Questions directed toward my children about their schooling still throw me. I realize that many (if not most) adults simply do not know how to relate easily to children, and often fall back on the one guaranteed cultural frame of reference: schooling. I also know that many of these people (strangers, friends, or otherwise) do not expect to be thrown a curveball to an innocuous social exchange. When a waitress asks how you're doing today, she really doesn't expect to hear a litany of complaints unrelated to your business together. It's a rote exchange: "How are you today?"/ "Fine, and you?" "What grade are you in?"/ "Second." People (including me) just don't know how to react when the answer is a little less predictable and a lot less definable.
I hope that time will make me more graceful at handling these social situations. I'm pretty good at acting cheerful rather than defensive, but some of the questions people ask my kids are so based on "school" assumptions that I sometimes don't even know how to answer them without giving a full-out informative lecture on the many types of home education and my personal reasons for choosing this for my family. In most cases, neither of us is up for that kind of discussion, and I often find myself wishing I could just feel comfortable lying.
But I don't. I answer.
A few days ago, a store clerk asked my son, "What grade are you in?"
"Well, are you still in school or are you out for the summer?"
I could see that he was uncomfortable (not with the line of questioning; he's just generally shy with any direct address by adults) and jumped in. "We're homeschoolers. We don't keep a normal school year. But if he were in school, he would have just completed his kindergarten year."
Which is true and not-true. He's the same age as a kindergartener. But we haven't "done" kindergarten. He's done some stuff that's way beyond a typical curriculum. And missed a lot of other stuff that the other kids did cover. What we do is so far removed from the mold of school that it's difficult to draw parallels.
And after all, grade levels are a system of classifying groups of students, by both age and experience level. There's no need if you aren't in the system. He's in a class of one.
All of this goes through my mind and I try to articulate it on the spot, and people invariably get confused. Either they try to clarify and get it so wrong that I end up explaining even more, or they make assumptions and I have to remind myself that I don't want or need to have this conversation and it might be best to escape by giving them something, anything, to which they can relate.