“Everyone will become like family.”
These words were spoken to me on a warm summer afternoon last year as I was standing in line in someone’s kitchen, waiting to pile my plate with food. We were there to have our first planning meeting for our homeschool co-op and the moms were enjoying a meal together before we got down to business.
“You’ll get to know the other moms and kids so well, that they’ll be like family,” she was looking at me quite earnestly as she said this.
I had found the co-op about two years prior to this when I was searching online for some kind of Charlotte Mason Community in our area. This one sounded absolutely amazing: a monthly mom’s book club (open to anyone) going through Charlotte Mason’s original volumes, and then during the school year, a bi-weekly co-op for homeschoolers meeting on Fridays at each other’s homes. The schedule was all laid out and it looked beautiful and rich and feast-like and exactly like what I wanted for my kids.
Except it was an hour-and-a-half away.
I emailed the leader about both the book club and the co-op. B was still only 4 so we weren’t quite ready for the co-op just yet anyway, but I had little hope of ever being part of it because of the distance. She responded promptly letting me know that I was very welcome to the book club but she wasn’t sure the co-op would be a good fit for us as we were so far away. She was very diplomatic. 🙂
So I put it on the backburner of my mind and puttered along in my own Charlotte Mason education, making my way through Volume 1 and hoping maybe something like it would materialize in my area in the next two years. I joined a few Facebook groups that looked promising, only to find they were pretty inactive as moms are busy….it’s often hard for us to organize ourselves outside of our homes.
And then, about nine months after that, we were suddenly living an hour south, only about a half-hour from the group I had found. Within a few weeks of moving in, I emailed the leader again and two months later I was at my first book club meeting; my first evening, in fact, away from C since she had been born. Though I enjoy one-on-one time with a friend, I am not an extrovert, so the idea of going to a “moms’ group” (which I had not had good luck with up to this point) where I knew absolutely no one, was pretty nerve-wracking for me. However, had I not gone that night, and every single book club night each month during the year-and-a-half following that, I would’ve missed out on amazing, deep, wonderful friendships that I have come to cherish so very much.
When we were coming to the end of B’s kindergarten year in early 2017, I emailed the leader again to ask how we went about applying to the co-op part. I was nervous, I admit, as I wasn’t sure if it was even possible for us. The majority of the people in the co-op lived within 15-20 minutes of each other and I was still a good 30 minutes to an hour away from all of them. I also wasn’t sure if it was full. I knew there were quite a few families in it already. But she sent me an application which I filled out and returned, holding my breath.
After several nerve-wracking weeks during which we exchanged a few emails with follow-up questions from her, she let me know that we were in. I was ecstatic!
And so, here I was, a few months later, standing in the leader’s kitchen with one of the other moms casually dropping salad on her plate while she said these words to me. “Everyone will become like family.”
I was a little taken aback by this. Bear with me here as I get a little personal…..
I have a hard time with friendships. I moved often as a kid, sometimes saying good-bye to new friends before the friendship really had a chance to take root. Lasting relationships with other kids, teachers, neighbors, etc., or anyone outside of my immediate family (ie. just my dad), and to a lesser degree, my extended family in the next state, were not part of my reality. I was used to coming to expect that anyone I met one year, I would probably not still know just a few years later. How this manifests in adulthood for me I’m sure a psychologist could tell me, but as I am now, I struggle with friendships. I’m socially awkward, often saying the wrong thing without realizing it, and when I get nervous, as I often do around other people, I talk way too much. I often think it’s actually kind of a miracle that I’m married (which says a lot about my husband!). 🙂 Aside from one particularly stubborn friend who refuses to get rid of me despite the ups and downs of our 22-year friendship (and who I am extremely grateful for), most of my other friendships have come and gone, sometimes due to moving, but more often due to something I did or said. I really struggle with this because I can’t seem to change myself.
I don’t say this to elicit sympathy. I say it to give you background on why her words kind of took my breath away.
There was a part of me that went away from that meeting hopeful, but of course, there was also a part of me that went away from that meeting assuming I’d somehow ruin this for myself as I had done so often in the past. That I’d offend or be obnoxious and they’d see my true colors and show me the door after the first few co-op meetings. And ruining it for myself was kind of the norm for me, but what really bothered me was the possibility of ruining this for my kids. Thus, I determined that I would be prudent and restrain my lips! That I would stop and think about things before I said them! That I would not blow this chance we had of becoming part of a surrogate family, which was something I had longed for for so long.
But as I stated earlier, I am who I am, and that’s hard to change overnight. Thinking back, I can’t recall a single moment where I really did change my behavior and they received the full force of my personality in all of its overwhelming glory.
And we’re still in the co-op a year-and-a-half later.
Her statement really did come true. The six other moms in our co-op have been some of the most gracious, kind, loving, wonderful women I have ever had the honor of knowing. I love them, I love their kids, I love seeing my kids playing with their kids. I love how they include me and look past my social ineptitude. They build me up and show me so much love that being part of this co-op and this group of women has been enormously healing for my soul, particularly during an extremely difficult few years. Even in situations that could’ve potentially lead to a rift, we’ve managed to preserve the friendships and show grace and kindness. They truly do feel like family to me now.
It’s ironic to me that a group I so wanted to join for the sake of my kids – for their learning and growth – has been so enormously wonderful for me. I have learned so much from them, not only about Charlotte Mason and the topics we cover during co-op, but also how to exist in a community. How to be myself and not assume that that’s a bad thing. How to be part of relationships that last. I prayed for a group like this. I prayed for friendships like this. And despite the fact that it was next to impossible just three short years ago that we’d ever actually be in this particular group, here we are. God is awesome.
If you have an opportunity to join or start a homeschool co-op in your area, I highly, highly recommend it. It has been one of the most life-giving choices I have ever made.
The next post will be a little more practical in terms of how our co-op operates, but I wanted to give a little background on why this aspect of our homeschooling has been such a gift for both my kids and me.