Friday, May 15, 2015

[School] Year in Review

          We've finished an entire school year of homeschooling.  It has been satisfying to pursue an educational program that is more in line with my personal philosophy. One of the mantras that has kept me steady when I begin to doubt our choice or worry about whether or not the boys are in the best environment for them day-in and day-out: "Keep the end in mind." Is it necessary that my kids spend 7.5 hours a day in a controlled, scheduled, carefully designed environment in order to someday be successful adults? I would answer, emphatically, "no." At the end of the school year, does it matter whether they spent 1080 instructional hours on curriculum that is carefully designed to cover a thoroughly-researched and well-defined list of age-appropriate knowledge and skills and which uses research-proven methods of instruction and reinforcement -- or whether they actually obtained the age-appropriate knowledge and skills? I hope that most people would agree that actually having the knowledge and skills is more important than putting in a set number of hours on the specific lessons or activities that are supposedly needed to obtain them.
     In general, I respect the philosophy behind our public school system, the standards that exist, and the curriculum and methods that have grown out of those standards. It's pretty impressive, really, and works very well for a huge number of kids. Unfortunately, it did not work well for mine. They greatly struggled to go with the flow of a typical classroom. Their stress and my stress were both increased by constant contact from teachers and administrators and pressure to somehow make them "do better," i.e. to override their natural way of functioning in order to fit into the classroom mold. As if that was something we could force to happen! Finally, after trying to make them fit the mold for several years, I gave in to the reality that it wasn't necessary.
     Now, I'm relieved that they aren't being made to feel less-than their classmates who learn and live life differently. The way that people with ADHD view and approach the world is certainly different from the average person, but that doesn't mean it can't be a valid or beneficial way to live and see the world. Many adults learn to channel the positive aspects of their ADHD-brains and reduce or compensate for areas of weakness, and they choose occupation and hobbies that build on their strengths. However, in the traditional school setting, it is constantly reinforced that the behavior patterns most challenging to ADHD kids are the most important to master, and conversely, that the strengths common to ADHD kids aren't very important or valuable. It is hard to feel anything other than inadequate when receiving continual negative feedback and unavoidable, unflattering comparison to peers who seem to have mastered the highly-valued classroom behavior expectations so effortlessly.
     One result of the pressure from teachers and administrators to "fix" our kids was that we frequently changed or added medications and increased dosages. As a result, Ethan was on appetite-reducing medicines for so much of the time that he didn't gain any weight for two years. He gained height but no weight. I didn't realize how skinny he was looking by the end of last school year until I came across this picture from May of 2014, at the Derby kite festival:
 
and this one from earlier the same month:
Compare those to this picture of him on a home-school field trip in November of 2014:

And this one from April of 2015 (in which he was exhausted after another day of flying kites, coincidentally):
     I don't know if you can see what a difference a little meat on his bones has made, but I certainly can! He's filled out so much that we looked up his BMI to make sure it wasn't going too far in the other direction. Nope! Just a healthy, but not stick-thin, kid. On the other hand, it has been difficult to get him to exercise or remain active being at home all the time. He was forced to be active for at least 30 minutes or so each day at school (allegedly ;-) ), plus whatever active play he might get in the evening after school. So in one sense, he's healthier physically because his body is obviously getting more nutrients and building blocks it needs to grow; but in another sense, he may be somewhat less healthy physically because he isn't consistently engaging in daily exercise. Still, I could probably enforce a daily exercise program while homeschooling with less effort and more effectiveness than we could possibly expect from sending him back to public school and attempting to maintain a continual healthy weight gain. Beside that, I'm not actually sure if he got more exercise while attending public school than he does while homeschooling. It's hard to keep track, and I don't have a definitive baseline for comparison even if I did keep track. I conclude that is has been better for his health, overall, with the caveat that we need to pursue more daily exercise to maximize the benefits.
     So, I believe this year has been better for my kids' mental and emotional health as well as their physical health. I hope that at minimum, they have ended the school year with the knowledge and skills they would have netted from this year of public school. Ideally, they will have ended the school year with additional exposure to and appreciation for good literature than they might have gotten in public school and additional time spent pursuing their particular interests, especially in science and history. Further discussion of those specifics can wait for another post. :-)

Thursday, May 14, 2015

You Might Like...

