Tuesday, September 29, 2015

I am Crazy! Or Not? Haven't I been here before?

Oh, why oh why did I try to make anything better?

from http://www.snotm.com/

Homeschooling was working.  It was not perfect.  I never had a single moment alone.  I was filled with doubts about my choices...whether I was doing enough.  Whether I should be all unschooling, or if I should help her into college at 12.

We fought every week over something.  She is a strong willed child, and so am I.

But, homeschooling is soooo wonderful compared to the stress and second guessing, and arguing and OH MY GOD that is going on now.  Plus, it costs so much less.  And sleep!

Six weeks into our attempt at a new school startup, and nothing is working out.  I am spending hours every day having conversations with myself, trying to decide if I am completely mad, or if things are actually as bad as I think they are.

It is so very hard to trust myself.

I just want everything for my girl.

I want her to be happy, and respected, and loved, and to learn.  I want her to love learning, and to thrive.  I want to help her find a future that will be wonderful.  I have absolutely no idea what that looks like.  I never had that, and I have never met anyone who has.  I am making all of this up, and I really dont know what to do.

This new school sounded so very good.  All the right words.  But, now that we are in it, they are not doing what they said.  We have argued and discussed and argued, and they are beginning to be simply disrespectful.  It is still technically homeschooling, but they do not want me in the classroom.
Alice is 7 (nearly 8) but at home, was well into 4th grade.  She has been grouped with 6,8 and 9 year old kids...all neurotypical, working at grade average.  So, that means....k-3 at best.  They do not believe that she reads at a 7th grade + level.  They say her "comprehension" must be poor.  So, I spend the weekend running her through assessments, which I have never done before.  She passes.  I am right, they are wrong.  I tell them this...they still disagree.  We read the New York Times together.  She understands it.  I am right.

They have her working on addition and subtraction.  She was working on multiplication and division with me.  I tell them this...they say they think she does not actually UNDERSTAND math, and needs to go back.  I run her through assessments.  We go over it.  I don't see the holes.

I explain to them that a few years ago during testing, although she tested highly gifted...her processing speeds were quite a bit lower.  Still higher than average, but nearly 20 points lower than her others. I explain that this means that she appears to be SLOW in getting things, but  that it is just about input, not understanding.

I explain that I am a homeschooling mom, and that means I am a teacher.  I am her teacher.  I continue to be her teacher.  I plan to be her teacher.  I come to school most days.....and they pretend I am not there.  The school is supposed to have parent involvement.  The teacher asks me "what the other kids must think of me being there....what it must seem like for Alice to have me there..." And later, when I tell the teacher that she can go ahead and ask me to help when I am sitting there, she says "Oh, I will have to think about that.  About what I would say to the other parents. How I would explain to them when their kids come home and say "alice's mommy was teaching me math""  The teachers pretend I am not in the room.  It is uncomfortable.

The founding teacher asked me to be patient.  Asks me to wait, that it takes time to build a community.  The other kids at the school are not homeschooling kids, and it will take time for them to learn to be independent.  The students were supposed to have independent learning plans, but so far, they do all of their work as a small cohort.  The students were supposed to make the rules, be in charge, but so far, the teachers tell the kids when to start, when to stop, what to learn and what to think. The teacher says it is because the public school kids are not ready to tackle independent thinking just yet.

My child is ready.  She is homeschooled.  Homeschooling is all about independent thinking and learning.  Homeschooling is all about teaching to her level.  She learns exactly what she needs to, when she is ready.  I know that she knows how to read, because she is my only student, and I see her every day.  When she stumbles in math, I know it, and we stop and work on that concept.  She does not have holes in her learning, because we stop and fill them.

I wanted my child to have the opportunity to be a part of a community.  I wanted her to have a chance to do things that large groups can do better than just her and I.  I wanted her to have great relationships with friends.  I did not want her to give up all the understanding and learning she had before.

I want it all for her, and it seems, we cannot have it all.  I don't want to choose.  I don't know how to choose.  My gut tells me that over time, this environment will erode her.  That she will not fit in, and they will not raise her up, but hold her down, and that will squash her spirit.  But, I don't want my fears to get in the way of her.  The staff there are insulting me, and that is making it hard for me to be clear headed.  I would like to think that if they are not respectful to me, they are probably not respectful to her, and that it is best for both of us to leave, but she is not me.  I feel like she is my heart, but she is herself...and it is confusing.

