So after another chaotic day in my whirlwind of daily existence, I am taking fifteen minutes to sit and look over my five year old’s “homework” (my trial version of preschool-homeschool to test the waters). He is slowly mastering the art of basic penmanship; the precision with which he now holds and uses a pencil, compared with six weeks ago when we began this latest whim of mine, is impressive. He now knows most of his letters and sounds, most of which I actually taught him (the larger part of his education up ‘till now has been through osmosis, as he is my fourth child). He also recognizes 25 or so of the first 100 sight words, which we practice in the towering stack of library books we replenish weekly. We spend about an hour a day working on a few worksheets, while I balance checkbooks or tabulate expense reports. We follow it up throughout the day with educational library videos during carpool, books snuck in at banks and bedtimes, mathematics in the grocery store and volleyball games using whatever manipulatives are handy, and for the most part it has been…wonderful! It has been a bit of a trick to remind myself to spot learning moments throughout our busy days and, in the beginning, to establish the habit and fight some of the whining that accompanied the emergence of “Mom’s clipboard”, but now I find my son enjoys our quiet time in the seclusion of my laundry room-office. We make him a desk with random coolers and file cabinets, then bask in the quiet and luxury of our special time, while my toddler naps. He doesn’t fight or whine when he sees me grabbing worksheets; it is just another part of our day, like dishes and watering the garden. I now am able to enjoy the feeling of accomplishment and pride in the incredible amount of work we have done together in such a short time, knowing that not only am I capable of teaching my child, but it can be pleasant. I am able to juggle one more responsibility in the ever-growing and changing criteria that is my job as mom, caregiver, seamstress, maid, cook, accountant, nurse, animal trainer, painter, and gardener. I am now also a teacher. I know that the demands will increase and vary with each school year, and I am now confident that I can master this just as surely as I mastered the demands of PTO, weekly spelling tests, and pre-algebra. I am capable of rising to whatever challenges arise, and yet, I am still riddled with concern and doubt as I toy with the idea of homeschooling my last two children. I know without a doubt that my first three have grown up so quickly and that I have missed too much of their childhood while they are away at school. My qualms with public school, do not involve the faulty system, overburdened teachers, relentless standardized testing, or increases in public school violence. My children are good students, in spite of all of these things. They have excelled in the public school system. We have had plenty of learning moments and stumbles, but we have always taken every challenge for what it is: an opportunity to grow. We have met countless children, teachers, and administrators that we now consider friends, beautiful memories, role models or even family. We have been blessed with great experiences that have helped to shape my teenagers into responsible, funny and intelligent young adults. But it has been bittersweet, because I have been absent or on the sidelines for so many of those moments. I do not want to squander the last few years of my journey as Mommy, being behind the scenes. I want to be in the trenches, side-by-side with my last two babies as they trek through all of the life experiences that will shape them into the adults they are to become. But now, how do I overcome the last obstacles and worries that stand in my way: the financial shadow that hangs over the home, business and life my husband and I have created? The relentless pressure to push the limits of our meager household budget to accommodate more years away from the work place if I homeschool our children seems to be more than I can stretch out of my grocery fund. Am I being selfish in my desire to BE with my children at the expense of our retirement fund? When do you quit letting your children be your priority? The answer seems to elude me, just as surely as the name for the letter Q constantly remains just out of the reach of my five year old son on his letter worksheet. So we pull out one more practice sheet, and I struggle with the weight of the knowledge that we cannot afford for me to homeschool our children. A handyman’s pay is not enough to cover the extra burden, no matter how many homemade meals I cook, DIY projects we attempt, or fashion trends I ignore. I am hiding from the fact that as much as I want to be with my children, to be a participant in their childhood, don’t all mothers? Is there a working mother out there who wouldn’t love to spend more time with her little ones and less with her coworkers? In my quest to find the right path to tread down, I ask my oldest son THE question. He is a quiet, introspective young man who loves his history and literature, but avoids the large crowds of lunchtime in junior high. He is a dedicated French horn player and band student, yet he veers away from the spotlight of recognition for his work. Of all of my children, I believe he and I would have loved homeschooling together to pour over our shared literary interests and passions. So I ask him what he thinks about his younger siblings and if he had it to do again? I am aware the pressures of junior high are mounting for him and the conflicts with other students have arisen more frequently the last few years as the pecking order is established in the rowdy halls of his junior high school. I am waiting for him to confirm that he would have preferred to have stayed at home with me in the protective solitude of our home where we could indulge in cookies and gritty classic novels or to dig deeper into the mysteries of Hawking and the expanding universe, but it never comes. He doesn’t even hesitate when he tells me he would do it all over again. He would confront the bullies and teasers, he would drag himself out of bed on the earliest of mornings, he would sit through the testing and categorizing and labeling, because he tells me, for the most part it has been good. The friends and adventures, the teachers and classes, the clubs and the study groups. It has been good. He thinks I made the right choice. So I allow myself to push aside the guilty burden we all tote around as mothers. Perhaps he is right. They have always been my priority even if they haven’t been inside the same walls with me, day in and day out. I remind myself of all of the joy and all of the positive experiences that have encompassed the growing up of my older children. We have met and loved so many families through school clubs, sleepovers and band practice. I have learned to be the mother I am now from all of the incredible women who have been a part of raising my children up until this point. They have shown me ways to parent that never would have occurred to me and allowed me to see my children from angles I never would have been aware existed. They have encouraged me when I have been worn out and laughed with me over silly childhood antics. For this band of mothers in minivans with coolers and fold-up chairs in tow, who don’t homeschool their kids, love their children every bit as much as I love mine. We too, can bask in the accomplishment and pride that we have taught our children valuable lessons, skills and virtues through our shared time, love and attention. Perhaps my perspective has been wrong. Perhaps it wasn’t the sidelines after all, but the trenches of motherhood I have been surveying my life as a parent from. My companions aren’t my children but the other mothers, teachers, grandparents and coaches who have been at my side. Through our carpools and kids swaps, co-room parenting and shared school lunches, we have become the village that are educating and enlightening my children. We are great mothers and educators. I am fortunate to be a part of this close knit community and perhaps it is time to quit trying to walk away from it and embrace everything that has made my children who they are. It may not be the quiet office filled with the sounds of my five year old counting, but these memories are just as precious, infused with the images of my children at Christmas parties, field trips and spelling bees among their friends, which I will lovingly recall in the midst of the women who have stood by my side. The women who will ring in graduations and weddings and grandchildren with me. For we are all spectators in our children’s lives, occasionally allowed to share special moments, celebrate victories or cry over failures with them, but the moments are more fleeting as they become the independent and responsible people we have groomed them to be. The ones who will remain with me as my children drive away to jobs, universities and spouses just over the horizon will be the other mothers, my friends and confidants. Perhaps I will allow myself the satisfaction of enjoying the journey that lies ahead and worry less about what has passed. I will enjoy the shared memories of forgotten lines in school plays, first homecoming dances and tearful phone calls at birthday sleepovers. For the truth is that however I educate the last of my children, it will not slow the pace of their childhood or how quickly it all comes to an end. If anything, it will probably only go faster with the mounting demands and extra responsibilities of having another child who is school age. So I will not lament what I cannot change, the inevitability that they will grow up, that we must eventually live in a two-income household. But I can change my perspective, to that of a mom surrounded by my dearest friends, watching our beloved children grow, learn and flourish as we rush to meet the school bus each morning.