Since becoming a mother, almost eighteen years ago, I’ve often thought about how to describe what I do all day. Lots of words come up, but the word I always come back to is maintenance.
The apartment building I grew up in had a maintenance man; I’m a maintenance mom. Around the house, I take responsibility for the care and upkeep of clothes, carpets, cupboards, cleaning supplies, and an ever-changing variety of household accessories.
Around the heart, I care for sensitive tummies and bad moods, infected sinuses and anxious minds.
I never wanted to send my child to school. Was it because I found school restrictive and boring and much less interesting than what was happening inside my head? I think so. Was it because I didn’t like what I saw as school’s not-so-hidden agenda to turn my child into the kind of citizen society thought she should be? I think so again. A recent quotation printed in The New York Times says it for me:
I remember quite clearly one of my middle-school teachers telling me that I was a stone with sharp, jagged edges, but that I would turn into a smooth river stone as I grew older. During the years while I was making this film, I felt like I was getting sharper and sharper instead. —Zhao Liang, a filmmaker, on “Petition,” a documentary that angered the Chinese government.
I always wanted to raise a sharp stone.
So, with regard to education, I became a maintenance mom, too. For, as Sandra Dodd states,
Unschooling is a form of homeschooling; it’s a way to homeschool. The method is to create and maintain a full-time learning environment in which learning happens at home and away, from as many sources as the family comes across.
I maintain that learning environment. Over the past eighteen years, when people ask me what I “do” (which really means, “What do you do for money?”) my answer has been “I homeschool my daughter.” (The paycheck comes in a different currency.)
I maintain a physical space that is full of books and posters and charts and magazines and pictures and DVDs and CDs and catalogs and games and art supplies. And I maintain a mental space that is full of questions and facts and observations and jokes and opinions. Answers are welcome, but they aren’t required.
The maintenance man at my old apartment building was a respected and beloved figure. He ensured that we had heat and hot water and freshly painted walls. I seek to ensure that we (our family and our country) have a clear-minded member who exhibits good sense and honorable values. I feel respected and beloved, too. Gosh, I really have it all.