Monday, May 30, 2011

A Charlotte Mason quote to guide me

In my friend Tammy's blog post today, she gave me a quote that I think I will tape to the top of my notebook and laptop as I prepare to plan for Austin's high school education. It comes from Charlotte Mason's third volume, School Education, page 170:

"The question is not,––how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education––but how much does he care?"

Thanks, Tammy! :)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Summer break!!

Last day of lessons treat - Bruster's Ice Cream!!


Last Friday, the Black Pearl academy wrapped up the third trimester of lessons and today is officially the first day of our summer break! As I type this it is 9:24 AM and none of the children are out of bed yet! LOL I am glad they are getting to rest and relax, and it feels good for me, too (though I did get up to run this morning but an hour later than usual and I didn't have to rush over to the pool so we could get over to glee club by 11:00!).

I promised my husband (and myself) that I would not think about anything relating to home school for 2 full weeks. Well, actually, he wanted me to take much longer than that, but I do have to make decisions about next school year and order materials! LOL But for the next 2 weeks I am going to try to be "mom" and enjoy my kids. Actually, I'm really hoping to do more of that this whole summer. This school year was really challenging and I found myself so drained at the end of every day that I didn't have any energy left to be "mom". And I found myself wishing they were in school so I could be the fun mom they come home to and we could all enjoy being around each other again. But there has to be a way to realize that without sending them away all day.

This week will not be conducive to making that happen, however! LOL It's that crazy week each school year where all of the activities culminate in dance recitals and end of the year concerts and stuff. This year all of the activities are going right up to the recital because we lost a week due to the snow storms in January. Also this week, Blue October is in concert in town and I certainly can't miss that! And finally, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is premiering and I can't miss that, either! And it's also the peak training week for the triathlon! So, you can see, we'll be running around like crazy! But next week we'll start to settle into a nice relaxing summer.

We will still do Sun and Fun for 4 weeks this year - from the middle of June until the middle of July. Our lessons will resume in early August to make way for the guys fishing trip in early September and the girls Disney trip in late September! :)

So you see how badly I need these weeks of rest and mental relaxation?? As much as I would like to get a head start on planning, I really need to live life outside of school for a few weeks. So no visits to the Well-Trained Mind boards, or to the Ambleside yahoo groups, or to SimplyCharlotteMason.com! Just time to be a regular mom!! :)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Eye-opening

In our state, we are required to test our children every 3 years, beginning at the end of 3rd grade. Since Riley is a 6th grader this year, that means it's her turn to test. I have always tested my children at home using the ITBS. Since I have a college degree, I am able to be an official tester through Bob Jones University. However, the last time I tested Riley (which was in 4th grade since I was testing Austin already and figured I would do them both at the same time), we had a really difficult time of it. She argued with me and questioned every instruction that came out of my mouth. Since she has only gotten more argumentative with age, I decided that this year we would take advantage of the many group testing opportunities available in our area. Besides, I think it's a good idea to have experience testing in a group, since the higher stakes high school tests (PSAT/SAT/ACT) are all done in group settings.

When Riley learned of my intention, she was extremely upset and resistant. I knew that she would be fine once she got through the first day, or even the first section. It was the fear of the unknown that was getting to her. Also, she has been very upset about our lack of following a "traditional curriculum" and she feels she is behind because of this. It's been a source of strife between the two of us for the entire school year. I purchased a test prep book for her to use for the first time, in the hopes that having familiarity with the test procedures would reduce her anxiety. Instead, it made it worse, especially with science and social studies because we don't follow the public school scope and sequence. Oh well, I tried, right?

Today was the first day of testing. I decided to volunteer to be a test helper, in case Riley's anxiety was overwhelming. I thought my presence in the building (even though I wouldn't be in the same room) could be reassuring. Thankfully, she didn't seem at all nervous this morning, like I was afraid she was going to be. I saw her at the first outdoor break and she had made a friend and they sat as far away from me as possible while still staying on the property. On the way home I asked how it was going and she said that the test was "not easy, but not too hard" so I think that's a good sign. I asked if she thought testing in a group was more fun than testing alone at home and she said, "NO!" but I honestly don't think she would admit that to me after all of the drama she made of it before! ;)

OK, can you believe I haven't even come to the eye-opening part?? I'm going to get to that right now!

