Tuesday, March 25, 2014

You are 15 going on 16...

How does this:

First birthday party and the smush cake!

become this:

Yes, that's a Batman cupcake. She was so excited when we came across them at the store!
seemingly overnight?!?!

Riley has turned 15 years old! She is almost done with her Freshman year of high school. She has taken the SAT for the first time. And she is bugging me to let her get her learner's permit so she can start driving!

It's so hard to believe because it seems like just yesterday she was baby:

My favorite picture ever of Riley! I think she was around 9 months old!

Or this little girl! 
I want to say she was 5 or 6 in this picture!
Time flies... I'm telling you! It really does! Happy 15th Birthday, Riley! (And she is already talking about being 16 next year! LOL)

Friday, March 21, 2014

And another follow-up...

On Wednesdays, Austin takes a Speech/Debate class with a local veteran homeschooler. This lady is well-known and respected in the Georgia homeschool community. She has degrees in special education and offers lectures, testing, and consulting to homeschool families. I have taken several of her seminars over the years, and several years ago she tested both Austin and Reece. I trust and value her counsel and information.

So on this particular Wednesday - following the weekend meltdown - I needed to ask for some counsel. After class, I sent Austin to warm up the car and asked for a moment of her time. I wanted to clarify some information she had given at her "Homeschooling for High School and Beyond" workshop that I took when Austin was getting ready to enter high school.

"In the state of Georgia, you have the legal right to set your own homeschool graduation requirements. These should be based upon your child's post-graduation plans."

Does this mean I can set the levels of math required for Austin to graduate?


It just means he won't be able to go to a University System of Georgia school.

This is OK. He isn't planning to go to a USG school.

We spoke for a few more minutes to make sure this was the correct way to proceed for Austin, and she offered a few suggestions for next year's math curriculum - and then she said something that stunned and shocked me.

"If Austin needs an Academic letter of recommendation, I would be happy to write one for him."

Say what?!?

She then spoke of how hard he works in her class, how he always does all of his assignments and never makes excuses. He contacts her for help if he's confused about an assignment. He fully participates in class (WOOHOO!!). He gives the best effort that he can at all times. And she would be happy to share that as a non-biased instructor who has had him in her class.

I was absolutely shocked! And very proud! I know all of these things about Austin, but it was so cool to see that she recognized it as well. :)

So now we have a plan for Austin for next year (SENIOR YEAR!) and I'm confident that I'm not doing anything wrong or illegal by following through with it! WHEW!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Let's try this again...

Well, it's been a difficult few days since that last post. I can't tell you the number of times I considered coming here to delete it. Not only because I don't want myself to look bad (who does?!) but it's hard to have stuff "out there" about Austin, not just because I don't want to embarrass him if he ever comes across this blog, but also because of the homeschool naysayers out there. "See? This is why homeschooling is so bad - she hasn't done 2 of the basics with her high school Junior in 2 weeks!!"

Perceptions. Why do I care so much what other people think?

Anyway, today during church, our music minister (who is really hot, have you ever seen him? Oh yeah, he's my husband! Hee hee - had you going there for a minute! LOL) chose a song for the offertory called, "Let the Praises Ring" by Lincoln Brewester. One of my favorite songs, very upbeat and simple! Fun song.

And I started crying.

"Oh Lord my God in You I put my trust
Oh Lord my God in You I put my hope"

Those are the first two lines of the song, and they repeat themselves. Just enough time for me to really dwell on them. And realize (again ) how badly I have been failing in this area when it comes to homeschooling, and especially when it comes to Austin.

