This blog is part of Educating My Boy: Chronicles of a Free-Schooler
Well, it was bound to happen, wasn't it?!
A couple of months into our liberation from school all kinds of things fell apart. First of all, the emotional crash… Being forced to do something that is mostly torment for six out of your ten years of life leaves not just scars but some open wounds as well. On a deep level Jack was – still is – quite confused. He is glad to be out of school but he still carries a lot of unhappiness and anger in him. He is given to meltdowns.
One day, at the homeschooler’s park day (our homeschoolers’ group gets together in a park every Monday), Jack came over to me, put his head down on my lap, and bawled. I had watched from the corner of my eyes how he had tried to play with different kids and join various activities all afternoon but had not been quite able to connect.
I asked if the kids had been unkind to him. “No,” he said, “they’re nice kids.” Then what’s wrong? He buried his head in my lap. “Mom, it’s like I miss being bullied,” he cried. “I’m so used to being bullied that being happy makes me unhappy.”
What do you do with a revelation like that? You of course say all the things you can think of: “That’s behind you. It still hurts but it will get better. It’s OK to cry. It’s confusing. Things will get better” – that sort of thing. Really, what do you say to anyone, child or adult, who says happiness makes them unhappy? You just mumble something and muddle through some response while your heart aches for them.
It is also true that in addition to unhappiness Jack has developed all kinds of bad habits. With other kids he is pushy and defensive at the same time. He is pushy in the way he wants to make them like him and is defensive in their reactions to him. Any small disagreement or resistance upsets him. He overreacts. To sum it up in simple words, he feels insecure. And as you know, other children do not react well to insecurity. They either go on the offensive or they reject the insecure child. This response from other kids not only hurts Jack but it reinforces whatever bad feelings he has about himself. The vicious circle is very hard to break out of. It is going to take many new experiences – and many new kids – for Jack to relearn making friends.
This is the emotional backdrop. Against this backdrop you have long hours of being alone in the house with nothing to do. We live in an apartment. We have a tiny useless backyard and not many places where Jack can be outside. I have to go with him if he goes out.
Tell me, how many times a week can you, or your work schedule, handle hours spent sitting in a park? How many hours a week can you handle playing games that you suck at or just plain don’t like? I am, after all, not a ten year old boy. I cannot be a playmate to a ten year old boy. I cannot be a mother, teacher, coach, friend, emotional counselor, etc. etc. – and I won’t even mention other pressing family obligations – all at the same time or one after another, all day, every day. And that was part of my emotional breakdown. I felt angry and resentful at the school and the kids and their families who had put me in this position.
On top of that, unlike the great majority of the homeschooling mothers I’ve met, I work. My work is flexible and at home, but still, there are projects I have to keep up with and/or finish. I had not anticipated pulling my kid out of school so I was not prepared. I was in the middle of things.
So what happens when you have a bored child, nowhere to go, and a mother who must spend hours every day at her work…? Television! Computer! Video games!
We don’t have cable and get no TV reception but Jack found a way around that. He watched TV shows online. When he got bored of that he played video games. When he got bored of that there was always “checking my emails” and “meeting my friends” on computer games. Hours and hours of screen time. I growled, I cringed, I felt really really bad, but I had work to do.
This went on for a while. I desperately tried to keep up with my work the way I did while Jack was in school – until I had a breakdown. One morning I woke up sobbing. I was in such bad shape that my husband had to stay home from school and take Jack out just so I could have a couple of hours to myself.
You take any two people, both emotionally on edge, and throw them together 24/7, and you do NOT have two happy people. Jack and I simply overdosed on each other. We got on each other’s nerves an awful lot. We both needed time away from each other. We felt like two rats in a cage. In fact, I should not put all this in past tense. This continues to be my main homeschooling challenge.
I still have not found a real solution to our need for “independent time” (I don’t know what else to call it!) but emerging from my meltdown I realized I had to do some things differently. I realized I had to reorganize my life and even make some major changes in all of our lives.