For Better or Worse
April 30, 2013 § 10 Comments
Saturday was day one of youth turkey hunting weekend; precisely a week prior, the boys had passed their hunter safety course with perfect scores, and were now in possession of freshly minted hunting licenses, a couple boxes of turkey shot, and a newly constructed blind at the corner of a neighboring hayfield. The alarm was set for 4:15, and arrangements were made with an experienced hunting friend to accompany them into the half light of the emerging day, full of hope that come evening, the smell of roast turkey would fill every nook and cranny of our humble home.
Alas, it was not to be. The boys arrived home around 10, looking somewhat bedraggled (they’d had a sleepover two evenings prior, with all the late night rambunctiousness such a thing implies), but no less enthusiastic. I, for one, was rather amazed. Fin in particular lacks patience, a trait he and I share in full. To imagine him sitting in a blind for nearly five hours was an awesome, almost incomprehensible thing. To be honest, I’m not sure he would have managed it were Penny and I his chaperone.
I have written briefly of the value we place in mentors, and how grateful we are for those which have stumbled into our lives at precisely the times we needed them most. The question I get most often when I tell people that Fin and Rye are educated at home, to the point that I’m pretty well fed up with it, is “don’t you worry about socialization?” In truth, it’s usually framed a bit more politely, something like “are there other homeschool children in your community,” or “do they have other kids to play with,” but as is so often the case, there’s a question behind the question, and in this case, the real question is “Aren’t you worried your boys are going to turn into anti-social deviants?”
Actually, “fed up” doesn’t do justice to my feelings regarding this line of inquiry; “pissed off” is more like it. That’s because it’s rooted in an entirely flawed premise, which is that a structured educational institution, along with the social landscape it embodies, is the standard by which a child’s socialization should be measured. As I have also mentioned briefly, my snarky – but no less honest for being snarky – reply is that of course we’re worried: That’s why we keep them at home.
But of course it’s not so simple as all this, and the simple truth is that at times we do feel a degree of social isolation. There are many reasons for this, including the reality of a sparsely populated landscape, mismatched personalities, transience (at the moment, two of the boys’ best friends are packing for a move to the Pacific NW), and the fact that Fin’s and Rye’s most fervent interests are not widely shared among the majority of their peers. Simply put, there ain’t many 8 and 11 year olds who spend their days scouting trap lines, cleaning shotguns, and milking goats. That’s not all our kids do, of course, but the occasionally uncomfortable truth is that in 21st century America, not many children are terribly interested in the things that have captured my boys’ imaginations. Likewise, Fin and Rye are utterly bewildered by some of their friends’ interests in video games and other forms of modern digital media, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t take a degree of pleasure in their view that such things are an utter waste of time that could be better spent scouring the woods for turkey roosts or the first morel mushrooms of the season.
There’s another aspect to all this, which that school encourages age-specific socialization. One of the things I most appreciate about our decision to educate the boys at home is the simple fact that they have frequent interaction with friends and neighbors from all stages of life. Often, I will hear from Melvin, our 65-year-old dairy farming neighbor, about how he came across Fin and Rye along the edge of one of his hayfields or down by his pond. These are small moments, of course – a simply crossing of paths, an exchange of pleasantries, an explanation of the task at hand – but I strongly believe that they matter, that they contribute to my sons’ sense of the world and their place in it.
So it is with the mentors that have come into their lives, all of whom have specific skills and experience to share. And this is for the good, in no small part due my deficit of these specific skills and experience. But there’s something else going on, something for which I’m increasingly grateful, and it is the relationships my boys have developed with their mentors. It’s probably not right to call them friendships (or maybe it is), nor am I suggesting that these relationships can replace social interaction with children their own age. But I have little doubt that Fin and Rye are enriched by these connections.
True, these relationships are not mutually exclusive to a more conventional education. My boys could attend school AND have these people in their lives. But the other truth is that, contrary to their day-in, day-out rambunctiousness, my children have only so much time and energy. They can only experience and assimilate so much.
And for better or worse, this is what we have chosen.