The Back to School Posts we love to hate


This is the time of year when all THOSE back to school posts start cropping up. You know the ones, the ones where the parents are gleeful, jumping around, almost hysterical with joy that their beloved offspring will now be carted off to industrialized education for 8-10 hours per day, leaving them free to live their lives? Those posts. And, as a proper homeschooling mom with my requisite three wild, un-civilized, and completely un-schooled children, I have to kind of hate those posts. What, you hate your own babies that much? You’re that uncomfortable in their company? But, you know, there is an up-side to those posts, albeit sort of a small one. The secret is this:

All those little darlings will now be off locked in their industrialized educational establishments, leaving the rest of the wide world open and uncluttered for me and my feral offspring to wander around and pillage as we wish.

I am not sure that the world is getting a better bargain this way. The world would be better off with lots more industrious wild children, starting small businesses and getting into mischief, learning things in the real world and becoming useful citizens long before the System has decided that they are allowed to do so. But, hey, I didn’t make the system.

We are decidedly out of place in the real world, and as August turns to September, people begin to Get Suspicious. At first, we may just be charter school people, starting a bit later than everyone else. They’re willing to cut us a little slack when we suddenly appear at all the local attractions, brand-new season passes in hand, looking a little shady in our ratty t-shirts and shorts combos. But past Labor Day, all bets are off– we are immediately on the watch list. People begin to Ask Questions.

The first one, as they dubiously eye my very robust pack of blonde sons, is “Are you all home sick today?” My sons, being of a sardonic turn of mind, just give them dubious looks in return. They may ask each other, with an excess of glee, whether or not their brother is sick, and if it’s just “in the head.” Sometimes, when the inevitable winter sniffles are in play, we can get a pass just on this question, as the 3 year old turns a green-boogered nose their way and they draw away in horror. It’s a terrific defense mechanism, if somewhat disgusting. I don’t let him do it on purpose, I’ve just never found the secret of staying ahead of a toddler’s runny nose. It always drips faster than any Kleenex can stem.

If initial countermeasures are ignored, the people may begin to notice other Disturbing Signs of Nonconformity. Wait, that kid with the blonde hair all the way down their back? Is that a . . . boy? It doesn’t look very girlish. I’ve never seen a girl in a Minecraft t-shirt with knees that skinned-up. It may be a boy. Wait, are boys allowed to have hair that long? Not in Texas, they’re not! Something is definitely wrong. And that muscular one, the one with the defiant glint in his eye, his attitude is not beaten-down in the least. He definitely has never had to stand in a line or ask permission to go to the bathroom. These are not children enrolled in school! I saw them here at the grocery store just the other day, hanging on the edge of the grocery cart and buying suspicious vegetables and herbs. They may even be hippies.

But, no, the mom isn’t much of a hippie. Too scary looking, tall, and with too much eyeliner. Some kind of Satanists, no doubt.

But we merrily go on our way, haunting the aisles of Target and Hobby Lobby, shuffling through Home Depot for supplies for yet another project, grocery shopping in an unending loop, making trips to the parks and zoo and restaurants and wherever else we find ourselves wandering. And talking, talking, talking the whole time. That’s the secret of learning– conversation. No, not just the fierce “You’re a (insert mild cuss word)” that you hear from the backseat when you’re driving and they don’t think you’re paying attention because Rage Against the Machine is playing too loudly. Real conversations, about the vegetables you’re buying, the meals we’ll be cooking, the history of the area, the machines and inventions we are passing, idle thoughts that have developed into pressing questions, and arguments about the virtues of video games. (Let’s be honest here, it’s 2017 and video gaming is king of all attractions. We limit it but it’s always THERE in their heads.)

This year, I am really looking forward to it. The baby is, well, not very much of a baby anymore. He’s 3, and filled with questions of his own, besides being the same physical size of your average kindergartner. He’s easier to transport, can get himself into his car seat, and can walk for longer stretches of time now. The other two are capable of doing many things for themselves, and can help out with many tasks, too.

