Just Rip the Bandaid Off

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I’m late writing my blog this week (story of my life anymore) because we went to the local high school last night to catch the encore performance of their production of Disney’s Newsies. It was a great show, and we got to see the best of what the public school environment has to offer kids. I’ll be going back to the high school today to enroll my almost 16-year-old son as a full-time student. If he has half as positive of an experience, I will feel very lucky indeed.

This decision was a long time coming. While I think it’s the best one for all of us, I’m stillĀ  nervous about it. My oldest son went to public school for his entire high school experience, and he did totally fine. He struggled with motivation and expectations which resulted in a few failed classes that put his ability to graduate in question, but he finally pulled it out in the end. He was completely oblivious to the social pressures. I’m not so sure that will be the case with my younger son. He’ll probably do fine academically and struggle with social skills. We’re taking that chance, though, because something has to change.

I’m not looking forward to enrolling him. The local principal isn’t exactly homeschool friendly, and the last thing you want to deal with when making a pretty dramatic shift like this in your schooling relationship with your child is someone looking down their nose and voicing the fact that you are failing in some way with your kid. I already feel it, thanks. Please just take his paperwork and do your job. Maybe she will, and maybe I’m just projecting. It’s possible. As a parent, you’re supposed to be able to be everything that your child needs, and we’re clearly not. He needs more structure, more expectations and more accountability than what we’ve given him. I hope they have it, and I hope it’s enough to wake him up, but at least we’ll all get a break if nothing else.

That sounds awful. I know it does. I told my husband the other day that it’s only been the last hundred years of history that mothers have been expected to manage what is essentially an adult male with raging hormones and zero impulse control. (Seriously, he’s like 6′ 2″.) It’s not fun for me. I don’t feel like I’m any good at it or that I have what it takes. I also feel like I’ve honestly and truly put 110% of my effort into directing and correcting him, and I need help at this point. He’s not my only child, and I have to have something left at the end of the day to parent them.

So, today I will put on my most professional and pulled-together face, gather our papers and go enroll my son is public high school. I’ll let whatever is said that could make me feel worse about it roll off my back, and we’ll get the job done. He needs a change. I need a change. We all need a change. There are resources available, and I’m taking them. I hope that it is just the medicine we all need at the end of the day. I know that it will at least give me enough respite to fight another day for both him and my other kids. Wish us luck.

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What’s Your Homeschooling Philosophy?

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Today, I worked on long division with my 11-year-old son. That was good times, right there. (If you aren’t picking up on the sarcasm, you definitely are NOT a homeschool mom.) When I had a Facebook friend suggest that she’d like to hear more about my take on homeschooling, I laughed inside. My short answer to her was, “Uh, I suck at it. But, we muddle through anyhow.” Still, I promised that I would think about it and share more with the, ahem, class. (See what I did there??)

I am not a born teacher. I hate planning ahead, and my attention span isn’t super high when I’m not actually interested in something. I’m not actually interested in long division. I am, however, interested in my kids, their futures and their lives. I suppose that is the biggest reason that I’ve walked this walk with them for so long, despite the fact that it’s really not my jam at all. I want to know where they are, what they’re doing and what’s going on with them.

People occasionally come to me and ask for my opinion on curriculum or teaching, and it’s a bit of a conundrum for me. I get why they do. I’ve been, in one way or another, directly keeping an eye on my kids’ education for, oh, 18 years? I’m still not that great at it, and I still don’t think I have much to offer by way of deep insights and experience. We have a basic system, I rely very heavily on my tools, and I encourage my kids to own their own education as soon as they’re able because I’m dropping balls all. the. time. Still, my kids have done okay with a very basic homeschooling philosophy.

