The 8 Stages of a Grocery Store Encounter with a Homeschooler

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Maybe you’ve only heard about it from strangers on the Internet. Perhaps it happened to a friend of a friend of a friend. Or maybe {cue dramatic music} it’s happened to you – the random encounter with a nosy stranger in the grocery store.

When the random stranger spots his prey, what happens next is fairly consistent. Yes, these are the eight stages of a grocery store encounter with a homeschooler.

The predator, nosius adulticanus {pronounced nosy-us adult-ĭ-khon-us} (not to be confused with the very similar-looking, but harmless species curious adulticanus), spots his unwary prey. It’s a school-aged child in the grocery store during school hours. He approaches and springs, catching the child and his parent off-guard.

The inquisition begins.

Stage 1: “Why aren’t you in school today?”

The nosy adult starts off innocently enough. Maybe he’s just making conversation. “I’m homeschooled,” the child answers matter-of-factly (or warily, depending on how many encounters he’s had with nosius adulticanus).

The homeschooler sees the look of horror cross the adult’s face. Nope. Not just making conversation.

Stage 2: “What about socialization?”

The attention shifts to the parent. The random stranger asks the question in a tone somewhere between horror and accusation. Depending on where the parent is on the polite to snarky scale during this particular encounter, he or she might offer one of the following replies:

  • Socialization is overrated. People socialize in prison, too.
  • We socialize our dogs. We educate our children.
  • We’ll worry about socialization once the kids master standing in line.
  • Oh, no socialization for us, thanks. We’re hermits.

Or he might just answer politely, holding out hope that the stranger really is the harmless curious adulticanus rather than the dreaded nosius adulticanus.

Stage 3: “How will he learn to live in the real world?”

Because, obviously, spending 7-8 hours a day in a group of 20-30 same-aged peers, eating silent lunch (with roughly 15 minutes to scarf it down), and asking permission to attend to bodily functions is the real world.

“Well, we’re out in the real world right now,” the parent gently and logically points out.

Stage 4: “How will he learn to deal with bullies?”

When did we get so used to bullying that we consider homeschooled kids disadvantaged because they don’t have to deal with it? Plus, if they have siblings or cousins, they’ve probably dealt with their fair share of bullying.

Unless the interrogator is asking about hard-core, relentless, day-in-and-day-out bullying. Why should any kid have to learn to deal with that? We don’t expect adults to learn to deal with harassment or assault. That’s what human resource departments and police reports are for.

Here the parent may offer a sincere answer or she may point out that the homeschooler is, in fact, learning to deal with bullies right this very moment. (Note: the sincere answer and pointing out  the obvious may be the same.)

Stage 5: “How do you make friends?”

At this point, the predator shifts his attention from the parent back to the child. Apparently, he has never watched children interact. Because they are much better at making friends than adults are.

And, clearly, the parent and the unsuspecting homeschooled child leave the house occasionally. I mean, they’re out in public enduring harassment by nosius adulticanus, are they not?

The child may or may not have time to answer this question before the adult fires the next one at him.

Stage 6:  What do you do all day?

Um, well aside from fielding questions from pushy strangers at the grocery store…

Stage 7: Don’t you want to go to real school?

“Real world? Real school,” silently wonders the cornered homeschooler. “Have I been living in fantasy land?”

Stage 8: The pop quiz to ascertain intelligence begins.

The final stage of the grocery store confrontation between nosius adulticanus and the hapless homeschooler is the impromptu quiz. You can quickly identify this quiz by the rapid-fire questions involving math computations, obscure history facts, U.S. presidents, and state capitals.

The encounter typically ends after the pop quiz. Nosius adulticanus wanders away. In his mind perhaps he grudgingly admits that maybe this one homeschooling parent in the whole history of homeschooling parents isn’t ruining his or her child.

Either that or he walks away fully convinced that homeschoolers will usher in the end of civilization as we know it.

Have you ever encountered nosius adulticanus? How did you fare?

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  1. So funny. Yes I get this on a daily basis, sometimes I just smile, sometimes I snap, depending on ……
    This morning at the petrol station, the woman who has been asking the same question for the past 2 years asked why my daughter wasn’t in school. I am thinking, just fill the car up, but I just say I homeschool and watch her confused expression, as she asks the question again. So I remind her how much Petrol I need, and ignore her puzzled look, surely she will be calling child services on me! I learn to just let their ignorance wash over me, mostly

  2. We run into them from time to time. The first few years of homeschooling, when our daughter was younger, we ran into it more. Surprisingly now that she is a teenager we experience it less often. Mostly it would be just weird, questioning looks. When they did actually talk to us it was the socialization question, which is still the case. In fact this came up last week when I was at an appointment. My daughter was not even there! Somehow our conversation turned to school and I said I homeschooled our daughter. I always want to say something snarky but I guess I am only snarky in my head lol! Why do we always have to defend our homeschooled childs socialization skills (or lack of). I really do not get why this is the most compelling thing people must know!