The testing lady put me in with the 3rd graders. She had the kids divided into 3 groups: 3rd graders (the youngest age that she offers testing for), 4th-8th, and high school. Since I have a child working in the 4th-8th grade room, she placed me with the group of five 3rd graders. They are all very sweet, and as the day went on, they grew very talkative! All I did was keep track of the time for each section, and answered any questions the kids had. I did not administer this test - that was the testing lady's job. Mostly I sat and read.

And I watched. Reece is a 3rd grader this year, and her testing will come next month. I watched these kids and I tried to picture Reece in this same situation. Unfortunately, I came to the conclusion that she wouldn't be able to handle it. Even playing games out on the grass during our break times would have been overwhelming for her.

Academically, the test is way too hard, but I know that already. She's very behind, but she is making progress on her own schedule. That's one reason I despise the requirement for standardized testing. It's not going to tell me anything I don't already know. She's behind for her age/grade. DUH! The testing itself is going to be stressful because it's going to be full of stuff that she doesn't know how to do! And she's smart enough to know THAT! And smart enough to be upset when she's faced with a test that is determined to find out how much she doesn't know. Lots of wonderfully negative episodic memories! @@

I am trying to remember my determination to trust in God, and not let what I experienced today get the better of me. It's so hard, though. Every single time we leave the house these days, Reece has a meltdown. Her last soccer game was on Sunday, and her helper wasn't there, and she sobbed bitterly the whole time. "Soccer isn't worth playing if Sara isn't here!!" After 45 minutes, we decided to call it a day and go home. She didn't want to leave, so she calmed down. Just in time for it to end early so they could give out end of the season awards. Yesterday at Riley's ballet class, I took math games to keep us busy, and she had a meltdown because the game didn't go the way she wanted it to go. I took her out to the car until she could get control over herself. It might not be the best way to handle it, or the "RDI" way to handle it, but she has simply got to learn that she can't scream and cry when she doesn't like what is happening around her. If she's developmentally around 3-4, then that's what I would do with a 3-4 year old who was having a temper tantrum. We would leave the place until she got control of herself.

It's just so hard. I don't think it's been this hard since she was actually 3-4 years old. I never used to take her out of the house back then. And that's how I feel about things right now. I'd just rather stay home (or leave her home) than deal with the meltdowns. I don't remember it being this bad with Austin. But then again, that was a long time ago so maybe I'm just not remembering. And they are different kids. She's had a lot further to go than he did.

So I will write all of this out, and then I will make myself forget about it. I will push it aside and remember that God works all things for the good of those who love Him. And He has a plan for her life. And I will pray yet again that the meltdowns will cease because I honestly just need a break from it! :)




Thursday, May 05, 2011

Another Autism Anniversary

As the end of our school year approaches (NEXT FRIDAY!! WOOOHOOOOO!!!), I am finding myself with a bit more time on my hands as some of the subjects we are completing fall off our schedules. I'm not sure if anyone reads here regularly anymore since I've been so hit and miss with posting.

May 2nd marked the 5th anniversary of Austin's Asperger's diagnosis. I wrote a series of posts back in September when we hit our 5th anniversary of Reece's diagnosis, but I'm not sure I ever got around to talking about this particular year of autism for our family. Austin's ankle surgery took over precedence, and honestly ushered in some of the most challenging months I have ever faced as a parent.

I don't recall if I mentioned before but his surgery coincided with the end of the weaning process from his seizure medication. So he was physically restricted (when his main method of self-regulation involved movement), he was not able to play the drums or baseball (his two favorite activities), and his brain was adjusting to the removal of some powerful medication. It was awful, and he was aware of all of it. I truly believe, looking back, that he sunk into a depression. He talked suicide several times.

You know, I need to stop for a moment - this is such a hard age to try to write a blog about your child. He will be 15 in less than 2 months, and I know he would hate it if he knew I were talking about these sorts of things. But I do try to explain to him that the reason I share these things is to let other people know they aren't alone in their struggles with autism/epilepsy/home schooling. And I want people to know how brave and strong Austin is!! He is downright embarrassed and ashamed about his Aspergers/ASD diagnosis, and that pains me so much. Not that I want him to embrace ASD as his identity, because he is so much more than the sum of his diagnosable behaviors. He is an incredible child of God who has a place in this world if he will be strong enough to work as hard as he will have to work to achieve it. I know in my heart that God took him down that path to show him that he is stronger than he ever thought he was. I hope Austin can see that one day. And I hope he can learn to accept himself for all of his strengths, weaknesses, and quirks. My prayer is that much of this embarrassment is typical teen angsty stuff and that he will come through the other side of it with a new perspective on himself.