As soon as the weather breaks . . . that’s my mantra right now. As soon as the daytime highs are in the low-90s and the nights drop down below 70, into that dreamy 60 degree territory that gives us at least a couple of hours of coolness in the morning before the heat really sets in– then, ahh, the havoc we will wreak. The places we will go, the things we shall do– hiking, biking, bird-watching, fishing, taming the Hellhound, gardening, exploring, drawing everything we see, learning to paint watercolors, and having grand adventures in state and national parks. Plus cooking a bunch of brand-new recipes to replace all the boring ones we’ve been stuck with for so long. And baking! Once the heat isn’t so awful, we can actually use our oven again! And afternoon teas, served with homemade treats. Sucking down Darjeeling with the boys, yeah, that’s my idea of a good time.

And so many books, books all the time. Books about history and art and music and philosophy and religion and literature of all sorts. Books on tape and books read curled-up next to the sofa, snug on the cowhide rug (which has become something of a pet for them, weirdly.) Books for the baby, with glorious pictures of real things, and books for the boys with big glorious ideas and stories that break your heart.

Gosh, I feel so sorry for those parents who are shuffling their kids off to “real” schools. You don’t know what you’re missing. Sure, there’s some bickering and the occasional day where everyone is vomiting and miserable, but everyone has those. We also get the glory of tramping around in the snow, whatever brief time it may appear, without worrying about missing the school bus. Or reading “Alice in Wonderland” while we bounce on the trampoline– a more appropriate place cannot be found. Baking muffins at noon because we want to have some at teatime, getting in the truck and going off to wander through the Halloween costume aisles of different stores because we really love that crap, spending a morning with some questionable science experiment that is a complete disaster but they had great fun anyway making a huge mess (although not as much in cleaning it up.)

And maybe, because I don’t have a “real” career anymore, we can’t afford all the things we’d like to have, like new cars and lots of fancy clothes and a skiing trip to Vail, but I do have these brief precious years with my children. And, I will tell you, as a woman whose body has already thrown up cancer in her face once, that’s infinitely more valuable than any new car could ever be. So I drive a 14 year old Suburban that has seen better days, and my wardrobe is becoming more and more homemade as I learn to sew, but . . . I have this, this amazing journey to go on. I wish more of you would make it with your children. It’s not perfectly easy, and you have to think for yourself, but just imagine . . . imagine the possibilities.




New Book Release!


Available now on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited! “Momma Sang: Finding my Mother in her own words” is a collection of my mother’s short stories and articles which she wrote in her late 20’s. My mother, Theresa Melody Carter, passed away in 1990 from complications of leukemia, the same disease that took her own mother’s life thirty years before. These stories were written for her college literary magazine and newspaper, and they open the door on the mysteries of a mother that I lost much too soon. I’ve written a brief introduction for each of the 11 stories, but the real lyrical beauty is in my mother’s own words. Her descriptions of life in rural Arizona in the 1960s are like a glimpse into a lost world, a world of rattlesnakes and wild horses, faithful hound dogs and devastating losses. It’s a world where Waylon Jennings was just an unknown disc jockey in a nowhere Arizona town, and a red-headed Okie gal chopped cotton, tended bar, and sang songs to her children.

15% of the proceeds from this book will be donated to research to cure rare diseases.

Life Won’t Wait

In addition to being the title of a favorite punk cd of mine, “Life Won’t Wait” by Rancid, (“Black Lung ” and “Crane Fist” being my two favorite songs thereof,) “Life Won’t Wait” is a pretty good motto for reality as it exists. No matter how much we may wish that we could put life on pause at times, it just keeps roaring past us. And like people trapped on foot in the middle of a freeway, it’s disorienting, terrifying, and sometimes lethal.

I feel like I’ve been in the middle of that freeway since the beginning of the year. These recurrent bouts of illness are messing with my plans in a big way– every few weeks, I am just DOWN. As in, I can barely force myself out of bed long enough to do the things I absolutely must do, and every moment is spent in agonizing pain. A week of medication usually beats it back into its hiding place, but it will be back. Sometimes within a couple weeks, sometimes in a couple months. Maddening.

