The Road Back Home

At the beginning of June, we assured Margaret we’d know where she was going to school in September by the time we had to turn another calendar page. About a week before our deadline, we notified the local county that we were withdrawing Margaret’s application and making our plans to homeschool official.

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We had always wanted to try homeschooling. The world’s our oyster, we’re young, the kids are young, we have steady income, why not? Why not just be flexible and live how we want to live? Why be beholden to a school schedule? Then Margaret got her autism diagnosis and the plans came crashing down. Did we have what it takes to homeschool a child with her particular set of needs and accommodations? More to the point, did I have what it took? Tom works full time keeping us afloat, and aside from history (which I made clear is and always will be entirely his domain) I’d be doing all the teaching. Could I? Am I good enough? For a long time the answer was no.

Then we started an occupational therapy routine. We socialized. We did more at home. Quality time is Maggie’s currency and we used it to find joyous, playful ways of integrating therapy tasks that were fun for her. While I was worried about her learning to use a pencil and write her letters, she began to do it anyway. Ditto numbers and phonics.

If there’s only one takeaway, it is this: while you worry and wait and fuss, things will happen anyway.

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There was a lot of bureaucratic hoopla (North Yorkshire’s) and yelling (mine) trying to secure a Year One (that’s the equivalent of kindergarten to you Yanks) spot for Maggie, but it’s not important now. What IS important is that she loved her little Montessori school. She absolutely adored it. She liked the games, the puzzles, the play, the independent focus. Maggie was happy there.

But.

When it came to more academic pursuits, she bristled. Finally, after years of attendance, she was able to tell me that trying to learn to read and do math with so many classroom distractions made her feel “funny in my belly and wrong in my head.” It was just a few short weeks before the end of her last term so I didn’t bother passing that information on. It was enough to know she was loved, socializing, and enjoying the outdoors with her friends. Sums and phonics could wait.

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Ultimately, it came down to this: we want to be together. We want to do this. There are a hundred other small factors contributing to the decision to keep her home, but knowing I can give her that one-on-one time to mature (we’ve got loads going on socially, don’t you worry) and ease into academics in a low-stress environment gives us all great peace. Maggie is annoyed that she isn’t going to a particular district school, but it happens to be a school that told me early on that they were completely full. I can tell her without a hint of dishonesty that she was never ever going to go there anyway. I sensed she’s disappointed, but when pressed she said “I want to stay home with you and you can be my class teacher and the house will be my class palace. Please? I’ll be a good learner.”

That was the end of the line. We notified the district two days later.

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We have a classroom palace in our attic. Maggie helped me choose the decor and set it up. It’s full of games, bright markers, a giant map of America, an iPad, and her Lego collection for when she’s done. It’s become the nexus of the house; the girls love spending time up there and the four of us can often be found cramming in under the eaves, opening the skylights, and enjoying our little “classroom palace.”

Really, it was all over when Maggie named our home and our homeschool room.

I don’t know what I can give her. Time will tell if I’m good enough for this job. But in the end, she gets to have her start in a self-named palace of learning. And she’ll have love.

And, I hope, nothing wrong in her head.

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