The rites of passage we didn’t have, and the ones we did.
During this season there is always an online flurry of activity from parents whose children are graduating from one grade to another, starting a new stage of their education and the pride and joy of the parents is palpable. I understand feeling that sense of love and excitement over my children’s’ achievements and I wholeheartedly celebrate with my friends and family. Since we have always homeschooled, however, there are experiences my children have not had, that we as parents have not witnessed.
My oldest is technically entering middle school this year. There was no 5th grade graduation to attend, no tours of middle schools to debate and select, no sense that we were really moving into anything different than what we have always done. When I remarked on this to him, he mentioned that if it was important to me I could get him a graduation gift and make a fuss. Considerate of him. Still, this is momentous. He is moving into adolescence and into a stage of life where he is becoming more peer centric, autonomous, and private. It is a rite of passage.
My youngest would now be old enough to enter the school system as a Kindergartner this year. The problem is, she decided a year ago that she was a Kindergartner (fueled by the entrance of her best friend into K, no doubt) and has spent the last year rigorously learning to read and do math. It is useless for me to determine a grade for her. She is almost reading full books and is very close to starting math concepts that would be considered second grade. She also has an incredible amount of energy and personality, so it has come very easy to her to direct her own education. Still, she is entering the grade school years and the world is opening up to her in extraordinary new ways. It is a rite of passage.
I grew up attending a private Catholic school that ritualized every achievement. We had a ceremony and a mass for everything, so it is strange for me sometimes to miss those public moments of acknowledgement with my own kids. But we have found our own ways to celebrate rites of passage, just not the typical ones. We start every year with cake for breakfast and a personal gift from me to my children that symbolizes something special that I love about them and that is the way I present them. For example, this year Parker will get wooden and metal puzzles because I love how logical and strategic he is. Simon will receive a comic book drawing set to reflect his burgeoning art and storytelling skills. Lucy will get a magnetic alphabet tracer in cursive because she is “dying” to learn cursive. She says it is fancy and reminds her of Paris. I adore how she makes anything her own. We also end every year with a special day of their choosing, from sun-up to sun-down the answer is yes. Even within the year, holidays and not, we find ways to create rhythm and tradition. For me, it has been more about creating memories and celebrating our family’s adventure than focusing on an end goal. Because, really, there is no end. Learning, exploring, and achieving should be life long.
What has been most meaningful for us has been watching them grow into themselves as we move along this homeschooling journey. Not just the moment they learn to read, but the little moments of progress that gave them confidence and motivation. The 2 hours we spent talking about whether or not a country should keep nuclear weapons. The brainstorm we had around what acts of kindness we could achieve every week to give back to a world that needs every show of compassion we can give. Their first successful batch of cookies made entirely on their own. The love and interest they show in their great-grandmother and her life, especially during WWII in Italy. The interesting mix of awkwardness and excitement when we meet new friends and watching those relationship grow. Moving up a level in dance or Judo. Finally playing a song on the piano from start to finish that they worked for weeks on. The family meetings in which we discuss and determine what they want to focus on this week/month/year that are so clearly a reflection of children who are empowered to participate in their own learning and understand that they have the ability to create whoever they want to be.
Those larger public events make sense to me. They are a meaningful rite in a system in which the parents want and need to acknowledge the progress of their kids with the teachers who served as the guide. I think some homeschooling communities may do something like this as well, but I have not seen a lot of that here. We all decided we don’t really need a ceremony for those moments anyway, because each moment is it’s own little celebration. Each year has been such an incredible experience for us, both in our successes and in the things we decide to do differently moving forward. So there may be rites of passage we don’t have, but oh! the ones we did make it all worthwhile.