I think we will leave.  We may try to see if they will accept a part time option, allowing Alice to only attend to work on the independent projects, leaving the group learning part.  I will teach her math and the rest.  I dont know if this will work, but it is the best I can think of .

The doubt never ends.  The heart-wrenching soul-stomping fear that I am ruining my child's life never stops.  Oh, how I wish I was a normal mom, with a normal kid, and i could just drop her off at school and walk away.  (I am so glad she is mine, my wonderful, sweet, brilliant, caring, charming girl)

I just wish someone else could make these decisions, or tell me how it all ends so I knew what was right.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Change is hard, especially when you are a social oaf.

One week into our new school and, it is much harder than I had hoped.

I know I should give it more time, time for everyone, the teachers, the students, to find their places and settle into the new school. But. I am not a very patient person.  And, I am afraid.

We tried this school thing before, you see.  It did not work out. When Alice was asked to leave (really, it was I that was asked to leave...) she lost all of her friends, her entire world had changed.  And, I had thrown myself into the school, and had what I thought were friends too.  They left along with Alice's friends. We were both pretty devastated.

It has taken hard work from both of us to figure out homeschooling, and I have come to believe that it is the best option for Alice.  She is a special kid, and it is hard to be different in the US education system. She is not a fighter, she wants to please, and to get along.  She will sacrifice her education in order to fit in.  I cannot let that happen.

I love living in my little family, where we all understand each other.  Where we do not have to fight to be heard, or understood. Where I do not have to defend my daughter, or fight for resources for her.  I make decisions for her that I believe to be right and good, and we implement them.  There is no having to convince anyone of anything, or deal with delicate egos. And, if we are wrong, we just fix it and move on.

As soon as we venture out into the wider world, we have to start to compromise.  I dont want to compromise.

Our new school promised things it is not delivering.  They are not believing that my 7 year old is working at a 4th grade level. She is being held back, and my presence there is being questioned.

I am going to have to start to fight for her....and I hate this more than anything.  I am not good at this at all.

During the last school situation, I began to wonder if there was not something wrong with me.  I was reading a book about Asperger's kids....and I sure identify with many of the personality qualities of those kids. I have not been diagnosed as on the spectrum, and I am probably not, but I seem to see the world differently that every other person I have ever met.  Things are incredibly black and white to me.  I am very sensitive to others feelings, but only if I am turned on to them.  I can be very focused on one thing at a time, so I can be oblivious to everyone around me...which looks insensitive.  I get overwhelmed by my emotions, and my need to express them....and I express them as clearly (and bluntly) as I can.  This, apparently, is not a good thing.  All of this, is, apparently, not a good thing.

Having to figure out how to work with the school on these issues, when I am scared, worried, and feeling protective of my child is a nightmare.  I will screw it up, be overly blunt, offend everyone, and not accomplish my goals...which is to help my child.

For now, I am fretting, stressing, and talking to myself.

Soon, someone will ask me a question, and I will brain dump on them.  It will not be pretty.


Saturday, July 25, 2015


I am an eternally optimistic person. I have no idea why, my life does not deserve such optimism, but nonetheless, I keep on believing.  

As I wrote in my last post, this last school year was a bear.  Alice is at a tough point in her development, 7 3/4 going on 18.  She is yearning for independence, but is not ready for responsibility.  She really wants to be a teen-ager.  She is starting to develop, physically, but yet in so many ways, she is still a little girl.

With any child, it is hard to know how to make the best choices as a parent.  With a gifted child, the fact that they do not follow a typical schedule makes things just that little bit harder.  Ali is ahead of her age-peers in her schooling, but this year, she has fallen "behind".  She has been very defiant, and reluctant to do her work. We switched up the curriculum a bit to try to help her find some intrinsic motivation, but that did not really work.  I pared down the work load to the bare minimum I was comfortable with, and even that was a struggle.  I think we are getting to the point where the struggle is between Mom and Daughter rather than about the school work.

I dont want our relationship to suffer, and I dont want our relationship to get in the way of her learning.  I had been thinking about other educational options, math tutors, other classes, ways to outsource the struggle so that she could focus on the learning, and we could focus on loving.

