Every now and then you find a stick that walks. You don’t find one every day so when you do, it takes you back a little. You see what looks like a very thin stick. But appearances are deceiving. It’s not a stick. It moves slowly and carefully sometimes. It appears to be tuned in to its environment. It responds to air movement and touch. It’s an insect. You see this, you know this, but you stare at it a while because it looks remarkably like a stick.
I live in a little house in the big woods of Virginia. My house and airbnb cottage are both surrounded by trees, so on the ground off to the side you find the typical forest floor mess: fallen branches and tree trunks in various stages of rot, leaves from years ago next to the ones that fell yesterday, acorns by the tens of thousands, clay that tries to pass for soil, stones of all sizes, dried up seed pods.
Guests at the cottage not long ago, a super nice couple looking to be in their 30s, had two daughters aged 4 and 9. One morning I awoke to the sound of delighted squeals outside that went on for at least five minutes, the girls clearly having found something that had their attention and wasn’t moving too fast. On the ground next to the cottage they had found a walking stick.
From my bed I imagined they had found the turtle that visits the garden now and then, a specimen just as comical as a stick that has eyes and antennae. Regardless, I basked in their reaction to it. I didn’t need any actual words to tell me they thought something was very cool. The delight of discovery. How many of us can say we have we have had such moments recently?
The family was here for a “Homeschooling Day” at Monticello. In the brief interactions I had with them, I was not only impressed with their approach and dedication, I was reminded of the many years that homeschooling was our life, our choice. Here was a family in 2017 doing what was completely within our scope of “normal” back when you didn’t have a cell phone. I was reminded of why it seemed the best thing to do, some good advice I got and what I did to keep myself on the right track.
The first thing I understood about homeschooling was that it’s not for everyone, and therefore the first thing I had to decide was: Is it right for me, and if so, why? In my own head I had to justify the decision and something told me that sooner or later I would be called upon to state these reasons to others.
Very early on, my friend Crissie and I went to a homeschooling seminar. Among other helpful bits of advice, the speaker said that a time would come when you, a well meaning, hard working, homeschooling mom, would wake up in the middle of the night, fretful, panicked even, and say to yourself: What was I thinking!!??
That’s when you will need your list. Make a list, he said, and post it on your fridge until you have looked at it so many times that you can see it in your mind’s eye when the same fretful thought occurs to you in the grocery store or the park or your car. Make a list of the reasons you choose this path. Keep it simple, unwordy, short. If you have thought it through carefully, your list will serve you well over time. It will be the anchor that holds you fast when your boat is tossing about.
I did what he suggested. In a nutshell my list of reasons defined my approach, my values, my priorities. It helped me better evaluate and often say no to competing approaches, values and priorities. I posted it until it etched itself in my brain and became such a part of me that I hardly remembered I had a list any more, in fact didn’t need it. I trained myself without knowing it.
So much about my homeschooling experience parallels other situations. How many times have I thought — about other important decisions: Stop, think, articulate your reasons. Of course I don’t always do it. Time is short! But a good list of why you’re doing anything will serve you well.