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I lay in bed one morning at the end of August, sensing the rays of the early morning sun as they pushed through the slats in the blinds. Another day beginning and only a handful more until the start of a new school year. For nearly a decade, early September has marked the dawn of a New Year for me. Not January 1st, that is just a symbolic date. Rather it's September, when school is back in session that some like me plan and reinvent and put into action goals, hopes and dreams for the year to come.
Something was missing this year as I approached my latest chance at incarnation. Four years ago my purpose (outside of being a Mother, a wife and the keeper of our home), was intensive volunteer work at school. Three years ago it was remodeling a home and organizing a move, two years ago it was making our new house a home and participating in a community charity. One year ago it was attempting to work on ME, my anxiety and learning how to sometimes say "no" so that I could be happier and less stressed. This year though, I found myself in an unfamiliar moment. Surely I would once again, instinctively know what I needed to focus on this year.
I have recently longed for a PURPOSE, a true and deep purpose in my life.
As the days of summer drew to a close, I felt a little lost inside. Thoughts of once again delving into copious amounts of volunteer crossed my mind- school always has volunteer work, or maybe the Junior League or perhaps working with Alzheimer's patients through the volunteer project that my Mother works on? I could pick up with the historic research that I started three years earlier on our town, and finally write that local history book that's been rolling around in my head for a while. Or, I could finally finish decorating the upstairs and deep clean the house regularly and learn how to be a better cook and really up my housewife skills. Maybe I could commit this year to expanding on my new found exercise habits, to drinking more water, eat whole foods and trying again to have a healthier body, mind and soul. And of course, I always thought about this being the year where I FINALLY found enough quiet downtime to work on the blog, sending out regular posts and generating a meager income stream.
An abundance of options and ideas, but none felt exactly right or particularly worthy or too much of a luxury. And so I found myself, unlike in years past worrying that I wouldn't have an important purpose.
That August morning I closed my eyes and said a prayer: "God, universe, source, I love you. Please help me to find an important purpose this year. Something beyond laundry and carpool lane. Please give me a purpose."
(For those of you wondering, I'm not a religious person, but I am spiritual. I might even be on my way to deeply spiritual. I can't claim to know the truth about all things because I truly have no idea, but in my heart there is hope that this big, beautiful universe is all in harmony together through something bigger than myself. )
BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR!
For that was the morning that the wheels and cogs must have been set in motion for my new purpose. The morning that the universe answered my prayer, because little did I know that this year, I was about to suddenly, 100% unexpectedly and completely against all of my better judgement, become a homeschooling Mom.
I feel very uncomfortable speaking about what makes Noah, Noah. In fact, I haven't gone into things very much on this blog ever. Not really. Although I've wanted to reach out so incredibly much over the years to see if I could meet other mothers and families in the same boat. I've needed camaraderie and support, just like we "Silver Sisters" do, but out of fear and respect, I never wrote. Now though, now I have Noah's blessing to write here in hopes that we BOTH meet other parents and children with similar stories. At this point, I only feel like giving the "in a nutshell" version if that's ok. Part of this is going to sound cliche' and what I'm afraid of is coming across as almost "bragging" or crazy or helicopter Mom-ish. Please know this stuff has been very difficult for me, and it's even more difficult to share.
Ok, here goes....
Noah has refused to go to school this year. He hasn't regularly attended since the 4th day and we had to withdraw from school last week . He had terrible anxiety (Poor Noah, you can blame this one on genetics) that turned into panic symptoms and lots and lots of embarrassment at school. Nothing that we have tried, nothing that his wonderful teachers have tried, nothing that his amazing doctors have tried has successfully gotten him back into school at this point, and please believe me when I tell you, for a LONG TIME, WE.TRIED. EVERYTHING.
The "why" is so complex. The anxiety is a main component, but also, Noah has been dealing with inflexibility issues. Both of these contribute to some of the reason for his school refusal. But for now, I won't go more into these things because 1.) we've dealt with them for years and 2.) there is one more big part to why it's been so difficult to get him back into school...
(Even 20-step school re-entry "Nario" Noah-Mario star chats with lots of unecessary prizes did not motivate or help the situation).
