Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Keep on Trying

Josh is deep in slumber beside me tonight, as he once again needed reassurance that all is OK in his world.  Sometimes I wonder what he will be like when he is older, how much of his attachment issues will follow him into adulthood, and how much will gently fade away over time.  Having had a very long conversation today with a mom who has had Reactive Attachment Disorder as part of her adoption experience for years and years, including relinquishment of one child due to fear of physical violence, I can't help but be filled with enormous gratitude that we made it through, that Joshie is relatively whole.  His tender heart, his warm little soul, his eye contact...all are things I will never take for granted

And he still looks so little when asleep, all curled up.

As our weather turns colder, there is more churning beneath the surface.  Matthew and I had a tearful conversation today as we talked about his school work.  He is a very bright young man, and he is growing more and more frustrated over his inability to write and edit his own work.  I had him write a couple short paragraphs earlier in the week, and they were atrocious.  He simply can not figure out the grammar piece, where commas are placed, or where to end a sentence.  He has a wonderful vocabulary, and a definite ear for description. Once edited by someone else, his work is quite good.  However, even after putting it away for a day or two and returning to it, he can not read it as "fresh" and edit it.  I had him read what he wrote out loud, and his brain added in the correct wording where it needed to be corrected, but it was not what he wrote nor what he read.  I have talked to the school repeatedly about it, and am getting no response about testing or having someone dig into it further.  They seem to feel it isn't a big deal.  Clearly, it is to Matthew, and I am at a total loss as to where to turn.

Matthew also works at his own pace, which is Steady Eddie, but not Speed Demon.  His math is growing more challenging as he does Algebra 1 for high school credit, he has a lot on his academic plate with his other subjects, and he is feeling stressed over it, which also led to more tears.  We talked for over an hour as I shared how tough the transition was for me when I was in middle school, how I felt I'd never get everything done, and how I thought everyone was so much smarter than me. They weren't, and I did eventually settle in to a new routine, but not until I had spent several nights in tears with my own mom.  We talked about strategies for accomplishing things, about how work was definitely going to be getting more challenging for him, and we talked honestly about his struggles with writing.  He seemed relieved just to know that someone understood.

What was most important through it all though, was that we even had the chance to have the conversation.  We hugged for a long while, we talked about how important it is to share our feelings when we feel that things are overwhelming, and that I would always be there for him to talk to.  Recently, we spent quite awhile talking about a relationship at Civil Air Patrol that is uncomfortable for him, and I offered him a couple of different perspectives on how he might handle it.  At 13, he is learning how to handle more adult responsibilities and relationships, and sometimes that is just not easy.  Matt is not one to expose his emotions, but somehow he has always felt safe doing so with me and usually I can get to the bottom of things with him.  Watching our children grow into themselves is just as painful a process for us as it is for them.

I was heartened, however, when I returned home from choir practice tonight to have him tell me that he had worked an extra two hours on his schoolwork. This was his way of telling me that he "heard" me, and was going to step it up a notch.  I gave him a big old bear hug and told him I was proud of him, and he whispered to me "Thanks for talking to me, Mom.  It made it all seem easier. I love you."

Yesterday we all went and voted, and for me it was quite a moving experience.  I will be in California with my mom on Election Day, so I had to go vote early.  In we traipsed, all five kids in tow, and I was a bit thunderstruck when they were talking and figured out that Angela will be able to vote in the next presidential election!!  Wow, that one really hit me hard.  I am not ready at all to have adult, voting aged children yet.  However, I pushed aside my personal dismay and said "Well, that is all the more reason for you to be here today with me, to see how it is done!".  We must have looked odd as I had all the kids read the electronic ballot with me, and showed them how to select the various candidates.  When it was time to cast the ballot Olesya said "All of this for over a year, and that is all there is?"  Yup, that's it.

