Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Last Choice Not Revolving Door

We continue to discuss my son's input about where he should attend school next year (he already refuses to go back to homeschooling). We are at a stage of discussing pros and cons. Yesterday we had a discussion about the issue of choosing to stay where you know when you know the flaws but know the strengths versus going into something that is unknown that will not be all positive either. I made it clear that we cannot fall prey to the mindset of "the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence". The main things my son wants to not have in teacher qualities he definately will encounter at any other school and at college. The question is a matter of degree. It is one thing to have a teacher you think is a bad teacher for one class for one grade and another to have them for three classes and to have them every single year.

We also discussed that bad teachers at public school are left in their jobs 99% of the time due to teacher labor union rules and due to the huge bureaucracy that is government schooling. So leaving a boutique school to go to a gigantic public school practically guarantees that sub-par teachers will be presently employed there. 

I have been having discussion with a mom I have known for almost four years whose older graduated from our public school and whose younger withdrew three months into ninth grade and went to this boutique private school. (The older was 2E and the school is supposedly terrible with LD students, does not follow the IEP / 504 and has no patience for ADD kids regarding executive functioning issues but those are not issues my younger son contends with. The 2E student is now at an elite college thanks to being a National Merit Scholar and despite non-stellar grades.) The younger student of theirs is very happy with this private school. He feels he is learning more there than he did at public school. He has a tutor for one subject to help him. He does not like some of the nonsense that goes on at the private school and feels the social scene is limited due to the school's tiny size, but he chooses to ignore the negatie and to just focus on the positive. He has decided to pursue a rigorous degree and is looking to take college classes over the summer to boost his learning beyond what the private school offers. I admire his dedication. He was held back a year so is sixteen in grade ten and he is more mature than many kids his age are. My point is that I keep comparing that kid's experience at the public school and trying to figure out if we really want our son in that place.

One thing is for certain, I do not want my son shifting here and there. He has tried this private school, if he leaves, he should be gone for good. Wherever he lands should be where he says. I am not of the mindset that my kids are special snowflakes that can rotate from this school to that school looking for some perfect place that fits them wonderfully because at some point in time a teen just needs to learn to thrive where they are as best they can and they need to learn to cope with problems or try to figure out how to do well with sub-optimal conditions as nothing in life is ever perfect or optimal in every area. 

Honestly this week I am thinking that despite the imperfection the small private school is good enough and he should just stay there. A major tradeoff will be if he goes to the public school I worry about busywork homework keeping him busy for six or more hours a day (which will mean about four hours of sleep a night due to sport practice times) and too much memorization of fact to parrot back with less opportunity for class discussion, no debate, less speeches and less oral presentations. There is something to be said for a main reason to pick a certain school for being the one that lets teens live a life that is not sleep deprived. We are at an odd time in history where pediatricians are saying kids needs more sleep but the public schools are forcing more and more homework that does not allow that sleep to happen. Kids need a balance and their life should not be just school attendance and homework completion: they should have a few hours a day for a sport, other enriching activities or individual pursuits or just daydreaming time!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Lack Of Limit Setting Is The Source of Packrat Clutter

In trying to live within reasonable limits I keep facing the fact that the issue with clutter and having too much stuff is the inability to set limits and to understand one's limitations. A packrat often feels helpless and overwhelmed as they feel there is so much they need to do and want to do (two separate things) and there is never enough time. Too often Americans think the solution is if only we had more time we could be more effective. I have come to think instead that we only have so much time to live our life so it is wise to live a quality life.

Things are supposed to serve and help us, we are not supposed to be slaves to dealing and maintaining our stuff. An acquaintence came into an inheritance and decided to buy a house double the size of what the family was ever able to afford. They have a pool for the first time and are thrilled and also it abuts a pond and there is a garden and a gigantic amount of lawn compared to their two former homes of a small house with a postage stamp sized yard and the yardless condo. It has only been a month but already the man regrets this decision. He is trying to do all the yard work and maintenance himself and he is overwhelmed seeing how much of his time is taken up with it all. He said also that if he had to pay landscapers, pool people and other service people he could never afford to own the home but he also is upset that so many hours each week are used taking care of the property. Seeing as how they are only a month in I wonder how this will pan out as it was supposed to be their forever home. I also note they are in the Northeast and it's springtime, just wait until they pay the heating and air conditioning bills for the big house.

