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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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!

Teachers

Excited for their respective field trips, both kids had no trouble getting out of bed.

“Where’s my class shirt?!” One hollered from the closet.

“Hanging right there,” I hollered back. “Right where you hung it up last night so you wouldn’t forget it….” I continued, mumbling the last part to myself as I grabbed the freshly brewed pot and poured myself the delicious, and necessary, first cup of coffee.

Her trip was to the local art museum to engage in some performance, dance and music fun. With ease, two talented performers from the museum wrangled a play out of three 2nd grade classes! It was a feat of epic proportions!

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What these pictures don’t show you is that while the kids are engaged in activity, their teachers are watching, monitoring and helping. For one child, the noise is too overwhelming. Instead of shushing him or telling him to sit down for the 100th time, she creates a space for him to calm himself. For another, the urge to fidget is too great. Not only do I see these educators focus on reading and writing and math everyday, but they are seeing the whole child. They are soothers. They comfort. They wrap their arms around the child that for the first time is requesting to be hugged. It’s a joy and a privilege to witness.

I’d been asked to chaperone his class field trip to the aquarium and happily accepted. This is, after all, why I chose to not work outside the home; so I could do all the mom things and help out when needed. Having field trips on the same day, in the same part of town allowed me to hop from one to the other with out missing much of either. I looked forward to having a bit of one on one time with each of them. After this year of single parenting, there’s been but a time or two that they’ve been apart, much less had me to themselves. I think they look forward to their dad’s return not only because they miss him, but equally because they need some space from each other and some undivided attention.

The day was lovely and perfect for an outing. The aquarium is one of Jake’s favorite destinations, loving all things ocean-related.

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YES! A real live octopus!

The exhibits went smoothly, the aquarium staff delightful and engaging. Sitting in front of the dolphins, questions and answers flew fast and furious.

“What grade are these kids in?” asked a man in a wheelchair behind me, having heard a few of their questions.

“Third,” I whispered quietly, smiling holding up 3 fingers.

“Wow,” he replied. “I taught fifth grade. They are really smart.”

Nodding in agreement, I turned back to the playful dolphins twirling behind the plexiglass. The really are incredibly smart I mused, simply enjoying the moment, and the opportunity to be a part of it.At the last exhibit during a group exercise, Jake was frustrated having not heard the instructions, then realizing he wouldn’t have any input in his group’s presentation as they worked. The tears started. (The other kids were not being overtly mean, but sometimes it’s easier to ignore people than to actively include them.)

It’s these moments that are hard. Autism or not, kids (as well as adults) have to learn how to deal with emotions, deal with disappointment and handle frustration with others and themselves. Group participation isn’t always easy, but it’s part of life. Physically, I was too far away and couldn’t get to him, and it was hard to hear over the chatter of the kids, engaged in their task to create an imaginary creature.

His teacher noticed the situation and swiftly grabbed an additional folder so he would be able to participate. img_5798She got down on the floor and engaged him. She didn’t have to. It would have been easier not to. She helped him help himself. She didn’t scold, embarrass or patronize. He didn’t have to have mom intervene. She was subtle and quiet.

She cared.

I smiled and mouthed a grateful ‘thank you’ as she got up to assist other students. I was humbled and as my eyes started sweating, I sternly told myself to save it. Lord knows my kid didn’t need a blubbery mess of a mom sobbing about gratitude in the middle of a field trip.

But I was, and am, very grateful.

How supremely lucky we are to have teachers that care so much.

 

 

 

 

WordPress Daily Prompt: Story

Seeds of Safety

Walking to the corner I keep an eye on the other end of our road for the bus. Eventually it comes, lumbering down the street to drop off our kiddos from another day at school just a quick 3 suburban blocks from our front door.

The pavement wet from last night’s rain, I clutch the handle of my shabby umbrella and wait. A neighbor’s silver car pulls up, much like he did the other day, window down to speak with me. Last week he did the same, to assure me my kids got off the bus and are coming. I’m not sure if he thinks I don’t own a watch, I’m blind and cannot see their bobbing heads coming toward me, or I’m just too lazy to go all the way down to the bus stop. I prepare to wave him off again, but he stops and says, “I told them to get in the car – that I would take them home, but they said you were on your way.”

