Sometimes I think that the main difference between homeschooling parents and those who choose to send their children to traditional schools is the overwhelming desire to facilitate the interests that our children have. I'm not saying that if you put your children on the big yellow bus every morning, you don't try to feed their passions. But the inclination to do so seems much less passionate, to me at least, in parents whose children call someone else their main educator in life.
Case in point: Yesterday afternoon was the culmination of weeks worth of intense anticipation on behalf of all of three of my kids. What was the big deal? The space shuttle Atlantis launched!
My kiddos and I have spent countless afternoons trolling over the NASA website, learning about the astronauts, the mission, the flight plan, etc. We have studied the emergency landing sites, the physics of breaking the atmospheric barrier and the roles of various land-bound support personnel who make space exploration possible. We have watched tons of video, read books and staged recreations. All of this was just preparation, it seemed, for watching the actual lift off.
We were blessed to make a dash for dh's office yesterday afternoon, where we were able to pick up (via cable) NASA TV. While we missed the excitement of the astronauts suiting up and being strapped in, we did make it in time to watch about 40 minutes of footage of the shuttle and its attendant boosters from various angles. While this would have bored me beyond tears as a child, Jo, Atticus and Logan watched rapt with joy, pointing out the things they saw and listening intently to a litany of facts. (The main fuel tank weigh ... the booster rockets hold ... on return, the shuttle will carry ...) There was a bit of stalling on NASA's behalf, as they nearly had to shelf the lift off due to weather conditions in France. You should have seen Atticus' face as he heard a barrage of system checks, all ending "Go." When the weather report was announced "We are no go," I thought the boy might cry.
Just when I thought they would bust if they didn't get to see some actual space action, the forecast in France was changed and it, too, became a "go." Atticus breathed a huge sigh of relief and settled on to the edge of his seat for the remainder of the countdown.
(Here's where I admit my crassness: as the minutes ticked down, I was begging God that this launch did not end the way that the last one that I watched on t.v. did. Yes--I have awful memories of seeing the Challenger disaster live in my sixth grade social studies classroom. I was praying intensely for those seven fellow's lives, and for the safety of their flight. )
The lift off was perfect. It was choreographed so beautifully that it was like watching a ballet. Jo was sitting on my lap as the shuttle rose up on its cloud of fire and steam, and I felt her arms prickle with goosebumps at the sight. I have never really thought of such as thing as being particularly beautiful to see, but this one was.
We hung out until well after the main fuel tank was let go, watching the huge blue rim that is the earth growing smaller and smaller on the attached camera. As we sat, I thought, as I do from time to time in such moments, how if my kids were in school all day, I would have missed this. Sure, I could have taken them somewhere to watch the launch. I could have even checked a few books out from the library for them, or shown them a website or two. But there would be no way that I would have the grasp of the depth of their interest, nor could I know how much each moment of it meant to them. I would have seen Logan's wide eyes and realized that he was enjoying it without really knowing how what, exactly, he found so amazing. I would have watched Atticus' lips moved as he counted down and never known that he was timing, in his own mind, the last of the check list before ignition. And those goosebumps on Jo's arm? Let's be honest ... what nine and a half year old girl sits on her momma's lap after a full course of public school "socialization"?
I really enjoyed our afternoon. I'm looking forward to pulling the telescope out on a clear night and seeing if we might be able to find the International Space Station. And I'm already on the lookout for footage online that the astronauts will be sending back down too give us a glimpse of what it's like up there. In other words, I'm still facilitating. What a gift I'm able to enjoy!