The other day was magazine day for me. I don't know how but I am getting about eight subscriptions that I never asked for or paid for. I have flagged three completely unworthy of even a glance and they get donated to the library unread. The others I feel some sort of obligation to skim through or read, or to cull for images to use in collage fun artwork that I do. I do not have enough time. I should rephrase that. The way I choose to spend my time does not include enough time to go through these in a reasonable amount of time. So the process I had decided to do is not working out. Anyhow in a few hours the other day I sorted through the magazines for ones the library will resell and the other freebie ones that all the locals probably get which I recycled. I skimmed some but most I just got rid of. I was faced with a stack about eight feet high for possible art use. This is when I realized that there is just too much and it's not necessary. This is the limit setting I am referring to. I looked at these stacks on the kitchen table and realized I did not need that much for collage and I did not want to spend my time skimming through them. I decided to just let them go. (I have an end table that has shelving inside and those magazines were inside it. It holds about eight feet worth of magazine stacks.)

I have this worry (not a fear really) that I will miss something, some piece of important information that may be regrettable to be ignorant about if I don't skim it all. I know when this happened to me. It was 17 years ago when my oldest was an infant and I was feeling isolated having gone on maternity leave of absence. I had subscribed to the city newspaper in order to get the Sunday coupons to save money on our groceries and purchases. In skimming I found out about the local support group that was for at-home former professional career moms. I had never heard of them before. I was so grateful to make these new friendships and to start volunteer work with the organizatin that I feared throwing away the newspapers that I did not skim as I worried I may miss something important. As the stacks built up I realized I just did not want to spend time reading it, I had to come to accept that my life was good as is and if I missed something by not skimming the paper then life would be alright. I later cancelled my subscription altogether. I also at that time started to not renew some of my favorite magazines as I had no time to read them due to spending time reading books and learning about specific topics instead (such as homeschooling and education reform).

The case that some packrats make that they cannot let go of certain objects because they are good, still usable, are things they hope to use, does not stand up if the person chooses to spend their time doing other things instead. A packrat who wants to reform themselves needs to accept this fact that time is limited and we are in control of our actions. We are not helpless because we can choose what we do with our time and it is necessary and good to prioritize our projects. One project I let go of was quilting, it just was not enjoyable to me. My mother is an amazing quilter and she had given me a lot of fabric. I donated it to a friend who used it to teach homeschool quilt classes with, so the students did not have to spend family money for the fabric.

It helps to set time parameters on projects. You may decide that if you have not done a certain hobby in the last seven years that it is okay to let go of all those supplies. I know that may be painful to get rid of the things you spent money on in order to get all the supplies you need for that project but if it is such a low priority that you have not done it it is okay to let it go. If it is too hard to think about focus instead on the positive emotions around the things you are choosing to spend your time on. Instead of thinking you thought jewelry making would be so much fun and you feel you have failed as you never learned it but have all those beads just think instead at how much pleasure you get from the current activities you do. These are not just craft projects, you may be spending your time raising our kids, homeschoooling, doing volunteer work, working a job, or investing quality time in your marriage or exercising for health or cooking more to eat with good nutrition.

Limit setting and accepting the reality that there is only so much time to live is the first step in living a less cluttered life when thinking about how you spend your time now and how you want to live in the future. The focus on the now and the future is another major step as letting go of th past and not living in the past are vital to enjoying your life now.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Finished Fretting For Homeschool Planning

Today a thought popped into my head out of the blue. I am finished with fretting over homeschool course planning, scope and sequence creation and comparing homeschool plans to the American college prep norm.

What a relief.

My first real stress over worry about doing things right was July before my oldest began homeschool Kindergarten. I had stupidly brought my first Rainbow Resource Center mail order catalog to the beach for our Cape Cod summer vacation. If you have not seen one, it is three inches thick like a phone book. I sat on the beach and read about math manipulatives. I realized there are lots of ways to teach math. I filled out about three pages on the order form with math manipulatives. I wanted to be thorough in teaching and I wanted it to be fun and easy to learn arithmetic. Some of those things I sold years later never having been used. Some of it was not a fit for my son. Some of it I thought too cumbersome for me as the teacher.

My oldest just finished what is supposed to be his senior year of homeschool. He turns 18 in three months. He has been pondering on options for next year and the years after. He does not feel that he has no choices. He is considering options. I am happy that he feels he has options. He is not marching in line to just do what we say. He is considering the following: gap year, community college next year  then transfer, working a job, volunteer mentor of FIRST Robotics, an internship opportunity, going away to college out of state or an in state university, college dorm living or apartment off campus living. Each day it seems he has a different idea of what is right for him. It is going to come to a poitn in time when he needs to make a decision. He has not yet registered for fall classes at the CC for example. Some days he says he does not want to go to college but he also does not want to pick a trade for voc-tech school. He thinks he might want computer science but he is not sure.

