Belonging

I’ve been thinking a lot about my place in the different roles I play as a mother.  I am the mother of 3 girls.  I am the mother of 2 girl scouts.  I am the mother of a soon-to-be preschooler.  I am the mother of 2 kids schooled at home.  I am a controlling (some say) mother.  I am a too messy (some say) mother.  I am a healthy-appearing mother.  I am a liberal mother.

All of these things define me to some extent.  The one I want to focus on now is the different role I (feel) I play when dealing with homeschooling parents.  When I am around my public-schooling friends there is some school talk, but none of them pass judgement on me for not public schooling my kids.  I am significantly more guarded with my non – schooling belief system if I am around homeschooling parents (especially ones I don’t know that well).   Take, for instance, a couple of weeks ago, a month ago, I don’t remember exactly, I took the girls out to participate in a fundraising, promote homeschooling event.  While looking at the wares of the evening, I was stopped by a seemingly nice lady who asked me if I was a homeschooler.  I replied in the affirmative.  (I rarely correct in this type of environment and say that we are using an online charter school and “school at home.”)  We chatted a bit about our kids, who were about the same age, and the difficulties sometimes of keeping the younger ones occupied while working with the older ones.  She then made a comment about getting everyone together and moving to the middle of nowhere and forming our own little community.  I laughed and agreed.  (If you know me, I’m pretty introverted, and would prefer to be at home with no one around me.  Our current house is as perfect as I can get while still being in town. And I’ve conversations with close friends about exactly this.)  But then she continued and added that she had been making phone calls last fall for McCain/Palin and mentioned that we should all just take our guns and kids and get away from the crazy liberals who want to control our lives.  It was at this point, I subtly disengaged myself from the conversation.  Her comment turned my stomach.  (I staunchly supported “That One” last fall.)   Then, later that week I received an email (as I am on a couple  email lists for homeschooling – a girl’s gotta network!) stating the perils of our right as parents to homeschool was trying to be passed in the legislature.  This bill was to allow for state-sponsored early education.

Let me take a minute and expand on the state of education in Nevada.  Nevada is in a horrid place right now with our budget.  It’s an understatement to say that things are looking bleak.  With Nevada being one of the worst rated for education in the country, schools are actually having to lay off teachers because they can’t afford to pay them.  The likelihood of anything being implemented even if a law was passed is pretty minimal due to lack of funding.

My liberal slant tells me that we need to look out for the other guy.  We need to look out for those, especially kids, that are in a shitty place and are trapped there.  I have always been afforded the opportunity and finances to provide private preschool for my kids.  This fall Sweet Pea is going to be attending.  But we can afford to send her.  There are so many families that can’t afford it and want it, and at the same time there are so many families that don’t realize how important it can be for kids.  This is what gets the hackels up with some stauch homeschoolers.   They honestly feel that the government is trying to take over their children and take them away at an earlier age.  This is an extreme perception.

I know part of the reason I am afforded the opportunity to choose homeschooling is because of the fight parents had in order to legitimate homeschooling as an option for families in Nevada.  I know personally how hard you have to fight to introduce a “new” idea to people who don’t like change and have the mentality of “we know what’s best for you.”  I am indebted to their tireless hours of hard work fighting for this option.  My conflict arises because I don’t believe that anyone should have to fight this hard for opportunity.  Families that want quality early childhood education in a public setting should be able to take advantage of that – even if they don’t have the money to pay for it.  I don’t believe that the government should mandate that young kids attend an early education program.  Families that want to take early education into their hands should also be able to have that opportunity.

Are there some homeschooling families that aren’t taking the time and effort to ensure their kids are learning?  Yes.  Does that group give homeschoolers a bad name?  Yes.  Are there public school families that don’t take any initiative to be a part of their child’s education, when it has clearly been shown that parental involvement in a child’s education only benefits the child? Yes.  Do we live in a world were one size fits all?  No.  So why must people try to squeeze everyone into the mold which we have chosen for ourselves?

