Thursday, May 22, 2014

Portrait of a Shift in Perspective (However Slight)

Today is a dark day, heavy with a rain pounding on trees, grass, road, and roof with a fervor not unlike that spent by a weeping infant (I'm thinking of George, whenever I try to put him in the play yard so I can get work done).  My interior response to this undulating torrent is dread.   

I fear this exterior darkness may further sink my already tired mood; I worry that the basement will flood and the pool cover pump will cease working, I’m apprehensive of the clingy wetness of my clothes when moving from car to house, or house to mailbox, because none of my own laundry has been washed and so I will be stuck in damp skin for awhile.    And that will annoy me.

My kids argued this morning.  My oldest girl shouted at my youngest girl and called her Annoying at the breakfast table.  From that moment on, Gianna actively tried to pester. everyone.  In response to my cues to get ready for school, my autistic son defied me, ignored me, was purposefully rude to me as he sat cross-legged on the floor and went right on playing with his die-cast Nascars (CRASH! ZOOM!  BANG!).  Then, faced with the disciplinary consequences of his behavior (no iPad in the car), he tantrumed. 

After nearly a week of no yelling on my part (a pretty big victory for me, by the way), I broke said fast and shouted and lectured, guilted (I’d hoped) and silenced all of my children by the  force of my sharp tongue and strong disapproval. All those bad parenting tricks I keep disavowing were back and at my disposal. The drive to school was silent; my heart did not de-thaw until we were more than half way there (and school is an hour away), after which point I wondered where I had gone wrong.  And then began analyzing and cataloging My Life’s Mistakes as they apply to Wounding and Screwing Up children.

OK, I exaggerate, but only to make a point.

As those storm clouds gathered above, I inwardly cursed them.  I wanted the sun to come out and lighten all of our moods.  I had shadows gathering inside of me, true enough: fears about my son’s future; how to effectively manage our brood in the upcoming summer; financial stress; my mother-in-law’s chronic and debilitating health issues;  my husband dealing with all of this, and graduate school; my feeling helpless to aid him in shouldering this cross; temptations to beat myself up over my every human mis-step.  These emotions bubbled up and pounded me from within, as loud and hard as the rain.  

My rough interior mood needed help.  Prayer for sure: so I prayed. Good.  But what could I bring to my exterior?  What was there that I should do to get relief  from anxiety?

Once I'd hauled my still-sleeping baby from the car, I knew the action I should take:  I played Anonymous Four's The Origin of Fire via iTunes and I lit a candle on the stove.  Now the house smells spicy and gregorian chant sweeps in and out of quietude.  My own senses have guided my mind out of this moment to Someone that extends over it, through it, and beyond. 

 With this change I’ve remembered something I’d forgotten.

I like rainy days.

The light in the daytime sky is muted by clouds heavy as blankets, and those mundane people-made sounds of refrigerators humming and motors turning are muffled by rainfall.  These days are cozy.  They are an opportunity to enjoy tea by candle light, and to spend time typing one’s thoughts, just for the sake of having them.

Because like any rough morning or trying time (with one’s children or spouse or parent or work or whatever) the storm will rage and then pass.  The sky will lighten again, gradually, and the air will feel a little more fresh once the rain ends.  

Even as I’m finishing up this post, the rains have moved on and birds are again singing to one another in the trees.

Deo gratias.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Chin is a Nose

I have lately discerned a theme in my life.  Relationships, heck people themselves are to me like those hidden picture optical illusions: I think I see the picture, but then someone pulls the page out of my hand and points out that “this chin is really a nose, see?” and suddenly the haggard old woman transforms into a beautiful lady in a choker. Same page, same arrangement of ink.  Given new information and a different perspective, I suddenly relate to the picture in a better way.

So it is with my son, who has adored and play-acted the liturgy since before he could talk; who erects all sorts of interesting and fantastically elaborate structures (churches, trains, ) out of chairs, boxes, books and stuffed animals; who has always struggled with fine motor delays, vision issues and problems with gross motor co-ordination; who as a toddler/pre-schooler hated, trembled at and wept over fireworks and other loud sounds; who, as a school-aged child, began launching into tantrums around academics, making homeschooling my own circle of Hell; who was also sensitive and easily hurt by corrective words; who wanted to cuddle on the couch every morning, and sneak into my bed after any bad dream; who was quick to say “I’m sorry” after a blow-out, and desperate to feel forgiven...