    1. Yeah, I’m only snarky in my head, too. Or on my blog when it doesn’t involve an actual face-to-face person. Every so often something snarky comes out, but then I just feel guilty so it’s not really worth it. 🙂

  3. Sigh yes….though my precociously snarky child looked at the last adult who tried the pop quiz and said ” excuse me, but in your real world, (our state) school teachers have to have an educational degree in order to give tests, do you have one?”. After the bass fish mouth stunned response, she said ” right, so I don’t have to answer your questions”. And walked to the next aisle….

    Sigh…I had to turn to the lady and say “she takes legal things seriously, we’re considering putting her in pre law classes next year!” And then I walked off too….whle she still had the bass fish face….and I could hear
    the lady behind me snickering, trying not to laugh at the nosy one…

    Ugh, only my kid….

    But generally we’ve found most people are positive once they realize she can converse with adults at their level, and once they hear what all she is studying, the pop quizzes don’t happen…

  4. Thank goodness my kids are old enough to stay home alone now! I can’t count how many times we went through this over the last 10 years. Ugh! MYOB!

  5. We do live in fairly land; the grocery store clerks wave at us and get hugs, “Hi K! I’m so glad it’s Tuesday and we get to see you!” The fish counter guy gives me cooking tips (but only when K is with me.) The lady organizing the spices asks us about her DIL’s unschooling plans and how she can support and or thwart them. We give her plain legal answers (and hugs). The stockist for Bob’s Red Mill saved us birding photos from his vacation to Mexico on his phone, because he knew she’d like them.

    It’s partly that my daughter is a sparkly cute extrovert, but the Market Basket folks have been great.

    1. Sounds like a a well socialized young person. Liked, respected, loved, unbullied, and well educated—can’t get much better!

  6. I have found the opposite reaction. People will ask why they aren’t in school, and when we respond, we usually get a “Good for you” and “I wish I had done that with my kids” and “My sister/daughter/cousin homeschools her kids.” I am thankful for the strong women ahead of me who bucked the system and paved the way for me to have this option!

  7. I like to use the term home-educate when encountering questions as I think it gives a more serious impression than saying we homeschool. In my opinion using the word educate takes us a step away from any misinformed preconceptions people have, much to our benefit.
    Thankfully I rarely encounter the crazy socialization question anymore. And as for the why aren’t you in school query – the answer of private school is often enough, or teacher institute day works well too.

  8. I love the socialization question — especially when the question comes from someone we’ve just met at the park, while my kids are socially playing with their kids. 🙂 I usually only get questions from people who are curious when I’m out and about with the kids though. It’s people I sort of know from church or my neighborhood who feel the need to question me in a nosy way. My favorite is, “When are you going to let your kids go to real school?” The question-asker in this case usually asks in such a sweet tone as if they didn’t just tell me that what we’re doing isn’t “real” and isn’t good enough in their opinion. I have to take a deep breath and kindly tell them that we’ll homeschool for as long as it’s working well for us and that we all love it so much that we can’t imagine not homeschooling. My oldest (10) did one time tell the person that it would not be a “let” if she were sent to public school. I couldn’t help but smile. 🙂

  9. We used to get “is that LEGAL?” Back in the early ‘90s when we first began to homeschool. By the time my four graduated I hardly ever got any questions once people heard we were teaching them at home. I am grateful for the change. But there are still those out there who don’t like it.

  10. I was homeschooled myself and I’m now 33 with a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Art and I work in children’s programming at the public library, and I STILL get asked how I learned socialization as a homeschooled child.

  11. A lady from our church once asked if our son was going to go to the middle school the following year. I said no, we were still homeschooling. She sighed and said, “Oh that’s too bad! How will he every learn to get along in the real world?” My response, “Much better I hope.”

  12. When asked “Why aren’t you in school?” daughter would scowl at the questioner and ask, “Why aren’t you at work?”

    If we got someone wanting to set us straight, I’d let them do their ramble, then I would sigh, look them in the eye, shake my head and say, “You have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about do you” Never had anyone reply.

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