All this ambiguity is normal. It is hitting him a bit later perhaps. In his senior year he felt not ready to make these decisions. In his junior year he did not want any college campus visits. He did some in grade ten with friends, going along with them as the motivator. But in his senior year he did some college tours with my husband. He has said he does not want me to go with him. That did sting a bit but I understand he is in Mom-separation mode and this is his process not my life.

The Eagle project is number one priority with less than three months to go.

A trip back East is planned for homeschool graduation in June.

We are awaiting his grades for his spring classes. It is nearing time to make decisions about the fall. If  it is working and a gap year in order to grow up more and to get out of the slacker school mode an to wrap his mind around being more serious about academics when he does enroll in college, that is fine with us.

Today as I realized homeschooling is basically over, I realized my worry over preparation for college is just about done. It gets to a point where "it is what it is" and when the outcome and circumstances are what they are due to the choices the teen has made.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Owning It

Term three of three for younger son has been great so far. It has been great to see him continue to take ownership of his education. He wants good grades now and not just some baseline learning regardless of grades. He improved in term two and his attitude and work ethic has gotten better in term three, there are strong signs of upward movement as well as his verbal statements.

It was painful to have a rough term one but we knew it might happen. Sometimes teens need to crash before they choose to take control of the reigns and decide what it is they want for an outcome.

This has been a hard process to watch unfold as a mother and as a very involved homeschool parent/teacher. My husband also has struggled through it. We know our son's education is not about us yet we know our job is to guide and direct our son to have opportunities. It is hard when good advice is given and it is not taken. It's hard to find the balance between a good level of hands on and knowing when to step back and let our son take control even when we see the downward spiral happening. It is such a relief to see our son doing better and better.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Typical But Not Our Ideal

Last night my husband was really disappointed in two things that are happening which he found out about from me last night regarding our older son and then my son said some things to us about another issue. I watched as my husband's heart sunk right in front of my eyes. I was not as shocked as I had suspected my son was sliding and had started to think the worst and I was bracing myself to hear the worst news. My husband was living in Ideal Land not wanting to see Reality. I felt we could not discuss gow to go forwad about our son until my husband got over his own internal emotional turmoil. So first I tried to address that then try to discuss the rest. Honestly at that moment I was thinking I wish we had a counselor to be the discussion facilitator and to have them as a back up to underscore what I was saying was valid.

There are three big things that my husband does not realize. One is what is normal teenage and typial teenage behavior and outlooks and attitudes. The other is the typical daily struggles and extra effort it takes to live with ADHD inattentive type. The third issue is his ignorance of the medical conditions our son has and how that impacts energy level and work output (adrenal fatigue status post Lyme Disease and Mono, Hypothryroid, and others).

My husband has left it to me to take our son to the doctor and get treatments, to fill the prescriptions, hear their diet recommendations, buy the foods, try to get our son to eat as best to help a low functioning immune system and a suffering adrenal system as well as what not to do to further impede a sluggish thyroid and to try to heal his leaky gut which is causing him to not be able to absorb Vitamin D. I have read the books and heard the lectures about the ADHD. I have had the long talks with the neurofeedback therapist about brain development in normal teens and the ADHD brain and the Lyme Disease brain injury's brain.

To get upset when a teen does competely normal teenage behavior or does something like feels Senior Slide or gets apathy after being forced to take class after required class that they hate seems silly to me. To expect some high ideal or think your teen will bypass the normal and typical emotions and attitudes is ridiculous. Choosing a certain parenting method does not mean stages of childhood development in the brain will be bypassed. Doing homeschooling and exposing kids to great things and good experiences does not mean they will love classroom learning, fact memorization, or that they will choose to focus enough during the exams to choose the right answers.

It is one thing for parents to have high standards and to try to instill a foundation of strong character and values in our kids but when they use their free will to make second best decisions it is not the parent's fault. Teens are separate people from the parent and they sometimes excercise poor decision making. The compounding challenges from a slowly maturing frontal lobe and a damaged brain from Lyme Disease and the daily impact of a low thyroid and low vitamin D all do impact energy levels and focus and attention add another level of challenge.