Our mysterious, wonderful boy could always talk a blue streak at a dinner party, and draw connections between architecture, historical facts and theology, seemingly remembering every detail I’d ever verbally shared with him since preschool.  He can comfortably converse with adults but struggles to connect with most of his peers.

For three years I worried that I did not home school him properly. I have beaten myself up for not parenting through his tantrums appropriately, for being too mean or too easy, for being around him too much, or not around him enough to adequately model How to Act, for not properly socializing him and for homeschooling in the first place, because evidently all of those “un-socialized home schooler” stereotypes were true. That was my fear, given what I was seeing.

Now I see the picture differently.  Take all of those details, step back and see the same picture from another angle...  How did I ever miss it?

John Paul has Autism.

His increasing intolerance of “itching” clothes, the belligerent shouting of “No!” and kicking of feet from my otherwise loving and moral boy,  those tantrums and meltdowns over schoolwork, (life’s biggest stressor for him because of his vision, processing and fine motor issues.) Those heretofore separate troubling issues now coalesce into one simple and beautiful picture.

Yes, I said beautiful.  Because this is my son, and now there is coherence in my perception of him.   He is not damaged; I have not broken him.  He is, as I have often said, “wired differently.” Considering the multitude of crosses that J.P. carries on his developing shoulders, he in fact exhibits more patience in his life's trials than frustration.  Behind his known vision, fine and gross motor problems we also now know for certain, there is ADHD; there is the diagnosis of Specific Learning Disorder with Impairment in Reading and Math; and although mild, there is an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

I wrote the above paragraphs two months ago, and did not post until now because Emre and I needed time to sit and to process this diagnosis in private.

There has been a lot of pondering in my heart.

I am more proud of my son than I have ever been, and grateful to God for this clearer vision of him,  unclouded by my guilt, blame or regret.  His struggles are no one's fault: not mine, not his.  Those behaviors we'd labelled "bad,"and read as intentional disrespect or disobedience are suddenly not so cut-and-dried at all.  If I had his entire childhood to do all over again, I'm not sure I would change very much about how we've lived it;  this child is such an intelligent, interesting and creative person.  That is no illusion.

Now, to help him to see it, too.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Profile Overhaul Part II - Routine, Reality, and The Scarlet Letter

We've been public schooling in lieu of homeschooling for a month.  Because hubby and I never do anything the easy way, this switch involves an hour commute for the kids, and sometimes requires both Emre and I to drive out separately to handle pick-up times.  We wake the kids up at 5:45, launch them through their morning routine, and out the door at 6:30.   They get to town around 7:30, board the yellow bus at 7:50, and arrive at school around 8:30.  Their school days end at 3:30, at which point one of us picks them up, and barring traffic, we get home around 4:45.  Cue dinner, homework, maybe half an hour for t.v. or play.  Then it is time to get ready for bed, select outfits for the next day.   I pack their lunches between 9 and 10 pm.  The amount of patience and discipline this requires from all of us is crazy.

Crazier still: this routine-on-steroids, the public schooling, the imposed structure, all of it is working.  Let me be absolutely clear: it is working in a way that homeschooling was not working, and could not ever work for my family.  In fact, I can say this now:  Homeschooling was failing my family.  This is not hyperbole.

We'd expected John Paul to be below grade level; so Emre and I held him back a grade.  His many fine motor/gross motor/vision issues have always kept him behind where we should be in the curriculum, and running him to all of his therapies, and all of them to their many activities, consumed precious chunks of instructional time.  Therefore, over the summer we enrolled him in the second grade instead of the third grade, thinking that it would make for less stress in his transition, that he would be able to handle on his own a "re-do" of the second grade.

We didn't expect his reading to be even lower than second grade level.  In two days of testing, without me or  his dad there to coach him through a book, it was ridiculously clear that his reading was far lower than the second grade.  Miserably, frighteningly low.

The hard truth is that John Paul has special needs.  While I addressed some of those needs privately and at home without labeling him, I could not ever possibly address everything with him.  Every year I sacrificed some part of the curriculum because there just was not time for me to get to everything for everyone, especially when met by his resistance.  One subject I could never stick with was spelling. We could work phonics, but I could not get him to memorize spelling lists. Yet in three weeks time at this public school, John Paul has learned his spelling words rapidly and proficiently.  His first quiz grade was a 90%.

