Saturday, January 29, 2011

Being Real

My, oh my, that last post of mine was whiny sounding, wasn't it?  Forgive me for the less-than-uplifting reading.  It's turned out to be quite a deep week here at the LaJoy Yurt, with Kazakhs and Kyrgyz exploring, encouraging and exploding all over the place.  You know, I always try to keep it real here on the blog, and the last post was real...sometimes this lifestyle choice of ours to homeschool is really, really hard and exhausting.  And I laugh as I read that because the adoption part of our lives seems EASIER at moments, and I know if given a choice of the two, many would select homeschooling over adopting! Hahaha!  Funny how THAT part seems fairly straightforward these days!!! :-)

I read many posts about the joys of homeschooling, and there ARE many, but there are far fewer blog posts on blogs I read about how the adjustment is not always a smooth and easy course.  To go from a working (part of the year) mom of 3 to a homeschooling mom of 5 within a period of a few months, and then add in the emotions of assisting in the assimilation of new lives, new language and new culture...well, the fact is that sometimes it is not all rainbows and puppy dogs.

I'd still do every single thing without question.  But sometimes it is just harder than others.

For example, I knew when we sort of sailed through Joshua's traditionally difficult time of year this past fall, that we had probably not seen the last of his struggles.  Sadly, I was right, and he has been sleeping in our room the past few nights, and for the foreseeable future, due to night terrors which have returned.  We had 3 major episodes just last night, and try as we could he could not wake up, and he stood by my bedside trembling, staring at me and totally in an altered state unable to awaken.  I caught him just as he tried to go the  bathroom where he stood as he was crying tugging his shorts down.  He was terrified of something and could not "come to", and talked about being chased.  Making little sense when he speaks at these moments, it is hard to pinpoint what the cause might be, and he is completely unable to remember anything at all come morning.  The kids reported that he cried out "Mama...don't leave me" earlier in the week while still sleeping in his room.  He starts crying out and screaming so loudly, it is quite scary, and then his zombie-like state when we get to him makes the other kids worried and scared, so we decided to just have him in our room where we can deal with it immediately and they are not subjected to being wakened from a deep sleep with horrifying screams.

Just as I was hoping that maybe we were past all of this and I could breathe a sigh of relief, here we are and worse than it has been in years.  He is back to tugging on his eyelashes repeatedly as well, and has always seemed a little on the verge of being OCD, but the hand washing which occurred a couple years back until his hands were raw has not reappeared yet.  Oh, how I worry for this precious son of ours, how my heart hurts as I see him sobbing in the middle of the night, completely unaware of my presence.  I trust that someday this will be no more, but 7 years post-adoption I am still in the throes of being reminded that he may always carry with him some sense of loss and fear, no matter how hard we try to reassure him.

On the bright side, during the day he is a happy, funny little guy who has decided to torture his mother with  learning a new instrument, the violin.  He tried piano 2 years ago and after 6 months decided he didn't really want to do it, so I allowed him to quit as I didn't want to force it since he was only 5.  It had been his idea, and I debated about it thinking he was a little young, but since it was something he expressed in interest in, we figured we didn't have much to lose.  Now that we are homeschooling, and he does not have music at school, I told him that in September this next school year I wanted him to select an instrument to learn, and that I wanted him to take music for 2 years.  If he didn't like it at that point, we would then allow him to quit, but we want all the kids to learn to read music a little and to understand what it feels like to create music.  Two years allows kids to get past the most awkward stage and be able to actually play a few things decently which often leads to greater interest.

After attending the Christmas concert this year, Josh turned to me and with great certainty said "Mommy, I want to learn the violin, it sounds beautiful!".  He has mentioned it several times since then so we decided to start on it now rather than waiting until September.   What I have not shared with you is that the violin is my least favorite instrument, I am more of a woodwinds and brass kinda gal.  Funny though, how sweet the tone sounded to my ear even as he just played around last night for the first time not having a clue what he was doing.  Seeing his seriousness about it, knowing he really wants to do this, and watching his pride as he showed off his new instrument to his best friend, suddenly that sound I had previously classified as obnoxious became mellow and wonderful.

Here is Concert Master Joshua LaJoy:

video


As I reread what I posted earlier this week, I heard my own exhaustion, frustration and grief.  Grief?  Why grief?  Well, maybe grief for all I can't fix for our kids, grief for the loss of my pre-homeschooling life that admittedly allowed me greater freedom, and grief that I have lost the more casual but very necessary connections with others that help us all feel part of a larger community.  But tonight God reached down and gave me a Big Ol' Bear Hug in the form of an evening spent with my dearest friend who loves unconditionally, who has been a great source of encouragement and understanding, who has been 100% supportive of every single decision we have ever made, even if those decisions are ones she might not make for herself or her family.  That kind of acceptance is priceless, and she has no idea how she has personally kept me going and feeling loved at moments when I feel pretty darned unlovable and less-than-interesting.

I came home with a warmed heart, feeling better about life in general than I have in quite awhile.  The kids all eventually drifted off to bed, Joshua made his bed up on the floor of our room next to my side of the bed, and the dog snuggled up next to me having not piddled on the floor all day so I actually didn't feel like strangling her.  I then sat down to finish writing in the school  journals I have started for the kids.  In it we each write at the beginning of each semester what our fond memories were of the semester that just passed, what our goals are, and I add something personal as well.  I grabbed up Angela's and finished hers which I had started the day before, and in it found a special note to me that I had been told I could go ahead and look at whenever I got to it.  So sitting here still reflecting on all I haven't been able to achieve nor might never be able to achieve, I had the most precious "Ah Hah" moment ever, one that I will cherish and recall every time I feel low, incompetent, or begin to feel those selfish twinges we all get once in awhile, like the ones I spoke about in my last post.  Sure, I know I need to feed my soul, our marriage, and so many other things.  I also know that,  truthfully, our decision to educate our children at home through high school is a huge commitment that means I am making the conscious decision to put my personal dreams aside for the next several years.  Where just a year ago prior to the girls coming home and having finally got all 3 boys firmly in school full-time I was contemplating the possibility of maybe going back to school part-time and getting a degree, or trying to find a decent job during the school day, I now find myself in a role I never imagined ever, as a teacher...grading grammar workbooks at midnight, leading discussions on opinion versus fact or fate versus free will, and reading "Frog and Toad Together".

Reading Angela's journal entry swept away all the miscellaneous junk floating around my head these days.  It instantly made me realize the value of my everyday, hum drum existence.  Let me share what our beloved daughter wrote me:



Translation for those who can't read RussianEnglishEse well: "Mom this is for you.  You can open it when you are, let's say, 62 years old because maybe it will give you a good feeling."  Yes, you can tell from the joking  tone that she has already been Dominick's daughter too long...hahaha!  I had no idea what to expect when I untaped this little cover to her note, and this is what I discovered beneath:


Oh Angela, thank you for giving me what I needed most right now.  We talked this week about how God whispers in our ear, and we have free will to follow what we hear or make another choice.  God must have whispered in Angela's ear this week, telling her that Mom needed a little encouragement from someone who knew exactly what I needed to hear.