It is hard for me to deal with my husband's ignorance on these topics that he chose to not learn about and instead he chose to delegate to me to deal with. You can't just come in at the eleventh hour let down that something happened that's really typical thinking that it's some big thing that no teen deals with. In case you are jumping to conclusions the topics are doing bad at community college class in this last semester and the looming Eagle Scout deadline that he is procrastinating about doing tasks for. My husband thinks that our sons should both be choosing to do actions in order to please adults and to live in fear of emotionally disappointing them and the fact is that both of our kids are like me in that we choose to do actions that we feel are best for us and we are not afraid to take a different path if it strays from the mainstream if we think it is better for us. The problem though is when the choice taken does NOT lead to the intended and hoped for goal. My kids are like many independent minded teens (and adults) who need to be given the freedom to make choices some which will result in problems but they learn from their mistakes and have to realize the action and consequence and learn to think and choose wisely the next time.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Praise For Winning vs. The Proess of Preparing

In our family we value process not product. Most of our time in life is spent doing things and preparing, doing small parts that lead to a whole. Many organized group things such as school, sports, or even Scouts with its ranks has different timeframe deadlines, ending points that usually conclude with having compeleted certain tasks or taking a test or competing in an event. Those which are win/lose events or ranking and ordering result oriented assess based on the score at that one point. Tests are supposed to show learning accomplished. Sport events are supposed to show who is better or faster and who is best. However sport games are not cut and dried, there is weather, the issue of illness at game time, and other human factors based on fellow teammates, or equipment issues.

My husband and I feel that it is best to focus on process and the journey along the way. Yes, training exists for the purpose of getting ready to compete on game day but life is not about that one game. Who a person is is not about their rank or a win or loss on game day. A person is more about who they are every day all day than who they are based on how the outcome of one event reveals.

A person's self-esteem and judgement of oneself shold not be based on a test or competition result. That is what some people do but not our family. Here we praise based on effort along the way. We absolutely do NOT shame our children (teens) on game day when there is no medal won. Yes we want them to "do their best" and to have put forth effort but we know there can only be one winner (or a gold, silver and bronze). There will always be losers, that is what happens in events with winners and losers, it's just a fact. It does not mean the loser did not try their best.

A problem with excessive praise for a win is that it sets the child up for a problem when the next time they do not win. Therefore when our kids win we do not go nuts with praise. We give the same praise for a win as for a loss because we praise the effort or the intention or the other good things they did that day to help teammates. We praise for the effort and the good sportsmanship and their helpfulness to others on the team and even when they help their opposing teams (this is a larger thing that has opportunity with FIRST Robotics vs. a sport game).

This is all part of showing unconditional love which is our family's goal. I think some parents do not realize when they over-focus on the wins they are teaching their child that they receive love and respect only when they perform the best compared to their peers. Let me restate that. If an athlete performed their best on that day, it might still mean a loss as the individual has no control over their competition at that moment in time. On one day their best performance might result in a win but on another it may be a loss or second place. Who the competition is matters but all an individual can control is their own performance (to a certain extent) because other factors still come into play (cancelled races due to weather, a hard wind occurs during that heat, the other team is strong this year, the opposition got sick or you got sick, etc.). If the praise is only about the winning result then the unstated thought process then is when they lose at some other time, they are undeserving of love and attention. When love is tied to a win only, it means that love is conditional and circumstantial.

Some may think it is wrong of us but we do not do a lot of prep talk before competitions talking about winning,  "go win", "you are going to win", "you have it in you to win", "you are better than those others you will beat them" and such are things we have never said to our kids. I hear these statements being said to other kids. It's a problem then when those kids lose. Suddenly the parent is either silent or they start to refus to take responsibility for themselves such as saying, "the wind in my lane was blowing harder" or "we do not train in  windy location so it's unfair to have to compete in a windy city" or "the air is too cold here and my son's muscles were too tight during the race".

We have also been very honest with our kids that to be at their best performance ability they need to prepare every day and do their full part. For rowing that means getting up before school, using the erg in the morning, changing the diet to be a performance based good nutritional plan, building muscle and losing fat, building up a confident mindset, and getting enough rest all the time and at competition time. When our kids have refused to take part in that type of best success scenario the natural consequence is they probably will not win. Other factors such as lung capacity, height, how the asthma is on that day, hormone levels for building muscle do matter but I would argue that a tenacious committed short athlete just may beat a tall athlete; the mindset does matter before and during the race. The mind can push the body to perform highly or beyond its capacity.

For testing like the SAT or midterms or finals there are different things that should be done along the way that are not related to cramming at the last minute. A well prepared student can screw up if they don't get enough rest the night before or an ill prepared but well rested student can screw up due to lack of preparation. A high aptitutde student can mess up the SAT and get a score lower than their ability and the dedicated student with a mediocre aptitude may be able to push it to a higher sccore than expected. A gifted student who does not study may get lower class grades than the average student who works their butt off to study to perform well.