As we left the polling place, I couldn't help but think how every American takes it all for granted...that we can cast a ballot without fearing for our lives, how we can peacefully change leaders and change how our government functions.  It is a great gift, a priceless one, regardless of what party you belong to or what candidate you hope will ultimately win.  The fact that we can vote at all is quite marvelous.

Last night I worked with Kenny on his reading program while Dominick observed.  He is going to be working with Kenny on it while I am gone, and had never used it himself yet so he needs to be brought up to speed.  Last night was not one of Kenny's better sessions.  We introduced a new lesson, and it took us about an hour and a half.  To watch him struggle to sound out simple 5 letter words is not only frustrating for both of us, but also is disheartening for me on many levels.  Later, as we were getting ready for bed, Dominick told me, "I don't know how you do this day after day."  

Sometimes, I'll admit, it is really, really hard for me.  While I no longer am panicked over how to manage teaching five children, there are days like yesterday and today where keeping my own spirits up is the hardest part.  To have kids who have such a willingness to work hard, who want to succeed, and who are willing to put in the effort to do so is awesome.  For example, Olesya has decided on her own to take pages and pages of notes of the series we are watching right now for social studies, another Ken Burns production called "The West".  I never told her she had to do it, she just wanted to. Or to have Matthew hear that the other kids were going to write a mystery story, and on his own he decided to participate and write a mystery on his own time.  Or to see Kenny go over and over writing and phonics without almost 14 years old.

There are just areas that are feeling impossible to improve, no matter how hard I try, no matter what approach I use, no matter how much help I reach out for.  There are days when it all feels like complete failure, and I wish I could "pass the buck" and lay the blame elsewhere.

Those are the tonight...when I have to seriously take stock of myself, our family, and our goals.  What are we trying to accomplish here?  What is really important?  Is this about ego and pride?  Is about beating my head against the wall and wanting to give up?

Is it about me at all?

Doing something day after day that provides you little to no feedback, putting your heart and soul into it, and caring deeply about your success because you know their success rides on it is stressful in its own way.  However, I need to remind myself that academics were not the only reason we decided to homeschool.  Seeing Joshua teach Olesya something new on the computer, watching Kenny and Matthew giggle over a project together, hearing Angela's passionate discussion about slavery...those reasons are just as valid for homeschooling as academics are.  Having Matt's tears on my shoulder today were also a very good reason to homeschool.

Simply being present counts for something, especially for some of our kids who had years and years of missing out on that very thing.  Having a deep, loving, open relationship with my beloved 13 year old son when many 13 year olds won't even look their mom in the eye or say terrible things about them...that counts, too.

So here I sit, at the very end of the day, soft snoring beside me as Josh feels safe and secure.  I have children who are trying very, very hard. They have a Dad and Mom who are trying very, very hard.  There is love.  There is always hope.  There is always, always laughter.

It'll always be hard.

As Angela so often says, "We're LaJoy's, we can do anything."  Guess I'll get up tomorrow, and give it all over to God so I can start fresh, and at our morning meeting I'll look around at happy, smiling faces and say "Good morning!  I love you!  Let's see what we are going to do today..."

And we'll keep on trying.


Lindsay said...

Hi Cindy

I think you need to seek to get Matt tested for a learning disability called Dysgraphia. It is commonly thought of as a motor skill problem which causes poor handwriting. It isn't - but bad handwriting is how it often manifests in younger children. In children Matt's age it is common to see difficulties with grammar, syntax and sentence construction because it is a processing disorder. If, as it seems, you are seeing a big gap between his verbal output and what he can write, and grammar, syntax and structure are the problems then seek to get him tested. All the best :)

Anonymous said...

A few things you might want to try with Matt if you haven't already:
1) When reading his writing out loud, have him use a monotone voice. That can help with his brain automatically correcting. Also, most computers will do this for you.
2) Try dictation for practice with writing. See this link for more info:
3) Either read aloud to him and/or have him listen to audio books to increase his auditory exposure to good writing.

I hope you find answers soon :) It's wonderful that he is willing to work so hard.