where the sparks fly

March 22, 2018

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She’s four. Sewing for the first time. It’s August 19, 1999, which I know because I happened to write about this day in my Mother’s Journal. She has insisted on sewing “with a real needle.” Together we decide on a felt pillow for her baby doll, Cookie. She chooses purple cloth, purple thread, her favorite. That night I write in my journal, I wasn’t sure about it because she doesn’t even lace up those lacing cards in any consistent pattern. But she was adamant!

She was adamant. She is twenty-two now. She is still adamant.

* * *

Lately I’ve been feeling bad that I no longer post much here about homeschooling. And though I’m not homeschooling, I’m writing a memoir of homeschooling, so I’m thinking about our homeschool life every day. I want to stay connected to that world.

On Instagram I see young homeschooling families sharing photos of their lives. Many have followings in the thousands–these women are connected! I’m envious; I would have eaten up that kind of connection back in the day. But here I am in this quiet house, two kids off living their lives in New York City, a busy sixteen-year-old doing his own thing. So I post Instagram photos of books and flowers.

Sometimes the cat.

* * *

I remember all the making and playing and talking the kids did when they were younger. Building ships from couch cushions, silk scarves and the kitchen broom. Playing restaurant with a menu they’d designed on the computer. (Asparagus suflay, anyone?) Talking about The Great Brain in the garage because we’d listened to the audiobook (then known as a story tape) on the way home from the grocery store and didn’t want to stop the conversation. Often I worried that we weren’t getting enough done in our homeschooling days. That we weren’t covering enough. The making and the playing and the talking took time. We went deep instead of wide. I could see how much that mattered, but sometimes I still worried.

I would try to make guesses about where it all would lead, where the kids’ lives would take them. But of course I didn’t know.

Now they’re 25, 22 and 16. And you know what’s really fun? Looking backwards, because now I can see the connections, the arcs of light. I can see how their little kid selves predicted who they are today.

* * *

It occurred to me that newer homeschoolers might appreciate such rearview mirror insights. I thought about Instagram. What if I shared photos of the kids when they were younger, with a few flash-forward thoughts about where those early interests took them? It might help newer homeschoolers have a little more faith in their own family’s path–in the making, the playing, the talking and all the glorious not-doing. The not-covering.

Here’s what I think newer homeschoolers need: A little more faith in themselves. A little less advice.

* * *

The photo slays me. Her focus. Her small, busy hands. The butterfly clip in her hair. How she has pen marks on her pocket from the making she did earlier, before she insisted on sewing with a real needle.

I wrote in my journal: I was amazed at how well she did! She was very careful. She didn’t poke herself at all. When she was finished she said, “I can sew anywhere!”

At twenty-two she does not have those sweet dimpled fingers or a butterfly clip in her hair. But that focus? Has not changed. The insistence on doing what she wants to do, when she wants to do it? Yep. She chose a college program that allowed her to design her own major. That offered interdisciplinary courses she could choose based on her interests. That allowed her to revolve her studies around the arts. She’s still making. Still insisting on doing things her own way.

She’s graduating in May, which also slays me.

* * *

I’m calling my new Instagram project Where the Sparks Fly. I’ve always thought of those moments when the kids eyes lit up as the sparks I needed to pay attention to. The ones that would lead to where they wanted to go. I’m hoping to post an old photo and a few rearview mirror thoughts every Thursday. (#tbt = throwback Thursday, for the hashtag-befuddled.) Expect many photos shot on real film with terrible lighting! And equally terrible 90s fashions and haircuts!

If you’re on Instagram, I hope you’ll come follow the posts. #wherethesparksfly And if you aren’t, you can always catch my feed here, in the center of my footer. Click on a photo and you can view it on Instagram.

If you know any homeschooling families who could use a little less advice, and a little more faith in themselves, maybe tag them on IG, or send them here. Sometimes it’s easier to go down that less-travelled path when others have gone before you, who can look in the rearview mirror and assure that you’re getting somewhere.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Rosa March 23, 2018 at 2:33 pm

I always appreciate and enjoy your writing Patricia. As a homeschooling parent, I will take all the support I can get. I look forward to your new Instagram posts, very heartwarming.

