Monday, May 20, 2013

It Wasn't A Contest

In general it seems that our world has lost the ability to know what is appropriate to say and what isn't.  Strangers ask all sorts of inappropriate questions of about anyone but this becomes especially pronounced when you have children.  I used to believe this was a phenomenon reserved for pregnant women.  After all, the moment the world can tell your expecting people feel entitled to know when your baby is arriving, how much weight you've gained, how your going to feed it, and to what early college program your sending the new bundle of joy.  Having had 6 babies I thought I had heard it all.  Then I discovered that as the mama of a large family people continued to feel entitled to share their unsolicited thoughts and opinions.  They comment on the size of my family as if I were trailing around 60 kids instead of 6.  After time you do get used to the comments and have several come backs ready; 'Yes, they are all mine', 'Its busy but we enjoy our time', 'I'm glad its me and not you too, I love my children',  and my favorite, 'Yes, I know what causes it and obviously I'm a fan.'. 

Much has been written about the lack of social filter many people walk around with.  Its been done and done well.  My friends frequently send me articles, lists or stories that covers the topic of what people say to those of us with more than 2.5 children and what can be said in return, either in jest, in anger or in an attempt to educate others.  Recently a friend sent me this article: Big Families, What We Wish You Knew by Gretchen Knuffle.  Included in this collection of lists was the top 5 things mom's of big families wish other people knew.  Number one on the list says this "We are not supermoms and you don't have to apologize for only having two and then explain why.  It wasn't a contest." 

I keep coming back to that statement.  It wasn't a contest.  It still isn't.  Our lives are not in competition with another as if there is only so much satisfaction to be had and you have to hurry up and gather all the happy before someone else takes it.  This rule applies to where you live, what you drive, what our hobbies are and most of all how we create our families.  It also very much applies to home schooling. Sometimes I find myself on the side of defending my choice to home school to those who would never consider it and sometimes I find myself trying to reassure someone who sends their kids to school outside of the home.

Truly I do not judge anyone for the educational choices they make with their kids.  I have shared with you the reasons I have chosen to home school my children.  All of my home schooling friends came to the decision to home school by very different paths.  Some were home schooled as children and wanted the same for their own.  Others had horrible public school experiences and wanted to spare their children.  Many chose to do so because of religious reasons and a few choose to do so because of their geographic location.  I have a friend who also has a large family and home schools some of her kids and sends others to public school all based on what is best for her individual child.  It works beautifully for them. 

Of course I also have many friends who do not home school.  Most have never considered it and thought I was weird when I began this journey.  Probably a few still think I'm crazy.  Many of my friends do not live in an area where they would have the amazing support that I am able to take advantage of in my community.  A few of my friends would love to but they doubt their ability to make it successful.  Lots of my friends have to work to support their families and so cannot physically be present to make that choice.   And I know that some mama's (and daddies) really, really need that time when their kids are out of the house safe with other adults who care about them.  All of that is perfectly understandable as far as I'm concerned. 

So however you educate your babies, be proud.  We are always their parent and always their first teachers.  Every moment our kids are learning things.  I am thankful that I am able to be home with my kids and be their teacher, even on the really hard days.  I am thankful that I have a diverse group of friends who are all loving their babies the best they know how and doing a fantastic job helping those babies grow up to be real people.  No matter your choices, know that I support you because it really wasn't a contest and no one else is going to use up your happy.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Intent to Home School (Why We Home School, the 5th and Final Part)

While my three eldest children were struggling as I have previously described we were also shuttling our outgoing 5 year old to preschool, caring for a precocious baby and expecting our unexpected (but so much wanted) 6th baby.  Did I mention that this was all happening in the first 4 months of moving to a new state and across the country from our family and most friends?

The stress of trying to keep everyone on track was taking a major toll on our household.  Our mornings started with arguments over assignments being returned to school and strict reminders about appropriate classroom behavior.  I spent my days sending and receiving emails from the kids teachers, trying to catch various school staff on the phone, attending meetings or finding ways to volunteer in the classroom so that I could try and get a handle on any of the kids drastically different situations.  When the children returned home at the end of day the battle began in earnest.  The first hurdle was making sure any work that needed to be done got home.  If it didn't there wasn't much I could do because the school made it clear they couldn't check with my kids to make sure it did, though at the same time it was made clear that if I supported them I would provide consequences if the didn't.  In L's case things had progressed so far that he had two sets of all of his books, one at school and one at home.  Incidentally, that didn't help at all.  IF the tools necessary to complete an assignment made it home we began the battle of getting work done.  Work that should have taken little time took hours at my house because of my children's attention deficits and the emotional turmoil attached to school, especially in Z's case.  Homework disrupted our family meals, pushed back bedtime and led to daily arguments. 