Life is a journey not a destination but many things kids and teens do have an end point where some type of ranking or competition occurs. Later as adults our pursuits often are open-ended, unless we choose to train for a marathon or take a class or join a sport league or something like that. Some may think only of the end point test or game. In our family we focus on process. Kids and teens do have power and control about how much they choose to engage or disengage in the process. As for our family's goal for love, ours is unconditional. If they win we are happy andlove them, if they lose we love them.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Homechooling & Schooling Planning Ahead Necessary

To take certain paths with your career it requires years of planning. To work in a certain field in your 20s you have to sometimes plan back to what courses are taken beginning in grade six. This should be known to all homeschoolers and parents of kids who use school.

There is little wiggle room oftentimes for doing what is right this year and right now if it means going off the strict path. But advisors and schools often do not tell you it is this rigid, you just will face closed doors later down the line. Things are more rigid than they seem with many years of planning of how time is spent and what is done in a semester or in that year.

If something bad happens like a medical problem that interferes with the ideal heavy academic load it can screw up a teen forever. I am serious and am not exaggerating. One missed opportunity, one deadline not met to apply for that internship, and the path is altered to veer off from the ideal right and best expected pathway.

I think that sometimes which people arrive to have doors opened at age 25 or 30 has to do with all the right paths having been taken along the way for years and years. So the success at doing what they wanted is not always really about how great they are but it is about having access to do that thing as the right things were done. It may not be about some great skill or talent to have arrived there but it might have to do with being in a smaller pool of individuals who did not get diverted along the way. So those qualified to do a job are a small subset of people, they are the ones who did what they were supposed to do at the right times and without screwing anything up along the way whether by intention or by accident.

Let's take being a medical doctor as one example. There are so many steps going back to middle school of classes that must have been taken in a certain order and grades achieved and tests taken in high school with certain grades. Then college and medical school and all the other processes and procedures along the way. One blip and the student may be diverted and the doors are closed. Then in the end there are lower number of candidates that did the right thing at each step to make the number eligible for medical school a smaller pool than might have been expected had you looked at which students in high school were promising for the field of medicine.

Related as another layer to accessing college is gender and ethnicity. It is a fact that minorities have an advantage for college acceptances and that colleges usually want a 50/50 gender balance. Also poor students have an advantage for admissions acceptances. So I was not suprised to hear of the top student who was African American and poor who got into all the Ivy League schools he applied to this year. I also was not surprised to hear of some homeschoolers getting into elite colleges, the parents think it is the stellar students academic and extra-curriculars but they want to sweep under the rug that they are Hispanic so they had an advantage over their white student competition, but I digress.

A main point I wanted to make is that in America we are often thinking that we need to do what is right and best at the moment. We like to say our lives should be balanced and that we have flexibility. It seems common sense that if a student gets ill that they should be able to get treated and to rest. But the fact is that the path for the most open doors means doing all the right things going way back to middle school and probably before that and to not slow down or waver off that path at any juncture. Also in the homeschool world we hear alternative education success stories but the fact is that not all life paths are conducive with alternative education.

This post was inspired by pondering options for my older son's college years. He wants to be completed with high school in four years, not five. I know more than a handful of kids who did five years of high school in order to build up rigorous academic classes to pass it off as four year high school so they look better or more equal with top public school students who did high school in four years. My son wants to do some classes at community college then to transfer. However the risk is that the rate for transfer acceptances is small and harder to do than to apply as a freshman. So we are debating a gap year versus his idea. I also looked into the details of the 2+2 "seamless admissions" for his community college to the state university and when you dig into the details of the rules it is more complicated and limiting than they imply. If he takes that path for the 2+2 he is excluded from doing certain majors such as computer science (or all maors in the School of Engineering) and business.

If teens choose to do what is best for them at that moment instead of following a rigid plan for middle and high school they are at risk of finding doors closed to them and their options limited. The problem is doing the right thing right now does not always reveal the negative consequnces that will be realized years or a decade later. American schooling is rigid. In this land of supposed opportunity and supposed equality the fact is if you don't march in line and do all the right things in a certain order you will be locked out of certain paths.  Often times these are not always things that can be redone or remedied later in life. I myself felt the negative ramifications of dropping out of college right after high school and then returning to get my degree in my 20s. It was too late and I had missed opportunities for promotion and advancement in my career due to my alternative path. That is one reason why I hoped my kids would be guided correctly and have positive parental support for education so they would be set on a right path from an early age and not take misteps out of ignorance or from making mistakes.

Basic parenting is so hard and also homeschooling is another layer of challenge. I had never thought about a road paved with medical problems and learning disabilities and how those would impact life. I also had unerestimated the role of personal choice, attitude and the push and pull of teen power and control; in their desire for independence and to control their own selves teens do not always listen to good advice and sometimes make non-ideal or  bad choices. I now realize some of the best students with the most doors open to them are very compliant rule followers and just do what they are told unquestioningly.