MOM...big ol' capital letter MOM is what I am.  This homeschooling thing is a multi-layered experience for us.  We elected to take this step because we had kids who might become statistics, because we felt we had no alternative.  We wanted them to get a different education than they might otherwise get, and we wanted the 3 adopted at older ages to have the chance to revisit childhoods safely as long as they needed to without fear of ridicule.  We needed to step back academically when necessary, repeat whatever would need repeating...and re-repeating...as many times as we had to.  We had a million reasons for homeschooling, all of them valid and good ones.

I had only one reason for not doing it, selfishness.  Period.  And I'll tell you that it went through my mind a hundred times before walking in the door of the school and withdrawing Matthew as our first one home..."Oh man, I am going to be STUCK now and I will never have any time for myself, ever. Do I REALLY want to volunteer to do this?  Will I ever have a 'real' life again?".  Thankfully, my better self won out.

What started out as academic need, turned into much more.  I didn't realize until reading this tonight that, for us, homeschooling has been about showing Angela, Olesya and Kenny, as well as Josh and Matthew, that THIS mom would share all I have to share with them, THIS mom would sacrifice her very life for them, THIS mom would never, ever leave them or place them second behind alcohol or drugs.

Without me being aware of it at all, homeschooling has been about becoming MOM in the eyes of my children.  I had no idea that was what this was all about.  Kenny further reiterated it when writing a short paragraph this week also that said "My mom will never give up on me, even when I drive her crazy".  Of course it was spelled like this "My mom will nevr give up on me ven wen I trive her krazy".  You're right, Kenny, mom's that are MOM's with big 'ol capital letters never give up, even when we are driven crazy :-)

Tomorrow I'll head off to church, 5 kids in tow, and a smile in my heart.  Oh, I might be a bit bleary eyed if Josh has another 2 or 3 nightmares tonight, or if the dog needs to go out at 3:00 AM, or if I simply can't get to sleep and decide to grade some papers.  Our life is not for everyone, our successes would not necessarily be considered "success" in the eyes of others.  Letting go of societal measurements of success is not always an easy thing to do, but we are making headway.  As I quietly shared with my friend tonight, our success is measured not in eventual Harvard acceptances or Spelling Bee winners, success for us is defined differently...it is found in a child who no longer cries out in the night, it is heard in the words of a child who begins to see his intelligence despite his challenges, it is in knowing a child feels loved down to the marrow of their bones when for years that was a foreign concept.  Harvard?  Who needs it.  Great job for me?

I already have it.  I am MOM...

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Little of Everything

I have nothing all that important to share, just a little of this and that.  My life is not all that fascinating these days, folks, and I know that reading this blog is about as interesting as reading a Lysol can :-)  Sorry, I am quite happy with the mellower pace and low to no drama and hope it continues for quite some time to come.

That new phase we are entering with the kids comes complete with lower voices and "humor" that at moments borders more on obnoxious than it does funny.  Does every 11 year old boy think he is that funny without realizing he is annoying? Hahaha!  I know with 4 kids within a year and a half of each other we are in for it Big Time, with no break at all for several years.  Matthew is on the cusp of so many changes, and although much of what we experience right now with him is mild in comparison to so many others, it is enough to let us know he is 100% normal.  Thankfully, so many other qualities balance it out, and I know that this too shall pass. If I don't kill him first :-)  Hahaha!  Having a kid who shovels snow and practices piano without being asked is a good trade off, and eventually he'll get past the Diary of  Wimpy Kid-style humor stage.

Kenny, on the other hand, has finally taken a baby step towards growing up.  It was so heartening for me, and I hadn't realized just how concerned I was about the lack of maturation thus far.  But this past week he took a little step forward.  I woke up and came out to the kitchen where I found him two days in a row working on his homework all by himself while everyone else still slept.  He looked up at me and said "I thought I'd do what you said and get the stuff I don't like to do out of the way.", then head down he went straight back to work.  You could have knocked me over with a feather!  Maybe...just maybe...this kid'll grow up after all!  I actually had tears in my eyes, silly me.

Joshie seems to have backslid a bit in the emotional area, as the past two nights he has had night terrors again.  Part of the reason I am still awake tonight is that he totally freaked me out waking up instantly while yelling loudly tonight.  Scared all of us and it took me 10 minutes to actually get him truly awake as he sat upright in bed mumbling and trembling.  I had just had a conversation with my mom last night telling her that each year it gets a little better, but here we are again all of a sudden, and I am left wondering when his fears might finally be vanquished once and for all...or if they ever will.  So I am guessing we will have a Bed Buddy again for a couple of weeks.

I am brain dead after a day of intense homeschooling and working on a small project for church.  Both required some stick-to-it-iveness and multi-layered thinking which is good for me.  I have recently found myself feeling a bit depressed, not quite sure but I know some of it is plain old isolation and not getting around adults enough. The kids have each other...and their tween humor...while I don't have much opportunity during the week to socialize with taller, older folks.  I am not Miss Social Butterfly, but I do miss adult conversation and I am finding a need to for something aside from my "day job" to help keep me emotionally balanced.  Not sure what that might be, and choir helps, but I need something else just for "me", and that something needs to add no extra demands on my time.

I had thought about going back to school, but that feels incredibly overwhelming...I don't need homework on top of preparing lessons, grading, laundry, cooking, and picking up 43 spare socks laying around every day.  I need something "fun". Not only that, but we have no money for such things.   The only problem with that is that I am not a "fun" person.  I am basically pretty darned boring when you want to get down to it, and the sorts of things I find fun are things that involve thinking, and that is not all that restful!  I have said over and over again that I wish I had a real hobby of some sort, but I have yet to find a single thing that I am interested enough in to pursue with any zest.  I would take a writing class if I could find one locally that was not a "Grammar 101" sort of class or "How to Self Publish".  I might actually be able to get into learning how to write well!  However, I have resigned myself to the fact that, unlike most women, I am never going to be one of those amazingly talented women who sews, crochets, puts up preserves, arranges flowers, gardens, dances or does any other sort of creative thing.  I also will never get into Bingo, so I guess I'll just sit around the house and complain :-) Hahaha!

But tonight I am sitting in a relatively clean (and now quiet) house.  My family is all under one roof, we had a great day of learning, and the fireplace is warming the room.  What else could I want?

Not much, really, not much at all.

Night all!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Saturday Free Play

Saturday is play day around here, with our Explorer Club meeting tonight at church.  We are really having fun with our Club, and if anyone is interested in learning how you can form your own Club with your own ideas, you can check out the web site for Keepers of the Faith at:  http://www.keepersofthefaith.com/ .  They sell club supplies with pins for hundreds of different activities and academics.  It is sort of like a merit badge supply house without having to join a national organization.  We created a youth club at church, named it Explorers, and are using the pins as merit awards.  I am also going to be awarding the kids pins for their homeschooling achievements as well, and Matt and Angela will be getting one for learning pottery.

Anyway, our play day today was totally laid back.  Olesya worked with Dominick at the cafe and earned a little paycheck.  Each of the 4 older kids is getting a chance to work a Saturday and get a small paycheck, and they all have a savings account so are learning about banking.  Joshie is going to help Dominick clean his detailing shop and get a little paycheck too.  I am really pleased that money does not burn a hole in any of our kids' pockets, and so far it is only deposits that are happening.  They are all saving for our big trip coming sometime in late spring, when we hope to use the last of our free airline miles before they expire and go to Washington, DC for a once in a lifetime trip to see special longtime Kazakhstan adoption buddies and a few sites as well.  We also are hoping to meet up with several Kyrgyz adoption families if the gathering they are planning comes to fruition.  Everything is tentative at the moment, but the kids are saving as much as they can for whatever we end up doing.

