Loving My Neighbor(hood)…

So, here’s the thing, or maybe a whole lot of things… you know how in the Bible it says to love thy neighbor? Yeah, it actually says to love thy neighbor as thyself. Welp, I love myself a whole lot. I probably have Pinterest boards in my soul about how much self-love I have. And, I don’t mean to brag, but they’ve probably been re-pinned, and shared. A lot.

Just kidding.

I get the whole love thy neighbor thing. In theory.

I live in the Perry District, a cornucopia of wonderful people. Rich, poor, middle class, self-employed, unemployed, and deployed, all within walking distance. We have a Buddhist temple, a safe haven for LGBTQ youth, a weekly farmer’s market, Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians,  Non-Denominational churches, and even a church of missionaries TO the United States FROM the Philippines.  If that’s not telling, I don’t know what is.

But, still. Perry. It’s where Atheists, Agnostics, and Christians all walk the same cracked sidewalks, drink the same delicious coffee at The Shop, and avoid the same over-sharers at the Thursday Market. I love it.

I did not, however, realize how much I love it, until recently.

Now, we have had this house for over 9 years. I have seen a lot of people come and go. The well-meaning, and kind, Scott, with his harsh and unfriendly, pharmacist fiancée. The amazing gospel singer, who told it how it is (seriously, one of my favorites). The drug dealers that required multiple calls to the police because of butcher knives in the front yard, but still said hello and wished us a Happy Easter. The family where the kids wore clothes two sizes too small, ate every bite offered to them, and still had hearts of gold. The single mom who brought home a different guy almost every weekend for sleepovers, for two years, but never looked happy. And let’s not forget, the woman in her fifties who threw all-weekend keggers,  but never forgot to invite us. Beer is good for breast-feeding, she said, repeatedly. She even named her cat after our daughter, and came over to tell us so. Many, many, times.

When she left, a very nice man who had PTSD, from fighting for our country, moved in with his son. They were amazing. Like, the kind of people you bake for, just because. But eventually, he moved after buying a house with his fiancée, who I am not kidding you, is a sweeter soul than I will ever be. And a classical musician, who put up with my family playing our piano much, much poorer, than she could have.

There are new families, just finding their way. And older families, where just the parents are left at home, who are sifting through their new reality of empty nests, and empty arms; together, but still alone.

There is joy, and acceptance, and nods between neighbors.

We sit on the front porch, and say good morning and good evening to passerby. Friends walk or ride their bikes over to my house for tea, and leagues of deep conversation.

This place, this rickety wooden porch, has become my adult diary. It has born witness to thousands of conversations. It has heard the whisper of secrets, held sun-soaked bodies sharing wine and stories. It has stayed quiet, and sure, during heated conversations, refusing to fall under stomped feet and the slinging of angry arrows. It has groaned, obligingly, under the weight of my large family, as we decorate for Christmas. Too many cold bodies, over and yet under dressed, all clinging to strands of light in the darkness.

It is where I sit in the mornings, coffee and journal in hand. It is where I end the day, tired, but unafraid. This place is the alter where we lay down our burdens, where the weary find rest, and new mercies are waiting. It smells like tomatoes, and sunscreen, and Starbucks. It is surely the messiest corner of Heaven.

It is the blind I sit in, as the world rushes by. It is the welcome and goodbye for all of my children’s coming and goings, the arbor under which my babies are growing.

It is quiet one moment, a rush of loud conversation the next. A dance between wet and dry, comfort and splinters, our alternate living room during summer’s tempestuous run. It is the vantage point from which we view the changing of the seasons. It is the orchestra pit from which we bare witness, as the trees shake and sway, in eternal dance, to the wind’s barely audible symphony. It is where we sit still, and learn to listen.

Perhaps, this is where I will gather the strength to be kind to my most annoying of neighbors.


Maybe this is where I will sit when I learn to forgive.

Or maybe, this is where I will be when I grasp how to turn the other cheek, to stay silent when others rage, butt in, and proclaim themselves the saviors of a neighborhood that didn’t need saving.




Why. (The Big Announcement)

My family and I have big news. Like, life altering, bigger than big, news. Drumroll please…

We have decided to homeschool. (And, no, I’m not pregnant.)

Now, before you get the tomatoes out, before you boo and jeer and wave me off like an annoying housefly, I will explain myself.

First, I am just as surprised as you are. Okay, maybe a little less, but still. This is not what I had pictured. I am the girl who never played house as a child. Instead, I played businesswoman. I took imaginary phone calls that my imaginary secretary put through to my imaginary desk. I yelled orders into invisible phones about profits and lawyers, and selling enough of our latest fashion line.

Where other girls were imagining themselves in an apron, I dreamed of large, firm, shoulder pads, swathed in expensive fabric. I can’t help it, I was born in the eighties. I wanted to swim in the waters of change and commerce, to wade deeply into my own education, and out lap the competition.

I did not want to be a mother, unless maybe I lived in New York and had a fulltime nanny. The husband was optional. Eh.

So, when this all came about, I was more skeptical than optimistic. Just, stay with me.

