Tag Archives | parenting

Thinking About Disability

I’m still here.  Life has been incredibly full and busy.  Several people have contacted me to ask why my blog was set to private.  In a nutshell, a couple of bored teenagers found it and were using it for immature ends, so I put it on the down low for awhile.

So.  We are all settled in our new home, starting to meet people and get to know some of our neighbors.  We absolutely love it here – this was such a great move for us.  The kids are all settled in, too, and all but Finn are busy with outside activities they love.  I’ve been on the hunt for something to get Finn involved in, and I’ll tell you, it’s tough.  We have not had a lot of luck in the past finding activities that work for him – in pretty much every case because accommodations have not been readily forthcoming.

I have a feeling that he would enjoy basketball (the boy can handle a ball like nobody’s business), and I looked into our local Special Olympics for a basketball program for him, but it’s a winter sport, and I’d like to find something for him now because I think he needs an outside interest and activity for numerous reasons.  So, I’ve decided to look into horseback riding (and I don’t mean hippotherapy; I’m not looking at it as any kind of therapy or intervention.  I just want to find an activity that he enjoys).  We live in horse country – we are surrounded by acreage and pastures and farms and stables, so it seems like a natural option.

However, not every stable that offers horseback riding lessons accommodates kids with disabilities.

On a recommendation, I contacted a local stable that might have a riding program for kids with special needs.  I sent an email explaining who we are and that Finn is an 8-year-old boy with Down syndrome, and is there a possibility of Finn riding with them?  I got a very nice email back explaining that they “don’t have the equipment or level of skill necessary for severely disabled.  We only support high functioning kids.”

It left me feeling very sad.  While there isn’t anything rude or wrong, exactly, with the response (it was an honest, straightforward response born of entrenched cultural/societal views of disability), it left me wondering how exactly to respond.  Disability is a social construct; people are disabled only to the extent that accommodations and access aren’t made available.  And what, exactly, is “high functioning”?  It’s a totally subjective term.  It’s not like there’s a test that neatly and efficiently places people into these “high functioning” and “low functioning” categories; it’s largely perception.

Still, I suspect I understand what their perception of “severely disabled” and “high functioning” looks like, and if I’m right, Finn would probably fit into the latter box.  But it’s all bullshit, isn’t it?  We all have strengths, and we all have limitations.  We all excel in certain areas, and we all need extra help or support in other areas.  It saddens me to again be hit with the reality that Finn will always be most limited by other people – not by Down syndrome.

It turns out that he may have an opportunity to ride at the stable next door to us, where Annabelle and Lilah both ride – and I wasn’t asked by the proprietor there which category Finn fits into.

4

School Year Redux

Here we are again, with yet another school year behind us.  It felt a little anticlimactic for us this year, as Joey was the only one finishing up a year of conventional school; there wasn’t that feeling of counting down to summer.  Homeschooling has a way of blurring lines between school days, weekends, holidays, and breaks.

Joey finished up junior high school.  There was a big promotion ceremony for the outgoing eighth graders last week, which, like so many other things these days, was a little overblown (this is eighth grade promotion, not high school graduation; so many ceremonies of life have trickled down to the younger set that I keep wondering what they will have to look forward to), but nice.  Overall, junior high was a pretty good experience for Joey.  It’s an angsty time.  His social circle changed a few times, and his anxieties increased in some ways, which concerns me (especially given what happened with Kevin in high school).  His grades fluctuated, depending on how much of a shit he gave (and it’s hard, as a parent who no longer believes in the institution or policies of conventional school, to enforce the school’s expectations without feeling like a hypocrite), but he finished strong.  Whatever that means – it’s a piece of paper with letters and numbers on it, right?

Anyway, he’s sort of in limbo right now.  All the kids he knows from junior high are going on to high school, and they all know exactly which high school.  Joey might start at his high school of choice come August, but he might not – it all depends on whether we manage to get our house sold over the summer.  There’s a good chance that I’ll homeschool him for a year, because I don’t want to pull him and have him change schools multiple times given our pending move (we’ll rent for a while once we arrive in Oregon while we look for a place to settle permanently). And truth be told, if I had my druthers, we would delay his starting ninth grade for a year – not because he can’t hack it academically, but I think a year to grow (which is what we should have done when he started kindergarten; he has a July birthday, so we could have gone either way) maturity-wise and size-wise would benefit him.  We shall see.

