All posts by Terry Holt

The Futility of School Lunch Prep

 

Lunch: 2 pepperoni. One bite of sandwich. Half cup, juice, and 2 bites of apple.
Lunch: 2 pepperoni. One bite of sandwich. Half cup of juice, And 2 bites of apple.

I make my pre-kindergartener a beautiful, well-balanced lunch to go in his robot lunchbox. Every day. Seriously. This morning, the yumminess included a deli sandwich with German bologna, American cheese, and pepperoni, all on fresh panne bread. Plus, dried apricots, Trader Joe’s Cheesy Poofs, Blueberries, and fruit juice in his matching robot bottle.

Every day, I wonder why I bother.

My son is picky. And he’s probably so busy talking the ears off the kids around him, opining endlessly about super heroes, that there just isn’t time to eat lunch. He might eat the cheesy poofs. And drink the fruit juice. He might even pick the pepperoni out of his deli sandwich to snack on. But if I’m really honest with myself? I’m really not expecting that he will eat most of the food I provide him.

I used to do the same thing for the girls, when they brought lunches to school. Before I gave in to the much simpler choice of paying the school to provide nutritionally inferior school lunches. I would buy/prepare wholesome foods for my kids. Pack it lovingly into lunch boxes, sometimes with a note, because I suffer from that horrible sickness where I have to tell my kids EVEN IN THEIR LUNCH BOXES that I love them. And most of the food would return home, mushed up in the lunchboxes, uneaten. For two years, the middle child even renounced sandwiches altogether. I got creative. I made deli roll-ups. Pasta with chicken. I cooked hot dogs, and cut them up, mixing them with macaroni. I filled thermoses with hot foods every morning.

My efforts, for the most part, went sorely unappreciated. Over the years, I’ve thrown out so many room-temp yogurt containers, half-eaten applesauce cups, quality-made deli sandwiches, and one-bite apples that the starving children in China from my parents’ threats in the 1970s are still sending me hate mail back through time.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I am one of the following. Or quite possibly all of the following:

  1. An eternal optimist. Someday, he will hunger and discover that I make tasty lunches! And he will eat ALL of his lunch! And glory in the energy and power of his well-fed body! He will defy gravity with his bounds on the playground!
  2. A hypocrite. Maybe I’m just making these lunches as proof to the teachers that I really am a good mother. I might not brush his hair for a week or clean the dirt out of his too-long fingernails on a monthly basis, but I care about his nutrition!
  3. A bit of a masochist.

I’m already looking forward to next year, to Kindergarten! When I can begin sending my son to elementary school with lunch money so he can get the damn school lunch.

Homeschooling & ADHD: A Distracted Day

Today was frustrating yet filled with learning. I knew there would be days like this, when I’d end the day worn down to a nub. What I didn’t expect, though, is the feeling of empowerment and validation that comes from getting through it.

Our day of learning starts off with my compromising on the start time. K was working on an art project in her room: making her bed into a fort. Which I fully support because I am 44, and damn it, I want a fort too.

“Cool. Middle School sure wouldn’t let me start late to make a fort!” she says gleefully, bounding back to her room to finish the awesome fort of awesome.

We start an hour late, after she’s fed herself breakfast and a snack. Pre-Algebra gets done in an hour and a half. It should take 30 minutes. But she’s up every 15 minutes to get more food. Yogurt. Raspberries. Cheese sticks. Goldfish. Three food groups into her belly. Yay! Bowls and cups start to collect around her work station at the dining room table.

I remind her of the History that’s due Wednesday, and I ask to see the notes she’s been working on from the two chapters she’s been reading. She can’t find them. This is classic behavior, and something she really struggles with — organization and having a process/method. Executive Functioning skills! I have to help her get on top of this. Starting now. Even though it’s not on the schedule. In retrospect, this was folly.

So, we find a permanent place for notes to live (no loose-leaf paper anymore!), and I tell her to start over with the first chapter, skimming through the material she’s already read, and taking notes. It’s a consequence. But she really needs to learn the lesson that using a consistent methodology for note-taking while reading is crucial. Nine pages of reading/note taking. I actually figured she’d get it done in an hour, tops. Because obviously I didn’t really think that through. Those of you who have or have children with ADHD may now snicker at me.

Reading/taking notes on a subject you’re not passionate about is incredibly hard for kids with focus challenges. After the first 20 minutes of redirection and watching her struggle to focus, I bring her some tactile toys. A balloon filled with flour to play with. A jar of Floam. She gets back to work. Ten minutes later, she’s somewhere floating in the solar system, her eyes glassy and dreamy. I give her an elastic for her wrist, so she can snap herself back to Earth. I bring her protein in the form of deli meat roll-ups and slices of cheese. After she eats about half of it, she returns to work. But not long after, she’s above the clouds again. I direct her to the piano, to work on her scales. She plays some scales, figures out the vocal part of “What does the fox say?” and then sits back down to work.