I fully admit that many nights I absolutely dropped the ball.  Fighting that hard for 3 kids and making everyone does everything every day just isn't possible.  The kids intuitively knew that.  I'm fairly certain that each day someone pulled one over on me with a creative story or excuse.  The truth is after a while  was just tired.  Tired of the fight with them, tired of the lies, tired of the judgment from teachers all while still trying to live  a normal life. 

One day when our family was brand new to Colorado I had gone for a walk and met a neighbor.  This woman, who would become a good friend, was outside of her home working on projects when I happened to be out walking.  I'm normally very chatty but on this afternoon I was incredibly lonely.  My new friend was gracious enough to take time out of her day to talk to me, not even knowing how much I needed it.  We began talking about pets but the conversation quickly turned to our families.  She told me about home schooling her children and a group they belonged to.  She was so passionate about what she was doing, her children were clearly thriving and she sounded truly satisfied with that choice.  I left her house with my head swimming with 'What if's' and 'I wish I could' but I had never truly considered that it was a possibility for us until I was backed into a corner.

Amazingly the struggles that L and A were having had been accepted as normal for me.  Even the lack of support and the ridiculous expectations that the school held for me, the parent, didn't give me pause to consider that it was not acceptable.  But the extreme bullying, at the hands of adults no less, that Z was experiencing was more than I could take.  The mama bear in me was ready to do anything and everything to protect him.  When I pulled Z from school and STILL couldn't get anyone to work with me or to help him I began to think seriously about the conversation I had with my neighbor months before.  

Still I worried about what other people would think, especially my mother who was a dedicated public school teacher.  I worried I couldn't do it, that even with a teaching degree from a teaching college I wouldn't be able to instruct my own children.  It was my mother who first brought up the subject and asked if I had considered it.  My husband supported it fully.  In fact friends and family all expressed great confidence in my ability to teach Z at home.  I began to think I could do it, and I was already staying at home with our littlest kids so no income would be lost.

The thoughts of homeschooling began with Z in mind, but it was no stretch to include L and A once I was committed to doing it.  They were all very enthusiastic about homeschooling.  In a relatively short amount of time we invested in an old used table that we set up in the basement and some basic supplies from the local education store. I sent a letter of intent to our local district, spoke to the administrators at the children's schools and I submitted my application to join a co-op of other home school families.  After years of struggle in the public schools we had made a huge leap into a new and exciting type of education.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Saving a Love of Learning (Why We Home School part 4)

After watching his older siblings head off to school, my third baby Z was over the moon when it was his turn to go to Kindergarten.  He was so excited that he was ready to go an hour before I planned to wake up! Once at school, he wove through the crowds ahead of me while I struggled to lug the extra bag full of extra school supplies, Kleenex boxes, disinfectant wipes and sandwich bags. I snapped a couple pictures before leaving Z happily in his desk with the rest of his class.
I was first aware that there was a problem when Z would come home from school telling me he was in trouble and had to miss play time. My assumption was that he was facing some of the same issues his older siblings had.  I talked with him every night and every morning about being on his best behavior.  The reports just kept coming home and when I asked Z what he was doing to lose his privileges he seemed legitimately confused.  When I addressed his teacher I learned that she expected all 28 of her students to work at the same pace.  If a student finished early they were expected to wait.  Z was getting in trouble during that wait time for doing things like working ahead, rolling his pencil across the desk or whispering to a friend. 
Years of being an advocate for my eldest two children didn't prepare me for working with Z's teacher.  I respectfully told her that taking away his free time for such minor offenses and singling him out was not acceptable to me.  I asked her to keep a note book and to find alternative consequences for behavior she had an issue with.  Months of reading this notebook made me realize that my son was not the problem.  Her complaints included him taping his fingers on his leg while she read a story or drawing on his papers while she was making him wait to continue a lesson.  Through all of this Z still felt his teacher was the most amazing, special woman on the planet.  Her rejection was destroying him.
Other parents started sharing their concerns with me.  They saw my son being singled out by the teacher and disagreed with her harsh treatment of him.  The other students also noticed that Z was being treated differently by the teacher.  Z became the victim of some very extreme bullying.  Students would take his things, ruin his work and called him names.  The would push and shove him and when he pushed back his teacher made sure he went to the office.  One afternoon 6 students waited outside the school for Z when he went out for recess and they beat him to the ground.  Z was sent to the principal's office for fighting, even though he couldn't even defend himself due to how quickly it happened.  The school never told me about it, I heard about it from another parent.  The school didn't help my son, they didn't punish the children who did this but they sure had taught Z that he wasn't worth protecting.  Z didn't even tell me what was happening any more because he, at 6, thought it would only get worse.
As I mentioned in previous posts, our move to Colorado was an exciting fresh start.  In spite of the horrible experiences Z had in Kindergarten he was thrilled to start 1st grade.  I started out being brutally honest with this teacher about Z's experience the previous year.  My hope was that his new teacher would work with me to correct any bad habits, help him make friends and get on the same page as our new school district.  Instead Z was singled out again by the teacher.  I believe he was really nervous and did tune out what was happening in class.  I want to be honest and say that by this time his behavior with other children was not always appropriate.  He expected kids to get physical with him so he tried to beat them to it.  Once again he was always in trouble and he started to struggle with his friends.  I spent hours trying to find a way to help Z and attempting to work with his teacher.
Shortly after Christmas we learned that things were far worse at school for Z than we knew. He was spending between 2 and 4 hours each day crying and refusing to work. The school principal, social worker and other teachers were involved.  No one had ever called us.  We had no idea this was happening.  I pulled Z out of school pending a meeting with the principal yet even when I went to the next highest authority no one at the school would meet with us.  I begged them to work with me before they completely destroyed my son and taught him to hate learning.  We never did get that meeting.
While Z was home I worked with him on the things he needed to catch up on in math and reading.  Z told me how scared he was at school and that he didn't want to go back. Spending this extra time with Z let me see how much school had changed my boy's personality. We struggled to deal with the fact that not only was my son bullied by his peers, he was bullied by the adults that were supposed to protect him.  It was more than time to consider other options.
To Be Continued...