Homeschooling this year definitely had its ups and downs.  I went into the school year feeling excited and confident; I had spent countless hours researching and choosing materials to use with the girls based on their learning styles and personalities, and my own goals and philosophies.  I bought everything ahead of time and was ready to rock and roll.  Of course it didn’t turn out the way I had envisioned.  By November or December, we had ditched almost everything I had so carefully researched and bought because the girls were bored with it, and I was growing increasingly frustrated.  We had meetings and took votes, because I want them to have a voice in their own education.  We settled on a much more relaxed way of schooling which required them to take a lot more initiative and responsibility for their own learning, rather than my forcing formal lessons on them.  All in all, it was a better way to go, but it’s never perfect – probably because parenting and life are never perfect anyway.  I feel like the girls all grew academically this year – except in math, which continues to be the bane, man.  The things I am most pleased about are:

  • realizing that Lilah is dyslexic and taking steps to address that.  When I figured out back in October that she’s dyslexic, so much made sense suddenly about her short history with school and her relationship with learning; it was a revelation.  I have been working with her ever since using an Orton-Gillingham-based program, and she’s made definite strides.  It’s gratifying.
  • the amazing science research projects each of the girls did.  All I asked of them was to choose any science-related topic they wanted, to research it, and present something.  Each of them did something different. Annabelle studied the solar system – she chose the books from the library and read them, she took notes and made an outline, she put together a Keynote presentation and presented it to the whole family, she made a 3D poster representation of the solar system – completely on her own.  All I did was drive her to the library and buy the supplies she asked for to make her 3D poster.  This was a HUGE achievement for this girl who is usually repelled by anything that smells like work.  Daisy studied waves – specifically, what makes waves in the ocean.  She did all the research herself, wrote a report, and did a cool demonstration involving a tub of water, marbles, and a fan.  This was less surprising coming from her, as she is by nature conscientious and responsible.  Lilah studies volcanoes.  She chose books from the library, did research on the internet, made a working model of a volcano (not from a kit), and with a little help from her sisters, made a mini documentary about volcanoes.  They spent several weeks on their projects, and came away feeling great about what they had learned, and what they had achieved.

Homeschooling Finn has been less than glowing.  In truth, I still have a bitter taste in my mouth over how things panned out for him at school.  I believe that pulling him was the best thing for him – but only because the adults in whose charge he was created such a negative environment for him, and it wasn’t supposed to be that way.  At home, we still deal with a lot of negative behaviors with him – and yes, it’s tough and it’s frustrating.  It takes so much patience and perseverance to ignore negative behaviors, offer lots of positive reinforcement, and create opportunities for him to be successful.  I have no doubt that the negative behaviors he exhibits stem from emotional immaturity, frustration at not always being understood and not being able to do all the things he wants to do, and diminished self-esteem from all the negative reinforcement he’s gotten.  The bottom line is that the more positive we are with him, the more positive he is.  Still, I didn’t accomplish much at all with him with regard to academics.  He was so resistant to anything school-related when I pulled him out of school in January that I finally just decided it was best to back way off and give him time to regroup.  I worry about him falling farther and farther behind, but then I ask myself, “Falling behind what?  Behind who?”  It’s not a race.

Scarlett, who will be four (yes, four!) in a few weeks, also benefits from homeschooling – even if she’s not officially being schooled.  She’s my clean slate – completely unsullied by traditional school.  She mixes colors of paint to make different colors, she sounds out written words, she counts and is beginning to understand the concepts of adding and subtracting – but all of it is happening organically, and it’s a beautiful thing to see.

Kevin finished his first year of college.  He’s done well.  He’s paid for it all himself at his insistence; when we’ve offered to help with his tuition and books, he turns us down.  I think he’s owning his own education, and I admire him for it.  He’s talking about an art major; I just want him to be able to make a living and be self-sufficient.  We don’t see a whole lot of him these days; he’s either at school, at work, or hanging out with friends.  He comes home to sleep, and occasionally to eat.  That is the natural order of things, I suppose.  He may not even move with us to Oregon, as he might have the opportunity to rent a room in the home of a friend he’s known since third grade. I have mixed feelings about it.  It’s hard to imagine being that far away from this child in whom I’ve invested so much love and hope and fear for almost 20 years, but perhaps it’s time for him to go forth into the world.

As for summer break, it’s shaping up to be very hectic.  Joey and Annabelle are both at rehearsals every day for the next couple of weeks gearing up for the summer (and final) production of the theater company to which they belong; Daisy is at dance nearly every day, and she too has a show coming up, and other than that, we’re getting the house ready to put on the market, which means purging, packing, cleaning, and having work done.

And that’s all she wrote.

1

Miscellany

Hello there.  I’ve missed you all, too.  Life is busier and I am more frazzled than ever.  Here’s a rundown on the newsworthy and the not newsworthy:

Homeschooling has become pretty much a full-time job.  In fact, Michael even said to me recently, “Wow, it’s like you have a full-time job.”  (Because, you know, I was living a cushy life of leisure before I started homeschooling.)  It’s not that our school days last all that long; in fact, we still almost always finish up by lunch time.  It’s that I spend so much time thinking about it and worrying about it and reading about it and trying to figure it out.

