Learning vs Schooling

My son was picked on by one kid last year. Repeatedly. It never got physical, but it was a daily torment. People with Aspergers or HFA can come across to us neurotypicals as abrasive, headstrong, disruptive, etc. That never excuses name calling, being picked on or having teachers turn a blind eye. My son was singled out many times by the school’s PE coach, who seemingly enjoyed power struggles with a 10 year old, and failed to read and implement his 504 plan until a month before school was out for the summer. (I had submitted all documentation at the beginning of the school year when we registered.) His new class has 37 students. There is no way that even if every student had no extra needs that 1 teacher could, or should, have that many students in his or her charge. They might as well be in a college lecture hall.

My daughter complained of stomachaches multiple times a week last year. There was some social drama – what we deem “normal” and marvel at how young it seems to start. It got bad enough last year, we sought counseling. There’s popularity, boys and multiplication tables, but there are also teachers who are tired. Teachers who perhaps would be better suited for other vocations. My daughter overheard her teacher swear in frustration. She shared with me that she would get a lump in her throat when called on in class because if she gets the answer wrong, the teacher will humiliate her in front of her peers. A student should be allowed to make mistakes – that’s how we learn. She cried every week not wanting to go to school. This from a girl who has loved school up until this year.

When cleaning out the daily lunch boxes, I asked the kids, “Why didn’t you eat your lunch today?” I was often met with the same response – no time. They cut down the lunch to 20 minutes. Line up, sit down, be quiet, stop talking, sit still. Get up. Line up. Walk to class. My mom made the comment that it’s like they just want a class of robots. It sure feels that way.

There are benefits to public schooling, when it is done right. I also get that as a parent, my involvement is key to a school’s success. That said, I fear that schools that get it are few and far between. We were fortunate to have been a part of such a school in Texas, but not all the schools even in that district were so fortunate. I didn’t necessarily love all aspects or subjects in school, but overall, I liked it. (Okay, I loved school supplies. And the smell of books. And paper. And the crisp way a freshly sharpened pencil writes.) When I overheard my kids state they hated school, my heart broke. I asked them if they were at their old school, would they still hate it? It was an attempt to see if the work itself was challenging or if it was the social/teacher/atmosphere they were dealing with that caused such a visceral reaction. It was definitely the latter. It was as if their love of actual learning was being eroded away.

Homeschooling was something that we agreed was never off the table. It’s been something we’ve been open to, if needed. My sister has homeschooled my nieces off and on through their school years. They have been involved in all kinds of extra curricular activities and are well-rounded, social, and bright, critical thinkers – and isn’t that what we want? A population that thinks critically? Adults who can function, are polite, and well-educated? There is a clear difference between schooling and learning.

We’ve decided to homeschool our children this year. We have a curriculum that is well-laid out and meets all state requirements. It will allow for working ahead on subjects in which they excel, as well as the time and flexibility for areas in need of work. The idea of going completely against the grain feels scary – but in a really exciting way.

Kids learn more from our actions than what we say. I hope they will learn through this process not only the things required from an academic perspective, but also how to do what’s right for them. I pray they have the guts to go against what everyone else does, or what they think they “should” do when needed. I hope to instill in them that different isn’t wrong – just different – and different can be wonderfully freeing.

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Back Then

I remember feeling amazed and nervously excited when I descended the stairs in our tiny 2-bedroom apartment to tell my husband of 8 years I was pregnant. He looked up at me, “Really?!” Nodding, I confirmed what we’d been planning for about a year. We were thrilled.

I devoured all the books, the guided meditations that were supposed to help with birth, ate all the ginger things and was sad when I had to quit my job because of severe morning all-day-and-night sickness. Eventually I felt better with the aid of medication and tracked all the changes in my body and read details about the growing baby.

Over a decade ago, Jenny McCarthy could be seen all over spouting her doctor’s erroneous findings that vaccines cause autism. Back then, this was my worst fear; (and likely a fear of many parents-to-be) that something could be “wrong” with the life growing inside of me. I remember telling my friend at the time, “I pray that nothing like that happens to my baby.”