  1. All kids have holes in their education. All. Of. Them. Public school kids muddle through and fall through the cracks all the time. Like my husband likes to say, “Don’t judge yourself from the bottom of the barrel!” Still, understanding that I’m meeting at least a basic standard takes the pressure off.
  2. A child can learn anything if they have a basic foundation and know how to learn. It’s hard to survive in a modern world without understanding the basics of reading and math, but you can literally learn anything you could ever want with those as tools, plus the Internet and YouTube. If you can’t do it all, focus on reading and math.
  3. I’ve made it a point to surround myself with a support team that is strong where I am weak. My sister has patiently taught all my teens to write. (She IS a born teacher!) I have two sisters-in-law that have been instrumental in helping almost every one of my kids learn to read. Working with co-ops has been a lifesaver for us through the years. It also serves as an accountability partner, keeping me more consistent.
  4. We keep what we need. (This is somewhat connected to point 2.) I was a straight A student in school, taking AP classes and higher math. I don’t use most of that. For the most part, I use middle school math on a regular basis, and that’s about what I remember. (Sorry, Trigonometry teacher!) My husband, on the other hand, was a C student on days he tried hard, and he knows way more math than me because, as a contractor, he uses it in his everyday life. We remember what we use, and we fill in the gaps when it becomes necessary for our work and life.
  5. I don’t have to know everything they need to learn. Use tools – they’re so readily available at this point. I use both a math and a language program that are mostly self-directing. (McRuffy Press and Teaching Textbooks, in case you’re wondering. We’ve been through a dozen over the years to find these.) If my kids need help with something that I don’t understand or remember myself, I find them resources.
  6. Your kids will always be better behaved for other people than they are for you. I have never seen my kids whine and complain for an outside teacher the way they do for me. You’re not failing when this happens. It is entirely normal. I am still not the most patient homeschool mom, but I’m a whole heck of a lot more patient after decades of dancing this dance with my kids than I otherwise would have been. And, I still lose it and say swear words some days. You probably will, too.
  7. Homeschooling is a part of our life – it’s something that we have to check off during the day – but, it isn’t my entire life. Allowing myself to spend time and mental energy outside of this commitment keeps it doable for me. I directly supervise kids that still need hands-on help and keep a loose eye of my kids that self-direct, and then I move on with the rest of my day without stress or guilt.

I’m a firm believer that there isn’t one way that is best for every family and every kid. I can’t say whether I’m doing a better or a worse job than if my kids were in public school. I can say that my (almost) 3 kids that have graduated or are near graduation are pretty well rounded. My oldest son is about halfway to earning a degree in software engineering while my oldest daughter works for a construction company and engineer doing drafting. I don’t have it all together by any means, but my kids really have turned out okay. I suppose that probably is the best way to sum up my philosophy around homeschooling – kids are resilient. They are born to learn. If we keep those doors open for them, they will. With or without us. At the end of the day, I just try not to get in the way of that too much.

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What Do You Do All Day?

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Last week I posted on my Facebook page asking people what they would like me to feature on the blog. I was surprised how curious people were about mundane, everyday things. Like what I do during my day. I think people have an idea that I have this very structured and disciplined life. I don’t. In fact, I hate that kind of thing. I tried to do Fly Lady when I was a young mom, and I hated its guts. (Go scrub the shower because the paper says to scrub the shower. No thanks.) Probably the number one priority for any “schedule” that I have is flexibility. I hate being tied into any particular strict timeline. On the flip side of that, I’m externally motivated, so I like to be accountable to other people. It’s weird, I guess, but it mostly works for me. While I don’t have a planner or an app or anything that locks me into anything particular, I guess my days have a general structure that is mostly consistent?

7-8:00- I don’t wake up at any particular time, but I’m usually stirring sometime between 7:00 and 8:00. My youngest kids come for snuggles, and I might hang out for a bit if we don’t have anywhere to go.

8:00-9:00- Shower, breakfast and coffee. Showering every day is a luxury that I have now that all my kids are moderately self sufficient, and I relish it. When I skip it, I feel draggy all day. If I’m in a hurry or he’s willing, my 11-year-old will make breakfast. He’s great at french toast, waffles and any kind of eggs. He loves to follow recipes and has become my best kitchen helper. (He’s also a bomb snow shoveler!)

