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Starting school & Starting over

Starting school & Starting over

Shortly before my marriage ended, Simi decided she would like to go to public school. She has only homeschooled, and although that hasn’t always been perfect, it is something that has worked well for us, and definitely suited her introverted and overly-independent personality. Today, I dropped her off at school for the first time. I am grateful that it was her decision to go to school because, of course, the divorce happened, meaning she was going to end up there whether she wanted to or not. And I am equally grateful she was assigned to the school we most wanted, a place where she already has friends. I’m sure, like homeschooling, it won’t be perfect, but it’s really the best case scenario for the situation we find ourselves in.

About that situation, though…

I want to be happy for this moment in our lives, this big change that really marks the start of something new for us, but I just can’t. Every beginning is an ending of some kind, and I just can’t get myself into a celebratory mood when it’s such a blatant reminder of the end of my marriage. Yes, it was my kid’s decision to attend school, but it’s the divorce that makes it so she will have to stay there. Whereas before she could have “tried” school and gone back to homeschooling, now it’s what she has to do. It’s the same reason she quite suddenly had to take on twice as many household chores when her dad moved out.

I want to be clear, I am not at all against my kid going to school or having to do housework, those things themselves are not the issue. The issue, quite simply, is divorce is really, really hard. There’s a big difference in being able to be deliberate in my decision-making and having decisions made for me, and, in turn, forcing my child into situations in which she has zero say. It may not be rational, but I think it’s likely I will never stop feeling guilty about putting my daughter through this. I can’t think of a part of her life that hasn’t been touched by this divorce- whether it’s adjusting to new weekend and holiday routines, or learning to live with a lot less because there’s not as much money to go around- and it just makes me feel awful.

Last night, I overheard Simi talking to her dad on the phone. He had called to wish her luck on her first day of school, a gesture that made me happy and sad at the same time. I am really glad my kid has the kind of dad that thinks to do those things, the kind of dad that still takes fatherhood seriously. Still, I couldn’t help but think, It’s not supposed to be like this. 

It’s been well over a year since everything fell apart so I am sometimes surprised when the sadness hits. I don’t know if all of the major losses in my life have snowballed into one gigantic one, making it harder for me to move on, or if the end of my marriage is just harder to accept than all of the others. I do know, however, that it takes as long as it takes and there’s really no way to speed up the process. I have no choice, really, than to let the grief unfold regardless of how long and excruciating it feels. Truthfully, I feel mostly OK most of the time. If I’m not happy, I am at least hopeful. In spite of everything Simi and I have been through in the last year, we are still in pretty good shape, both ready to start over together.






I recently shared my daughter’s decision to quit homeschooling in favor of attending public school, along with some of the difficulty I am having with that decision. The time has come for us to enter the BPS lottery so we have been talking about school a lot lately. The other day we were on the topic of diversity and during this conversation, my daughter revealed to me that she feels “pretty much white.” This is a change from how she has previously identified. For as long as she has understood racial identity, she has claimed her 1/4 blackness. Of course, this new declaration of self is not a surprise; in many ways it’s inevitable. A stranger would not look at my child, especially in my absence, and assume she was anything other than white. And she is, in fact, mostly white. Nevertheless, I am having a lot of conflicting feelings about this.

While I understand how and why my daughter arrived at this conclusion about herself, there is a tiny part of me that feels rejected. It’s senseless, I know, and it undoubtedly says more about me than her. This is not something I should take personally, but it always felt kind of sweet when she claimed that part of herself that came from me. In some ways, it was an expression of our connection to one another, a simple way to acknowledge we belong together. I suppose, at the heart of this, is the issue of separation. Sometimes it feels like motherhood is nothing but dealing with separation over and over again. And this is just one that hurts a little more than others.

There is, of course, the issue of privilege. I am not a stranger to this because I know there have been times when I was mistaken for white, or pretending to be so, and that was used to my advantage. My daughter, though, doesn’t need to pretend. She can just say she is white and no one will ever suspect otherwise. I don’t think she really understands what this means, though. She knows about racism, and she knows about some of the racist encounters I have had. I’m just not sure she is able to fully grasp what a privilege it is to be able to just get to decide to be white. And I am not sure I know how to teach her that.

