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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Those Moments

I have loved the ocean as long as I can remember. It’s unknown depths, countless lives beneath the surface, and breathtaking beauty are simply mesmerizing. I always come away from the beach stunned and in awe of this extraordinary planet.

We’ve had the distinct privilege of living near many oceanside locations:

Beach on NAS Whidbey Island

Maylor Point Trail, Oak Harbor, WA

Hanama Bay, Honolulu, HI

Waikiki Beach/Fort DeRussy Boardwalk, Honolulu, HI

Washington Park 3 mile loop, Anacortes, WA

Front Street, Lahaina, Maui

Washington Park, Anacortes, WA

Gulf of Mexico, Corpus Christi, TX

The white sugar sands of Pensacola, Florida were intoxicating and such a far cry from the barnacle-laden rock beaches I was accustomed to growing up in the Pacific Northwest. Living on Oahu of course was paradise, no question. We spent many days out on the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico, while living in Corpus Christi, TX. It really doesn’t matter where we travel, the ocean is a must. Pretty much the only thing I love as much as the ocean are my dogs!

Knowing our time in San Diego is finite, I’m determined to make the most of it before we head back to the evergreen state. What better way than to check out a new beach?! And what better beach than one where dogs can roam free and play?

Yep – Dog Beach!

They played and raced and sniffed all the smells!

As I looked around, there were dogs as far as I could see. People were are smiling. Dogs happily barking, splashing and playing chase. Whitney whined to be let off of her leash. Her joy is running, and she had some running to do! Buck didn’t really enjoy the beach in Corpus Christi when we took him a few times, but the waves were calmer today and far off the wet sand so they weren’t as scary.

For dog people, we get that our animals are something special. They are more than pets. There aren’t words to adequately describe the way we feel – the way I feel – about them. They soothe the ache of being human.

Walking amongst the myriad dogs of all shapes and sizes, joy couldn’t help but seep in. Looking over at my “grumpy old man” Buck, seeing him trotting happily and rolling around in seaweed – those moments of pure joy and content – I simply inhaled the the view around me. I savored the feeling of wanting to be no other place than right there, feet in the sand watching them be free.

Dogs….and beaches.

That’s just about heaven on earth if you ask me.

Changes

We have recently moved for the 9th time in about 12 years.

It’s been a chaotic few weeks with packing and unpacking, and then for good measure we threw in a dog CCL surgery!

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He leads a rough life. Obviously.

We are loving the new digs and the ocean of cardboard boxes is slowly diminishing.  San Diego doesn’t get winter weather, although you’d not know it based on the winter jackets and Ugg boots in abundance any day that is below 70 degrees. There have been a few overcast and even rainy days that have induced me to make some yummy soups in my fabulous new kitchen. I actually have room for all of my kitchen gadgets and I missed my coffee mug selection more than I had realized!

Internal things have been changing  in addition to our physical location. This post has been sitting in my mind, and the drafts folder, for a couple of months. A few years ago, I  arrogantly posted a meme about exercise being equal to medication for the treatment of mild depression. It was a platitude photo with little concrete research behind it. I regret posting it because I now know better. For years I’ve used exercise as a way to combat depression. And it kind of works – for a while. But it’s not the only way or even the best way to combat depression for many people; myself included. (I’ve also used retail “therapy”, and of course alcohol. What I’ve come to learn is that drinking with depression/anxiety is like pouring kerosene on a fire. It makes everything significantly worse.)

There’s definitely a stigma around the subject of mental health and seeking help – but it shouldn’t be. Knowing this intellectually for other people is one thing. Getting my head around it for myself is another thing all together. My psychiatrist explained a couple of things. “We use what works, until it no longer works.” For as long as I can remember I’ve been a “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” kind of person. “We can often point to life circumstances as reasons as to why we feel what we feel, which is why the average span from onset of symptoms to getting help is 10 years.” Oddly enough, this blew my mind when really it shouldn’t have because I should’ve sought help years ago. When you see a therapist or psychiatrist, they take in your history – a sort of timeline of your life snapshot. I don’t think most people look at life like that, but it was enlightening because patterns emerged of depression, low moods, unexplained or irrational thoughts and behaviors, etc. Laid out in that way, it was not only surprising I didn’t recognize the pattern before, but confirmed the statistic that people just don’t get help – for many reasons.

Depression is more than just being sad. We all get sad. It’s part of the ebb and flow of feelings. But actual clinical depression is much more and can have different causes. It also presents in more ways than simply low mood. Depression can come out as anger and irritability, irrationality, physical aches and pains, fatigue, and restlessness to name a few.