     So, I've decided that maybe Facebook isn't so great, that blogging and reading other people's blogs might be the better way to socialize online. Did the novelty of Facebook wear off? At one point, I thought Facebook might replace personal blogging altogether. It was so much easier to post a group of pictures or a news update on Facebook to get wide exposure. Even contemplative or complicated discussions could be undertaken via status updates and comments. However, once Facebook started cluttering our feeds with ads and "suggested articles" and limiting how we could display our friends' content, it seemed that everyone began primarily re-posting other people's content rather than producing their own. It turned into a marketing machine (as was originally envisioned, I suppose) rather than a chance to genuinely and authentically communicate with people you may not see very often. So, I sort of hate it now, although I do still love seeing everyone's pictures (real, actual photos of the person or their loved ones -- not reposted memes) and hearing important or interesting updates.
      In any case, I've decided to spend my online social time on blogs instead, after a long hiatus. I may have a lot to catch up on in all of your blogs, but I'm sure I will enjoy it. Stay tuned for riveting upcoming posts about homeschooling, the adventure of having a teenager (coming this June!), and possibly even some spiritual topics. ;-)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Where we're at... or, sleep woes

I think every parent must know the feeling of being desperate for their child's nap or bedtime to arrive. It’s not that you don’t love you child or children; on the contrary, the very fact that you love them so much and are pouring yourself out when you’re with them is the reason you are so desperate for a little bit of time to just breathe and think.

I'd wager that most parents find themselves counting the minutes until bedtime most frequently during their kids' first five years. There is a constant intensity with younger children; you are always “on” as long as they are awake and you are the responsible adult. The hours after 8 pm, when the children are all peacefully sleeping in their beds, their needs fully met, and -- barring the infrequent nighttime awakening -- settled for 10-12 hours, are golden. They bring a euphoric feeling of a great responsibility being temporarily but completely lifted; “always on” being switched off just long enough so that you can remember who you are when you’re not parenting. It can feel like a celebration, an opportunity to bask in the satisfaction of completing another day’s labor of love, wrapped up sweetly with cuddles and picture books, prayers and kisses. Whether the day was a perfectly smooth, by-the-book day of parenting or a chaotic, confidence-crushing day which you felt like you barely survived, you’ve tied it up nicely, at least, and will have a fresh start the next day.

There is a point as children get older when they cease to need as much sleep. Their bedtime starts to creep dangerously close to your own. However, by this point, they are usually old enough that they might reliably put themselves to bed. Or, if not quite that independent, perhaps just some reminders and tucking in will do. You may not have the same golden silence during your evening hours that you did previously, but the intensity of moment-by-moment responsibility throughout the day is lessened. You have some time to think and breathe even while they are awake.

There is something I have learned, though, as a parent of children who are rarely average or easy. They can reach the age where they stay up as late or later than you can handle, but still require nearly as much input and supervision as when they were younger - especially during the last couple of hours before bed, when you most want to disengage and relax. These days, weeks, months… they can be really hard. In the midst of them now, we are so discouraged. We are starting to have PTSD when it comes to bedtime. We’ve lost most of our hope for any solution. To say it is wearing on us is an understatement. Although I try to be the primary one to stay up late with them, Heath is having great difficulty getting enough sleep to concentrate and do his job during the day.

It doesn’t do any good to curse our fate and rant about how they “should” be able to go to sleep. The fact is, this is what we’ve been handed. We are doing everything we can. We’ve tried all the recommendations of doctors, psychologists, and websites. We’ve tried behavioral strategies, natural sleep enhancers, and various modifications to their pill regimens, including withdrawing all meds. The fact is, they don’t go to sleep well, possibly due to their medications, but possibly just due to the unique persons they are. They are jittery at bedtime, even with a cool, quiet room, relaxing music, bedtime stories and prayers and anything else you can think to try. Every anxiety or obsessive tendency they have ever had comes to the surface in that quiet, dimly lit room.

We’ve had many nights over the last few weeks that have been particularly bad. We’ve sat by their door to try to make them feel safe. I’ve laid next to them in bed and stroked their hair or backs or faces. We’ve tried various musical albums, an audiobook, white noise. Still, I’ve been up past midnight with them a handful of times in these last few weeks. Heath wakes them when he gets up or when he leaves for work, somewhere between 7:30 - 8:30. You would think they’d eventually get on schedule to fall asleep by 10 pm at the latest, if they are woken at 8 am. Kids their age supposedly need at least 10 hours, most 11 or more. However, we feel pretty lucky on any night when they fall asleep before 10 pm. Yet the 10 pm victories are shadowed by the knowledge that we aren’t really making any progress, and that the next night could be another 1 am-er; that the pattern overall isn’t changing. A few 9 pm nights in a row — now that would encourage us.

You can’t ignore a scared, awake child when your own bedtime rolls around. One of them shook me awake over and over one of the nights when I was up with him and literally couldn’t keep my eyes open. He was anxious enough that he couldn’t just fall asleep while I did or lie next to me while I slept. He had to shake me awake as long as he was awake. It isn’t enough to share a bed or room with each other, either. Only a parent will do.