I’ve become a lot more relaxed about curriculum and lessons – I wouldn’t say that we’re unschooling exactly, but probably a hybrid of unschooling and relaxed schooling –  and the girls are becoming more independent and self-directed in their learning, although Lilah still needs quite a bit of help and input, and the program we’re using to address her dyslexia involves formal daily lessons and exercises.  For the most part, the girls and I talk about goals, we have a loose schedule hanging on the refrigerator which they consult, and they pretty much run with it, and I feel like my role is more and more of a guide or consultant.  And sometimes a moderator, because let’s be honest: put a handful of kids together day after day and they’re bound to get on each other’s nerves, antagonize each other, and vie for attention. But that’s just siblings, homeschooling or not.  Also, Annabelle continues to challenge my patience and stamina, as she has since toddlerhood.  She’s the clown, the goof ball, and the least cooperative in all things.  She and I butt heads a lot, which saddens me.  Sometimes I see my relationship with her fulfilling my worst fears about having a daughter – but that’s fodder for a whole other post.

I’m still trying to find a groove with Finn.  I don’t feel that unschooling can really work for him, because he is absolutely not self-directed.  He would be content to play on his iPad all day, every day, maybe for the rest of his life.  He’s curious about the world around him to a degree, but he has no innate interest in or motivation to learn to read or count or write or any of that boring stuff, nor does he have any concept of the value of those things, so educating him is a whole different ball game than educating his typically developing siblings.  I have to be very deliberate in teaching him, and I have to find ways to do it that are interesting and palatable to him, and right now I really have my work cut out for me because I think the last few months of school really tweaked him and turned him off to the whole idea of sitting down and learning.  So we’re taking it slow, and sometimes I feel a little panicked because I feel like we have so much lost ground to make up, and so much new ground to cover.  So I have to stop periodically and take a deep breath and remind myself that all we have is time, and there is nobody and nothing we need to catch up to.I’ve taken up knitting.  This isn’t news if you follow me on Instagram or Facebook.  Anyway, I’ve wanted to learn to knit for years and years (and I still want and plan to learn to crochet), and I finally bought some yarn and knitting needles and an instructional book for beginners (which didn’t help much; I find that I learn much better by watching, so YouTube videos have been awesome), and began with a scarf for myself in my favorite color:IMG_1226knits

Since then I’ve knitted a couple more scarves and hats, but I want to move on to some more complicated projects.  I love it, I really do.  It’s very Zen for me.  After the kids are in bed, I climb into bed and knit while I listen to a book on Audible.  A girlfriend (who is a longtime knitter) and I have started getting together at each other’s houses on Friday nights and knitting together over drinks.

Michael was gone for most of last week, in Portland taking the Oregon bar exam.  That’s right folks – this whole moving to Oregon thing may really happen.  It’s exciting and scary as shit.  But first things first: bar results will come out in a few weeks.

I am having a hysterectomy in less than a month.  I’m sure, being the over-sharer that I am, that I’ll write more about it as it gets closer, but for now, I’m having a lot of mixed emotions about it.  It’s all part of improving my quality of life (I pee myself constantly.  I’ve had seven babies, yo.  It takes a toll on a body), and that part I’m looking forward to, but gosh darn it, I’m pretty attached to my womb.  We’ve been through a lot together.

There are other topics flittering around in my head that I want to put words to here sometime soon, but for now, this is the nitty-gritty.

Until next time …

13

More Adventures in Homeschooling

Last night I composed a slightly different list for each of the girls of things to find in our neighborhood.  This morning I sent them out, each with her list and her camera, with instructions to stay together and find all the things on their lists and take photos of each.  They loved it, and came home after about 45 minutes, excited to show me their photos.  Here’s Lilah’s:

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I know, not rocket science.  But it was an enjoyable alternative to the usual sit-down stuff, and it got them outside, exercising their bodies and brains a little.

All in all, homeschooling continues to have its ups and downs.  Since my “conference” with the girls awhile back where I asked for their thoughts and feelings on how we’re approaching homeschooling and making the decision to take a more child-led approach, the day-to-day structure of our homeschooling routine has become more relaxed.  I did away with lesson plans and now we go by a very general weekly schedule, which is extremely flexible and focuses more on goals than tasks.  We no longer do formal sit-down lessons; they do math mostly (but not completely) independently and at their own pace using Life of Fred; history consists of reading aloud together, mainly from A Young People’s History of the United States, but detouring off into other books and even documentaries on occasion; science and writing overlap and consist of each girl deciding on a particular topic to learn about, checking books out from the library, and spending a couple of weeks learning about that topic, taking notes, creating an outline, and then a written report.  I still use the Susan Barton reading program with Lilah, which is an ongoing, years-long program, to address her dyslexia, and all of the girls read for pleasure when they feel like it, and we read aloud together regularly right now we’re reading Island of the Blue Dolphins, one of my childhood favorites).

I could leave it at that and leave all of you with the impression that it’s heaven, and that I’ve got this homeschooling thing nailed.  I often wonder when I peruse other homeschoolers’ blogs if things are really as easy and perfect as they tend to appear.  I’ll just say it, though: it’s not that easy, and it’s far from perfect – at least in my house.

