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.

Life Hack: Office In Your Lap!

New England decided to have a summer, so I’ve been punted out of the dining room, where my desk lives, because the fuse won’t tolerate an air conditioner PLUS any electronics. And I tired of the rivulets of sweat dripping down my face as I tried to write. I’m all for paying sweat equity for my craft, but not quite so literally.

So, I’ve taken over a space on the family couch in our living room, where one of the air conditioners lives.

Over the years, I have tried using a number of lap desks. And they all sucked. The biggest problem is that my huge computer doesn’t even fit on most of them. And even when it does, there’s never room for a mousepad, and I prefer using a mouse. Also, a lot of lap desks are a solid piece of wood or quasi-wood, and/or they have a pad filled with foam/microbeads to make it comfy for your lap. So, there is no circulation under the computer, which, in my experience, tends to turn it into an inferno of hotness.

A few summers ago, I “made” my own lap desk. I’m using a spare Ikea shelf  from the Gorm shelving unit  I bought in 2009. I paid $14.99 for two of these. I used one in the unit, and I kept the other as a spare. There are 4 1/2 inch slats, which helps with air circulation. It’s real wood. It’s huge. And if my lap starts to hurt, I put a pillow under it.

Note: It also makes a damn fine dinner tray for breakfast in bed!

Envy my cheapness! Here's my hi-tech computer desk!

Envy my cheapness! Here’s my hi-tech computer desk!

 

Happy 101st Birthday, Nana

So. Confession. And this would make my grandmother’s sweet fuzzy gray head spin ’round in circles. But… I might be a bit of a pagan. I’m not sure yet; the jury is still out. I think most of the flavors of institutionalized religion are not for me. Christianity might be the most problematic for me, personally, because I think it puts that whole concept of being kind and good to others on a reward system. That reward being Heaven. And anyone who has raised kids knows that dangling rewards for being good and kind to others? That only works up until about age 5.

As a matter of fact, the only time I consider being a Christian and believing in a place like Heaven is when I think about my grandmother. Because she would be running the place.

She would be de-cluttering the waiting room. Ironing the curtains. Polishing the gates. She would be serving root beer floats with real damn vanilla ice cream. The stuff with the flecks of vanilla beans in it. Nana’s Root Beer Heavenly Floats would be served in tall glasses whose only purpose in existence would be to serve as root beer float glasses. Each float would be a work of art, featuring a sublime foam-to-soda ratio, and would, of course, be served with the perfect bendy straw.

Happy Birthday, Virginia Reynolds Marston (1913-2010)

We Are Stardust

me by window

A few months ago, I watched a 2007 Ted Talk by Ken Robinson called Do Schools Kill Creativity, which is fantastic, and you should all go see it if you haven’t already. And in that way that often happens when people with intense focus surf the Internet, I started watching everything with Ken Robinson in the title.

I quickly became a Ken Robinson fan. So, I picked up one of his books, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. It’s a book about discovering your passion, that sacred ember that burns deep inside each of us and compels us, inspires us, and fuels–or I should say CAN FUEL–our lives. If we let it. Robinson calls it the Element. The book is filled with stories of others who have found their element and followed the path it illuminated. People like Mick Fleetwood, Richard Feynman, Paul McCartney, Aaron Sorkin,  and Helen Pilcher,

I know I’m damn lucky. I found my element at a young age. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was 11 years old. Since lazy summers in the dining room of our little house in Pensacola, Florida, when I’d surround myself with pens and paper, and our family’s 5 dogs, and work on news scripts for my radio station, W-D-O-G. When the stories were perfected, I’d read them on a dead channel on my dad’s CB radio. I did this for hours on end. I had tapped into something almost spiritual, and I knew it.

Throughout school, I excelled in my English classes and penned short stories in my spare time. Horrible short stories with twisted endings. The annals of Crab Island, where children were poisoned by hermit crabs and washed out to sea. And fantastic fictional interviews with the rock stars whose songs blasted from my radio. In one, Jon Bon Jovi admitted to having a hopeless crush on a slender, long-haired freckled girl living in the panhandle. Who could it be? This journalist would never tell. I worked on the school newspaper in high school, The Tiger’s Tale. Eventually, I decided to pursue a career in writing, and my pragmatic self figured the best way to do that was to get Pell grants and student loans, and earn a degree in Journalism!

But there’s a difference between getting educated to write. And writing. I could go on about the hungry years after graduating with my B.S. from the University of Florida. Of being poor. Of my grad school days, paid 100% by student loans. About how William Blake might have saved my soul. About long, wine-soaked evenings with dear friends, opining on the poetics of dead writers. I could tell you about my dead-end career choices. My beautiful and amazing and distracting children. My dreams of someday earning a doctorate in literature. I have lots of stories about why I’m not a writer. I could tell you those. But all of this is just noise.

I’m a writer. Who isn’t writing.

W-D-O-G is still out there, looking for a clever wordsmith who has experience writing solid leads and tight, inverted-pyramid-style copy. And the dead CBS channel is MINE. It’s mothermirth.com, and I own it. I might still be floating words out into dead space, like blowing bubbles in a Florida rainstorm, but in the immortal words of Joni Mitchell (but in the golden, sublime voice of David Crosby), I got to get back to the land that sets my soul free.

This post is dedicated to Amy Lea and Allen Holt, for backing me up.