Jacob was born 4 days after our due date and was a hefty 9lb 11oz. He hit all the physical developmental milestones, had the most adorable smile, and was the center of our world. I struggled with breastfeeding and postpartum depression, but felt our “new normal” of life with a baby around 3-5 months.

As he grew, we noticed little things that, at the time, gave us no cause for concern. Things like his inability to be laid down on his back while asleep. He would startle awake and scream. We carried him and let him fall asleep in our Ergo baby carrier. We co-slept because as long as we were all getting sleep, the location didn’t really matter to us. He nursed and didn’t desire solid foods. Getting messy and exploring foods with fingers seemed not to be his thing but for just a handful of times. He wasn’t verbal until almost 3 after speech therapy interventions. We had taught him sign language and had developed our own unique way of communicating. We discovered his right eye blindness as we prepared for preschool and kindergarten. Jacob struggled at the dentist and doctor visits. We prepped him well in advance for changes in routine, as well as transitions from one activity to another. We adapted. We learned. We read and researched and asked questions.

Jacob was evaluated at 2, 5, and diagnosed with ADHD-inattattentive type (with Autism Spectrum Discorder verbiage in the paperwork, but not formally ASD diagnosed) at 8, and now at 10 we are looking forward to another comprehensive evaluation. His IQ is 133. He’s crazy smart, and loves to learn about things that interest him. He as a 504 plan in place at school for accommodations as needed. We are working with an occupational therapist who has taught us both.

Sitting in the car before an appointment, we were chatting before heading into “food school”.

“Mom. I want to work at Microsoft,” Jacob told me, veering off of whatever topic we were currently discussing.

“Really? Why is that?” I asked.

“Bill Gates is thought to be on the spectrum. Maybe I could work with him and help other people like us. Plus, I like computers.”

“I think you would be great at that.”

As he walked into the appointment it hit me how far we’ve traveled on this autism journey. How scared I was for him, and frustrated at times because life with someone on the spectrum isn’t always easy. I struggled (and sometimes still do) when people are judgmental or unkind, knowingly or not. He makes me laugh out loud at his literal way of thinking, his interpretations of figures of speech and his other little quirks. I love the protectiveness he feels for his sister. He has taught me compassion, patience, and to slow down and see things from another perspective, that different isn’t wrong, it’s just different.

Back then, I just didn’t know.

I didn’t know how much I could love another human. I didn’t know that autism spectrum disorder really sucks as a label because it doesn’t feel like “disorder”. I stopped asking the futile “Why?” and “What is the cause?” questions years ago. It doesn’t do any good and there are no satisfying answers. It just is. I didn’t know that I would one day be thankful for resources and knowledge and tools to help him navigate and understand the world.

I never thought that I would be thankful for autism.

That was then.


Reading Stories

“Mama,” Hannah looked up at me.

“Yes?” I asked, distractedly.

“I hate the part of reading when you are almost done and you know the book is almost over. Especially if it’s a really really good one!”

“I couldn’t agree more,” I told her. She now had my full attention. One thing I have always loved is reading with the minions. I couldn’t wait until they were finally old enough to enjoy Harry Potter. Hannah loves Amelia Bedelia, as well as Ramona Quimby- one of my absolute favorites. Jacob is also a voracious reader, inhaling any books about subjects that interest him (currently WWII). On the fiction side he reads any James Patterson book he can get his hands on and we’ve read all of the Magic Treehouse series.

Novels, movies, blogs, music, television series – form is not important. Getting lost in a great story is one of my favorite ways to spend my time. My hope was that my kids would enjoy stories – reading specifically – just as much. We read some Minecraft books a few year a ago, a not-so-scary Stephen King novella, and some Judy Blume. Sometimes we take turns each reading a chapter, other times I’m just tired and they read to me. Most of the time I read aloud.

We start reading just a chapter of a book and then I’ll say, “Ehhh…that one’s no good. We probably shouldn’t keep reading it…”

“NO NO NO! Mama please keep reading!!!!” They both plead. “Pleeease!”

“If you’re sure…” I continue to drag out the drama of my reluctance, silently cheering in my mind that they are excited (finally) about a selection I have chosen.

Tonight we started one of the first books I remember reading as a class in Mr. Ziegler’s 5th grade; Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls. It’s a classic and most of the time when I pull an old book off the shelf, the kids groan and won’t give it a chance; hence my new ‘give it one chapter and then decide’ tactic. It worked like a charm.