One lovely day, I saw a notice on a local homeschooling facebook page about a new group starting up:
Educating our children to be productive, responsible, happy, global citizens of the 21st and 22nd century takes a community. If helping your children become adults who are able to make confident and informed decisions, collaborate successfully with others, and communicate clearly is important to you; if you strive to help your children develop self-awareness and recognize the impact they have on others and the environment; if raising children who are interested, curious and able to articulate questions, recognize and embrace differences, and engage challenges with passion and curiosity, the Island Academy may be of interest. 
We are a small group of parents committed to encouraging our children, through education, to savor and explore possibilities, investigate their surroundings, discuss and debate ideas, and apply their creativity in authentic, tangible, meaningful ways. We value rigorous engagement with reading, writing, math, science and history, and we are committed to providing opportunities for engagement that ignite passion in our children and provide ways for them to see value and find appreciation for each discipline.   
If you want to support your child's children intrinsic motivation to learn, their ability to think critically, and lead empowered conversations, we share your values. If your dream is to support the growth of children who are comfortable taking emotional risks, who readily master essential academic skills, who are curious and resourceful, who know what it is to trust and be trusted, to be grateful and to be loved, to wonder and dream -  we are like-minded parents.  
We are committed to building a diverse, open-minded, and deliberative community devoted to educating joyful children who practice peace and demonstrate personal strength; children who are not discouraged by failure or afraid to love. 

Yes! My people were calling me.  

I love many things about homeschooling.  I like having the ability to control my childs education. I like being able to change as she grows and her needs change. I like being able to respect her needs.   I like learning myself, and in teaching her, I have had the opportunity to learn things I had forgotten. 

There are many things that single family homeschooling is not good at.  The joke about homeschooled kids being ill-socialized is not entirely wrong.  Ali is a very social child, and plays well with others, but in our day to day life, it is just she and I. We two cannot take on large projects that would be both more fun and economical in a large group.  There is some limits to what I can teach her, both because I do not know everything, and because my health issues limit my energy at times.  Also, I am not much fun.  I am not a good playmate,

I attended the informational meeting, and although I had initial concerns about the viability of the enterprise, I believe in the teachers putting this together, and their sincerity and dedication to the mission.  The school will allow for as much parent involvement as we wish, and the kids will still be officially homeschooled.  The school will be limited in size.  The initial group will have no more than 16 students, and 2 teachers.  It is a mixed age, single class-room facility.

If I prayed, I would say this was an answer to a prayer.   Alice has now attended nearly two weeks of summer school/camp, and as I get to know the other students and teachers better, I think it will work out just wonderfully.  I am sure there will be growing pains, and for me, having to interact with anyone outside of my own head is always difficult.

I will try to do better with the updates here as great change is in the air.

Oh, yes...and the school?  Hilton Head Island Academy.  Check it out. :D

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Oh, Hey, Hi there....yeah, well....

Sorry about that.  I got distracted.  It is one of my most, uh, charming features.

Homeschooling!  Yes! It's great!

It is August now, almost anyway, and we are on summer break.  Let me fill you in on what we have been up to.
By Kurt Löwenstein Educational Center International Team from Germany (IMG_28421) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Last semester, we joined Classical Conversations.  That was...interesting.  We are part of the local homeschooling community, which in South Carolina, means we are part of the local Christian homeschooling community.  There is no secular homeschooling community.  Nobody here knows we are secular, because that would mean we would have no friends, so we just pretend we are like everyone else, and live in constant fear we will be outed. My daughter really wants friends, surprise, so we joined up with the Classical Conversations group, which meets every Wednesday morning.

For those who are not familiar with Classical Conversations, it is a Christian centered, classical homeschooling group. The classes are taught by "tutors" which are semi-trained moms.  We other moms help out in the classroom, so it is not a drop-off school.  Each week, a set of material is covered in the 3 hour class, and the expectation is that during the rest of the week, we will follow up at home, expanding on the material from class.  The material covered in class is very simple. Nothing more than lists in subject areas.  The kids are expected to memorize these lists, and in class, the lists are repeated 7+ times.

We did not do any further work at home, but rather continued our basic math work (math mammoth) and some simple Language Arts (grammer mostly).