9:00- On Tuesday, I help with a class in our homeschool co-op. (As in, I take notes and hand out tickets and shush the kids when they are noisy. I don’t actually teach anything.) I have to be out the door on Tuesday-Thursday by 9:00, either to make it to my class or to drop off kids at their classes. If it’s not a class day, I’ll often have my kids grab their books and finish them while I’m still in bed. If we get books done early, it usually only takes about an hour for the stuff that I have to supervise directly. Otherwise, I find myself nagging all day, and it drives me nuts. (Probably them, too, but it’s their own dang fault.)

Morning – I have pretty lazy and quiet mornings, usually. If I’m not spending all morning nagging my kids, I’m probably sewing or tracing a pattern or just wasting my time on Facebook. (Truth. LOL) If it’s driving me batty, I might wash the dishes. If I’m lucky, my kids might actually do their chores without too much trouble, but there’s lots of chores and lots of kids, so I’m usually reminding someone to do something throughout the day. If it’s not a school day, I’ll schedule appointments during the morning as needed, but that’s an occasional thing.

Afternoon – Regardless of the day, everyone is home from their classes by noon. Some days I have to ride my kids to finish their school books during this time of the day, and it’s always more of a battle than to get it out of the way first thing in the morning. Lunch happens somewhere in here. I usually do something simple for my 5- and 7-year-old like a sandwich or mac and cheese or leftovers, and my other kids make themselves whatever they want.

Generally, if my kids have chores and school done, we just have free time. I do projects or waste the whole afternoon on social media. They play with their friends or (gasp!) watch TV, and it’s pretty relaxed. My kids don’t have extracurricular classes, clubs, etc, really, until they are old enough to manage the commitments themselves. I did that for a while when my oldest kids were little, and I like my freedom better than running all the time. If I have errands to run or groceries to buy, I’ll usually plan them during the afternoon.

5:00 – I try to be sorting out dinner by now, especially this time of the year. I’ll make anything from pot roast to a casserole to soup.

Evening – My husband watches TV to decompress. I might hang out with him or continue a project if I left it halfway complete. And, though this will probably drive some of you in the crowd bonkers, I don’t clean my kitchen at night. While we’re overall pretty tidy, I leave it overnight and do it in the morning.

8:30 – I put my kids to bed around 8:30. I have a much thinner string of patience in the evenings, so we have a very quick and dirty “bedtime routine.” The only thing that’s an absolute given is that they have to brush their teeth because (and my kids can chant this with me at this point) “toothpaste is cheap, and dentists are expensive!” My kids have pajamas, but they usually sleep in their clothes because we’re that awesome. (If I tell my 5-year-old to put on pajamas, he’ll just put on a clean pair of clothes. Ha ha!) I do tuck them in every night, and they all sleep in their own rooms in their own beds for my own sanity. After decades of co-sleeping, I relish my space at night.

Honestly, there’s a ton more variation than it looks typed out on paper, but there’s a good chance that most days look something like this? This seems like the world’s most boring blog post to me because, well, my life is pretty boring. But, there you go. Now you know.

 

 

 

I Forgot My Kids Yesterday

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Don’t go throwing tomatoes at me or anything, but that title is, admittedly, clickbait. I didn’t ACTUALLY forgot my kids. Not that I haven’t done that before. Once. It happened one time. We drove to church in two vehicles, and both my husband and myself thought my youngest daughter had gone home with the other. We realized when we got home that neither of us had her, and were on our way back to get her when she got dropped off at home by a friend from church. We live all of a block and a half away, and she was only mildly traumatized. That’s the only time!

Yesterday, I knew where my kids were. They were at home. With me. My husband was out of town the day before, and I’d gotten up to make my kids some breakfast, then lazily climbed back into bed with a cup of coffee and my Facebook feed. (It’s been drizzly, grey, rainy, fall weather here. It’s kind of a cross between full-on fall and lingering Indian summer considering that my tomato plants are still alive! What the hey?!) Until my sister-in-law texted me, “Are your kids coming today?” Crap! It’s 9:05 on Wednesday! They’re supposed to be at their reading class. Gah! So, I frantically instructed them to get dressed, get their shoes on, find their coats and I did the world’s fastest (worst) hair brush on my daughter before we ran to the car and dropped them off 20 minutes late. (She also lives just two blocks away.)