I feel shameful for admitting to this, but there is also a part of me that simply feels relieved over my daughter’s racial identity. It’s a terrible feeling, and I know it comes from wanting to protect her from some of the things that I went through as a child. She may have difficulties in life, but they thankfully won’t be rooted in racism. I’m sure this feeling of relief is, in part, due to internalized racism. As an adult, I have an awareness of this concept, but awareness does not equal relinquishment. I cannot reflect upon my childhood without feeling the hurt of being unwanted, or knowing I did not belong because of my brown skin. Obviously, I am glad my daughter will be spared those experiences.

All of my concerns may be unwarranted as my daughter’s childhood does not resemble my own in any way. She will not be attending an all-white school, and multi-racial children are most definitely not the rarity they once were. Still, I think a lot of parents will tell you it is often hard to step away from our own life experiences and look at things objectively. We can’t predict our children’s futures, so our past is what we have to go on. For me, this means issues of racial identity are a big deal. I know race is only one of many descriptors my daughter will have throughout her life, but it is an important one. Our country, both in the past and present, have made it so. Race does matter, and I won’t pretend otherwise in my parenting. I hope my daughter, white or not, always remembers this.

Living in a bubble

Living in a bubble

Today is the first day of school here in Boston. For me, the unintentional unschooler (it’s a thing, look it up), this means I spend the day a) panicking over the realization that it’s officially the school year and since I’ve done zero planning all summer I will once again be utilizing the plan-as-we-go method; and b) goggling over all of the pictures of my friends’ children as they get ready to start the first day of their new school year. And, of course, it wouldn’t be the first day of school without some complaints about BPS, of which there are plenty. Even homeschoolers don’t get to escape this parental rite of passage.

I’m not sure why I like the first day of school so much, other than it’s one of the many things that make me feel connected to my community. I suppose that sounds strange considering I don’t even send my kid to school, but I think, in its way, it symbolizes one of the many rituals we Bostonians use to measure time. We know Marathon Monday announces the arrival of spring, we know the first snowfall will have us breaking out our shovels and cursing, and we know September will begin with our streets being taken over by U-Haul trucks, soon to be followed by school buses. It’s simple, really, but I love knowing this about Boston.

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about this place we call home.  With the divorce comes a great amount of uncertainty. There’s so much to figure out, so much unknown.  I’ve had to make decisions I didn’t want to make and consider things I had never imagined. It has forced me to think about what really matters, what I hope remains after the fallout, and without a doubt, what I want is to stay in our home, in this quirky neighborhood that I have come to love so much.

Recently I wrote about my concerns on diversity, or lack thereof, in education. I mentioned how middle-class liberals surround us and I wonder what effect that has on Simi’s worldview. Here’s a confession, though: I am so grateful to be living in this bubble of left-leaning folks.  I grew up in conservative Texas, with a not-church-going activist mother.  It was hard enough not being white, but my mom was a tree-hugging, social justice seeking, hardcore feminist. You know how everyone carries groceries home in tote bags now? My mom was doing that in the late 80’s.  When it came to what she believed in, she walked the walk. She was well loved, but really, we were practically the village freaks.

I have traded in my hometown in Texas for a neighborhood that seems to be its polar opposite.  I’m really happy here, but just as I worry about the lack of diversity in my child’s life, I sometimes worry about it in my own. What does it mean that I am always surrounded by like-minded people? For one, it means that I don’t engage with “the other side.” I think of how social media magnifies our divisiveness, and how it’s a terrible platform for trying to engage in dialogue with those who think differently from me. I realize that if I really want to understand where someone else is coming from, I have to have real exchanges with them, not just Facebook arguments.  I worry about what seems to be our country’s growing inability to even see one another and I wonder if living in this little bubble is doing more harm than good overall.

