I realized yesterday while trampling around the MN State Fair during a slightly breezy, hazy smoke-filled day (from the fires out west in Oregon and Montana) that my boys’ future lies mostly in my hands.
Education choices in Minnesota are vast depending on where you live. In St. Paul, up until a few years ago, parents had a choice to send their children to whatever school they wanted and the district would bus them there regardless of how far you lived. Multiple buses would show up on the corner where my oldest would wait for the bus to take him across town to a charter school that focused on classical education. My youngest would bus to a different part of town (almost an hour away) to a new Montessori school that was run by the Montessori Training Center of MN (who wouldn’t want to send their child there). Choice made this all possible. However getting to those choices of where to send your child was one of the most painful processes ever.
I agonized over the decision for months reading up on the neighborhood schools, various charter schools, the gifted and talented program, and visiting the state education fair at the Xcel Center. I met principles of schools that showed their love of teaching and directing by how they advocated for their students by saving art and music programs, by campaigning to build a gym or working with the district to build a new school.
That all came to an end once the district realized that they could not solve the economic disparities in communities by offering school choice and the bussing was adding to the mounting budget shortfalls that threatened to cripple the district. Parents now had a choice to send their children to the neighborhood school with transportation provided if needed (based on distance from the school) or if accepted into another school via the lottery, they could drive or take public transportation. It ended the bus chaos of choked streets in the mornings and afternoons, especially in the winter when streets narrowed due to snow banks and the plowing prowess of the city maintenance crew.
At the fair, my children refused to go the fine arts center or the creative arts building, my two favorite places to hang out at the fair. They whined when I made them go listen to music by Jack Knife and the Sharps. And cried when I finally relented to let them go play baseball at the mock stadium the MN Twins had set up because it was already closed.
I read to my children every night from the time they were newborns until their need for privacy outweighed me cuddling in bed with them before lights out. We ventured into all flavors of books including stories about lions, and boys with god-like powers to picture books about tractors and pigs. I dragged them to church to concerts in their car seats to expose them to classical and rich music. I made them sing in choir and learn piano. We visited art museums and sculpture parks and supported theater by subscribing to the Children’s Theater.
I thought I would be successful in raising boys that loved the arts and sought out rich venues to explore and learn. I created a path book by book that I thought would turn into a brick road leading them into a life that sought out beauty with a hunger never filled. While my intentions were good, the boys laid different bricks made from hockey sticks and baseball bats, of which I also supported. The lessons learned from sports shapes lives in many ways and the activity gave me a reprieve from the incessant whining about what we were going to do next.
From school choice to arts and sports, I led my children through a labyrinth of rich experiences that got us to that one moment at the fair where my youngest refused to move off his bench to go look at product demos under the grandstand. He wouldn’t tell us what was wrong. Wouldn’t say what he needed. He silently sat on his bench while I prayed for patience so I wouldn’t whack him on the butt in total frustration and anger.
I realized at that moment that my boys are who they are and while sports and school choice had something to do with it, what happened at home from the time they entered in as the tiniest of the tiny, we were the ones that formed them. And regardless of what we wanted for them–to be the seekers of beauty and truth, they emerged in their way that puts them in the exact place in the exact moment they need to be in for reasons far beyond my understanding. It’s a practice in patience and an education in and of itself.