My kids and I are at the F9 park almost everyday of the week. They have their karate lessons and I tag along. I love going going there because I get two hours to unwind after a day of homeschooling and chores. I catch up on some reading or use the time to plan the coming days’ homeschooling material. What makes my evenings there so enjoyable is of course watching the kids as they train. I’ve had the pleasure of watching the younger ones blossom and been treated to impressive shows of the older students’ skills.

Once in a while though, I don’t have a good time. It is usually when I am forced to make polite conversation with … well, the sort of people I really wouldn’t have for lunch. You see, there are some folks, who, upon finding out that we homeschool, cannot seem to get off the subject and keep quizzing me on the whys and wherefores. Every time we meet, I get the same old set of questions or the same sense of incredulity. Last week, a mum saw me jotting down a few notes and proceeded to question me (again).

Lady: So… what are you doing?

Me: I’m just jotting down some notes for tomorrow’s Science lessons.

Lady: Oh… YOU teach your daughter? I thought she went to Roots because your exercise book says so. (I’d already told her we homeschool.)

Me: No, it’s just a book I bought from the store.

Lady: But… why do your kids not go to school?

Me: Mars has a compulsory exam to sit for in Singapore in 2013, so it’s just easier this way. (I can no longer be bothered to give an honest answer as to why we homeschool. Let them believe in the long arm of Singapore law *S*)

Lady: Oh… can they sit for an exam if they don’t go to school?

Me: They study and prepare for the exam at home.

Lady: (looking quite unconvinced) Oh… I’ve always thought children would not study at home.

Me: (smile becoming a tad forced by now) No, they do just fine.

Lady: (still with the disbelieving smile) I mean, you know, if they don’t go to school, then it can be hard to control or encourage them.

Me: No, not really.

The conversation went on a little longer and by the end of it, I was really at the end of my patience (even though I did not show it). It was not just the interrogation. It was the fact that she really was not interested in my answers because she kept fixing me with a doubtful stare. It was all I could do not to retort sharply, but I realised not a little too soon that I should not have harboured any resentment towards her. Homeschooling is practically unheard of in Islamabad. Many women here live with their in-laws and have a great deal of responsibilities. They would not have the luxury of being able to home-educate even if it was something they had heard about. (Yes, I say it is a luxury because I think it is a blessing that I am able to learn with my children.)

Perhaps my irritation stems from my own feelings of anxiety. While I believe that homeschooling is the best for my family, it has its stressful episodes. We have good days and bad days just like any other family. My kids have trouble with their lessons and sometimes act up too. I find myself having to fight the impulse to make them perfect to legitimise our homeschooling. It is really silly of me – I don’t homeschool my kids because they are geniuses and I certainly don’t need to prove anything to anyone. My kids don’t need that kind of pressure. I should just take criticisms in a positive way by using them to improve myself and my methods.

At the end of the day, what helps to make things bearable is – and it is strange coming from me, a loner who seems to prefer her books and computer to people – good company. I thank Allah for always putting inspiring people in my path whenever I start to slacken or to doubt myself. I got to know the one other (yes… ONE!) mother who homeschools her 3 daughters in Islamabad. I was initially nervous about meeting her – social events intimidate me! – but I gleaned so much about her family from just a couple of visits that put me at ease. She had friends who would help out and hang out at her home – I thought it was lovely how hospitable she was ma shaa Allah. It is also such an ego-booster that her kids practically pounce on my kids like they have been waiting for them forever the moment we enter the gate! Meetings with her revive me considerably – it isn’t just the good food she serves us :) It is also her strong belief and determined effort in home-educating her kids.

Another friend I met homeschools her 7 kids in Karachi. We crossed paths in person at a time when I really needed the encouragement. She was visiting Islamabad and I spent several hours just nattering with her. What struck me most about her was her strong sense of tawakkul – full trust in Allah. She embraced the many changes in her life – the arrival of a new baby, reconstruction to her home and pulling her kids out of public school – with perspective. She pushed on and seemed undaunted, believing in her children’s abilities and in her duty to home-educate.

Maybe the next time someone asks me about homeschooling, I won’t have to fake patience in the face of incredulity. Maybe I can just smile and tell them, “You know, I am not alone in this…”