Although I have yet to meet a homeschooler who choose their path for these reasons (then again - it's been a while since I've frequented any compounds in Utah), this seems to be a consensus among the general population. And try as we might, there was really no getting our point across when the kids were younger.
The main reason we chose homeschooling - was exactly the opposite of what everyone was so concerned about. We thought it a bit freakish, that our 5 year old - who read at a 4th grade level would be practicing his abc's all day. It was freakish to think that this kid, who had been surrounded since the day of his birth, by kids of all ages, would be plunked in a room full of other 5 year olds for the better part of his week. In the real world - decisions are not always made by somebody three decades your senior. In the real world, you are surrounded by people of different ages, abilities and attitudes. We wanted a kid who knew how to live in the real world.
And the real world facts are thus: Nobody out here is sheltered. We are not all winners. You have to work hard to get what you want. A D in geography doesn't mean you're can't be a great accountant. Likewise, being an A+ English student doesn't guarantee you more than a job at Starbucks and a well-written blog. Sometimes cheaters win - but you still shouldn't be one. Even though you are really interested in Star Wars, not everybody at the table wants to discuss it at each Thanksgiving meal. Learning is not a chore - it is privilege. You are as capable as you imagine yourself to be. Most people have less than you. Mommy won't always be there. You don't have a real life Jiminy Cricket - develop your own conscience.
These things are all true - and they are the root of why we chose to homeschool.
Yet, despite knowing all of this, despite my best efforts, something was changing in Punk. "Life was so much more exciting when I was younger," he'd say. "The whole world was exciting. Now, even when I play legos, it's just because I need something to do." I wracked my brain. Nothing seemed to be wrong per se - he did his homework, built lego contraptions, caught toads, had his friends over - average fifth grade stuff.
Average fifth grade stuff.
Which got me thinking.
My average fifth grade stuff included being dropped of at Disneyland alone with a friend, and being told to meet at a restaurant by six. It included being sent to the grocery store two miles away, and flying across the country sans adult - with a little brother in tow. Even my first grade stuff included a two mile radius of bike riding freedom.
Punk and his friends do not have this kind of lifestyle. No 10 year-old I know has this kind of lifestyle.
Furthermore, Punk had never been an average kid. He was public speaking by age 3, lobbying for animal rights by 4, shooting commercials at 5, discussing paleontology theories with professionals by age 6 . . . the kid got around. He had an pretty interesting life - even by adult standards.
But not so much anymore. He had turned into an average kid - an average kid with grown up ideas - and it was becoming increasingly obvious that he wasn't happy about it.
So I came up with the best solution I could.
I'd push him to the next step.
Because while there is a certain satisfaction in completing any task - a perfect spelling test, setting the table, performing in a play - there is a quiet triumph in doing something wholly and completely on your own - like an adult - like a mature, independent person.
And that, I decided, is what this kid needed. He needed to keep growing. Giving two miles of bike riding freedom was an option - but a cruel one in February. I had no reason to put him on an airplane - and furthermore no one to send him to. So I chose the only bit of freedom I thought I could give - dinner.
He was quiet for a minute when I mentioned it to him.
"Punk, after school today I am going to give you 20 bucks and drop you off at the grocery store. You get to buy and cook dinner - whatever you want."
He looks at me like he's expecting more - like a catch.
"What do you mean - drop me off?"
"I mean what it sounds like. Kooka and I are not coming in. Go shop for what you need, and I'll pick you up when you're done."
"Really? Wow! Like - whatever I want?"
I hesitate here. Because every cell in my body is screaming "Balanced meal!" "Not Captain Crunch and root beer!" "And for the love of god - please not fishsticks." But all that comes out of my mouth is "Yep - it just has to be a meal - because you are making dinner tonight - alone."
Both he and Kooka look thrilled with the prospect. But even little sister bites her tongue - she knows this is big - knows this is Punk's opportunity. Uncharacteristically, she doesn't even give any advice.
So, 1:00 rolls around, and I pick both of them up from school. Punk is ready to head to Cub Foods, and I am dying inside. What if some seedy boxboy tells him there are more Fritos in "the back room"? What if the entire store catches on fire and he is trapped in the corner by frozen foods with no ventilation and no escape? What if somebody notices my beautiful, charismatic child shopping alone for taco spice, and decides to bind and gag him, and nobody notices their struggle down the ethnic foods aisle? God! So many possibilities, and none of them actually end with him coming out with a bagful of groceries. It's a wonder I even unlock the car door to let him out.
But I do, and he has the biggest smile on his face when he waves to us - and says, "See ya!"
I am positive that this is the last I will ever see of him. I take a mental picture of what he is wearing so I can describe it to John Walsh during our teleconference this evening.
My god. What have I done?! Teaching multiplication was one thing. Teaching independence is going to kill me.
Twenty five minutes later, Kooka and I pull up to the front of the grocery store. Punk is absolutely beaming - pushing his shopping cart, as he mimes for me to pop the trunk, he actually walks his cart all the way the little corral in sub zero weather. He slides into the back seat, breathless, all smiles, and says "That was AMAZING! Here is your change."
He hands me eight dollars and seventy two cents. "I spent under twelve bucks," he says, "I shopped the deals." I am so relieved that he is alive, that I don't even care that we might be eating expired deli meat and week-old bread for dinner.
"Mom," he says, "It was weird at first. When I grabbed my cart, I just kept thinking 'my gosh, this place is so big', but then, once I started shopping, nobody looked at me weird - they just treated me like a person mom, like a real person. They said hi to me, and the checkout lady, treated me like I was supposed to be there!"
He hands both Kooka and I snickerdoodles that he had taken from the free cookie bin. "I ate mine while I was shopping," he tells us, "and then I told the cashier, that these were from the free bin, and she said it was ok, and let me bring two for you guys." He pauses to catch his breath, and I can't help but giggle at how happy he is. "You know mom," he says, leaning forward in his seat, "my friends at school thought you were crazy. They didn't believe it when I told them. They had so many ideas about what I should buy. They were all really jealous of my adventure."
My adventure. That's what he said. My most dreaded, mundane task of grocery shopping was an adventure to my 10 year old.
We arrive home, and without any prompting, he unloads the groceries (which he bagged himself) from the trunk and puts them into the fridge. He sits himself down to do both his spelling and math, with no complaints, finishes his quiet reading, plays some math games on the computer, cleans the dining room table, sets it, and starts to make dinner. All without a word from me.
Dinner is absolutely perfect. Hot dogs broiled to perfection, on succulent, enriched white rolls, and array of delicately spiced corn chips to choose from, cool, frothy root beer floats, and for dessert - shortbread dipped in a rich milk chocolate.
He says he wants to do it again tonight - maybe tacos. I had to explain that we can't do exciting things liker grocery shop every day - but maybe soon, he'll get to pay the water bill, or haggle with the cell phone people in India to straighten out my bill.