Friday, May 23, 2008

"Did You Get Out of School Early Today?"

Today I did a quick run in to a volunteer-run thrift shop to check for books, yarn, art and craft supplies and photography equipment. You never know what treasures a thrift shop may yield for pocket change. The kids were in tow and this was just one of a string of errands that I wanted or needed to do in that geographic area while I was there for an appointment. Due to the price of gasoline, if I have to be in a certain place to do something, I try to do all the various errands that need doing right around that place or on the way to that appointment. Doing errands in that way is not always fun or convenient but it is what I'm doing to try to save money.

Anyhow we walked into this shop and two feet in the door we get THE QUESTION.

We get asked this question at least three times a week. It is getting a little old to be honest. I have been asked this question now for nine years. Yes, nine years. It started when my oldest was two years old. I am not kidding.

An older woman addressed my children directly, "Did you get out of school early today?"

The time was 12:25 p.m. Today is Friday. Yes, public school is in session today, as are all the private schools.

My ten year old piped up, this time without hesitation, although I wish he would do it a little louder and with more confidence. "We are homeschooled", he replied.

"OH! So are my grandchildren. Well, three of my grandchildren are homeschooled. That is so great!"

Now that is not the typical reaction. I'll take it.

But to be honest I was annoyed at being asked that. And the kids had just got done whining about doing the string of errands with me so I was in a grumpy mood at the moment. So I just smiled and walked away.

While browsing the store quickly I thought maybe the fact that I didn't strike up a full blown conversation with her was not being a good Homeschooling Ambassador. You see, once we are labeled by a stranger, we are REPRESENTING. We are the face of the homeschooling community. You never know what may result from one of these interactions.

Sometimes I've found out later that something I said had a positive impact. Someone I talked to years ago went on to homeschool their own kids. And a father I met on the train asked me questions for the rest of the trip, over an hour. I have a feeling that his opening statement that he didn't want his two year old in their local public schools (West Hartford, Connecticut) and that he had homeschooling in the back of his mind, might have changed to being a realistic option for his daughter. (Hey if you are a mom who used to be a professional ice skater who works teaching kids to ice skate and you have a two year old that you think is gifted, and you live in West Hartford and are married to a Boston College alum whose brothers went to the University of Notre Dame, and if you end up homeschooling, drop me a line to let me know that something I said was of use and inspirational. It is good to hear things like that sometimes.)

But today I'm not feeling inspired. I'm not in one of those warm, fuzzy moods. Maybe it is due to the fact that I woke up with a headache and it stayed with me all day. Or the fact that I still have a bad head cold. Or that I have a lot to do that I don’t feel like doing and appointments are all set up in a row from today straight through to June 6th. Yes, June 6th is the next ‘appointment free’ day that I have on the family alendar. So I'll share what is on my mind this very second: you know what, I'm getting sick of representing the homeschooling community when I meet strangers in public. I just am. Possibly what I dislike is the fact that humans make snap judgments based on very quick exchanges. They judge you on your looks, how you are dressed, what the look on your face tells them, how your kids are behaving in those few seconds and so on. It is hard to feel "on" all the time. It also is not good when the kids do something that is less than perfect behavior. In this case my kids were fine. In others, not so fine.

Later while sprinting through the aisles of Wal Mart and wanting to get out of there as quickly as possible (and noting the awful odor of plastic or chemicals or both incidentally and realizing how different it was from the wonderful fresh spring air outdoors), I began thinking about it and I got a little annoyed. What I was thinking was, if she approves of homeschooling and knows that kids are homeschooled, then why does she ask that question of kids? If she does not want her own grandchildren embarrassed or having to defend themselves to strangers, why doesn't she quit asking that of the kids she sees during the day?

I got so worked up about it that I considered driving back over there to ask her that question. I have my limits though. I have the chutzpah to say things to someone's face if I think it up quickly enough but I don't usually drive back to give someone a message face to face.

I wondered if she knew what her daughter or daughter-in-law, the homeschool mom, thought of the exchange. Does that mom get asked all the time about why her kids are not in school? Does she like it or not? Does she realize that her mother or mother-in-law is giving the same grief to other homeschooling families? If she hates the question too, then I wish she'd tell her relative to stop asking kids the question.

This is what is on my mind. Not everything we homeschooling families deal with is rosy and light. I just feel like venting. Thanks for listening.

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Sunniemom said...

Your reaction is very understandable, and I feel the same way more often than not. I don't ask strangers direct questions about their personal lives, even though I am apt to strike up conversations when I am out and about.

I understand that sometimes folks are just looking for something to say, and that is the first thing they notice so they latch on to it like a conversational life jacket, but it is annoying, and after 13 years of answering that question I am seriously considering getting homeschooling T-shirts for myself and the kids.

FatcatPaulanne said...

Yeah, I know what you mean. I went through 20+ questions the other day at the consignment store.

jugglingpaynes said...

You made me think of the times I've asked that question of neighbor kids when they knock on our door in the middle of our homeschooling day. I do it because I'm completely oblivious to the school calendar (I can't believe how many days they get off.)

Anyway, I'll give your thrift shop lady the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she's just flaky at starting conversations!

Hope you feel better for venting!

Tracy said...

As a change from venting, how about look at it from this woman's point of view?
Firstly, even nowadays, the majority of parents don't homeschool. So even if her grandchildren are being homeschooled, seeing kids out and about may well be because school was out early. And, as you say the woman in question was older, it's quite possible that while she is aware that homeschooling is a possibility, she's still so mentally used to kids being public-schooled that it doesn't come to the mind as a reason why they are out.
Secondly, does this woman regard this question as embarrassing or requiring a defence? She seems to be proud of her three grandkids who are homeschooled. It wouldn't have occurred to me that being homeschooled is something to be embarrassed about. As for defensive, since this older woman is not homeschooling herself, she quite possibly just has never been attacked herself over her grandkids being homeschooled so she doesn't regard it as something requiring a defence.

Does it really seem likely to you that this woman, who is proud of her kids being homseschooled, is going around happily embarrassing other people's kids?

Sandy said...

We've been homeschooling for 12 years. Around year 10 I got really tired of being the homeschooling PR person. Really tired. Around year 10 you get tired of a lot of things about homeschooling. Now it doesn't bother me as much, though it still always amazes us how everyone expects people to all live exactly the same life (ie- all kids go to school). I agree with the above commenter that the lady was probably just trying to make conversation and school is the first thing people talk to kids about. Hope you have a better time the next day you're out running errands!