I sat on one side of the conference table, facing my son’s teacher, principal, school counselor, and a school district representative. A grown woman, healthcare executive, and mother of three, I felt like a third grader sent to the principal’s office for pulling the fire alarm. In a way, I’d done just that.
“Mrs. Hearst, we understand what you are saying, but unless you tell us the name of the child there is nothing we can do.”
I knew the name of the kid bullying my son, but I had promised not to tell. Max, the smallest fourth grader in his class, didn’t like the idea of tattle telling. That morning he begged me not to name names. My heart broke at the fear in his eyes.
“I haven’t noticed any problems on the playground, or before school. Perhaps he is looking for attention?” My son’s teacher dared me to say otherwise.
“Every morning of the previous three weeks, Max had left for school in tears. He said the kids crowded around him and called him names before school, after school, and on the playground.”
The principal asked, “So there are many children involved?”
“Yes, but only one gave him a black eye.”
“We can’t deal with the situation unless we know who hit your son.” The principal, clearly at the end of her patience, glanced at her watch.
“Tyler. Max said Tyler is the ring leader of the group. Tyler knocked him off his bike and kicked him in the eye.”
The four women in front of me tensed, and I knew I had a problem.
“That is not possible.” My son’s teacher shook her head.
The principal smiled. “Tyler is a rambunctious child, but I doubt he hurt your son on purpose.”
The school counselor, Mrs. Brady, pressed her lips together and glared.
The district representative said, “In all fairness, you should know that Tyler is Mrs. Brady’s son.”
My heart broke for my child. I wondered if he knew Tyler Brady was the guidance counselor’s son and untouchable. “I see. Where do we go from here?”
Three meetings, two weeks, a bloody nose, and a skinned knee later, I pulled my youngest son from public school. I wish I could say I did this with the forethought and knowledge of what I was walking into, but in reality, I did it in a fit of desperation. My older two children loved this school—I loved this school. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the place for Max.
The first month of homeschooling didn’t go as well as I hoped. I gave one month’s notice at my job, agreed to work half days until they hired, and I trained, my replacement. I homeschooled Max in the afternoons. He missed his friends, and I went into mourning for my career.
The second month, neither of us changed out of our pajamas. I spent my evenings poring over common core standards, curriculum choices, and homeschool message boards. My husband put us on a budget. To say we went through an adjustment period doesn’t cover it. My guilt over making such a rash decision ate me from the inside out. Thankfully, summer break was only a couple of weeks away.
I planned to spend the summer researching private schools and getting my career back on track. On June second, the results of Max’s academic assessment test came. He scored at seventh grade level in everything except science, where he scored at ninth grade level.
“Hello, yes, I am calling about my son’s test scores. I think there has been a mistake. He was in danger of failing fourth grade, and I have only been homeschooling him for three months.” My hands shook as I listened. “Oh, wow. Thank you.”
“What did they say?” My husband eased me into a chair.
“They said the results are accurate. They will be sending information regarding a gifted program through Duke University. ”
Instead of spending my summer touring private schools and job hunting, we sold our house. With only one child left at home, we downsized to a fifteen hundred square foot townhouse. Because my husband works at home, we decided to sell his truck and manage with one automobile. I delved into curriculum research and joined several homeschooling groups in our community.
Max and I started our first full year of homeschool in August. With my Hodgepodge of text books, on-line classes, and mountains of plans, we jumped in with both feet. As determined as I was to give my son an education, I missed working outside the home. I hated the new house. Our furniture didn’t fit into the smaller space. We used the third bedroom as a homeschool room, so my older two children felt displaced when visiting. My husband and I juggled one car. We held garage sales to get rid of anything we couldn’t find a place for, and still we were packed in like sardines. I had to learn to let go.
By December, Max and I had a routine that included two to three weekly outings with his new homeschool friends. I watched as my shy, socially awkward son blossomed. To my surprise, I bonded with the eclectic group of fellow homeschool moms. More than once, I regretted my former prejudice against stay-at-home mothers.
Yes, I was one of those working moms who thought stay-at-homers set the cause of women back a hundred years.
At the end of our first year of homeschool, Max blew his standardized test out of the water again.
He has a group of friends he loves, and more importantly, he has learned to trust other kids. Next year, he will start Algebra and Biology for high school credit. After completing a course through Duke, Max has decided he wants to become a doctor.
What did I get out of the deal? My lower back doesn’t ache from twelve hour days in high heels. I finally gave away enough stuff that my family fits into a house half the size of the one we left behind. I, too, have found my tribe, a crazy group of moms who listen to me complain, encourage me to continue, and have taught me how to laugh and play.
Downsizing my life has allowed me to focus on the important things. I still miss long vacations, going out to dinner four times a week, and a housekeeper; but I wouldn’t trade my new life for the world.