  • Biological differences. People with depression appear to have physical changes in their brains. The significance of these changes is still uncertain, but may eventually help pinpoint causes.
  • Brain chemistry. Neurotransmitters are naturally occurring brain chemicals that likely play a role in depression. Recent research indicates that changes in the function and effect of these neurotransmitters and how they interact with neurocircuits involved in maintaining mood stability may play a significant role in depression and its treatment.
  • Hormones. Changes in the body’s balance of hormones may be involved in causing or triggering depression. Hormone changes can result with pregnancy and during the weeks or months after delivery (postpartum) and from thyroid problems, menopause or a number of other conditions.
  • Inherited traits. Depression is more common in people whose blood relatives also have this condition. Researchers are trying to find genes that may be involved in causing depression.

– Courtesy of Mayo Clinic

As part of my treatment, I now take an anti-depressant/anti-anxiety medication. It was like seeing in black and white and then after a few weeks, the color came back. Technically speaking, more neurotransmitters are firing and working properly in the brain. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. In other words, I didn’t know how bad I felt because it was normal. That’s what depression does – it’s a slow creeper that you don’t see coming. I was no longer jumping at every little noise. I didn’t feel panicky at the irrational thought spirals about awful things happening to the kids. I wasn’t having panic attacks in a store and feeling like I couldn’t breathe walking with a group of people picking up our kids from school. I wasn’t irrationally irritated by the sound of my kids saying, “Mom…” Having depression and anxiety is exhausting.

I *may* have told my doctor that he would have to pry my medication out of my cold dead hands – I feel like myself for the first time in a long time. He laughed and shared that I wasn’t the first patient to have that reaction. “Medication helps a person with depression let more of their personality shine through.”

I’ve returned to exercising, although not at my previous “running marathons” pace. I’ve missed the endorphins and the mind-clearing adrenaline of a great workout. I will get there again, but there’s less frenzy and anxiety about it now. I’m doing it because moving feels good. I’m walking the dogs because I love them and spending time with them makes me happy. I’m running on the beach because I can and the sand helps cushion my injured ankle/tendons. I’m riding bikes with the kids up insane hills because we can do hard things, it feels amazing, and as Hannah says, “the steep downhills are FUN!”

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I hesitated in sharing this part of my life because it’s not comfortable to need help. Who doesn’t like to feel like they have all their shit together?  Growth and change are rarely easy and often uncomfortable but to not do so would be worse. My hope is that sharing my experience might encourage someone who needs it to seek help. I’m grateful for a handful of friends that were open and brave enough to share their own struggles, which in turn gave me the courage to get help for myself.

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Wish

I wish you could see…

I wish you could see what he’s like when no one is around, when no one is watching, warily sizing him up.

The funny boy he is when he’s not trying so hard

To impress you

Make you like him

To appear smart

I wish you could see into her heart

That she loves fiercely

Is loyal

That she really just wants what we all want

To be liked for who we are regardless of what we wear, the stuff we have or the place we call home.

I wish you could see that behind his awkwardness, his desire is connection.

I wish you could see that behind her striving and attention seeking, what she wants is to be marveled at and delighted in.

I wish you could see

That it’s hard to move and say goodbye to friends, and difficult to make new ones.

I wish you could see the way he cried when you called him dumb, carelessly throwing words around like it was no big deal.

To him it was a very big deal. Small things are big things.

I wish you could see the hurt in her eyes when you told her she was ugly, green envy soaked words aimed right where you knew it would hurt the most.

I wish you could see.

I wish you could see the progress he’s made, the milestones surpassed.

I wish you could see the way she smiles from her toes when she nails that cartwheel, backbend or some other contortionist feat; her joy when she learns the new song on her keyboard.

Her determination exceeds her age.

I wish you could see that what looks like disrespect often is his literal, robotic, fact-based way of seeing and relating to the world around him.

I wish you could see what I see.

Instead of judging what you don’t understand.

Milestones and Mermaids

Hannah eyeing the pregnant lady in the lounge chair, we made our way over to a shaded table to plunk down our towels and kick off flip flops for an afternoon poolside. The kids love the pool. Without fail they inquire the precise time we will be going to swim each morning. Kids off and splashing I sit down and smile at the lady and preemptively apologize for my daughter’s obsessive staring. She laughed and we chatted for a bit.

Of course hindsight is always 20/20, but time has a way of warp-speeding when viewed through a rear view mirror. It sure doesn’t seem like it’s been a decade since I was first pregnant myself. But here I sit with an almost 8 and 10 year old, chatting with a young mom.