Despite having made so many changes to my approach and trying very hard to adopt a new philosophy, I still struggle.  I’m still often met with resistance, and I still yell at my kids in frustration. After a lot of contemplation, I think I’ve come to a realization, and that is that I think homeschooling/unschooling is in some ways much, much easier for folks who set out on that path from the beginning.  I think it’s very difficult to go from conventional schooling and all of the attitudes and practicalities that entails, to homeschooling.  In a nutshell, I feel like conventional school kind of ruined learning for my kids by making it mostly a tiring, unpleasant chore, and set me up to have certain beliefs and expectations that I’m really, really struggling to shake.  This means that no matter how palatable I try to make this whole endeavor to my girls, they still tend to have negative feelings and associations about learning, and this sets up resistance, which causes me a lot of aggravation.

I still worry all the time that I’m not doing enough, that they’re not learning enough.  That’s where school ruined me.  From a rational standpoint, I know that they will almost certainly learn enough to have productive, meaningful lives, but I’m always thinking about the what-ifs.  I think my biggest fear is that something will happen to me or to Michael, and the girls will be forced to go back to school, and they’ll be lost.

I wish our homeschooling endeavor were more inspired.  I wish we did more fun, creative activities, I wish we ventured out more and went more places.  But the reality is that inspiration is hard to come by for whatever reason, and I am still bound by Joey’s and Finn’s school schedules, which necessarily keeps me and the girls close to home (really, mostly at home).

I miss having more time to myself.  I love my kids to the ends of the earth, but it is not always easy to be with them all day, every day.  I rarely get a break anymore, and so I stay up way too late at night, because the hours after they go to bed are really the only hours during which I can chill out and read or knit or whatever.  And then I’m tired because I stay up too late (I still have to get up early to get Finn and Joey to school).  It’s a balancing act that I have not mastered.

Anyway, I didn’t mean for this to turn into a complainy piece.  I am still glad that I made the decision to homeschool, am grateful that I’m even in a position to homeschool.  I love the freedom and flexibility, and I appreciate the ways in which is has alleviated my girls’ stress levels and given them back time to just be kids – even if it’s exchanged certain stresses for others for me.

 

5

Good Things

Things seem to be looking up at school with Finn.  I’m not sure what to attribute it to – some positive strategies that are being used, or just plain time?  Maybe a combination.

Nevertheless, we are going to go forward with a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA), and we’ve also requested that his triennial assessments, due this spring, be undertaken as soon as possible.  I despise the assessments.  I do not like my kid (or any kid) being evaluated and ranked on charts and compared and reduced to numbers.  However, every kid with an IEP has to go through a slew of assessments every three years in order to gauge what modifications, accommodations, and support are needed, and to assist in developing new goals.  In truth, I don’t even know if any new IEP that’s developed will be put into practice since there is a very good chance Finn won’t be returning to school here for second grade.  But, I suppose it’s better to have an IEP in place (which will follow us if we move out of state, assuming we enroll him in public school in Oregon, until a new one can be developed there) than not to, just as a safeguard for him.  Anyway, it seems to make more sense, if we’re going to do a FBA now, to just do all of the assessment now (and by now, I mean they probably won’t realistically take place until well after the first of the year) rather than piecemeal it.

We have consulted with both an advocate/friend who is extremely knowledgeable about SpEd law, as well as with our attorney, and they both offered some interesting insight which has driven our decision on how to move forward.  We still have an “informal” meeting scheduled for next week with the “team,” so that will be interesting.

Anyway, so yeah: it appears that Finn is coping better at school lately, his negative behaviors are diminishing, and he’s not being removed from the classroom as far as I know.

Another interesting development: the aide he’s had since the beginning of this school year has resigned due to family issues.  She’s actually been absent for a while, but now it’s official that she’s not returning.  Just from my own observations from the handful of times I was able to make observations, I’m not sure she was the best match for Finn.  She was very nice and seemed devoted, but she tended to coddle and baby him, and didn’t seem to know how to deal with his outbursts and obstinance.  So, Finn has had a series of substitute aides over the last few weeks.  One of them has been hired by the school to be his permanent aide, and she does seem like a keeper.  I met her today.  She’s down to earth, nice, but no-nonsense.  She also, on her own, came up with a way to help Finn transition from one task to another, and from recess to classroom, involving a Spiderman watch.  How cool is that?  I mean, really – if people could just stop for a minute and think outside the box just a little bit … the kicker, though, is that she has an adult brother with Down syndrome.  What does this mean?  Maybe nothing.  But I get the sense that for her it means that she’s not put off by any of Finn’s shenanigans, and I think that will serve him well.

Another good thing:

So, I’ve always assumed that Finn would learn about his Down syndrome pretty organically.  I’ve never thought it would involve us sitting him down at some point and making some big announcement to him.  We’re an open family and pretty much no topic is off the table – we talk openly about everything, including Down syndrome, so I figure that he’ll just kind of absorb it and eventually understand that he has Down syndrome.

