It is spring time in the city, and Chicago is coming back to life. Walking through my neighborhood you’ll see folks selling cotton candy and coconut water. Our park will be full of a beautiful mix of Muslim, Christian, and Orthodox Jewish children playing alongside each other. The basketball courts will be covered with teens and you can find pickup trucks parked on the side of the road selling strawberries and watermelon. Windows are thrown open and the streets will smell of spice.
But as all city parent know, it is also the beginning of the mad scramble for school spots. Ours is a complicated system full of lotteries, testing, tiers, and luck. Right now we wait for phone calls from schools that are not our normal neighborhood school, hoping to secure a spot in a school with a better faculty to student ratio, test scores, smaller enrollment, or better programs. We keep track of all the statistics and hope we receive letters offering us spots. Sometimes you get one, sometimes you are wait listed. Here’s where the fun begins.
If you are wait listed at a school you want, you keep in contact with them and see how your chances are. You start praying that some of the kids offered spots move so you can snag theirs. Then you just wait for a phone call. Any time from May up through the first week of school you might get a call. If you don’t, you are left with few choices, the most popular being your neighborhood school, your local Catholic school, or homeschool.
We were never going to be a homeschooling family. When we moved to Chicago five years ago, we spent a lot of time choosing where in the city to live. We picked this neighborhood because at the time it was the most diverse zip code in the country. We drove by the school and saw all the kids playing outside and I was in love. The principal told us that 40 languages were spoken here. This is where we wanted our kids. Salt and light and missional living and all of that good stuff.
But then it’s time to enroll your kid, and you know their personality and learning needs and all of the sudden a school with 900 kids isn’t going to work. So this year we homeschooled my oldest. It was absolutely the best decision for her and I am glad we did it. But another year is upon us, and now my middle daughter is ready to enter in so we are left with new decisions for them both.
I want this to be an easy decision, but it seems weighty. I’ve given up on the term, “missional” – we instead have simply become part of our neighborhood. We talk and share stories and glasses of wine and help each other out. We know names and have phone numbers and do the things you should do, not because of ideals, but because of this crazy and radical idea of loving your neighbor (this guy Jesus once said something about it). Our holidays consist of three pounds of potatoes and extras of everything because you never know until you sit down to eat, how many people are coming. We open our home to small groups. We’ve been there for births and for deaths. We’ve seen relationships begin and held hands as others ended. It’s just being part of community.
I want to deepen our relationships; I want to strengthen them. Not because this is how you grow a church – it’s just how you walk with Jesus. You love those around you and invest in their lives.
Our choices feel bigger than just what’s best for our girls. I question how we can be part of our neighborhood without using our neighborhood school. Does homeschooling communicate a lack of trust in God, or are we just doing what’s best for our kids? What is best for our kids?
I don’t have the answers yet. I wish I did. So today I’ll take the kids to the park. We’ll sit out front, blow bubbles, and talk to our neighbors as they walk by. We’ll bake some bread for the ones who just moved in and play with sidewalk chalk.
And we’ll wait.
Brenna D’Ambrosio is a former children’s minister and preschool teacher, now a homeschooling mother of three feisty and imaginative little girls. She spends her time doing pastoral care at her church, writing, teaching her girls, baking bread, and watching Sherlock. You can find her at brennadambrosio.com where she blogs semi-regularly on the subjects of faith, brokenness and redemption, city-living, and Christian feminism.