discernment and dreams and maybe some madness

I got a doctorate before figuring out that my strongest calling is to raise a family. We had to live in this town a long time before we felt anything like certainty that this was our home. And on the relationship front? Before we met each other? Well, let’s just say that we both made decisions that lacked wisdom. My guess is that most (all?) of us feel this way. No matter how clean it looks from the outside, finding one’s way must usually feel like a complicated, experimental mess full of failures and missteps and confusion. That’s one of the things that’s been such a blessing about this space: how much it has (you have) helped me sort out the mess.

Because I have learned this about myself, I’ve been wondering a lot about discernment lately, praying about it and wondering. But it finally occurred to me that this time, I actually think I have it. This time, things feel sort of clear. Only here’s the funny thing: I think they also seem a little nuts. A bit absurd. Out there. Wackadoodle as (for some reason) Bram likes to say. What’s been holding me back is not a lack of discernment but a fear of being misunderstood and questioned and assumed to be crazy.

I mean, in less than half a year’s time, we have fallen in love with an Episcopal church, with (I can only imagine how laughable this seems to lots of our academic friends) God, and with the service to which we feel newly called. I have fallen in love with my wife, again, on the other side of breaking apart to make space for a new family member. And I have fallen in love with the possibility of homeschooling.

There’s a lot to write about the God piece, but I feel bumbling and inept when I try, so I guess I’m not ready yet. But the homeschooling? It is thrilling to consider. I find myself daydreaming about things we could do.learn.explore.build.create.discover. Daydreaming and smiling a lot of the time. In February. In Michigan. Which you have to know is saying something.

Learning has never been anything but deeply pleasurable, inspiring, and delightful to Bram, and I feel overwhelmingly protective of that privilege. We’ve recently cut B back to just three mornings a week of Montessori preschool because we all just thrive when the pace stays slow. So cutting way back – and next year taking the formality of school completely out of the equation – could mean that when we’re really focused on reading, or letter work, or puzzles, or storytelling, or drawing, or building, or just PLAY, we can do whatever it is until it’s natural to stop. The days when we pull that off – when we’re just not on a schedule – bring us few meltdowns and lots and lots of belly laughs and glee. And sleep (the boys wake up on their own every day, so they’re well rested). And food (which deserves its own post). And interests. Can I tell you how much Bram’s interests are not mine? And not J’s? He has no pop culture under his belt (I mean, I think he thinks that Johnny Cash and Pete Seeger and Jesus and Harold (with his purple crayon) are the world’s biggest celebrities). He asks everyone who enters our home (with absolute adoration): “Have you read Journey and Quest??” Right now we’re reading Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories and he is over the moon about Haroun, and Rashid the Ocean of Notions, and Butt the Hoopoe, and Iff the Water Genie. When he’s into something – whatever it is – he is all in: he wants to draw it, perform it, read about it, create new stories about it, ask questions about it. He never tires. So my sense is that he’s well suited to a kind of unschooling model in which we can immerse ourselves for a week or a month or two months into whatever it is: instruments, or American folk history, or geography, or oceans, or carpentry. Even broad topics like quests and fencing and stained glass and God.

I have this dream. We homeschool. Three kids. Jax teaches them French and money management and political geography. All kinds of other things. I teach, well, whatever we want to learn about. Whatever. We take community classes when they come available: we learn plumbing and electrician work and construction. We learn about solar panels. We build small things. And when each kid is around fifteen, the whole family builds them a tiny house. A small home on a trailer. We build the whole thing. We just: we buy the wood and we build. And when they go off to college, or to live off the land in North Dakota, or to learn a trade like farming, or even to travel for whole months at a time? They just take their home with them. A place they built. And all the knowledge of how to build. And the confidence of being people who can build. And the memories of growing up a family that let them see all of that about themselves, that discovered it alongside them. They live rent-free until they’re ready for a home. They could get through grad school only paying a small fee to park the thing in someone’s back yard. They could be that much nearer self-sufficiency in case the world, or this country, or their own peculiarity ever required them to be. It’s a nice dream. And life doesn’t usually play out the way we think it will, but this one feels worth at least walking towards with a big heart and plenty of hope, doesn’t it? I mean, even if it seems like I’ve gone a little mad?

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5 thoughts on “discernment and dreams and maybe some madness

  1. I don’t know if you or J knew this, but I was homeschooled for 9 1/2 years (K-8, first semester of 9th grade). I won’t share my full thoughts or feelings on it, because the practical nuts-and-bolts comment is not for this lovely, ambitious post. :) But I will give this piece of advice, because I feel I must: if you and J are seriously considering homeschooling Bram, start looking into your state’s homeschool laws/jurisdictions. The amount of time you can allot to Bram-led subjects will depend a lot on the subjects you are required by law to teach (and typically, that’s language arts, math, science, and social studies), as well as the number of hours per year your state mandates. The beauty of homeschool is, though, that you can move through those required and extra subjects at your optimal pace, so long as you meet your yearly objectives. If you and J want to chat with me about my homeschool experience, I’d be more than happy to! I felt that I got a quality education out of it, and when done right, homeschool kids do well in college.

  2. I am not a homeschooling type, but I love the idea of it. And I will say that knowing how to build–how to create new rooms and chitchat with the plumber about tools until he can’t believe he’s telling me what to buy to do his job next time and walk into a building and see the little imperfections that no one else can see and appreciate the work that went into them–has been one of the best gifts my father has given me. If I had gotten money management, too, I would probably be president right now.

  3. This post brought up a whole host of feelings for me: nostalgia for my own homeschooling days, jealousy that I don’t yet have a family to plan this kind of life with, and wonder about how I would build my ideal life.

    I was home-schooled for 3rd-6th grade, four years that were the best years of my education, except maybe some classes I took in college. We followed the curriculum of a private school in our state which provided the “morning lessons” but then we had the afternoons to explore, and my mom and other parents build their own lessons based on our interests to guide us a couple days a week…I loved learning, something that the K-12 public schools don’t nurture in the same way. We homeschooled each week with two other families, and were part of a 30 family home-schooling network which was awesome.

    Your post also inspired me to start writing in my journal about what I want my ideal life/family to look like. I don’t know what will actually unfold before me, especially given the uncertainty of what will come after my PhD is done next year, but it was really nice to just let myself dream. And I found that my ideal is not a completely unreachable fantasy, but something I can work towards. Writing brought some clarity about what I find important, what values I want to build my life around.

    There is a lot of uncertainty in my life right now–I run out of funding from my department in May, but still have a year before I will be done. I am waiting to hear back about fellowships, applying to jobs, teaching, and trying to actually complete my research. I am trying to figure out what I want to do when I am finished. I’ll be applying to tenure track jobs, but who knows if that will end up being my path, it’s a tough market out there…There is also a lot going on between my girlfriend and me right now and I am trying to figure out the right way to move, what is the right decision to make. Lots going on.

    And, today I found myself coming back here to this blog, and reading through the last ten posts or so. I do this every now and then, reread old posts here. I love the way that you both write, and there are many resonances in relations to my own life. In a way it is like returning to an old familiar book, though I know that you are all real and not fictional characters, but there is the same comfort in reading and re-reading. Thank-you for your words, for your reflections on love and vulnerability and anxiety and family and loss and graduate school and teaching and parenting and building a life. Thank-you for being here and for putting your words out there for others to read. They have been really helpful to me as I muddle through on my own journey.

    • I wish I even knew how to tell you how much this has meant to me since you wrote it. I just: you can’t even know how much it means. Thank you.

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