“Just one more chapter????”

“Sure. Just one more…,”

…as they have to convince me to keep reading.

Lemons, Lemonade, Lillies, and Other Luxurious Little Things

There are lemons that grow over our fence! REAL lemons! In February!

I showed a picture to the hubby of a planter contraption on Pinterest one evening. He replied, “Hmm. That’s doable.” I didn’t give it much thought, until the next day he brought home supplies and made this! I love it! Yay container gardening!

The fruits that grow locally are delicious! I’m still dreaming of the sweetness of the mandarins a neighbor gave me a few weeks ago. The lemons just hang over my fence waiting for me to devour their juiciness! We were encouraged to take as many as we want!

I raked the leaves and mowed the lawn last week and desired the hard-earned post-yardwork reward. While I no longer drink, there is something very nostalgic about a cold beer on a warm afternoon commingling with the scent of freshly cut grass. I don’t let my thoughts linger there too long because it can be a slippery slope. In lieu of said adult beverage, I opted for plucking a few of those lemons and making the best lemonade I’ve ever had.

Happy Fruit!
Little Man even likes it! Working with an Occupational Therapist has been wonderful in helping him be more open to trying new things.
Little miss helps me make it. Then promptly asks if she can have mine!

Later my sweet husband brought home a calla lily plant to add to our planter garden! They are my favorite. Little things are big things. Truly.

In keeping with the alliteration, the other “luxurious things” include a fabulous new hair cut which makes one feel great after months of feeling not so, including the never-long-enough shampoo/scalp massage/conditioning treatment. I seriously love having my head massaged. If we ever get money tree seeds, I’m hiring a professional to massage my head daily.

These little things like setting up a garden, little happy turquoise chairs, good coffee, a great book to read, a dog on the mend from surgery and simply making lemonade with my kids are just that – little things. I’m feeling particularly grateful, for no other reason than it just feels good to feel good, if that makes sense.

I love the little things.

Just Be

Post inspired by Storyshucker

Swaying in the cooling afternoon air, I mused once again how much I loved that the sky never appears the same way twice. “Oh mama, I just love you,” she said, extra lovey since I let her stay home from school. Sometimes we all need a mental health recharge day I reasoned when she had asked. “One time – this is not a habit,” I emphasized.

We sat swinging in silence for just a bit on the hammocks I had just moments before wrestled out of their sheaths, brushing off the sawdust from their garage hideaway.

“Oh! Look!” Pointing at a group of streaked clouds, “It’s a duck with little ducklings following her,” she asserted.

“Oh I see that,” I replied, looking where she was pointing. “It also kind of looks like the mama duck is a genie bottle and the little cloud above her is the genie coming right out.”

“Huh?!”

“See? Right at the top of the mama duck’s head…”

“Ohhhhhh, I do see that now,” she replied, eyes gazing across to a new group of clouds. “I just love these hammocks – and being with you.”

I love these quiet not-doing-anything moments. Just being. I pointed out a humming bird floating just above us over the neighbor’s tree. “Look!” I whispered so as not to scare it away like our barking dogs enjoyed doing.

“YES! I saw a hummingbird just like that before you came out!”

Before I came out I was happily vacuuming, checking off a to do list of randoms that always need tending. Laundry, dishes and general afternoon pick up that included getting ready for a furry family member’s return from the vet. I can always find something to do. It’s an ingrained trait that extends before my years as a waitress when I’d first heard a similar phrase. Shedding the impulse to “earn” some free time, I mentally filed the list away and decided to join my daughter reading peacefully in the sun that had hid itself over the past few rainy days. Looking at her, it was simply too enticing to stay inside doing things that could wait.

We chatted some more and enjoyed comparing cloud shapes and images that popped out to us, giggling every so often at the imagery she projected. I reflected on the idea that kids will far more often do as we do, not as we say. If I want them to appreciate nature, or slow down, or read, they need to see me doing so as well. It’s more than okay to be bored. It’s necessary for creativity, for inner thought, for time to just be.




