My mother recorded everything. She still does. She is a champion list-maker. Her lists have lists. They have footnotes and endnotes and bibliographies. She’s kept a diary since she was a girl, and now her closet is lined with boxes full of clothbound journals. Some of the covers are ugly—badly angled photos of cheap-looking floral arrangements, or little knobby prints of the same decorative teapot. They don’t describe her taste. This is because the covers are inconsequential, because the individual journals themselves are practically inconsequential. A single journal is like a single Borg person. It’s irrelevant on its own. From the time I was a baby, Mom kept a journal documenting my every move. If I twitched, or burbled, or wet my diaper, it was noted.
All of my first words (or at least some five hundred or so of them) were recorded dutifully. Mom didn’t curb her own vocabulary in order to communicate with me. She named my stuffed rabbit Pythagoras (I later disappointed both this rabbit and my mother by turning out to be hopeless at geometry), and explained that my big baby doll was called Augusta because it was the capital of Maine, which was in New England, where the climate supported both deciduous and coniferous woodlands. I stuck one hand down my pants and the other into the sunny side up egg on my plate and grinned.
(Pythagoras was cute. source)
In addition to keeping track of all of the words I’ve ever spoken, Mom recorded everything else about our lives together. Every book I read was noted, with a brief summary, the historically themed parties we threw are all documented and filed, along with programs from every recital and play and poetry reading and dance performance. We did a lot of stuff. I don’t even remember enough of it to convey the sheer volume, but I promise you that it was a lot. And she orchestrated all of it. She founded several homeschooling groups, organized countless clubs (science, magic, 4-H, book, nature adventures, culinary, classics book, poetry, all girls book, art, all boys book, horticultural, crafts, mothers and daughters book, fiction writing, historical fiction, and a litany of increasingly creative combinations of the above, boys and girls book not included), hosted and continues to host musical showcases she calls soirees, and ceaselessly researched and read, developing new strategies for coaxing some algebra out of a sullen teenager, new ideas for a workshop, and fresh curricula for the years ahead.
My mother is the true pioneering homeschooler, not me. I’ve never been very good at it. I’ve been fighting lethargy and chronic laziness most of my life, and it’s a losing battle.
I spend a lot of time telling myself I can do things. For the time invested in any given task I actually manage to undertake, approximately five times that amount must be expended in rousing pep talks, wheedling entreaties, and stern admonishments regarding the task. And I cannot in good conscience guarantee completion of said task. I can wash all of the dishes, as long as I leave a lone spoon in the sink. After most of Lacan’s essay “The Instance of the Letter in the Unconscious, or Reason Since Freud,” I finally comprehend one glorious, fulfilling sentence, and promptly give up in exhaustion. Occasionally I clean half a toilet.
Mom is nothing like this. Where I am merely exhausted, she is exhaustive. Other, more retiring, less motivated women always murmured confidentially to me, “I could never do what your mother does. I want to do what’s best for my kids, but I just don’t have the energy to be like her.” Some told me, “I thought about homeschooling, but I really don’t have the confidence. I don’t think I know enough.” Well-versed in the lingo from a young age, I always responded, “She really is amazing, but homeschooling doesn’t just occur in the home. My mother isn’t the only one responsible for my education. It’s more about utilizing your resources and participating in your community.”
This is what Mom would’ve wanted me to say, though we never explicitly discussed it. The women listened and were impressed, but in retrospect they were probably more impressed by my alien politeness and adult affectation than by any truth I may have been imparting. They must have known both instinctively and logically that my mother was inherently different. That she really was abnormally attentive and dedicated. They probably only made lists for grocery shopping, or maybe once in a while of the “to do” variety, with items like “remember to return Carol’s call,” rather than, “This morning, as she helped me collect squash from the garden at my request, Kate was able to spell fourteen of the twenty words I selected from ‘Eager Owl’s Spelling Time.’ Originally, I had intended to memorize all thirty from today’s lesson, but her recent short stories about the Civil War heroine Betsy, her latest character, demonstrate that she is already comfortable with the other ten.”
I’m planning on homeschooling my own kids one day (when I get around to having them). Since I am nothing like my mother, it’s going to be a very different experience. It will be disorganized. It will be completely unstructured. They will probably have stuffed animals with names like “Doggy” and “Fluffy.” Maybe they’ll get recessive genes and turn out really organized like her. Maybe they’ll start making lists of the words they’re learning. Even if they don’t, though, I can always send them over there, and she can make some lists for them.
Strangely, not being like my mom doesn’t frighten me too much, when I think about homeschooling my future children. Because I know that all of those lists, and all of the careful attention to the details of my life were Mom’s way of expressing her love for me. She involved herself in every way she knew how, because she loved me. And I’m one of those people who believes that kids succeed when they are loved and paid attention to. I have no doubt that in my own sloppy, scattered way, I will give my kids what they need to be awesome homeschoolers. I’ll also hire a math PhD candidate to tutor them. PhD students know a lot, they’re cheap, and there is no way I’m sitting there trying to explain Calculus to anyone. Not even someone I love more than anything in the world.
(one day I will wash it. source)
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Wild fun list: Write a poem about something you really hate. There’s too much love poetry out there.