The early days of our homeschooled life were quiet and idyllic. We spent a large portion of our week with just one other family. We practiced a Montessori-esque curriculum with them that was very hands-on, arts driven, and test free. It was very happy and holistic and hippie.
Our lessons were divided into monthly or semi-monthly “unit studies,” into which all of our learning was channeled. Our first unit study was on horses, because I was 6 and obsessed with them, and so we studied science through horse anatomy, literature through horse books, history through history’s famous horses (O, mighty Bucephalus!), and so on.
There were four kids in the other family and four of us; between us, we had a kid in every grade at one stage (1st through 8th grades). We all paired off and became the deepest of friends.
At lunch time, our mothers would lock us out of the house and tell us to go do something for an hour. We’d disappear into the woods or run off to play in the creek. Rebecca and I, the eldest pair, would scheme about ways to taunt and torment our sisters. We once lured Rachel and Kelsey into a shed and locked them in it for the better part of an hour. At their house, we’d sneak food through the fence to the neglected cocker spaniel who was always grateful for any human contact. We often discussed how we would dog-nap the spaniel and bring him to live with us. At our house, we’d take our lunches out to the walking trails and forbid any of our siblings to follow us. As the eldest pair, our choice of lunch spot took precedence over the younger one’s wishes. We created a code language that we used to communicate with each other in class. Later, we received a handwritten missive from Rachel, who said that our behavior was hurtful and exclusionary, arguing that she and Kelsey found it rude that we’d communicate in a secret language.
Jonathan and Grace, the pair third in line, were rebellious and mismatched. They resented the other one’s sex, for it made a less comfortable pairing, as the rest of us were matched neatly (Rebecca and Abby, Rachel and Kelsey, and Zach and Sam). Grace was either forced into a loner position or constantly vying to earn the affection and attention of the other sister pairs. Jonathan was just a wild child. He once dragged a bar stool over to a pair of French doors leading to my father’s studio, and, having stolen a bottle of shampoo from my parent’s bathroom, poured the entire contents of the bottle down the French doors. Just because he could.
We practiced Irish dancing in their living room, and Rebecca and Rachel always danced the male part, because they were so much bigger and stronger than us waif-like Farsons. Rebecca would pick me up and literally fling me across the room. I learned to always stick my landing.
To teach us about electricity, our mothers had us build functional lighthouses out of papier-mâché and wires, with tiny light bulbs installed in the top of our towers, which rested on salt-plaster bases. Jonathan quickly lost interest and took to frying ant hills with a magnifying glass, in a very archetypal boy-child fashion.
Rebecca and Rachel shared a double bed, which rested on stacks of books, because they didn’t have a bedframe. We had to jump on the bed with the greatest precision and care, lest the mattress collapse and accidentally trap a child. Sometimes, we’d carefully lift a book from the stack and read it to each other. We adored the American Girl series (and our corresponding dolls, our greatest treasures), Jane Austen, and the Brontës.
We put on scores of plays together, which we forced our parents and brothers to watch. Some of them were of our own creation; many were again from the American Girl series. I was always the director and an unbearable dictator about my role. I also took it upon myself to memorize everyone else’s lines and would stage-whisper the cues to everyone during the production, should they falter even for a second. I didn’t remember that I did this until I saw snippets of a home video of one of these productions. There I was in a prairie skirt with my plaited hair, whispering the entire play to my frustrated and confused co-actors.
Then Rebecca went to high school at a private Christian school. It was devastating to me. Gradually, all of her siblings followed her to this school, and we remained homeschooled. An era had ended, and I do not think we ever had such blissfully naive days again.
In these early years, we did not really have many other friends, and we earnestly felt that we did not need them. Our universe was happy and self-contained.