Please know that the following part is difficult for me to talk about. I'm never mentioned what I am about to on the blog. I have to because to understand my child and his quirks, I must be open. Noah is what is called "profoundly gifted." This aspect of him colors the way that he views the world and how he is willing to interact with it. It also means an abnormal amount of intensity and asynchronous intellectual/social/emotional development. I am the FARTHEST thing from a stage Mom or competitive. I feel like "gifted" can came off as both these things and achingly clinch' sounding. This "giftedness" is not a gift and not a figment of my imagination. The only reason I know that he is profoundly gifted is because of a required IQ test that was administered by a highly qualified clinician /IQ testing specialist. Noah's intelligence quotient came back uncommonly high and then was later confirmed and re-scored by a second very qualified therapist and IQ specialist. That's when we all realized that he was scoring even higher than originally believed and when we began to understand how being profoundly gifted impacts the way a person is in the world and relates to things. It explained a lot and basically boiled down to four words: Intensity, out-of-sync.
It was recommended by Noah's testing psychologist that he needed a special school to handle his needs. She and others we consulted agreed that he would not be ok at the public school down the road that we always imagined he'd go to. It was a shock and a stressor, but as parents, you do whatever you can to help your children. So shortly before his fourth birthday, Noah began at one of the most well known and highly regarded schools for the gifted in the country. We are SO LUCKY To live near by!
This school has been our life for the past eight years. It is not only our community, but our second home, our family. They get it, they understand the quirks and the struggles and the needs. It has been a heartbreaking two months not being there.
Before I end this part of the story, let me tell you that being gifted is certainly for many NOT A GIFT. Being gifted does not mean that you automatically excel academically. Noah certainly doesn't. It doesn't mean that you're "better" or more mature than other children of the same chronological age. It actually means that you have a very high chance of being LESS mature in some areas. It doesn't mean that things come easy, but rather everything feels more complex, more intense and more exhausting. You're a kid who struggles to sometimes be a kid. :(
There, I told all of you guys. I put it out there. Now I promise not to talk about it anymore. I'm not comfortable with this whole topic. I just wanted you to know that Noah has a unique set of needs and it has impacted all of our lives for a long time, but we love him and wouldn't trade him for the world! :)
Which leads us to how I became a homeschooling Mom, at least for this year. Noah can't wait for next fall to go to his school's middle school, which is part of all this jumbled mess and where he would like to be. In fact, just last week the head of our school told Noah that IF he goes back to 5th grade and really REALLY demonstrates for a while that he is emotionally and academically ready for middle school, then he'll possibly move him up! But...Noah is being far too staunch and stubborn and is still refusing to return to school for even that. I can't talk about this part, it's so upsetting. If we could make him go, believe me, we would. Believe me. His teachers, his class, it's all the best, most nurturing and wonderful place in the world for him.
Although we worked together with a great team of teachers and clinicians and tried several approaches over six weeks to help Noah return to school, during that time, I did not simply let him "play at home." I didn't want Noah to see home as more fun and appealing than school, so we did academic work each day. And although the last thing I would have ever imagined for myself was to become a homeschooler, secretly at night I worried that this would be our fate with each day of unsuccessfully getting Noah back into school. I decided to arm myself with knowledge.
Knowledge of everything! I'd stay up late into the night. Any information that I could get on childhood anxiety (we'd been dealing with this for years, so I was already well versed), on school refusal, on panic, on different treatment models, on CBT and protocols for patient-lead anxiety hierarchies. We had meeting after meeting with school and doctors and therapists. I asked questions, I tried everything. I watched hour and a half clinical lectures with laser force, trying to glean an answer. I joined groups and newsletters and reached out to people. When our wheels continued to spin in place, that's when I quietly began my secret education into homeschooling, something I hoped I wouldn't have to use. It started with THIS SHORT TED TALK by Heidi Hass. Oh my gosh I thought, this is Noah!!! I read The Highly Sensitive Person (FANTASTIC book by the way) and The Highly Sensitive Child and so many more. I read reviews on homeschooling curricula for days and even weeks. I called the only friend I know who has homeschooled and she gave me amazing resources who produced even more resources. I read it all. Books, websites, online programs, trying them myself. Then I went into different homeschool teaching theories and work on daily rhythms and how to keep one's sanity! It just went on and on.
(Just like this post).
