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Well, it looks like I have finally reached, or will next week, La Rentrée as the French say, the great Going Back to School in one form or another. I posted this ghastly picture on Instagram yesterday—and linked to it on Facebook and Twitter because why not, might as well.

Lots of people were properly amazed by my astonishing organizational skills. What a great chart! Color-coded down to the shower! I am The Amazing Mother, and a homeschooling one at that. So anyway, I thought it would be fun to do a “deep dive”—just to employ an overused and irritating expression—into not only this Amazing Chart, but also all my educational and parenting philosophies. It’s probably too late for you, as you’ve already made up your mind for the year, but don’t worry, 2020 isn’t over, there may yet be time for you to throw away everything you’re doing and start over again.

So let’s start with the chart, shall we, and then broaden out from there. I don’t know how to do anything fancy like zoom in, or draw lines on it or anything, so you’ll just have to use your scrolling skills, which are probably epic given that you’re reading this on the internet.

If you look closely, you’ll see that a lot of the blocks not only have the name of a child hurriedly scrawled, but also have the name of a random (well, not totally random) instructor. That’s because the four oldest children get the bulk of their instigeration of knowledge from a fantabulous online school that we have come to love over the last 6 or so years. There are more and more of these places out there—a quick google search will completely overwhelm you—and most of them are well worth the money for two reasons. One because it’s stressful to have Everything Depend On Me, and two because it’s insane to have Everything Depend On Me. So basically, my task as a “homeschooler” (those are scare quotes, for real) is to get the kid coping enough with learning things to survive an online instructional platform. I mean, if you’re homeschooling, that is probably not how you conceive of your choice. You probably want the kid to be “well-equipped” or brilliant or take the National Latin Exam or other stuff like that. That’s not my goal. I just want them to survive. If they do well, that’s great. If they hate it, I don’t mind too much.

All those classes only meet once or twice a week so it’s on the kid to “study” and “learn the material” on their own time, along with all the other work that is not covered online. I can’t afford every subject available at this awesome school. “Study” and “Learning the Material” of course should not be in scare quotes, but there you are, keep your expectations kinda low is my motto, and then if they survive you can only be happy.

Then you’ll see chunks of color called Soccer and Acro and Ballet. I lost the battle, that’s all I have to say about that. I only wanted children to play the piano—which they sort of do—but I’m so demoralized on that front I didn’t even write it in. I’m gonna have to amend my chart.

So what is it with the shower schedule? Well, that’s not because I want or command my children to bathe every day. That’s because some of them want to, and have a fixed idea of how that should go down, and then the other ones want to just ramble in every other week and blow up the routines of all the people who have already figured out that they should bathe. And, frankly, I’m sick of the screaming. Therefore, there is your shower time. If you miss it, for whatever reason, tough malarky, you have to wait until everyone else has had their turn.

And really, there is my entire philosophy of child-raising—Tough, Kiddo, Life is a Beast. I’m not homeschooling because I think I can do a better job than anyone else (I can’t), or because I want each child to reach his or her “full potential” or anything like that. They won’t. I certainly never have. That’s a terrifying burden to put on anyone. Rather, I want them to be functional, thinking adults and not have, through neglect or smothering or groupthink, all the interesting doors of the world closed to them.

I’m in the middle of The Coddling of the American Mind which has been sitting on my kindle for ages. I’m glad I finally got to it because I must say, I feel totally confirmed in most all of my parenting choices to this point. It’s a pretty prescient look at the societal trajectory of all the collective choices of the last four generations of Americans. The authors seem quite hopeful, as if by noticing the bad things we’ve been doing to our children we’ll stop doing them. But, of course, the book is like three years old. All the things they describe are even worse now then they were then. Nevertheless, I think it is possible to still bring up sort of normal children if you put your mind to it. It’s not that hard. In my view, it comes down to ten key things. If you hate this list, make your own! And don’t forget to laminate your chart!

  1. Don’t neglect the child. And don’t be abusive and awful.
  2. Don’t try to peer into the soul of the child—don’t be so anxious that she won’t be Christian that you make belief in God some terrifying proposition so that she runs screaming away from faith in all her life ever after.
  3. Don’t let him have social media (at least until you’re sure he’s more sensible than you are.)
  4. Educate her one way or another.
  5. Pray for him.
  6. Don’t let her (or him) sass you.
  7. Let him feel the ordinary pain of trouble and life.
  8. Take her to church as a matter of course and don’t constantly examine her feelings or yours about how much she likes it or hates it.
  9. Feed him lots and lots of food but don’t kill yourself over every single tiny gastronomic preference.
  10. Let her see you—don’t hide your imperfections and triumphs either through pride or false humility.

Well, there you are. That’s all it takes. Like everything in life, it’s just a piece of cake! No problem! What’s The Big Deal?

JK, as my kids say. Raising children is hard. But what isn’t? And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’d better go yell at someone to scoop the cat litter—which is a good and fitting job for every single child in this household.

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