Thursday, August 23, 2012

My Parents Forced Me to Write This Blog

We're starting an adventure in homeschooling/unschooling. As part of a language arts program, we've set our nearly 12 year old son up on his own blog. He chose to name it "My Parents Forced Me To Write This Blog" ( This is his first effort. It was very similar to pulling teeth. Hopefully he'll get better at it with time. Enjoy!

Friday, May 18, 2012

First You Have to Crack Some Eggs

Jack helped me make brownies today. He'd never really helped me in the kitchen before (not that I actually do that much cooking anyway), so I thought it was time he at least learned how to crack an egg. I helped him with the first egg. Thought if I showed him just how much (how little?) force you actually need to crack an egg he'd get the idea. First egg went great. Second egg: barely tapped it enough to crack it, so when he tried to pull the shell apart, the whole egg went splat on the floor. Much giggling and hilarity ensued. Also gagging. Raw eggs are kind of gross. Especially if you've never handled one before.

Eventually we had two eggs, sans shells, in a small bowl and were able to proceed. I had him pour out the brownie mix (yes, it still qualifies as cooking when you're using a mix!) into a mixing bowl. I let him measure the oil and the tablespoon of water (really? One tablespoon of water? Why bother!). I let him stir a bit, then finished mixing it. He helped me pour the goo into the pan.

"Would you like to lick the bowl?" I asked. That was always my favorite part of baking with my mom. I always wished she would leave a little more to lick in the bowl, rather than baking it all.

Although he tasted a microscopic portion on the end of his finger, my boy is not a bowl-licker. "Ewwwww, gross!" Okay, more for me.

I showed him how to preheat the oven to 325 degrees, and we slid the pan into the oven. "Bake for 12-14 minutes." I set the timer to 13 minutes, thinking I'd be safe splitting the difference. 13 minutes later, the edges were done, but the middle was still pretty runny. Okay, one more minute. Still pretty runny, but I thought maybe they'd get firmer as they cooled. Checked a few minutes later. Still runny.

Back into the oven. Eventually I re-checked the back of the box and discovered I'd misread the instructions. An 8x8 pan requires 55 minutes. I was looking at the brownie cookie recipe. Ugh! Back into the oven. Still waiting. Hope the end result is edible, or Jack will never want to help me cook again.

This homeschooling stuff is great. Not only is Jack learning something new, but I am too! Maybe we should take a cooking class together!

Monday, April 30, 2012

No Place Like Home

It's been almost two months since we pulled Jack out of school, and I have to say he's a very different boy. We've weaned him off two of his medications (what kind of statement is it that you have to medicate a kid to cope with school?), and his appetite has returned to the point that we can't keep him filled up. This is a new experience for me, cause he was always the kid I had to remember to feed. When my friends complained that their kids were always hungry, I'd look at mine and say, "Oh yeah. Haven't offered food in a while. Maybe he should eat."

We've spent the last few weeks decompressing. He sleeps as late as he needs to in the morning (still up before me most mornings), he eats when he's hungry (which is most of the time) and pretty much does what he wants. Yes, he's playing a lot of video games and spending more time on the computer, but everything is learning. His video games have provoked an interest in learning about World War II, so we've watched some shows on the Military Channel about Hitler and D-Day. We've taken walks with the dogs by the creek and seen red-winged blackbirds, herons, egrets, ducks and turtles. Today we saw what seems to be either a beaver dam or an otter lodge, not sure which. I joke with him that we just had science class and PE all at the same time.

He just seems like a happier kid. He talks to us again! Charlie has noticed that Jack will come out and say good morning, where he didn't before. He never used to talk to his dad at all. He was pretty much shut down. We think he was probably depressed.

I have him signed up to start a program in the fall, but for now we're just doing our own thing. "Unschooling." Following our own interests. I've connected with a group of homeschooling moms and we've been on a couple of field trips. We went to the Jelly Belly Factory. We had a park & pizza night. We went to a semi-formal dinner the other night where the kids practiced their manners while enjoying each others' company.