I was not particularly convinced that the CC model was a good one for her education, but I did not think it was harmful, and she had fun being with the other kids.  She did get to learn some random facts that I would never bother teaching her (because I think random facts are soon forgotten).

Ali is 7.5 years old now, and getting pretty stubborn.  We had many very difficult weeks...she would flat out refuse to do any work or violin practice, lie about her progress, and lay on the floor rather than finish what would have been 15 minutes of work.  I struggled with the idea of complete unschooling, as she seems to show no interest in anything at all other than watching Michael Jackson and cute kitten videos on You Tube...and I just could not see how that would ever grow into anything educational.  Her progress in math slowed significantly, although it is still very easy for her, and she is not progressing as fast as she could be.

All in all, it was a very frustrating half year.

We had many talks about what to do, what she would like to do...what would interest her...and I could not get anywhere.  I am not comfortable abandoning Math work, so that was the only work I required of her in the end...usually only 2-3 pages of  her Math Mammoth, 3rd grade book per day. I gave up on just about everything else, figuring I would take the long view of schooling again, and assume that this was a phase, and she would grow into an interest later, but that constant fighting was hurting our relationship, and that was not productive or healthy.

We planned to continue CC next school year.

And then......something better came along.  Because...that is what happens when you keep trying. :D

Stay tuned for the next episode!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The ups and downs.

Oh. Homeschooling.

It is like a marriage.  You have to be committed...or some days, it is really easy to wonder what on earth you were ever thinking taking on such a ridiculous idea.

This has been a hard year for us.  This time last year, I was preparing for surgery to remove a (what they thought was) cancerous tumor on my thyroid.  About 9 months of very rough recovery and medication messing about followed.  This, on top of my usual fibromyalgia and chronic migraines.  Oh, and we put our house on the market....and are moving on December 22.

My kid is generally a good kid....compliant, easy to get along with, but she is now seven, and is increasing her need for independence.  Which, in her case, means refusing to do anything I want her to do.  Along the lines of...."here are 5 options, which would you like?"  Oh, mom, I want this other 10 things.  About everything, big or small.  An argument about everything, every day.

We essentially started "unschooling" this year.  Not so much because I am a believer in the philosophy, but because we were travelling to violin camps every few weeks throughout the summer, and it was not practical to try to keep up a schedule. I had warned Ali that once we had finished travel, we would return to "school", but now that we are back, that is not working out, at all.

In fact, she is refusing to do anything at all.  She has even quit violin.  She won't do a single thing I ask her to do without a long long fight.  As we are in the process of packing and moving...I packed up every single one of her toys, and 98% of her clothes, and told her that if she is not going to do ANYTHING, she can really do nothing at all.  Even that did not work.

She wants to be engaged in conflict constantly.  Really, I am stuck.  If I offer her a plate of cookies, she wants cake.  She steals my candy, and then cries because I am mad about it.  She had completely gone wacko.  I am sure this is some bizarre brain growth spurt, as she seems utterly unable to control herself, but boy howdy it makes this homeschool thing hard.

And, this is where the whole idea of Unschooling falls apart for me.  If she had the slightest bit of motivation to do anything, I would be fine.  At this point, she just wants to lay around and watch Michael Jackson videos on her phone.  Yes, Michael Jackson.  Its her new thing.  (and the phone is not in service) As cool as Michael Jackson is....I just cannot see this as helping her.

I have read plenty of threads on unschooling, but for me, it just always gets to this point that stops me from going all-in.  If you have a child who is INTO something, and that leads them to read, research, whatever, then fine. They are learning.  But, my kid is kinda....lazy.  She doesn't like to do hard things.  She wants me to put her back on her math a full year so that it will be easier for her. Back to single digit addition.  That is not because DIVISION is too hard...but its just a lot easier to not think than it is to do something new.  And, she can get all of them right if its easy.

She loves to listen to stories, on CD or being read to...but gets kinda lazy about actually reading, because she is reading books at a fairly high level (her choice/interest) and they are hardish, so she quits.

She is awesome at quitting.  She just doesn't like doing things that are challenging, and this means that on her own....she won't do anything new.  Not athletics, not musical, not academic.

So, no growth.  And, I really don't think that is best for her.

