I made something! It’s called a book proposal.
A proposal is a document that nonfiction writers send to agents, pitching their books. They’re complex beasts, containing blurbs from other writers, an overview of the book you’re writing, marketing plans, comparative book titles, chapter summaries for each chapter in the book even if you haven’t written the whole book, sample chapters, and more.
It’s taken me a year to get mine right.
I printed it out. All this time, this book has been living in my head, on my hard drive. Now I have something that I can hold in my hands. Not a whole book–but a proposal for a book.
This is the beginning of what will be a long haul–sending this baby out, fingers crossed, waiting to see if an agent responds, takes interest, and then, if so, waiting to see if that agent can get an editor at a publishing house to take interest–so I just want to stop here and hold this moment, like I’m holding the proposal.
I made something.
* * *
I had second thoughts about writing about it here–too self-indulgent? But then I thought about all of you. Some of you have been reading here for years. It’s been almost eight years since I first admitted here that maybe instead of writing a book for parents about helping kids become writers, I might want to do something different. Write essays about homeschooling. Write a memoir.
You’ve been hearing about this book for a very long time now.
I thought about all the tender/worried/commiserating/encouraging comments you’ve left me over the years, and how those comments have shaped me as a writer. You’ve given me an audience and taught me how to write for one. I’m not writing into a void–I’m writing to real people! I know you’re real because you take the time to leave comments, you good, real people!
Here’s something I didn’t understand, that you taught me: when I share my stories, you read them and you think about their meaning in your own life. You use my stories to figure out your own stories! I only began to understand how this worked as I read your comments here over the years, and saw how something I’d written got you thinking about something in your own life–often something that didn’t even seem directly related.
I’ve come to believe that one of the most powerful ways we learn is by listening, by letting the stories of others infuse our own experiences.
Thank you for teaching me that.
* * *
What a time we’re living in! What a terrible, beautiful, transformative time! So many have lost so much. For some–the luckier among us–it’s been a pause, a time for life to stop and shift and allow us a new perspective.
It’s hard to fathom that this little project of my heart–a memoir of a homeschooling life–has suddenly become relevant due to a pandemic, due to the fact that so many people are suffering.
It’s hard to fathom the fact that homeschooling has become, suddenly, a household word. I don’t like the idea that in the years its taken me to learn to write this book, the stars have aligned for me at the same time the skies have clouded over for others. That maybe I’ll have an easier time getting an agent to pay attention to this proposal I’ve made because the world has become so hard.
But then again, maybe this means that I can help more people. Because as self-indulgent as a memoir might seem, I’ve always been in this to help people. (Some very good, real people taught me that sharing our stories can help others…)
There are families who are still zoom-schooling, although they don’t want to. There are also families who left schools altogether last year and pursued this homeschooling thing, even though, maybe, they’d never considered it before. (The numbers are pretty astounding.) It’s hard to know how many of those families will continue homeschooling, but I’d imagine the numbers aren’t insignificant.
* * *
What’s always frustrated me is that most people don’t understand what our homeschooling life was like. Even close friends, the non-homeschooling ones, didn’t always get it, unless we sat down and had long conversations.
I understand. It’s complicated. People take what they know and try to make sense of it. Homeschooling = home + school. That means school at home, right? School, but at the kitchen table, with mom leading lessons, right?
Nope. And when I try to explain how it wasn’t like that, it was never easy to do in a brief conversation. Homeschooling evolved, for our family and for so many others I know, into a totally different way of learning, a different sort of life. I tried to write about it–and I managed to convey the notion fairly concisely once, by writing in a fake how-to format–but I could never distill it down into a single essay after that. Like I said, it’s complicated.
It would take a whole book to explain. It will take a whole book to explain.
* * *
It’s frustrating for me, too, that the narrative about homeschooling is so limited. When I meet people now and tell them that our family homeschooled, I’m often met with quizzical looks, or from the brave, an actual question: why?
The overwhelming narrative about homeschooling is that it’s for hippies and religious fanatics. It’s for people who want to confine their children, control their ideas. So many people think of homeschooling as a limiting thing, a narrowing.
To that idea, my very wise daughter responded a few years ago: “You wanted the opposite. You wanted to open up the possibilities, the world, beyond what we might get in school.”
It frustrates me that this narrative isn’t out there. Instead we have bestsellers like Tara Westover’s Educated flying off the shelves. That’s a compelling book, but it’s furthering that old homeschooling-as-a-narrowing narrative.
Let’s get a different story out there, shall we? Common wisdom: if the book you want to see in the world doesn’t exist, write it.
* * *
Thing is, this is not a book just for homeschoolers. As you’ve probably deduced, this is not a how-to book at all. It’s a collection of essays, a mother’s twenty years of wonderings. A collection of stories.
Have you read Alison Gopnik’s brilliant The Gardener and The Carpenter? It’s a fascinating developmental psychology take on two different types of parents. The type who has a plan for their child and does everything to make that plan come to be, like a carpenter building a chair. (The parenting style that’s come to prevail since the early ’90s.) And then there’s the type who is more like a gardener: not quite sure what that little seedling is, sprouting there in the backyard, but who tends to the seedling, loves it, offers what it needs to thrive, and waits to see what the plant blossoms into.
Basically, my book is the story of my never-ending struggle to beat down my inner carpenter (I’d been a public school teacher with lesson plans!) so I could be the sort of gardener-mother I wanted to be. So I could allow my kids to evolve into the people they wanted to be.
And that’s not just a story for homeschoolers.
* * *
Which is all to say, I hope I can get this book out into the world.
Maybe you can help me, by doing what you’ve been doing so delightfully here, all along, you good, real people. Maybe you can leave a comment below, saying why you might want to read this book. You’ve been so great about that in the past, back when I called you uncommon commenters, back when I called on you to show up.
(You don’t need to leave your whole name, or even your real name. No one will see your email address but me.)
Maybe some curious agent will see your comment.
Maybe some agent will see how many of you are as hungry for this sort of story as I’ve been.
Maybe an agent will see how parents who aren’t homeschoolers might be interested in this story.
Maybe an agent will see how many people are just starting out as homeschoolers–and that those people don’t necessarily want how-to books. (News flash: most people who decide to homeschool are not that into having people tell them what to do.) What they really want is to hear the stories–practically nonexistent in the book world–of the people who’ve gone before them.
Maybe an agent will see the underground and unfathomable collective power of homeschoolers, how we band together because we’re living a life outside of societal norms and we need each other and so we meet up in person and online and share resources, share books especially, because we love books and we visit libraries more than we go to the grocery store and we buy books like crazy because HOMESCHOOLERS INHALE BOOKS LIKE THEY ARE AIR and then we tell all the other homeschoolers we know to read the ones that we love best.
Or maybe no agents will show up here, but your comment will be here for me, and when I get an email telling me you’ve written it, my heart will ping right back, and I’ll read and learn from you, and I’ll respond to your words like I always do, holding them and feeling grateful, and those words will give me what I need to keep going, keep going with the rest of this little thing I’ve made.