It is nice for the kids to have this kind of one on one time with Dominick as well, and we also feel it is important that they see how hard he and other have to work so that our family is clothed and fed.  For them, Dad's work is tangible and has been experienced to some degree, so when he comes home exhausted after detailing for hours or tired from being on his feet all day during the winter and "slamming sandwiches", the kids at least have some understanding of what he feels like.  It also gives them a greater appreciation for those who work with us at the cafe as they are invaluable and we know how fortunate we are to have such terrific employees who stick by us for so many years.

The rest of us remained home hanging out today.  I was feeling relaxed after having a Mom's Night Out with a friend last night, which was a much needed catch up time for us.  My life has changed dramatically over the past year and a half, and I have wonderful friends who have offered the gift of patience and understanding as we have settled into this newer, busier life. 

Matthew was Lego Man today...actually Angela, Kenny and Matthew were Lego Kings and Queens for the entire day.  Here is what the bedroom floor has looked like for two days.  I am glad that somewhere along the line I was able to learn to let go of expectations of a perfectly clean house!  Also, this has been so mind expanding for Angela, and I am really happy to see her learning to play, and to find something she enjoys doing for extended periods of time.  This is only part of the Legos we have:


Ridiculous, huh?  Most have come to us as gifts, or used ones from others who have outgrown them, plus Matt usually gets one set for his birthday or Christmas and has been playing with them since he was about 3.  And I have been stepping on them for...oh...about 8 years now :-0 See that gray carpet peeking out from under the sheets and blankets?  That gray is the exact same gray as the gray Legos, and creates wonderful camouflage.

But...here is the result of Matt's work.  Angela is starting to create things with plans, and a little outside of plans.  Kenny loves playing with them, but usually creating stories to go with buildings or castles that Matthew builds for him to play with.  Matt spent a couple hours on this one this afternoon, no plans, just free building.  I wish we could find a way for him to create drawings he could sell, this is one of his simpler ones:



Then we had our future scientist who wanted to begin working on the totally cool dissecting kit he received for Christmas from his best friend.  This kit is the real deal, guys, with a crawdad, earthworm, frog, cricket and more to dissect as well as a little study guide for each as you cut it open.  He loved this, totally loved it. I wanted to wait until we had a quite moment undistracted to work on it, and this afternoon was the perfect opportunity.  Oh man, this was cool...and totally gross.  For some reason this was way worse than the duck a few weeks ago.  I am NOT looking forward to the frog but have resigned myself to the fact that I will have to suck it up if I want to encourage him in this area.  I never dissected anything before in my life, and had a very typical 1970's - 1980's bad Southern California education where I never once took geography, never had to to take anything beyond one science class in high school, and learned next to nothing about history.   Things tightened up after I graduated, but we got away with a minimal amount of core classes.  Anyway, so I guess I am going to make up for it very quickly here...and God is going to be laughing like crazy as I hold in the contents of my stomach.

Joshie created lab notes as well, mainly to record observations and write down new vocabulary words.  He is going to type it up on Monday (which ought to take, oh, about 3 days! hahaha!) and then I am going to print out these photos for him to attach.  Since I have to suffer through this, I feel ALL of you should have to as well.  Fair, don't you think?  After all, you've come along through all the rest of the ups and downs the past 4 years, I am not going to leave you out now...nice of me, huh? :-0

Joshua LaJoy, PhD

Waddya expect, he's a 2nd grader, for goodness sake!  Of COURSE he needs a photo with him pretending to eat the specimen!!

You may have contemplated your navel before, but have you ever contemplated an earthworm's anus?
I TOLD you I was not going to let you all off easy...suffer along with me~!!!  Hey, be grateful I didn't show you the photo post dissection with the guts splayed open!  You can thank me later :-)


Joshua's lab notes, being taken on his special clipboard that our dear tutor friend gave each of the kids for Christmas.


On Wednesday Josh received a bad burn, which you can see here on his hand.  He was standing backed up to the gas fireplace which has a glass front to it, and accidentally touched it.  It had been on all morning and as you can see was extremely hot.  It blistered but is doing better now. 
What totally cracked me up though is that afternoon, even while it was hurting, he drug out the microscope to look at the injury, and the next morning when he could tolerate it to touch something, he flipped up the lid of the copier to photo copy it...both in color and black and white.,  "But Mom, it's going to change quick and I need to show Zack!"

THANK YOU MISS JILL!!!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Perfect Day


We have been busy since getting back to school with testing, and doing a lot of this:



And this...


And even more of this...


So we decided it was time to do a little of this...


And this...


And this...


Which resulted in this...


And this...


And this...



It was a surprise sledding day, as Dominick ended up with the day off unexpectedly so we told the kids at breakfast that we were taking the morning off. We headed up to Cerro Summit, our local sledding hill, and found we had the place all to ourselves.

What a glorious, sparkling morning it was! The warmth of the sun after some fairly bitter cold days recently felt so welcoming, and the silence other than our own voices was soothing. We had a perfect day together as we climbed, slid, laughed, and bumped our way up and down the little slope. Olesya squealed with delight every single time she shooshed past us, and we all reminisced about the ice slides in Kazakhstan and how cold it was there. The kids all talked about the last time they were there without me, how this one had "biffed" off the tube or that one had gotten slammed by another going downhill. It was one of the first times when we have had collective memories to share that are of old lives and new lives, and both were remembered with great fondness.

During our history lesson this week we were discussing what exactly IS history, and then had to write our own histories. Matt and Josh had to write a history of our street, and Kenny, Angela and Olesya had to write a history of their orphanages and life before our family. Angela was deeply moved by the experience, and talked about how she was scared at first to hurt our feelings and talk about her life before...and that it was not awful like so many people think. She had friends she loved, she had adults she admired, and she had a LIFE...something she was worried would offend us if she ever acknowledged it. She revealed that she was quite relieved to learn it was safe to talk about the orphanage and the life she had left behind there, and that she loved us even more for not only allowing it, but encouraging it.

As Angela and I sat there side by side on the hillside this morning watching the boys and Olesya trudging up and down while we waited for the next tubes to be brought up and shared, I glanced up at the sky where wispy clouds overhead were drifting slowly across the mountainscape and I said to her "You know, if you were in Kazakhstan on such a beautiful day, you would forget everything that was around you just like we are right here today, and you would be just as happy there as here." Angela smiled as we both stared upward and said "Yea Mama, but this life much, much happier. We have family now, and it makes the clouds look prettier."

Family does make the world look prettier, and that is true for both parents and children.

When we were all exhausted, we sprawled out together at the bottom of the hill, tubes for pillows, the hard ice packed beneath us, and we talked about future dreams and life as a family of older children. Everyone contributed as we talked about camping this summer, about trips we hope to take, about places we hope to see together. Kenny, ever the planner, was thinking of the logistics while Olesya enthusiastically talked about how we could come up with the money to do what we want.