She has great talent in many areas, but will not put forth her best effort on her own.  She can create art at a high level, but if left to her own, draws like a 5 year old, and does not attempt to do better.  Its just strange. She seems to take no pride in her accomplishments.

So how on earth does a kid like this unschool?  She wants to sit around and watch MTV all day?

But, fighting with her about every little detail right now is killing me.  I can't figure out how to get her to take some measure of the control that she seems to want.

Maybe Santa will bring me some answers for Christmas......

Monday, July 7, 2014

Unconditional parenting a gifted child

I have spent the past two weeks with my girl at violin/fiddle camp.  It has been full of awesome wonder at her talent, exhaustion at the unusually full schedule...and near daily power struggles over practice, performance, behavior, and just about anything else.

It what little time I have had in-between classes and bed, I have spend a lot of time thinking about what I am doing wrong, and just how difficult it is to parent a gifted child.  I asked a few of Ali's teachers last week for advice, and one of them suggested Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn, which suggests that the idea of punishments and rewards for our children is damaging...and that we should be loving our children, and parenting them, without "carrots and sticks".   Generally, this is the parenting philosophy I had tried to live by...but it is just so hard.  We spend the majority of every day working on something fairly amazing, and my child has just so much "potential" it is really difficult not to reward that behavior or result.

So, i guess now I am genuinely not sure if I am simply a horrible parent who is destroying my child's sense of well-being and self-worth....or supporting my gifted child as she excels in a variety of difficult areas.

We don't unschool.  That is...she works hard, and oftentimes, that means, I have to force her to work.  I have to nag, harass, get annoyed, and probably even bribe.  I am happier when she is compliant.    She knows that we are proud of her for her music, and whipping through school work.  She knows that getting along and being easy-going makes me happy, and is highly-valued in our family...although rarely seems to happen. All of these things are teaching her that my love and approval are conditional on her behaving, performing, complying, and acting a certain way.  Hmm.  Now, I do tell her at least 50 times each day (slight exaggeration) that I love her and that I think she is generally awesome, but much of my praise is after she has performed well.  But here is the thing.  She performs really really well, often! She plays her violin every day, and when she does, if she gives it her attention, it is amazing.  She does her math work, and completed the 2nd grade work in 6 weeks, with a 90%+ average.  How on earth do I not praise that????


And then, there is the criticism.  I am her teacher, and her violin "coach". It is my JOB to help her fix things that are not quite right.  So, I point out errors, and praise corrections.  Ugh.

I think unconditional parenting makes a world of sense.  Kids should know that you love them always, no matter what...and that your love and approval is not based on their performance.  I think that with our gifted kids...there is an additional risk that they become so identified with their gifts that to others, and perhaps to themselves, they become a list of accomplishments.

I try very hard to to compare her to other children, to keep her from competing with others already.  At camp, when other parents realize she is the youngest in the class...I remind them "it is not a race." But, now...dang.  I have to figure out how to not bribe, cajole, criticize, praise and still, somehow raise my child.

No clue how that works.  There are some kids at this camp who seem to have....well, lets say, "free-spirited" parents.  These kids are really hands-off. You can tell the difference between the kids who practice and the kids who don't.  The parents who do not expect their children to behave in a certain way are running around, slamming doors, dirty, sometimes rude....just kinda uncivilized.  Yeah, I guess they are really really free.  No body is telling them that they are wrong, and I suppose their parents love them no matter what they do, but I have seen them behave really unacceptably, and getting mad at them and putting them in their rooms for a while would have saved everyone ELSE from suffering the consequences of their bad attitudes.  There is some sort of balance here between raising a kid who has no controls, and one who is shamed into losing their self-confidence.  I am just not sure I am far enough on the right side of the line.

Parents of other gifted kids...I would love to hear from you.  Please tell me how you help your children develop their gifts without making them feel like your love is conditional on them being gifted.

Parenting is just so...hard.

Check the rest of my Gifted Homeschoolers to see how they do it during this blog hop:
Gifted Homeschool Blog Hop: Parenting a Gifted Child

Friday, May 9, 2014

On being awesome

I have been quiet here lately.  Busy, tired, but, also...just feeling a little too different.

