Ninja Training: Chloe Anderson’s Story
My best memories from high school involve dressing up in suits, sorting through philosophy books and shopping for office supplies for the next speech tournament. It was a dignified, serious existence.
And then there’s this photo — which I will get to.
A lot of this post may seem like it focuses on my parents more than homeschooling per se. However, from what I have seen the homeschooling experience is made or broken by the parents doing the homeschooling. Homeschooling was a lifestyle for our family. Everything — every experience, every family friend, every activity we did and book we read was all centered around my parents work homeschooling us. And they did that work with passion and care.
A Little Bit of Backstory
My homeschooling experience had its ups and downs. I loved the ups: Choir tours (all by my-middle school-self!) with my co-op friends; Highschool trips to Europe to visit the historical sights I’d studied for years; Family weekends at the Scottish Festival; Learning beekeeping… The ups were largely thanks to an amazing peer group that I adored and a good relationship with my parents and siblings.
The downs were mostly usual issues; teen angst, and the occasional tousle with my parents. I never felt like I really fit in with the more conservative majority of our social/church circle. My parents were alright with that. They never really fit in with them either. My parents were reformed, but they rejected heavy handed theology that sidelined women or centralized church authority to squash dissent and learning. Because of this we found ourselves moving often from church to church, even though my parents desire was to be active, participating members of a stable church community.
My family wasn’t perfect. A couple members of my extended family vehemently, sometimes explosively, disagreed with my father’s relatively liberal interpretation of “biblical patriarchy”. My mother, an educator and a passionate advocate of higher education for girls, was sidelined more than once from homeschool conventions for that perspective. My relationship with my father was sometimes rocky, but he has been more than willing to invest time in working through those issues with me.
Today, I value our relationship more than ever.
When my parents’ marriage ended three years ago, I was confronted with a mountain of baggage that was compounded last summer when my mother suddenly passed away to cancer. Now I’m left picking up pieces while building a life for myself in California, and I’m struck by the rich silver lining to all my drama.
My family wasn’t perfect.
But for all its imperfections I think that they got a lot of things right.
My parents home schooled me K-12, not because they thought they had discovered the perfect formula for parenting, but because they loved me and my brother and sister, and wanted to give us the very best of everything. And in the process they gave me, a lot of tools I treasure now that I’m on my own.
And that brings me to explaining the picture at the beginning.
I was a speaker/debater for all of highschool and I loved it. My biggest challenges, and best friends growing up were found there. One of the debate camps I helped coach had a ninja debater theme. Needless to say it was awesome. I believe that this is a carefully staged photo illustrating the mesmerizing power of effective criteria. Through homeschooling my parents inadvertently passed along a plethora of moments like this filled with possibility, wonder and hope, which I have only just begun to mine.
They have helped me sort the other wounds that I have received in the normal course of life.
School in your PJ’s?
Similar to many of you reading this, my education was largely custom built. Both of my parents were college educated, lifetime scholars with a passion for knowledge. My mother worked to bring education to life for us on a daily basis early on so we’d catch the passion too. History lessons about Egypt tied into real-life biology lessons as we dissected and mummified a frog – which we then placed for display in the handmade sarcophagi we’d done in the art lesson that day.
What kid wouldn’t like that?
Or in highschool we volunteered at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science for their new space exhibit, getting cutting edge lectures from NASA/NOAA scientists and then running cool experiments on a daily basis for the museum patrons. School was a wonderful time for me and my parents did a good job of teaching me not only tons of information, but how to find it and how to love the search for knowledge.
My mother was the primary teacher, but as we got into highschool years my dad took over languages and History. A Russian linguist for many years, he taught me Russian for high school language studies. Now I have a degree in Russian and endless cocktail conversation about my semester abroad in Russia to accompany it.
We also were not limited to classes taught by my parents.
From very early on me and my siblings were involved in classes taught by outside tutors whether it was in a co-op setting early on, or a community college setting later in our schooling career. All three of us graduated highschool with at least a full year worth of credits from the local community college. Those classes were especially helpful for areas that my parent’s weren’t so prepared to teach like upper level math or chemistry.