Sundays are a lot calmer in our house. No more dreading going back to school the next day. No more whining and crying about hating school. I wish we'd done this a long time ago.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Mean Girls

My very dear friend Melinda posted this on Facebook a little while ago. She said I could share. In fact she asked me to share this with as many people as possible. Bullying has to stop. Now. This particular case makes me so especially sad. If you knew Sierra like we do, you'd know that she is a sweet, compassionate, sincere little person who was so looking forward to starting middle school this year that she actually cried when the start of school was delayed by our local emergency in August (Disaster on Our Doorstep). She doesn't deserve to be treated this way, nor does any child. She's a tall, beautiful girl, and I'm thinking the other girls are just jealous. And mean. Really mean. Is it wrong to label eleven and twelve year old girls bitches? Because they are. And they need to stop. Now.

Here's Melinda's post:

I've been silent on this for a while, but it was suggested today that my silence may not be the best thing. Sierra has had a difficult year transitioning to middle school. To compound this, she has been having to contend with bullies. My sweet little girl goes to school every day where she is called a whore, douche bag and worse. They hide her backpack, punch her in the stomach and follow her to the library to torment her at lunch. The school has given me great lip service,but nothing has changed. The problem has only gotten worse. I know what I need to do and am exploring different options at keeping Sierra in a safe environment. Twelve Bridges Middle School has failed to provide my child with a safe environment and quite frankly I don't give a shit about their budget cuts and limited resources.

I told her she needn't worry about the school's budget cuts and their limited resources. They're not protecting her child, and she needs to get her the heck out of there. Our first priority is our children. Always. Long-term bullying is death to a child's self-esteem. In fact, Sierra has already told her mother she doesn't want to leave her school. If she leaves, "they'll just pick on someone else." And they probably will. But that's not Sierra's problem. Sierra deserves to be in a safe environment. Every child does. Sierra and every child needs to feel valued for his or her individual gifts. Every child is special. Every child is precious.

The hatefulness and the meanness needs to stop. It should not be tolerated anywhere in our society, least of all in our schools where children are supposedly being taught to be good citizens. To be a productive part of our society. I think the schools are teaching the wrong lessons.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

No Going Back

It's been four days since we pulled Jack out of school. Right now we're in the decompression stage. We're realizing how much stress he's been under in his school environment. Nothing against the school. It's a very good school, and we always felt lucky to be a part of that community. We made some really good friends there and had some fun times together. But we've realized that because of his disability, a lot of Jack's energy has been spent just coping with the environment of school. For a child with ADHD and sensory issues in addition to his autism, it's really hard to hold yourself together in such a structured environment for seven hours a day. For him, it was just too much pressure.

When I was in school, even though I was a good student, it wasn't my favorite place to be. But I tolerated it for the privilege of spending all day in the company of my peers. I was always ready for vacation, but at the end of a long break I would always look forward to seeing my friends again. Jack is a very different kid. Even at the end of summer vacation, after having had nearly three months off, he never wanted to go back to school. 

"Don't you want to see your friends?" I'd ask.

"No. I can see my friends without going to school. School is like being in prison. I hate school."

I don't think we realized how really bad it was for him. Every morning getting him ready for school was so stressful for all of us. He'd tell me how much he hated going to school and how awful it was. I don't blame his teacher or the school. I'm sure there are lots of kids there who are perfectly happy. Just not mine.

Now that we've finally made the decision to keep him home, I don't know why we didn't do this a long time ago. He's so much calmer now. He's not stressed. I'm not stressed by having to fight with him about going to school. We don't have to stress about homework. Learning can be an adventure again and not a chore.

His teacher invited him to come back to school to enjoy one last recess with his friends and to say goodbye. He doesn't want to go, which makes me sad. Just the idea of going back to school--even for a visit--is anathema for him. No class reunions in Jack's future. What's done is done. There's no looking back.

We're looking forward, though, to adventures in homeschooling. There's a whole new world in front of us.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Freedom Academy

We finally did it. After talking about it for months and months--or has it been years?--we finally pulled Jack out of school this week. We're taking the plunge into homeschool. We're not mad at anybody. There was no particular incident that decided us. But after years of hearing your child say he hates school and it's torture for him, when he lies on the floor every morning and cries, "I don't want to go to school. I hate it there. Please don't make me go," it's time to pull the plug. He was in a very good school. It just wasn't the right place for him.

