“Eclectic homeschooling.” I remember the day I stumbled across that glorious description and my heart said, Yes, that’s us! The term fit us as perfectly as our fuzzy alpaca slippers fit our feet in the humid Limeñan winters.
A Limeñan is a person from Lima, Peru, and that’s where our family finds ourselves. Living in a city of 10 million people all squeezed into an area of about 1,000 square miles. We Minnesotans––all four of us––packed our bags back in 2011 when we felt God calling us to be missionaries, and we’ve now made our home here in this urban jungle. It’s dirty and crazy and chaotic and smoggy and thrilling and full of daily adventures…and there’s no place else we’d rather be.
But when God asked us to move on down, we had a serious concern. Hey God, you remember that our eldest has special needs, right? So, if you’re calling us here, you must have a plan for Madeline. Promise that you’ve got her??
Third world countries aren’t exactly known for their stellar government programs or care for people with special needs, and Peru is no exception. Homeschool was nowhere on our radar at that time, and we really wanted to enroll our kids in great, local schools so they could learn Spanish, learn culture, and make friends. We were extremely blessed to find an excellent bilingual IB school for Macy, our second daughter, that she will graduate from next year.
And for Madeline, after a few months of tutoring with an American we met who was living here, God led us to a small school for children with special needs. It was a complete answer to prayer and is where she attended for four wonderful years. At that point, the school lost their teacher who spoke English (it was important to us she was educated in both languages), and a few of Madeline’s close friends left the school. She lost interest and suddenly stopping make any progress. We didn’t know what to do.
The idea of homeschooling came up, but I had never seen myself as a “homeschool mom”––which in my mind meant a mom who was one of two things.
Homeschool Mom Option #1: super organized (think Enneagram type 1) with charts and crafts and themes and daily activities and outings all planned weeks in advance.
Homeschool Mom Option #2: super hippy beautiful and endlessly patient with their kids, always singing and smiling and reading poetry and the classics while her children draw paintings of leaves and flowers, right after feeding the chickens in the morning.
The mom I am: very weird, always butchering sayings (“the apple doesn’t fall far from the sun”), loves to take hours making color-coded schedules…and then promptly tossing them out for spontaneity, can’t do crafts or art projects to save my life, very intellectual and philosophical and an avid reader, but then laughing at (and often initiating) all jokes involving poop and farts. Oh, and I’m a pastor.
We travel a fair amount with the work we do (seven trips for me this past year), so my routine gets broken up frequently. We live on the third floor apartment of my in-law’s house with a total of ten people, and we host 8-10 mission teams a year and also host Latin America pastors who come to visit or attend conferences. (My husband is a speaking pastor at our church and also coaches churches throughout South America.) Our record is 31 people in our house at a time. Lots of noise, tons of interruptions.
Lima is a desert and has very little in the way of green spaces. Trying to interact with nature is challenging, at best. The tiny “park” across from our street has a little soccer court and a few benches covered in pigeon poop. We affectionately refer to it as “the dog toilet,” because our neighborhood has tons of dogs and it essentially never rains here (an inch a year), so nothing gets washed away. Word to the wise: don’t sit on the grass.
I’m also a writer, a teacher at our leadership institute, a pastor over our missionary internship, and a teacher at our safe house for young women coming out of abuse, or addictions, such as self-harm or eating disorders. I love my wild and varied life and didn’t see how homeschooling could possibly fit in, especially in a city with so few options of things to do with kids and so little nature to explore.
At the time, I was also over communications and customer relations for a locally owned group of auto repair shops based in Minnesota and did my work for them remotely from Peru. I knew that if I was to homeschool, this was the piece of my life I would have to let go of, difficult as that would be.
My husband and I prayed and then we knew. It didn’t make sense on paper, but we just knew it was the right decision. So in October of 2016, we took a deep breath, I quit the only one of my jobs that paid me, we pulled Madeline from school, and I began.
That was two and a half years ago, and I’m shocked to say that Madeline has progressed more in the last two years of homeschool than she did in the previous four years at her special school. She loves “Mommy school” and wakes up every day excited to begin. I chalk it up to the sheer and utter grace of God and live in a constant state of thankfulness.
Don’t get me wrong––every day isn’t picture perfect. My nearly seventeen-year-old has all the hormones and body and sass of a teenager mixed with the intellectual capacity of a seven-year-old, and that makes for some pretty exasperating (and hilarious) moments most days.
She carries a purse with her period pads on one arm and a baby doll in the other arm. Madeline dons pink and purple sweatpants whenever possible and a giant braces-filled smile absolutely everywhere. She has clinically diagnosed anxiety, yet she meets new people all the time and is one of the bravest girls I know.
Our days are filled with a thousand questions about what is next and what is tomorrow and what is the weekend, and a thousand moments of silly laughter as we make up weird stories and songs to understand what we’re learning.
We learn what happens to be peaking her (or my!) interest that week and tie it into our reading and writing. She has dyscalculia, so math is slow going, but we have found an amazing program called Mathseeds, that progresses at a perfect pace for her.
God has given us an amazing missionary friend who just happens to be a former special needs teacher (I love you, God!!), and she teaches Madeline for me on Thursdays so I am able to get needed writing projects done for the church. She also fills in for me when I have to travel, and I don’t know what I would do without her. Katie, you are a Godsend.
Madeline turns 17 in two months. Next year her sister graduates. The other day she asked me, “Mom, are you going to teach me homeschool forever?” “No, not for forever, honey,” I replied. “Well, then what will I do?” “We’ll figure it out when we get there, baby.” God has led us into so many unknowns and miracles and unexpected plans…I have no doubt He’s got this next piece figured out too.
He has taken this Homeschool Mom Option #3 and somehow used me to do what I deemed impossible. My beautiful, little big girl is growing and learning and loving it. So if homeschooling is something you feel deeply called to do but you can think of a thousand reasons why you can’t––join the club of the three’s. Ask God for grace. Be yourself. That’s all your kids want you to be anyway.
(And if you need some extra help, let me suggest beginning here on my beautiful mom #2 friend’s website. I don’t know if she has chickens, but Ainsley one of the smartest, most amazing homeschool moms I know. She inspires me endlessly and in another life, I would be her. Check out her website and brand-new book! https://www.bewildandfree.org/)