THIS has happened before. More than once. Heh. Luckily, I work with other moms who also have real lives and understand that some days just go off. To be fair, I don’t have a set schedule that is the same for all my kids on every day of the week. I’m not getting all my kids up every morning and getting them on the bus before I get on with my day. (Though, I have longingly realized more than once this year that ALL my kids would be in school at this point if that was our life.) We go in all different directions with a different schedule all through the week. Normally, I keep track of the littles pretty well, and my older kids just manage themselves. But, when what I can only loosely call a routine gets thrown off, I drop balls. There was probably a time that I would have been bothered by that, but it’s kind of par for the course now.

One of the points of this blog, I think, is to communicate that you’re not alone. Life is complicated. At the risk of being cliche, we compare our own outtakes to other people’s highlights, and that’s not real life. While Pinterest-worthy moments look warm and fuzzy on social media, my life is really full of flubs, mess-ups and dropped balls. I’m more likely to forgot to bring my kids to class than to painstakingly document our afternoon baking adventure. (Just kidding. At best, my kids would be watching my daughters make something. Ha ha!) The good news is that when my children grow up, they will also likely live real, imperfect lives. At least they’ll be prepared. There’s that.

I Have Homeschooling PTSD

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I seriously HATE doing school with my 11-year-old. I think people have the mistaken idea that homeschooling moms have extra patience; what I really have is PTSD. Don’t get me wrong – he’s a smart kid, but he just hates school, especially language/phonics. He’s been doing similar stuff for years, but he still acts like putting things in alphabetical order is akin to college-level calculus. Some days I just roll with this, but other days it makes me want to stab something with an ice pick. With my first four kids, I participated in a private/co-op school, and I wasn’t exclusively responsible for teaching any of them to read, and I have that same advantage with my kids now. My oldest was reading chapter books at 6, and my other kids were pretty much on-track as well, though some (my adult daughter) aren’t much for reading for fun. We had moved when my 11–year-old was in kindy, so it was up to me at that point. And, I suck at teaching reading, apparently. It is tedious, brain-melting work when a kid isn’t particularly cooperative. While he’s pretty much caught up in his reading skills now, it was slow going, and he’s still a really bad speller.

I am not a good teacher. Not even close. I have both a sister and two sisters-in-law that are unbelievable early elementary teachers – as good as any that I’ve met with a degree. They are creative, committed, enthusiastic and come to their class prepared every single time. That’s not me. I show up and get it done, but it’s pretty utilitarian. That works fine for my kids that don’t mind school. (My 7-year-old daughter has always been completely into learning, and we get everything done and out of the way in record time.) If all my kids were like that, I’d probably be one of those self-righteous moms that thinks that parents with kids that struggle are just slackers. I mean, I am a bit of a homeschool slacker, but it’s not an issue with most of my kids. Luckily for me, kids are pretty dang resilient, despite our failings. My kids do fine, in spite of me, really, rather than because of me. My oldest son is studying for a degree in computer science, my adult daughter works at an office job for an engineer, and my 17-year-old works part-time around her class schedule and teaches piano, so I’ve done okay so far.

I think (at least, I really hope so) that all moms have things like this – things that we have to do, that are important to us even, but that we really aren’t that great at. I consider myself extremely lucky to have other moms around me that are also passionate about creating a healthy learning environment for kids and are willing to spread that love around. While I’m sure that more of you public school than not, the idea of having a tribe in your corner is pretty universal. My co-op tribe inspires my kids and brings out the best in them in a way that I just can’t. (For example, I have never heard my 11-year-old whine at a co-op teacher. Ever. He just does his best and gets on with it.) They tell me that they appreciate what I bring to the table, though I can’t help but feel that I get the better end of the deal. Sometimes, just knowing that someone else knows what you’re dealing with makes it so you can get up and fight (hopefully not with your kid – Ha!) another day. That, in my opinion, is priceless, indeed.