Silver Screen Dreams
While many of my peers were limited in their consumption of media, my parents encouraged an active dialogue on just about any topic. I remember the awe in my friend’s eyes (and the horror in her mother’s) as 12-year-old me happily announced at lunch one day that I had seen The Matrix the other night.
Granted, my parents watched it with us and they had remote-edited a couple of scenes they didn’t think were totally appropriate.
But the fact remained that I was raised in a really rich creative environment. Movies were a part of my life from early on (I literally can’t remember I time I didn’t have all of the original Star Wars movies memorized). Natural next steps for me were interests in living out these movies somehow.
What started as imagination and play acting turned into a real passion for acting, writing and producing for both film and theater. My parents were delighted with my creative talents and encouraged my theatrical tendencies wherever they could, even though I know my mother in particular was a little worried about what might happen to me were I ever to pursue them professionally. As I grew however, she was willing to work through those concerns as I demonstrated that I was thoughtfully investing in my God given talents.
She knew she had to let her girl fly and she was willing to make that sacrifice even if it meant that she was a little uncomfortable.
That willingness on her part, to let me try things that scared her, was key in building a relationship that allowed me to actually grow up — not just get older under her watch. T
hanks to her encouragement early on I’ve had the tools and the courage to step out on my own now and go beyond just being a productive member of society. I’m chasing dreams out here in California and hopefully you’ll be reading my name in the credits of your favorite summer flick someday soon.
Learning to Speak My Mind
My parents also encouraged debate. But long before the competitive bug bit me, I remember my parents hosting “Soirees” at our house after church; potluck food, and a grab bag of topics to discuss ranging from literature to politics to science. I loved them and felt so grown up when I was included at 11 years old in the adult discussions. We’d invite the most interesting people we could find. My Dad often would actually seek out people with odd views just to have them over so we could have an interesting discussion. “All opinions are welcome here. If you have a problem with that, you can leave.” That was his rule.
Looking back, the group was mostly varying shades of conservative and the occasional communist friend of Daddy’s from the Tattered Cover Bookstore where he worked. (They liked us because we were all a little bit different. He liked them because they knew about Russia — his deepest passion in life.)
But while the opinions weren’t that diverse, those afternoons ingrained in me early on that everyone deserves a voice. Even if you think you don’t agree with them.
That attitude served me well as I emerged from the homeschooling community into a liberal college where I encountered people with actual differences in opinion. They weren’t scary to me. They were just different people – with opinions of their own. And since I knew how to listen, it didn’t take me long to figure out that “the world,” as many christian worldview apologists like to call it, is just made up of people like me; People who have passions, who have loved ones, who have been hurt, who have dreams.
And when the debate is over and the ideas are put to bed, you should still be able to sit down with them over a lovely meal and ask them how their kids are doing.
One of the Boys
I was kind of odd in our circle of girls, because I never got the romantic fascination with marriage and boys and Mr. Darcy. Frankly, if you ask me even now he’d have made a really boring husband.
But, that meant that after about 9 years old, a giant chunk of my good friends growing up were boys. Even in college they were often the most interesting (drama-free) people around. I’m sure that there were mothers who thought that was odd or inappropriate, but my parents were fine with it. They were great guys and I’m proud to say that I’m still good friends with many of them even after almost a decade in some cases and marriage in others.
I love them like brothers — totally inappropriate brothers who would let me rough house with them, who would play stupid games with me, who would match my banter word for word, who would take me swing dancing and who would talk theology, politics, video games and movies with me till dawn. I am deeply grateful for those guys in my life because I truly believe that without them I might not have been able to process the Daddy issues which are inevitable for any girl whose parents divorce.
In those friendships my parents gave me a piece of the external security net that has kept me grounded as I begin to live life as an independent adult.
Learning to Say, “No”
My parents’ marriage was far from perfect.
But, with all their issues, they were a rock of help for several families struggling with abuse. They worked so hard to provide a harbor in the storm. My dad partnered with other men to help mentor a few of the fathers who were struggling. My mother hosted bible studies and invited single moms over to learn how to make jams or study child development. They even included us kids in a limited fashion, asking us (never forcing us) to watch the young toddlers while my parents had coffee or dinner with one or both parents.
I was never really privy to details and for that I am grateful.
