Friday, May 16, 2008

A Non-Homeschooler's Guide to Homeschool Co-ops

Life coach/homeschooling mom/comedienne Londa Harpster once said, "I don't do co-ops. I don't even own a denim jumper."

If you don't homeschool, then you probably don't know about co-ops or homeschooling mommies' intense love/hate relationship with them. Well, here's your chance.

A co-op is an opportunity for homeschoolers to get together and learn things that can only be learned in groups. Subjects like chess, Irish dancing, and animal science either require partners of very close age or instruction from people with more skills than me. Unless you have a degree in, well, everything, and you've been popping out a baby every year, you probably can't duplicate that experience in your home. (If you have been giving birth every year, Irish step dancing is the least of your worries.)

I treat co-ops like taxes... I don't generally *like* them, but they are a necessary evil in the homeschooling lifestyle, so I accommodate them as gracefully and cheerfully as possible. But here's why I hate them:

7 AM: Homeschool moms should not be up this early because we stay up all night perfecting the trim on Shakepearean costumes, but here I am, awake and nursing while kicking back the first cup of coffee.

8 AM: I am picking out clothes for the kids, which on co-op day always puts me in a bind. Do I put Grace in "town clothes" knowing she will turn them into technicolor masterpieces in painting class, or shall I dress her in ratty, stained play clothes and let everyone see what a slob I am when no one's looking? I opt for town clothes until I realize that she has no clean shorts because I haven't got around to summer shopping yet. I end up cutting off a pair of too-small jeans and rolling them up--isn't that look back in style? Please say yes. But the shirt is cute enough to carry the outfit I suppose.

8:30 We are pulling out of the driveway when Malcolm announces that he didn't eat breakfast. "Of course you did," I inform him. But then, looking back, I don't know... Too late now, anyway.

9 AM: You will know you have made it to co-op when your speech begins to sound staccato. You know, like this: Stop TALKING and sit DOWN and keep your HANDS to yourself. I am not the only mom who has this voice; it is the only mom voice you hear at co-ops, except for the sticky-sweet voice we use with other people's children: Oh, honey, could you please put down my purse and--oh no, don't push that button, it's the alarm--

If you could see through my eyes, you would see a room full of children and mothers, with mine pushing each other and arguing conspicuously loud. We say morning prayer and sing Onward Christian Soldiers, which is ironic because I'm not feeling too Christian, but I am feeling like killing someone.

9:30 AM: You know it will NOT be a good day if your child's co-op teacher asks you to bring an extra change of clothing for that morning's lesson. Not if you have particularly excitable children, and certainly not if they have jealous younger siblings. So Grace is plotting new ways to mess up her town clothes in whatever extravaganza they have planned, Malcolm is crying because he wants to go to Grace's class and not his own, Rachael is whimpering because she is hungry, and Tyler--wait, where is Tyler?

10:00 AM: All children located and handed over to their teachers. Even my preteen who thinks I won't notice if he slips out to skateboard between classes. I am settled in the nursery, where the only toddler who isn't whingeing for their mother is determined to play with every toy my baby picks up. Rachael, of course, is not taking this well. The sticky-sweet other-people's-children voice is inching closer to the staccato my-own-children voice.

10:45 AM: They gave them nachos for snack? NACHOS? The only kid who doesn't have a bad reaction to food coloring and preservatives won't touch them because they are spicy--coincidentally, that's Malcolm, who didn't eat breakfast either and is acting like he belongs in a Ritalin commercial. Grace is climbing the walls because she really needs that whole foods diet, Rachael is on her last nerve because she just wants to play with a toy, any toy, darn it, and Tyler--if he is out skateboarding again, I am going to have a conniption fit. Okay, he's not skateboarding, but he is having some sort of angst because these girls he likes keep hitting him and he can't hit them back, doesn't want to leave the group, and is too young and male to talk his way out of it.

Not my problem. It's my "free period"--the only half hour I have without children every month. Of course I still have the baby, but that's one paltry quarter of my usual child-to-mom ratio. So the little heathens can take their medical issues and their tween drama to their teachers because I need a cup of coffee, thank you.

11:15 AM: Free period already over. Now I help teach Irish step dance. You didn't know I could Irish step dance? That's because I can't.

We actually hired a professional to teach this one. I am merely a helper because the teacher is about fifteen and too sweet to deal with a room of squirrelly kids. I took dance lessons for eight years, so I can at least do the steps without humiliating myself... if I wasn't holding a baby and entertaining Malcolm the whole time.

Why is Malcolm with me? I made the mistake of checking on him and he dissolved into I-want-Mommy bawling. I couldn't take it. He's barely four, you know.

12 Noon: It's over. Rachael is a frustrated, whiny mess, Malcolm is still bawling for Mommy even though he has her (I think I grabbed the right kid), and Grace is twitching from her healthy snack. I am wondering what they did to produce such a brilliant hue of green on her t-shirt and how to wash dried nacho cheese from her hair while assuring poor Tyler that the girls just act this way because they have massive crushes on him and that he should be glad he doesn't attend a real junior high, where this would be his life forty hours a week.

As for the denim jumper, I don't own one either, and I won't consider it until True Religion starts making them. Even then...

But we will continue going to our co-ops because I think I actually enjoy this on some masochistic level.


Author said...

Ahh, but you escaped having the Drill Sargent come into the break room and yell at you "WOULD YOU PLEASE CONTROL YOUR CHILD?" who at that instant was sitting on my lap. I know she was supposed to be in art downstairs. I'm not the one who let her out. She found me and she was with me...what damage did she do between a and b? I may never know. Do you think if I got the jumper I wouldn't get yelled at so much?

Emileesings said...

Lovely Mrs M.
Just Lovely.

Lisa Russell said...

If you wanna scare your kids sometimes, use a really DEEP mad voice. Just to shake things up. And I don't care what brand the denim jumper is, if you wear one I will tease you. A lot.

Mrs. Pevensie said...

I so appreciate the Onward Christian Soldier comment. And yet, we keep coming back! said...

This is hilarious, only because it sounds so familiar- like my own Monday morning co-op experience.
Would you let me use this in our co-op newsletter (your name and website included of course)?? We are just a small group of about 50 families- I think the other moms would find this strangely comforting...