On Sunday, I went home for Father’s Day. (I’m still at that transitional phase of life where I have two homes. When does that end?) And Bear couldn’t come because he had to work. It was the first time in a long time that I’d gone home without him. It felt kind of nice, if I’m being perfectly honest. Not because it’s better without him, but because it felt like being a kid again. Unpartnered, with my family, sitting around the long wooden table like any other evening over the course of the last twelve or so years.
Within five minutes of sitting down at the long wooden table, I was fighting with Mom. It was a stupid, unnecessary fight. As most of them are. She was passionately warning me to be careful with my thinking, to hold my tongue. I was arguing vehemently for my right to speak honestly with my own family. MY OWN FAMILY. I MEAN, REALLY. As usual, my brother Gabe was laughing and refereeing gleefully, and Dad was alternating between serious interjections and a helpless smile at the absurdity of the exchange. I was cracking up with Gabe and then getting offended by Mom, and Mom was dead, dead serious.
At one point she glared across the table at me and said coldly, “You don’t know anything.”
“Anything?” I said.
Gabe howled with laughter. “BURNED! You’re the dumbest kid she has, and that’s saying something! How’s it feel, MRS COLUMBIA?!” (He likes to point out the Ivy League bit of my education whenever I do something stupid or, apparently, am accused of being hopelessly ignorant.)
“Gabe…” warned Dad, smiling.
“OK,” Mom conceded, “I mean, you don’t know anything about this.”
Gabe is eighteen and a force of nature. He is dangerously quick-witted (much more so than I can capture in writing, because I’m not even close to as clever as him), and stubborn, and is always laughing at the world.
He left to pick Jake up from the train.
“Can I speak with you alone?” Mom asked me in the stiff, weary tone of one whose own authority has become a burden.
“Oooh….” said Dad. “You’re in trouble!” He departed in the direction of the pool.
“Dad,” I pleaded, mostly for dramatic effect, “Don’t go! Don’t leave me!”
And then we were alone. She repeated all of her previous points. “You already said all of that,” I said belligerently.
“No, I didn’t,” she said.
“Yes, you didn’t,” I said.
“No,” she said, furious, “I didn’t!”
“Why are you so angry?” I said.
“I’m not angry, Kate,” she said.
“You sound really angry.”
“I don’t sound angry.”
“Clearly, we have a disagreement concerning tone,” I said, snottily.
In short, it was a mess.
And it felt just like old times. These days my mom and I get along really, really well. And for the most part, we’ve always gotten along. But that hasn’t prevented us from having a lot of fights. She is incredibly opinionated and tends to think she’s right. I am like that too. I mean, I’m her daughter.
(my mom and I, wearing the same earrings and necklaces)
I married a man who never crosses that line. He almost never raises his voice. He has somehow learned how to assert himself without insulting other people, and he likes to debate, without it ever being personal. I married a man who is nothing like my family. And I haven’t fought in a long time, as a result. It’s been nice. Strange, but nice.
Coming home without Bear, I suddenly remembered how volatile I am. How quick to retort (even when it’s not a good one). I had forgotten how fighting worked. How rapidly it escalates, how enjoyable and infuriating it feels.
And this is the stuff that I always feel like I can’t write about. Like I can’t mention. Because of homeschooling.
Because when I talk about being homeschooled, I don’t want people to think that there is anything wrong with my family. It gets too complicated.
But the (totally obvious) truth is, my family is just a family. Full of flawed, stubborn people. Fabulous, brilliant people, of course. But people. And we fight. And the fighting is stupid. It shouldn’t happen, but it does. And afterwards, we forget almost instantaneously and laugh hysterically over dinner, and go for a swim. But the fighting is still there.
“Your family must be really different from mine,” a friend said to me the other day. “My mom would’ve driven me crazy if I was homeschooled. We would’ve fought all the time. You’re lucky your family wasn’t like that.”
“Well,” I said, “I am lucky, but…”
“No, really,” she was saying, “Not everyone can homeschool. Not everyone has the right family for it.”
My family is probably not the “right family for it.” Or maybe many more families than would describe themselves that way are the right families for it.
In order to homeschool, you don’t have to be perfect. And when you’re doing something really different from everyone else, a little stubborn opinionatedness might just go a long way. Sometimes you’ve got to have a little fight in you