As I have written in prior articles, my thirteen-year-old son Demetrius has long had aspirations to be a marine biologist. And as a parent who seeks to encourage his children in their dreams, for several years I have promised Demetrius that, one day, I would take him to a place in Florida where it is possible to snorkel. So a few weeks ago on a vacation with the family, I woke Demetrius early in the morning, and announced to him that his wait was over. An hour later, on a sunny, azure-blue skied, 80-degree day, we checked in, got our gear, and headed for the water. So far, so good.
But there was one major drawback: though Demetrius swims like a citizen of the underwater city of Atlantis, I swim like a resident of Mars. You have heard of running in place? I can swim in place—unintentionally, of course. Watching me in the water is like watching someone swim on a treadmill. I swim through water like I’m swimming through glue. Not that this is all bad. I singlehandedly disprove evolutionary theory: no one who has ever seen me swim could rationally conclude that man is evolved from sea life.
Despite being aquatically challenged, I wanted to share this snorkeling experience with Demetrius, and undaunted by pride, I figured that I could solve my little problem by using a life-jacket. To my land-locked friends, let me warn you: a life-jacket is the scarlet letter of nautical life. They are awkward, bulky, and brightly-colored, presumably as a way of proclaiming to the world in no uncertain terms: “I am a bad swimmer.” Matters aren’t helped much when you can’t remember the term “life-preserver” and you ask the attendant instead where you can obtain a “floaty.”
So there we were: Demetrius, snorkeling and taking pictures with his waterproof camera, looking like a consultant to a Jacques Cousteau expedition—and his dad, who resembled more of a bobber than an actual human, when it occurred to me that I couldn’t have looked too dignified to spectators. Even the fish must have been confused. But as I drifted along these waters, I realized something more important than how ridiculous I looked: Demetrius was having the time of his life. Watching your son do something that he has wanted to do his whole life—and doing it so well—has to make you feel good as a father, even if your choice of swimwear involves Styrofoam.
As the day went by, I found myself able to get more proficient in the water, while Demetrius patiently instructed me. By the end of the day, even though I didn’t learn to swim well, I did learn to snorkel effectively while wearing a life-jacket. And in truth, I had a pretty great day, too.
There might be a lesson for home schooling parents in this. For all of the things that home schooling is, it isn’t glitzy. You don’t have the school plays that your children’s friends have; at best, you have puppet shows. You don’t get to wear school uniforms that make the education seem “official”; your kids wear very unofficial-looking sweatpants to religion class. You don’t have a science lab; the closest you’ve ever come to doing a chemistry experiment in your home may have involved cinnamon and French toast. At least at times, you don’t have much acceptance from others—even your friends.
You sometimes feel like you’re behind, and this causes its own set of problems. If children in formal schools fall behind academically, people often wonder what’s wrong with the children. If children taught at home fall behind academically, people often wonder what’s wrong with the parents. When you hear other parents brag about how well their children are doing in school, you can’t really do the same about your own kids. “After all,” the logic goes, “if the parent does the grading, why wouldn’t the children get good grades?”
Sometimes we home schooling parents seem to float along, realizing that we need help to just keep our heads above water. We might feel like we look foolish along the way, or feel like we don’t fit in. But we are in the water, rather than watching our children go by as we stand on the shore.
Many educational systems claim to be based on sound principles: the look-say method, the Doman method, and so forth. Home schooling parents may differ in their academic nuances, but the undercurrent for our home schooling approach is that we love our children, and, though we are human, we don’t fall too short on that level. I love Demetrius, just like I love all my children. That’s why I accept standing out. That’s what got me in the water. Many home schooling methods tend to work because of this single motivating factor: the love of our children.
As the years have gone by, you may have felt like you have looked foolish home schooling, but you’ve probably done a great job. Between administering math quizzes and watching SAT preparation videos, instead of thinking of your failures, try to take a little time to ponder what you have already accomplished. You’ve made a lot of sacrifices for your children—some were easy, and some were hard. But you’ve spent a part of your life trying to help your children grow closer to God. Maybe for us parents, home schooling is the toll booth on the road to heaven. I have a feeling that one day we’ll compare notes on how we made it all work, and the role that grace played in our successes. When that day comes, please look for me. I’ll be the guy in the bright green floaty.