Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Difference Between "Perfect" and Wonderful

It has been a discouraging week.  Not an awful one, but discouraging none the less.  This statement totally doesn't fit the title of this post, but read on, I'll get to that.

Our logic curriculum is a stark reminder of what is not developed in some of our kids, and it took 20 minutes of walking through reading a 3rd grade level bar graph with only two pieces of data on it to answer 3 simple questions, because we just never learned how to walk through analyzing anything when we were young.

We are also facing serious learning disability #3.  I'll say one thing, at least when our kids have challenges, they don't do it small.   Nope, by golly, if they are going to have an area of deficit, it is going to be "whole hog"...none of this, "Well, they are a little weak in math-writing-reading" stuff!  Haha!  No, we are going to be REALLY low in our area of challenge...Team LaJoy goes for the gusto in all we do!  We kind of like to keep it at about the third grade level, if that, when not worked with and remediated.

We have known all along that Olesya has issues with math, and have suspected Dyscalculia.  This past week, her inability to do basic math functions with real world questions came to the forefront, and it is obvious she has deficits well beyond what we initially thought.  When asked what 1000 plus 350 was, it took her almost 5 minutes to come up with the answer and even then she wasn't certain she had it correct.  When asked how long the Revolutionary War lasted when given the years, (8 years total), she couldn't figure out that it was a subtraction problem.  When trying to read a third grade level graphs, maps or charts, she can't do it.  She is like Kenny with his reading when it comes to math, it is like her brain is swiss cheese.  Some days, she does fine, other days, it is like she was never taught a thing.  We have done place value over and over again, and yet when asked this week to read the number 365,000 she read it as "thirty six hundred thousand and fifty". ::sigh::

And this is at 14 years old.

I reached out via Facebook, on online forums, and to the fabulous retired special ed. teacher who helped so much with Kenny.  While there were plenty of suggestions, there was little concrete help.  That's because Dyscalculia, which Olesya most surely has according to everyone, is something for which there is very little curriculum available and no real official test to diagnose it.  The most helpful suggestion came from the special ed. teacher who said that at 14, we need to be practical...we need to give her a calculator and start working on fundamental life skills math and let go of what she can't do.  It will take us years to get her solid in those basic skills, and we don't have years to waste.

And I feel like a loser, because it feels like I am giving in.  I know we need to acknowledge that there are some things we just can't fix, and I know we have already repeated fundamentals a gazillion times, but time is working against us these days, and our teen years are not the time to repeat first grade yet again.  Worse though, I feel like a loser because I am supremely ashamed to admit that I worry that others who know our kids will see their areas of disability and misunderstand...thinking I am doing a poor job of homeschooling them and judge me for it.  Isn't that a dandy thing for me to even think about?  What kind of mom does that?  Clearly, a rather self-centered, insecure one.

The kids appear to be  "normal" reasonably bright kids, then Matt will write something without his adaptive technology and people's eyebrows raise because they haven't got a clue what he was trying to say in writing. Or Kenny will be unable to provide someone with his address or phone number because he forgot it again, and they'll turn and look at me as if I am some sort of lazy, no good homeschooler who is guilty of academic neglect.  Or Olesya will be unable to tell someone what time it is, and I try to let her work it out rather than supply the answer, and again I'll get the look.

I am ashamed that I care what anyone else thinks about me, and whether I am doing a good job or not.  I'll admit though, I don't want others to think I don't care, that I am incapable, or that I have ruined our kids' futures. They have no idea what we deal with every single day, they have no understanding at all of the reality of what malnutrition, neglect, and lack of brain stimulation can do to a child...let alone the unknown factor of whether there was drug or alcohol abuse involved while our children were in utero.  All they'll do is make a snap judgment and see a kid who can't read, tell time, or write.  After all, "they look so normal".  That's because they ARE normal, they just have an area that is really hard for them, well beyond "not quite getting math".

Maybe I am just tired of juggling so many balls in the air, and inevitably some continue to crash to the ground no matter how hard I try to keep up with tossing them.  This is also a very long road, homeschooling all the way, and unlike others, I hold my breath almost daily, not really able to predict what the end result will be.  Most others who homeschool can see typical, realistic gains.  We hope we don't step back an entire grade level after two weeks off.

We have a very supportive group around us though, and they often have no idea how much that helps.  It's the little things that make a difference.  I know she didn't realize it, but a week ago our pastor gave me a much needed lift when someone was talking about their appreciation of how busy I am and how I am "trying to homeschool five kids" and Pastor Karen quickly jumped in to say something along the lines of  I was doing more than trying, I was doing a very good job of it.  She couldn't have known how I needed that sort of validation, and it meant a lot.  My "work" feels like it looks quite marginally performed on the outside, because some don't have the benefit of the knowledge of how far we've come.

Someone said to me last Sunday, "I have a hard time reading your Facebook posts because your family seems so perfect." and I laughed, saying, "You haven't been around long enough to know how imperfect we are." and I proceeded to share a bit with her about the past 15 years, about the rejection and hard earned love of children I held close in my heart, about financial struggles and feeling as if we are continually living somewhat on the edge, about learning disabilities and kids who couldn't read a lick until they were 13, or who witnessed awful things and needed time to learn to heal and trust.

You know what, though?  I still ended it with, "But in some ways, you are right, because I still see it is pretty perfect, even though I realize others wouldn't.  I guess I choose to celebrate that as often as I can, because it is just too hard if I don't."

Like our pastor's comment, the Spirit sends what we need when we need it.  Despite the hard week with school work, we had a couple of phenomenal moments I'd love to share, because I truly believe the sacred appears right before us but we are not always good at recognizing it.