In between, man, I can get some stuff done. Got my novel finally edited and published, started serious work on two other projects, read through a huge chunk of the world’s greatest literature, redecorated and renovated a big part of our home, sewed multiple outfits, put in two complete gardens started from seed, took the family on a major vacation, and homeschooled the kids.

Then I get sick and everything grinds to a halt for another week.

But life just doesn’t pause itself while I’m ill. This week, I am trying to help my son finish up his requirements to get into the college that he wants to go to, rushing here and there to get documentation and vaccinations and all kinds of stuff like that. Trying to get my handicapped daughter into a good day program now that she’s out of school and taking her to appointments. Trying to get a stupid broken filling fixed that I’ve been dealing with for two months now. And meanwhile, the weeds and the watermelon vines are taking over the garden, my herbs are a disaster, the kitchen is too dirty to cook in, the laundry is way behind, I have a half-finished dress still sitting with pins in it, and my closet looks like WWIII was fought inside it with Playmobil figurines.

It’s incredibly frustrating, especially as our whole lives are about to change dramatically. Two of our adult kids are going to be going to school, and at least one of them will be moving out of the house. Maybe two. We’ve got to do some more major renovations to the house, on very little budget, in order to make it ready to sell. We simply don’t need this particular kind of house anymore, the two-story five-bedroom and three-bath kind. The little boys quite happily share a single room (especially now after the renovation and the new loft bed addition.) Miss Autism needs her own room, but that only leaves us needing a three bedroom place. And downsizing to a smaller house could save us some money, so we could, you know, save money. That’s something families with 7 kids don’t usually get to do very often.

But life blazed on past and now four of our seven children are actually adults. One of those will never be independent, of course, but the other three are off on their own adventures. With a little more money, we could afford to hire a part-time caretaker for Miss Autism, which would give us a little more freedom to travel and camp. The little boys are growing up quickly, so we want to pack as much living into these next ten years as we can.

Life isn’t waiting. But I feel like I’m kind of trapped anyway. My bloodwork didn’t come back too good last time– I’d go so far as to say that my numbers went about as far in the opposite direction as they could have gone. So we’re trying a medication change, upping the dosage of my thyroid meds, to see if we can drive those numbers back down again. And, meanwhile, I wait. And take my pills and try to sneak in some of my iron tablets when they won’t interfere with the thyroid meds, because my anemia is back in force. It doesn’t make you too confident in your body, you know, when something else is going wrong every time you turn around.

But life isn’t waiting. And neither am I. I will get these things done, by hook or by crook. Even if I have to attack the watermelon vine with a machete and slosh a gallon of bleach all over the kitchen floor. And I’ll get other things done, too– I want to make a craft with the boys, I want to start exercising more, I want to try cooking some new meals because the old ones have grown so boring that no one wants to eat them anymore. The kids need their schoolwork restarted for fall and new books bought and studied. And I WILL do these things.

But, just in case it’s as difficult as I fear it will be, put in a good word with the guy upstairs, okay? Maybe for a little bit of grace, a little bit of healing, and a whole lot of faith. Because faith in God is the ultimate, and the necessary, but you’ve also got to have faith that you can actually DO the things that you’re asking to do. What good is it to ask for favors you don’t feel you can live up to? I just want to Do the Things.

In and of themselves, they’re probably not too important. My kids will certainly not die for a lack of a Victoria sponge cake to celebrate Sunday dinner. My marriage will undoubtedly survive even if our wedding anniversary is the same disaster it’s been for the past 25 years in an unbroken stretch of failures and random weirdnesses. My husband is a good man who will not mind overly much if we just buy him some boring present for his birthday and not, say, tickets to Aruba.

Life won’t wait. We’re all going to die sooner than we’d like. I just want to feel like I tried to make it count. Like it counted for something. Like I tried.