You know how I feel I’m coming across?  Like someone out there might read this and think, “damn, she just wants everyone to hold hands and sing Kumbaya.”  Well, in a way, yes, yes I do.  Am I the most tolerant and non-judgemental person around?  No, I have my moments, but they are moments in my head and I do my damnedest to quickly kick them out.

I look at people and see superficial differences.  We are taught from an early age to distinguish differences between things.  Colors, shapes, letters, numbers.  And so it is natural to look at people and notice how they are different from ourselves.  As I said above, I’m an introverted person and even though I like to be in control I know that people that are different are not to be controlled or feared or demonized.  (Even when we vehemently disagree with their viewpoint.)   We have to try and see the similarities between us.  We are all people, men, women, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters.

People yearn to belong, to be accepted.  I am no different.  But I struggle with wanting and trying to belong to a group of people whom which I share very little ideology with other than the belief that schooling at home is the right thing for our families.  I must be practicing my tolerance.

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6 responses to this post.

  1. Kumbaya all you want – I’ll join you! 🙂 I think it’s funny that people still think they can discuss politics in a public setting with someone they don’t know. I’m somewhere in the middle on these things myself, but pretty conservative at times. And I would never dream of discussing politics with someone I didn’t know! And quite frankly, we’re all allowed to believe/think what we want. That’s the beauty of this country. That’s why I love my liberal friends! 🙂

    So, I’ve been meaning to ask you, since your previous blog on the idea of trying to give something up or let something go… Have you made any decisions in that area? You know, I do agree with T on that one – no one can be super mom, not even you. You are one of the most fabulous mothers I’ve ever seen. You’re patient (most of the time!), don’t focus on the superficial, and allow your kids to be who they are and express themselves in positive ways. And despite the mess you always claim you have in your house, your kids are required to be responsible with their things and take good care of them. But I know you are stressed and can’t do all that you want to do. You’re just human – don’t forget that!

  2. I really enjoyed this post. As a ‘sort of’ homeschooling parent, I find myself coming from a different place than the moms I encounter now. I am neither ‘liberal’ nor ‘conservative.’ I am a big time civil liberties person. And, I believe that you cannot have them without financial freedom. (That makes me a libertarian, basically, not to be confused with conservative a la Fox News, but I digress.)
    I can’t call a people free when money is taken at gunpoint (just try not paying your voluntary taxes) and handed to someone else. I see how much more generous, productive, and efficient people are when the money is given freely and without govt involvement. Not everyone agrees and so it goes. But, I think you are right that most people agree on what should be done, just not how to accomplish it.
    In your example, I wonder, are people free to compete in the preschool arena if the govt gives the same product for free? What is the impact on quality and affordability? (I used to work in this field and there were ALWAYS sliding scales for those with less money. Not out of a requirement, but because the corporations and private citizens that owned them felt it was the right thing to do.) Is it that it sounds good to provide for those who don’t have the means, or is it truly not available? Sometimes I think the govt likes to ‘solve’ problems that might not warrant the solution it provides. Do you, in your heart, believe that the govt does things better, more efficiently, cost effectively, and righteously than private citizens? This is where I struggle because I find that I don’t believe that more govt is better govt.
    Anyway, I’m carrying on now and this is clearly a complex conversation, but I really do like the questions you pose. It is hard to feel a sense of community when so many around you are close minded. I wish there were more open discussions where you could chew over an issue without “picking sides” in a political debate. My question for you is: from where do you want your sense of belonging to come?

