The first time this happened, I was in line at Duke’s Burgers in Huntington Beach CA. We were in town visiting the in laws and I wasn’t even thinking about the fact that it was a school day for traditional schooled children. I wanted to take my daughter out for a late lunch so we headed to Dukes who, in my opinion has the best burgers in Huntington Beach. After placing our order and paying the cashier, who couldn’t have been more than twenty, she looked down at my daughter with a puzzled look on her face and asked us:
“What? No school today?”
I was not expecting that question.
I’ll admit I got a little flushed. I was in California, not the Midwest. I was out of my comfort zone already so I just smiled and answered her politely.
“My daughter is homeschooled. Every day is a school day for us.”
There was a young couple behind me and the man cleared his throat. When I turned my head to catch a glimpse of him in my peripheral he quickly looked out the window. I have no idea what that was about but I turned my attention back to the cashier. She was just standing there, looking almost unsure about how to respond to me. It felt like an eternity to me but she returned my smile with an uneasy grin and handed me my round disc that would light up when our order was ready.
“Your order will be ready soon. Thank you.”
That was it. My first encounter with someone inquiring as to why my daughter wasn’t in school on a school day. Unfortunately, it didn’t stop there for me. There were two other encounters while I was in Surf City. The worst one happened while we were at Big Lots to browse the kitchen and (of course) the toy aisles.
As with most or all four and a half-year old’s, when you go to a store and there’s a toy section it’s almost mandatory that you allocate some time during your shopping trip to let your child have a few minutes of fun. It’s the least I can do when I make her cruise the kitchen and bath aisles. For a child that must be so boring! I know I hated it when I was a kiddo.
There was a woman, probably in her fifties that wandered down the same aisle as us. My daughter was looking at a pink bug catcher set and the woman started chatting with me about her twin grandsons who were in kindergarten. After a couple of minutes of her talking about her smart and advanced grand kids she looked down at my daughter and bent over to ask her face to face:
“Do you like your school?” She then looked up at me to confirm her assumption about my daughter’s age. “She’s in preschool right?” she asked me with a wide smile on her face.
Here we go again, I was thinking to myself. I responded politely. “I’m homeschooling my daughter. Technically she’d be starting kindergarten next year if she were going to a traditional school.”
I watched as the bright smile vanished from the woman’s face. She straightened back up and turned that glare onto me. Without a word the woman just turned back to her shopping cart and walked away, leaving my daughter standing in the middle of the toy aisle, still holding the pink bug catcher kit.
I was dumbfounded. What was that about? Am I the devil or something? Am I a disease spreading mommy? What the hell just happened? Did I really say something so terrible? Why is she so pissed off?
My mind was racing so fast I almost forgot where I was until my daughter walked over to me and tugged on my shirt. “Mama?” my daughter started. “That lady. That lady doesn’t.” She looked at the bug catcher in her hands. “I wanted to show her this. She didn’t like me.” She lowered her arms and let the pink plastic cage dangle next to her leg. My daughter just stared blankly at the floor where the woman had stood.
In all honesty, that was the very first time she’d been treated like that by anyone! All the years we’ve been out and about. All the times we’ve been to the park, all the outings and trips we’ve taken. No one has treated my daughter like that. I didn’t even know how to respond to my little girl. She was genuinely hurt by a woman she’d only known for less than five minutes!
I just smiled at her and gave her a don’t worry about it shrug. I took the toy from her hands, placed it our cart and we headed for the checkout. My mind was beginning to process everything that just happened and inside I was fuming! On the outside there were tears welling up in my eyes. She made me feel like dirt. That glare she gave me made me want to ball my fists and show her how disrespectful and cruel she acted towards us. I wanted to chase her down and get in her face, to scream how dare you judge me like this! Who do you think you are making me feel like scum because I give a crap about the education of my daughter! Do you have any idea how much I love this child, what I’d do for her, my aspirations for her future? How dare you be such a judgmental ________!
Even though I was boiling on the inside I gulped down the tears, took a deep breath and waited patiently to check out. While we were in the parking lot putting bags in the trunk I saw her again. She was getting into a car with whom I’d assume was her daughter. The butterflies started in my stomach and my throat tightened. I wonder if she has something to say to me?
She couldn’t help it could she? She pointed right at me with that disgusted glare once more while saying something to the woman driving the car. She just wouldn’t quit, would she?
So to the woman in the blue and white striped shirt who visited Big Lots off Beach Blvd and Warner Ave in March of 2016 that turned her back on a sweet four-and-a-half-year-old who wanted to show off a bug catcher she wanted, who YOU left standing there, staring at your back as you walked away, making her feel rejected and unimportant…
Shame on you.
Shame on you for making my daughter feel like she didn’t matter. For making her feel like an outcast. That look on her face will always haunt me. How dare you make a child feel like they’re nothing!
To all the parents who may encounter rude, obtuse or judgmental individuals while out and about with your child on a school day, I have a few words of wisdom for you. I don’t want you to constantly reflect on uncomfortable or negative encounters you may have gone through, or if you’re shamed or humiliated in public because you proudly state that your child is homeschooled. I want you to always be proud of yourself and your strength to do what you know is best for your family, even if the majority of people out there disagree with your choices.
It’s still YOUR choice.
It took me a long time to convince myself that what the average stranger says to me doesn’t really matter. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, no matter how crude they are in proclaiming their dissatisfaction.
So to all the homeschooling parents:
Be proud of your choice to homeschool.
Don’t be afraid to say out loud that you homeschool.
If that person starts treating you like crap or becomes confrontational – don’t engage them. Simply put, you’re in the presence of a misinformed and one-sided person who is not educated or open to any views aside from their own. You will never be able to convince them that your choice is justified. It’s not worth the fight.
They’re strangers. What they say holds no value on you or your child’s future. With any luck you’ll never see them again.
Don’t let their words haunt you. Don’t replay the encounter over and over again in your mind. The past is over. Move on and look forward to tomorrow.
If you try and educate them on the reality of homeschooling to explain that the common myths are just…myths… Don’t get offended or angry if they become defensive or hostile. Whatever issues they have regarding the topic of homeschooling is their own issue, not yours.
If your child is with you and a negative encounter occurs, please explain to your child that there will always be people who don’t understand or agree with our homeschool and that’s okay. We can’t control what other people think, but we CAN control how we respond. It’s best to try and kill em with kindness. Any other example is a bad example to show your child.
If you’re a secular homeschooler and you are talking to a faith based homeschooler who becomes argumentative towards you because you don’t homeschool for the “right” reasons, there’s no point to try and reason or “defend” your non-religious reasons for homeschooling. Simply smile, nod and continue on. Everyone homeschools for their own reasons and the last thing homeschoolers need is to pit one against the other just because you’re not homeschooling for the “religious” reasons. A lot of people seem to be so easily offended these days. How sad that is.
Always remember that you know you’re doing what’s best for your family and you know the amazing benefits homeschooling with provide to your child. In the end, nothing matters except what you feel is best for your family.
Be kind, be true to yourselves and be better than that woman at Big Lots.
To help ease the discomfort that can sometimes arise when you’re out with your child during traditional school hours, I’ve created these “State Pride” t-shirts. There’s one shirt for every state and it will declare to everyone in passing that you are in fact a homeschooler. You may even make some new friends when fellow homeschoolers in your community see you wearing this shirt while you’re out and about. What a great conversation starter!
Have you been in a similar situation? How did you handle it? Do you have anything to add or further advice for parents? Please comment below!