I try to inject in our learning character issues, matters of social justice, and other things of spiritual concern.  No, I don't teach Bible...maybe one would say I do more teaching of what Jesus did, not what he said.  Friday afternoon, I showed the kids a TED talk, you may have seen it as it made the rounds on Facebook Lizzie Velasquez, TED Talk this week.  It was by Lizzie Velasquez, a young woman who has a disorder that causes her to be unable to gain weight.  While in high school someone uploaded a video of her to YouTube and named her "The World's Ugliest Woman".  Her TED talk was all about how do you define yourself, and making sure the world doesn't define you for you, but that you define who you are.  For those interested, here is the link:

After we viewed her talk, I asked each of the kids to share how they defined themselves.  They were all quiet for a few moments, and then Kenny started. He said, "I'm quick thinking, I am good at math, I am especially good at talking with people, and I feel God in my life.  I am a future business owner."  Angela quickly added for him, "You are also very kind.", then she said about herself, "I am a person with big dreams, I want to be a traveler, I want to help people somehow."  The other three were quiet until I nudged, and it was Olesya's turn as we went around the table.  "I am good with animals, I am a generous person, and I am good at writing."  Joshie said, "Hmmm...I am loving and I am a hard worker.  I am a pretty good student."  Matt was last and he said, "I am not sure.  I think I am smart at some things.  I am stable and responsible.  I am part of a great family.  I am just me!" he finished with a grin.

I sat there, realizing that my week was ending with special encouragement as I listened to our beloved ones share how they define themselves.  There were SO many other ways they might have defined who they were, and they would have been correct.  What I didn't hear was the really moving thing.  I didn't hear:

"I am an orphan.", "I am adopted", "I am a child who has witnessed great violence", "I am a kid with a cleft and speech problems", "I am a child who doesn't want people to get close to me", "I am stupid", "I am broken in some ways", "I am scared", "I am someone who was rejected by my own first parents", "I am worthless", "I am incapable".

Perhaps most important of all, there wasn't a single child defining themselves using the words, "I can't..."

There was no "I can't..."

I may be a complete flop at homeschooling.  I may never get Olesya to do Algebra, and I already know Matthew will never write intelligently without his computer by his side.  Kenny may or may not ever live on his own, Josh may cling to us forever, and Angela may never make it to be a world traveler.

But I have not failed.  I have not failed.  I have not failed!!  

I need to hold this one close for a good long while.  I need a reminder that our children feel capable, confident, loved and have dreams.  Somehow, and I am not really sure how, we instilled in them that they are worthy and they can succeed despite their start in life and despite any learning disabilities or other challenges they may have.

I have succeeded, even if the world never, ever sees it.

I sat quietly for a moment after they were finished, and I told them how astounded I was that they saw themselves in such positive, powerful ways.  I said, "The world will often see what you can't do, they will want to label you as 'adopted', 'incapable', or maybe cruelly even 'stupid' because there is something you can not do. They would be wrong, and I am glad you already know that."

Angela then said something that will stay with me forever.

"Mom, we were orphans, we were unloved, we were uneducated. We aren't anymore.  I know what you are saying, that other people will try and call us a certain thing, but we know who we are."

...and Josh said with a giggle, "We're LaJoy's!"

Sometimes I just shake my head in disbelief, because my life is something so wonderful I couldn't possibly make it up.

Yea, I said wonderful.  There's a difference between "perfect" and "wonderful", they are about a million miles apart.  


Carolyn Tarpey said...

What a beautiful post, I cried while reading it. I wanted to scream the whole time, Cindy you are the BEST MOST PERFECT MOM any child could hove. I related to so much of what you were saying. Henry has ver serious learning disables and yes, he has a wonderful team in place at his public school, I never stop worrying. If Henry was adopted older he would come home not reading, writing or anything let alone not talking either. Oh My God just to even think about it, just breaks my heart. He is not perfect but he is WONDERFUL to me and so are you children. To me it is far more important that your children feel loved, cherish, safe and confident then how well they read or write or do math. Cindy, you are a hero, my hero , your children's hero! Never forget that for a minute! (( hugs))

sandwichinwi said...

I don't think I've ever commented on your blog before, but I ran into you on the Sonlight forums and got hooked reading about your amazing trip to get your girls. Now I'm reading "toward the middle" having finished your trip reading forward, but also reading your current posts.

You are an amazing writer and I know you say your life and experiences are mundane sometimes, but the way you write brings them to life. I never feel like your posts are boring.

I also think you are an amazing mom and I wish I was able to build family togetherness the way you have. You clearly have a calling and a gift. Not saying you are a perfect family LOL; I think you keep it real, but you are so positive in your portrayal of even the hard times.

Anyway, we're not friends on FB, so I don't know what advice about math you've gotten there, but I wondered if you are using manipulatives and hands-on with Olyesa, and/or if that makes a difference. I don't know anything about dyscalulia either and whether hands-on helps.

Maybe I've missed it, but have you ever mentioned what kind of learner she is? My little guy, with some learning challenges, is SO, SO visual. In public school K, we drilled him and drilled him on his address and phone number and it was like starting anew each day. Then one day I thought to write it down for him and within 5 minutes, he knew it cold. Once he could SEE it, it sunk in. Some kids are that dramatically visual or auditory or kinesthetic.

One last thing, as I'm going on and on, is the biggest improvement I've seen in his math is the daily calendar math I've done with him for a year. It's so simple, yet it's really cemented so many basic concepts for him. Just in case you think it's something that could help, I'll share it. If it won't work for you, toss it out. You never know what's going to finally click.

Anyway, keep persevering at all you do with your amazing kids. They are going to do big things for God, as are you!