I am homeschooling a thirteen year old boy.
Only he’s not a boy. He’s a man. That is, if men joke about everything non-stop and alternate between saying “I’m awesome” in a deep voice and crying when you say they can’t play Minecraft.
So yeah, he’s a man.
He’s three inches taller than me, which isn’t really fair, and so when I want to yell at him I make him sit on the floor, at least I did until I figured out that if I hunch down and look up at him all scrunched faced with my finger pointed at him like the wicked witch of the west, it’s more intimidating.
But I’m homeschooling him. Do you know what homeschooling is like? Imagine that all the energy you put into thinking about whether your children are growing into good adults is now completely magnified by 900,00 professional educators telling you that they can do it better and you’re an idiot.
I used to think, when my son was a newborn, that if I could just get him nursing on a good schedule, I’d be good. Two days old, three days old, four, I was just about to throw in the towel when something clicked and it worked.
Things were good until the next big hurdle: potty training. Two years old and still changing diapers, and I had newborn twins besides. Please, buddy, please, will you just use the toilet??
Then one day he did. Me, the over-achiever first time mom, was also doing ABC flash cards and I will never forget the day my curly-headed boy pulled me by the finger to show me a “big S snake poop!”
But now he’s thirteen and it’s schoolwork. This battle makes the previous ones look like nerf wars. If I cried over potty training, I bleed over schoolwork. If I lost sleep over trying to get him to nurse, I have contemplated driving to the other side of the nation and starting a new life over schoolwork. It’s a big battle. Like, slammed doors, name-calling, throwing things sometimes battle.
Is it my fault if I want him to be educated enough that he could be President of the United States? But he can’t do that if his writing looks like a ransom note!
It’s just that he’s such a nice kid, you know? He’s so handsome and good-natured and funny and smart. I want him to reach his full potential…
SO WHY IS THIS SO HARD?
I asked him this the other day. I tried to have a reasonable conversation.
Me: Hey, remember when you didn’t want to be potty trained?
Me: Yeah, bud, yeah. You fought me pretty hard. You seriously wanted to continue to crap in your Lightning McQueen pullups for like the rest of your life. But you know what, bro-chachki? I won that fight. I fought against you because I love you.
Me: No, you’re not getting it. Imagine your life, right now, if I had given up on that fight. Just imagine your five foot nine inches tall self right now and how disgusted you would be with me, your mother, if I had let you continue to poo where it was the most comfy to poo. Can you imagine that?
Him: I can now.
Me: Right. This is the same level of regret that you will be feeling when you are thirty if you do not LET ME WIN THE FIGHT FOR SCHOOLWORK.
Ugh. I might have verbally outwitted him that time but it’s not like it lasted. He was still giving me pushback this morning.
Everyone talks about boys wanting to be men, to have respect, to fly out of their mother’s arms into the world of manhood. Well, I get it! I do try to respect him… but guess what?
I’m still the one that has to find the math book, tell him what pages to do, explain the concept of cross-multiplying, give him the practice sheet, take away the leatherman he’s playing with, remind him that he can’t have dinner if it’s not done, make him do 15 burpees for calling his sister a name, make him move the math book so I can set the table for dinner, help him on problem #18, be firm enough to tell him that he can’t eat with us because he didn’t finish, set aside a plate of chicken parm while he tells me that I’m the meanest person who ever lived, explain number #32, read his chicken scrawl to grade the paper, and then pat his back and tell him that he is going to do better tomorrow while the chicken is in the microwave reheating.
With respect. All of the above with respect.
You know what I think my problem is? Stupid Abraham Lincoln.
Don’t you remember when you were a kid, hearing about Abraham Lincoln? Living in a log cabin, working in the fields in the daytime and then coming in and educating himself out of love for learning by the light of the fireplace? Didn’t you hear that story?
I hate that story. It can’t be real. At least, it can’t be about Abraham Lincoln at age 13. At age 13 he was trying to figure out the computer password so he could play Tanki, right?
Or throwing his sister’s doll on top of the roof, right?
Or telling his mom that she was the wicked witch of the west, right?
But no, because probably Mrs. Lincoln respected Abe. Probably she didn’t even have to tell him what math book to do, because he was already self-motivated enough to go through Trigonometry on his own, right?
Probably Mrs. Lincoln never had to make Abe re-write his paper because he had used only three capital letters on the entire page, and they were all in the miDdle of words that didN’t need to be capiTalized, right?
Why is it so difficult? Why is homeschooling a thirteen year old now so much different than homeschooling Abraham Lincoln?
The more I read about Abe’s early years and education, the more I notice that what was going on in that time was that life was hard work. His dad had a couple hundred acres and they grew their own food, and hunted for meat, and what could he do for fun?
Maybe what’s so hard about schooling my thirteen year old boy is that in modern America, he’s still a boy, but in Abe’s time he would have been a man.
A man… in that there was work to be done, or the family didn’t survive the winter.
This is not a modern concept, at least not for thirteen year olds. The biggest consequences they have is not getting to go to the sporting event they want to go to if their homework isn’t done.
Maybe the reason it’s so hard to homeschool a thirteen year old boy is because our society still treats him like he’s a boy, and so he still acts like one.
This is not good.
The thing is, he’s still going to grow up and take his place in the world. Just like Abe did. And just like the world in the 1800’s, there will be adult-sized problems that he will have to deal with. But will my son be ready?
Maybe the reason I need to win this fight is not because I want him to be able to do whatever he wants to do, but because I want him to do what the world needs him to do.
Maybe he needs to be educated well enough to be President not because it would be a mark of my amazing parenthood success, but because the world needs men that are capable of doing the things men need to do.
I am homeschooling the next generation, and he might grow up and face things as hard as Civil War and the Battle of Gettysburg, and what will happen if I lose this battle?
I guess all I can do is keep fighting. Keep doing what I know to do; Setting restrictions on screen time and making him add punctuation to his freaking paragraphs. I can take comfort that I won the potty training battle. I won the sleeping through the night battle. I won the nursing battle.
I’m going to win this one, too. Whether he likes it or not.
But maybe this battle is won by changing how I’m looking at it. Maybe instead of saying, I am homeschooling a thirteen year old boy, maybe what I need to say, is that I am homeschooling a thirteen year old man.
And the battle with the boy is over.