These days schooling is something like a three-ringed circus with monkeys and an elephant balancing on a ball and a tiger jumping through a flaming hoop. And no one quite knows whose act it is or when the person selling peanuts will come down the aisle.
The preparations and set-up exude a false sense of hope that today things will go smoothly, today the work will get done. We go out onto the side porch where I've put a table and chairs for the big kids. We have their workbooks and folders in a bin along with their pencil box. I've fenced off the porch so the baby is contained and I've lain out a mat and a box of fairly new toys for Baby Benny.
At school time the kids drag their feet to their places and fight over their supplies. Someone gets scratched and rude names are called. While I sort this out, Benny has discovered that the side door isn't shut and he's gotten inside. I run after him and when I get back the children have forgotten their quarrel and are sticking pencils up their nose.
I give them an assignment list—usually one writing assignment, one page of math, and some sort of reading. Lee's teacher assigns about ten things a day and Rose's eight, but I've given up on that. Three things a day is about all I can handle. I motivate them by telling them that they may play "educational" games on their iPads when they're done.
They giggle and squirm as they get out their materials. In the shuffle they dump papers onto the floor. Benny sweeps in and grabs one. He begins to shake and then rip it.
I rescue the papers and get firm with the big kids. They may begin now or lose their iPad privileges. This straightens them out. Rose begins to journal utter nonsense while Lee remembers he has to go to the bathroom. I reprimand Rose and make her begin again while Benny escapes inside again because Lee left the door open. Benny is angry at being thwarted and pitches a fit. I give Rose a writing prompt, speaking very loudly to be heard over Benny. She slumps in her chair and begins to sulk. "Mommy, I feel like I hate to write because of you."
As I try to ignore this and give a sensible answer, Benny has grabbed the magnet board on the fence and yanked it off. I try to fix it as Lee comes back outside. He checks on Rose's writing prompt and she reads it to him. Benny escapes back inside because Lee forgot to close the door yet again. I give up trying to fix the magnet board and collect Benny for the third time or is it the fourth? I would let him remain inside except that he finds numerous things to destroy when on his own.
Benny arches his back and throws back his head, hitting me in the mouth, and while I grit my teeth Lee has begun wiggling the top of Rose's pencil so that she can't write straight. She finds this hilarious. By the time my mouth stops hurting, I notice a dead bee on the mat and I ask Lee to sweep it down a hole in the deck boards so no one steps on it.
This draws everyones attention, including Benny who hadn't noticed that hole in the porch until now. After I get the kids back on track, Benny drops his magnets down the black hole one by one. I sit on the mat to engage Benny with his toys and while I do, I overhear Lee copying Rose's journal verbatim. I explain how this is unacceptable and he must start over. Lee is outraged. "I feel like I'm going to destroy this!" He tears into his journal with his pencil, piercing a dozen pages, and then he throws the journal onto the ground.
I fine him for destroying the pages and while he's inside getting his coins, Rose finishes her journal writing and asks me to read it. It's something cute about when she was a baby and ran her rolley chair down the steps and her little legs were kicking up at the sky.
In Lee's absence, Benny has crawled onto his empty chair and knocked the pencil box onto the floor. The writing utensils go rolling across the deck. Our one substantial eraser falls down the deck hole.
I scoop Benny off the table and ask Rose to help me pick up the mess. She helps for two seconds and then starts rolling around on the mat and kicking her legs in the sky in imitation of herself at ten months. Benny climbs onto the chair again.
I scoop him off issuing no's and a little pinch! Benny starts wailing. Lee returns with his fine. I remind him loudly that he needs to shut the door. Did I mention that I'd been reminding him every time he went in already? Well, I had been.
After Lee helps me pick up the pencils, I send him inside to do his writing assignment by himself. He seems happy with this arrangement. I can only hope he actually does it. Rose stops kicking at the sky and shows me a cuticle that needs cutting. She tells me that it stings and is bleeding and proceeds to show me the tiniest spot of blood. Actually, I'm not sure its blood at all. I notice her fingernails need clipping and she reminds me that if she doesn't bite her nails, she can get a candy as a reward. Then she starts biting her cuticles.
Benny has discovered the gate to the backyard. I hadn't intended to let him go back there because it's muddy, but at this point I start to imagine how much easier my job will be without him. I let him go and soon I see him crawling up the side of the compost pile and throwing dirt. Rose has gotten the fingernail clippers herself so I cut her cuticle.
Lee returns saying he's finished with his journal. I read it and it is passable. Thank God! On to math . . . I'm not sure I have the strength for much more of this. The children sit side by side again and eventually find the correct places in their math books. This is common core math. They cannot do it alone. I stand over them reading their sentences and trying to explain as they half-listen half-giggle.
I spy Benny on the compost pile. He's spitting out the dirt that got on his pacifier. I wonder if I'll have enough energy to give him a bath after this. My back hurts.
I look at my watch. Only ten minutes has gone by since we started doing homework. I challenge the big kids with reading their own Math problems while I sit in the rocking chair to take a break. Benny has decided he's done with the backyard and tries to get back onto the homework porch. He is covered in dirt. I keep a hand on the gate to bar his way. He cannot come back up in his current condition.
The children do not understand their math. They need me to explain it to them. I must shout to be heard over Benny's cries.
They manage to do some problems correctly and some incorrectly. They moan and groan when I ask them do the wrong problems again. They use their pencil erasers too roughly and rip their Math books. They go inside to get tape and then do not return. I go inside to find out what's taking them so long and in my absence, Benny gets onto the breakfast porch. He treks mud across the mat. I pick him up and dust him off over the edge of the porch. I pull off his boots and sprinkle dirt into my own shoes. He grabs my hair and pulls it painfully.
I'll have to take him inside to change his clothes. As I give Lee and Rose firm instructions about what I expect them to do while I'm gone, I see Phil's face in the window. His secluded office space looks out onto the porch. He gives me a big grin and a wave as if to say, "Hello sweet family of mine!"
I don't think I responded well.
Disclaimer: I cannot reproduce the exact details of a single schooling day as they occur because they are far too chaotic to remember. But this is the gist of what happens nearly every time we try to do school. Suggestions for a better experience are welcome.