How I Came to Homeschool

I am an accidental homeschooler. I never knew about homeschooling or even knew someone who was homeschooled before I got started. My son was enrolled in our local (at that time) public school and my daughter was a toddler. Because of extended testing for a health problem, my son was going to miss too many days of school so the school was threatening to hold him back. The problem was that he was already bored and unhappy in his current grade.

His teacher at the time wouldn’t let him do the extra work the gifted support teacher had given him to do while his classmates finished their work. Instead, she just kept complaining about his distracting behavior. Then she actually said that she just had a “personality conflict” with him (a second grader)! It was unimaginable to think that he would have to repeat second grade with her the following year. I took the little baby step of telling the school district that I would do his schoolwork with him while we were staying at the hospital. (See, I still wasn’t calling it homeschooling or making a commitment.)

We survived the medical testing (all great news) and completed the schoolwork (tedious and unimaginative). But, along the way, I realized something wonderful: I loved teaching my son at home and he loved it too! It was so much easier to do work with him when he was fresh as opposed to dragging him, tired and distracted, through homework after a six hour school day. He could work at his own pace and my daughter who was a toddler couldn’t wait to be just like her big brother and do schoolwork too! I never sent him back and I never sent my daughter to school.

I don’t want you to get the idea that everything was all rainbows and lollipops. I made mistakes (like trying to teach using the public school method, going workbook crazy, and not teaching to my children’s learning styles), had tough times (homeschooling teenagers and toddlers through a divorce), and there were days when I just wanted a little peace and alone time but, for the most part, it was great! During that time, I was working evenings so I could be home with the kids during the day anyway.

Over the years, I was introduced to the wonderful world of curriculum and conferences, field trips and support groups, and oh so much paperwork! (Pennsylvania is the second most restrictive state to homeschool in.) We found our tempo and managed to continue to homeschool through a lot of ups and downs in our lives. I am happy to report that the first two victims of my homeschooling adventure survived with one graduating from college last year and the other set to graduate from college this year.

My youngest kids, however, have had a very different school experience due to life circumstances. With their difficult starts in life and different learning challenges, homeschooling them was hard. Just teaching them letters, numbers, and reading was drowning me. I was trying to work tons of hours on 2-3 days of the week to continue to homeschool and it was killing me. I was exhausted on my days off and my kids were not progressing enough according to my standards. Enter public school.

Four years ago, my 4 youngest started in public school. Within the first month, they had received more sex education (from 3rd and 4th graders) on the bus than I could ever have imagined. (To all parents who think that their children aren’t getting the meaning behind sexual songs, such as Whistle baby, they really do get it and they’re sharing it with everyone.) Our experience with the public elementary school was great but with the middle school…not so great. (Grouping children by age level may make it easier for teachers to teach large groups but it does nothing for their emotional growth and maturity.)

The worst thing to come out of our public schooling experience was the focus on all things sexual (mainly while unattended on the bus). The greatest thing…after trying for 5 years to get my son help, the school was able to get him diagnosed and get him appropriate help. Even as a nurse, I had been unable to do this on my own. At one point, I was told that my (at that time undiagnosed autistic) child was behaving the way he was because I gave too many directions to him. One doctor even told me (someone who had never medicated a child ever) that I couldn’t medicate behavior out of a child. All I had asked was if there was perhaps a medical reason he couldn’t control his behavior because I thought it was unkind to punish for behaviors out of his control. (There was a medical reason, but that’s another story.) Until a teacher saw it, the mental health professionals didn’t believe it had happened.

One of my biggest complaints when they were all attending school was that we didn’t have enough time with each other. During the week, they were at school, doing homework, at an activity, or preparing for school. Weekends were filled with church and activities. It was depressing and exhausting and not at all conducive to training up my children in the way they should go. Out of necessity, my youngest son continues to attend public school. But, this year, by the Grace of God, I have been able to homeschool my daughters again.

And so, we dance this familiar dance again. But this time, my daughters and I have been trying to find our own homeschooling tempo. It is a fun and sometimes exasperating time of learning together. Since my son’s needs and behaviors often take precedence over their needs at other times, this has also become a time of healing, bonding, and relaxing. While I do not know what the future will hold for us with regard to school, I’m just enjoying this gift of time with my girls and thanking God for the opportunity.

God the Father…of open sourcing?

 I am in love with the concept of open sourcing. Offering ideas, designs, and products for the public good fits well with my personal belief in philanthropy. Even further, the concept of open sourcing involves improvement upon the work of others. In this respect, Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:6-8 advocated a type of open sourcing in that he said “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.”

The Bible is filled with incidents of generations who reaped the benefits of their parents’ blessings or, in the case of Abraham, an entire people who did. In fact, the centerpiece of Christian faith is belief that Jesus Christ died for our sins. He came to earth, did great works and appointed disciples to continue his work (Matthew 28: 18-20), who then encouraged all believers to continue to build upon their work.

But as humans, we are tied to the fact that there is a beginning and an end…deadlines for our work, seasons to our lives, and limited years to our time on earth. In Acts, Jesus’ followers wanted to know a time-frame for His kingdom on Earth. But Jesus cautioned them to keep their minds on the task at hand. Sharing with others what had been given to them…the gospel message. Jesus understood that the disciples’ lives were just the beginning of centuries of God stretching out His hand with His most perfect gift. It is not for us to put a time-frame on the days leading up to Christ’s coming. It is enough that we open source our lives, our blessings, our talents so that all may be reached and not one should perish. Blessings!

