Admittedly one to always be involved in her community, Lisa Cruz has begun a Little Free Library in her front yard.
This love of books springs from her childhood, where her parents weren’t as involved as she is today in her own kids’ lives. Rather, she says she lived with an abusive stepfather for 10 years; she and a sibling, then teenagers, were sent to foster care.
“So, my childhood wasn’t full of books,” Cruz said. “If there had been little free libraries, I would have loved it because nobody took me to the library.
It was time spent with her paternal grandmother that encouraged Cruz to love books when she was very young.
“Reading somebody’s story helps you understand yours better,” Cruz said. “When you’re a child and you read a book, it’s like going into another world. It’s not escapism… it’s a distraction from pain.”
Now Cruz, through the Little Free Library, gets to relate to other people among the community through the Lending Library.
One mother approached her through the Lending Library community about what books she should give her new foster child.
Cruz, who knows what it’s like to own only “a trash bag full of clothes,” said, “When she comes, you take her somewhere… let her pick out the books she wants. They don’t have choices in their lives for very many things. Let her control what she can.”
For the love of family
This love of books and community has served Cruz well as she homeschools her kids…. which she said will change you and your kids’ lives.
“Because not only do the kids slow down, but you do to,” she said.
The Census Bureau recently reported that the number of households homeschooling their school-aged children nearly doubled between the spring and fall of 2020, growing from 5.5 to 11.1 percent. That, in large part, was due to COVID-19, according to the Institute for Family Studies. But many families are choosing to maintain homeschooling, the report said.
For Cruz, the decision to homeschool her kids sprang from wanting to be involved in her kids’ lives.
“The main thing is I can control the influences in their lives. And that’s huge because I think the majority of problems parents are dealing with, especially with teenagers, is the negative influence of certain kids,” Cruz explained.
Homeschooling helps take out the peer pressure and comparisons many students face at school. And when Cruz and her family made the move to Shelbyville from the Los Angeles, California area, the adventure just began.
“I knew when I had kids, I was going to do it all up―the holidays, books, toys, Mommy and Me―the things I didn’t have.”
From city to farm
Cruz and her husband, a retired Los Angeles police officer, have five children, ranging from 16 (the twins) to 32 years old.
They also have seven dogs and a multitude of sheep, turkeys, cows, and rabbits on their 29-acre homestead in Shelbyville.
Cruz said California was a great place to live in the 80s and 90s. But after the Reagan era, she said things turned for the worse. Her LAPD husband witnessed firsthand more crime in the city, while businesses became regulated and housing expensive.
When her husband retired in 2017, they made their plans to get out of the state and buy a farm.
“There are so many people in those states who are stuck there who don’t want to bring the same sort of things to this state. They want to escape it,” Cruz said.
The family decided on the Volunteer State, bought their 1900s farm home virtually, and packed everything up. Using an old RV and two trucks, they made it to Tennessee in five days that July of 2019.
“We really pushed,” said Cruz.
Now settled into their homestead, Cruz has her home already decorated for Christmas while her two teens finish schooling for the semester.
Homeschooling is an intimidating undertaking, Cruz said. But it’s doable.
“When you think about it, you as a parent are a teacher. You teach them to talk, walk, to have manners, affection, right from wrong.” You are a teacher. And it’s a God-given right to teach your kids, Cruz said.
“I’ve always tried to be involved in my kids’ schooling. And whatever community I was in, I tried to be involved.”
Her three older kids were in public school back in California and she was involved then. But Cruz soon realized she didn’t know what her kids were being taught. And when a student brought a gun to school, that was it.
“It is overwhelming and it’s not something I ever thought I needed to do because I was just trusting the school system to do what they needed to do for the kids.”
Cruz went online, talked with other moms, and studied.
“I just did it,” Cruz said. They do follow an umbrella school, which provides what the state requires as well as what requirements need to be met for college or trade schools.
Living on a farm helps, too, as “There’s more than one way to learn.” And with online resources available like never before, Cruz finds material for her kids beyond a textbook.
They also find the time to go out to church or the recreation center with friends so they can have continuing involvement in the community.
And for her kids, Cruz says she teaches them accountability for their own futures.
“I tell them ‘It’s up to you’…You find your niche…And we kind of wing it,” Cruz joked.
Where her kids were usually withdrawn after attending a regular public school day, they are now closer, and find more time to relax and de-stress from the “go-go-go.”
Now, Cruz says, “We’ve had a much better relationships.”