They grow up far too quickly.

Best,

Rosa

Reply

patricia March 24, 2018 at 11:54 am

Thank you for reading, Rosa, and for the encouragement. They do grow up so fast! I’m glad to have this memoir project, so I can relive it all. xo.

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Carrie Pomeroy March 23, 2018 at 3:29 pm

This was such a lovely, heart-tugging post. I love how even though you don’t write about homeschooling on the blog as much, when you get down to the subject again, you have such lovely insights to share.

I loved the sentences “We went deep instead of wide. I could see how much that mattered, but sometimes I still worried.” YES! I related to this so much. I often refer to our family’s way of homeschooling as “deep dives” into subjects and “slow learning.” Like, sometimes it drives me nuts that it has taken us weeks to finish watching Ken Burns’s The Civil War documentary together—but on the other hand, we’ve had more weeks to live with the Civil War on our minds, simmering through the other things we’re doing, percolating in our subconscious. We’ve had more time to keep bringing it up in conversation, even if we usually only spend a few hours a day on it, a couple of times a week.

I’ve said it to you before, but it strikes me again that when people say, “I could never have the patience to homeschool,” I always suspect that the kind of patience they mean is not the kind of patience that I’ve actually needed. I haven’t needed the patience to sit at a kitchen table and drill my kids in multiplication facts or the names of presidents, but I have needed the patience to trust that our meandering, slow-learning path will lead us somewhere good. So I really loved what you said here about homeschoolers need more faith in themselves and less advice. So true—and not just for new homeschoolers!

Thanks for this post. I’m so excited about your new project. It’s going to be amazing!

Reply

patricia March 24, 2018 at 12:04 pm

Hi writing buddy!

I really love your insight here, about the unexpected sort of patience homeschooling parents need. You are absolutely right. Some days I needed the typical parental patience, but more often I needed the constant, low-simmering patience to believe in what we were doing. Deep dives and slow learning–yes! (It’s so great for me to have these conversations, to remind myself what homeschooling parents go through, what I went through, as I tackle this memoir. This is probably a theme I should touch on in the “home” chapter I’m working on. Thanks for getting my mind puttering!)

I also love your thoughts on the benefits of slow learning, how you get to live with particular topics on your mind, in your conversations. What always fascinated me was the incredible mental webs my kids made, connecting learning from one place to learning to another. All children do that, but as a homeschooling parent you really get to observe it, to see it build over time. Hmmm…maybe another chapter topic: the crazy, intricate, beautiful webs of learning that I watched my children build in their minds.

See why I have to keep writing about homeschooling here? I like to provide a forum for conversation with others, but it’s also totally selfish. 🙂

xo!

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Cathy March 23, 2018 at 8:21 pm

Oh, I’m so looking forward to you sharing these thoughts! Such wonderful perspective you provide in this post.

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patricia March 24, 2018 at 12:10 pm

Thanks for reading, Cathy, and for the encouragement!

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Lizzy France March 27, 2018 at 5:06 am

This is such a lovely idea! I will definitely be following.
And I have been meaning to leave a comment forever, and am sorry it’s taken so long. I read my way through most of your blog last year and found it so very comforting and entertaining. We are just a couple of years in to our homeschooling journey and you are right on the money when you suggest that having a window into the world of those brave mamas that went before is very reassuring! Thank you!

Reply

patricia March 27, 2018 at 7:23 am

Hi Lizzy! You read your way through most of my blog last year? Aw, thank you! I’ve heard from three or four people who have said they’ve done that, and I always wish I could give those readers a hug. It means a lot to me. I’m glad that my project sounds like it might be reassuring to you. I’m reliving my own beginnings of homeschooling as I work on this memoir–it’s a thrilling, sometimes doubt-laced time. And a precious one too. Enjoy it!

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