Sitting there staring into the faces of those I love so dearly, I wanted to capture this moment forever. Our family, so uniquely formed, is going through growing pains. Teenagers await off stage, ready to make their appearance, and our time together like this is growing shorter and shorter. I relish every moment, and find myself urgently holding back screams of "Stop!!! Don't change! I barely got to know the child that was and I am not ready for the teenager that will be!". Adopting older children leaves you feeling like you are always scrambling, trying to fill in the missing blanks while looking forward as the future comes barreling down on you. You cling to moments knowing there are half as many as you have with those you raise from infancy, and it never, ever feels like it is enough time.

It's a blessing that leaves you breathless, yearning, and melancholy all at the same time.

The clock doesn't stop for anyone, no matter how much time you have missed. You step in mid-stream, wading through the churning rapids doing the best you can to hold on tight. You are ill prepared, you don't know the path ahead nor the waterways that have preceded, and you feel the entire time as if you are going to capsize without having the chance to say your last good byes. We all know the waters eventually smooth out, the ride becomes less treacherous, and you realize you made it through safely even without that waterproof map. The distressing part is that then, your fellow paddlers leave your raft and take off on their own vessel...and you are left saying "But wait...wait...we didn't get to ride the entire river together! I missed the best parts as I was trying to hold on! I never got the sweet, safe, easy part before we hit the rapids! Hey...I got cheated!".

Oh, how strong those feelings were today as Angela and Kenny begged me to sled down over and over again with them on the tube, and we gripped each other tightly! Angela is ever-so-slowly beginning to feel more comfortable with physical affection, the last few days her hugs are a little more full bodied, less perfunctory. This morning she clung on with all her might as we flew downhill, bodies lifting up high into the air and landing with a THUMP after having ridden over a little snow ramp. As the tube came to a stop, we lay there giggling together, heads thrown back resting on the snow, bodies arched over the tubes as we were arm in arm...and she didn't want to let go. I moved as if to get up and she said "No Mama, let's stay just a minute more..." So we did.

No one can imagine what each day is like right now. Unless you have experienced such unusual and abnormal parenting situations, it is impossible to explain how every single day feels compressed, how we desperately want to cement relationships before dating arrives, how we worry about all that is lost that can never be made up for, how learning grows exponentially and at the speed of light. Just as I think I have it all figured out, someone changes once again, and everything has to be rethought.

It's precious, it's precarious, it's perfect.

Oh, the times, they are a changin', and keeping up is no easy task. I don't know if I am mentally or emotionally flexible enough to make it. I don't know if I am capable of letting go, just as we solidly gained a foothold. I don't know if I am wise enough to know just how much to give, and when to reign in. We want a different kind of family, we want one of those whose ties are strong and yet not crippling. We want one whose children and parents are close in adulthood, where proper boundaries are respected and yet a relationship of mutual love and joy at being together are experienced. It takes time to build that, time and the presence of the Spirit. We are short on one, so we need to rely more heavily on the other.

A perfect day...sunshine, laughter and love. Sure, mingled within was a little yearning, a little sorrow, a little worry. But we were together, all of us, and that is what counts. The future will come and bring with it maturity and mistakes, pain and pride. It's awkward for everyone, this growing up that is inevitable.

I just wish we hadn't missed so much already. But I am sure glad we have the gift of what we have been given. It's enough...it's perfect.









Thursday, January 13, 2011

Healing Words


President Obama - "It's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we're talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds."

In the wake of the tragedy in Tucson, our nation is finding itself on the brink of finally recognizing something that most kids learn in any high school writing course.  To quote a polar opposite who would be the first to jump up in fury to be quoted in the same blog post as President Obama, it was Rush Limbaugh who notably said "Words mean things."

Sounds simple, doesn't it?  That's because it is.  We seem to have forgotten, as a people, that our words actually mean something, and we have drifted, as a society, into a dangerous current of inflammatory rhetoric that does nothing but demean us all. 

One prime example of this was a couple of weeks ago, when talking head Tucker Carlson made the statement that convicted football star Michael Vick ought to have been executed for participating in dogfighting.

When I read that comment, prior to the acts of violence in Tucson, I thought to myself "Man, we have surely gone so far over the line there is no turning back."  Seriously?? Execute a man for dogfighting?  Is THAT the kind of punishment, we as Americans, want to mete out?  Did Mr. Carlson even think for half a second before that sort of vitriol and disregard for human life left his lips?  Are our commentators so hung up on gaining the highest ratings that they would stoop to this level to garner attention? 

And do we leave no room at all for redemption??

Tucker Carlson must have realized belatedly that he overstepped, as a week later while a guest on Sean Hanity's show he "took it back". 

Daily on television and radio we hear hyperbole and venom spewed out.  We all have become somewhat dulled by it, for we actually expect to hear the attacks that are part of the media's one-upmanship to claw their way to the highest ratings without a moment's thought about how the loss of civil discourse has forever changed the attitudes of the American people.  Step by step, we inch ever closer to a precipice which leads to a long and terrible fall as we realize collectively that we have gone too far, we are no longer a nation where political opponents can respectfully agree to disagree. 

I am not saying that the event in Tucson was in any way brought on by a specific commentator or that Jared Loughner was even influenced by the sort of inflamatory discourse that we all hear every single day.  What I am saying is that we need to pause and reflect about what kind of society we want to be, and what constitutes effective national conversation.  We need to be more aware that "words mean things' and recognize that our own receptiveness and rapt attention to the collective "talking heads", be they liberal or conservative, is what fuels the fireball that rolls downhill,  eventually causing a conflagration of historic proportions.  It is so easy for us, as the listening and viewing public, to point fingers at the Glenn Becks, the Rush Limbaughs, and the Bill Mahers.

The finger of accusation really needs to be pointed back at us.

We need to use our words to heal, as President Obama suggests.  We need to use our words to create bridges of understanding and cooperation...not to label and categorize ourselves, backing those whose opinions differ from ours into a corner so firmly that they come out swinging.  And then we swing back, but this time with a baseball bat.  It is really no different than a sandlot fight between middle schoolers that escalates until someone gets seriously hurt.

What if every time someone like Tucker Carlson made such statements, the radio and TV stations were inundated with calls and emails from both liberals and conservatives exhorting the Powers that Be to tone it down?  What if every time Rush Limbaugh danced too close to the edge with his powerful rhetoric, his listenership dwindled?  What if every time Bill Maher crossed the line with his put downs and snarky ridiculing, his station was boycotted? 

We the people can demand a more civil world.  After all, aren't we all tired of the screaming and meaningless hyperbole?  Aren't we all sick to death of the partisanship?  Don't you wish that, just for once, the folks we all send to Washington would shut up and do their jobs without purposely trying to stall simply because the guy or gal across the aisle suggests something different? 

We tell our children on the school playgrounds to "play nice", we tell them not to call each other names or to physically push each other around.  But until the adults in America decide to "play nice" you might as well hold your breath, for although "words mean things", actions will always speak louder than words.  We need leaders who lead with words that mean different things than the words of our leaders of the recent past have meant.  We need leaders who recognize that we indeed need to talk to one another in ways that heal, not wound.  Whether you like Obama or not, it is hard to argue with that.