At bedtime every night, I read a story to Finn and Scarlett.  Last night it was Finn’s turn to choose the story, and he brought me Hi, I’m Ben… And I’ve Got a Secret!  I had forgotten we even had this book – it’s one of the first books we got after Finn was born.  So, he brings the book into my room and climbs up on the bed with it, and Scarlett starts squealing, “IT’S THE FINN BOOK!  IT’S THE FINN BOOK!”  I was intrigued.  I pointed to the cover and said, “Who’s that?”

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Both Finn and Scarlett yelled, “FINN!!”

So, without even knowing it, they both recognize the telltale facial features and associate those with Finn.  I was surprised, and it honestly made me happy.

So, I’m reading the book to my rapt little audience, and we get to the part where Ben reveals his secret: that he has Down syndrome.  I said, “Ben has Down syndrome, just like you, Finn.  You have Down syndrome, too.”  “Yeah!” he responded.  Then I said “Down syndrome” slowly a couple of times, and asked him if he could say it, too.  Both he and Scarlett repeated it.  Then I said again, “Finn has Down syndrome, just like Ben has Down syndrome.  Finn, can you say, ‘I have Down syndrome’?”  He said, “Yeah!  Finn has Down syndrome!”

It’s hard to convey here all that that moment contained.  Although we’ve talked about Down syndrome endlessly over the years in Finn’s presence, this was the first time he was ever able to relate Down syndrome to himself.  I really don’t think he has any idea at this point what Down syndrome even means, but that’s okay.  What I’ve figured out over time is that I want him to know that he has Down syndrome, and I want him to understand what it means eventually.  I want him to own it.  “Hell yes, I have Down syndrome!”  I would love to imbue that attitude in him.  I never ever want Down syndrome to be something negative, something he wishes he didn’t have.

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4

Musical Rooms

Lots of changes happening on the homestead.

Kevin moved out of the bedroom he’s been in for the last ten years (and shared with Joey for the last eight years) and into the spare bedroom down in the basement (I use the term “basement” loosely, as the bottom floor of our house is only partially subterranean).  We offered this option to Kevin a year or two ago, but he always declined it until now.  He’s almost 19, so I guess he’s finally had it with sleeping in a bunk bed and sharing a room with his younger brother.  I suppose this is another step towards independence for Kevin.  It’s been bittersweet for me, of course, as I seem to suffer from acute nostalgia.  Each step he takes towards independence leaves an ache in my heart, although I’m also happy for him and admire his desire to keep moving forward into adulthood.

What I did learn is that (a) he has lived like a hoarder for the last ten years, and (b) he seems to have no sentimental attachment to things.  He seemed to have saved everything over the years, but more out of laziness than anything else.  He spent about three days cleaning out his bedroom, and unceremoniously tossed about a half a dozen large garbage bags of stuff.  I didn’t have the heart to go through any of it, because I’m sure a lot of it would have made me cry over his lost childhood.  I spent almost two solid days last weekend actually cleaning the bedroom he departed – dusting, scrubbing, vacuuming – it was pretty awful.

So now Kevin is downstairs, pretty separated from all of us who are on the main floor of the house.  He’s going to school and working two jobs, and we rarely see him these days.  It’s been an adjustment.  He and I do often text throughout the day, which is nice.  I would hate it if our connection were suddenly severed.

Joey is having a hard time adjusting to Kevin being gone.  Even though they fought quite a bit over space and a million other things, Joey was just very used to having Kevin there.  Joey suffers from anxiety quite a bit, which results in insomnia, and he has a difficult time with change, so this has been hard on him.  He misses Kevin’s presence, he misses his company, and he just plain doesn’t like being alone.

This weekend I’ll be moving Finn into Joey’s room, and Scarlett out of the crib in the playroom (finally!) and into Finn’s room (which, of course, will no longer be Finn’s room).  Joey is happy that he will have some company again.  I have no idea how Finn will adjust to this change, or Scarlett, either, for that matter.  For the last couple of months, Scarlett has ended up in bed with me and Michael every single night – which I really don’t mind!  She’s my last one, you know – and I wonder how having her own room and a real bed will impact her sleep habits.  We shall see.

So all of this has alleviated some of the space problems we’ve had for quite a while, and that’s good.  But it still may end up being temporary, as we are still talking and leaning very much towards leaving California within the next year.

3

A Crisis in Midlife

I’m being laid out by a serious funk lately.  It’s strange … it just sort of descended on me out of the blue.  A week ago, I really was pretty fine, frazzled as usual, but chugging along with fairly good cheer.  And then a few days ago it was like this cloud descended on me and I’ve been wracked with sadness and irritability and anxiety and crying jags.  I don’t know what’s at the root of it – I suspect a combination of things.

I had a birthday a couple of weeks ago.  I turned 48.  Wowza.  Right around that time, I was hit by this urge for change.  Big change.  I started thinking about all the things I can hardly stand about Southern California anymore – the awful, miserable heat, the drought, the conservatism, the Christianity that seems to creep into everything, the high cost of living, our house that needs so much work (albeit cosmetic, but still expensive) and which, really, is too small for us, the school system that seems to come up with more and more ways to suck the joy out of learning – just a litany of complaints.  Complaints that I’ve had for a long time, but which suddenly seem too much to bear.  And true, some of those things are unique to the particular pocket of SoCal in which we reside (known by some as “behind the Orange Curtain), but if we’re going to move out of this area, we may as well make a big change and leave the state.