Where was I.....oh yes, so it happened that now I am a homeschooling Mom. The first month I was scared, stressed and confused. The second month I was just sad, and now I find that the more I come to accept what is, the more at peace that I feel. I've reconciled that this is the new normal for now and that has brought with it fear but hopefulness and a NEW PURPOSE.
The reason for this blog post is 1.) to document this this "adventure." I can say to Noah when he's all grown up: "Remember that time that you refused to go to 5th grade and I was your teacher for a year!?" And then we'll all laugh. (maybe).
The second thing that I would like to do is start blogging again when I have some time. It's therapeutic for me. Please know that anytime I have not replied to your sweet comments or caring emails, it's not because I didn't want to, it's because I'm just in a time crunch these days. I go-go-go. I love your communications and I feel so lucky when my readers reach out, I just can't keep up sometimes with my responses. Thank you from my heart though, I read each and every one!
I'd like to record on the blog some of the interesting homeschool activities that we come across or resources that I think are worth a share. I'm also taking this time at home to cook more from scratch meals, healthier whole-foods and I'd like to share those recipes too. And, of course I'll keep my silver sisters updated on the hair. ;)
Here is just a little of what we've been up to recently. Things are starting off slowly and we're learning as we go.
1.) The weather has been unseasonably warm here in Michigan. So I figured one of the upsides of homeschool is that you can have class anywhere. (Although Noah's actual school holds class outside sometimes and they have woods and a beautiful stream). We've sat under the pergola to read and to do some art. On this day I remember we read from Huckleberry Finn and that our "art" was learning how to needle felt with wool.
This is the "Autumn Gnome" that Noah felted.
Before I knew that were were going to homeschool for sure, I purchased a Brain Quest Workbook: Grade 5 (on the table two pictures above). I bought it in hopes of trying to supplement at home until he was back into school. I have to say, it's been very help in getting Noah to review work. There's 300 pages and many many subject sections including reading, writing, language arts, spelling and vocabulary, social studies and all kinds of science. There is an extensive math section including pre-algebra. Noah liked the fun, colorful pages and we still use it to supplement some topics.
We use the math curriculum that Noah's school uses - Singapore Math. I found this Singapore Math Grade 5 set with all of the 5th grade textbooks and workbooks at a great price on Amazon. I'll talk about more curriculum books that we've found soon. Oh! And by the way, I'm fascinated with THE LIFE OF FRED math books by Stand Schmidt, a retired college professor. They are amazing and such an interesting way to teach math concepts through story and humor. They've gotten nice reviews and I'm so tempted...
There is such a vast amount of free, open-source educational material online and paid online curricula as well. I can talk about those in another post, but one free resource that Noah has loved is Khan Academy. It is fantastic. We've been using their anatomy and computer programing courses. They're well done, taught by professionals and free. It's just great.
We've been spending time at the library. Noah rides his bike there and I walk. I'm using the library as a way to teach him some life skills and independence, like being responsible for his own card, book returns and renewals. I think it makes him feel more grown up.
One of the best resources for myself has been reading homeschooling blogs and listening to homeschooling podcasts. Specifically about learning how to structure (or un-structure) your day, how to get all of your housework done as well, how to plan your schoolwork and most of all, how to stay sane! I'm enjoying the Simple Homeschool blog and Soulemama and all sorts of free podcasts on iTunes regarding homeschool. What I think has helped me the most though, so far, is Waldorf Essential's Mom Lesson on Rhythm. I purchased this 89 page pdf book that Jon printed off for me. It also comes with 12 hours of MP3's.This book was written by the owner of Waldorf Essentials, Melisa,who has five children that she has homeschooled for about 14 years. Melisa shares the importance of establishing a healthy rhythm to your day so that your children know what to expect, and you know how to accomplish your school and home goals. Even before this year I was all about rhythm and routine. I thrive on it and so does Noah. We're very similar in that way and this book is helping me to establish a nice flow.
One of the points that Melisa makes is that trying to crowd too much into a day or week can create and overwhelmed feeling, and particularly spending lots of time away from home on field trips and outings. I tend to agree, so we haven't been out very much. One day we did go to drop-in play at our local Robot Garage. It's the neatest place ever. Every kind of Lego and building set you could imagine, all there to create with and to take your new creation home! Noah was playing with the Lego Mindstorm robots. You can design, build and program your own!
