Desks, Theft (scratch that, we were just recycling), and Other Aspects of Homeschooling

by McKennaugh

There are a few setbacks in homeschooling. One of those is not having a desk. Kids enrolled in public school don’t think about not having desks, because, well, they take them for granted. But, most of the time, homeschooled kids don’t have them for three reasons:

#1 Their parents can’t afford to purchase them.

#2 Their parents don’t see a use for them when you can study just as well at the kitchen table.

#3 Their houses aren’t big enough to fit desks inside of them.

Problem one seemed to be solved for my family when we drove past the university and saw a tower of desks rising into the sky at the far end of a desolate parking lot. Jumbled in what seemed to be a junk heap, the words free for the taking leapt into our minds.

We hurried home that night, though, neither having any extra space in our car nor extra time on our hands.

We made a mental note to call the university and get permission to have a few desks.

Days pass. Life is busy. Weeks pass. A couple months pass. The desks still sit there. They’re getting a bit rusty by this point.

Finally, one night we’re driving by the university and there are all those lonely desks. We pull into the parking lot. It’s empty. We drive past the university buildings, searching for someone who will grant permission to us. No one is around. But those desks are practically in a trash heap—and there must be hundreds of them!! Weather stations declare that we will soon be getting winds from Hurricane Sandy and they will probably be ruined in their forlorn spot crammed on top on one another if 60-mile-per-hour winds smash through them. We could save a few and bring them home. Nobody would miss them. Right? Brennan and Nevin, my younger brothers with great ethics, firmly believe that we cannot take the desks. I personally don’t think it’s a crime to take something out of a rusting garbage pile. I mean, the university obviously wants to get rid of them. Mom has the same views that I do. Tivon, the four-year-old, is sleeping in the backseat of our van. So it’s two votes against two votes. Take some desks. Or leave all the desks to rot. What would you do?

We took some. Actually, just two, because we couldn’t fit any more into our van.

My mom comforted my brothers, telling them that she would call the campus as soon as she got home and ask them if it was okay that she had taken a few desks (and was planning on coming back for more). True to her word, Mom calls the university and speaks with a policeman. Their conversation must have went something like this.

“Hello, university campus police speaking.”

“Uhh, I just took a couple desks from the campus out of the big pile. They’re all getting ruined and tomorrow winds are supposed to come from Hurricane Sandy. I’m worried that they will be no good. I’m sure nobody wants them, but I just wanted to call you to make sure…”

He goes on to kindly say you can’t take campus property (even rusting campus trash). He says he doesn’t have the authority to give them to her, but that she can call back a different day (after the weekend and thus after the hurricane—poor desks) and talk to the person who would be in charge of desk-dumping. Mom offers to return the desks until she can get permission. He accepts her offer. So poor Mom has to go down there at midnight and unload them again. And we’re kinda bummed because we were so excited about having them.

Dad was upset that we attempted to shoplift (I mean, parking-lot-lift somebody’s old garbage) but he did laugh and laugh when Mom had to drive all the way back and return stolen goods (or bads, whatever you can call a rusty old desk in a pile of 400 other busted ones). Brennan gloats all night about how guys are always right and how crazy we were for taking them in the first place.

We mean to call first thing Monday, but, once again, time gets away. Two more weeks go by. One afternoon, Mom finally calls.

The guy on the other end apologizes, but he can’t let her have them, due to the fact that he recently placed an ad in the paper for people to bid on the desks. “The paper says there are 400,” he said. “If I give them away people will be bidding on an incorrect number of desks.” (The ad was placed right after we took them. I wonder if it had something to do with us?) At least the man was kind enough to take Mom’s number and tell her that he would ask the person who won the bid if s/he would allow Mom to have some.

Now when Mom gets off the phone she actually looks elated. I panic. She had just been told that she could not get the six desks and she actually looks happy. I soon find out that the man encouraged her to place a bid. “Anything! Even five dollars!” he had said.

But the bid isn’t on six desks, remember, it’s on four hundred.

“Mom, c’mon,” I say.

“But we could sell them to other homeschooling families!” she tells me, her eyes aglow. “I mean, if I sold them for five dollars each I could make $2,000!”

“You aren’t going to find enough homeschoolers to sell 400 desks,” I grumble, “especially not in Troy.” Troy is our little dead-end town. The only thing to do in Troy is order pizza & buy bottled water and gas.

Somehow, Mom still has a vision of homeschoolers pouring out of the woodwork to purchase half-rotten desks.

“How would we get 400 of them to our house?” I ask. “And where would we put them?”

“I’m not sure…” she said.

I sigh. I’m imagining her using child labor (my brothers and I!) to pack the desks into some truck (that we don’t have) and unload them at a final destination—our driveway, perhaps. Hopefully she wasn’t thinking of somehow bringing them inside.

She tells my father all about how she wants the buy the desks. He thinks the idea is crazy, but knows better than to say so. Brennan, age 12, is with her. He wants to try and sell 400 rusty objects, too, I suppose. All I can say is that I think it was smarter to “steal” 6 than to buy 400.

A couple of days go by. I continue to try to talk Mom out of it. She’s kind of disappointed, but she sees my point.

We decide to go to the university again to pick out six desks and tape them together with a sign that has our number on it and a message that says something like, Homeschooling family would love some of your desks. Would you please give us a call? We would be so excited!

Our family takes a little longer to pick things out than usual. We must have spent two hours in the cold, trying to decide what rusty desks we liked best. Nevin found a wooden chair that he wanted. However, it had leather cushions and smelled awful—like mold. We decided not to put it in our pile.

We go home. We wait. A few more days go by. We get a call!! We can have the desks. We are all super happy! (Including me!)

We bring them home in our van (somehow). But they didn’t fit in our house so well. Now we can hardly move. Desks live in our house, not us.

I suppose I at least have a place to study. And write.

If we want to watch a movie, we must move the desks into the kitchen, so we have room. (Basically, if we want to breathe, we have to move the desks.)

Anyway, is there a moral to this strange tale? Maybe. #1 You shouldn’t steal (oops, I mean recycle) without permission. #2 If you want a desk, please, please consider the size of your house.

Have a good Christmas, friends. I wonder where in the world my family will put our tree.

We always think that there was no room at the inn for Jesus, because there were too many people in town, due to the census. Maybe, it was just because the inn owner homeschooled his kids and had previously ordered some desks from carpenter, Joseph.

McKennaugh Kelley ( is sixteen years old. She lives in Troy, Pennsylvania with a handful of crazy, creative, but mostly wonderful little brothers.

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