Homeschooling and Mutant Orchids

Recently, my son was learning about how animals adapt and change based on their environment, and I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw how my small orchid has continued to put out roots despite my failure to figure out how to repot it into something bigger. And then I happened to see it in his science book–orchids can even grow on the sides of trees because they can take in water through the air. 

But that’s definitely not what I thought would happen as I took my pink blooms home from Walmart. Kind of like when I started homeschooling. A couple years earlier, I had ordered all the pieces to my carefully-researched curriculum and was preparing to thrive. The orchid didn’t have any mutant-looking roots. I watered it each week, even when the blossoms fell off, and I cut down the stems. 

Those first couple years, I did as much Kindergarten and first grade curriculum as I could with my son with my baby and toddler girls in tow. The girls soon grew into a toddler and preschooler who were not always happy with the amount of attention they got. They wanted it all. So we did as much life as we could all together, but whispers of “not good enough” kept washing over me, wave after wave, as things on the curriculum got skipped or didn’t go the way I had planned. The orchid was putting out roots that didn’t fit nicely in the pot. 

Then bouts of sickness came, some days and some months of not feeling well enough to incorporate any “fun” homeschool ideas the curriculum suggested. I barely got through the reading and math with my son, while also trying summon the brain power to put a grocery list together. And there was even a time when I needed help from sisters in our church to care for the kids in the afternoons so I could rest. 

The roots looked weird, and I wasn’t sure it was okay with God for my life to look so different from what I’d imagined. My husband and I questioned whether it was even a good idea to keep homeschooling. But I kept watering it, week by week with the incredible mercy, wisdom, and coaching from my friend Robin. She pointed me again and again to my need to keep depending on the Lord and encouraged me to write down our reasons for homeschooling. It helped, as I tried to keep discerning what to fit into my days with the kids. 

And the orchid kept sending out those crazy roots and eventually blooming again into way more flowers than I had walked away from the store with. But I still felt like what I was doing wasn’t quite what it was supposed to be because “what about all those other people who took orchids home? Surely they’re getting beautiful blooms without those unattractive roots splaying out the other side. The root of not getting to all they’d planned for. The root of not knowing exactly how to answer their children and make decisions in a timely, peaceful way. The root of not checking every subject-area box triumphantly at the end of the school day. 

The Lord in His kindness brought me two different books on homeschooling in the same month, and as I read (and listened on audio), these writer-moms put words to those whispers of “not good enough” and to the roots of comparison with others. They gave me a life-refreshing perspective of seeing homeschooling as a way to grow alongside my children. They encouraged me to write a “don’t do” list as I considered what the Lord has called me to for this season. They called me to really ask myself what would make me feel like I’ve done my job as a homeschool mom–if my children grow up to . . . 

As I wrote down what came to mind, I was surprised by how few of the roots in the pot (excellence in specific subject areas) made it on the list. These were roots that reached outside of standards and curriculum–like seeing my children grow up to:

  • Not just know the Bibe and about God, but love HIm and let Him be the Source from which everything in their lives flows. 
  • Treat each person they encounter with kindness and respect, be good listeners, ask good questions. 
  • Look to Jesus in their emotions and struggles, learning to accept the way they feel and go to His Word and godly mentors for truth and perspective.
  • Learn to work diligently in each role God has for them.
  • Be content with a quiet life, trusting God to lead them into what He has for them to put their hands to. 
  • Enjoy learning and exploring and trying things as a process, not an end result (success or failure). 
  • Figure things out for themselves as a process, not a success or failure.
  • Know how to prepare simple meals, shop for groceries, manage money, drive in the country or city.
  • Have a heart for overseas missions by praying, giving, encouraging missionaries, and learning a language.
  • Have a love for music, especially in worship through singing, playing an instrument, or participating in the congregation at church. 
  • Use their handwriting and written communication as a way to honor, respect, and help others.
  • Know how to do basic math and know basic math facts in order to solve real-life problems and make real-life calculations.
  • To see history as God’s story and look at historical events and current events from a biblical worldview.
  • To appreciate God’s handiwork and power and wisdom in all things related to science.

I saw that the roots were reaching for things much farther than checking boxes off a curriculum or seeing success through how one day or month or year went. They were reaching for the water in the air–the Living Water of the Good Shepherd, who guides orchids to adapt, making the roots grow how He wants. Orchids that would die without Him. 

My words for this year are: look back, trust and lead. The anxiety and struggle has been real these past few years. But as I look back, I can see that God was faithful to help, love, and bring me through every time. And as I look ahead to days and years that are unknown, I want to trust that He will keep leading me, never give up on me, and offer the grace and forgiveness He bought with His blood, so that I can experience life that is truly life forever with Him. 

But until that forever comes, my orchid will look exactly the way He intended all along. 

Homeschool Bravely by Jamie Erickson

The Four Hour School Day by Durenda Wilson