See, there's no telling which reaction I'll get once I disclose that I was homeschooled. Will it be "Oh, that's interesting," or "Really? My brother-in-law homeschools his kids," or the dreaded, "That's so strange. I never would have thought you were homeschooled. You don't seem like it."
It's not a fun conversation to have. For many people, public school is such a basic framework of reality that they can't believe I could grow up homeschooled and not have any resulting mutations, like an extra limb or gills. Having been homeschooled doesn't make me cool, the way that growing up in a foreign country makes people cool. It doesn't make me clever, the way that attending a competitive prep school makes people clever. It makes me. . . wrong. Neglected, probably; repressed, certainly; and absolutely uneducated.
"How could you learn anything?" they ask.
I find myself arguing why my education was much cooler than everybody else's. I never had to sit in a hard plastic chair and listen to a lecture, I say, so I didn't learn to be bored by learning. I did my schoolwork whenever I wanted to, lying on my bedroom floor with a bowl of ice cream. I studied biology at the Tennessee Aquarium bio labs. I took classes at the community college in high school and finished with college credit. I got to wander around my neighborhood and pick blackberries while all the other kids were in school. I didn't miss out on anything except for the local high school's record-setting teen pregnancy rate.
But people still think that I must have been one of those malnourished kids that show up the news every few weeks. "Until the neighbors noticed the smell of the decaying bodies," the stories usually read, "no one knew that the Hurleyhews had fourteen children. The surviving child, who was found hiding in the chimney, is estimated to be thirty-five years old, has a vocabulary of two words, and subsisted on a diet of Sears catalogs. The Hurleyhews had been homeschooling their children."
So people hear "homeschooled" and think they know what it meant for me. But they don't.
It didn't mean that I had a wardrobe of bonnets and pinafores.