This is where we are. This is what we’re walking through. We’ll survive. There are times we feel like we won’t; like we can’t possibly handle another night like this. But somehow we do. I wish we would discover a miracle cure, but I’m starting to think that only short-term solutions are possible. We may find a strategy that works for a while. Then they will hit some new stage of development, or some unforeseen situation will throw off the routine, and we’ll be back to square one. Even though I know we’ll survive, and that bemoaning it won’t make anything different, I still want to tell someone else about it. I need to describe the struggle for some reason. So, here I am. Thanks for listening.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mom

A feather-light finger traces the smooth skin of my cheek,
softly outlining my jaw, lips, nose.
I hold as still as I can,
waiting to see which lines she will trace next.
Eyes, eyelashes, brow.
I hold in a giggle when my lashes brush my cheek,
willing her with my stillness to continue.
"I'm drawing your face,"
she whispers.

My mama -- not an artist with oil or chalk,
but painting skillfully, artfully;
broad strokes of love,
delicate swirls of grace.
Shades of gentleness and sacrifice,
on the canvas of children's hearts and minds.

A small hand grips mine fiercely,
as I lie next to him, squeezed into the narrow bed;
sharing with crumbs, stray Legos, and a stuffed bear nearly as big
as the little boy with eyes wide open and body stiff
in the nighttime quiet.
"Mommy, will you do that thing to my face?"
he whispers.
With a curve of my lips, I sweep back his hair and kiss his baby-soft cheek,
and begin to trace the gentle slope of his nose, then lips.
Cheekbones, then curve of his ear;
hairline, eyes, and brow.
I pour all my love and calm into my finger tips,
carefully tracing a pattern of comfort and devotion,
until finally, with a deep sigh,
his body relaxes and gives in to sleep.

I don't move from my cramped space just yet.
I stay and let the peace wash over me,
soaking in the wonder of mother-love.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"Christian" Parenting? ...Why You Don't Need Any More "Should"(s) in Your Life

Parenting is really, really hard sometimes. I feel like all of my pre-parenting experiences with kids, which generally convinced me that I was going to be great at this, were the child-raising equivalent of a Junior High track meet. It wasn't until I showed up at the real-life parenting Olympics that I realized how far off my self-assuredness had been.

One thing I keep stewing on lately, though, is how Jesus actually asks very little of me when it comes to raising my children, compared to the standard many other believers would hold me to, or even compared to the standard of many unbelieving parents or other unbelieving adults with an interest in child welfare. It seems like everyone has some sort of high-reaching expectation or standard regarding parenting, with varying focuses and levels of detail depending on where they are approaching it from, each with their own hot-button issue when it comes to children. Yet what Jesus asks and expects of me is really very simple: Love them. Love them the same way I am responsible to love any other believer or "neighbor" in my life.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

repost/rewrite: poems

Saturday night, we were talking with some friends we've known for many years, and the conversation gradually turned to some gloomy topics; specifically, friends or family who died unexpectedly and the heartbreak and process of grieving. So, when a link to one of my old entries in my blog sidebar caught my eye this morning, I reread it and decide to repost because of its relevance to the topic we had discussed.

Life as Normal


14 years old, blonde ponytail, crisp-pleated cheerleading skirt
Sleepy little town in the middle of nowhere
with a brick main street and hideaways on the outskirts of town for illegal beer

Summer-dried grass crunches beneath my feet on the worn path home
Crunch to broken sidewalk to manicured lawn of the First Baptist Church to red dirt alleyway -- Almost home.
White Oldsmobile with a broken taillight resting heavily,
still
in the sloped driveway
Near the modest yellow sided house
with overgrown bushes and a large picture window.
Dad's home already?
A lag in her step, almost unnoticeable
A tightness in her chest that goes unseen
A shake of her head to clear it.
What time does the game start, again?
Life as normal in a sleepy small town.



Sunday, May 12, 2013

I hated it before I loved it

I have this bad habit of hating music before I decide I love it. Well, not necessarily hating, but at least not seeing the appeal. Like the first week or two Heath had the new Mumford and Sons album, and I kept remarking on his new "country" music album. He finally got irritated enough that he demanded I never call it that again, but it wasn't until I listened to it on my own on a long drive that I realized I LOVED it. The same things happened earlier this year with Future of Forestry, and before that the Avett Brothers and before that the new Radiohead album. I suppose I should just realize by now that whatever new music he introduces me to that I intially shy away from will eventually become my favorite. Especially if he and DanM find it together; I'm almost guaranteed to eventually love it (Gomez and Young the Giant, to name a couple).

