My kids’ best friends—two girls around the same ages as my son and daughter—live a few houses down. The four kids find a lot of time to play together, which is excellent for me. It cuts way down on the time I spend traveling to playdates and texting with other moms about arranging said playdates. Instead, my two have built-in afternoon activities with their neighbors almost every day, which is great for me as a work-at-home mom. With the kids running back and forth from house to house and playing hopscotch or riding their bikes on the sidewalk, you could say it’s almost like the 1950s on our street (except for the me working part).
The neighbor kids are extraordinarily polite, like way more than most kids I’ve met (including my own), like they make eye contact with me (an adult!) and ask how I am. They have a well-developed sense of fairness, as well as good imaginations. The four of them play all kinds of games that don’t involve screens or toy guns. A total win!
This is where I should add that our neighbors are homeschoolers, and that, even though they’re wonderful, I also kind of hate them.
You see, once upon a time, I imagined that I, too, would homeschool my kids. This was before I realized the kind of mother I am instead of the kind of mother I hoped to be. In my mind, I’m just like our homeschooling neighbors. For example, like them, I’m into natural stuff and qualify as “alternative” in my educational philosophy. And yet… our family life doesn’t look like theirs. Along the way I’ve made choices — regarding my career, my relationship, my sanity — at the expense of other choices. And while I get that that’s how life works, it’s still the case that living in such close proximity to people who took the other path brings my choices and their choices into sometimes-painful contrast.
I want to make clear that I make no judgement about the education the homeschoolers are receiving. Their mom is smart, well-educated, and resourceful, and their dad is a high school math teacher: they’re covered. And they’re super kind people who always have a cup of (almond) milk whenever we’re in a pinch with a recipe, or rush to my daughter’s side if she skins her knee in their front yard.
But I used the word hate just a few sentences ago, as in, I hate my homeschooling neighbors. So, let me explain.
First, they’re vegetarians. I tried for several years to be a vegetarian and failed. I’m pretty sure they think they’re more ethical and earth-friendly than our family for that reason, and they’re right. Damn them. Once in a while, I see the homeschooling, vegetarian kids throw my kids dirty looks when we say we’re having (delicious) hamburgers for dinner. So what if I’d do the exact same thing to other meat-eaters if I’d cut it as vegetarian — does that make me a hypocrite? (No need to answer that.)
Also, every time I take our chock-full-and-overflowing recycling bin to the curb I’m reminded that I’ve chosen a convenient life that includes a lot of Trader Joe’s frozen and pre-packaged foods, while the homeschoolers have chosen a more labor-intensive life that includes trips to the grocery store’s bulk bins with reusable bags, and much less plastic. They recycle, too—they just have a hell of a lot less to recycle. I sometimes catch their sidelong glances at my pathetically overfull recycling bin (like I need the reminder that half of that stuff goes to a landfill anyway). Again—if I’m being totally honest here, I’d probably be a little smug, too, if I put all of that energy into an eco-friendly, lifestyle. I do want all that, I’ve just made other choices. And, yet, even though I’m a grownup, it’s still sometimes hard to reconcile the fact that choosing certain things in life means excluding other things.
My own guilt plays a role, too. The homeschooling mother teaches her kids all day. She bakes and cooks food from scratch pretty much every night. She crafts, makes, sews, and knits with her kids. She’s really patient—loving but firm—and does a great job imparting values. She’s the kind of mother I aspire to be, even though it’s not in the cards.
What’s more, her kids love homeschooling. And even though my two go to an excellent public school where they interact with a diverse group of kids and get lots of enrichment and arts education, they’ve actually asked me if I would homeschool them, like the neighbor mom. But me homeschooling my kids would be a disaster: mind-numbing and tedious, not joyful. They would drive me crazy in a hot second, and I’d drive them crazy—we’d end up hating it, and one another. Plus I couldn’t teach them everything they need to know. Our entire science curriculum would consist of us making vinegar and baking soda volcanoes. I don’t want to do that all day with my kids, nor do I want that at the expense of my alone-time, my work, and my sense of self.
But back when I imagined myself as a homeschooling parent, I also imagined having a simultaneously-tracked incredible career, passionate marriage, and active social life. How I thought all of that could actually happen, I haven’t a clue.
So that’s why I kind of hate my homeschooling neighbor mom, and all of her family by extension, and I’m sorry if it’s mean. They remind me of dreams gone by the wayside, and of the many compromises and half-measures I’ve taken to get where I am now. I’ve made my choices and I love my life, but I sometimes wonder if those were the best choices. Don’t we all second-guess?
Of course, regardless of my own insecurities and mom-envy, I’m so glad that our kids are friends and that our neighborhood feels safe enough for them to spend hours playing in. And on the bright side, I’m not particularly worried that my homeschooling neighbor mom is going to read this and take offense. With all of the time she spends teaching her kids, as well as sewing, knitting, baking, making, and crafting, it doesn’t leave a lot for surfing the Internet. Luckily!