Where the Heart Is

As Told by Naomi Lewis

Naomi Lewis at ages seven (left) and eighteen via Instagram (right). Photo courtesy of Loren Lewis.

Looking back on my childhood, it almost feels as if I were in an elite cult. I know that sounds outrageous, but hear me out. From the time that I was a baby up until the third grade, my mother homeschooled me and my two older sisters. That may not seem like a long period of time but when I think about it, I was surrounded by my immediate family every day from 1999 to 2008.

I can remember it like it was yesterday.

Every day we’d wake up around 6 a.m. to get up, eat and start school work by 7 a.m. My mom would come into me and my middle sisters room and tap on our bunk beds to make sure we were awake. Like any little kid, waking up without a grumpy attitude was not my best skill; thankfully, my mom always made sure that we ate breakfast before we did anything in the mornings. Most days we ate cereal and toaster waffles while on special days we had pancakes, bacon and potatoes in store — the works!

After I ate, I sleepily walked up the stairs of our two-story home in Englewood, NJ and into my father’s office to start my schoolwork. Monday through Friday, my mom always started off our daily lessons by teaching us the Bible. I was horrible at memorization — and still am — so I could never quite get the scriptures and parables down like my sisters could.

Because I’m the youngest of three I always had it easy. My sisters were two and six years apart from me so there wasn’t much for me to learn besides the basics in reading, writing, math and even Spanish. It seemed like a breeze and I was happy to finish all of my studies by 2 p.m.

Naomi Lewis at age 10 in front of her childhood home in Englewood, NJ. Photo courtesy of Naomi Lewis.

Aside from schoolwork, homeschooling was the most fun a kid could have. Who doesn’t want to go to school in their pajamas and have recess with their own toys and backyard? And the best part? Snack time. My house was filled to the roof with more snacks than any child needs. Along with being a full-time mom and teacher to my sisters and I, my mom was also a nanny. There were always a shit ton of kids in my house, so obviously there were a shit ton of snacks. Cookies, cakes, chips, fruit bars, popcorn, juice, you name it — we had it.

We took field trips everywhere. The zoo, museums, the fire station, to plays — it was absolutely amazing. One time all the kids that my mom was in charge of piled into our minivan and she took us to an art gallery. None of us really knew what was going on, but we were so happy to be there.

But like most things in life, all good things must come to an end.

Honestly, I didn’t know what it meant to be homeschooled. I had only seen public school settings on television programs like “Hannah Montana” or “High School Musical”. It felt like a secret society almost.

I remember being sat down with my other two sisters and my parents explaining to us that we had to go to “regular school” the following year. I was excited at first because I figured the experience would be like the ones I’d seen on TV. I’d meet new friends, I’d still be able to go on field trips, and one of my older sisters would be able to go to this new school with me. Boy, was I wrong.

Naomi Lewis age 4 (far left), her sisters and mother. Photo courtesy of Loren Lewis.

I woke up on the first day of third grade ready to conquer the world. My new school had uniforms (which I was surprisingly excited about) so I put on my pale blue button up, navy blue suspender skirt, those chunky church shoes from Payless that everyone’s mom made them wear and a sparkly headband. My mom gathered us up and took a ceremonious “First Day of School” picture.

As I got to the doors of Englewood on the Palisades Charter School, I adjusted my pink rolling backpack and headed into the cafeteria to wait for my first class. My older sister and I walked in together but were soon separated because we had to sit by grade. We exchanged glances and she sorrowfully went to sit alone at the fifth-grade table as I went to the opposite side and did the same at the one for third graders. It felt odd being away from her and it took me a lot of time to get used to.

When Mrs. Stevens called her class to assemble at the main door, I gathered my things and quietly fell in line. We arrived in her classroom and I remember it smelled of hospital spray and pencil shavings — if I think hard enough I could smell it to this day.

My assumption that TV and reality could coexist was a false hope. I dreaded public school and longed for the days that I could spend time with my family. The kids were mean and that turned me from being a sweet and innocent little girl to a miniature bitch who wanted nothing more but to get the hell out of there.

As the years rolled by I developed a resentment towards organized education though I did what I had to do to get good grades. Don’t get me wrong, I made a solid group of friends, made some amazing memories, and am now a freshman in college — but a huge part of me yearns to be the young girl studying “Hooked on Phonics” and playing Polly Pockets on my bedroom floor. I guess it’s a testimony of time but for one thing, my house still has a shit load of snacks.

Naomi is Loren Lewis’ sister.