  3. Posted by livinginagirlsworld on April 26, 2009 at 9:48 am

    Amanda,

    Thank you so much for responding to this post. I love having the input to mull things over. I find it interesting that you say that preschools have a sliding scale. The one I loved when we lived in Idaho did not. There was a point where I didn’t know if we were going to be able to afford sending our two oldest (at the time 5 and 3) simultaneously. I called and asked if there was anything they could do. Essentially I was told that the school itself couldn’t offer me anything but that a parent of a former student (who loved the place) had offered to help if there was a need. I gladly accepted the donation, but it wasn’t the school. I know that many daycare/preschools offer the sliding scale, but have found that the preschools I have had contact with do not. They might have some sort of payment plan or “scholarship” (such as the donation I received), but no true sliding scale (i.e. if you make between X and XX you pay this; if between XX and XXX you pay, etc.)

    I am really conflicted on the money to the government thing. Would I like to keep more of my family’s money for us? In a word, yes. Am I more than happy to pay those taxes so that kids can have insurance and people truly in a bad place can have help? Yes. Did I wish there was less red tape and bureaucracy that went along with these programs. Absolutely. But I don’t honestly see our society as truly wanting to help our physical neighbors. Maybe in part because we, as a society, have too much pride and we don’t want people to think us weak. It is easier to ask for help from the massive government than admit defeat to our family and friends. So maybe this is really the heart of the problem. I do know that my family benefited from the state insurance plan for kids program (SCHIP). But I saw a lot of ridiculous rules in place that didn’t make sense financially. When we first applied, I was pregnant with our 2nd daughter. My husband had just separated from active duty and had returned to school. We no longer had insurance and I was 6-1/2 months pregnant. So I applied for Medicaid for myself and my eldest daughter. We were denied because we had too much in savings. It wasn’t an obscene amount of money. It was less than what a hospital birth would have cost out of pocket, but in order for them to cover this pregnancy, I couldn’t have that safety net in the bank. But then when that reserve did dip below their magic number (and yes, I could have lied and said we didn’t have that money, but if I was going to ask for help from the government, I was at least going to be honest and play by their rules), my daughters were approved. The most jaw-dropping experience I had was after my husband graduated and got a job and started receiving medical coverage, I called the SCHIP office to cancel my daughters; coverage, and they told me I COULDN’T. It was effective for a standard term of 1 year. So when I really needed the coverage, I couldn’t get it, but now that I didn’t need it anymore I couldn’t get rid of it.

    The system isn’t perfect by any means, but there has to be some oversight. I think the temptation to be dishonest and greedy is too high for individuals/companies in certain circumstances and there needs to be a checks and balances. Private companies’ purpose is to make money. I’m sure a lot of people start companies because of a vision, but after those original visionaries aren’t in the picture, the purpose of helping people and not exploiting their weakness can be put on the back burner.

    To answer your question. I don’t know where between these two groups (homeschoolers and non-homeschoolers) I want to belong. I honestly feel more comfortable with non-homeschoolers in most areas of my life (and I have many more conservative (compared to myself) friends than I do liberal friends…and I’m more left-centric than left). But homeschoolers have such a fascinating perspective on family and ideas on school that I can’t help but want to be around them when they are discussing their educational philosophies and goals. This is when they are at their finest. They can express their passion about their lifestyle – and homeschooling is a lifestyle – without including judgment on those that don’t. It’s when the line is crossed and judgment happens that I feel alienated. I never hear anything but the utmost respect from non-homeschoolers regarding homeschoolers. There is sometimes an absurd awe that is alluded to. And I was one of them. I used to say I could never teach my children. But you know what, I do it every day. Every time they ask me a question about something and I answer – I am teaching. Why can’t I teach them book knowledge. Is it easy? No. There are days when I want to break open a bottle of wine at 9 a.m. because my nerves are so frayed, but I wouldn’t change it. I really love having them around. I love that they know how to have down time and don’t constantly need to be entertained. Are there days where I get the “Mom, I’m bored.”, but those days are far and few between. They have great imaginations and can have the best time together. I’m not sure they would have that relationship if they didn’t spend so many hours of the day together. My brother and I had a sort of camaraderie. We moved around every couple of years until I was 11. When it was just us, we knew it was JUST US. It was when we settled into the new routine of our own friends and life focused on school and homework and all the stuff outside of the house that we lost the camaraderie. Only for it to show up the next time we moved.