There have been some big milestones in our world. These self-proclaimed big kids are riding bikes to the nearby playground, exploring our new place – stepping into their first bits of independence. I remember wondering about my then-infant and toddler when my sister and her daughters came to visit us in Hawaii. It seemed like so long until I would be able to just enjoy our time swimming instead of worrying and being on patrol, ensuring safety. I remember marveling at moms who sat poolside looking at their phones while their kids played and swam, part of me loving playing in the water, part of me longing for the day when they would find friends and play on their own.

That’s motherhood in a nutshell, I suppose – being divided. Not only daily working ourselves out of a job to grow independent and hopefully productive adult humans, but also wondering what the next step will look like, while simultaneously reminiscing about previous phases.

Flash forward to our time in Texas where they both had swim lessons and became comfortable in the water. Playing in the waves on South Padre Island still made me nervous, yet they had no fear, jumping and giggling as waves crashed and tried to knock them over.

Here I sit today, book in hand, sipping on an iced coffee (because I have waded through cardboard seas to rescue my coffeemaker from an ocean of chaos) .

Yet another little step, them in the pool making friends, practicing tricks and flips and jumps. My mermaid and merman happy to swim and soak in all of summer in our new home.

“Mom?” Hannah asks, as we gather up our stuff to leave when the need for food overpowers the need to be submerged.

“Yeah, baby?”

“Will you swim with us tomorrow? I love swimming and meeting friends, but tomorrow I’d like to swim with you, like we did in Texas.”

“Sure thing Hannah,” I say smiling.

I think we’re going to like it here.

365

Air filters changed: 4

School days: 170

Snow days: 1

Hurricanes: 1

Road trips: 2

Field trips: 10

Lawn mowed: 35 times

Weed eater cord changes: every dang time!

Vacuums broke and replaced: 1

Vehicle Oil changed: 3 times

Houses sold: 1

Plumbing repair: 1

Roof repair: 1

Alternators changed: 1

Vehicles sold: 1

Vomit clean up: 5

Cups of coffee consumed: 87,931

Lunches with friends (aka adult conversation lifelines): 2,376

Grocery trips: 9,897,654

Meals prepared: billions

Holidays apart: 12

Dogs kept alive: 3

Minions kept alive: 2

Emotional homecomings: 1

States traveled: 4

PCS transfers: 1

Sobriety days: 365!

Being done with deployment AND one year sober: PRICELESS

Resilience

We always say it’s not going to happen. We’ll be there for each other, even after they move. Or we move. Or we both are flung to opposite sides of the world.

And we swear, “This time. This time will be different. This time we’ll really stay in touch.”

Military friends are a special breed.

Ever so slowly, life happens. New friends slip in to our lives, boots on the ground, in the current duty station, in your every day life friends. While they open our hearts again, it becomes more challenging to keep up with kids and day-to-day stuff and maintain all those long distance friendships. They seem to get lost somewhere in the everydayness of our new home, among new friends. And we get lost in the memories of their new place.

The calls are replaced with texts. Texts start out frequent, but slowly fade to weekly occurrences, check-ins. More and more of the detail of their daily lives are missed and so it goes. Then it’s merely pictures on social media. Those pictures of their new life without you in it, those are so bittersweet.

They sting just a little. And once again you remind yourself that it’s all part of the process. This breaking of hearts. Sometimes it’s a wonder that we do this not only once, but many times over and over, risking, grieving, and being open again.

As we got up this morning from air mattresses on the empty floor, the moving truck having left the day prior, Hannah quietly asked, “Mom, can we do the ‘Why I love moving, by Hannah’ thing?”

We do this ritual in our family where I say, ‘I love Hannah because, by Mommy’ and then list out all the reasons and things I love about her. Eric and I even did this practice before the kids were born. Items on the list include big things, but also very specific things, and current milestones etc. It’s a tangible way to say “I love you. I see you. Just as you are.”

As she asked to do this and apply it to moving, I was struck by how resilient and strong she really is. This has been a tough week for the little emotional heartbeat of our family. She loves fiercely, and her heart breaks with the same passion. She listed her positives of moving – we all did. Hannah reminded us that while the sky may be overcast – the sun still shines, regardless of whether we can see it or not.

Kids are so dang resilient.

Hearts are resilient.

Tender hearts that are open enough to get broken, repeatedly, are among the strongest ones.

Fair winds and following seas, Corpus Christi!