∗ ∗ ∗
Even though the Manroe family thought over their decision to homeschool for a year before they bought their first books, they’re still not sure it’s something they want to do forever.
While the children take a break, Andrea tells me, “We haven’t committed to homeschooling next year, although Chris [her husband] and I go back and forth. Sometimes it’s hard, and sometimes I want to put them back in school, just to have a break.”
Before homeschooling, she was a housewife who spent mornings at Starbucks with her friends, ran errands, and watched Grey’s Anatomy in the afternoons. She lived most days at a leisurely pace, with only the baby in tow. Still, she dreamed of the day when her youngest, too, would be in school, so she could have time entirely to herself. With the introduction of homeschooling into their lives, Andrea’s time alone diminished, and on some days disappeared entirely. She’s “on” from the time the children wake until she puts them to bed at night. Many days of the week, she does it without her husband, Chris, a fireman who works 24-hour shifts.
“He works every other day for four shifts, then he’ll get six days off. And then again four 24-hour shifts, followed by four days off. So this week, he works, Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday.”
Not every day off means Chris is going to be home. Though a former captain with the La Mesa Fire Department, he went back down to fireman when he chose to move to the Chula Vista Fire Department in 2008. These days, in addition to studying and testing for a position as engineer, he also sits on the union board, and teaches classes at Southwestern College.
“If we need any materials from the grocery store or Home Depot, I text Chris, and he picks them up,” Andrea says. “When he gets home, the kids are hopping around him like fleas, and he ends up doing the projects with them.”
Recently, he helped the children grow brine shrimp from eggs for science, and build bows and arrows out of pipe, string, and dowels to supplement a history lesson. When he’s not helping out with the schooling directly, “he tends to just help where he sees a need. Washing dishes, preparing lunch, switching out the laundry, or putting Hannah down for her nap.”
Andrea calls Chris the “enrichment-class instructor,” but it is she who maintains the day-to-day school life of their children.
“There are some things that have gotten crazier, and some things that have gotten easier. Crazier? I’m busy all day long,” Andrea says. (She never does tell me what has gotten easier.)
“But from the beginning,” she adds, “I enlisted the children’s help.”
It’s 10:30, and she leads me to the den wall, where a framed bulletin board hangs, outfitted with pockets holding little squares of paper.
“This is one way that I maintain the house. Both boys have a chore pack. They get it in the morning.” She pulls a stack of two-inch-square cards out of one of the pockets. Each has a clip-art picture on the front.
“These are Noah’s. When he gets up in the morning, the first thing he does is feed and water the dog.”
Andrea flips through the cards, explaining as she goes. There’s a step-by-step guide for Noah’s morning routine, which includes dressing himself, putting his jammies away, and making his bed. Then, he comes downstairs with an empty laundry basket, picks up out-of-place items in the family room, and puts them where they belong. After that, he brushes his hair, brushes his teeth, and cleans up the bathroom after himself.
“Joel’s, you can see, are a little more developmentally appropriate for him.” She shows me another set of cards that bear words instead of pictures. “The green ones are weekly. He sweeps the front porch, brings in cans from the curb, and,” here she groans with relief, “he vacuums! Love it.”
At night, before she goes to bed, Andrea puts the chore packs in the children’s rooms. When they wake up, they can come downstairs to eat, but then it’s back upstairs to get chores completed before they do anything else.
The bulletin board also holds a long receipt from the library in Bonita.
“This is our library-book list. When we go to the library, I take a laundry hamper. Two people have to carry it. We check out a lot of books.”
Hannah comes running into the den. “Mommy, I’m hungry!” Noah’s right behind her. “Mom, did you hear Hannah? She says she’s hungry.”
“It’s not time to eat yet,” Andrea says.
The two groan and then run off together, apparently having decided that complaining further might mean a return to schoolwork. The 15-minute break has already become 25. Andrea takes note. She shouts for the children to reconvene in the kitchen.
∗ ∗ ∗
Five minutes later, Hannah lugs a large Ziploc bag over to the counter and climbs up on a stool. She pulls cans of Play-Doh, a rolling pin, and three cookie cutters from the bag. Then she takes a lump of bright pink dough from one of the cans and uses the rolling pin to flatten it on the granite countertop.
Joel rifles through his schoolwork box, while Andrea and Noah look over a checklist.
“Okay,” Andrea says to Noah, “you have already finished your history reading and your summary. What’s next?” And to Joel, “Please don’t fold up your paper. This is work we have to turn in to your school. We keep it neat, okay?” Then back to Noah. “We have math to do today, and we have your primary phonics, your workbooks, and your flash cards.”
She instructs Noah to get his math workbook out while she retrieves the teacher edition from her own box. Once she has flipped to the right page in her book, she sees she’s made a mistake. Noah needs his practice workbook instead. Yesterday, they took a sick day, so she’s a little off schedule.