We were hoping he'd be able to finish the school year with his friends. He's been with mostly the same group of friends since kindergarten, some since preschool. We were hoping to see him graduate with his buddies, but it's just not to be. We all feel like we've been beating our heads against a brick wall for years now. It feels so good to finally stop!

Our hope is to establish a kind of free-range schooling style. Now that school is not a brick and mortar environment, learning is everywhere! Going to the store is a field trip! Watching a documentary about bugs is a science lesson. We had a conversation about World War II the other day in the car, and Jack expressed an interest in learning more. Now that he's not in school so much of his day, he's not so resistant to learning something in his "off" time.

The past couple of mornings Jack has been the first one up. No longer worried about having to get ready for school, he looks forward to just being at home. We'll probably put him into a more formal homeschooling program down the road, but for now we're all just decompressing. Taking some time to unwind and think about which way we want to go now that we're able to map our own educational journey.

I'm going to a support group for homeschooling moms tonight. I'm looking forward to meeting some other moms in our area, looking forward to building a new community. It's kind of a bittersweet process. We're all glad to be free, and yet we'll miss his friends from school. We still hope to see them, but it won't be the same now that they won't be together every day.

There's a sense of adventure in our house, though. Charlie was talking to Jack this morning and he said, "You know, Mom and I are a little nervous about this homeschooling thing. It's kind of scary."

"Don't worry," Jack said. "You'll figure it out. Pretty soon you'll be experts!"

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Loved and Adored

The screensaver on my computer rotates randomly through the photos in my "Pictures" folders. Needless to say, many (most) of these pictures are of Jack. Many times I'll be passing by the laptop or sitting down to do something and be captivated by the photo on the screen. "Awwww, look how cute you were!"

This morning I caught a photo of Jack's first haircut. "Awwww, look how cute you were!"

"Yeah, yeah," groans Jack. "You always say that. Why do you have so many pictures of me when I was a baby?"

"Because you are loved and adored!" I told him.

Loved and adored. It's true. I waited a very long time for my baby. Motherhood was my heart's desire for many, many years before my prayers were finally answered. I was over the moon when I found out our baby was on the way. The morning he was born felt like Christmas in September. No baby was ever more loved, adored or wanted than was our Jack. I could be moved to tears just listening to him breath over the baby monitor. My little miracle boy!

I remember hearing a friend gush about her new baby, "It's like a new love. It's like that new boyfriend that you're just madly in love with and want to spend every minute of every day with. When you're away from him, you miss him and can't wait to get back to him. It's like that." When Jack was born, I knew exactly what she meant.

I used to stare at him in amazement as he slept or played on the floor, marveling that this beautiful little person was ours. I remember being so surprised that the love for your own child could be so different than the love you feel for other people's children: nieces and nephews, your friends' babies. Not that I loved any of them less, but the love I felt for this little person was so overwhelming! I would walk through fire for him. I can't be the only mommy feeling sorry for the other mommies at the playground because their kid wasn't as cute as mine, can I?

My point in telling you all this is not to say that I love my child more than anybody else. I know other parents are reading this who love their amazing children in exactly the same way. I'm so proud to be a part of that community. I just wanted to share this with you so you could nod your head and say, "I know, right?!"*

*Currently Jack's favorite expression. :-)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

What If They Had a Science Fair and Nobody Came?

Shortly after the Christmas holidays, information started coming home from school about the annual Science Fair. The damn Science Fair! Words that clench my stomach and turn my dreams to nightmares. Other parents tell me their kids actually have fun doing their science project and look forward to it. They enjoy spending time thinking about what kind of project they'll do and planning their experiments. Not my kid. Unfortunately, Jack has zero interest in science, science projects and the annual Science Fair. He's not a science kid--aside from computer science--so getting him to do a project for the Science Fair is about as much fun as trying to give a cat a bath.

His school requires all 4th, 5th and 6th graders to participate in the Science Fair every spring. In 4th grade, he and Charlie investigated the freezing times of different substances (water, apple juice, root beer). The biggest revelation of that project was the discovery of root beer slushies. Yum!

