Before joy, comes the pain

Patty walked toward me with tears leaking out from under her glasses. First day back at co-op—100 families gathered to share the load of homeschool education. I teach writing. Patty teaches nature journaling.

She grabbed my shoulder and wiped her cheek. For fifteen minutes, she described a change of heart and home education that took place over the summer.

“I bought your book last year and read five chapters of it. But then I put it away. I didn’t know why, but I just couldn’t read any more of it at the time. This past summer, I made a decision to not put it off. I took that big notebook with me on our family vacation to read the whole thing beginning to end, realizing I’d spent all that money on it and I knew the content was good.”

As she read, a painful memory bobbed up from inside.


English literature class,

a calloused professor who shamed her for “bad writing,”

who stomped on her spirit.

A self-protecting decision: I can’t write.

The pain stayed buried but resurfaced in an unconscious way as she home educated her kids. To protect them from the humiliation of criticism, she didn’t teach writing. Patty skipped the subject, and moved into the land of Maternal Home Educator Guilt. Native tongue: self-criticism.

Reading The Writer’s Jungle awoke that memory, that pain. As she revisited the feelings in my presence, more tears. She shared that in The Writer’s Jungle, she saw more than writing advice, but a way to be with her children that created an atmosphere of respect, admiration and support. She realized that what hurt in college was not that her writing was poor, but that her professor had wounded her in the process.

So as she began this first week of homeschooling, she vowed to change how she taught. She would teach writing with a different spirit. She shared that when they began dictation, one of her kids groaned. She switched things up and shouted, “I don’t care what you write. Write, ‘Happy Birthday!’ Write, ‘I want to eat a turkey sandwich for lunch!'” Suddenly the kids were laughing and writing and contributing their own sentences. Dictation became a game of figuring out funny things to write rather than a burden of work they didn’t care about.

Then Patty joined her kids outside on the porch for a little freewriting. They all wrote together and Patty discovered that she loved to write! She found out that a little friendliness, some humor, a change of scene all make writing easier. Too bad her professor didn’t know that. I wonder how many others believe they dislike writing because of his unkindness.

It amazed me in listening to Patty how powerful pain is in our lives. We bury it, hide it, ignore it, drink it away or drown it in reality TV. But if it lurks inside, it will find a way out. My husband likes to say, “You can’t cheat the dark gods.”

As you read The Writer’s Jungle, as you click through pages of this blog or peruse the website, be conscious of your own writing memories and how those may control your conception of writing in your home. If pain stands in the way of joyful teaching, allow it to come up. Recognize it for what it is: a memory that you have the power to transform today with your children. Then, brush off your knees and do it differently for your kids. There’s nothing like treating your children with gentleness to heal your own scars.

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