It’s 2:30pm, and I’m wishing I hadn’t assigned this consequence. Because there are still 2 more subjects to get through today. Plus practice work in math and French. I’ve been busy preparing lessons and reviews for the week, but I keep my eyes on her as much as I can, redirecting her with a glance, a raised eyebrow. Three hours in, she is finally finished.

She does the French lesson while I’m away doing errands with the other two kids. She texts me in French while I’m gone. Which reminds me that I really do need to stay a step ahead of her! (“Est le chat noir?” she asks. I reply “Oui! Le chat est noir”) When we return, K still has 3 assignments to do. We put on classical music in the background, and she gets through the assigned work for math. She copies the French vocabulary words into her notebook.

She takes a break to sit down at the piano with her sister, and they play “What does the fox say?” with L belting out the lyrics. RockStar runs into the room at the perfect time, making very un-fox-like sounds.

Her last subject today is science, which is one of her favorites. She read a book on Edwin Hubble Friday, and today she has to write a one-page biographical report. She gets through 1/2 of her report, and there is still the homework that is due tomorrow. But it’s almost 6pm, and I have a meeting at L’s school in 10 minutes. K is toast, the husband is busy finishing up dinner, and I’m out of time. I push the due date back on her assignments.

School ends with a hug. Some days are just going to be exhausting. But she hasn’t had ritalin since we started. And, most importantly, she is still smiling at me. SHE is still convinced that we are doing the right thing.

The littler kids are in bed by 8:30. K is allowed to read until 9:30, and then she will turn her light off and sleepily come into our room to say goodnight before returning to the fort of awesome.

The day is done. Even though I feel like I borked the schedule, was too inflexible, and didn’t achieve the goals I had set, I think I’m just going to forgive myself, eat some ice cream and watch some frivolous comedy with Allen. Tomorrow is a fresh, new day.

Homeschool doesn’t have to take place at HOME

Today in homeschooling, we did consumer math.

And by “consumer math” I mean that we went to Market Basket.

On the way to the store, I shared the story of Market Basket. She learned terms such as profit shares, a living wage, controlling interest, corporate structures, corporate greed. We talked about store loyalty, and what it means when workers strike. What havoc boycotting a business can wreak. How customer support can make or break a company. In short, I was damn eloquent.

Then we discussed shopping on a budget. Taxes. Being frugal. I challenged her to pick out a number of items, satisfying at least 2 different food groups. She could only spend $5. She had to get as close to $5 as possible without going over to get a prize. She spent $4.64 on items in dairy and fruit. So, her grade would be a $92.8%. That’s a B+. Not bad.

And the best part? I got help with the groceries.

WIN.

 

On the Eve of Homeschooling Day One

It is bedtime, the day before the start of the school year. Two of our kids are abed. The soon-to-be 5th grader is trying to settle down, even though she’s so excited about school that she will toss and turn most of the night. Her new clothes are laid out with precision by her bureau, her backpack waits by the door. The pre-kindergartener is already asleep. You can barely see the outline of his little form, lost among the pillows and the dozen stuffed animals who accompany him to dreamland.

The oldest, however, keeps bouncing guiltily into the living room, and then sulking away when I look up from my book and give her my patented mommy stink eye.

She’s supposed to be in bed. But, unlike all the other school nights that preceded this one, I’m not enforcing bedtime very stridently this time. I’m kinda enjoying watching her struggle with this concept. She knows that the early morning school alarms aren’t for her. Homeschooling starts tomorrow.

Finally, she flits into the room and sits down beside me, her eyebrows furrowed.

“I can’t sleep.”

I put my book away.

“So,” she says, sweeping her hair out of her eyes to glance at me sideways. “How is this homeschooling thing going to work, because, well… you’re my mom?”

“Well, for comparison’s sake, how does the dynamic with your teacher usually work in the classroom?”

She thinks for a minute. “We sit there in our seats, and our teacher is like… the sun. She (or he) shines the information onto us, and we are like plants, soaking it in.”

“Good analogy. And you are expected to be rooted there, in your seats, right?”

“Uh, yes.”

“And be nice and still, like good little plants?”

“Definitely.”

“Well, for one thing, you’re going to take a much bigger role in your learning. Because you are about finished with being a passive recipient of information, right?”

She nods, uncertainly

“So then. How would you like us to work, in our homeschool?”

She blurts out, with barely a pause, “Can I.. have breaks? Can I eat? Can I play music while learning? Can I learn JAVA programming? Can I homeschool in my pajamas?”

I’m nodding the whole time, smiling at her.

She continues, a little breathlessly. “And, I mean, what if I answer your questions with sarcasm? I can’t do THAT in school. Will that be OK?”

“You know our family. Sarcasm is definitely, without a doubt, forbidden.”

*she grins*

I think we’re going to have a wonderful year.