Until we figure out how to turn the corner, I fear we will continue to live in a country where words are used as arrows, where comments are swung like baseball bats.

Words that heal, not wound...sorta sounds like a Jesus thing to say, doesn't it?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Believing When it is Hard

We had the success of last week, and the frustration of this week.  You know those pros and cons of homeschooling?  Well one of the cons that is not often talked about is how you feel like a total failure if your child struggles, it is far more personal than I imagine it is for a teacher in a public classroom setting, for they can always point their finger in the direction of parents who are not helping at home, or previous teachers who let things slide.  I am NOT saying that teachers don't care, but I highly doubt that it becomes as personal when your own child is also your student.  Trying to keep things in perspective is often a very difficult task, and not viewing yourself as a poor educator when your son or daughter hits a rough patch as EVERY kid does once in awhile is also not easy.

Today was one of the more aggravating days, and one in which my confidence level dropped significantly.  Guess we can't stay on that mountaintop too long, eh?  We were working on some phonics items with Kenny, trying to get him to identify the middle sound of multi-syllabic words.  They were all consonant sounds and he has a terribly time identifying middle sounds, so when he suggested that the middle sound of balloon sounded like an "A", I said "No, that's a vowel...we are looking for a consonant sound.".

He gave me a totally blank stare and asked me "What's a vowel?".  3 1/2 years of reading instruction, the past 6 months of intensive phonics work starting once again at beginner level and now he is on the 3rd grade workbook and he seriously asks me "What's a vowel?".  I responded "Tell me what the vowels are..." and he again stared blankly at me and said "I don't know what a vowel is.".  I tried a different approach, "So what is a consonant?" and he said "I don't know either of them."  I nudged "A, E..." expecting him to fill in the blank.  He couldn't finish them.


Can I yell here, right now?  Please?  ARRRRGGGGHHHH!!!!!!!

I simply could not believe this.  It is NOT as if we haven't used the terms "vowel" and "consonant" at LEAST 5,000 times over the past 6 months...or that he hasn't heard them used repeatedly over the past 3 years of school.  But it was gone, totally, absolutely gone.

As was his address and phone number last night.  Couldn't remember them to save his life.

And anyone dares wonder why Dominick and I fear so deeply for his future?  He can recite every scene and detail in a cartoon, but can't remember his phone number or what letters are vowels after thousands of repeated presentations of the items in numerous ways, including visual. 

After reviewing them, I then said "I want you to write all the vowels on the board 20 times.", so he goes to the board and writes:

Fails, fails, fails, fails, fails, fails....


I ask him "What in the world is that?" and he said "You told me to write "vowels" 20 times...that is what I am doing!".  I said to him "Read what you just wrote" and he looks at it, points at the letters and says "See? Vowels...".  This was not anything subliminal, he didn't even recognize it as the word "fails', nor could he spell "fails" either if I had asked him to.  He not only didn't understand what I asked him to do, which was very clear, but he even spelled "vowels"...a word he has correctly spelled many, many times before...totally wrong.  Didn't even HEAR the difference between a "V" and an "F". 

This is what life is like with a child who has auditory processing disorder.  This is a child whose brain just doesn't work right. We have been told by a specialist that he has "word retrieval" issues, that the "file cabinet", so to speak, is simply locked at certain times and he absolutely can not pull a word out of his brain that he definitely knows...or at least knew...and that it is not likely to ever get much better.  That is the scary part, that this "broken" part of Kenny's brain is likely to remain this way at this stage.  Oh, we may find ways to work with it, we may discover coping skills that help, but we can't repair what is not "firing" there.

To say I am depressed tonight would be an understatement.  I also know that if it is this frustrating for me, it must be ten times as frustrating for Kenny.  There are so many smaller, less obvious moments in our days that are like this that I no longer even notice it, nothing stands out because there is always this need to re-explain, to repeat, to break things down into far simpler components.  I can never give him 2 step directions and expect they will be followed.  He has a horrible time with "place" words, telling him look under something or to the right, or whatever simply doesn't work...he gets immediately confused and inevitably looks in just the opposite direction, no matter how much we have worked diligently on developing this skill he seems incapable of "getting it". 

And yet for every monster, aggravating step backward, I know we have still gained some ground, no matter how small.  The kicker is, I can still see how incredibly bright he is!!  This kid who can't seem to remember his phone number, depending upon the day, can connect the dots in surprising ways.  For example, today in geography we were talking about how the adult musk ox herd circles around young ones for protection...and Kenny pipes up "Mommy, that is just like the wagon trains did on their trips out west, they would circle to keep everyone safe."  During history today we were all having a discussion after watching 30 minutes of news on CNN, and trying to discern what that was reported would be considered important to remember as part of history 20 or 30 years from now.  We talked about the shooting in Arizona, and Kenny was the only one who immediately brought up how that might change how we protect our government leaders, and that it would cost us more in taxes to pay for it.  I didn't lead him on that, he came up with that on his own...a HUGE "connect the dots" moment which is not at all startling for Kenny. 

And yet he can't remember his vowels. 

There are times when this so deeply saddens me, when I think of all he could become, and all he might never be able to be because of his deficits.  We are doing everything humanly possible to help him overcome it, to help him achieve success, and yet there is this enormous brick wall that stands in the way.  I don't know if we will ever scale it, or simply claw at crumbling brick as we make attempts over and over again.

Then there is Olesya, our easygoing, uncomplicated, sweetheart of a daughter for whom simple things like reading a thermometer and telling time seem totally out of reach.  I was sharing with a friend tonight that I wonder if what we are feeling is normal frustration with kids who struggle, if this is heightened, if we really are working with brain development issues that will never fully resolve.  With Josh, Angela  and Matthew there are moments when things are difficult but the light bulb always eventually goes on and things get worked out.  None of the 3 of them are geniuses, but they feel "normal" in their academic ability.   Poor Kenny and Olesya feel so "stuck", and they are the two of our children who were institutionalized at young ages and remained that way.  Was the deprivation so bad that areas of the brain just never fired up?  Was there damage due to alcohol use which with Olesya we know is entirely possible?  If that is true then why just these specific areas and not more global developmental delays?

And does it matter really?  We are simply left to pick up the pieces and do the best we can...and reteach what the vowels are another 50 times if necessary, and do yet another 300 page workbook on telling time if we have to.  What other option is there?

And who else will love them enough to do it?

This, my friends, is why we have to homeschool.  Not because we feel it somehow makes us "elite", not because we feel the schools failed us, not because we think everyone ought to jump on the bandwagon right along with us, not because we want to shelter our kids from the world.

It is because we are the only ones who love them enough to keep beating our heads against the wall right beside them as they also do it.  We won't give up, we won't pass them on, we won't let them give up on themselves.  We believe in them and will keep trying until the day we die.

To top it off, we visited a new orthodontist this afternoon to begin the next phase of Kenny's orthodontic work which needs to be completed before we can move on with additional surgical attempts to once again close his palate.  We found out it will be $6000+ for his braces, and that is a minimum.  It might be more if we have jaw alignment issues as he grows, which is not uncommon in cleft kids and might mean even more bone grafts.  This means we will be well over $10,000 in orthodontic work for him.  I can't believe that a mere mouthful of wires can possibly cost that much!!  We are thinking of visiting Home Depot and getting some wire, pliers and Krazy Glue, and making it a do-it-yourself project.  When we left Matthew said "Hmmm...not a bad career to get into." Wonder if we can send him to dental school quickly! Hahaha!

