One Year–an excerpt from my upcoming book


A few months ago, my husband was diagnosed with a rare but treatable form of cancer. And just like that, our lives changed. As the reality of his disease led us down the practical path of blood tests, body scans, and eventually a course of treatment, the extraneous aspects of our lives fell away like a rocket launcher, leaving us just enough momentum to propel us forward into unknown spheres. Priorities shifted, time slowed, to-do lists ran trivial. Even certain people fell to the side, while others rose to the top like cream, helping us to stay afloat. What kept me awake at night wasn’t the car tires that needed replacing or the article I needed to write. What escorted me to bed ushered me right back into day—the very basic and desperate need to keep my family together.

Around this time, as will happen with the cadence of synchronicity, I came across this quote by Kelly Dunlap Lovejoy:

“If you knew you only had a year more with your child, what would you expose him to? Where would you go? What would you eat? What would you watch? What would you do? If you had only ONE year—and then it was all over, what would you do? Four seasons. Twelve months. 365 days. Do that THIS year. And the next. That’s how unschooling works. By living life as if it were an adventure. As if you only had a limited amount of time with that child. Because that’s the way it IS.”

This notion of limited time with the ones we love is certainly not a revelation. How many times had my husband and I heard a seasoned parent say to us, in the throes of babyhood, “Enjoy it. It goes by so fast.” As parents, we know this. We feel it. We see it. We fear it. And yet reading this quote hit me in a deep and knowing place that perhaps I hadn’t wanted to explore. For all my attempts over the years at explaining why we’ve chosen to homeschool our children, and of all the many reasons, this was the essence. This was it. Because I want to spend time with my family. I want to be with my children. I want to experience them. I want to live with them.

I hadn’t been able to admit this to myself, let alone say it out loud, because somehow it seemed selfish. Society tells us that we owe it to our children to educate them, to prepare them for the world, and that the only way to honor our duty is to send them to school. Society tells us we’re not their friends, we’re their parents. Society tells us that if we want to be good parents, we need to let go, so very, very early, when our instinct (our parental and human instinct!) is telling us just the opposite. Our hearts plead to hold on. Society tells us to trust in the institution of school and the calculations of “experts” to prepare our children for the future, to shape their time and their minds, and perhaps even their hearts. Society provides endless opportunities for us NOT to spend time with our children. No time to eat or talk or play together, barely time to love. In fact, Society tells us that it’s okay and necessary and even glamorous that we should all be busy and distracted and largely virtual. Occupied and over-scheduled and unavailable. What Society shows us is that we have no present with our children.

My husband and I chose to say no.

No. I want to spend my time with my children. Not to hover over them or mold them or possess them. Not to direct or control them. But to savor them, to inspire them, to admire them. To watch them discover and fail and triumph. To reveal their choices and to give directions if needed. To accompany them on the simple, slow waves of averageness as well as the periods of rich muchness.

I don’t want them to spend the majority of their days locked behind walls of information, led by conformity and measured by competition. I don’t want their creative flame to be extinguished in favor of bland instruction. I don’t want their bodies restrained and their souls tethered. I want their learning to be quest-driven and their knowledge to be meaningful. This year and the next. Now.

Yes, time flies. Life flies. My husband’s cancer is a reminder of this. I want to be with my children as much as time and choice allow. Not because I fear they’ll die, but because I want to be sure they live.


3 thoughts on “One Year–an excerpt from my upcoming book

  1. Ellen , this is BEAUTIFUL. I can’t wait to read your book!
    What a brave and truly inspirational woman you have become!
    It is a long way from the Greenbrier and the bubble we grew up in.
    All my Love ,
    Laura Oviatt DeFino


    • Hi Laura, Thanks so much for your feedback and encouragement. It’s so nice to hear from you. Yep, I think we’ve all come a long way, baby! Hope you and your family are well. Love, Ellen


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