Another week we met Noah's "Lady and Zayde," my Mother and Father-in-law at Greenfield Village! Personally, I could live everyday here, soaking up the history. Noah, not so much. We had a WONDERFUL lunch at the Eagle Tavern, a real stagecoach stop from the 1830's! It was transported to Greenfield Village from Clinton Michigan. When I saw the interior decorated for fall and the fireplace going, I was like: "Squuuuuueeeeeeee!!!!!" :)
We've been getting together with school friends at least once a week and I've joined a local homeschool group that hosts weekly learning adventures. It's mostly boys Noah's age and we're looking forward to joining them sometime soon.
What else... I'm trying to use any kind of media or tool possible to get Noah interested in learning! Although he was supposed to have his times tables memorized years ago, Noah seems to hate the rote work of memorizing them and has some holes. We've been playing this Multiplication War Card Game and battling it out! Also, Noah gets a kick out of Mathplayground's online Grand Prix Multiplication Game and Penguin Jump Game. Sometimes I hop on my computer while his is on his and we meet for a private game of Grand Prix or Penguin Jump and have a multiplication competition. It cracks him up every time.
Finally though, this was the biggest hit! I re-made a LIVE VERSION of the Penguin Jump game on our driveway. It was so cool! You had to jump from iceberg to iceberg but ONLY onto the iceberg with the correct answer to your multiplication problem!
* Update! I feel sooooo reassured! Since I began writing this post I re-tested Noah's multiplication facts this morning and now he's got them all down pat! It makes me feel better to finally know that he's been learning at home. Phew!
So that's what's been going on. Josie and I are trying to hang in there. Actually, it's ok. Apart from being sad for Noah and sad in general and missing our school and my old freedom, things will be alright. I feel it. I know they will. I'm trying to look on the bright side of things.
More time at home means more meals for more people. It's the chance I have been waiting for to overhaul the way that I've been eat during the day. I used to just graze and have whatever was lying around. Usually nothing with enough protein, being a vegetarian, and often that meant too many carbs, not enough vitamins and minerals. Since I'm home, I would like to cook Noah and I healthy lunches and snacks! That's my mission. Whole foods. Here is a look at the meal plan that I made for myself for this week. (Can you read my hastily written, sloppy handwriting)!? Noah is still a picky eater, but we can share the snacks. I make him his own lunches and dinner with meat. Jon is happy to have the vegetarian dinners with me, and we always ask Noah to at least try one "No Thank you Bite" of the dinners that I cook.
And today, Noah and I cooked together. It was so much fun and I had him to all of the math to double the recipe. It was great hands-on learning!
Oh! And because I am home, I can drink more water because I can pee, because I am home, and not at some random, scary, public restroom! See, there are pluses to home school!
One minus is that Jon and I have been SO busy and Noah has been very reluctant to stay with a sitter or with my parents for the past few month. We haven't really had any time alone. One evening a few weeks ago, Noah did agree to eat dinner at my parent's house, so Jon and I ran out for these great, fresh tacos at this fantastic place called "Imperial." It was really nice and the big garage doors in the front were open. It was the perfect weather.
I wish we had more time together time, but work is busy for Jon, which is a good thing! So, I can't complain.
When I'm not homeschooling or trying to keep up with housework, I've developed an new
hobby.....er....destructive addiction....to online shopping. Actually, I'm over it now. It was very short lived, just during the first few weeks when I was stressed and freaking out and acclimating to cabin fever. I thought I'd never be able to leave the house again and that I'd be tied to the kitchen table with mountains of workbooks day and night, so I began online shopping. Shopping for random things I only sort of needed.... Like this personalized planner that I made from Personal-planner.com to fill the chaotic hole in my heart. My plan was to organize and control every minute of my life until things felt normal again. That didn't work, but I was left with a really cool, personalized planner!!!
Hector, you know, he's still Hector. It's all the same-old, same-old with him. Lounging. Although, I think Hec likes the new fall decor in our living room! I started a post about it for you the first week of September and then my life went Kaboom! And I never finished it. I will though.
Willow is still Willow. I need to get a nice picture of her, and of course, Josie is still snuggly Josie. She loves to be held and to take naps. I can't believe how calm she is. She's not even one and a half. I love this girl. :)
And that is the scoop from the little yellow school house!
Until next time, love your kids and just do the best that you can.