A Health Class Lesson on the Road

I often wondered what the drama looked like to a person in their home with the windows open, when Sierra and I walked by having one of our epic ‘conversations.’

“There goes LIFE. There goes a parent with a child, evolving and learning about themselves and their lives and I was privy enough to witness the evolution.”

Sierra always walked about 5-10 yards ahead- body language showing that she was ahead – ahead physically, which she hoped would give her the edge psychologically and emotionally. Why doesn’t she just trot away and leave me? I sometimes questioned. Wouldn’t that show that she WON? She usually stayed and fought the battle- which never was a battle in my mind but I could see it was in hers.

She yelled. She didn’t talk. No matter how many times I tried to tell her the whole world could hear her. She yelled back to me- as she tried to trot into adulthood- not quite leaving me behind and certainly keeping me within earshot. What a metaphor for her whole life with me as her mother- as all daughters and mothers.

It did not really matter what the topic was. This time it was Health Class. She was not home schooled long enough to have built up confidence in her choices, so she used to check in with her old classmates and learn what topics they were  learning, the subject matter, even where they were in the text-book.

“What are the state requirements for Health Class?” she demanded.

“There aren’t any,” I replied. “There is no health text to obtain from the public school to use as a reference and guide you. It’s up to you to decide your material and curriculum. Want to  learn about Nutrition? Take a First Aid class. It’s up to you.”

“There might be things I need to know before I go to college, like sexually transmitted diseases!” she yelled.

I smiled to myself, “Then you need to make sure you learn what you think you need to know. It is huge responsibility to be in charge of your education, but you are now. And learning will continue your entire life. You don’t run out of time in 12th grade. “

Home-schooling is a huge responsibility, a huge commitment and it takes focus, self-motivation, and passion for learning. Parents can either take on the role as educator, which I did not, or facilitator, which I embraced. I believed that I should be taking a back seat in my children’s whole education process. I told them right up, “I am not interested in sitting down next to you and learning Algebra. It’s up to you to learn it.” (although I did hire a tutor when they got stuck).

After the first year home-schooling, a feisty Sierra came to me and demanded,

“What have you done for my education?”

“Go add up your field trips” I instructed.

She came back sheepish. “One hundred and twenty-five,” she announced, “in one school year.”

Even since we took the kids across the Continental Divide as youngsters , we decided that we would put BIG life in front of them. Show them the world. Make them navigate through it, whether it was through the dirt paths of the Thailand Hill Tribes or the back roads of Schuylkill County. If I found a seed of an interest growing in them, I did the research and found the opportunity for them to learn and explore more. I injected my own curriculum content in relation to what magazine work I had. For example, we took a week-long trip to the Finger Lake region of New York to learn about the Underground Railroad and women’s suffrage and I wrote a story about them. That way I could still be gainfully employed as a travel writer but also create learning opportunities for my children.

It can definitely feel scary to the new home-schooled child when they realize the tremendous green light of freedom they have been given to explore learning. An entire world of learning opens up, especially if they have parents who will take them to far-flung corners of the world to discover it, besides their local museum. This unleashed, unbridled freedom to learn what they want is incredibly liberating and empowering once they get over the hugeness of it.

Teaching responsibility is a very important thing for a parent. Whether it is being responsible for what you learn or your happiness.

When Sierra was little, she experienced an extremely miserable day. It wasn’t that bad things were happening, she just had a toxic attitude for whatever reason, and fought and resisted everything. That night in bed, she admitted, “I was waiting all day for you to make me happy,” and I thought this profound. Adults do this. They look to their spouses for fulfillment. Look to their jobs, look to their lives when, in reality, the source of their happiness is inside.

“Only you can decide if you are going to be happy,” I told my little girl, just as she needed to decide as a teenager what she wanted to learn, and how to design her entire life so she could find happiness. She may as well start to get a grip on this concept of being in charge of your life by mastering Health Class. Home schooling puts the steering wheel in your children’s hands. I saw myself as a backseat driver in their lives-mouthy, out spoken, barking advice on how to drive through life but nonetheless, I worked to never grasp the wheel out of their hands.


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