Part of my profile overhaul is to say that my son has special needs.  I am relieved to say that at his school, I can call him "special needs" and not feel judged or condemned.  On the contrary, the teachers and staff at his public school have gone out of their way to support him, and me, even without the bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo that awaits us all once we've moved to town.

My child is being well cared for at his public school, by people who are more qualified to help him than I could ever hope to be (unless I go to school for such specialized education myself).  His teachers have been schooled; they have done the research, they have worked in this field with many other students and they have the background to help John Paul.  These people are godsends, and I give thanks for every one of them.  I wish every student in America could have access to these kinds of professionals; one fact that I am very much aware of is that if we lived someplace else, we might not have this type of a resource for our children.

A scarlet letter of sorts must also be picked up and worn by me, not an "A" but an "F," because here is where (and who) I failed.  Gianna, who has no special needs, must redo kindergarten.  Her math skills are fine, but she could not identify more than a handful of the fifty sight words the reading specialists presented her with.  She confused several of her letters and phonics sounds, too.  She is six, and will turn seven next month.  We had thought she would be OK in the first grade, but the first week of class revealed to the teacher (and on some level, to Gianna as well) that she was not at the same place the other students were.

Folks.  I am a literature teacher by trade.  And yet, and yet, my youngest school-aged children, who are six and eight, as of last month could not read alone.  Do I need to say more on this score?  Can I trust you to understand this very specialized hurt that I've had in my heart this month as I've been forced to confront the reality and scope of the failure of our homeschool?   Have you ever wept so hard that you've made yourself physically ill?

I don't wish my experience to be a condemnation of homeschooling.  As always, I offer my experience, however embarrassing and raw it may be, as a touchstone that might help others.  I am putting this out there as a reality check for those other mothers who right now have a suspicion, a nag, a gut feeling that something is off.  Such a mother is right now surfing online as I often did, looking for the affirmation and the encouragement to keep going, because she is too afraid of something else to stop.  And that fear leads her to conclude that homeschooling is her only option.

Someone we all know once said, "Do not be afraid."

I know many of my readers have zero trust for any area the state is involved in, and that the phrase "public schooling" rings for them like a death knell.  You know something?  I was afraid too.  However, I am finished with parenting from a place of fear.  That is an emotion that needs careful evaluation before allowing it to guide a decision.  I had to ask myself, 'Is the fear rational?'

It is good to be cognizant of the fact that I send my kids into a secular space, but I should not fear doing so as if God Himself is not there, as if man-made rules could ever drive His Spirit away from my children.  True, their faith must become internalized to a place where they function by feeling God's love, and not rely on hearing me preach about it.  Sending them into a secular space without me at their side requires me to trust in God and trust in my child.  It also requires me to trust my fellow man.  It requires me to model virtue more consistently, and in my case, it gives me the breathing room to pray, to preserve myself for the battles to come, and not just hop from melt-down to melt-down.  To my mind, these are all pro's, not cons, in my decision to school in the world again.

God gave us our feelings for a reason.  If I'm going to be honest, let me be all-out: my feelings around homeschooling have always been complex, and have rarely felt comfortable, especially when under scrutiny from others.  Scroll back through my blog and you'll see it, too.  My emotions here should have told me something: homeschooling can be the best thing in the world for someone else, but it was no longer right for my family.  The irrational thing, the insane thing, the damaging and dangerous thing would be to continue doing what I'd been doing.

I have carried a weight of uncertainty and worry each academic year, a burden that only grew heavier, no matter the homeschool groups with which I associated or curriculum to which I switched.  This weight  lifted the moment we decided to put our kids in school.  Even as the sad reality of their less-than-proficient reading settled on me, even as I had to tell Gianna she was not ready for the first grade and had to change classrooms and teachers after her first much-loved week of school was finished, the weight of uncertainty and fear that I'd lived with for twenty-four or more months did not descend on me again.

Already this red mark, the "F" on this moment of homeschooling Motherhood, and its concurrent chasm-ing open of my heart has wrought good in me, in a way that only God's hand can design.   I am treating with the reality, and I now have direct experience with the adage that "The Truth shall set you free."

Friday, August 30, 2013

Getting Out the Door

After solely homeschooling my brood these last five years, this morning I not only packed them up and shipped them off to school, I shipped them off to school an hour away from me.  My days as a homeschooling mom had become less and less inspiring, or Christ-centered. My children in total required far too much differentiation than I, in my anxiety-ridden, recovering Co-Dependency, am capable of handling well, especially given the arrival of our baby in June.