Sleep Overs and Stuff

“Nothing good happens after midnight,” a friend said to me one time. We were discussing kids having sleep overs and what that does to the kids the next day. They come home grumpy, tired and irritable. They likely had lots of fun the day before and plenty of junk food. And it makes for a very long next day for their entire family. I remember having sleepovers with friends. Lots of them. In high school it was like every other weekend. Seems innocuous enough. A rite of passage even; a part of growing up.

My sweet 8 year old daughter was recently invited to a sleepover birthday party of a classmate and it gave me pause. She desperately wanted to stay overnight. The family is perfectly fine, but I still can’t erase the fact that at 11 or 12, I woke up at a friend’s house in the middle of the night to a man staring at us while we were sleeping, slowly smoking a cigarette. I don’t remember if it was her father, a step-father or a brother. Nothing happened, but it made me uncomfortable enough that I never again stayed overnight at that friend’s house.

Dropping her off for the day, and a “late-over”, I knew she’d have a great time.  I knew she would likely be irritated that she had to come home and the other girls didn’t. Sometimes A lot of times, parenting is just hard. Am I too helicopter-y? Am I overreacting to an isolated non-incident years ago? Will my kids be too sheltered? Maybe. But, it only takes one time. One time to let my guard down and her innocence is gone. I thought of her often through the day, and prayed for some small sign – anything – to just let me know that I did the right thing in not letting her stay overnight.

The climate of #metoo, Supreme Court nominees being accused of sexual assault, and even the President of the United States boasting himself on tape about sexual assault, I feel that vigilance is the order of the day. Perhaps it always has been, but we are just talking about it more. In 2018, it’s in our face 24/7 and makes watching the news with the kids risky. When arguments like “oh, that happened 35 years ago” in reference to an alleged assault, “that it doesn’t matter because they were teenagers at the time,” and that’s “just how drunk teenagers act”, it really isn’t surprising that assault victims do not come forward. Why would they? They are not believed. They are railroaded. Their lives are turned upside down, they get death threats. Why would anyone willingly sign up for that? I have not been raped. Thank God.

I was flashed by an older man at a playground at 4 years old.

I was groomed at camp in the 3rd grade. The camp counselor was fired mid week for inappropriate conduct with another girl.

At 11, my breasts were touched at a modeling agency by a man who was making decisions of who would be included in their next event.

I was repeatedly hugged and tickled a little too often and a little too long at a daycare facility.

While no irreparable damage was done to me, I was very early on aware of sex, aware of a need to protect myself, even if I couldn’t articulate it. It’s the way I walk to my car to this day with my key poised like a weapon, should the need arise. The way I replay the Oprah Show episode where the detective implores the audience to “never let them take you to a second location!” It’s also the reason I say a hard no to sleep overs. Over protective? Maybe. But my experience tells me that listening to my intuition rarely steers me wrong.

Tucking her into her own bed, freshly made with clean sheets and listening to her exuberantly describe how much fun she had I got quiet and just listened. (Something I need to do so much more of, honestly.) As she settled in and snuggled close, she whispered in her small voice, “Mom, I’m glad I’m in my own bed. It would have been fun, but I missed you today.” I told her I missed her too, and hugged her tight.

“Thank you,” I thought. That’s exactly what I needed to hear.

Picking Up Chicks

The military has afforded us the opportunity to make some incredible friends. INCREDIBLE. Friends who I cried for as we or they moved on to the next adventure. Friends who I still chat with via social media and text, and yes, even by phone. There have also been what I call “friend fails”. Those would be the people you find out much too late are just either not compatible or are flat out crazy, but slipped under the craydar (crazy radar).

I’ve pondered the wonder that is making adult friends many times, but I have to say – California is a world unto its own. How the heck do you make mom friends when you move every three years? One word about being in the military sends many potentials running for the hills, even in a military town. Why invest when you’re just gonna move away? I get it. How do you make adult friends when your kids are older than all the toddlers running around the playground…and you don’t drink….annnnnnd you are kind of an introvert?

I met one mom at school orientation. She seemed nice and the kids hit it off. She told me many great places to eat in the area and some of the local hot spots. The secrets to navigating traffic timing were shared. We saw each other at a couple of functions. It was nice, all happening organically and not too fast (wouldn’t want to rush into anything too quickly). Then I bumped into her at a store and noticed what could have been a bit of powdered donut residue just around a nostril. Or it could have been some not-blended face powder. But….it seemed to be something else entirely based on observed behavior. It was also 8:30 am. Super awkward. Not my scene.