Then comes the first lines of the chorus:

"In You In You I find my peace
In You In You I find my strength"
The peace I'm looking for (and the joy?!)?? The strength I need to explain the difference between a line and an angle ONE. MORE. TIME. (or a hundred more times?) ?!?! It's not found within myself. It's not found in anything I can do. It's found in GOD. I know this. Duh.
So the tears are welling up, and then the next part of the chorus comes on:
"In You I live and move and breathe"
That line hits me upside the head like a ton of bricks. I first really came to know it when my daughter joined a dance company a few years ago called MOVE, and this line/verse (Acts 17ish) was part of their foundation. I commandeered it with my running/training when I was coming back from an injury and realized that I had been using my training as a way to deal with the stress in my life, instead of focusing on God. Running from my problems instead of running to God.

So I'm still processing that and the second verse begins: 

"Oh Lord my God to You I give my hands
Oh Lord my God to You I give my feet
Oh Lord my God to You I give my everything
Oh Lord my God to You I give my life"
By the end of the verse, and the return of the chorus, the tears are freely flowing. I have used this song before (music is SO important to me in so many different ways, and I've probably mentioned before how God uses music, and not just Christian music, to speak to me) but with my running. And all of those changes in the last 2.5 years have been simply amazing! I have found such joy in training and I no longer use it to get away from my problems, but as a time to focus my thoughts and improve my mental and physical and emotional conditioning, so I can better handle my problems. I have learned, I think, to trust God that if the plan I have going for my training gets derailed it's because He has a better plan for me (a different race? a better experience? saving me from myself?). I've learned to give Him my hands and my feet and my everything and He has blessed me time and again. I am stronger and healthier than I have ever been and my training has gone so much better than I could have hoped. 

So why shouldn't I apply this same notion to homeschooling? Why is it so hard to trust God that if the plan I have going for homeschooling gets derailed it's because He has a better plan for me? For Austin? For Riley? For Reece? It didn't happen overnight for me to do that with my training. In fact, it was pretty ugly there for awhile. But the more I practiced, the easier it got. The more I trusted, the more it became second nature. It's like a spiritual workout.

Do I like it that Austin struggles academically? No. Is it fair? In my opinion, no. Austin is a genuinely nice kid with a strong work ethic and lots of determination! Why does everything have to be so hard for him?
I don't think I ever shared the story from Tuesday night. Hubby was working late, and I was getting ready to leave for the girls and me to go to dance class. Austin came into the kitchen where I was busy straightening things up. He said, "Shouldn't you be getting ready for dance class?" I said, "Yes, but I want to clean up the kitchen first so it isn't a mess when Dad gets home from his long day." Austin said, "I got this! You go get ready for dance!" and he proceeded to clean up the kitchen for me. How many other 17.5 year old boys do you know who would be so thoughtful and responsible? Let alone one with autism?! 

I constantly want Austin to trust God. And sometimes it makes me sad when Austin talks about having a hard time trusting God because things are so hard all the time. But what sort of a role model am I for trusting God to take all of Austin's challenges and turn them into something beautiful?? (Yeah, that's another song LOL)
So I'm glad I didn't delete that post from Friday. And I'm glad I went to church this morning. And I'm glad God inspired my husband to play that song. And I'm glad tomorrow is a new day and a new week and I can start (again!) practicing trusting God and putting my hope in Him when it comes to homeschooling Austin (and the girls). After all, He loves Austin way more than I do! 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Stop! Thief!

I've been thinking about writing this post for awhile. But I didn't want to sound whiny. And there is also the privacy factor for my kids, which is hard now that they are teens. But maybe I can start with a caveat that I am very proud of my children and I love them very much. :) So any whiny-ness is just my own stupid problem.

Yesterday, a friend of mine posted this picture on her Facebook timeline:

It really inspired me to think about what I've been wanting to write. I realized that this is a very true statement. It is especially important to me because "Joy" is my word of the year, and I have been finding it very hard to find Joy in homeschooling.

The post I was wanting to write is a little embarrassing for me, because it's admitting that I have dropped the ball. On purpose. So I'm going to own up to it in the hopes that, by doing so, I can hold myself accountable to rectifying the situation. Also, maybe this will help someone who may be reading and experience a similar problem.

