The other night, I sat at the table with papers spread about. In those papers were the details and road map of the last 14 years of my homeschooling journey with A. Of particular note, were her high school years as I set out to document her coursework for her transcripts.
My stomach knotted as I shuffled the papers. So many years passed far too quickly. Tucked within the pages of records, I found treasures more valuable than all the gold in the land. The scribbles of a 5-year-old. My fingers traced the crooked letters. A card written by my 3rd grader learning to write a proper “thank you note”. I smiled back at the simple heart next to her name. A poem written in 7th grade to memorize the countries of Africa and the doodle on a random page of Chemistry notes. All reflections of a journey that began when she was 4 with a box of crayons and a coloring book and will end this spring with a cap and gown.
As I recorded class names and grades, I thought about who she was then and who she is now. And I realized, at the core, she is who she was at the beginning; my animal lover with an indomitable spirit. She’s always had a strong sense of self and an even stronger sense of right and wrong. Rarely, does she see the “gray” in life’s conflicts, but she’s come to accept that gray is usually there. She is and always has been introverted, but she’s unfailingly faithful to those lucky enough to be let into her heart.
As the evening progressed, I moved the papers from one stack to the other. 9th grade, 10th grade, 11th grade all recorded and documented in advance of my meeting with the director of the school that will issue her official transcripts. A journey summarized on a page, but not reflected are the hours I worried about who and what she would become. Now, as we round the bend to the finish line, I realize the error of those wasted hours. She is who she’s always been, my wonderful, beautiful, amazing A.
Today, I begin my 13th year of homeschooling. And, today, for the first time in 13 years, there will be only one at my school table. My second born. My feisty one. The one that prompted my mother to announce, with a heaping dose of snark, “Honey, she’s everything I’ve ever wished for you.” She is a reflection of me, but only around the edges. She is herself, and she is amazingly comfortable in her own skin at the tender age of 15. I’ve always said, “she came into this world knowing when her no is no, her yes is yes, and makes no apologies for either.” I’ve also said that if she had been my first, there is no way I would have homeschooled beyond kindergarten.
But, I suppose it’s those parts in me that reflect her that gave me the determination and courage to keep going on the rough days while remembering to celebrate the fun days. That, and a good amount of help and support along the way. So, today, having graduated her sister last May, we will have a very different first day of school. There will be only one at my school table. There will be only one on the swings during break. There will be only one sandwich to make at lunch. Only one.
However, as in years past, there is anticipation coursing through my veins today, on this first day of school. On the whiteboard is a note already scrawled, “Welcome to the 10th grade, A!” I’ve welcomed the girls to the start of their ____ year the same way since C’s first grade year. This year, I pondered the simple statement that welcomes only one. I looked at the shelves that contain her textbooks. Lined up neatly are the books that reflect a sophomore year: chemistry, geometry, Women’s History, composition and literature with her French books on the shelf below. On the shelf above, my fingers grazed the spines of some of the novels she’ll be reading this year: The Catcher in the Rye, The Alchemist, Farenheit 451, Hard Times, The Color Purple, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Profiles in Courage. I replayed last night’s conversation between an older sister and my single pupil. C told A how much she LOVED all of the books she’ll be reading, especially The Catcher in the Rye, Hard Times, and The Color Purple and though she couldn’t say she LOVED Profiles in Courage, she could say she thought it was amazing. “Pay attention to it,” she advised. She may not share a school table anymore, but she’s still the big sister.
My older one certainly feels the shift in the house. She started college 2 weeks ago, opting to start out at the community college. She had made the decision while in Mongolia the summer before her senior year began. I suppose a month in a country that offered limited internet access and no phone communication leaves one with plenty of time for self-examination. She’s thinking next year will be the year she is ready to leave the nest. I’m thinking she made a wise decision–for her–based on who she knows herself to be. In the meantime, she’s trying to figure out where she fits into this nest; the nest that she has known all along, but suddenly feels different because it is not her name up on that whiteboard. In the last several days, she has asked me if I’m looking forward to starting school with A. I’ve occasionally wondered if there isn’t a slight current of jealousy and longing to be back at my table. After all, it wasn’t just my world that changed when she graduated, and there is a certain comfort found in the old and the known. But, staying in the old and the known rarely leads to growth.
Today, we all venture into a bit of the unknown when A begins her sophomore year as the sole homeschooled student in this house. With her sister at school all day, there will be just the two of us here, on the sunny days and the snowy days. Might there be tensions in the months ahead? I can guarantee it. She is, after all, the daughter who, at the age of 18 months, asked me, “You want a piece of me?” while being scolded. She is my adamas.
However, in the months and years ahead, there is a gift waiting to be unwrapped; I will get to spend full days alone with her, just the two of us, getting to know her, just her. As the second youngest of nine, I craved time alone with my mom. See me, I begged. But, in the craziness that comes with 9 children born in 11 years, there were but rare opportunities to have my mother to myself. C had me to herself for the first 3 years of her life. We rocked, we played, I watched and mentored. We bonded. Ours had been an easy connection. When A came along, C was her playmate and mentor, often preferring her “big sissy” to her mama. I’ve always loved that about my two girls, their bond is solid. Selfishly, though, I am looking forward to having days alone with A. Days where I can see her, just her, unobstructed by her sister. As I had with her sister when I became a parent, I will have 3 years of days alone with A, unwrapping the gift that is her. And, today, the unwrapping begins.
Please share your thoughts at the start of this new school year.