Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Mary, An Extraordinary Ordinary Woman

      "We don't do any school," Mary's 7-year-old son Micah exclaimed to the cashier who asked the boy if he had the day off.  Fifteen years later, Mary remembers the encounter as scary, yet affirming.  Mary quickly told the clerk of their family's extensive use of the library, their long nature walks, their impromptu science experiments.  That her son learned without recognizing it as school thrilled Mary and gave her courage to continue along their non-traditional path.  However, being the only home educating family in their small New York town triggered suspicions from their school district.  The family called Home School Legal Defense Association several times for help with the questioning they endured from local officials.

Mary’s Kids
      Micah now majors in Criminal Justice and minors in Spanish at college.  Mary and her husband Jon extend their kids' high school through age 19 to give them time to plumb individual interests.  Micah explored storm spotting, volunteered at an animal shelter, interviewed a police chief at a local station and read all he could about law enforcement before deciding to pursue it as a career.  Caleb, 19, delved into his love of economics and pursued the sport of fencing.  After examining a variety of hands-on vocations, he decided to become an electrician.  He intends to own his own business after completing his apprenticeship.  
     Mary's two daughters are still high school age, and their interests are beginning to diverge.  Sarita, 14, pours herself into astronomy and is learning to master a telescope.  She dreams of walking on the moon and plans to try skydiving.  Seventeen-year-old Hannah wants to write novels.  She expresses her creativity through sewing as well.  Of course “kids can be pushed and stretched in areas,” Mary asserts, “yet follow their interests and God-given talents.”

Mary’s Philosophy
     Mary advises homeschooling moms with young children to relax and enjoy their time with their kids.  She used no textbooks with her kids, except for phonics, in their elementary years.  The questions her children posed formed the basis of their activities and explorations.  Their curiosity stemmed from the two hours a day Mary spent reading aloud to them.  “I try so hard to get moms to stop with the piles of textbooks and workbooks during those years and take the kids outside to let them explore things, to go on nature walks and on field trips, and to read real books,” Mary states.  “Textbooks can wait.  My kids are proof of that.”   Not an unschooler, Mary consulted curriculum guides to help her surreptitiously introduce new topics to her children.  Middle school years provided a transition toward more traditional forms of learning with a greater reliance on texts and seatwork.

Mary’s Work
     Mary’s work followed an equally serendipitous path.  Early in their marriage, Mary and Jon earned a reduction on their rent by performing simple maintenance on the landlady’s four-flat.  Mary also sold bread at rummage sales.  The landlady became a weekly customer for Mary’s homemade bread business.  Mary took in ironing and mending.  She babysat.  Acquaintances hired her to cut and style their hair.
     EBay gave Mary opportunity to increase her income.  She watched to see what sorts of items sold easily. Many men don’t like to shop, Mary reasoned.  Brand loyalty makes their shopping choices simple.  She began buying gently used pairs of name brand men’s dress shoes at thrift stores for $3 and reselling them on eBay for $25.  Plus size clothing and cute baby items proved plentiful at Goodwill and provided another source of reliable resells.  Mary snatched up professional-grade skillets for $1 each at a yard sale and resold them for $23 each.  Tracking selling trends on eBay, Mary switched to selling custom-sewn clothing and costumes.  She searched eBay’s Want It Now board for leads.  Costumes continue to sell well for Mary, particularly at this time of year.
     Self-taught in sewing and art, Mary teaches both to home-schoolers.  Word-of-mouth provides Mary’s best advertisement, and she also relies on Twitter, Facebook and home schooling newsletters to promote her ventures.  Her primary income now comes from sewing 18th century reproduction clothing for a company.  The creativity Mary prizes in her kids’ education also shows itself in her work. Years ago, she designed a mask that could accommodate removable charcoal packets to act as a filter for nurses allergic to gases used in operating rooms.  The company she works for asks her advice on some patterns and projects.  “I am always looking ahead to the next thing,” Mary comments, “and building my skills so I can teach more things.” 
     Sewing can consume up to 30 hours each week.  The early training her children received makes a full home educating and work life possible.  “Kids need to be taught God’s Word and to love the Lord early on,” Mary explains.  As her children got older, they took on more household responsibilities.  Mary credits discipleship for an organized home where “there is more work and less complaining going on.”  Nonetheless, getting it all done can be a challenge.  These days, Mary relies on a computer-based math program, Teaching Textbooks, to decrease the school prep time required of her.  Her girls tackle their science and literature classes as part of a weekly home school co-op.
     Leigh Ann Ford, founder and moderator of homeschool forum, calls Mary “one of the best examples of a woman who uses her talents and gifts to bless her husband and her family.”  In turn, Mary says her husband's encouragement, his household help and his hands-on parenting make their home educating, dual-income life possible.  Mary’s reliance on God in her marriage, her work and with her children mark her as one extraordinary, ordinary woman.

Please leave a comment below to be entered into a drawing to win either one of Mary's hand-sewn Red Riding Hood capes or a Peter Pan hat.  The drawing will be held on September 30 and the winner announced here on the blog.

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