Why I Hate Homeschooling

Look.  Let’s be honest, I never wanted to homeschool.  I did it out of love because I didn’t want to subject the love of my life to any further stress or anxiety of being in the wrong placement in our inept school district.  I love this child dearly, deeply, with a love I have never known until he stirred in my tummy in 2009, But I HATE homeschooling.  Ok, hate is an awfully strong word.  (My mom always used to get mad when we used the word “hate.”) Maybe I don’t HATE hate it, but there are lots of things I don’t enjoy about homeschooling … and a handful of things I actually do enjoy about homeschooling. Maybe I just despise it, but I’m focusing on the things I hate right now.

REASONS WHY I HATE HOMESCHOOLING:

  1.  Not My Cup Of Tea: I’m not made for homeschooling (personality-wise.)  I’m too type-a, too stressed out, I’m not laid back enough.  I try, believe me, I try. I see my friends who homeschool — they are sooooo laid back, so easy-breezy, so ‘type-b’.  But me?  I’m a planner, and while I can be fun and say “let’s have a ditch day today” every once in a while, I’m constantly stressed out about what comes next. And I won’t let The Boy slack off more than once in a while because I know how important a routine is for him.  And if he thinks he can take a day off every Friday, he is expecting it every Friday!  So I try not to.  Weekends aren’t even fun for me.  By mid-day Sunday, I’m stressing out because I need a block of 3 hours to lesson plan for the following week.  A block of 3 hours ALONE.  The Husband considered this “me time.”  That makes me grind my teeth & want to give him a swift kick to the nuts.  Lesson planning is TIME CONSUMING and guess what I have very little of?  TIME!
  2. Time Consuming: Speaking of TIME & how little of it I have to prepare for what-comes-next, I now have pretty much ZERO “me time.”  (You should see my nails!  You should see my *once organized* closet, or any of the kitchen drawers!)  Why was my last blog post 9 months ago?  GUESS!  I was busy homeschooling!!  Who has time to blog at the end of the day.  I mean, homeschooling is like a full-time job on top of my already full-time job of being a stay-at-home-mom / boss-of-the-house!  If I could connect a wire from my brain to my laptop, I could blog around 11pm, because I have things to say, believe me … and they all come flooding into my head when it hits the pillow and I’m too exhausted to move, let alone blog!
  3. Not An Educator: What the hell am I doing?  I feel overwhelmed pretty much constantly because I have no clue what I’m doing.  I have a degree in Acting & Theatre Arts … and a second degree in English.  What don’t I have?  A Masters in Education.  So I struggle.  Seriously.  I have no clue as to what the hell I’m doing half the time. I mean, there’s no one place where you can go to find everything you need.  (Can someone please make this!?) I have to collect stuff from this book and that one, this website and that one, then I have to streamline all of the subjects so that it’s one cohesive over-arching theme … EVERY FREAKING WEEK!  And it has to be fun, interesting, engaging … and educational.  And really, some weeks I just can’t, I just don’t feel like doing it at all … It actually reminds me of my own plight with homework in high school, so I wing it, which I hate.  I’m not a wing-it kind of woman. Because when I wing it, I end up feeling like more of a failure.
  4. My Student Is An Aspie: The Boy, of course, isn’t a neuro-typical kid, so I can’t ever leave him to his own devices while we’re doing school – he needs constant behavior management & supervision.  I have stickers, mini cookies, jellybeans, fuzzies & owls.  He completes a small part of one task = cookie; completes more = cookie & sticker; completes a segment or a lesson = fuzzy & owl. Immediate rewards, long-term rewards, short-term rewards, yes, we have them all!!  Laptop, iPad, worksheets, white boards?  Yes, yes, yes, and yes.  Maybe if he were a neuro-typical child, it would be easier.  Maybe if I weren’t his mom it would be easier.  I don’t know.  He fights with me on every.little.thing, most of the time, and views himself as my “equal.”  He wants to call the shots, he wants to be the teacher.  And I do let him have a say about curriculum and schedule … to some extent.  But holy moly.  I feel like I’ve survived a battle most days.  Honestly, it’s exhausting.  I have to think at least 3 steps ahead of him all the time!  I prepare for every moment of our day, school and beyond. .sigh. Did I mention that it’s exhausting?
  5. Melt-downs:  Have I mentioned my kid has epic 45-minute, physical / verbal / emotional violent meltdowns?  Have I told you that these meltdowns are directed at me?  Have I explained that it’s mentally & physically exhausting to deal with a 5-year-old Aspie’s aggressive attack at 9:16 in the morning?  It’s intense.  It makes you want start chugging wine at 9:42am.  It makes you want to put his shoes & socks on, and drag him down to the shitty school I pulled him out of last December, and say “good luck, dude!  Be someone else’s problem!”  But you know I won’t do that because I love him too much, and I won’t ever give up on him.  But it isn’t always easy.

