Tag Archives: homeschool dad

What’s the Point?

A few days ago, while practicing the fine art of homeschooling my two children (ages 11 and 12), I had one of those moments that makes me ponder the meaning of life. And then my daughter quickly showed me the meaning by posing a very pointed question. She did this in much the same way the ancient Greek philosophers would, I imagine. “Socrates, what is the meaning of life,” asked Glaucon. “Well, friend,” replied Socrates, “One’s true purpose can only be gleaned when he knows when to hold ’em, knows when to fold ’em, knows when to walk away, knows when to run…” “Socrates,” replied Glaucon, “that is some grade-A horse shit.” Yes, it was one of those days.

As a homeschooled student many years ago I knew the maxim of all great homeschooling families. “Adjust the program to fit the child, not the child to fit the program.” As such, I tell my kids every day that we have never “fallen behind” nor do we “rush ahead” because every day we are doing exactly what I want us to be doing in that moment. I also tell myself that my daddy isn’t dead. He’s just on a farm upstate and he sends me emails from time to time; and that 1:00 is a perfectly acceptable time to consume one’s daily ration of gin.* Such flights of fancy are the right and duty of every father and indeed teacher for as long as man has sought to enlighten himself in this noble undertaking called education. See, there I go again… Education – noble. Heh.

On Monday I decided we should do math. Yes, “do math” as if it were a hard drug and we were heading to a rave. I realized that we had put our focus over the past two weeks on other subjects. And THAT’S OK. I’m teaching them and they’re learning. But I did think it was time we return to Mr. Saxon and his repetitive number-crunching, Canal Street shell game. I scanned through the ten lessons I wanted to “catch up” on and surmised that, due to the material being largely review, we could indeed skim through those lessons in an afternoon. I failed to take into account two things. First, my daughter has a limit as to how much she can absorb in a single setting on a Monday afternoon. She is, after all, 11 and not 43. Second, math sucks. There I said it. Sue me.

Who knew a bunch of lines, letters, and numbers could lead to a life lesson on love, tenderness, and blind rage?

We started out stronger than I was two years ago when I was banging out pull-ups like it was my job. That was a reference to me having gained “COVID weight” and “gotten fat” and “become a lardass”. My kids come up with such creative nicknames. Daddy has feelings, you know. The first 9 lessons were all the same. “Multiplying Fractions”. “Multiplying Mix Numbers”. “Multiplying Improper Fractions”. You know the drill. For the record I did not require them to complete ANY of the problem sets. I introduced the lesson, pulled a few examples which we did on the board, and we moved on. Everything was going smoothly.

And then we hit lesson 72: “The Coordinate Plane”. What was this garbage? Lord… OK, Tim, we can do this. By the way, I’ve been writing this blog for 11 years. That’s my real name. Harvey was our family housecat when I was growing up. Tim’s are pretty awesome guys. Our friends rely on us. Our children look up to us. Our wives adore us. We’re funny and as dependable as a Labrador Retriever. Sorry, I keep digressing. Anyway, my young lady was having none of it. She started to take on the persona of a homeschooled kid who’d been force-fed too many math lessons at once. Or like Cardi B. I can’t decide. “Sweetheart, what’s the matter?” I asked. “I don’t understand this!” she said, frustrated. I tried walking her through it to shrieks of “but why is this line ‘X’ and that line ‘Y’? Why not the other way around?” I tried to reassure her that it was simply the way it was and that it might have meaning if we only got through the lesson. Her voice started raising, heaving its way toward me across the table with the force of many men. Like a hungry army of barbarians on the march toward demolishing Rome, her ire tramped closer and closer. I was honestly scared. I may have peed myself a little. Nope, I definitely peed myself.

Finally, I gave her a set of coordinates and pointed to the plane on the page. The coordinates were – and I will never forget this as long as I live and probably halfway through my time in Purgatory – 3 and negative 2 (3, -2). “Look, find 3 on the X axis,” I instructed politely while salivating over that gin and tonic I had mixed in my mind. Her finger begrudgingly traced its way across the axis three ticks. “Good, now find negative 2 on the Y axis.” Rolling her eyes so loudly the US Geological Survey was calling me to get the seismic measurements, she pulled the same finger two lines down the page.

We stared at each other for a moment. It was intense.

Finally I said to her, “Great job! You found the coordinates!” To this my baby girl replied with a simple and almost whispered, “And what do I do now?’ So I told her with an imbecilic grin, “You put a point on it.” At that moment all the fury of hell emerged from her precious face. “That’s IT?! Seriously? Are you kidding me?!?!?! All that to drop a point on the page?! Here, look Daddy, I can put lots of points on this page!” As she said this she was simultaneously slamming her pencil into various, un-coordinated points on the graphing paper. Her frustration unleashed as it was, she began to crack up with laughter. So did I. Her’s was the kind that comes from exuberance after a long-delayed release. Mine was from fear.

