I love poetry, and my children and I often read poetry together. One night while enjoying some autumn poems written by Robert Frost, I penned a few lines of my own.
The road less traveled, Robert Frost once said,
And every poet since ponders thoughts in his head
Of roads not taken and paths not tread.
At some point in our lives, most of us look back and wonder if we have chosen the right path. When I look back, however, I find the roads not taken are distant and vague, so it is the paths I have taken upon which I choose to reflect. Some of those paths were trod by only a few before me, and the road was difficult to follow at times, but as Frost well knew, the paths led ever onward and never back. The decision to homeschool now lies in my past, behind many bends, but sometimes it is good to look back and reflect on the paths that have brought me to where I am today.
When my oldest son Justin turned four, I began to think about his education. I wanted him to have a Christian education, but we already had three little boys, and I knew we could not afford private school for all of them, so we decided to homeschool. I did not know then where that road would take us, but the decision would forever change the course of my life and the lives of my children.
Justin turned five in August 1991, and I began homeschooling him that fall. I thought that if I “messed up,” we could always send him to school the following year. I soon realized, however, that teaching numbers, letters, and phonics was not as difficult as I had imagined. Many other aspects of his school day were routine in our home—things such as nature walks and story time—so our first year of home schooling was a very pleasant experience. I loved my boys, and I enjoyed having Justin at home to spend his day learning and playing with his brothers.
That spring, however, our lives took a sharp bend through a deep valley when Justin was left severely brain damaged after his second open-heart surgery. We endured months of hospitalization and many months of intense therapy. Jennifer was born while Justin was still hospitalized, so I had three small children for whom to care, in addition to the intensive care Justin now required. In January 1993, Justin’s therapists began to suggest we place him in a special education program in the public school to give me some respite. Suddenly, the thought of putting even one of my children into the public school system seemed appalling.
I contacted the Texas Home School Coalition and asked if they could give me any information on how to homeschool a special needs child. They gave me some information on NATHHAN* (National Challenged Homeschoolers Associated Network). The people at NATHHAN were friendly and compassionate. They offered a quarterly newsletter that was full of helpful ideas and encouraging articles. They had a membership directory, and they took my name and phone number and asked if I would like to talk to another member family.
A few days later, I received a phone call from Janet Norton, a member of NATHHAN who lived in a nearby city. It was not long before Don and Janet Norton with their beautiful children were sitting in my living room. That visit began a bond of friendship that would last a lifetime.
Janelle and David were twins and the youngest of the five Norton children. They were only a month younger than Justin. While David was a healthy child, Janelle was born with cerebral palsy—her abilities and limitations very similar to Justin’s. Janet’s friendship was the encouragement that I needed to follow my convictions and continue to school Justin at home. God provided the help I needed when I needed it, and although the path we were then on was not well-worn, it was nice to know I was not traveling alone. He would not only travel this path with me but also provide companions along the way.
As we travel life’s trail, we discover it can often be full of valleys and peaks. Our family faced another valley in the spring of 2001 when the death of my husband suddenly left us traveling alone. My children and I spent the summer in a state of shock while we tried to take care of farm business, settle farm accounts, and prepare equipment for sale, so I was unprepared when well-meaning family members asked if I still planned to homeschool. Again, the thought of sending even one of my precious children away to school after the death of their father never even occurred to me. God had provided for me in the past, and I knew He would continue taking care of me. Fall came, and somehow we managed to cut firewood for winter, maintain our property, care for our animals, care for Justin, and still get our schoolwork done.
Since that time, I have been homeschooling as a single mom. It has not been easy, but God is faithful. Our needs have always been met, many times in unexpected ways. Sometimes when “two roads diverge” before us, it is not easy to choose which path to take, but often the harder choice is to continue traveling the path our hearts tell us to tread. I will never regret my decision to continue to homeschool, even when difficult circumstances arise in my life and make that decision questionable.
Justin went home to be with the Lord on March 3, 2004, after ten months of hospice. His life was lived among the people who loved him most, his family. Although his last year was very difficult, I am glad his siblings were there to help with his care and spend their school days in his presence. The experience has given them lasting memories and invaluable lessons of love.
I will always be grateful to people like the Lamberts who blazed a trail for others to follow, and I can only hope to clear a few twigs and perhaps make the path a little easier for those who follow.
*Editor’s note: There is now also a group in Texas for families with special needs children, Texas Special Kids.