I don't know why I continue to be surprised throughout my life by music's ability to reach through our clouded thoughts and emotions and speak some truth to us, or to express what our heart is feeling that we weren't able to nail down until we heard it to music. But Thank God is does.

possible symptoms, or normal experience?

I gave a couple of examples in my last post of experiences or traits I have had that could possibly represent ADHD symptoms. There have been quite a few markers from various checklists or articles that I identify with in addition to the ones I already mentioned. The question for me, always, is whether I have difficulty with these issues on a level that would justify a clinical diagnosis. I just keep thinking, "These things seem to be hard for everyone I know!" But maybe they really aren't.

So here are some of them. Maybe you can judge by looking at your own experiences whether my experiences are normal, or really something more.

Monday, May 06, 2013

me and ADHD

Hey! It hasn't been a whole year since I last wrote! Whaddaya know!

So, since it is a fairly small circle of people who still check my blog for updates, I'm going to assume most of you who are reading know that I now have not just one, but two sons who have been diagnosed with ADHD. The thing about this situation which has me thinking and perhaps even obsessing, lately, is that if two siblings have ADHD, it is likely (maybe 60% or more likely; the sources I found didn't all agree on an exact number) that at least one of their parents has it. When we first had Ethan evaluated, and they asked who else in the family had it, we were just like...??? [insert blank expressions here] We tried thinking through all of our close relatives and what we knew of them, and we couldn't think of anyone who had experienced similar problems as Ethan in school. Yet, it was likely one of Ethan's near relatives had ADHD if he had it.

Then, we had Samuel evaluated, and it hit home for us that ADHD does NOT always look the same from person to person.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

good & beautiful God thoughts (from retreat)

So apparently, I am doing a once a year post now...

My dear friend Betsy recently commented on how she missed having me as part of the blogging world. This made me stop to consider why I haven't reentered it, even now that my quality of life is significantly better than it was a year or two ago, and when I am now at home with more time on my hands to write. I decided that somewhere along the way, I felt like I'd lost my blogging voice. However, as I was thinking through and discussing with Heath a speaking assignment from our pastor, Paul, I felt like I actually had some things to say again -- like maybe I was gaining back the voice that I once had. Maybe I'll manage to post more than once a year after this. At any rate, I decided to start by posting the text of notes I created for Heath and my turn at speaking at the church retreat. Since I barely followed this text at all when I spoke, I'll link to it on Wheatland's Facebook page in case anyone is interested in seeing what I'd actually meant to say. :-) Here it is:

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

the latest big life decision

So, I haven't written a blog post in, like, forever. Much has happened, and there have been things I've considered blogging about, but for one reason or another I haven't. Part of the reason for my lack of blogging is probably the psychological pressure I felt to explain or analyze my latest Big Life Decision... quitting my full-time job as a legal assistant. And I guess I just wasn't quite ready to dissect it. I'm not sure I totally am now, but I'm closer than I was four months ago, anyway.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

slow change

Faith has slowly been seeping back into me. I felt like God and I made up, sort of, if you can even speak of such a thing, a week and a half ago. But I had to do some screaming at him, first. Since then, the gradual soaking back in has been happening. Slowly allowing myself to feel things again the way I used to...

Monday, October 25, 2010

"best of"

I've created a new "the best of" sidebar to make up for the gloomy tone of my blog lately. So, if you'd like to read a better post than my current fodder, feel free to pick one of those. :-)

(Heath starts reading the old entries and says "Huh, it's weird to read posts from you where you sound lighthearted about things." Wah-wah.)

Monday, October 18, 2010

10/18

(this entry is from Oct. 18, but I never came back to do a final edit & post! thought I should post it before I wrote again this morning, though)

It's been a few weeks since I last wrote. I find that as things settle down more and more -- as I start to feel the comfort of routine again, driving to and from home/daycare/work practically on autopilot, now (Heath says my driving is scarier since I've become a commuter), doing most of my work in a routine, relaxed way as I become more confident of my mastery of it -- that perhaps my heart is thawing a bit. I still have had moments, or days, when it seems that life is excruciatingly difficult and punishing, only worth bearing for the sake of those I care about. But the overall tenor of my stream of thoughts has drifted toward a more positive perspective. Some pieces of my former reality have begun to creep back into my consciousness, and I find myself not so harshly rejecting them as before, not pushing them quite so deeply away from consideration.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

a concession

I have to admit, despite hashing out my negative feelings about life in general on here earlier, it wasn't a completely horrible weekend.