To be fair … I have to be fair because I was born on the cusp of Libra & fairness is a big deal to me.  I have to be fair, so I have to tell you that a) I’m totally bleeding right now & just in a bitchy, hormonal mood (but my reasons for hating homeschooling are valid!) and; b) there are some things I legitimately like about homeschooling, (which is what I focus on when I want to throw the towel, drive to a winery in Santa Barbara and just be done.)

OK, OK, REASONS I ACTUALLY ENJOY HOMESCHOOLING:

  1.  I Never Miss A Thing: I love that I get to have him here, around me, all of the time.  We (usually) have a lot of fun together – he is so damn smart, and so much fun. I love knowing what he is doing, what he is learning, who he is listening to … I love being the BOSS of what he is doing, learning and listening to!  He is no longer influenced by some unknown, happy-meal-loving, junk-food-eating, crap-manners kid with absolutely no personal hygiene.
  2. Our Day Is Our Own: There is no one lording over us with a schedule and a common core curriculum, or standardized tests, (which I do NOT believe in!)  Or homework, (which I also do not believe in … especially for a child his age.) We can go down rabbit holes of subjects that are of real interest … like, when I started teaching science this year, I opened the book and it started with earth science, which The Boy was like “meh.” Ok, clouds, yay.  But that wasn’t what he was really excited about.  He was really excited about sea animals.  He was totally into Octonauts at the beginning of the year, and so I said to myself, “hmm … let’s just close the book and make up our own curriculum for science.”  I printed out a bunch of blank “animal reports” and each week we picked a different sea animal to study & write a report about.  We went to the aquarium, we watched videos on youtube.  We went to the library & researched a different sea animal each week … He was so engaged in our science studies.  We did our own thing.  You can’t do that in any other school besides your own.
  3. Fundraisers:  THERE ARE NONE!  Enough said : )
  4. Parent-Teacher Conferences:  Oh, they happen … with me, my hubby and a glass of wine : )  Waaaay more fun than the alternative!
  5. Creativity & Playfulness:  I love that I’m able to foster a creative environment where we are playful & silly … where we use story-telling and silly voices to educate.  That is important to me & no way in the world would a typical school district create a classroom designed to stimulate the innate creativity in a child and really figure out how that child’s learning style can be utilized.

See … when I look at the (2nd) list above, I think – yeah, this is ok, i can do this homeschooling thing!  I get all pumped up.  Then Sunday comes and I start stressing about the week.  But then I take 3 hours and get ready.  Then Monday comes, and it’s a struggle to get him to engage and focus, and I think “this sucks.”  It’s like 6 of 1, half dozen of another.  It’s a conundrum.  I’m so torn.

And then I think about The Boy … and I think about what all of the professional psychologists have said to us … He should be in a small classroom environment with typical children (or children who are JUST like him.)  And I know how social he is … how much he loves to have friends and be around other kids.  I tried to find homeschooling co-ops, but there are no appropriate groups that are near us that would work for our schedule.