But in light of the little I did know, my mother made sure that my sister and I knew without a shadow of a doubt that we never had to stand for abuse whether it was verbal, physical or emotional. It was an especially important lesson to her because of the systematic abuse we observed all around us which was justified under the label of “biblical patriarchal theology.” When seeking help from many churches for their own marriage issues the constant refrain aimed at my mother seemed to be, “If you would just submit better to your husband, your marriage would be fixed.”
With this useless advice ringing in her ears, within our conservative circle there was no one able to help until it was too late.
When my brother was a senior in high school, my sister was finishing her last year of college and I was doing my first year of internships post-college, my parents finally ended their marriage. They had sacrificed much to try to make a home that was healthy for me and my siblings. And when they finally ended their marriage I was witness to another step they were taking, at least in part, for us kids; they had the courage — even in the face of the social stigma in the church against divorces — to walk away from the marriage so that they themselves could heal. Many people would see this result as a total failure. But as I watched both of my parents wrestle through that time, I saw two people emerge with an even greater capacity for grace and forgiveness than ever before.
The divorce was not a failure.
It was the first step towards healing and restoration.
Hindsight, Always 20/20
The area that I look back on with the most pause is just how much I held my parents up as perfect — especially my mother. They were responsible for introducing me to the most fascinating ideas, the most wonderful people and for sheltering me from as much of the junk theology as they could. So their opinion of me, their blessing, their respect was something that I not only wanted, but it was something that I needed on a deep and very unhealthy level.
This was something I didn’t fully register until recent years.
As I hit the later years of high school and throughout my college years I found my opinions shifting as I experienced the world without parental filters. I knew the filters they had applied had been applied in love, but they were filters never the less. My experiences began to show me that perhaps my parents aren’t infallible after all. Especially spending as much time as I did with the theater department at my school my perspective on LGBT issues, sex, drugs, alcohol, democrats, republicans, “world view”…. all of it was shifting in light of my new experiences —
And the thing that tore me up was that I felt I had no tools for telling anyone from my family.
At school I was one person, and at home I became expert at active listening, passive questions, sidestepping issues, or sometimes just lying to avoid telling my parents I’d come to a different conclusion than they had.
The internal dissonance didn’t really come to a head until I met the love of my life. His name is Dylan. We met in Stage Combat learning to sword fight. It was awesome. And really quickly we became fast friends. He was the adventure I’d always hoped for in the moments when I dropped my usual “one-of-the-guys” act. He was kind and smart, better read than anyone I knew, a professional athlete, on a full ride scholarship for acting and passionate about making a positive impact through politics.
But he was also a Democrat, a former player with the ladies, and I had no idea where he really stood on the spectrum of religion but I knew it wasn’t nearly “christian” enough.
I was terrified to bring him home.
I didn’t even tell my family I was dating him for about a month. I knew in my heart that our relationship was healthy, that I was growing and that I trusted him with my life even with our differences. The fact that our friendship was based on a choice to be invested in each other rather than a checklist of intellectual compatibility was freeing. But my parents didn’t know how to handle him. They were shocked by my choice because for about 7 years I’d been hiding behind my silent nods.
They didn’t know me anymore because I had stopped letting them in for fear of losing them.
I had to learn to speak again.
And this is the juncture at which I find myself today. My mother passed away last summer, so I never got to finish letting her back in. But my father and I are watching our relationship slowly heal. I still have the need for approval of people I respect — but I think that’s more me than any homeschooling-bred need for perfection. And I’ve finally been able to be honest about my choices — choices that I make on a daily basis using so many of the tools that my homeschooling experience gave me. I would never give back that experience. The glue that held it all together and kept my parents from being dysfunctional task masters, or chronic busy bodies with a messiah complex was that they loved us kids and wanted the world for us. And they sought every day to live out a faith that convicted them to serve, love and empower.
That is perhaps the greatest example that they left me.
And while I now no longer really identify as a conservative as they did, I carry that passion of theirs with me. And I carry a faith that I have inherited but have also grown to own as mine. In many ways I’m still the crazy kid in the photograph: Obviously not totally put together, but self possessed enough to fake it till I make it — and wise enough to love the journey along the way.
For that, I have my parents and my time homeschooling to thank.