Homeschooling has broken me, I think.
I didn’t realize it until last week. That it has broken my brain. That it’s broken the way I think about everything.
But I’ve never been more sure that I’m a homeschooler raising homeschoolers, and I’ve never felt stronger in my convictions.
Like with so many things, I have Dave Grohl to thank.
But let me take a step back …
When my son was 6, he expressed an interest in learning piano. And like all parents, we immediately tried to figure out how to move a 1,000-lb piece of cast-iron and wood history into our living room as cheaply as possible.
I put a thing on Facebook. My friend Jes responded.
It took 4-grown men and a moving truck.
My son sat down at it that night, and within a couple of days, he’d taught himself to play Linus and Lucy. Then Bach.
It was amazing to me, because I took piano lessons for years, and can now only remember a 3-key version of Mary Had a Little Lamb. (We are not exactly Von Trapps, around here.)
Seeing that our kid was now spending all of his free time on a rock-hard bench inscribed on the inside with the words “Property of Mrs. Bailie,” we did what a lot of parents do, and we started looking into lessons.
When we met the sweet, wonderful woman who would become his teacher, he asked her to play a favorite song.
She played Linus and Lucy.
I sat there with tears in my eyes.
This wasn’t a regular old sign. This was a flashing neon billboard.
It was the happiest sight, seeing the two of them sitting there, talking about music.
She got him.
At the time of my son’s first recital, he was understandably nervous, so she let him play Linus and Lucy — you know, his jam.
She gave each child an award that day, and as the trophy box emptied, I started to wonder if my son would get one — they’d only been working together for a couple of months, and trophies aren’t cheap.
But she was saving his award for last — Overall Most Improved.
I felt that day like we were on to something as parents.
We had supported our son in pursuing a passion, and now we were seeing the rewards — the literal awards.
Over time, something changed. The more piano homework he got, the more overwhelmed he felt. When his teacher would challenge him with new pieces, he wouldn’t practice them.
And yet, he would beg me to order Clementi sheet music. He would ask for Star Wars music books for his birthday. He would watch Youtube videos to learn new and harder songs, and he would practice them until he could play them by heart.
But lessons? Lessons got tense.
“You need to drill him,” I remember his teacher saying in my living room one day, and I thought no.
No. I don’t want this to go there.
I would sit with him and try to help him work through his homework, though.
Tears. So much frustration.
A break from lessons.
Our beautiful, half-ton, 1896 cast-iron piano still sits in our living room.
There’s a fish on top of it.
We put our library books that need to be returned on it.
It gets really, really dusty.
Last year for his birthday, my mom got my son what he wanted most — a rental trumpet.
He didn’t want to take lessons, so he taught himself a few things. He watched videos on the Internet. He’d toot us awake in the mornings.
But eventually, he confessed to me that he didn’t love the trumpet.
“Do you think Gigi will be mad?” he asked me.
“No way,” I said. “Gigi just wants you to be happy.”
And so we boxed it up and sent it back. Now some other kid is surely renting my son’s temporary spitty trumpet.
Try not to think about it.
Our house got really quiet for a few months, and I worried about my son.
But it was summer, and there were trees to climb. It wasn’t so bad.
In August, we went to visit my sister and her family in Nashville. My brother-in-law is an amazingly talented, self-taught musician, and his home is filled with guitars.
I think he noticed a glint in my son’s eye.
“You can play them,” he said.
And then at dinner, the night before we left:
“Hey O, I was wondering if you wanted to maybe take a guitar home with you for a little while.”
My mama tears again.
Because the spark was back.
That one kind gesture had brought it back.
It was the longest 9-hour car ride ever for my boy.
When he got home, he set up the electric guitar and amp in his room, and almost right away I heard music.
Pieces of music.
Songs I recognized.
I called the music studio.
Here’s where we get pretty close to present day.
My son has been taking guitar lessons for a few months.
He’s taught himself most of Green Day’s work, because he loves Green Day.
He spends hours each day practicing, and when he hits a stumbling block, he watches a video, or looks things up.
But earlier this week, he couldn’t sleep because even though his next lesson was 6 days away, he was worried about his homework.
And I’m going to tell you, the homeschooler in me has kind of lost it over that.
I couldn’t figure out why I was so angry.
Like really, damn angry.
And then finally, after a few days of very ungraceful stewing, it hit me:
I wasn’t feeling angry.
I was feeling protective.
“Mom? I feel like I was born with music in my heart and every time someone pushes me, the space for it gets smaller and smaller.”
I am so scared of it going away completely. Because it’s a part of him.
It would be like losing a part of him.
I promised you homeschooling, so here’s where it shows up.
I’ve figured something out in the past week. I would maybe have said this kind of thing before. I think I wanted to believe it, but old doubts from an old life would creep in: Are you sure this is going to work?
But homeschooling has made me trust my son.
I have so much faith in him and his ability to learn on his own — in his own way, in his own time.
I know he will learn guitar if he isn’t pushed, because he loves it. He WANTS it.
I know he will learn to read sheet music when he wants to. I know he will learn to write music if he wants to.
And if he doesn’t?
It’s flipping guitar.
But here’s what I also know:
I know, that if he is pushed, he will retreat.
I know he will put that guitar down one day and never pick it up again.
And I know we will lose a piece of him, of who he is.
And I know now that I am finally feeling brave enough to make sure that doesn’t happen.
This homeschool business has broken my brain.
In the very best way.
I’ve realized that the way I view education has changed completely.
I have gone from having faith in a system to having faith in my kids. Because I’ve been at this for a little while now, and I’ve seen it in action.
When I emailed my son’s wonderful, patient, kind guitar teacher to tell him we’re taking a little break, he responded quickly.
Let me tell you what stood out to me:
“I asked him to learn something most guitar students are expected to learn.”
My kid isn’t most.
My kid is a unique person.
“Most students do feel stress about their instrument.”
Not the kind of good-stress that comes from challenging themselves, but “stress about their instrument.”
“Stress drives them to advance and get better.”
In some kids.
You know what else can drive kids to get better at something?
I don’t blame his teacher, who is doing exactly what he thinks he’s supposed to do.
But I guess it all comes down to what you want long-term as a parent.
I want a happy kid.
I don’t care if he’s a musician. I don’t care if he’s “good” by someone else’s standards.
Frankly, right now, I am having a homeschooler rebel moment and I think the standards are stupid.
We honestly haven’t decided what to do about guitar right now.
But I have decided one thing:
My job is not to push my kid.
My job is guard my kid’s heart.