Since my husband is a public school teacher, we are sending them to his district, and selling our house to move closer.  His commute these years has been far too long, too draining on him.  And so, over the last few days, Emre and I have brought the kids to Meet & Greets to see their classrooms and meet their teachers.  Two weeks prior to that we'd met with their principals.  The week before that, I'd put them in the local Catholic church's Vacation Bible School, so they could start to make friends and feel comfortable in the new community we hope to call home.

When we made the decision to stop homeschooling and send them to public school, I was elated.  A little nervous yes, but it felt right.  Peace descended on me, and so I knew this had to be God's will. Homeschooling no longer cultivated that same feeling in my soul, and so I saw that to continue to do so was not His will, no matter how Domestic-Church-y my motivations may have been.

I have a lot of fears, and I know the move to a traditional school will not be a panacea.  I worry that Anna's uncertainty might come across as "slow" or "inattentive" to her teachers.  She is so scared of making  a mistake or  doing the "wrong thing," and that fear slows her down.  I fear that she is way behind her classmates in math; family health problems, the birth of my son, and John Paul's increasing therapeutic work for low tone and vision cut into my instruction time with her, and that subject may be what suffered the most.  It is certainly why I said, "Enough" with regard to our homeschooling. I am afraid that John Paul's weak handwriting will cause others to judge him as slow-minded or sloppy.  I fear that his unusual gait, unique viewpoints, eagerness and effusiveness in talking, will cause him to stand out as "different" in that way that kids and culture tells us is "bad."  I worry he will be bullied, unfairly reprimanded, made to internalize a poor view of himself.

This morning was not perfect, either; the kids didn't like breakfast because we'd run out of maple syrup, and so didn't finish their waffles or their sausage.  And then...

Then my son had a full-voiced, teary melt-down over his shorts, which I'd bought at Target, about which he bellowed, "MOMMY I WON'T WEAR THESE! THEY ARE NOT COMFORTABLE!  NO!  THEY HURT AND ANNOY ME LIKE THOSE LANDS END PANTS!" (Yes, we bought and had to return, pants from Land's End because he didn't like the fabric or the pockets.)

I wish I could say we handled  this smoothly, but we didn't.  He talked disrespectfully, and we reacted. I was the first to have my fuse lit, because I have been so diligent in trying to work with him on this newly-emerged issue of clothing and comfort, and I was over-tired and exasperated and desperate to get everyone out to school without a hitch.  I threatened to keep him home, withdraw him from school, and go back to homeschooling him if he didn't wear what I'd bought and like it!  My husband was right there with me.  Pretty terrible, eh?

Recall my fear that at school he'd be "bullied, unfairly reprimanded, made to internalize a poor view of himself," and  savor the irony.

This rant on my part was anxiety-driven.  My soul was a tumultuous mess of un-peace, so I knew in the moment that we were not handling the issue right.  Therapy has taught me to be aware of my emotions, and Dr. Popcack advises parents never to discipline when one is at a 6.5 on a 10- point scale.  I was past the 6.5, so I walked away, breathed,and prayed myself down.

Immediately, I saw how my/our reaction was a parenting fail in at least three ways: my words were threatening, they were impossible to follow through with, and they were not disciplining the behavior but punishing the behavior.   I was not helpful in working towards a solution, either.  I consulted with my husband about what I discerned and then returned to our son to say, "Because it is the first day of school,  I want you to be comfortable and not stressed; you may wear a pair of athletic shorts.  Your father is correct that you need to learn to wear non-athletic looking pants again.  We will work on that, so when you get home tonight, you will practice wearing the shorts I bought at Target.  Can you agree to this?"

Our son agreed to this compromise.  His mood improved, and I breathed a sigh of some relief... although I feared what the next upheaval might be.  Would he ever act this way in school?

I don't know if this is a sensory issue; he used to love wearing Dockers to church, and oxford shirts with clip-on ties.  This new sensitivity around clothes began last April; my attention to it seems to make things worse, not better, so my husband suspects it is a control issue.  Does one discipline through a control issue?  Can sensory issues present themselves later in childhood?  How can I get him out the door anywhere on time and presentably?

Still, despite the fear and uncertainty, there is peace in my soul as I sit in a quiet house, having unleashed my brood on the world.  My/our anxieties are temporary, emotions that will spend themselves out and pass away.  My children will get to school and something new will happen.  This new life will be challenging, but they will meet those challenges and they will adapt.  They will learn. They will grow.

