This is Eli.
I have written and re-written this story about Eli at least three times, and shelved it again that many times.
I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to say about it. Now I know and it’s time to finally share. This is the story of why, with two full-time jobs in the house and more money going out than coming in, we still manage to scrape together enough time and money to continue to homeschool. Why it is that we sacrifice SO MUCH for the privilege of keeping our children home and letting them be the precious, amazing individuals they are.
This story illustrates why.
It was April, 2012. We were considering enrolling Eli, age 8, in school for the Fall. I didn’t know if we could meet all his needs at home any more, and I just KNEW this particular school would love and cherish him like we do. Everything about the school screamed “WE LOVE AND CHERISH OUR CHILDREN.” It’s affiliated with an organization we respect and admire and were once members of, the teachers seemed so sweet and loving, the walls were bright and appealing, the children were all cheerful, and the headmistress said all the right things.
So imagine my horror when, after Eli’s trial morning, the headmistress called to tell me that they couldn’t accept him into the school. His reading was too far behind. Their “reading expert” said he isn’t dyslexic. It’s just that nobody’s given him the right “strategies” for reading. What’s worse, he didn’t seem to connect with the other children. She said nothing–nothing–about him that indicated there was a shred of goodness or light to be found. She didn’t say it but I heard: He’s awkward, he’s slow, you haven’t been teaching him adequately, and he’s socially inept. He’s not good enough for us, and it’s your fault for not teaching him better.
On top, I was angry. Angry because I had told them about his reading problems and they had assured me they would work with him wherever he was. Angry because I’ve taught reading for most of my adult life, I’ve been working with him all of his, and I KNOW what his problems are and they’re NOT just a “lack of d*mn strategies.” Angry because they had said they would work with him at his level, wherever he was–and changed their tune after they got his $90 non-refundable application fee and actually met him. Angry because he DID connect with the other children, standing back and watching and learning and then telling me all about how great the other kids were, down to what they were interested in and what their names all were. How could they have missed that? Angry because they judged his social skills based on how he interacted during a single morning spent with a group of children he had never met, but who had all seen each other and worked together every single day for an entire school year. Angry because in all that, they completely missed the PRECIOUSNESS of this extraordinary child, my extraordinary, delicate, precious, one-of-a-kind, amazing child.
Below that anger, though, I was devastated. This is why:
OH MY GOD. I HAVE SCREWED HIM UP. They’re right. He’s behind because I haven’t employed the right “reading strategies” with him. He’s behind socially because we don’t expose him enough. Haven’t taught him well enough. He’s not special. He’s just an ordinary, messed up, awkward, learning-disabled, falling-behind child whose sheltered homeschooled life has made him this way.
I called my mom. I was in hysterical tears. She told me later that initially she thought I must be calling to say that there’d been a terrible accident and someone was seriously injured or worse. That’s probably why she laughed when I told her what had happened. She was so relieved.
And then she talked me down. Because she knows the truth: Their opinion of him is nothing. He is who he is. Their opinion of ME is nothing. I am who I am. We are who we are and who we are–all of us in this messed-up, crazy little family–we are wonderful. And then she helped me figure out a path for him and for me and for the family.
Which reminded me of this piece of brutally true writing advice from Anne Rice: Don’t ever take advice from someone who doesn’t love your work. When you get a rejection slip from a publishing house and all they have to say is what is wrong with your book, throw it in the trash and don’t think any more about it. They don’t get it, and they don’t get you, and their advice is worthless to you.
The only place to take advice and criticism is from someone who LOVES your work. The editor who sends you a rejection slip that says, “We’re sorry. We love your book, but we can’t publish it. We’d love to look at it again if you do these specific things with it.” Listen to that editor. That’s the editor who GETS it. Make those changes. Because the only advice worth listening to is advice that comes from a place of love.
This is true for the rest of life, too. Don’t listen to people who tell you what’s wrong with your children unless they also LOVE your children, understand them, GET them. When they know what’s SPECIAL about your particular children, and they love them for who they are… then they can tell you things that are worth listening to.
And that is why we STILL homeschool. Despite all the changes in our lives over the past two (three? I’ve lost track) years, despite all the stress we could avoid by having them officially babysat by the government Monday through Friday, despite the worries and the challenges, despite everything. We still homeschool because the people who CARE about these particular children, the people who GET them, who LOVE them, who really want what’s best for them: Not one of them ever says, “They’ll be better off in school.”
I did however just yesterday run into a lovely lady from our neighborhood who thinks all our children are precious and especially feels drawn to Eli’s delicate, sensitive soul. And she offered him drawing lessons. And so that is how I know she is someone we can learn from. She gets him. I am so grateful we left ourselves open to these kind of experiences, instead of boxing him in with a school that doesn’t even understand who he is.
So, I’m going to close with a little piece of advice. I don’t often give advice, but I LOVE your precious, one-of-a-kind, amazing, and INCREDIBLE children really really, and so I feel qualified to offer this one teensy suggestion:
Decide what is right for your children and family, and DO IT. School, unschool, homeschool, public school–whatever is right for your specific, one-of-a-kind, crazy (or not), wonderful little (or big) family… do that thing. Don’t let the world (or me or anyone) tell you something else is right, because NO ONE will EVER GET your family, your precious children, like you do.