OK, here we go:

I haven't done math or writing with Austin in 2 weeks.

A collective gasp comes from the readership of the Black Pearl Academy blog. And my head sinks.

It's awful, I know.

You know what makes it even more awful? The reason.

It's because I just cannot face working on math and writing with him right now.  I cannot explain again the difference between a line and an angle. I cannot bear to watch him try to remember the word "perpendicular" and it won't come, and he's got his hands up in a cross trying to show me what it looks like. I cannot look into his eyes again as his 12 year old sister whispers the answer to his high school geometry lesson because she has heard us go over and over and over it, and she hates to see him not know the answer. I cannot read another "paper" that consists of 3 sentences that make absolutely no sense and have so many easy words spelled wrong. And realizing that most of the paper is made up from what he "knows" about the topic because he has no comprehension of what he just read in the book.

None of this is his fault. I know that! Learning has always been hard for him and I have patiently spent the last 11.5 years working with him day in and day out and trying everything under the sun to try to help him learn to the best of his ability. But I am burned out! He is so frustrated, and yet he continues day in and day out to get up and try his best. Even though I haven't been doing math with him, I see him reading the lessons and trying to figure out what they mean. And then I see him put the math book away and we sort of look at each other. He knows that I'm not pushing the issue. I hope it doesn't make him feel worse.

So now we have the "Comparison" sentence pop up. I know that's the problem (along with the burnout). We joined a homeschool group this year, and I am guilty of comparing my kids with everyone else's. And especially when it comes to Austin. Kids his age, including his friends, are starting to get acceptances to the colleges of their choice. And I am thrilled for them. Truly! But I'm also sad for Austin. And you know what? Let me be honest - I'm sad for me. Insert the pouty mom here. Yeah, my kid struggles and I am whining about it.

No wonder I am not experiencing joy in homeschooling. It's not anyone's fault but my own. I am letting comparison (among my own children, between my children and other children, and even between the children I wasn't given but for some reason feel like I was entitled to) rob me of the joy I'm supposed to have in all circumstances. In fact, I'm supposed to embrace the troubles and trials WITH JOY because it will help me develop a strong character. (James 1 - and my verse for this year @@)

Austin embodies that better than I do. He may not express joy in the struggling, but he has never once come to me and said, "Mom, I don't want to do this anymore. I am OVER school and I am just not going to do it!" I couldn't blame him if he did. I know how discouraging it has been for me as a teacher. And I know how discouraging it is when you're trying to learn something new and it's hard and you don't really get it - my tap class last week is the perfect example (BTW, time steps are of the devil!). And he has been experiencing that feeling for years - over a decade! His psychiatrist - he sees one for anxiety and OCD - asked me this winter to reduce his academic load to help with the stress he is feeling. And Austin replied, "No way! I'm not a slacker!"

I feel ashamed of myself.

So now I need to stop feeling sorry for myself, and get my act together. If I have to explain the difference between a line and an angle again, so be it. Maybe one of these days I'll come up with THE way that will connect with him. I think I'm going to look into IEW writing again since I've heard that it's good for kids with LDs.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

It's just practice!

Today, Riley took the SAT. Yeah, that SAT - the one for college! :D The reason she is taking it as a 9th grader is easy. Practice!

In the state of GA, our homeschool requirements mandate a standardized test at the end of 3rd grade, and then every 3 years after that. So that puts a standardized test in 9th and 12th grades of high school. In the elementary and middle school years, I use the ITBS - first at home, and then testing as part of a group for practice in testing with other people around. Since Austin had his 9th grade testing as part of his neuropsych work-up, he took the ITBS last year at the end of 10th grade. Obviously, his testing calendar is a bit different than the typical, but I figured Riley would also do the ITBS for her 9th grade test.

But then her Biology teacher suggested another option: taking the SAT for practice! I hadn't considered that, to be honest, but her reasoning was solid. She would get to experience the testing procedure when the stakes are low. We don't need to send the results anywhere. She just gets to practice - and the price for the SAT is about the same as a group administration of the ITBS!