I had decided to seek professional help for Austin if I didn't see marked improvement once he was mobile again. Thankfully, that was exactly what happened. Austin had joined a band towards the end of that time, and I credit that with helping him come back to a better state of mental health.

The last few months of this fifth year of autism have been spent dealing with completely non-autism-related stress. My middle child - 12 year old Riley - has been exhibiting some pretty overwhelming behaviors. I've learned in the last 2 months that it possibly could be related to puberty, and I read a wonderful book called Strong Willed Child, or Dreamer? which I mentioned last month. However, things seem to be getting worse instead of better, and I have placed a call to the kids' developmental specialist to see if he can give me some suggestions on who might be able to help us. I can't help but feel a sense of shame and responsibility - she has always been a challenging child, but I spent the first few years of her life dealing with Austin's behaviors. And then I spent the next few years of her life dealing with Reece's behaviors. I guess I didn't spend enough time dealing with HER behaviors, and now they are out of control. I'm looking forward to getting that phone call back from the doctor's office and see what they recommend we do.

As I mentioned earlier, our last day of school is next Friday. Then we will take a month off completely before we begin Sun and Fun. In that month, it is my goal to work on our relationships as a family and between the siblings. I really want to enjoy my kids again - not being teacher and taskmaster, but as being mom.

Because if it's one thing that autism has taught me, is that it's ALL about the relationship!! :)

Sunday, May 01, 2011

The day that God hit me in the head with a CD

How often have I complained about not hearing from God? How often have I joked about wanting Him to email me or text me or even send me a Facebook message with clear instructions for my life (homeschooling/autism/spiritual journey)? Well, imagine my surprise when He hit me in the head this morning with a CD!

The last few weeks, if you haven't been able to figure it out, have been dreadful. Awful. Horrible. I could add many additional adjectives, but I'm sure you get the point. I have been regretting ever starting homeschooling. I have been questioning every decision I ever made in my parenting, and in my life. It's been a deep, dark valley. And it seemed that there was no way out.

This morning I was getting ready for church and I was very tired. Reece hasn't been sleeping well, and I've been getting up very early for my triathlon training. And that's not even taking into consideration how tired the tri training has made me. I wanted to wear a necklace for a change and was looking for my one lone necklace in my dresser. I looked all over but couldn't find it anywhere. As I turned around to finish getting ready, something hit me in the head.

It was a CD in a paper case and it was absolutely covered in dust. I'm not sure where it has been all this time, but it was filthy. The title was "High School: You Can Do It!" and it was a CD of a lecture from the GHEA homeschool convention back in 2009. The speaker just so happened to be the same person who did Austin's testing back in the winter. I took her "Homeschooling High School" seminar last spring, but I had never listened to this CD after I bought it.

When I got home from church, I ripped the CD onto my mp3 player and listened right away - because, quite honestly, I'm not going to ignore the fact that I got whacked in the face by a CD that has obviously been so easily hidden on my dresser. It was GREAT! An hour of encouragement and information (but not details because any time I try to get into details lately it's created a panic in me). From there, I looked on my mp3 player and found Sonya Shafer's Looking Past the Fear seminar that I had downloaded from Simply Charlotte Mason. I immediately listened to that one as well.

The results were immediate. My heart hasn't been this light in ages! The answer is clear. In my own power, in my own strength, I continue to falter. I continue to panic. The only way I'm going to be able to continue on - and I've honestly been wondering if God was calling me to stop homeschooling - is to keep my eyes on God. And when I feel the panic creep in - because I am feeling incompetent (Hello lessons from RDI) - I have to refocus on Him. Again. And Again. And Again. Until it becomes the FIRST reaction.

"Believing, then, is directing the heart's attention to Jesus." p. 90 (The Pursuit of God, A.W. Tozer)

"The man who has struggled to purify himself and has had nothing but repeated failures will experience real relief when he stops tinkering with his soul and looks away to the perfect One." p. 91, The Pursuit of God