So I went to see a special education attorney (finally) and she thinks I have a case against the district & long story short, I’m suing the school district on behalf of The Boy to get the services I believe he deserves: A small classroom setting with typical peers & possibly a therapeutic companion for a (hopefully) short-term time period, to get adjusted.

In the meantime, we’re still homeschooling : ) and I’m still going back and forth with my love / hate relationship with homeschooling.  But I want you mamas (and dads ) to know that it is totally ok to not love homeschooling, to think you suck at it (you probably do not!) and to doubt your decisions.  Look … at the end of the day – our kids need US.  And they will learn the stuff they need to, but developing the “whole child” is more important than having them be able to recite facts back to you. Don’t stress out.  Try and have fun (I need to take my own advice!)  Just do the best you can because that’s really all you CAN do!

Each week I set a goal & when The Boy gets 20 fuzzies, he can pick from the grab bag!

Each week I set a goal & when The Boy gets 20 fuzzies, he can pick from the grab bag!

The fuzzies!

The fuzzies!

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back …

Just when I think we’re really turning a corner, that maybe The Boy doesn’t have Aspergers after all, that maybe he’s just got a few quirks, and maybe just some random behavioral stuff that we’re fixing, he regresses & picks up some new undesired behavior: Licking.  Me, my clothes, his clothes, The Husband, the cat, the furniture & chews / sucks on his clothes & blankets.  This came out of nowhere.  As did the periodic biting.  The Boy just bit my arm something awful – I seriously wanted to cry.  He felt bad about it, too.  Like I’ve said before, sometimes I think he just can’t control his body.

We’ve had a string of “good” days, where I see lots of “good” choices, (we’re constantly using the phrase “make good choices” with him, so he understands the difference.)  Like, on Christmas, we were so impressed with how wonderfully well-behaved he was at Grandma’s house, with his two younger cousins – hands to himself & taking breaks when he needed to have some alone time.

And then we hit a bump in the road & a “wild” & “challenging” day, like today … Maybe it was the excitement of the holidays?  Maybe it was being cooped up in this house for the past couple of days, since it’s been way too cold & windy to go outside.  And my little Aspie doesn’t want to venture out to play usually.  Outside play is something I have to sort of force, unless it’s the park, and quite frankly, I just wasn’t in the mood to do anything more than “suggest.”  In any case, I can sit here and rack my brain for hours trying to figure out what triggers things in him.  It isn’t his diet, it isn’t lack of sleep, it isn’t being around other kids … what then?   I. Don’t. Know.  That’s all I can conclude.

So I crack open my books & read, then log on to the laptop and search.  “Licking.”  Sensory issues, hypo-sensory stuff, not getting enough through the senses that they need more input.  Well, maybe.  Yes, The Boy often craves more sensory input, and that’s why he rams into me, crashes into us, furniture, jumps around on the floor & hangs upside down, but I wonder if some of it isn’t him mimicking our cats?  Or because I jokingly told him a few weeks back that I was going to bite off his cute little nose.  Here again, I don’t know.  And the “not knowing” for me is so frustrating that I want to cry.  I just want to know why, so that I can find the best way to help the situation.

And then there’s the potty training again.  One day he is marvelous – no accidents, goes when I tell him it’s time to take a potty break, (of course with “treats” being promised afterward, or threats of me taking away a toy when the treats won’t work,) or he will actually listen to his body & tell US when he needs to go.  The next day, it’s all out flinging himself on the floor melt-downs when I tell him it’s time to take a potty break.  Coaxing, promising treats, threatening to take away toys – nothing will work!!  I don’t understand why one day is so different from the next.  Am I the only mother of an Aspie who is constantly asking herself WHY?  Why the big shifts in his progress?  I just don’t know.

