“Read”

When my saintly mother took it upon herself to homeschool her beloved firstborn child (a.k.a. me), she had but a single goal in mind: To make me love to read. If she managed to accomplish only that much, she figured, she could pretty much retire.

            “On what possible premise could she base such an idea?!” some scandalized audience members may exclaim. Well, how about the verb itself? The numerous definitions of the word “read” are riddled with phrases that smack of education: “To examine and grasp the meaning of”, “to discern and interpret the nature or significance of through close examination or sensitive observation”, “to receive or comprehend”, “to study”, “to learn or get knowledge of from something written or printed”… Pattern established, and conclusion obvious: When you love to read, you cannot help but learn.

            My mother understood this, because she is kind of a genius. And under said kind-of-genius’s tutelage, I learned to love to read.

            People who love reading are addicts. You couldn’t keep me supplied. Thank goodness for regular trips to the public library, or who knows what would have become of me. It was a rare occasion when I came back from such a trip without at least one book, and far more likely that I’d have anywhere from five to a dozen. I was Roald Dahl’s Matilda, working my way through the kiddie corner until there was nothing left to tackle but the shelves dedicated to the big people. I was Disney’s Belle, looking around to see if there was anything new in since yesterday. No? That’s alright, I’ll borrow this one. That one? But you’ve read it twice! …A-a-and now we bring it back before this turns into a full “Beauty and the Beast” quote-fest.

            I learned that library cards are not only free, they’re priceless.

            People who love reading are not picky. I would read anything (more or less), anytime (except while sleeping), anywhere (no exaggeration, actually), because to do less made me sad. Books came with me in the car on errands. Books came with me inside the buildings where those errands were housed. (Come on, you know there’s always a wait time. And on the off-chance there isn’t, there’s always reading while walking.) Books came under the bed sheets with a book light, because the only thing more fun than reading is reading when your parents think you ought to be getting a healthy amount of rest. And when there weren’t books immediately at hand, there were magazines. And cereal boxes. And labels on cans of air freshener.

            I learned that if you want something desperately enough, you’ll find creative ways to get it.

            People who love reading are escapists. Those minutes snatched to read just one more page in between the demands of life were minutes well spent inRiverHeights, sleuthing with Nancy Drew. Or in the billiard room, with the candlestick, wondering whether Colonel Mustard or Professor Plum had done old Mr. Body in. (Yes indeed, that board game spawned a slapstick mini-mystery book series, and I ate it up.) Or in a magic attic with the girls’ club named for it. Or back in American history, meeting Addy, learning a lesson with Felicity, saving the day with Josefina. I went all kinds of places, experienced all kinds of adventures, looked over the shoulder and got in the heads of all kinds of characters. I had so much fun getting into stories through the door marked “Readers” that I wanted to see what they looked like when one stepped through the authors’ entrance. So I invented my own places, devised my own adventures, and resigned myself to having my own characters perpetually looking over my shoulder and taking up permanent residence inside my head.

            I learned that I don’t only love to read: I love to write.

            And someday, some book I’ve authored will be in competition with some can of air freshener for some person-who-loves-reading’s eager attention. Air freshener’s going down, baby.

“Homeschool”

When I was a precious tyke of five, or so my mother tells me, I was ready and eager to head off and seek my fortune in the public schooling system. Trouble was, my birthday came particularly late in the year – too late, apparently, for the local schools to accept me until the following year. I wasn’t interested in waiting, and neither was Mom, so she decided “to instruct [me] in an educational program outside of established schools, [specifically] in the home”. In other words, she homeschooled me.

            Since that pivotal day, The People have wanted to know: Did I go to school in my pajamas?

            (Could someone please explain this obsession with getting away with life in one’s pajamas? This is one of many things I’ve never understood about the world.)

            Other FAQs included something along the lines of:

“So… what grade are you in?”

“How do you make friends?”

“Is it weird having your mom as a teacher?”

“Do you wish that you could go to regular school?”

            I’ll start out by putting an end to your slow death by curiosity, informing you that yes, I did sometimes tackle my lessons while wearing pajamas. And I gotta tell ya, it really wasn’t all that. Algebra is algebra, no matter your ensemble. And all else being equal, I’ll usually prefer to be dressed.

            As for the grading system, we barely bothered with it. My classmates (a.k.a. sisters) and I learned new material whenever we’d gotten the knack of the old stuff. The incorporated workbooks, computer programs, and videos might have been aimed at any grade, from that comparable to most other children our respective ages, to high school or college-level students. To simplify life in the world outside, I would generally claim whatever grade matched my age, but it was basically a worthless answer to a silly question.

            …Not as silly a question as the one about making friends, of course. Was I seriously getting asked how I met people by people who had obviously managed to meet me?? I was homeschooled, not a prisoner in solitary confinement. I left the house all the time for lessons of all sorts – dance, gymnastics, horseback riding, ice skating, piano, theater. I joined an orchestra with MYA (acronym, “Midwest Young Artists”). I took tons of park district classes for art, acting, some “fit kids” thing where they ran you up a hill. I went to church. I chatted up kids in the grocery store parking lot. (Seriously, I ended up getting invited to two of that girl’s birthday parties.) Strange but true: You don’t actually have to lock up a child in a classroom full of children their age for three seasons out of four to gain them friends. Socialization doesn’t have to sound like a nightmare.

            Talking of nightmares, you know those kids who want to die of shame after having accidentally called their teacher “Mommy”? Never worried me. Mommy was my teacher, and I forgave her for it. She listened patiently as I sounded out a story, syllable by syllable, and she made mathematical word problems comprehensible. She recorded herself reading my piano instructor’s notes for me when I couldn’t be bothered to decipher cursive writing, ending every directive with the pleasant command, “Turn off the tape, and do that.” She encouraged reading and writing and drawing and viewing edutainment like “Kratt’s Creatures”, “Bill Nye the Science Guy”, and my favorite forever, “The Magic School Bus”.

            Ah, school buses… The real reason that I ever wanted to go to public school in the first place, I’m told, and therefore one of the very few features of public school that ever caused me to feel that I was possibly missing out. School bus rides, field trips to outer space and under the sea and inside a classmate, food fights… my lack in these areas was my only regret. (And having subsequently ridden in a school bus and decided that throwing food everywhere is wasteful and gross, my list of unrealized dreams shortens.)

            I liked being homeschooled; probably would have enjoyed being unschooled, too. (More on unschooling here and also here, for the curious.) And I’m proud to represent (homeschoolers unite!) as a living refutation of all those bizarre stereotypes that would have you believe that homeschoolers are a special brand of uneducated freak.

            …Not denying that I’m a freak, mind you. But I’m thinking that’s mostly genetic. Thanks for everything, Mom.