Pretty soon, the pictures will start. They will be adorable: all gap-teeth and grins and fancy dresses, shiny new backpacks and scrubbed faces. “BACK TO SCHOOL 2017” the little white chalkboard will blare (Where the fuck do moms get those chalkboards? At the secret mom store? I missed that video in L&D). “MARLIN GRACE GRADE 3, BAYSON GRADE 1,” or Marlin Grace and Bayson will each hold a perfectly lettered sign done either in Mom-curlicues or that dot-at-the-junction-of-each-letter writing.
It will proclaim their favorite color (red or blue, pink or purple — one kid each year will say rainbow and he will be my hero); the aspirational job they’ll never hold in this new economy; their favorite food and pet and teacher’s name and whateverthefuckelse their mother wants to save for posterity. There will be pigtails and sweater vests. It will be totally adorable. It will be half-nauseating and half-heroic, this effort, this desire to capture a sliver of childhood.
Meanwhile, in my world, we’re wearing pajamas. School started at some amorphous time in August we can’t really pinpoint because we did it so gradually, like one subject at a time, and we didn’t really realize it was school until we were reading 200 lines of “The Aeneid” every morning and breaking out Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. Because we’re homeschoolers. And what’s back-to-school to the rest of the world is generally business as usual for us, which is both amazing and depressing.
Take museums, zoos, anywhere you take your kids during the dog days of summer. We do school in the morning and outings in the afternoon, like most homeschooling families. So all of a sudden, our regular haunts are stunningly, gloriously empty. No more screaming kids flinging sand in the dino digging pit. No more yelling children calling the gorillas monkeys, which deeply offends my 5-year-old emo kid, who says witheringly, “It’s an ape.” They do not hear him because 10-year-olds are conditioned not to listen to 5-year-olds, especially 5-year-olds who look like they just turned 4.
So we’re grateful the crowds are gone. We can wander hand-and-hand — run even — through the zoo, stand and talk about the exhibits in the museum without being thrust forward by the crowd.
But with back-to-school comes the field trips. Oh, the field trips. They are never adequately chaperoned. They are louder than some rock concerts (and I’ve seen Nine Inch Nails live). They are dressed identically, and teachers are screaming and someone is yelling about lunch and a group of kids is barreling over my 3-year-old.
I get it — the kids are so excited to be out of school. Mine would do the same damn thing. But for kids not accustomed to the spectacle of short people in identical T-shirts shouting about everything and nothing all at once, it’s a little bit overwhelming.
Back-to-school does mean that our homeschool co-op starts. That means that I have to actually rouse the children from bed every Friday morning — an effort for kids who usually sleep as late as they want — then scramble to dress myself, a feat not usually accomplished until noon, slap on makeup, gather our supplies, pack lunches and lunch accoutrements (knives for spreading peanut butter, baby wipes, plates, forks for fruit cups). For a mom who has never had to do this, this is really fucking hard, people. Then we drive over to a church for some good ol’ fashioned classroom instruction and socialization. My two older kids have ADHD. Co-op does not offer an IEP. It can get interesting.
Back-to-school also means the same thing it means for the rest of the quotidian, school-going universe: cheap fucking school supplies. They’re like catnip to a tiger.
Except we don’t have some expensive-ass list (instead, we buy expensive-ass science experiment kits, so don’t get all envious). We don’t need binders. We don’t need pencils because my children disdain them in favor of those black gel pens, which may be more expensive than cocaine. We buy tons of 79-cent watercolor sets and gallons of cheap glue for slime experimentation. That triple-lined small child paper is purchased, as is whatever else strikes our fancy: new crayons! Boatloads of markers! Pantloads of safety scissors! Doesn’t someone need a fucking protractor? Someone needs a fucking protractor. Hell, let’s buy two. It’s bliss.
We come home. We play with our new school supplies. And I open my Facebook and scroll through the back-to-school pictures. They make me a little sad. I think about posing my kids on the front steps. What would it look like? Three boys in their pajamas, bedhead intact, holding signs: BLAISE READING: GRADE 5 MATH: GRADE 1 SOCIAL STUDIES: WHAT DO YOU WANT TO KNOW ABOUT THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR? SCIENCE: ALL THE THINGS. AUGUST: READING PRE-K MATH KINDERGARTEN SOCIAL STUDIES: CAN SING HAMILTON SCIENCE: SPINOSAURUS; EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY. I’d have to write really small. It wouldn’t fit neatly on a sign. But then again, that’s sort of the point.
I know it’s not for everyone, but it’s awesome for us.