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.

Misplaced Gratitude

Sometimes I hate to see my parents’ faces. Well, not really their faces but the look of gratitude on their faces when I do something for them. I want to rage against aging and Alzheimer’s and anything else that makes them feel weak and helpless. I want to cry and tell them that they are strong and valued and fill our lives with so much joy. I want to remind them how often I have relied on their collective wisdom.

How could they forget all of the times that they stayed up with me while I was sick or having an asthma attack or had procrastinated on schoolwork? I wish I could pull out the long list of things that I knew they did for me and the sacrifices they made that they never even told me about. I wish I had kept a list as a reminder to them that they owe me nothing.

So what if I’m bringing you a meal, you gave me 3 for every one I have the privilege of giving you, I cry out in my head. When I clean up a mess, I know there were many more messes that I created that you took care of. This slowing down of your life shouldn’t shame you. It’s time for you to rest on your laurels and allow me the pleasure of doing for you. I need to because day after day when you were giving of yourselves for my benefit, I know my face did not always reflect the same measure of gratitude that I see in yours. So many thank yous went unsaid.

So please don’t thank me for helping you as I’ve seen you help others, myself included. And please don’t look at me as if I’m doing something extraordinary, I’m just doing as I was taught…by you. So when I’m serving you that meal or taking you to the doctor or cleaning up that mess, it’s just my own way of saying a lifetime of thank yous that should have been said. So you see, once again this has become about me and my needs. I need to help you. I am so grateful for the privilege.

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.

The Canvas of my Life

I’m a mom. That means I do things that I don’t like to do because I love my children. Take crafting for instance. I rate it right up there with root canals, plumber’s cracks and reality TV. I wouldn’t be surprised if hell was actually an eternity spent making crafts with egg cartons, pipe cleaners, and glitter. In fact, I just saw an article about a company that mails glitter to your enemies. I am thinking about moving.   Immediately. With no forwarding address.

Actually, when my kids were younger, I suffered silently through the crafts hoping they wouldn’t notice my innate disgust for all things sequined. When they could finally create cool stuff independently and I just had to cheer them on, I’m pretty sure the heavens opened and I heard the angels sing. God knows what we can handle and, as only He can, He has blessed me with a youngest child who likes science experiments more than crafts. When the others are grown and have moved out, our will be a science-experimenting, board-game playing, craft-free existence. Ah, bliss!

In the meantime, my 3 youngest daughters and I took a daylong oil painting class. I went with the intention of muddling through while enjoying their happiness. But, it turns out that I love oil painting more than my craftaholics do! It was like messy color-filled therapy. I was trying to follow the instructions of the teacher but got lost in the pure joy of manipulating the paint on the canvas. I came out of my trance to find the teacher talking to me and my hands covered with paint. Good thing there wasn’t a principal’s office to send me to.

I had so much fun that I promised to buy myself oil painting supplies as a graduation present. With the gift card my son and his family gave me for Christmas, I even splurged and got my dream easel, a full-sized wooden French field easel. After about a million years (really, less than a week), my easel arrived and it was everything I ever dreamed it would be.

And so it came to be that I sat there, my supplies arranged around me, facing a blank canvas, trying to decide what I would like to paint. I knew I wanted to paint a landscape but with God’s glorious creation all around me, I felt like a kid in a candy shop. The decision was exciting but overwhelming. I finally settled on painting a photo I had taken at Mount Pisgah State Park after a sudden rain. I started painting and realized that mixing the colors is an art in and of itself. I’ve begun the painting but am unsatisfied with my color choices.

In progress...

In progress…

The beautiful thing about oil is that you can come back to it later and keep tweaking it until you’ve gotten the result you wanted. It’s the perfect reflection of my own feelings on life. Each year, actually each day, is like a blank canvas. I face it with the hope and expectation of a child on Christmas morning (I am an eternal optimist).

But then I make mistakes or someone splatters yuck in my life. I get upset, usually yell and cry over the phone to my family therapists (read sisters), then shrug it off and come back to the canvas to try again. I can do this because the artist of all creation is still in control of my life.

Knowing God has my back allows me the privilege of splashing the colors on the canvas on my life with reckless abandon knowing that the end result will be something He has made beautiful.

Angels among us

In Fall of 2008, when I was 38, I went back to college. I didn’t want to just to further my education…I wanted to change the course of my entire life.

After my brush with Lyme arthritis, I realized that I could not physically work forever as a bedside nurse. When I reassessed what I really wanted to be doing, I came up with a huge list. Apparently while I was busy raising a family and working a job, I had neglected my dreams.

Since nursing is such a specialized field, I set out to get a non-nursing bachelor’s degree first. This degree was tailored to what I perceived as my weaknesses and interests. (Given my age and situation, I consider it a pretty tame midlife-crisis but, now that I face the student loans, I realize that it probably would have been cheaper to buy a sports car.)

When I started, I was a single mom with children aged 4, 5, 5, 6, 15, and 19. It was very difficult at first because my little ones did not understand timed tests, the need to focus when formulating a response, and pretty much privacy, in general.

One night, with a deadline looming, children pestering, and quitting on my mind, I got a call from my friend, Joanna. She was passing through and wanted to stop by. I cried on the phone to her and she came anyway (a mark of a true friend). That night, she made us tea, sent me to my computer, and stood watch over me.

Whenever my kids needed to ask me something, get a drink of water, or just randomly stare at me, she was there, gently filling the need and guiding them back to their beds while I finished and submitted my homework with just minutes to spare. Three years after I started college, Joanna was killed in a car accident so she never got to see the fruits of her labor at my graduation.

But whenever I felt that the weight of my life was too much and I wanted to quit, God sent another one of my earthly angels to encourage me. My coworkers, friends, and family, many without even knowing it, provided me with the encouragement and strength to keep going. My one sister, Janee, pestered me constantly (as only sisters can) over staying on task and finishing my degree ( I had to take a third semester of French more than 20 years after taking the first 2 semesters and it was almost my undoing).

Over the course of time, I was able to stick to it and finish my degree and move on to pursuing an MBA. My goals for myself became more defined and I did eventually leave nursing. I learned a lot going to college this second time around but the greatest thing I learned was that I may be single but I am not alone…my God is near and my life is overflowing with angels and all the better for it. So, thank you to all of my angels and congratulations on our graduation!