A thousand thoughts flew through my mind.

I only know this man from the bus stop. I am certain he is fine, that there is no actual danger with this person, he was only trying to be kind since it was raining out. He has a child in the same school.

“YES! That is correct,” I say pointedly, more firm than polite at this point, as he continues on his way.

What if they had gotten in the car? What if the guy was a creep? What if they thought because we had had a couple of morning bus stop chats with this man and his son that it would be okay to go with them? Last night on the news a student at a nearby school was flashed at the bus stop. When was the last time we chatted about tricky people and stranger danger? OH MY GOD. This could happen so damn quickly.

I march quickly up to meet the kids and drop the umbrella to squeeze them both so tight as my throat constricts. “I am SO DARN proud of the two of you!”

Hannah, fumbling with her backpack straps looks up and questions why. I look at Jacob and smile. “The neighbor guy just told me he asked you guys to get in the car and you said no. That was the EXACT RIGHT THING to do!” Jacob grinned and related his version of events – all of which Hannah claims she didn’t hear, evidently ignoring her brother and his conversation as they were walking off the bus. We reviewed our family safety plan, that if we set a time and place to meet – that’s what we stick to. We don’t get in cars with neighbors, even if we’ve had a conversation or two, even if they are friendly. We talked more about the tricky people concept. It was a great opportunity to water those seeds I planted months ago, while praying I would never need them.

I am relieved this was not an actual situation, but being prepared and having the tools in their little tool belts will continue to keep them doing the exact right thing should a real situation present itself.

I breathe. We walk home. We do homework.

They move on.

I watch them and play with them and find I really don’t mind the 453rd game of monopoly quite so much today.

School’s Out for Summah!

Yesterday was the last day of school. A day that we’ve all been looking forward to. No more having to get up, schedules to keep, or homework to complete. As I walked up to pick up my tender-hearted little girl, she ran to me and buried her face in my lap. I asked her if she wanted to go hug her teachers or say goodbye to any of her friends. As I looked into her brimming little eyes threatening to spill over, her lips trembled and I knew. “I just want to go,” she said in a small voice. In the car she let it all out, sobbing all the way home that she hated having to say goodbye to people.

As a military family, it’s what we do. And our kids do it right along with us. So far, she’s been so young with our moves that it didn’t really affect her. But no more. She knows now. She gets it. And my heart breaks right along with hers. Between hiccups, she cried and said, “Sometimes I wish we weren’t military so we didn’t have to keep saying goodbye to the people we love.” The end of the school year, for her, represented what she knows is coming sooner or later; we will move to a new place and start over. Again.

Having a good cry, a FaceTime session with Grandma and later a bike ride with Daddy, a sense of acceptance and moving on settled in. They are so resilient. It’s tough to be sure, but they do bounce back.

It’s now day 1 into our summer break. I’ve been up for exactly 4 hours.

Four hours into “vacation”.

We’ve eaten breakfast, my daughter has painted. The dog has played fetch 36 times. My son has reached the next level of Minecraft. I’ve been attempting to study. She has had at least 4 costume changes so far. The sadness of goodbyes has started to fade.

Have I mentioned that my daughter has been painting? Yes, painting at the table. Five beautiful new masterpieces now decorate our kitchen table, drying on the not-so-good kitchen towels.

Have I mentioned that she is also a talker a story-teller? A non-stop talker story-teller, in fact. As I sit here attempting (for the thirty-seventh time) to read the same paragraph, she is making up stories about her paintbrushes and “how they land – SPLOOSH! – into the paint. Just like a swimming pool! See Mommy!? Watch him splash into the pool of red! He doesn’t have a bathing suit though. But he doesn’t need one. He’s a paintbrush!” She then dissolves into a fit of giggles at her own joke. “See Mommy?!!”