*waving goodbye to her little sister, who is off to enjoy her first day of school*

 

 

Perspective Shift, Paradigm Shift: Our Journey Into Homeschooling

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Thank you, science, genetics, and $divinity, for gifting my first-born child with so many amazing traits. She is forgiving, grateful, team-oriented, creative, fair. She is filled with hope, love and kindness.

And thank you, also, for making her “abnormal.” Truly. Thank you SO VERY MUCH!

My 12-year-old’s ability to focus and control her behavior fall outside the normal range for her age. She was diagnosed with ADHD at age 10, after certain behaviors were called to our attention by her teachers. Her grades were mostly good, it’s just that she kept fidgeting, or was distracted. Forgetful. Disruptive. For the last two years, we’ve tried various medications in the methylphenidate class (Ritalin, Concerta), to help her to sit quietly in her chair, like she’s supposed to. And to get through the homework AFTER school.

The medication turned her into a zombie. A nice, docile zombie. She told me she was grateful for the medication, because now she could focus and sit still in school. But, dear readers, she was miserable. Everyone was so interested in diagnosing her, treating her like she has a disorder, that she started seeing herself as damaged. Her confidence plummeted. Her joy and exuberance dulled.

We followed up with various professionals, to help figure out the best path forward. We talked to school counselors, psychiatrists, behavior specialists, and doctors. They used words like dysfunction and disorder, and problem and trouble. We were counseled to try alternate methods of therapy like neurofeedback. Brain integration thereapy. Interactive Metronome. Or switching to a different class of drugs — Adderall* (Amphetamine). All of this, to ensure her success in school. And, I suppose, in life.

Not one person we consulted went against this model. Not one suggested or even hinted that maybe the real problem here is that THIS CHILD is not going to succeed very well in a traditional school environment. That the only real dysfunction is just… one of bad matching, of this particular kid, to the traditional school model.

And that’s what is really bothering me right now. Not one of these professionals who are supposed to be experts on children and learning dared propose an alternate mode of learning. As if there is NOTHING ELSE OUT THERE besides traditional schools that we might consider.

So we consulted the true experts on our child — ourselves and our child — and decided that school is the wrong choice. We are freeing her. Springing her from the prison it had become to her.

Our parents are convinced we are ruining her. She will never learn enough. Or have any social life. We will obstruct her success in life by taking her out of school. They think we should enroll her in a special school for her problem. Or, at the least, a special program for kids like her. Or possibly a strict Catholic school.

But we are done with the perspective that the traditional school system is a one-stop solution to all our educational needs, for all three of our children. There are alternatives! So far, the middle child loves her school, and she is doing very well. She’s staying in school, unless she decides otherwise (which isn’t likely). And the youngest is starting pre-k this year. We’ll take advantage of every opportunity, and make the best decisions we can, given our resources.

For THIS CHILD, this wonderful girl who has been really trying to make school work — we are done. We’re done with deferring her happiness to some faraway time after she graduates from high school. We happen to think that her happily-ever-after should begin now. And anyway, what is success? How do we quantify that? If you take the perspective that success is happiness? Well, we are moving full-tilt in the right direction!

We start our homeschool work next month. And we’ve crafted a curriculum that is geared toward her strengths and on the way SHE learns. She loves science, writing and computers. So she’s taking a year-long physics class with other homeschoolers in our town. She’s registered for a weekly online creative writing class. She begged us to sign her up for a webinar to learn Java programming. And for the rest? We’re taking an approach to learning using a history-based model. We’ll be joining other homeschoolers for social events and classes and tween nights. And she’ll be returning to her beloved piano lessons, and possibly moving toward testing for her orange belt in Aikido — extracurriculars that she dropped last year because she could barely get through her school day.

I realize the utter privilege in my ability to make this decision to homeschool my child. I am grateful that I have the support and am in the position to make this decision for my family. I wish every parent had the freedom to make this choice, given similar circumstances.

As far as the professionals go? We’re parting ways amicably. With one exception. She’s begun weekly visits with a fantastic ADHD coach, who is teaching her to see her strengths, and to delight in them. And to work on strengths she would LIKE to have.

This journey toward homeschooling has the excellent side effect of teaching me a lot, too. I’m learning so much from my kid. I’m learning to trust my instincts. I’m learning to turn to the positive role models in my community for support. I’m learning to say no, that’s not going to work for us.

I’m teaching my daughter that she should AT LEAST have a say in what she is learning at this stage, and that she is going to take over the reins and drive her own learning very soon. This is a new concept for her to take in. Isn’t it wonderful? Learning should not be a passive endeavor. It should be a full-contact sport!

Please wish us luck as we take this big step! And if you have any homeschooling resources or advice you’d like to share, please send it along to terry@mothermirth.com.

*I think the drugs do work for a lot of people, and I know there are positive stories out there. But there is no one miracle cure for anything. And the course of action that is put before you by the medical professionals, the schools, the teachers is based on the perspective that if a child is diagnosed as being dysfunctional, he/she must be made functional. That it is the child who is broken, not the system.