One of the common themes in the gifted parenting world, and often in the homeschooling world, is that of 2E kids...or other parenting difficulties.  I have read article after article about the fear of "bragging", and how in fact, having a gifted child is oftentimes a trial, rather than a gift.  Blogs discuss at length the difficulties of educating children who are wildly gifted in some areas...and have significant weaknesses in others.  Social and behavioral problems that make friendships difficult, psychological issues that are terribly sad in such young children, and struggles with education, motivation, and parenting are everywhere.  My own sister has a difficult child....and it has completely broken our relationship and strained the relationships in my family.

You see...my child is not 2E.  She is just plain ol' gifted.  She is a healthy, smart, sweet, compliant 6 year old girl.  She is naughty some times, disobedient, argues....does not always keep her room clean....but for the most part, she is a very easy child, and I know how lucky I am to have her.  When we had her evaluated by a Psychologist, we were told that she had a great mix of intellect and psychological qualities that will make her a very successful person.  She is a little too worried about what people think of her.  She is driven to succeed, and is disturbed by failure.  She likes fashion and beauty more that I approve of.    I can almost always reason with her, and I am rarely driven to thinking she is a rotten child.  She is a talented musician, she learns exceptionally quick, she is a gifted artist, she is incredibly loving and compassionate and empathetic.  She is also quite pretty, and will likely grow up to be a fairly pretty woman.

I am so very proud of her.  I don't think this is surprising....she is my child.  She also has many achievements to be proud of.   She also happens to be (and look) alot like me (which makes this more complicated).

So.  I feel like we are set apart, yet again, from the crowd.  When I see all the other blogs and postings about coping with difficulties....I slink away quietly just like I do from the non-gifted crowd.  I can't even talk to my mother about my kid, without her counter-balancing for the "less-fortunate" cousins.

It sucks.  That's all.  I do have sympathy for those with problems.  Our life is not without difficulty.  I have bucket-loads.  Generally, nobody wants to hear just how miserable I am, so I keep it to myself.  I am a homeschooler, and a full-time and very active mom.  My friends are also homeschooling active moms.  I research school things.  I read about school/child development.  It is my thing.  So, it is what I talk about.  My kid.  Who just happens to be awesome.

Gifted is not a dirty word.  And, being gifted is a gift.  My kid is SO lucky to be her, and I am so lucky to be her mom.  There is not one single thing I would change about her, and that is not some kumbaya non-sense.  Not everyone is the same.  Some people are smarter than others.  That is just a fact.    I hate that it is a problem.  Maybe I see the world totally differently than everyone else.  I see the hierarchies.  Some people are smart, some are not.  Some are beautiful, some are ugly. Some are fat, some are thin.  What is GOOD and BAD is a social construct.  My husband is thin.  Naturally.  My kid and I are fatter.  It just is that way. It means nothing.  We are blonde.  It means nothing.  It is.  So,  she has some qualities that make her more (potentially) valuable to our culture.   That is just a fact.   There is no point being upset about it.  I teach her to be kind to all, generous, open minded, and respectful. She does not care about whether other kids are smart or pretty or blonde, unless someone tells her it is important. It is is the world around us that is not happy she is who she is, and who is not happy with themselves (or their children).

It seems, no matter where I go...I don't belong.  That is not what I want for my child.  I want her to find a thriving and vibrant community that she can be a part of.  I want people to accept her for who she is...without having out having to hide parts of herself. I fear that is not going to happen.  I worry that, even in the gifted world, being an (1E)xceptional kid will make her stand out.

I recognize and deeply value the community that the gifted/2e/homeschooling world has brought us in the past year.  Nobody has said anything to us about our child being too good, or not good enough, or too different to belong.  I know that trouble and adversity bring people together more than sharing pleasantries.  It is hard to support a conversation when there is nothing more to talk about than "you are awesome!"  "you are awesome too!"   Parents come together to find answers and  support, and I have been able to pick and choose from those experiences to help us on our journey.  My child is different, and an outlier too, but oftentimes, it feels like I don't have a reason to speak among the voices of parents with real problems, when my biggest complaint is that my kid won't stop licking me. (she says that, and farting, are her self-defence. Ugh.)

I am sure there are plenty of others out there like me...who are just getting along with things and just do not have much to talk about, except the normal, every-day awesome things their kids are doing...or, the normal, every-day not-awesome things they are doing. I hope as my daughter grows up, we find more of these families.