“Yes, I see.” Mommy really really needs to read and concentrate right now…

Elmo’s voice counts loudly from an iPad. Barbie and her friends and accessories are strewn all over, awaiting their demise at the hands, er jaws, of our dogs. The phone rings, snacks are requested, games will be played, studying will get done (even if it has to be after they go to bed). They will play with other kids at the gym (Thank you gym childcare workers! You will be saving my sanity and I’ll get to work with clients!)

Despite the adjustments – this summer is going to be a blast! As my daughter has unknowingly demonstrated, there’s a time to be sad, to say goodbyes and see you laters, and to adjust to new schedules. But it’s also about embracing what is, waking up and being excited about what this day may bring.

Even if it does involve paint, play dough, toys all over and a little less alone time. 

Bring it Summer!

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Mr. Mom

I love my husband.

Seriously. This whole mommy getaway adventure is because of him. He encouraged me to go, assured me it would all be taken care of, and he had it all under control at home.

Seriously!? Who wouldn’t love this man? Here is what he’s been up to:

IMG_8085.JPG Reading to Jake’s class during his “Star Student week”!

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Folding clothes late on a Friday night while I was at dinner!

IMG_8093.JPGAnd this morning he’s taking them to the school fun run!

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IMG_8096.JPG He’s also been sending me pictures and calling to say goodnight with the kids so I don’t feel out of the loop!

It’s the little things. I love this man!

Field Trip

My kids’ first field trip was yesterday, and I volunteered to drive and chaperone! Yay Super Mom!

Normally for such a first, I would have gotten out of bed a touch earlier, had a hearty breakfast with the kids – similar to this:

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Instead of the turkey, perhaps a bowl of oats and bananas or something uber healthy! I would have also left myself some time to clean out the car knowing others may be riding with me.

What actually happened: woke up late, had coffee, scrambled for breakfast, no time for a shower so hair went automatically up into a mom-pony. Crap! Laundry wasn’t done (it needed a second tour of the washing machine. Again.) So, I did what every self-respecting person does and surveyed the dirty hamper for the least dirty pair of yoga pants. And put them on.

More like this:

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Running a bit late due to a teeth-brushing fiasco, kids get in and buckled, our favorite song is selected and started, I realize I haven’t cleaned out the car and there really isn’t time to do so. I am a pretty organized person most of the time. I will confess that since I have had kids, I have become a car slob. My daughter never has less than 2 pair of shoes on the floor under her seat with at least 3 pairs of socks. My poor Hawaiian baby’s little tush hits her seat and the socks and shoes are immediately dumped!

I sigh, “Oh, well.” under my breath as we head off to school. Getting the kids to class, there are booster seats with lists of who will drive with whom. I scan the lists and find my name. And directly under it are my kids and one other student.

And the teacher. (Cue doom music here.)

Of all the mornings to wake up late and not clean out the car! Ugh! So I quickly drop the kids in their room and race to the car to clean out the apple core, the banana peel and random papers that have collected from the door pockets that we call “car garbages”. (Side note: the banana peel and apple core were from that morning, not rotting from weeks of sitting in the car. I’m not that gross!)

Luckily I had just enough time to toss the garbage and get the seats in and ready to transport minions and a teacher to our destination: the library! We pile in the car and off we go. Are other people intimidated by their kids’ teachers? Maybe it’s just me. As parents it’s natural to want teachers to like our kids. I want her to know I’m a good parent. (Until the minions throw me under the bus with comments like “Hey mom! I tooted!”) Yes, that happened. Oh, and I almost ran over a cyclist in a cross walk. I was charming and we laughed it off though, “Oh sure, have the teacher in the car on the first preschool field trip and run someone over!” I really do like our kids’ teacher, and not just because she laughed at my jokes. It did earn her bonus points, though.

The kids were all adorable, and remarkably well-behaved. It was a blast (despite my near wreck and bomb of a car) and I’m so glad I have the opportunity to do these kinds of things with our kids. I know not everyone chooses this path and there is no judgment here, but I loved being able to stand back and watch the kiddos in their environment and have no agenda. All I had to do was stand back, watch and enjoy.

So I did.