Two steps forward and one step back.  I guess that’s just the way things go in his world.  I’m going to have to learn to accept that & not be so analytical about the “why,” lest I drive myself nuts in the process!  Funny thing is, he says “two steps forward one step back … that’s how you dance” to me a lot.  (He picked up the line from Madagascar 3, by the way.)  So I guess this is our dance, me & The Boy.  Two steps forward, one step back.

A is for Asperger …

It’s a long story, well, really not that long – it’s only been since April of this year that we were told by a Psychologist that our son (then 2 1/2) was going to be diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome.  It still makes me tear up when I type that out.  Not because it’s a death sentence – I mean, it’s not like my son has cancer – but because life is already tough enough without having the added difficulties of a neurodevelopment disorder.   Like every loving parent, I want to my son to have any and all advantages he could in life, and hearing that he was probably going to have some big hurdles to overcome made my heart sink a little.  I went though the range of emotions: disbelief, shock, anger, rationalization, denial, depression & finally acceptance.  But … let me begin at the beginning.

I had a pretty normal pregnancy, nothing major to report, (except for gut wrenching nausea & some debilitating migraines for the first 16 weeks!)  Toward the end, my blood pressure was elevated & I was eager to meet this little human who had been incubating inside of me for so long.  It is safe to say that I was impatient & my doctor agreed that if I went past my due date, he would induce based on my high blood pressure.  So that’s what we did.  The induction did not work & I was given the choice to go home & then come back to the hospital in 2 days & try it again.  I’m a stubborn gal & I looked at my husband and said “I’m not leaving this hospital without a baby.”  So the decision was made to have a c-section that evening.

Our Boy was born perfectly healthy, 7lbs / 9 oz & 19.5 inches long.  No issues, and we left for home 3 days later.  He was a great baby, latched on & was a champ at breast-feeding … until my milk dried up.  We sleep-trained him at about 4 months & I taught him to sign when was 6 months old.  He hit all of his milestones either early or right on time.  No issues to report – he developed amazing speech skills, made eye contact, and smiled at us a lot.  There were no red flags for the first two years of his life.  He did cute and curious things that we didn’t realize may have been indications of Asperger Syndrome.  Things like:

  • What we called the “stompy dance.”  When he began walking, he would just stop and stomp his feet around – it was really so adorable.  Now I know that he might have been looking for extra sensory input. (And looking back even further when he was just a baby, he loved that crazy jumperoo thing that hung in the doorway – could jump in that thing for HOURS!)
  • He could spend inordinate amounts of time looking at himself in the mirror, (luckily we have mirrored closets, so he could enjoy his reflection for quite a while.)
  • He would (and still does) spin around and around.  (Again, seeking that sensation of feeling dizzy.)
  • Bending over to hang upside down to get that same sensation.  (He still does this.)
  • Odd repetitive speech patterns: “taka-taka-taka” (Still does this as well.)
  • He has always loved to swing … it’s the only thing he wants to do at the park most days.
  • Banging or throwing his toys on the floor or the table – which would literally drive me to drink (don’t worry, I waited until 5pm for my glass of wine, but boy oh boy did I need it after hours and hours of hearing toys slam on the floor.)  Luckily, we have pretty much eradicated this behavior!
  • Flipping over his toy trucks & cars to watch the wheels spin.  (He will occasionally still do this.)
  • Lining up his toys and making patterns out of them rather than playing with the appropriately.  (Still does this, but also plays appropriately with his toys, too & the patterns are intricate and amazing!)
  • Spacing out as though he were in a completely other world – as though he didn’t even hear me when I’d be talking to him.  (Still does this sometimes.)
  • Banging his head against his pillow to help himself relax.  (Still does this.)
  • Not into arts & crafts, coloring or getting his hands “messy” with glue or food.  (He’s a boy – we totally understood that he’d rather zoom cars around the floor than make a handprint turkey.)
  • Has difficulty with transitions or change.  (The Boy loves his routines!)
  • Obsessing about movies, subjects, books for weeks at a time.  (He’s gone through all of the Pixar movies & is currently obsessed with The Peanuts.)  He knew the entire solar system, the order of the planets & which one was the hottest, coldest, etc., when he was just 2 and 1/2.