Riley has been loosely prepping for the test for the last couple of months, but I didn't want to stress her out too much so I didn't put too much emphasis on the test prep. I bought a book, she read through it. We didn't do practice tests, because this whole thing was the practice test! I knew the math section was going to be difficult because she is only finishing up Algebra 1 right now, and the SAT has quite a bit of Geometry on it. But that's OK! My instruction for her was to do what she could, skip anything that was completely unknown. I had no concerns about the reading/language tests - she excels in those areas. The essay writing was a little unnerving just because she hasn't written anything by hand in a long time. She types all of her work! So beginning in January, we started writing stuff out again - much to her chagrin! LOL And my only other concern was the time limit, and I had intended to give her a couple of timed essays to practice and I didn't get around to it. But again - no stress. It is what it is!

Testing morning came too early - I woke up at 5:30 and I woke her up at 6 AM. YUCK. We left the house at 7:15, and planned to meet a friend (also a 9th grader) over at the high school. When we arrived, I noticed that the kids were all being dropped off. The plan in my head had me and the other mom walking the kids in, taking a few adorable pics at the door, get her checked in and make sure she was in the right place and knew where to go.

Instead, I found myself dropping her off and snapping a couple of pictures of her walking away. All she said was, "I don't know where to go!" and I said, "Just follow the other kids!" And she turned and was on her way.

"No pictures, Mom!!"

There she goes!!
I met up with my friend and went to breakfast and shopped while the kids were testing. That was great because I was more nervous than I expected. Riley wasn't allowed to take her cell phone (though she said plenty of people had their phones @@) and I started to worry that maybe she didn't have everything she needed and how could she get ahold of me if something went wrong? Luckily, my friend did a great job of distracting me!

At last it was time to get the kids. Riley was about 20 minutes later than expected coming out, but when she did, I was greeted with a big smile! (And a starving girl - only 5 minute breaks did not allow her enough time to eat her snack!)

My SAT girl!

 The first thing she talked about was the essay, and how excited she was about it. She thinks she really rocked that part - and that it was her favorite! I told her was delusional because nobody likes the SAT essay! LOL She skipped lots of the math, but that was expected. And the reading/language sections weren't overwhelming. Bottom line - she thought it wasn't too bad and possibly even sort of fun! YAY! Exactly the reaction I wanted her to come away with!
Refueling! :)
Nana offered to pay for lunch/dessert after the test so my starving scholar could refuel properly! And she did! We went to Sweet Tomatoes for lunch and then to Sweet Monkeys for dessert.

I have told her over and over how proud I am of her. She tackled something not every 9th grader would be brave enough to handle! I don't care what her scores are - I am proud of her attitude and bravery most of all! :)

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

The Mommyhood

This week my baby girl had a birthday!

My beautiful baby!
I typically have trouble with birthdays, as I'm sure most of you know. But I was really doing well this year. Until BOOM it hit me like a ton of bricks. My baby is a pre-teen! And my son will be an adult in just a couple of months. As much as I have enjoyed these recent years of the kids being older, it's also been a time of reflection for me as a mother. I don't know if this is normal or not, but I'm really regretting a lot of the decisions I've made over the years. And I have become the crazy lady that runs up to the mom with young children and begs her to relax and enjoy the time with her babies while they are babies because they grow up so fast. But the problem is, I really mean that! I've seen first-hand how the days seem so long, but the years just fly by. But I remember people telling me these things when I was a younger mother and I didn't listen. Because I was too busy just trying to get through the day!

I am so proud of the young lady that Reece has grown into and I'm so excited about the things that God has in store for her life. She loves learning (especially Latin), and she wants to be a gamer/computer programmer when she grows up! :) Even without all she has had to overcome in her life, that is something pretty exciting! When you add in the autism, she is a little miracle! And she's my baby - forever! :D