Many months ago, we started looking into a place for our soon-to-be seventh grader to receive his middle school education. He’s a sensitive soul, not cut from the same cloth as most of his peers, so we knew it would have to be different. He is smart and funny, brave, and kind. He is shy in a way that belies all that he has going for him. He has struggled for the last several years to stay on task, not fidget, and complete assignments.

He has trouble comprehending simple math problems, but can pull out abstract solutions from some unseen hat. He takes more time to write a paragraph than most children, but learns quickly in a one-on-one setting. He knows the backstory to every Star Wars character ever created, and has empathy for their alien struggles, as if they were his own. He is emotionally aware, and has a truly good heart. He has morals and ideals, and is brave enough to share his struggles. He compiles pages of notes, data, and summaries on non-school subjects that interest him. But if he’s not interested, well, you better get ready to dig your heels in.

Here’s the thing, that’s just him. And I love him, just as he is.

While I want to refine him, I don’t want to change him. I want him to be his wonderfully artsy, creative self. I want him to explore the world and fulfill his destiny.

So after a bazillion, which could be a slight exaggeration, dead ends, we landed on the path that had been sitting in front of us all along.

Then, after that was settled, someone said, “You know, Jessica, I think you should just homeschool all your babies. And here’s why….” And everything she said made sense.

My husband and I spent night after night talking about it, but he was instantly all in. Which is crazy, because he has always been against home education. I, took longer to be convinced. This was after all, going to land mostly on my unpadded shoulders.

We prayed and talked to people on both sides of the fence. I know several trusted teachers and homeschoolers, all of whom were open with me, and invested their time and experiences to answer my questions. I took tests online to find out my children’s personality/learning styles, and my personality/teaching styles, to see if we were a match. It felt a bit like trying to donate a kidney. I looked into Online Schooling, Homeschooling, Un-Schooling, Unit Studies, Charlotte Mason, Classical Education, Part-Time Schooling, Private Schools, and more.

It’s enough to make you have to stop and catch your breath. So I did.

I said a child-like prayer with my balled up fists, that if this is what I am supposed to do, then I want this and this and this. And you know what? All of those things happened, exactly as I asked. Cue the Twilight Zone theme song…

My daughters had been asking to be homeschooled for months. One had even announced to her class that she was, in fact, going to be homeschooled, before we had ever even discussed it as a possibility. Kids. But also, kids.

My kids are amazing. And so are yours. That doesn’t mean that you have to homeschool to love them. It’s like everything in parenthood, we all just do our best.

I am a big believer in public education. And private education. And, when done right, in homeschool. It’s like breastfeeding or formula, I have my own say in what goes into my kids, you do whatever you think is right for yours. No judgements. Kids are all different, so different educations just makes sense.

Eventually, we landed on a pretty awesome combination of Unit Studies and Un-Schooling. We found an awesome co-op that offers everything from sign language classes to aerospace education, as well as art and socialization. And, I’ve got to say, I am pretty excited about all of it. Like, I haven’t had this much peace or excitement about something in a long time.

We’ve been doing trial runs this summer, with little breaks in between. Just 2 hours, five days a week. And here’s what I didn’t expect: it’s changing everything. Already, my kids are being kinder, and more respectful. They are looking out for each other, and being accountable. I had a great lot already, but you guys, things have just gotten better. I literally cannot wait to spend time with them. I can see the wheels turning in their beautiful minds, watch as they connect dots and concepts. I get to be the one to see their eyes alight with knowledge for the first time.

Now I get it! This is why people teach, isn’t it?! This is why people grow up to be teachers. It’s magic. It’s like breathing rarified air, and then getting to share it with the future.

This has been the best summer we have ever had as a family. I’m not just teaching, we are learning together. We are a family of explorers, on an adventure. I can’t believe I missed out on so many years. This is wonderful. And also, a lot of work. Kudos, seriously, to all of the teachers.

The other day I got to be the one to explain a concept about direction to my son. Then we hopped in the car and showed him firsthand, and he got it. Like, really got it. I felt unstoppable. Not just me, but US as a whole. Like there isn’t anything that we can’t learn or do or become.

And yes, we are over $900 in, already, for curriculum and variables. But my kids are excited to learn, and I can’t think of a better use for our money.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, and the answer is no.

No, I will not suddenly start wearing long denim skirts, or button up dress shirts, or comfort shoes.

I will not change the way I vote, or learn to churn butter. Okay, I might learn to do that because, well, home-made butter(!). But I won’t be raising twits, or socially awkward nerds. I will be expanding hearts and minds, and laying down a hypothetical shoulder padded life, for what really matters. And I know it’s going to be worth it. Not just for us, but for all of you. Because I will teach them the curriculum, but also to look for the truth. I will teach them to love, to help the poor. Will do my best to instill character, and moral backbone, to fight for immigrants and the marginalized, to see beyond circumstance and value all lives. I’m not just teaching them one plus one, I get to intensively show them what it means to have compassion.

Childhood is short, and I don’t want to waste a minute of it. These, right here, are probably the best years of my life. These are the days people wistfully look back at and miss. I don’t want to miss it while I am still in it.  And this is my chance.

So, you guys, I’m taking it.