And by the grace of God, so will I.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Profile Overhaul Part I

I've arrived at a decision that will alter my identity label once again: I am not homeschooling this year.  We are enrolling the brood in a public school system; I have discerned that I am not meeting my own standards for my kids' education.

This admission hurts because it is a blow to my pride.

It took a while to face this fact, partly because I feared that in "quitting," I would validate the countless voices who poo-poo-ed, naysayed, and all out dissed homeschooling whole cloth.  One pediatrician told me outright that I'd make my kids "weird;"  one member of the clergy, without knowing me, insinuated that I might be "neglecting" my children because he'd "seen it before;" myriad people, strangers and family alike, peppered me with cliched questions about "socialization" and state standards.   If I listened to that nag, out of stubbornness I might just continue, because damn it, they can't be right/I can't be wrong/ I just need *one more year* and I'll have it all together.

Only one year is a long time in the life of a child.  And I said the same thing last year...

My pride be damned.  These are my kids, and I want what is best for them.

This is not a condemnation of homeschooling.  I see other moms out there who manage larger households than mine, who meet high standards in math and language arts and have their kids learning Latin and completing weekly social studies units and regular science experiments and get them to worthwhile extra curricular activities.

 In contrast to the homeschooling supermoms, I found that I increasingly lived on the "survival mode" of bare-bones three R's.  Gianna is gifted in art, Anna in language arts, and John Paul in history and theology.  I was not getting enough of what they thrive on into them.  And learning was no longer fun.

Other moms are getting it done, but I am not "other moms."  What has been working for them is not working for me.  Given that the definition of crazy is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result, I have chosen to embrace sanity and admit that I am not currently cut out for this homeschooling thing.

Furthermore, John Paul needs  help to discover his talents. competence, strengths that are latent inside of him.  He is an intelligent and sensitive boy, and I was butting heads with him, hard.  Getting him to his myriad therapies was draining on me; I had nothing left to then move on to the academics with him.

I need help, and that of the professional variety.

I have always loved teachers.  I married one.  I worked as one.  The profession is awesome, and often unjustly maligned.  While I am sure that I will miss my children during those first days, and even as I feel a sentimental, "if-only" twinge as I've packed up or parted with homeschool material, I also know with certainty that I look forward to working with my children's teachers this academic year.

I am excited that my children have this opportunity.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Packing it In

The rippy-screeech of packing tape stretching across cardboard frequently startles the baby from his nap.

I am boxing up my life. 

It feels like slow going.  At this point, our bookcases are bare.  Sixteen cardboard boxes are now back-wrenchingly heavy with the books that loaded them just three days ago. Hemingway, Dickinson, Shakespeare; Norton Anthologies, American Poetry, U.S. histories; Anton Chekov, Walker Percy, Flannery O'Connor.    The Beauty Myth. The Hours.  Theology of the BodyBless Me, Father For I Have Kids.

 Paperbacks, hardbounds; several are inscribed with well-wishes from friends and former students; all have survived several major purges and book sales over my life.  In total, these boxed books chronicle What I've Valued in different points of my life.  Some titles I keep for future reference, others because I have not read them yet but hope t o someday.  Others I keep just to remember myself from another point in time.

We are planning a Move, in more ways than one.   The house will be on the market (we hope) next month. I'll no longer home school the children; my reasons and feelings for this are vast enough for several posts (which I hope to get to writing eventually).  To sum up: we are enrolling our kids in the school district where my husband works, which is an hour away... and so we are selling our house (and a lot of its contents) because we have discerned that all of this is what this family needs to do to thrive. 

Much of this summer has been one of transition: new baby, new education plan, new financial goals, a new path to take toward all of it. 

With so much change I would be freaking out, but I feel God's hand is moving us, and this gives me peace.  I know we are doing the Right Thing.

Even in those moments when my anxiety and desire for control knock me down for a time, His grace pulls me back to my feet.  This time of boxing up, sorting out, and parting with things is admittedly daunting at times;  there is so much to do, and life does not pause to accommodate it all.  The fact that we can keep our chins up is evidence to me of His carrying us to a better place. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

C'mon, Catholics...

... admit it:  I'm not the only one singing that Barry Manilow tune today.

Question: What do you call three million people attending Mass at the beach?

Answer:  Son worshippers.