A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the concept of normal. Yesterday I thought about normal again when I read about two brave individuals living the lifestyle of their choice. Sarah A. Chrisman and her husband Gabriel embrace their love of the Victorian era with a rare level of commitment. They use an old-fashioned icebox, ride antique bicycles instead of driving cars, and their daily wardrobe is made up of what many people would call costumes, not clothing.
This isn’t some kind of lark for them. It’s a way of life that defines who they are and brings them great joy. As Sarah wrote, “Gabriel said watching me grow accustomed to Victorian clothes was like seeing me blossom into my true self.”
I wasn’t a bit surprised when I read that Gabriel was homeschooled. According to Sarah, that helped when they started experimenting with Victorian-era living, because Gabriel “never espoused the strict segregation that now seems to exist between life and learning.”
In Bridget Samburg’s recent Boston Magazine article about homeschooling, she asked “But are the kids happy and normal…?” I wonder what her answer would have been if she talked to Gabriel.
The important part of that question, I think, is the happy part. Gabriel’s way of life may be unusual, but he’s happy. I know many homeschoolers and non-homeschoolers who fit that description, and thank goodness they found their niches.
By taking kids out of the peer-dominated world of school, away from regular exposure to cliques, potential bullies, and the pressure to fit in, homeschooling may help kids along the path of becoming who they truly are. This is what homeschooling parents are talking about when they cite socialization as an argument for homeschooling. It’s not a magic bullet, of course. Living in society and being human are complicated undertakings no matter how you slice it.
Still, I’ve seen again and again that homeschooled kids can feel empowered to experiment with different ways of being with less fear of retaliation. Even when they’re called out on their differences, they don’t necessarily succumb to conformity.
When my son was a kid, he joined the local basketball team. The kids started taunting him about his shorts, which fell only to mid-thigh and weren’t nearly baggy enough (epic fail on my part to not acquaint myself with shorts fashions of tween boys). When I offered to take him shopping for the right wardrobe, he declined. “I like my shorts,” he said.
I would have honored his decision either way, but I felt proud and relieved that he didn’t feel the need to change for the sake of someone else. What happened next floored and humbled me. Not only did my son keep his nerdy shorts of choice, he continued to like the boys who taunted him. I watched him give them high fives and enthusiastic expressions of support as they came off the court. When we left the building, he smiled widely at them, exclaiming “Great game!” as though they were his buddies, eliciting expressions of bewilderment and confusion on their faces. They stopped teasing him, and even started being nice to him.
This is more than I ever could have done for my own torturers as a child, but then again, I didn’t have the safety, support, and relief from daily contact with bullies that homeschooling can offer. That respite can be crucial for happiness and self-esteem, but it also, as I learned from watching my son, can nurture kindness. Safety and support build resilience and courage to be true to oneself, which in turn fosters compassion for others.
For some people, becoming who they truly want to be is difficult and scary. As Sarah wrote, “We live in a world that can be terribly hostile to difference of any sort.” She described how she and Gabriel deal with name calling and other abuse. How sad that they and so many others face hardship simply for being who they are, but how wonderful that they still do it. The greater sadness is that so many of us, for reasons of fear, threats of bodily harm, lack of support, or other factors, don’t. As Sarah wrote, “Most people fear the bullies so much that they knuckle under simply to be left alone. In the process, they crush their own dreams.”
The courage to become who they are may be the greatest gift homeschooling gave my kids. This is my wish for us all; let kindness reign, and dream crushing begone.