We actually tossed around leaving California several years ago, but we were upside down on our mortgage (we bought at the worst time – at the tail end of the bubble, right before the market crashed), and so we accepted that we were here to stay.  And it’s been mostly fine.

But I suddenly feel like we’re at a crossroads.  The market has picked up enough that selling the house wouldn’t be impossible at this point.  And all these things that I hate about California have reached a boiling point for me.  I mean, I’m only here because this is where I happened to be born and raised.  Michael is only here because this is where he ended up after he left New York.  I have no family ties here.  Joey is going to start high school next year, and if we were going to make a big move, before he starts high school would be the time to do it.  I feel like if we don’t make a move now (or very soon, anyway), then we never will, and do I want to look back in twenty years and regret that we limited ourselves to this place when there’s a whole wide world out there?

So, we’ve actually been giving it serious consideration.  The girls and I have been combing real estate listings.  I’ve been trying to learn about the school district up there, which seems to be more inclusion-friendly.  I’m tracking the weather on my weather app.  It’s all been very exciting.  Michael and I have made arrangements for someone to come and stay with the kids in a few weeks so we can fly up there and take a look around, see how it feels.

But I’m suddenly very, very conflicted.  Am I just suffering from a bad case of “the grass is greener”?  And is it really greener?  We may be able to get a lot more house for less money, and the weather may be milder, and the vibe more liberal, but would it be worth uprooting the kids?  Would it be worth leaving the friends who are so dear to me – who really are my family?

IMG_0067Last weekend I spent a gorgeous, glorious day with two of my closest girlfriends at a resort overlooking the Pacific ocean.  We got massages and spent the day eating and drinking ourselves silly by the pool, sucking up sunshine and good company.  At one point, my one friend said, “You know, I just have to say, it is so nice to have friends I made well into adulthood who I can say anything to, share anything with.”  What she said has stayed with me.  For me, it’s especially true.  I don’t have any friends from childhood.  My family was way too unstable to stay anywhere long enough for me to keep friends for very long – I was constantly losing friends because we were moving, and trying to make new friends.  I had one friend from junior high up until a couple of years ago when she dumped me without a word (you know when you’ve been dumped when someone unfriends you on FB and stops sending you Christmas cards), I can only assume because of her recent rebirth into Christianity, and my simultaneous coming out as an atheist.  Anyway, all the friends I have are friends I made in adulthood.  I have a large circle of people with whom I’m friendly, but a very small circle of people who are true, intimate friends.  Do I want to give them up?  Because let’s face it: long-distance relationships are hard to maintain.  And as an introverted (it’s true) middle-aged woman, I fear that I’m too old to cultivate brand new friends.  I’ll never be able to make the kinds of friends I have here and now.

This is all very tied up, too, with my feelings about my firstborn.  Kevin is an adult now, and he’s insistent that if we move away, he won’t go with us.  It’s not out of bitterness – he just wants to stay here.  I can’t see him supporting himself and being self-sufficient within the next year, but he has expressed that our moving away may be just the push he needs to see what he’s made of.  I have to respect and even admire that, but how I worry about him … The kids are supposed to leave the parents, not the other way around.

I’ve struggled for so long with Kevin’s reticence, his propensity to keep so much to himself and to keep me and everyone else at arm’s length.  I know he still struggles with depression and anxiety, although he decided on his own to stop medication and therapy quite a while ago – and for the most part he does seem to be getting along better than he was a year ago.  He is taking a full load of classes at the community college (and repeatedly refused any financial help from us for tuition or books – again, not out of bitterness, he just seems determined to make his own way) and working two part-time jobs.  In a lot of ways, he’s still very much a mystery to me, and it pains me deeply that I understand him so little, that there is this distance between us that I can’t seem to bridge.

So the thought of moving far, far away, and leaving him … I’m struggling mightily with that.

And of course there is the guilt of uprooting the other kids.  Joey doesn’t want to move, and he gets upset and pissed off every time we bring up the possibility.  The girls are open to it, and of course Finn and Scarlett couldn’t care less at this point, but it would still be a huge change and adjustment for everyone.  Is it fair to want to put them all through that?

I don’t have the answer.

Aside from the possibility of this big move that’s tearing me up, I’m struggling a lot with Finn.  Not Finn himself, but his recent behavior issues at school, and having to pull him out of yet another extracurricular activity – it’s just hit me hard.  I’m just feeling very sad and overwhelmed with the knowledge that it’s always going to be a struggle to find belonging for him.  It’s painful.

So, yeah.  I’m struggling.  A lot.

13

You, too, can homeschool your child.

