored him, as he already knew most everything and he was a model student. Owen didn’t fare so well. He hated being rushed and being told that he couldn’t finish his task at hand because it was time to move on. We went on to the next year when 4th-grade testing kicked in. That sucked all the “fun” out of the days for Paycen. He was bored. Owen continued to struggle with conforming to the model student. By 5th and 2nd grade, they both were miserable. No one wanted to leave the house in the morning. I argued with teachers over what my boys were learning. I actually heard this come out of my son’s teacher’s mouth, “We want them to answer a certain way, so it’s a possible answer, but not the correct answer.” I was so upset. The school system had gone from teaching my child HOW to think to teaching my child WHAT to think.
That was the last year of public school for us. We pulled back out and began our homeschooling journey once again, from a much different perspective. I no longer had to fight for what my boys needed, but rather just provide it for them. They both now play musical instruments, are extremely active, have a ton of friends (they really don’t get many social skills at school), and are happy, well-rounded kiddos. Most people compliment them on work ethic, interacting with adults so well, and manners.
Paycen is completing his Junior year now and will attend our local community college this fall, along with online classes. Owen is entering 9th grade, calf-roping, and playing 3 musical instruments. Landry is finishing up 4th grade and, despite my turn from full-fledged ABEKA/BJU to a crazy, near-unschooling, eclectic style, is doing extremely well, riding horses, playing soccer, and practicing gymnastics daily.
I am blessed that God called me on this journey of homeschooling. (Even though I kind of kicked and screamed at first.) I haven’t missed my children’s childhood. I’ve been here with them for the struggles, the celebrations, the studying, the learning, the growing, and most of all, the joy of living life.
I’ve had times when I seriously consider sending them all away, but God always gently reminds me why they are best at home. Homeschooling isn’t for everyone, but it is for our family.