None of these things caused my husband or I to be alarmed.  We knew he was a very bright and unique child with a thirst for knowledge.  All of these things, (with the exception of the throwing & banging of toys,) were cute!  The only reason that we ever ventured down the road to getting a label for this behavior was because of preschool.

Preschool.  We weren’t even going to consider preschool until he was at least 3 or so.  I’m a stay-at-home mom, so there was never any reason to send him to preschool.  But I got pregnant right before he turned 2, and figured that it might be a good thing for him to have something of “his own” so that when the baby came, he didn’t feel like he was being replaced … and also because I knew I’d being going to the OB/GYN a lot, so why not have him go to preschool and learn how to socialize with other children while I go to the doctor.  Well, I lost the baby, (another story for another day I suppose,) and since we had already paid for the first month, I decided why not just let him go for 3 days a week – it was only 3 hours in the morning – and see if he liked it.

He not only liked it, he loved it!  He would tell me all about all of the “friends” in his class on our way home each day.  Come to find out, he wasn’t playing with any of them – just observing from afar.  His teacher was constantly reporting to me that he was not acting like a “typical” 2-year old … he was hitting & kicking, pushing & spinning.  Inattentive, disruptive, and didn’t make eye contact with her or the aide.  Except for the eye contact part, everything else sounded like sort of normal 2 year old boy behavior – lots of friends with kids the same age said theirs were behaving similarly.  So I disregarded the eye contact stuff because he usually always looked at me, my husband, my mother & other close family and friends.  I considered pulling him out of preschool – maybe it wasn’t the right fit, maybe he was too young – but because he expressed to me how much he enjoyed going, I decided to play it by ear.

Well, after a couple of months of cringing every time I picked him up from school – nervous to hear about his behavior that day, wondering if they all thought I was the worst mother in the world because my son was aggressive – things escalated rapidly.  We were called into the Director’s office one morning — The Boy had picked up a play kitchen table & hurled it across the room, narrowly missing a few kids.  When the teachers yelled at him to stop, he laughed, picked up some large toy trucks and started throwing those as well.  The Director and the Teacher gingerly broached the subject of Autism.  They weren’t giving a diagnosis, but they were explaining that they noticed some things that they considered to be red flags, and encouraged us to seek help from Los Angeles County Regional Center.  We were told that they were a government agency that would assess The Boy, and provided free help for children on the Autism Spectrum or with other Neurological Disorders & Learning Disabilities.

My husband and I walked to the car, got in and I started to cry.  No way was my child autistic!  He talked all the time and had excellent speech, above average cognitive reasoning … he was affectionate and outgoing, social and curious.  But deep down inside, I knew something was amiss.  The little things that I had thought were normal and cute and typical behaviors started to cause me concern.  The spinning, the spacing out, the obsessively turning on and off the lights … and over the past couple of months, he had started to hit me and my husband.  So, I figured what could it hurt to call Regional Center – it was free, my tax dollars had already paid for the service*.  If something was wrong, I wanted to address it right away, and if not, then I wanted to be able to say “see, nothing is wrong with my child!”

I filled out the paperwork, and sent it in the following day.  On the form it said it could take up to 45-60 days to process.  Of course it would, it’s the government for Pete’s sake!  By that time, he’d be on summer break & wouldn’t be in school anymore!  In tandem, I called our Pediatrician and scheduled a consult.  Our Pediatrician is a really wonderful man, a wise, calm, easy-going, and patient man – quite literally, the best in town.  He said that the behavior he was witnessing in the office that day was totally normal for The Boy’s age, but it wouldn’t hurt to go through the rigmarole at LACRC.  We all agreed it was too early to put labels on The Boy.

