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One of the funniest memories I have from growing up is how nervous my Mom would get on weekday afternoons, especially in the spring or early fall. We were homeschooled, and the morning had been spent memorizing lines of Dickinson, charting the countries of South America, or pulling our hair out at Algebra.
Aside from the pajamas, there was nothing about our school mornings that really made us different than our public schooled friends. Afternoons were a different story. The local kids arrived home from school a little after 2—3 at the latest. Our homeschooled regimen, though, built in time for free play and activity in the early afternoon. But Mom was always nervous about our going outside. “Don’t go outside until later,” she would say, before offering this priceless line that has been repeated in our family for years: “You’re in pretend school.”
School - Mom - Families - Kids - Lunch
By “pretend school” Mom meant that she didn’t want neighboring families to see a couple kids outside after lunch and assume they just didn’t “do” school. We were some of the only homeschoolers we knew in our rural town (there was a small network of homeschoolers that met occasionally), and Mom felt the pressure to keep up educational appearances. She feared what might happen if someone who knew nothing about our bookish mornings and playful afternoons saw us having a good time before we should be. “Pretend school” very quickly became a humorous euphemism for our self-consciousness as a family that did things a little differently. Even as a kid, I could sense how high the stakes of public parenting can get—and just how tricky it can be to navigate them.
Parenting is arguably one of the last remaining cultural institutions in which we are constantly invited to feel worse about ourselves and yet better than other people. Everyone...
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