I was homeschooled. I write it as one word. Always have. College was my first experience with formal schooling. It was a little jarring. I kept thinking, “Seriously? We have to raise our hands?” I know, that makes me sound like a freak.
I am a member of a tiny minority in this country. I did not ride a school bus. I did not sit in a classroom. In my world, there was no recess, no bell, no tests, no gym class, no APs, no prom, and no graduation. Ironically, there was no “homework.”
I have grown accustomed to hearing people tell me, “You seem so normal!” Sometimes they say, “You’re very social!” Or “You don’t have trouble talking to people!” There is always a note of surprise in their tone, and I recognize immediately that they are wondering how it is that I turned out so strikingly normal.
I’m not one of those genius homeschoolers who won the Van Cliburn competition at seventeen and went on to study astrophysics at Yale. I’m not even impressively well-read anymore. Maybe when I was ten, or fourteen, but these days I’d rather watch TV and write songs in my free time. So maybe it comes down to this: For a homeschooler, I guess I’m pretty normal, but compared to everyone else, I’m still too different for comprehension on a beginner’s level. I mean, I can’t even comprehend how different I must be, so it makes sense that the rest of the world has trouble with me.
As a kid, since I was really different from most kids, I figured I’d be famous. Like, right away. By the time I was sixteen. In my mind, sixteen was the absolute latest I could afford to get famous. But that didn’t work out. And instead of touring the world with a fuchsia grand piano and a bevy of scantily clad backup singers, I went to college, like everyone else.
College had never been a part of the plan. College was like the goldfish you eventually get after begging for months for a perky pony with amber spots. College was what other kids did, because they were so used to going to school.
But there I was at college, and suddenly I realized I was unattractive. And awkward. I’d always felt really pretty and popular before then. It was a miraculous transformation. I think for most people this same thing happened in, like, elementary school. Ok, maybe middle school. But, you know, really really early. Maybe it would’ve been better if I had gone through it then. Gotten it over with. At eighteen, I didn’t know what hit me. I didn’t know why I was so depressed suddenly. I started writing a lot of poems called “Prison” and “My Escape” and stuff.
Of course, it wasn’t just about my appearance. I had no idea who I was supposed to be around all of these people exactly my age, many of whom had days and days of conversation that centered on TV shows I’d never seen.
But for me, my appearance was tied into every aspect of this new world. It seemed perfectly clear that being hot was critical to succeeding as a girl. And I had a feeling I wasn’t the right kind of “hot.” Smart, I could do, but that was much more important to the professors than the other students.
In retrospect, now that I’m all worldly and grownup (ha!), I realize that if I’d just figured out that not everyone who met me could immediately tell I was an alien freak from planet Homeschooled, freshman year would’ve been easier.
But still, when I hear fifth grade girls in a class I teach talk about how everyone picks on this one girl because she’s “weird-looking,” my stomach turns a little. I’m glad I missed that. At least at eighteen people didn’t just say it to my face.
Here’s the thing, though: Why do we have to end up feeling like that at all? Why is that a normal, expected part of growing up female? Being homeschooled didn’t prevent me from having to feel bad about myself– it just postponed the experience. At the same time, being homeschooled first taught me how beautiful and capable I am, and I wonder if that can ever be completely destroyed. I’m going to go with “Nope.” I have hope that eventually, even if it doesn’t happen right now, I will be sure about how much I rock.
Un-Roast: Today I love my belly. It is really cute. It sticks out a little bit, which looks feminine.
Everyone: How did school impact the way you feel about yourself?
P.S. Homeschooling doesn’t necessarily freak everyone out. Think about Pioneer Woman! She’s a homeschooling mom! And just like her kids, I never knew what grade I was in.