Truth be told, I was not expecting our experience at LACRC to be all that great, mostly because it was a government-run agency.  Boy was I wrong.  I received a phone call 4 days after filing our paperwork.  Our case manager was not just some emotionally detached “government drone.”  No, quite the contrary.  She was kind, generous, and genuinely concerned.  She scheduled assessments without even having us come in for a first meeting with her.  “Time is of the essence” she said, “and we need to get you some help quickly.”

Right away, we had a slew of assessments: Developmental, Speech, Occupational Therapy & Psychological Evaluation … Speech was not an issue for The Boy, but it was a requirement for LACRC.  As expected, he scored off the charts for speech – way above his age, but the therapist noted trouble with transitions, the banging of toys, and lack of eye contact with her.  Developmental assessment, he tested at or below his age, except for speech.  Occupational Therapy was interesting … he was exhibited some sensory processing and response dysfunctions.  And the word that kept coming up at every assessment from each evaluator was “perplexing.”  The Boy was “a perplexing case.”  They all explained that he didn’t fit into any “mold.”

When it came time for us to meet with the Child Psychologist, I had no clue what to expect or what was going to happen.  In hindsight, I really should have had my husband and / or my mother accompany us.  My husband was very busy at work,  and although my mom offered to come with us, I told her it wasn’t going to be a big deal.  Well, I was wrong.

The Psychologist tested The Boy while I filled out paperwork.  We were there for almost three hours.  I was impressed with how well The Boy handled everything, especially because the assessment spilled over into his lunchtime & nap-time – a definite disruption to his routine.  She interviewed me while he played.  We discussed family history … no, nothing on my side, but on my husband’s side, he has a (now 20 year old) nephew who has Asperger Syndrome.  And, I confided to her that I’ve always suspected that my husband is a little bit of an “Aspie” himself.  (The Husband loves his rituals and routines.  He is the smartest man I know, with the driest wit, and we always joke that I’m the “social bridge” in the relationship, meaning that he’d never see his friends if it weren’t for me arranging get-togethers.)

The Psychologist continued to do her work, talking more with me, observing The Boy.  “Well, he has made eye contact with me, and he doesn’t meet the criteria for classic autism, especially based on his speech and cognitive reasoning, so, what we’re looking at is Asperger Syndrome.  That’s the diagnosis.”  I didn’t react in any sort of emotional way, because like I said, there is a family history & truly, it was almost a relief to hear some sort of diagnosis for the behavior My Boy was exhibiting.

I didn’t react until I got into the car and called my husband.  No, I take that back, I didn’t even react then.  I think I was still in shock.  I simply relayed the diagnosis in a very matter-of-fact manner.  I could tell The Husband was concerned, and starting to get upset – he came home shortly after we got off the phone.  It wasn’t until I got home and was in my own comfortable element … I called my mother, and the tears just came.  The one thing she said that stuck with me was, “he’s still the same boy he was yesterday … he’s still the same, wonderful, loving little boy, honey, that has not changed.”  So I cried.  We cried.  And we went through the range of emotions that I listed earlier: disbelief, shock, anger, rationalization, denial, depression & finally acceptance.

After voraciously devouring everything I could find on the internet & in the library, I learned that some of the most amazing people were Aspies, (Carl Sagan, Albert Einstein, Mozart, Orson Wells, to name a few.)  And if The Boy did indeed have Asperger Syndrome, it was looking like a very mild case – he is such a social butterfly!  I also learned that early intervention is the key to correcting some of the undesirable behaviors.  So that’s what we’ve been doing for the past 6 months, (child development specialist, behaviorist, occupational therapy,) and we’re already seeing huge leaps in his progress!

Asperger Syndrome is not a terrible diagnosis … yes, there are challenges, but the rewards vastly outweigh them.  Even though My Boy’s mind isn’t “typical” and may not process things / ideas / information in a typical way, I love the way his mind works.  I wouldn’t change him even if I could.  He’s a beautiful boy with a beautiful mind.  And I love being his mother.

*Actually, Regional Center services are no longer free.  They now charge each family an annual fee of $200.