on being behind

Playmobile photo shoot


When we first made the decision to homeschool the kids, I felt pretty solid.  I’d done a lot of reading and knew the ins, the outs, the pros, the cons.  If you had sat at playgroup and asked me why we would choose to homeschool, I would have answered, mindful of injunctions not too come across as inadvertently judgmental, “Oh, the beauty of homeschooling is that you can learn at each child’s pace.”

And if it was you at playgroup, I apologize.  Because what I really meant at some level was, “Oh, the beauty of homeschooling is that my kids will be so much ahead of your kids.”

I learned to read at 4. I skipped Gr 7.  I was top of my class in university.  Clearly my children were amazing darlings whose genius would reveal itself in time, particularly in the fertile soil of my awesome parenting.

I don’t know how to describe what happened over the next few years without words like ‘comeuppance’ or ‘smack-down’ or ‘insert soft weeping here’.  Let’s just say that with their vision difficulties, my kids needed to learn to read over a period of half a decade, not a few weeks.  And while Sandra is now on track and at grade level in every subject, Matthias is not.  He’s behind.  He’s behind in large part because of who he is.  He’s been…unteachable.  Stubborn.  Hates to be shown or told.  Impatient.  A bit too fond of lazing about.

Things are shifting.  Something is percolating about inside him, because these past 12 months have slowly pulled back the curtain on a boy who’s a little better at following, at believing in himself.

In some sense, I’ve been waiting for him in a good way.  Knowing that you can’t force readiness.  In some ways, though, I have been waiting in a negative way – waiting for something broken to be fixed.  When I’m feeling defensive, inadequate, or impatient it’s easy to see the problems.  It’s difficult to see him as an individual instead of a boy the age for Gr 7 but behind in reading, writing, and arithmetic.  I need to shake myself again and again to remember that he’s an on-schedule Matthias, not a broken Grade 7.

The thing is that there’s no such thing as behind.  I know that.  I’ve written (hopefully) inspiring pieces about that.  You’re only behind if you’re on a schedule that requires you to learn a certain amount at a steady pace.  We’re people, not Model T Fords.  And people are messy, zany, odd creatures.  Why do I persist in believing there’s basically one way to be a kid/student, when it’s so clear that there are about 4.5 billion ways to be an adult?

Go somewhere public and look around.  Adults are a staggeringly different bunch of humans.  There are far more jobs than the firefighter, businessman, teacher, shopkeeper, and writer population that peopled my childhood understanding of my career options.  And then there are the personalities within the career choices: the serious and the silly, the reliable and the sketchy, the bold and the reserved, the tattooed and the mousy.

When my kids were little, I think I believed that I knew what kind of adults they would be: smart, clever, classically educated, non-conformists, probably bookish. If they hadn’t had all these troubles – if they hadn’t been behind – would I have learned these lessons about paying attention, about there being so many paths? I’m sure I would have said, “Of course!”  but if I’m honest, I think that if I had had compliant children with no learning issues I would have had more of a head-knowledge of it and less heart-knowledge of it.

Watching my children struggle – or worse, get stuck – is hard.  It’s too easy to see it as a problem, and problems beg for solutions.  “What should I be doing?”; “Let’s fix this.”  Sometimes, though, it’s really important to ask whether or not what is happening is actually a problem.  Is this a learning issue, or a maturity issue?  Is it something to fix, or just a different way of approaching reality?

I don’t have An Answer.

But I’ve been learning to remind myself to ask a lot of questions.

And I’ve been learning that there’s a lot I don’t control.  Like other people.  Like these two people.

Walking into Spring

“Wherever you go, there you are.”


16 thoughts on “on being behind

  1. Jen C says:

    I’m a new mom (I have a 6 month old) and do not plan to homeschool (although a mom-friend who does is working on me!).

    Thanks for this post – it really spoke to me about how I need to parent *my son*, not a 6 month old or a 5 year old or anyone other than himself.

    All the best to you! 🙂

  2. hopewellmomschoolagain says:

    I’ve read your blog virtually from the beginning–finding you via WTM when we first took a year to homeschool around my job. Before that we did private school since then in and out of public school. I can’t speak for Canada and her schools, but I can tell you that based on US schools your kids are soaring so far ahead it isn’t funny. I don’t know or care how they “test”–just trust me–they are. You have seen them through an incredible challenge with reading (I know how hard because my cousin’s youngest had the same sort of trouble), you’ve inspired them with your own fitness, your own learning. You’ve read great literature, created beautiful art and made useful items together. You and their Dad gave them an extended time in Europe living in another language and culture. You do trialthelons together. Your kids, thru your posts, never stop amazing me with their creativity, their sense of curiosity. That would all be gone long ago in (our) public schools. I watch in horror what goes on in there all day–or I should say what does NOT occur (i.e. learning). Your kids will be fine and will shock you in good ways in the end. My own son–who wouldn’t read for years–now reads, writes poetry & song lyrics. From my experience with him I KNOW ‘Tias will be exceptional when he decides what his passion really is. So, please don’t worry. You are doing an awesome job and your kids are far more literate in every way than their peers!