Holiday Highs and Lows

IMG_0930Today is my birthday. I’m not tremendously fond of birthdays. Thankfully, my family knows this and keeps it pretty low key on my birthday. Today, my sister is making sandwich perfection (aka Reubens) for lunch and we’ll probably talk gardening. Definite birthday win.

I didn’t always have an aversion to celebrating my birthday and it’s not related to my age (45, today). It’s just that I really don’t see what we’re celebrating. Getting ripped from the safety and security of a mother’s womb? We really didn’t do anything except go along for the ride. Surviving another year? That’s definitely worth celebrating if you live in a third world nation with a high death rate…or with toddlers or teens…or are a toddler or teen.  None apply to me.

In fact, I’m not tremendously fond of holidays in general. I know I sound like a Grinch but let me explain. It’s not the holidays themselves that bother me but the commercial messages that have overtaken the holidays. Valentine’s Day has gone from a commemoration of the martyrdom of some Saint named Valentine (there were 3 likely candidates) to a day to give tokens of love, chocolate, and flowers. What do those things have to do with death? And what does martyrdom have to do with romantic love? Wouldn’t it be better to just let those you love know that you love them all year long?

And Christmas, that’s gotten really warped. As if a fat, pipe smoking trespasser wasn’t enough, we’ve now added the creepy elf on the shelf. Are you kidding? Have you seen the movie “Dolls?” It’s a wonder all kids aren’t in therapy.

Then there’s the added problem of disappointment and heartbreak when the much anticipated holiday falls short of expectations. Not getting the right gift (or any gift), spending money you don’t have, being unable to buy the gifts you’d like to give, not spending the holidays with your kids, or spending the holidays alone. Too much worry for one day of the year. To me, the high suicide rate around the holidays is just proof that we’re putting too many eggs in one basket. Seriously, it’s just a small fraction of your year, people.

Yet each year, we eagerly anticipate the same holidays and suffer the same post-holiday slump. Feverish pulling down decorations as if to purge ourselves of their effect.  Perhaps it’s the autism influence but, in my house, business as usual is more enjoyable than the excitement of one day (children who thrive on schedules turn into scary monsters with any change).

Maybe it is just me getting old. But if it is related to my age, then it has more to do with acquiring some small modicum of wisdom over the years, passed down from the many patients facing illness and death who told me to not wait for the golden years just enjoy life every day because the golden years don’t always turn out to be that golden.

So I chose not to wait until Christmas, or my birthday, or Valentine’s Day to find joy and happiness and fulfillment. I’ll take the sunshine, the hugs, the crisp mornings, the cotton candy skies, the first tree buds after a long winter, the smell of the earth after a rain, and the smiles on my children’s faces. All these little things are actually the big things in my life’s journey and I plan on enjoying them every second of every day.

Happy Everyday to us!!!

From Stressed to Blessed

I hit a wall on Wednesday. Not a literal wall. My life had just become a rollercoaster careening out of control. I was tired of holding on for dear life and wanted off the crazy ride. Wednesdays tend to be appointment days. Some of my kids require more than the average amounts of appointments and my parents, although relatively healthy, still have medical needs.

Usually once a month, I have a Wednesday appointment marathon. This month, however, every provider, counselor, and caregiver was trying to make up time from taking 2 weeks off around Christmas. So, I was having trouble getting anything done because of appointment-mania.

Wednesday dawned and I tried to psych myself up with words of inspiration. “It’ll be great to get these all out of the way.” “These things have waited long enough.” “You’ll be near medical professionals if you keel over from exhaustion.” I rubbed my French press but no genie popped out to offer my 3 wishes so I resolved to just dive in and start the day.

But alas, fate had other plans. Two of my girls awoke sick. I am fortunate to have my family all around me, so I transferred my girls to the sick ward (at my sister, Susan’s house, where she and one of her daughters were also sick). This effectively dropped the piano lesson from my to-do list and made it unlikely that I’d be able to help with the kids club at church that evening but my day was still full.

And so it was that 4 appointments, 1 meal, and many miles later (having run back and forth to drop my son at school and pick up my parents and drop them off) that I pulled in the driveway just as my son was getting off the bus from school. We high-tailed it out to the store to pick up the requisite sick bay supplies: tissues, popsicles, juice, and Oreos (those were for me, don’t judge), bought Chinese food for dinner, picked up the sick kiddos and finally arrived at home with a plan to throw wood on the fire, food at the kids, and hide in my house until Spring. Unfortunately, I arrived home to a trash explosion, compliments of Trixie, our not-quite-as-cute-as-she-was-yesterday-before-the-trash-incident border collie. Then I got 2 urgent phone calls for things that had to be handled by 9PM that night (because not everyone works in Eastern Standard Time).

She put herself in the corner

She put herself in the corner

By the time I made it to bed, I was barely functioning. I forgot about my son’s homework until right before he was going to bed. I never put away the Chinese food leftovers. I didn’t clean up the house before I went to bed. And I never put wood on the fire. The list of things I neglected was huge.

But, I had also received a huge amount of blessings to be thankful for that day. I’m incredibly thankful that this was not one of my son’s more difficult days. I am thankful that I have an awesome sister who’s always got my back (and would have taken my sick kids even if she and her family were healthy). I feel tremendously blessed that I can live next door to my parents and be there to help them. My heart sings because my kids want the privilege of helping their grandparents or delivering dinner to them.  I’m thankful for the patience and kindness of mental health professionals who are willing to help kids who have had rough starts overcome them. I’m thankful for medical professionals who respect the right of the elderly to retain control over their care and treatment. I’m grateful that we were safe on the roads.

But most of all, I am thankful for a God who keeps me going through all of the craziness and who has provided for me physically and financially so that I can be there to take care of my family’s needs.