Last year I tried to make it interesting by choosing a video game-related subject: "Do Boys and Girls Like the Same Video Games?" He still had very little interest in participating, so I pretty much did most of the work myself.

This year Charlie initially said he would do the science project, but after perusing the first few pages of the 34-page 6th Grade Science Fair Student Handbook for 2012, he decided enough was enough. What's the point of attempting to complete a project that's only going to stress out everybody in the family? What kind of lesson does that teach to anybody? If we as adults were overwhelmed by the whole thing, how does our child feel? We decided we just weren't gonna do it this year. Hell no, we won't go!

After going back and forth with the school, we've come to a compromise. The 504 agreement we set up in August determined that his homework is limited to 20-30 minutes a day maximum, due to his disability. For this reason, the majority of his science project will be done in class, supervised by his teacher (bless her heart!). She's modified the project to suit his interests. He's doing a study of the ergonomics of playing video games: whether you make better scores in different playing positions (sitting in a chair vs. lying on the floor).

Whew! What a relief! I feel like a weight has been lifted off the whole family. Am I alone in this? Surely there must be other parents out there who feel as we do that the whole Science Fair thing is out of control. It's just too much.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

There Must Be Consequences!

Max Burkholder (Max Braverman on NBC's Parenthood)
I have such a love/hate relationship with the NBC show "Parenthood." On the one hand, I love that they have a character who has Aspergers, and little Max Burkholder, who plays Max Braverman, does a wonderful job portraying the behaviors typical of a child with high-functioning Autism. Someone very much like my Jack. That's why it upsets me so much when they handle storylines so poorly. Even though they go out of their way to write Aspergers into the show, sometimes they seem to forget that Max actually does have Autism. This week was one of those times.

At the start of the episode, the family is preparing for a weekend road trip, and Max is playing a video game. After his mom Kristina tells him several times to turn off the game and Max keeps saying he's almost done, Kristina marches over and snaps off both the television and the gaming system. Anyone who has a child on the spectrum can tell you what happens next. Of course, Max has a giant meltdown, which includes calling his mother a bitch. Hello! Did you forget your child has Autism? Did you expect any other response when you just figuratively slapped him across the face?

But does Max's mother take any ownership of her part in the meltdown and remember her child has Autism? No! She proclaims, "There must be consequences for his behavior!" Max is grounded for calling his mother a bad name and forbidden to go on the family trip. Kristina ends up staying home with him and his infant sister while everyone else goes to Grandma's.

I've been in that exact situation. I once grabbed a Nintendo DS out of Jack's hands because he didn't seem to be listening to me, and I'm here to tell you we both learned a hard lesson that day. The meltdown that ensued was extremely painful and emotional for both of us. He not only called me a bitch, but he told me he hated me and he'd never loved me. He was 9. By the time it was over, we were both crying and upset, but I realized that I was the one who provoked that meltdown. I was the one who threw the switch and sent his brain spiraling out of control.

Kids with Autism have low tolerance for frustration. They don't like transitions. In Max's mind (and Jack's) his mom just destroyed all the progress he'd made in the game he was hyperfocused on, just as effectively as a bomb blowing up in his face. It's too much sensory input and a meltdown ensues.

How can you punish someone for the way their brain works? Would you punish an epileptic for having a seizure when you shine a light in his face? Would you punish a diabetic for going into insulin shock when you forced her to eat sugar? Would you punish a child with dyslexia for not being able to read?

Once again this is the age old assumption that children have "tantrums" due to bad parenting. Very, very hurtful to someone who has a child who has these outbursts. He's not a brat. He has Autism. A little more compassion, a little less judgement. 

Once Jack had calmed down after his meltdown, we hugged and apologized to each other. We both cried. I told him I was sorry that I grabbed his DS out of his hands, and he told me that he was sorry he said all those mean things to me when he was angry. He didn't mean any of those things. He was just so upset he was using his words as weapons.

We don't believe in punishment just for the sake of punishment. Real life has its own consequences. If you say mean words to people in anger, the punishment is watching the person you love cry. Isn't that punishment enough?