    End of hopefully encouraging sermon!!!

  3. turner08family says:

    Its the school systems that give us our “Grade Levels” and our “Ahead, Behind, and On times” and it drives me crazy! No matter what the books and schools say about what children should learn and when, its ridiculous to think that all children born between September 1st and August 31st of any given year are going to learn exactly the same thing, from exactly the same material, at exactly the same time.

  4. susie m says:

    It’s amazing how even we seasoned homeschoolers, who can write volumes about the freedom of homeschooling, still find ourselves inside the institutional box of state run education. I’ve been there myself often over the years. I agree with you and with the replies above that the “grade level” benchmarks and standards are irrelevant. They are constructed by beaurocrats and politicians whose bottom line is textbook sales and reelection. I truly believe this. (Well, at least that is so in the states.) They are designed to fit a general public, not your unique child.

    As a homeschool mom you have the good fortune to put aside those markers. I agree wholeheartedly with hopewellmomschoolagain. Your children engage in amazingly creative pursuits with you modeling for them diligence, commitment, creative spirit, passion, and much more. I imagine if you loosen the reins with Matthias he will take control of his own course. It may take time. He’s at an age that, at least in my experience of raising – and unschooling -three boys, is a period of incubation and cocooning. You may have to be patient. VERY patient. “Lazing about” is wonderful and one of the benefits of homeschooling. Important thinking happens when one is “lazing.” Perhaps you could see it as a productive activity not as an unproductive one.

    I was reminded of the book “Leo the Late Bloomer” while I read your post. You might go find it at the library. It’s so sweet and the message will ring true. Matthias will get there…just on his own time.

    Be gentle with yourself, Sarah! You are an amazing mom!

  5. Erin says:

    Great post. It’s funny, I had a coworker that used to go on and on about how they were reading as a 3 yr. old and they were so advanced in mathematics. They were working the same position that I was and I was an average student that made good grades. Does it really matter? What is it worth that you were reading by 3. I don’t think it has anything to do with intelligence or potential to become something greater than anyone else.

  6. tara says:

    Wonderful post and one that I needed to read a few years back and one that I will be rereading.
    I have a “behind” child too. Her whole life she has followed her own path be it crawling, walking, reading ect… No one noticed or cared when she was the “late” walker or talker, but as soon as she is the homeschool child now it seems I have to prove to everyone that she is learning. It has taken a lot of confidence in my child to see past these markers that society has deemed the be all and end all of learning.
    To throw me further out of my comfort zone, my second child is an advanced learner, hitting every milestone and school activity well in advance of the norm. I have been learning that they both have different strengths and weaknesses and it has been an incredible journey watching them use their own ways to get to what they need to know.

  7. anita says:

    I homeschooled our first three children with great ease. Then came number 4 and later number 7. They learn differently. They are very smart, but I had to wait for them to be ready, develop their uniqueness and great talent. And honestly, all 7 are very different, but these 2 stopped to smell the flowers. They amaze me at every turn, they have so much to offer the world, and I am blessed to have the opportunity to help them grow.

  8. Jo says:

    I have an almost ten year old who is still not reading. He can barely manage vowel consonant vowel words and cannot recite the alphabet (though he’s slowly recognizing all the letters). This post was timely and inspiring. (and alphabetizing is over-rated anyway). Thank you.

  9. Lisa Zepeda says:

    Love your post. I have my 4 learning at home as well and have homeschooled for the last 10 years (wow – can’t believe I just wrote that!). I still have those ‘manic’ moments where you just wish you could ‘fix’ something that in your philosophical mind you know is not broken. I try so hard to look at whether or not we are moving forward rather than whether or not we are here or there. Most days it feels like we are moving forward although during the odd bad day…

  10. belknits says:

    Still blown away by your honesty. Thanks for sharing. I keep learning from you! I’ll be visiting your blog more often (I’ve neglected it for too long!).
    Your nearby-ish fellow Canuck,

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