The second day of school I was approached blindsided by a mom of a student in my son’s class at the crosswalk. “HI! I noticed your son is in my son’s class! My name is June and this is my husband Mark. You are? And are you new to the area? Oh! You’re military! So you live right here!? No? Oh, you are on the waitlist. I see. And how long are you going to be here for? Andallthe500otherquestions.” I had no idea you could interrogate someone at a crosswalk and ask that many question in the time it takes for the stoplight to cycle through 1 time. I had to sit in my car for 3 minutes sipping my coffee to digest that entirely one-sided conversation. Who does that?!

Over the summer I chatted with a nice mom at the playground in our neighborhood. She had just moved in so we were commiserating on the challenges of relocating and being in the thick of the cardboard ocean. Against my better judgement, we exchanged numbers. I haven’t heard a word from her since. Today I got a text asking how I was, and what I was up to this Saturday. It had been so long, I had to think for 10 minutes about who the heck this person was. Once I realized it was a ghost from summer past, I responded, and she then invited me to a “business opportunity” to make residual income. Obviously I need to trust my instincts. A month and a half and no word. Then boom – besties who are going into business together?! Uhhh, no. Lose my number thankyouverymuch.

Not so shockingly, Hannah has made many friends already, being the ray of sunshine that she is. (Come to think of it, Hannah might one day be the crosswalk interviewer!) She came running up to me after school last week, breathless, “MOM! My friend’s mom wants to meet you!! Come quick!”

Me: “Sure!” I say brightly! With lots! of! exclamation! points! and! fake! smiles!

Sigh.

Turning the corner I walk in the room and see a woman who is everything I am not. She literally looks like she stepped out of Vogue. I tower over her because of course she is the size of a child. I could hip check her and she’d bounce half a mile. “Hi! I’m Hannah’s mom,” I introduce myself and try not to crush the limp Barbie-esque hand she extends. Picture Real Housewives. Or Stepford Wives.

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Friend’s Mom gushes: “Oh it’s such a pleasure to finally meet you! Hannah has told me so much about you!”

Me: Blinking. ***Crickets***  ‘Finally’ meet me? School has only been in for a week and a half! What the heck has my child told her? Oh I’m sure I’m under the bus. Waaayyyy under that bus.

Friend’s Mom continues in her sing-song voice, “My daughter has been raving about how wonderful Hannah is and I was so hoping she’d find someone to be her BFF! They seem to be a perfect match! Let’s meet at the park tomorrow if you’re free to have a playdate!”

Me: Still blinking. This is all happening way too fast. Her voice is seriously like a character on SNL. (Yes, the Californians. EXACTLY like that. For real.) “Okay, that would be lovely,” I reply, continuing the ruse that I am, in fact, a functioning adult and am not panicking inside that I will have to make small talk with a stranger to whom my daughter has no doubt told our entire life story.

The following day Hannah can hardly contain her excitement. We meet up at the playground and the kids play. We chat. Lots of talk of GMOs and healthy eating. She insists that I must try a nut bar she just purchased. She laments that her “household help” that has been with her family for over two decades has suddenly moved away. “I’m simply overtaxed with committees and volunteer work – I just don’t know what I’ll do!” She asks if I have a cleaning person. I respond with the “I’m a do-it-yourselfer”-type. She tells me that I “simply must come by the house for another play date some time.” When my daughter sees this person’s beach front property, boat and hired help, she’s never going to want to come home!

I try to be an optimist/”bloom where you’re planted”/make the best of all the duty stations sort of approach to life in the military. Some are better than others, but after my track record so far, I’m just not holding my breath. I feel like I’m being Punk’d. I couldn’t make this up if I tried.

Recreational drug use, check.

Crosswalk interrogator, check.

Untethered to reality, check.

Pyramid/ponzi schemer, check, check, check.

As the saying goes, ‘I think the more people I meet, the more I like my dogs’. Based on what we’ve seen so far, if I’m friend-single this time around, I think I’ll be okay with that!