There are a lot of assumptions and misguided notions about homeschooling that I’m faced with pretty regularly.  So, I thought I would take this opportunity to talk about the most common ones.

I think probably the number one idea I run into about homeschooling is the one about how educated a person needs to be in order to educate their own children.  Some examples of this that stand out for me:

  • A memoir I read last year, One Good Year, in which this mother (an English professor), describes her disdain, to wit: “The thought that in forty-nine states any parent who’d scraped through high school with a D average could then teach high school to their own children struck me as setting the bar very low.”
  • A teacher-former-friend who used to rant about parents who thought they could “just homeschool their kids,” with the emphasis always on “just,” as if parents who homeschool make the decision as casually as they might decide which brand of laundry detergent to buy – and on the other side of the coin, always with the implication that educating children demands high qualifications.
  • A recent encounter with a parent at the elementary school who thinks it’s great that I’m homeschooling, but asked me very earnestly, “So, I’m sure you’re up on the state grade-level standards and are using those as your guide, right?”

So, this is a biggie, this idea that parents need to be highly educated and highly qualified to educate their own children.  And hey, I used to think the same thing.  I used to say, “I would never presume to think that I could do what someone who has been specifically educated and trained to do.”

What I know now, however, is that this is largely myth.  First of all, parents are always – ALWAYS – their kids’ first teacher anyway.  Right?  I mean, seriously, think about it.  And nobody goes around believing with any degree of seriousness that in order to be a qualified parent, one should have a certain level of education or training.  I mean, sure, we all think that there are definitely some people who shouldn’t be parents, but for the most part, we believe in people’s right to procreate and parent their offspring – even if those people are high school drop-outs and/or don’t have a college degree or any special training.  And when you’re a parent, you’re a teacher.

You may be thinking, “Okay, but it’s not the same thing.”  Well, it is.  I mean, think of all the things you have taught your kids, are still teaching your kids.  Did you receive special training for those things?  Probably not.  Probably a lot of it comes from life and experience.  Some of it might come from books.  Because the stuff you don’t know but which you want to impart on your kids?  You know enough to go find the information someplace so that you can figure out how to pass the knowledge on to your kid.  Right?  It’s the same thing with homeschooling.  You don’t actually have to already know all the stuff you’re going to teach your kid.  A great deal of it involves learning right along with your kid – which, by the way, can be very exciting, and can actually serve to draw you and your kids closer to one another.

This is not a put-down of teachers, by the way.  I will assert, however, that probably the biggest thing that trained teachers have that perhaps a lot of homeschooling parents don’t have is classroom management skills.  So much of being a conventional classroom teacher involves – demands – classroom management skills, but being a homeschooling parent doesn’t require that particular skill set (unless, of course, you’re homeschooling a whole gaggle of kids).  Do you think that teachers are experts in every subject they teach?  Maybe in the higher grades when you’re talking about teachers who teach one or two subjects – maybe.  But elementary school teachers who are teaching numerous subjects?  Their expertise really lies in classroom management and organization and planning.  And certainly organization and planning can come in very handy as a homeschooler, depending on what type of homeschooler you want to be – but those skills don’t require special training or qualifications.

Probably the other big wrong idea that floats around about homeschooling is that homeschooling parents are willfully gambling with their children’s education.  I think there’s this idea out there that homeschooling parents sit their kids in front of the TV every day and hope for the best.  This notion could not be farther from the truth.  The reality is that the vast majority of parents who decide to homeschool take their kids’ education very seriously.  Homeschooling parents are almost always extremely invested in their children’s education.  They’re just opting out of a system that they don’t feel is best serving their children, or children in general.  They generally feel that they can offer their kids something better – and it usually has a lot to do with a grave concern about and investment in their children’s emotional and mental wellbeing.  In other words, it has a lot to do with a belief that there are ways to educate children without the mental and emotional cost that conventional school seems to demand more and more of.

Sure, there are homeschooling parents who are teaching their kids things at home that you wouldn’t agree with – things that I would surely scoff at (like anyone who uses the Bible as a textbook, for instance) – but whether or not those parents are homeschooling their kids, they’re going to be filling their kids’ heads with ideas that you and I may not agree with.  And you and I are surely teaching our kids things that some other parents would take issue with.  That’s every parent’s right to do, though – whether they homeschool or not.

So the next time you meet a homeschooling parent, cast aside those assumptions and trust that they’re actually doing something pretty awesome for their kids.  And next time you think, “I’ve thought about homeschooling, but I could never pull it off,” think again.  I used to be that mom – the mom who thought she wasn’t educated enough, patient enough, qualified enough, and who didn’t want to mess up her kids’ education.

(My friend Erin wrote a great post awhile back about the common myths about homeschooling.  You should check it out: Busting Homeschooling Myths

2

On Acceptance and Being a Travel Guide

I came across this video a couple of days ago when I was killing time on Buzzfeed.  Maybe you’ve seen it (it’s been watched over a million times).  It’s a short video of a dad reacting to his young son choosing an Ariel doll at the toy store.  The dad’s reaction?  “YEAH!”  In the video, he tells his two boys, “You have my promise – forever – to love you and accept you no matter what life you choose.”

