Apples, Autumn, and Cesar Chavez
A few of weeks ago I made a big decision to homeschool Ximena. It is something that I had been considering for a long while now. As the countdown to the new school year started dwindling down, I grew anxious. However, not for the reasons you might think.
Growing up, I always felt over-sheltered. My parents are some of my best friends (they were even back then), but I always craved more freedom from them: I was never allowed to go to sleepovers. My field trips were always chaperoned… when I became a parent I vowed to be different. To parent from a place of joy, wonder, courage, and bravery. (Not that my parents didn’t parent from this place; but not many first- or even second-generation immigrants have this luxury).
I was so excited that Ximena was going to spread her wings and start preschool. This was the beginning of her independence!
And then she told me she wasn’t ready. Cue record scratch.
She cried until she made herself sick every time we talked about it. We enlisted the help of our favorite librarian to find ALL the books about first day of school jitters. We talked about it every day. I worried right alongside her.
In the end, I decided to change tactics and do a slow and gentle introduction to “school” (I have tried to make every transition slow and gentle for Ximena, i.e. it took us, like, half a year to wean). My new plan: I would homeschool for a few months for pre-k, then sign her up for a more traditional pre-k to close out the year, so that she would be “used to it” in time for kindergarten.
I realize that not everyone has the privilege of homeschooling their child: Because it is a privilege. Even if it is for a short time. Even if it is hard. I have been reading lots of books about homeschooling. I started searching for like-minded homeschooling mamás who valued diversity and social justice. When my search fell short, I created a community of my own.
Many of you chimed in that I should not waste money on curriculum for pre-k, but I felt like I was navigating pitch-black waters. We already read voraciously and joyously together. We both needed structure. I sought natured-based, secular curriculum, where we would get to learn and play together. Bonus points if Xavi could get involved. I did lots of research, but I ended up purchasing this and this. And it’s been good so far! I have some thoughts about some of the recommended books (i.e. I understand Dr. Seuss is a “classic” but he also happened to be a shameless, blackface-wearing racist.) So we are making it our own! Skipping over some of the activities/readings, exploring others further, and covering topics that no curriculum includes.
For the first two weeks we took an in-depth dive into apples. We read LOTS of books about them, tasted the many varieties, sorted them by size/color/etc, we painted and created stamps with them, we cut them open and learned about their insides, we learned about how they grow, we made sensory tables with them, aaaaand we went picking for them! As we walked into the orchard, Ximena kept saying “This is just like my book!” or “Little Critter has apple cider, too!” It was a beautiful opportunity to tie this whole unit together.
It was such a sweet day! The weather was perfect, it was fun, and interactive. We had a great time. I never went apple picking as a kid, but taking my own kids made me reflect on many things. My parents were migrant farmworkers. I can’t imagine they wanted to “pick fruit for fun” later in life. Not surprisingly, we were one of few families of color at the orchard. Whether this had to do with accessibility, or with the larger problem of getting people of color to feel safe and welcome outdoors, I felt like it was an important conversation to have with Ximena.
When we got home I introduced the word “privilege” to her. I asked her if she knew what it meant. We talked about how some people have more privilege than others. How it is important to acknowledge our privilege, and to use it for good. I told her it was a privilege that we got to pick apples for fun, because some people have to pick fruit and vegetables for a living. I told her that her Ta and her To (Abuelita and Abuelito) used to have to do that every day before school.
I asked her how she would feel if she had to pick fruits from trees or from the ground every day. I asked her how she would feel if she had to do it under our hot desert sun. I told her about a man named Cesar Chavez and a woman named Dolores Huerta, and how her Ta got to hear him speak when she was little. I promised her we would check out some books about them from the library next week. She thought about everything I was telling her; I could see her brilliant brain working hard to sort the wonderful experience she had just had at the apple orchard, with this reality.
Because, ultimately, that is what I want for my kids. For them to grow up understanding the kind of privilege they carry, and what it means to live and learn in this complex and beautiful world. To honor the work of the people who came before, and paved the way, for them. This is something that is not taught in schools, but it is something I am eager to explore right alongside them.
Thanks for reading.