In thirteen years of homeschooling my children, I’ve gotten quite adept at refuting the claim that homeschooled kids are unsocialized and locked away from the world. I’ve pointed to their myriad of activities and the hoardes of friends who have swarmed through my house throughout the years. I’ve argued vehemently against the idea that closing out the world was our goal so vigorously that I’d failed to see that in some ways they were right, and that it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Since last June, people have repeatedly remarked on how well Ella has adjusted to her life as a paraplegic. They’ve credited both her resiliency and our parenting. We’ve given the credit to the wonderful community of people we’ve found, and the dual strength of faith and prayer. But it wasn’t until last night that I fully grasped how large a part her being homeschooled has played in her ability to cope.
I was deep into a conversation with Kelly Mantoan when I heard the words “It’s been an incredible blessing that she was homeschooled when all of this happened, because she was able to deal with it all in relative privacy.”
I was floored, even though I didn’t say so to Kelly. I’d never even consciously thought about it before that moment, and yet the truth of it flowed right off of my tongue. Homeschooling has provided a cocoon for all of our family this past year, but especially for Ella and me.
If she had been a student in a traditional school, her first day of class in a wheelchair would have been a mere 9 1/2 weeks after she’d stopped walking. At that point she was still unable to get herself in and out of cars. She struggled with her clothes after going to the bathroom, and would often sob in frustration when what had once been one of the most private parts of her life suddenly required help from other people. It would be months of trial and error, and rivers of tears before she was once again the independent girl she was determined to be.
I can’t imagine how different this whole journey and it’s current outcome would look if she’d had to live this all in front of a classroom of her peers. How would the narrative of her life be changed if she’d had to face the failings of her body alongside the prejudices and imposed limitations of her teachers and classmates? Would she have been allowed the freedom and space to explore all of the things she was capable of doing if she was hampered by the safety rules the school district has in place for students like her? I tend to doubt it. The schools can do many things, but they can’t shield you from the assumptions of others or stop you from believing them.
Someone once said to me that what’s unique about Ella’s approach to her life is that “she isn’t in a chair; she just uses one.” It’s the truest description that I’ve heard. She doesn’t view her wheelchair as a limitation. In her mind it’s nothing more than a tool she uses to get around, and a toy she plays with at the skate park. It doesn’t define her perception of herself, and because of that, it doesn’t define how others perceive her either. This protective bubble of homeschooling has given her the space and the freedom to grow slowly into an acceptance of who she has become and of how her life has changed. Without anyone to tell her how pitifully handicapped she is, she learned instead how wonderfully capable she can be.
And the freedom to define who you are is a benefit of homeschooling that you don’t have to be a kid in a wheelchair in order to fully enjoy.