Long ago, I was homeschooled. I say long ago because it feels like a very long time ago. Since graduating, I've become a different person. It's easy to think I'm not anything like the 17-year-old who graduated from a school we named after my brother. It's comforting, at least. It makes me feel more normal. That's what I used to tell myself, because I didn't think I could have friends being homeschooled. I thought my LEGO bubble was where I belonged, and it actually got comfortable. Then I changed the way I thought, because that wasn't actually doing anything.
I've been wanting to write about being homeschooled for a while. Right now I'm flying to Los Angeles from Toronto, and what better time to write something than this? The turbulence has subsided and the dry air is making me thirsty. It's perfect.
There was a meetup
The first memory I have of being different — because let's be honest, I was different — was a homeschool meetup in Crowley Lake, a town my family moved to when I was eight and near which I spent the rest of my secondary education. There were three or four families at the meetup, and I thought they were pretty weird. I had been homeschooled all my life up to that point, so the part where I did all my schoolwork in my humble abode wasn't a foreign experience. This meetup thing was.
All the best memories of homeschooling I have are from studying by myself. My sister didn't even do school with me. She sat at the desk to the wall parallel mine. We faced away from each other. I kind of liked that part, because I got to do my own thing and didn't have to talk to her. That's why this meetup thing just wasn't working for me. The people were probably nice, I just remember the environment being forced and the goal being "socializing". Looking back, that was a terrible goal. You can't make kids socialize — they do it themselves when all their parents are not in the room.
My mom didn't like the meetup much either. That's what I gathered from her decision to not go to any others. Looking back, I'm sad that happened to her because I think the community would have been good for her. She didn't have much support homeschooling us. Mammoth Lakes, the larger town near Crowley, only has a population of 8,000, and most parents chose public school. There was a smaller private Christian school, but it was more expensive than homeschooling and has since disappeared (though I hear they still do middle school stuff).
They asked how we made friends
The most common question I would get when I told people I was homeschooled, back then and now, is how I made friends. When I was younger, I made up different answers every time. It's not like I would tell people I didn't have friends. I had Tang. He was my imaginary Boy Scout-esque companion. When I went to the chalk bluffs, he joined happily. Best friend ever.
My childhood was a lot like The LEGO Movie. I built a lot of things with those crafty blocks, and with Mega Blocks. Forgive me, purists — thousands of LEGOs are not cheap. The characters I created, mainly taken from films I watched, were incredible. I built a castle from scratch using battleship parts at least 10 times, and the minifigs happily stormed it with their pseudo-weapons. I welcomed the Bionic reign. Once I saw The Lord of The Rings, I set out to build Helm's Deep. It didn't end up working because I didn't have any fancy blocks other than the ones from the battleship, so I built the same castle again.
I was given a rare chance to make friends when I staged a revolution against my parentals, as my sister would say. For a few weeks one summer, I made a large case for attending Crowley Christian, that exclusive club of religious zealots I mentioned earlier. (Just kidding. They were pretty normal people.) It was all about a girl named Kristen. I was 12 years old, so I had lots of complex feelings about women and I knew what I needed be happy. So I asked my parents. And I asked again. And after much musing on their part, I found myself walking two small town blockish things to the school.
I think I lasted three weeks. That's the same amount of time it took me to convince my parents this school was perfect me. I left because a kid named Tanner didn't like me. Actually, none of them liked me. I didn't even wear glasses when I was 12. Maybe it was the lack of a beard.
All of my classmates went to the same church as me, so I spent time with them outside of school. I was excited to spend even more time with them, and there were some cool memories. The best one is about a water bottle. Not an ordinary one, of course. Amy liked Fiji Water, so she brought one every day. Daniel and Zack wanted to have some fun with the bottle, so when Amy left the classroom for a few minutes (and apparently our teachers weren't looking) they hung it from the fluorescent light using string from an art kit. I think they drew a face on it with a sharpie too. Then they started chanting "Hang Fiji!" and everyone else joined in while I stared in disarray. I was a very literal type, so I didn't participate in laughing matters. Still, best memory of that year by far.
I ended up leaving because I didn't connect with any of the other students. I can see why — I was trying all the wrong things. I didn't even know what to try so I just did whatever came to mind, and since it was middle-high school, my peers weren't very open. They either liked you or they didn't. The usual. So I moved on, crying as I walked away. My one chance at a social life was gone. And my chance at hanging out with Kristen more was gone forever. We had that one dance at a wedding and I thought we would be together forever. It was so close.
When I was 13, I started working for David at a local woodworking shop. I cleaned things, fixed computers from time to time, shoveled snow, and learned a bit of the work ethic I have today. I cleaned on Friday, and most of the guys only worked four days a week, but I got to spend some time with Matt on occasion. He had opinions I hadn't heard before. It was nice. I wish more people were that intentional.
After the private school disappeared, a small portion of the crowd went to the public high school in Mammoth. The rest were homeschooled like me. Finally, I could make some friends! I was really intentional about it too. I found all the things they liked and became interested in them too. I asked questions and had opinions. My only flaw was I talked too much. I had things to say, after all. I spent most of my time talking to no one or being scared of saying some things to my parents. This was my chance to be interesting.
My pursuit of interesting made people less interested in me. Most of my friendships, while something more than imaginary, aren't anything like what I have now with a few people in my life.