It would be easy to write this off as another feel-good video making the rounds on social media – and maybe that’s what it is, but it really struck a nerve with me.

Isn’t acceptance the ultimate gift we can give our children?  It’s not material things, it’s not even experiential things; it’s not praise or rewards.  It’s not the places we take them or the schools we send them to or the people we hook them up with.  Those are not the greatest gifts we can give our children – especially not if those things come with expectations, either subtle or blatant, that our kids will travel a certain path that we approve of.

No.  The greatest gift we parents can bestow on our children is acceptance, utter and unreserved.  Acceptance of big things, like sexuality and life paths or aspirations that feel alien to us, and also of a million smaller things like what toys they want to play with or music they are into or clothes they want to wear.

This has been such a much-needed reminder to me: it’s not my job to mold my kids, to try to shape them into what I think is acceptable, into what makes me comfortable.  My job is to be their travel guide, to show them things in the world and then to say, “The choice is yours, because your life is about you, and not about me.”  My kids are not an extension of me, or a reflection of me – they are whole, unique people in their own right, and what they choose, and what makes them happy and fulfilled is up to them.

I think it’s gotten harder for me as my kids have gotten older to be accepting.  When they’re small, it’s easy to accept them and to be encouraging and supportive – I’m not sure why.  Maybe because everything is new and untainted when they’re small.  But as my kids have each gotten older, I can see how I’ve become more of a critic than a guide.  Over silly things – the way they wear their hair, the clothes they choose, the music they listen to.  And why?  Those are my issues, and finding fault or expressing disapproval or irritation at the ways in which they express themselves only does damage.  It alienates and divides and tears down, little by little.  It does not build anything up.  Wouldn’t I rather foster feelings of safety and security and mutual respect – even when it’s hard?  And if I can’t accept the small things wholeheartedly, how can I ever hope to accept whatever big things that might come along?

Lots to think about, and I’m very grateful for this reminder.  So, thank you, Mikki Willis.

 

4

First Week of School: a Recap

Finn started first grade last Monday.  It hit me hard over that weekend how many changes he would be dealing with: new teacher, new aide, new classroom, new playground, new rules, and longer school days.  I suddenly felt like we were about to throw him to the wolves, and I kind of went into panic mode, imagining the worst on his first day of school.  I had this picture in my mind of leaving him at school, with him completely bewildered and panic-stricken.

11807285_10206200201777063_3602429904736234112_oWell.  Who cried on his first day of school?  Me.  Michael and I walked him to school, and now that he’s a first grader, we no longer take him directly to his classroom like in kindergarten – now, he has to line up with his class on the blacktop before school.  As soon as we got out to the blacktop, something in me just caved and I couldn’t stop crying.  I knew he was going to be in good hands, but I was filled with worry.

He did fine.  His teacher texted me updates throughout the day, including numerous photos of a smiling Finn doing his work at his table with his classmates, and on the playground.  And he was all smiles when I picked him up that afternoon – despite first grade being about two and a half hours longer than kindergarten.  The rest of the week went pretty smoothly, as well.  He’s quickly gotten into the new routine and seems none the worse for wear.

I had an informal meeting on Thursday with his teacher, his new aide, and his kindergarten teacher from last year.  I wanted to meet his aide for one thing, and I wanted to make sure we are all on the same page with regard to expectations – and by that I don’t mean what’s in his IEP, but more what we want for Finn: for him to learn and to belong.  I think I’ve grown so wary of professionals who work with kids with special needs – I’ve found so many of them to have this belief that kids with disabilities need to be managed, and I don’t want that for Finn, and I want to make sure that his new aide understands that.  I can’t say that she seemed especially warm, but the word “competent” comes to mind – and I don’t mean that in a mediocre way.  I was also very impressed when she gave me a four-page questionnaire she had typed up asking things about Finn so that she can get to know him better, and understand what motivates him, what frightens him, etc.

Joey started eighth grade on Tuesday.  I guess things are going as I would expect for junior high.  Junior high friendships are the be-all, end-all, and kids this age can be fickle, hurtful little assholes.  Joey has already begun to experience the harsh winds of changing friendships, and it’s hard to see your kid hurting.  But he mostly keeps a positive attitude and an open heart, so I’m hopeful that adolescence won’t completely destroy him.

Lilah, Annabelle, and Daisy started homeschool on Tuesday, as well.  It’s hard to think

Language arts

Language arts

of them as sixth- and fourth-graders, as none of the curriculum we’re doing is grade specific.  In any case, it was an interesting week.  Where Lilah and I had a honeymoon period of a week or two when we started homeschooling last year, the twins and I had a honeymoon period of a day or two.  I think Michael thinks I’m out of my mind for doing this.  I’m just trying to stay positive, and to remind myself when things get hard why I’m doing this.

Ready for week two!

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