Oh well, tomorrow is another day.  Tomorrow we might remember our vowels, we might get the time right just once, we might even write the word "does" or "some" correctly.

Or not.

Either way, Mom and Dad are right here and will keep on trying.  Because something I said years ago on this blog is still true, and has been instilled in our children as well.  Do the hard thing, LaJoy's don't give up.  Ever.  Just because it is hard doesn't mean you don't do it.

Back to the hard thing...


Saturday, January 08, 2011

More on Schools - Cookie Cutter Education

I love the comments we receive on the blog, and they make me think more deeply about things I have written about our beliefs I hold.  it gives me the impetus to write things down that I hope will be valuable for the kids to read one day, as well as provide others with some insight into parenting kids like ours.  Even on  subjects that appear to be somewhat unrelated, there is always a connection.  Thanks to "Kelly and Sne" for their comment below, which I'd like to address a little here:

While I DO agree that we are in bad need of school reform, I don't think that homeschooling is the answer. While it may work for some, I don't think it works for all and, frankly, I think many parents could use some additional schooling themselves and are in no position to teach their children. There is a reason that teachers have special skills and special training. Maybe we just don't have enough of them.


I think much of the issues that you are describing have a lot more to do with bad parenting than bad schools. IN fact, as many of your commenters have stated, parent involvement seems to have made a world of difference in the quality of the school. And I would add, the quality of the child.
 
First of all, nn rereading my post I think I made it clear..and in all of my previous ones for that matter, that I do NOT think homeschooling is the answer to our nation's educational woes.  I have never advocated for anyone to homeschool simply because we found it to be the best solution for our strange little needs over here, and I agree 100% that not every mom or dad should even consider it.  I think the dynamic it sets up in a family can be very challenging depending upon the personalities involved...and yes, I would even agree that some parents may be ill equipped to teach their children if they don't have a certain level of intellectual and cognitive ability themselves.  That statement pretty much flies in the face of all conventional homeschoolers, who disturb me when they say that ANYONE can homeschool, and ALL should.  Sorry, I find that perspective to be one of the reasons why ardent homeschoolers are often seen as less than realistic about the way they educate their kids, and throw out statements that are way too far reaching and honestly, a little ignorant.  Can you honestly tell me that you think the poor kid who sat next to you in high school history who could barely write a coherent sentence ought to be teaching their child?  No.  Do I think they have a right to?  Well, that is a very different question  and I tend to ere on the side of parental rights over state's rights so I would have to answer "yes", as I feel every parent has the right to decide what is best for their child, even if I would disagree.
 
However, I do think the parent of average intelligence has the ability to teach their child.  I consider myself to be of quite average intelligence...there is no genius here in the LaJoy house (and I daresay that the vast majority of wonderful teachers I have encountered aren't exactly Einstein's either...just reasonably bright folks who care...caring and motivation are FAR more important than high IQ).  What many people who don't homeschool fail to see, is that most homeschooling parents don't see themselves as academic superstars who fall in the realm of Teacher of the Year.  Most of us, I daresay, see ourselves more as educational facilitators, looking for opportunities and mentors, outside classes (of which there are many if you need them) and tutors to help guide our child's education.  We are more of a general contractor, if that helps create an image that is more easily grasped, we teach some things, find experts in others, and eventually our kids learn to teach themselves many things they are interested in...just as we adults do in " real life" when we find we need to learn something new. 
 
And let's face it, if a parent functions reasonably well in the working world, there is no reason they can't confidently teach well into the upper grades themselves.  There is no magic to it, other than deeply caring about your kids and being willing to put in the effort to revisit all that stuff you learned yourself as a kid. After all, you DID learn it once, it is NOT all foreign to you!  The teacher's manuals spell it all out for you fairly well, just as it does for any teacher in public school who finds themselves suddenly teaching a grade or subject they have never taught before.  There really is no difference...but we like to think there is because then it is easy to say we could never do that.  I know, I was there 2 years ago :-)  Now, I won't lie to you and tell you I feel confident enough to teach subjects like trig or calculus, but that is why we will enroll in local classes for those subjects as the need arises...but I'll bet you 90% of the elementary school teachers I know would not feel confident teaching those subjects either...hence the parent as educational facilitator, not "expert of all things". 
 
As for the special training a teacher receives, I think I see a little different side to that, and it actually goes to the other issues raised in the comment.  Much of a teacher's special training has nothing at all to do with subjects to be taught, nor does it have to do with the best approaches.  A large portion of their training addresses classroom management and the array of behavioral challenges they will encounter in the classroom.  This has nothing at all really to do with creating specialists who really are amazing and gifted at helping bring out the best in every child based upon that child's individual learning style and interests, well versed in specific subjects they will teach, but it has everything to do with keeping a class under control, learning how to be part counselor, traffic cop, disciplinarian, family therapist, role model, and many other things that have little to do with the actual teaching of academics.  Why is this sort of special training needed?  Because of exactly what was pointed out in Kelly and Sne's comment...bad parenting is rampant.  I would even go so far as to say that often that special training is necessary as it is an effort to combat no parenting at all.
 
There are other factors, however, and they mirror society as a whole. This is the crux of what I was trying to say...we have completely lost a sense of community in our schools.  They are large institutions where kids are just a number and where teachers seldom get to know kids well once they enter middle school.  Parents are no longer involved and have completely abdicated responsibility to the schools to educate (and sadly sometimes parent) their children.  At moments I wonder though, which came first...the chicken or the egg?  This is just ruminating here...but I have often wondered if parents spend less time in the schools because the schools have taken over more of the parental role, or if the schools have taken over more of the parental role because parents won't parent.  Our schools now weigh our kids and tell them what to eat, drink, when to sleep, and explain sex to them.  They reach into the home life with so many hours of homework as the child grows older that it is impossible to have a well functioning home life after school hours.  On the flip side, parents send their kids to school ill prepared from the very beginning, figuring it is the school's job to teach them their ABC's or how to count.  See what I mean?  It could be that both sides are a little skewed and have contributed to the problem of absentee parents.
 
I have to ask the question though...what would happen if we stepped back to the days when education worked better?  What if kids had the same teacher for several years as in the one room schoolhouse, where a teacher could grow to know that child intimately and work with their strengths and weaknesses, making sure there were no learning gaps as much of the previous learning would be well known?  What if kids went to neighborhood schools that were tiny in contrast to what we have today, where a real sense of community could be developed because everyone was going with neighbors and saw each other out on the front lawns of their homes.  What if we didn't worry about high school football teams and cheerleading squads, but worried more about spelling bees and science fairs?  What if parents pooled together their tax dollars and created their local school and reviewed and voted on curriculum?  What if your child attended a school with 40 students rather than 400?  What sort of difference in terms of accountability and sense of community would that make?
 
I see it as similar to the solution that larger mega-churches have come up with in light of their challenges...they created "small groups" to help form mini-communities that basically sort of mimic the feel of a much smaller congregation, but still allows one access to larger church programming when it is desired.  Why can't our schools follow a model like that?  Maybe it is not about more funding, but better use of the funding that currently exists...and a system that encourages parental involvement over "drop and run" for even those parents that would prefer to be more involved but are intimidated by a large "system".
 