    So I don’t know if I answered your question or not. I loved having your thoughtful response to try and dig deeper into my own thoughts to better understand myself.

  4. Well said, friend! That conversation you had with the woman who wanted to form a commune gave me the chills. Just yesterday, I was in my backyard weeding and the neighbor behind me, who played his crazy conservative radio talk show plenty loud before Obama was elected is either going deaf, or he’s just really pissed, because yesterday I could hear it in my house. I was really sort of scared – I think he’s pretty nuts AND pissed off – a dangerous combination.

  5. My my, this is such a big conversation. I would SO rather sit with you in person with a glass (better yet- a bottle!) of wine and dig in. That being said, I think that while I agree with what you are wanting- the affordable preschool or insurance (or whatever, really) for all, I don’t agree that having the government involved in it helps anyone. I just don’t. And watching what is going on now and for the last two decades (which is the extent of how long I’ve been paying attention) does not make me pro government. It is my opinion that we, as a country, have shifted so severely off course that we can’t even see what it would be like if there were less government waste. The states have handed power to the federal govt, the Congress and the Judicial branches have passed off power to the President and the average citizen is the one who is left to pay for it all- losing civil liberties and financial stability both.
    I love the fact that people who loved your old preschool set up a scholarship. That’s what happens when financially successful people want to give back- they pick what they care about and pass it on to someone who would benefit from it. It’s simple, but it works. People have evolved to be compassionate; it isn’t because we are afraid of God that we treat others this way. It is because we have consistently benefitted from taking care of one another. I don’t find that people are selfish and greedy most of the time. I think we hear about the sensational and negative stuff the most, but it isn’t my personal experience at all. So, as far as providing for others goes, I don’t feel that anyone should be required to provide help to anyone. If we were not supporting this ridiculous government middle man who wastes almost all of our money, we would have more to give. And, we would give. I believe that without question. It works in reverse, too. When times get tight, charities suffer. So, it seems to me that we are giving the govt money to pay itself to spend our money as they see fit instead of how we see fit. And, the govt isn’t always doing the right or moral thing with it. Would any system be absolutely perfect? No. BUT, we can do a heck of a lot better than the govt can. That’s my opinion. I can’t even touch health insurance without busting out an entire other soap box, so you’ll just have to wonder what I think about that!
    But, let’s get back to your original, and more interesting, topic of belonging. I moved around often as well. I get what you are saying about it being ‘just us.’ Now, as an adult, I think it often comes down to just us still- that being my family. In all honesty, I don’t fit in with groups well. Friends are great and friends make life fun, they help me laugh at myself (which, clearly, I can get overly serious) and they bring me joy. But, in the shit end of things, it is me and my little group of people that work it out together. I think this will remain true whether we move around or not. There just comes a point where (I think) it is down to you. And while there is loneliness to that, there is also a self awareness to it. You have to be okay in your own head. For connection, I embrace my friends. For belonging, I turn to my family.

    Amanda

  6. Posted by livinginagirlsworld on May 2, 2009 at 10:12 am

    What a conversation indeed! Bring on the wine!! I see the points you are making. And, like you said, I agree with you on a basic level. It’s just the crazy implementation of how to get what we all need/want
    that gets in the way and what everyone feels is the BEST way.

    I do want to expand on something briefly. When I mentioned greed/selfishness I was referring to companies that have gotten too big…which is essentially what you are saying has happened to
    government.

    Your last couple of sentences (“For connection, I embrace my friends. For belonging, I turn to my family.”) I guess that is the clarity I
    was looking for and couldn’t put into words. Connection is a much better label, because these words you wrote? It was sort of an “ah-ha!” moment. It sums it up so perfectly.

    I have enjoyed hearing your perspective. Thank you so much for sharing it!

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