On the other hand, I love the feeling of safety that this community gives me. I love that my daughter thinks it’s totally OK that her friend’s brother wears dresses.  I love that she has known families with two moms since she was a baby, never once questioning its normalcy. I love that she has become a tiny feminist; she has some kind of radar that can detect even the subtlest sexism.  She lives somewhere where she can comfortably and openly talk about this stuff; it is so unlike my own upbringing that I feel liberated on her behalf.

I don’t know what the right answer is, and maybe it doesn’t even matter because I’m not leaving anyway. I wish, though, that I knew the magic formula for allowing our society to progress without all the vitriol. I wish I knew the secret for being able to communicate sincerely with one another. I wish I knew how to make us listen to each other. I can’t imagine what we will be like by the time my child is grown.  I hope somehow I can teach her to be tolerant and respectful to whomever she encounters in her life.  I hope she learns that it is OK to leave this bubble, and moreover I want her to have genuine and meaningful relationships with all kinds of people. Who knows, maybe she’ll even grow up to be a Republican.

Opting Out

Opting Out

This week the radio show This American Life aired the second half of their episode “The Problem We All Live With” which focuses on the education system, and particularly why integrated schools are so important. This two-part series is worth the time investment, even though you will have to get through some it’s-not-about-race racism.

Locally, this week also brought the news that local charter school advocates are hoping to secure a ballot initiative, lifting the cap on funding for charter schools. This is a nuanced issue, but the net result could very well be less funding for public schools.

Because of these two events, I have been really thinking about how we have chosen to educate our own child. I’m finding myself feeling like we made the right choice, yet open to the possibility that maybe we didn’t.

We are a homeschooling family. My daughter, Simi,  has never attended school, and until very recently has never expressed an interest in doing so.  There are probably at least 100 reasons we chose to go this route, but in some ways it feels like the decision was made for us.

We live in Boston, and if you are unfamiliar with the process of registering with Boston Public Schools (BPS), I can assure you that it is nothing short of maddening.  Unlike many school districts where children attend the schools closest to their homes, here they are randomly assigned a school based on a lottery system. This is a system that works great for some families- primarily those who get assigned to schools they had hoped for- and for others it does not work out so well. There are many among us who get assigned to a school that was last on our list, or schools we didn’t list at all because they just seemed so abysmal. Such was the case for us, and if any good came out of it, it’s that it answered the question of whether or not we should homeschool.

I realize that being able to homeschool is an incredible privilege, one that I am grateful for and try to be mindful of.  With that gratitude, though, comes a fair amount of guilt. I do consider myself to be a proponent of public schools, but I wonder, can I really say that while not even having my child be part of them? I realize that by choosing to homeschool  I have placed myself firmly in the company of many others who have chosen to “opt out.” I’ve allowed myself to be part of modern day white flight and it does little to help integrate our classrooms, effectively nullifying the busing act of the 1970’s. Of course, many would argue that that the desired effect of busing never took root anyway.

When we began homeschooling, my biggest concern was that my child would not be part of a diverse community. Thankfully, that has not proven to be the case along racial and ethnic lines, but our homeschooling community is definitely middle class and liberal. For us, this feels comfortable and safe, but I do worry that it unrealistically skews my daughter’s perception of the world.

Simi recently decided she would like to try going to school. I believe she is old enough to have a say in how she gets her education, but the idea of actually enrolling her gives me pause. I am not sure what it is about governing bodies that enable them to be presented with research detailing what is beneficial for children, and then they go on to completely ignore it. We know so much now about how children learn: less testing, more play; more outside time and physical movement; more arts and music; more free time for discovery; more time to work on social skills.  All of these things enrich a child’s learning experiences, but we seem to do the exact opposite of these things whenever a change is called for.

In the best of circumstances, my daughter would be assigned to a “good” school, one that exposed her to a variety of experiences and people. I know she would benefit, as we all do, from a more diverse peer group, but in spite of Boston’s best efforts, classroom diversity is not guaranteed. I often say we don’t know if the decisions we have made for our children are right until they are grown and out in the world. Figuring out what world I want my child to be a part of, though, is proving to be difficult.