I guess that I see our educational problems as two fold, both a school problem and a parenting problem.  When a teacher can not find more individualized solutions for a child because they can't make changes to curriculum because it is not "District approved", we all have a problem.  When a parent sends an angry, defiant, ill equipped child to school, we all have a problem.  When we focus solely on college as "the" road to success in adult life and we leave out training for kids who are not college material but hard working, functioning, responsible kids, we all have a problem.  When we have a system that is prison like in order to maintain control over the inmates...oh...I mean students, we all have a problem.
 
Anyone could list a million ways in which our schools could be reformed, but one major key to stopping some of the on campus violence we see today is "relationship".  With it, people become connected and interdependent, without it, people become strangers who are easy to ignore or dehumanize.
 
And please, please, please...don't see our family as being fanatical homeschooling advocates, for we are not.  We know good and well that for all that we have gained with this decision, we have lost a lot as well.  You can't have it all, and we don't see public school as the "evil" that so many others do.  It's funny, but just as it seems to happen with adoption decisions, others want to categorize you.  We have spent years justifying our decision to adopt, our decision to adopt internationally versus domestically, our decision to adopt trans-racially, our  decision to adopt more than the acceptable norm of 2.5 kids, and our decision to "destroy our family" and adopt older kids.  We never said anyone else who made different decisions was wrong, and honestly don't think anyone should ever follow in our footsteps. 
 
Now we find ourselves defending our decision to homeschool as assumptions are made about our reasons, our perspective about public education, our religious beliefs, our own educational background, and so much more.  It has been "out of the frying pan and into the fire".  I have never had so many raised eyebrows as I get these days when someone finds out we are homeschooling, and I have no teaching degree...or even any college education at all.  I never imagined that our personal decision to educate our kids at home would create such an opening for others to judge us (I am not referring to Kelly and Sne's comment, just making a statement in general and want to be clear about where we stand.) or make assumptions that we somehow think THEY are wrong for having their kids in public school. Nothing could be further from the truth, but others seem to forget that they are not, nor have they ever parented our kids or faced our challenges.  This works for us, and it works right now.  We hope it continues to work and that our kids continue to thrive. 
 
It's been the right decision for us, but it comes at a cost...the loss of "fitting in" more with societal norms, the loss of the casual friendships and connections we so enjoyed, the loss of my own personal confidence as I jump into something more scary than I care to admit at moments, the loss of life as we knew it, the loss of myself outside of our kids and I have yet to regain that, the loss of a shared common experience of childhood with our children as their childhood experiences now veer far off course of our own, the loss of my time as already thousands of hours have been spent teaching or researching and planning, and so much more.
 
With all that being said, the gains are worth the losses.  We have gained a closeness that can't be matched, we see our kids gaining confidence where it once was being chipped away, we have gained watching our kids develop a love of learning they never before had, we have gained a deeper sense of gratitude for the family we have become, we have gained the ability to allow each child to approach each subject individually and move at their own pace which is priceless in our situation, we have gained a very different sense of "home", we have gained a very different understanding of what education is, we have gained so very much.
 
And still I say it is not for everyone.  If we had different kids with different needs, this would not work at all.  If we had different kids with different personalities, I would dread doing this.  If we had different lives and I had indeed been better educated myself and had a true career, I would likely never have considered giving that up to do this.  That is truthful, and not necessarily something I am proud to admit but it might be too hard to give up what I had, and I would have missed out on something quite precious for us.  If we had better local alternatives, we would probably have tried that over homeschooling.  But for THIS family in THIS place with THESE kids, homeschooling has proven to be our best bet. 
 
I don't claim to have any of the answers...just a bunch of opinions that may make little sense to anyone else.  It can not be denied, however, that something is broken and needs to be fixed.  The finger points in many directions as we try to find the cause and where to begin to create a better functioning educational system. Fault does not fall in one court only, but bounces back and forth in a virtual game of ping pong as we all say "Yea, but...." and then volley with another "Yea, but...". 
 
The important thing is that we keep the dialogue open, that we don't bury our heads in the sand.  We need to look at what IS working, and be open to trying new approaches.  That is exactly what we did as we searched for a solution for our family.  That approach may not be right for everyone, just as various approaches and solutions for public education may not prove to be best for everyone either.  We have to keep trying though, and recognize that through a variety of options we might be able to provide solutions for a variety of children.  None of us are cookie cutter learners or families.  What we currently have is basically a cookie cutter system.  We need to roll that dough out and try different styles of cookies...drop cookies, pressed cookies, rolled cookies.  Believe me, there will be someone who likes each style.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

School Shooting...Violence upon Violence

Two posts in one day, I must have too much time on my hands.

Tragically, our schools once again become a place not unlike a war zone, as another child decides that violence against those who disciplined him was somehow the perfect retribution.   This afternoon, after suspending a student for driving his car on the school football field and track, a school administrator was killed and another seriously injured as the student calmly returned to the campus with his police detective father's weapon and proceeded to open fire.

All the security guards, metal detectors, locker searches and mandatory drug testing in the world will not change our schools.  All it does is cause them to closely resemble jails, not institutions of academic excellence.  Couple this with the relentless bullying of students who are deemed social outcasts for being different, and what you have is a broken system, one in which it seems virtually impossible for America's children to be safe, let alone educated decently.

What have we come to, as a society, when those in authority in our schools have to fear for their very lives if they discipline a student for vandalizing school property with their vehicles? 

What have we come to, as a society, when our children are targeted and harassed at school mercilessly to the point that they are driven to suicide?

When are we going to see that mass education has become akin to prison camps?

Our children are dehumanized in every possible way.  They are numbered, labeled, categorized, evaluated and marginalized.  They have to ask permission to get a drink of water, permission to go to the bathroom, are herded into middle school and high school classes beginning at age 11 with teachers who teach upwards of 125 students a day and our children's names are often barely known let alone does any teacher truly know how our children learn or what their strengths and weaknesses are.  Heck, why don't we just brand them like cattle, stick an ear tag in them, and have them belly up to the food trough??  Then we throw them in hallways and bathrooms where the strongest prey on the weakest, and wonder why they finally "break".

School campuses are no longer safe.  Period.  We need much smaller school communities, class sizes cut at least in half, and we need our children to feel like they are not just a number.  Our kids need to attend schools that do not have environments resembling penal institutions.  We need teachers who really know our kids and not just for 42 minutes each day...our kids need to be with teachers for years at a time so relationships of trust and understanding can be created.  We need parents engaged and involved in the education of their children, parents who send their kids to school having been lovingly read to for several years and who attend school functions, and don't see the school as a free babysitting service.  We need children to feel loved and supported, we need teachers to feel strengthened and backed up. 

Oh, we need so much.

Is it any wonder that just today, ironically, the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI) released a study showing that there are now over two million homeschooled students in the United States, a figure equal to 4% of all K-12 students?  Want to know what that figure was just 30 years ago, prior to the beginnings off the onslaught of school campus violence?  20,000...a mere 20,000 used to homeschool and now that number has grown to 2,000,000.  Doesn't that tell someone something?  Shouldn't someone be paying attention to this?

