Today, I read my writing tutor reviews from last week. In answer to how I did my job, one student wrote, "Knowledgable. Very kind. Not awkward."
I might as well have been kissed for how ecstatic I was over someone telling me how non-awkward I was.
I hate awkward because I believe in my heart of hearts that I am an awkward person. Why do I hate this so much? Because I'm terrified that when they find out I was homeschooled they will say, "Ah yes. That explains the awkwardness in this sad individual. They must have been deprived growing up. And their parents must be Christian fundamentalist brain washers and terrorists. Yes, I see it all now."
I fear this because it happened once. I was on a trip with Penn State to South Carolina and on a beach hike, one of the guys that I got into a discussion with asked me if I was homeschooled. My insides shriveled. "Yes?" "You just act like some people I knew growing up. Kind of hard to relax with some people, really respectful. Dana, its really okay for you to laugh at our dirty jokes."
So I usually keep my mouth shut, slide through the day with as little awkwardness as possible, and hold my breath against the possibility that someone will know without me ever having to tell them about my schooling.
Confession: I consider a compliment if someone is shocked when I tell them that I was homeschooled.
All of this is nothing short of appalling. I loved being homeschooled. LOVED it. I can't say that enough. It doesn't work for everyone, I know. But I grew up one happy kid (other than having to learn math). I took piano lessons. I was in plays. I had friends. I hung out at Starbucks when I got my license. I may not have been able to tell you who Brittany Spears was in fifth grade or recognize a Backstreet Boys song, but I managed. College is its own learning curse. You can't really tell anymore.
Part of this whole thing is that there aren't many homeschoolers who could break stereotypes for them.
But then again, I knew people who are the stereotypes. Why have I taken such pains to distance myself from them in word and deed? Many of these dear people, clad in jean skirts and sneakers, from families with members numbering over 6, were dear friends, teachers, instructors. Their children were my friends. I was even one of them! My jeans were mama jeans until eighth grade. My hair was long, scraggled, and french braided (at my request). Disney was banned at one point in my childhood (my mother later recanted this decision, so don't worry about my education that way). I wish I could find the proper photographic evidence for you. It does exist.
But being this girl wasn't bad. I picked up a lot of crazy ideas about how it was bad to be that, but it wasn't. It was my own version of childhood and junior high. Yes, I was homeschooled for religious reasons. Yes, I was sheltered. And, in case you were wondering, no, I didn't do school in my pjs or eat all day or have trouble making friends. But for a while, they were friends that others might not have thought to be with.
And I've grown into the experience of a strange educational minority, without a way to communicate that experience to the world that doesn't come off as strange or defensive. I am strange and defensive because it was once a badge of odd pride, a reason to keep my nose in the air, to be better than anyone else. Too often, my pride becomes my secret shame: just another form of pride.