I know there's a large element of maturity to all this. Matt used to talk about maturity a lot. It was a word my sister and I used all the time. My parents used it too. All the people I wanted to hang out with were "immature" because they didn't accept me into their circle with open arms. They just didn't understand us, people would say. I took all this as a compliment. I thought I was better than them. I still felt rejected, but I had some pride in being more mature because that seemed to have some value.
By the time I did make memorable friends, I was 16. I graduated before I turned 17, so this was pretty late for friendship to come along. I got better at conversation through my jobs, of which I had quite a few. I was a lifeguard during the summers, a retail sales associate in the winter, and a snow shoveling dragon in the true winter.
Lifeguarding helped me with some social skills, but I still didn't feel very confident. Getting rejected by people you look up to — the popular kids — can mess things up. I have much different thoughts about popularity and all that now, but it scarred me for a long time. I had very little confidence in social situations, and when it came to asking out girls I just avoided it entirely. That's because Kristen wasn't interested. So obviously the rest of the world wasn't either.
I went outside sometimes
People have this grand idea about homeschooling: More time to have fun. I suppose it can be. If you can get your schoolwork done faster, it is. I always did. I think school took me a max of six hours a day. I usually started at 7am so I could spend the afternoon building my crank flashlight for when I needed to run away from home. I built a lot of forts where I could, but sagebrush really isn't the most accommodating for such things and I didn't get sponsored by the parents so I never got to dig that tunnel under the town like I dreamed of.
I spent a lot of time watching old TV shows once the prohibition was lifted. We had a screen time limit at one point, but I don't really remember what it was. I watched every episode of Hogan's Heroes, The Andy Griffith Show, Psych, House, and so many others, at least five times with my sister. TV was our interaction with the world. Which brings us to...
Get out of the house, and don't move to a small town
The one recommendation I will make for those thinking about homeschooling their kids is to not live in a small town. If you must, make friends. Seek community everywhere. Spend time in coffee shops with your kids. Have them do school there. Go to the library and talk to the homeless who spend their time on the computers there. Don't get stuck inside your house. Don't create your own world. That's where I got stuck.
The diversity of Crowley wasn't very special. We had some black and Asian folks at least so it wasn't purely white. The thing is, visiting a city was always a shock for me. I love cities now, but at first it was just way too much. When you spend all day in a comfortable and controlled environment with very little spontaneity, it's hard to adapt to something different.
Another issue for me with spending so much time at home base was building memories growing up. I didn't have very many. Lots of them were repetitive things like fort building. It sounds adventurous and all, but people make it even more memorable. If I wasn't alone for all those activities, I think I would have a lot more memories.
My parents did try to get us out of the house. Sports, of course, were the answer they thought. I personally like writing, playing piano, photography, and any other type of art. So sports are definitely not part of that kind of picture. I spent a season playing soccer and loved it, but for some reason I never went back. My dream was to play baseball, which is what my dad played when he was younger. His knees got hurt because of it, so maybe he was afraid mine would too. I never got to play baseball for a season.
Then we settled on swim team. Of course, the one thing I had no interest in at all. The cool kids played football, which of course I hated. My sister and I joined swim team when I was 13 or so. My parents really did think it was good for me. My sister liked it, but I didn't make a single friend in the years that I was on the team. Most of the team was made up of girls, and even though there was apparently one who liked me, I didn't pick up on that and ended up being miserable for several years. I even hurt my knee doing dryland exercises. Classic!
Then came college
Eventually I went away to college. I was tired of the small town life. I ended up just running away, really. It lasted a month. I live with my grandma in Salinas and attended the community college in Monterey. I have a lot of memories from that month. I didn't even make any friends that I talked to past it, but a lot of stuff happened and I really like it looking back. I dropped out, though, because I was discouraged. I was 17. I should have been there. My parents thought it was a chemical imbalance. It was a social one.
I actually attended college during my last year of high school. I got high school and college credit at the same time, which was cool. I also wrote my first essay when I was 17, in a college English course. I got a 75%. I read it a month ago and it's terrible. The professor should have torn up the paper and burned it.
All my college experience, other than when I moved away at 17, was online. I used the Moodle system for everything and enjoyed it. Eventually I moved to Santa Barbara, where everything changed. I didn't even think much was happening at the time, but I feel more confident than I ever have and I learned to stop caring what people think and stop trying to make them think I'm cool. Invaluable stuff.
What I got from the difference
Well, we're landing now. I've been writing this for the past 45 minutes or so. To wrap things up, how did I get to where I'm at today? I work remotely for a fantastic company and I get along with almost everyone I meet. I still haven't dated anyone, though, so don't feel like you're missing out on an exciting life. I learned most of my social behavior from a guy named Josh Wray. I spent about a year working inside a coffee shop in Mammoth where Josh was the manager, and I watched him every day. Everyone liked him, and I felt good every time I talked to him.
So in conclusion, I stole the way I interact with people from a guy who worked at a coffee shop. You can too. I'm not sure how friendly your baristas are, so it's best to take things one step at a time. But seriously, take your kids to a coffee shop. Do school in a park. Climb a mountain with your schoolbooks. And ask random people to join you. Don't make homeschooling a convenience thing for you as a parent, make it an awesome experience for your kids. I know that's not easy, but you will both have a lot more fun.