You all know we are not typical homeschoolers.  We are homeschooling due to extenuating circumstances and school violence was not our main reason for pulling our kids, nor are we homeschooling for religious reasons, which is why a large number of homeschoolers find themselves educating at home.  We are sort of the oddballs, finding ourselves at an unexpected turning point last year and making the very difficult and overwhelmingly challenging decision to become home educators.  Our kids didn't fit the norm, and we feared they would sink rather than swim.  We also knew we had a long road ahead in terms of bonding as a family, and felt this might help better facilitate building those relationships.

But in the words of my wise son which I posted just a few days ago, Matthew said in response to missing public school:  "I don't think I am meant to live that kind of life, Mommy.  I'll never fit in since I don't care about sports,  I don't even like football or basketball!  And you know Kenny and Josh are like me that way too.  I don't want to feel forced to do the things kids in school do or not fit in."  Sad, but at 10 years old when he was pulled from public school he already felt he didn't fit in at all.  I wonder now, if we were ever to return him to middle or high school, how much worse would those feelings of alienation be?  And what about Kenny, shuttled along and shoved ahead no matter how far behind he fell, no matter how he didn't fit in maturity-wise with his 12 year old peers, no matter how he was teased for his speech or his cleft scars...what would he be like in a few more years?  Would he be one beaten in the hall ways?  Or would any of our children be the ones who finally had enough and turned to violence to resolve what the adults couldn't manage to handle?

Sure...it would never be my kid.  We all think that.  We all think our kids wouldn't be the ones with the "kick me" sign on the back of their jackets.  We all think our kids wouldn't be the ones whose heads were shoved in the toilet in the bathrooms during lunch break.  We also all think our kids would NEVER be capable of beating other children near to death, ridiculing them, or slaughtering them while in their desks minding their own businesses.  Not our children, never our children.

But when you place them in an environment that breeds contempt...contempt for the humanity of the student as well as the teacher...you end up with results you never would imagine.

Folks, we need to rethink how we educate our kids, and we need to do it now.  Our institutions do not work, they don't work academically, they don't work emotionally, they crush spirits....those of our young people and the adults charged with educating them.  Sure, you have the cream of the crop who rise up and manage to not only survive but thrive...but what about the remaining 85% of the students?  What about them?

I might be way off base, and I know it.  This is more a "stream of consciousness" post than anything else.  It is not a "My way is best...everyone needs to homeschool" sort of thought process going on here.  The fact is, homeschooling IS hard and I wouldn't recommend it to everyone.  Please don't interpret that as me saying "I am better than you because I homeschool".  It is just an honest and frank statement acknowledging that it is hard...stinking hard, despite what so many say about it being easier than you think.  So far, I haven't found that to be true and doubts assail daily, but I also see that for our odd little family, it is probably the best solution out of all the options available.  We can't afford private school and public schools can't easily accommodate kids like ours coming from such unusual learning deficits, lacking in life experiences and being slipped into the system at older ages.  I also think public ed can work and overall has done a good job of educating the masses to a remarkable degree, after all, Dominick and I are products of the public schools and though I know we could be better educated we also could be far worse off.  We can read, write and calculate reasonably well and can function decently in the world around us. 

Times have changed, however, and our system of education has not altered one whole heck of a lot over the course of the past 100 years.  When we moved from the one room schoolhouse to huge institutions of education housing hundreds of students, all at relatively the same ages and stages of life, the very fabric of education changed, and not for the better.  We need to rethink it all, we need to re-envision what our children need to succeed and blossom, and we need to be honest about what is not working.  Then we need to be willing to fund it.  Not an easy task, is it?  But completely necessary.

I want all our children to be safe, and I don't feel that just because our kids are "out" for now we can thumb our noses and say "See?  Y'all need to do what we did and your problems are solved!".  I don't want kids beaten for being gay...or wearing glasses...or being Asian...or wearing uncool shoes.  I don't want kids so angry and dejected that they feel the only solution is to kill themselves, or to kill others.

We need to do something.  We need to do it now.

Or literally, more of our children will die.

School's in for Winter!!!

We are rapidly getting back in the swing of things, and hitting the books hard.   Testing was completed and  we were thrilled with the girls' results, as they are showing enormous progress in every subject.  Angela tested at 5th grade level reading and 80 words a minute with no help at all!  Cna you believe it?  Of course, we are building vocabulary like crazy and we have a long way to go in that area, but that just takes repetition and exposure, and will not happen overnight but over the course of the next several years.  Olesya also showed marked improvement, testing around early 4th grade but a slower 45 words per minute which is about where I would expect her to be after 3 years of school total and 10 months of English exposure...actually, that is far more than I would expect :-)

Kenny was very anxious about his reading test, wanting to see a huge improvement as he feels he has really made some gains.  I had no idea where he would sit but assured him that we were making progress no matter what the test showed.  While his reading comprehension remained at 5th grade, his reading fluency did take a humongous leap!  Since the end of August, he has more than doubled his reading speed, going from 45 words per minute to 95!!!  While that is still far slower than I'd like to see a 12 year old reading, it is tremendous progress for him and I give all the credit to our dear long distance friend and blog commenter, Peggy, who sent us the Reading A-Z mysteries that Kenny discovered and devoured.  It made all the difference in the world to find something he really loved reading and to have a treasure trove of selections to read.

So testing is now behind us and we can get back to learning rather than evaluating!  We had a lot of fun the past couple of days as I opened our new semester with a little surprise...all the Usborne books we earned/purchased with our sales and discounts.  I told the kids I had a "small" surprise, as I didn't want them thinking it was something really cool, but when I brought out the box of books their faces lit up so much that you would have thought I had given them tickets to Disneyworld!  It was a great way to start the second half of our year and they were very excited.  I was able to get a great selection of material, everything from The World of Spies to Knights to Dog Stories to the Titanic!  Thanks to all who purchased books from us to allow us to get this wonderful library.  As you can see, they will be enjoyed for a long time to come!:




This image captures what I love most about homeschooling!!


We also checked out Olesya's rock tumbler and saw the results after just one week...erosion had done it's work already and there was a significant difference in the stones.  We are anxious to see the results after week 2.




We also started a new curriculum for history from http://www.connectthethoughts.com/ .  I wasn't sure about this, about how engaging it would be for the kids but I have been pleasently surprised to find they LOVE this and we spent 2 full hours on it this morning without even looking at the clock.  We are doing one for 7-8 year olds...supposedly...it is far more rigorous than anything I have ever seen for 7 and 8 year olds as lesson 2 included the introduction of Herodotus and Confucious as it discussed exactly what history is.

The kids were shown photos of cave drawings and ancient Egyptian artwork and were asked to explain what they could discern about the lives of the people who drew them and what was it that they thought those ancient people's were trying to tell us.  Then they had to create drawings themselves about the history of their own lives, making something that might explain what their lives were like if others were to view it.  Can I tell you how funny it was to see airplanes as part of the life story drawings  of each of our kids?  A couple were even labeled "Lufthansa"...such different life stories than most children have to share.

That's about all that is going on around here, nothing of much interest to anyone, I am sure.  Just getting back into routines and enjoying the peace that abounds.  Sorry there is nothing to share that any of you really want to read!