We did not do any more crystal math this week. I furthermore instructed my daughter that she could always tell me when she’d had enough. “If you said you were hungry and I force fed you for two hours, you’d probably explode,” I told her in our post-blowup peacemaking session complete with cup of tea. “Likewise, you can tell me when your brain gets full too.”

I think we closed out the school day with a trip to Taco Bell. My life is normal, right?

Something BIG is Coming…

Miss me?

I kind of did as well. I just checked and it seems that my last entry on this blog was posted March 1st, 2020. That’s “pre-COVID” if you hadn’t figured it out. I guess, like a lot of people, I was just focused on other things for the past few months. It’s the height of irony for someone who loves to document life. Think about it. The most bizarre year of any of our lifetimes comes along and I can’t bring myself to write a solitary word about any of it.

I believe in the silence, we sometimes find answers to the big questions in life.

These past five months have been a blessing for me. They have been filled with many wonderful memories – memories that, for now, will remain untold on these pages and bound up only in the collective mind of my family. You all know by now that this blog has been a way to document the life of my family as my kids have been growing up. Don’t worry, they’re not quite grown yet. There are many more stories to record and to share.

But I think these times God gives us – times like a national lockdown – force us to confront the question of what is most important in our lives. For me it has always been God. It MUST be God. He is at the center of all that I hope to do and be – “my first beginning and last end,” to quote the daily missal. To love is to sacrifice, to give oneself to God, whole and entire. We do this in giving ourselves to our spouses, our children, the Church, society. I have always harbored a desire to be loved. It is a desire with which I have struggled in many ways. And yet I know that it is far greater to love. I hope that my love for my wife and kids has shown through in the hundreds of thousands of words I’ve committed to this space over the years. But to love them means to sacrifice myself for them. Now I am preparing to embark, for them, on what is perhaps my greatest task in life fully realized. Let me tell you.

Christ, the Great Teacher. “Suffer the little children to come unto Me.” (stained glass, Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic church, Newark, NJ)

Two things in particular have happened in the past few months to spur this realization. First, there were the hours and days and weeks spent with the kids. My wife works from home in a cozy office off the back of the house. We try not to disturb her during the work day. But yours truly is a school administrator/teacher. We got shut down. Just like every other parent in America I found myself suddenly teaching my own kids. My situation was a bit different. For starters, I had always wanted to teach my kids in a formal setting. It’s why I went to work at the school were I did – so the kids would be with me and one day I would have them in class. I know, I’m that dad. Although they say they think that’s a “cool” idea now, I’m not sure how they’d feel in high school. And I have even reached “Master Dad Joke” level within the International Society of Dad Humorists so I was just waiting to lay puns and set snares with an intellectual bent that would make anyone’s head explode. Yet here we were, unexpectedly getting that chance; while I was simultaneously teaching other kids online and helping to run a K-12 school.

Three months. We did this for three months. We got creative and got plenty of exercise walking around the neighborhood or riding our bikes. We laughed. We cried. We struggled. But it was sooooo worth it.

Another thing happened recently. This one affected me more than the kids. Two weeks ago one of my older brothers committed suicide. He had a wife of 27 years and two grown kids. I will never understand why he did such a thing. Please pray for his soul and for his family. Something shook me about this. Did the lockdown mess with him? He was one of the most social creatures I’ve ever known? There’s no sense trying to find an answer, though. It is over. It is final. Pray for him. When I say something shook me, I mean that the fragility of life came to the fore of my own life once again. We’ve lost so many over the years. We cannot go forward as though all is doom and gloom. Yet at the same time we have to use these moments to focus on what is truly important, just like we might see good in the lockdown if we understand that we got more time together as a family. Don’t get me wrong. I think the lockdowns were useless and politically motivated and you can call me a nut but the curve was flattened a long time ago. Nonetheless, it gave me time and his death gave me pause to reflect.

I have one solemn charge in life and that is to get my wife and kids to heaven. I need to teach them their faith and about the world around them. I need to pray with them every day, go to mass with them every day like my dad taught me. I need to give them everything I have. And I’m the one to do it. Just look at me! Every moment of my life prepared me for this. And right now you’re asking what I’m talking about…

Wait for it…

After fifteen years in education as a teacher and administrator, after more than a decade of documentary blogging, after years of working in broadcast media, having served varied school communities, television networks, and a brief stint driving live lab mice to the airport; I am leaving it all behind. Starting in a few weeks, I will be the principal of my home. Since I was only ever vice principal, I guess I just gave myself a promotion. My two kids will be getting up with me every morning to do what is most important – praise God and live out our family life together – while I teach them the “Three R’s” and try to keep them away from Mommy’s office. I’m excited beyond belief. I know I can do this. I hope they’ll be cooperative when the going gets tough. And you my dear readers, both of you, already know that there’s no way I’m starting this new chapter in my life without chronicling all the gory details. Look for a new blog to start soon (either right here or under a new domain). And if you have any friends (like the million or so Americans who are also crazy enough to try this same stunt) who want to follow and read along, send them my way. The adventures of a now-former vice principal who quits his job to be a homeschooling dad might just be anybody’s cup of tea in these insane times.