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Building a Bridge (Why We Home School Part 3)

While we worked with teachers, social workers and administrators to get L on the right path we couldn't get anyone to listen to our concerns about A.  Everything about L's struggles were big, loud and obvious beginning as soon as kindergarten.  Our concern's with A seemed to fall on deaf ears.   

While A struggled a bit in her first couple years in school we didn't become very concerned until 2nd grade.  She seemed to be spending most of her day off in her own little world without a care.  She didn't complete in class activities with her classmates often bringing home work that should have been done at school.  Homework would take her hours even though it was intended to take less than 20 minutes.  She was doing average work at best on tests, even though we had good reason to believe she could do better.  Often her test scores were truly bad.  She honestly seemed not to know what was going on much of the day. 

It felt odd to fight to get her tested and beg for someone to help her after having so much help foisted upon us when L was struggling in school.  But L's behavior disrupted other students and was impossible to ignore.  A sat quietly in her desk drawing pictures on the edges of her papers and often humming to herself.  Teachers would acknowledge that she was not engaged in class but would assure me that they were sure she was really trying her best as they told me in undertones that she was just so cute! They were selling my daughter short and it was so frustrating!  A did not qualify for special services but she was not learning either.

At one routine doctor's visit my desperation and A's flighty conversation pattern convinced our family doctor to go ahead with some testing in spite of the school.  A tested positive for extreme ADHD. When people hear of that diagnosis they tend to think of a little boy who can't sit still and can't behave.  A does not have the hyperactive tenancies that are viewed as hallmark in this disorder which is why the school was so hesitant to address her problem. 

Once again I had high hopes that a move to a new state, new school district, would give us a fresh start.  I was sure if I brought in the letters from doctors and expalined about our journey from the begining then everyone would work with me and wish for her to suceed.  Unfortunately my darling A is very bright and was able to coast through school in spite of her inattentiveness. She was still spending all her time in another world and I was trying to find a way to reach her there.  Her teachers felt I was over reacting and they dismissed my increasing concerns.  I wavered between feeling I was being too hard on her and feeling like I was letting her get away with laziness.

I have since learned that the way A behaves is very typical in girls with ADHD and that those girls are frequently over looked because they are not disruptive or seemingly off task. In addition to this A seems to struggle a bit with reading people and knowing how to interact with others socially.  There are no concrete examples but she frequently does exactly the opposite of what I would chose to do if I were attempting to make a good impression.  This is something I am still exploring and learning about in an effort to help her.  The reason to mention this is that in school her already stretched attention span was stretched even farther as she attempted to find ways to fit in.

As we neared the mid point of her 4th grade year I was feeling very much at the end of my rope.  Report cards came back with some disturbing marks for A and her conferences indicated her test scores were showing a backslide in her language arts and math skills.  I was working with her every evening for hours to get through what should have been half an hour of home work but she acted as if she had missed the instruction.  Still I was treated as if I was over involved and overly concerned and yet I felt as if I wasn't doing enough for her.

To be continued...