Saturday, August 22, 2015

I'm Sending My Children To School (And I Don't Want To)

My 6-year-old and my 3-year-old are headed to school this fall.  This is a surprise to me, because I have been planning for their entire lives to school them at home.  I have a variety of reasons, as do all parents who choose to homeschool.  Firstly, they are both autistic, and it can be quite difficult to work with them.  Secondly, they are extremely active, and not designed to sit still.  Thirdly, no matter how wonderful their teachers would be, they would not receive the same level of care and attention that they get from me at home.  No one knows them like I do, not even their dad.  I know (usually) what sets them off, what calms them down, and how to deal with tricky situations.  I am home with just them, so any emotional crisis can be given my full attention immediately.  Teachers, while excellent, simply don't have that flexibility.

Henry, the 3-year-old, is mostly non-verbal.  We started having him tested by the school district back in June.  The testers recommended that we put him in a preschool to improve his verbal and social skills.  We reluctantly agreed, and he's due to start in just a few weeks.  I am terrified.  Henry does not deal well with change, particularly changes where he won't see Mommy.  I am waffling between sending him off to preschool against his will, or keeping him home and cuddling him.

As for Rowan, the 6-year-old, we've been leaning toward Connections Academy, an online free public school.  Friends of ours have gone through it and said it's wonderful.  This is the route we thought we would go until five days ago.  But here's the thing--Rowan wants to actually go to school.  A physical school building with physical classmates and a teacher.

A physical public school is out of the question.  Rowan alternates between extreme childishness and extreme adult-like speech.  He is extraordinarily sweet, but if he is handled wrong, he will go into an emotional shutdown.  Public school would eat him alive.  That left us with just private school as a physical option, and we were sure we couldn't afford private school.

Still, we arranged a meeting at a small local private school to weigh our options.  We met with the administrator and the woman who would be his teacher, should he enroll.  And--oh dear!--it sounded absolutely ideal.  Rowan would be in a mixed first and second grade classroom.  Only eight other students were enrolled for that classroom.  Wednesdays are special activity days, with activities ranging from gardening to cooking.  Rowan's potential teacher took him to her classroom for placement testing, since he did not attend kindergarten.  She came back and said that in writing, spelling, and math he scored as a solid first grade.  His reading is at a third grade level.  He loves her and the school already.

So how could we say no?  We believe this will be a thoroughly positive experience for Rowan.  He mostly associates with adults.  He needs and craves social interaction with other children, but in small groups.  Large groups are terrifying for him.  In every way we can imagine, this school sounds perfect.

We're having to make some lifestyle changes, of course.  We've shut off our cable service.  We've consolidated our cell phone plans.  Even that might not be enough.  With both Rowan and Henry gone, at least for the mornings, I might have to get a job.  I'm sure we'll be feeling the pinch of tuition soon.

I don't want to send him.  I don't want to send either of my boys to school.  I have always planned to keep them home with me and teach them myself.  I have been preparing for it for years.  I don't know what I'll do without them here.  I may yet keep Henry home, although I'll probably give him at least a week in the preschool to see how he adjusts.  For Rowan, though, it's time for him to stretch his wings and try them out in a new environment.  So far he's handling it better than I am.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Social? Antisocial? How about Selectively Social?

A month or so ago, some truly wonderful family members decided to treat me to something special.  They bought a ticket for me to a Ladies Night event, full of massages, nail treatments, and bonding with other women.  They purchased this without consulting me, because of course you don't tell people when you're planning a surprise.  They presented it to me--Wow!  An evening of fun and pampering with lots of other women!  And we've already paid for your ticket, so make sure you don't skip out!

Maybe that sounds like heaven to you.  I fought the urge to run screaming and vomit in terror.  Instead I pinned a smile to my lips as best I could and thanked them, albeit a bit stiffly.  When I got the news that the event had been postponed, I nearly cried with relief.

Few things inspire more anxiety in me than hearing the words "group of people" and "must go" and "bonding time."  Oh, I like people.  I do.  I like almost every person I meet.  Forced socialization, however, is something I just can't handle.  When I'm put into a social situation where I'm expected to mingle, I feel like a rowboat set adrift in the Pacific Ocean--no compass, no sense of direction, no guide, nothing to sustain me, and only a couple of piddly paddles to set me going one way or another.  But when I don't even know which direction to head for, what's the point of paddling?  I might as well lay back and let the sharks eat me.

Today I finally explained to one of the gifters that I really, truly do not want to go.  She seemed baffled, and kept asking why.  I did my best to explain:  It won't be relaxing for me.  It won't be fun.  I will be stressed and anxious the whole time, and that's not a pleasant experience for me.  I'm not sure she ever understood.  I think she was offended that I rejected her gift.  It got me thinking, though, about a few other similar situations.

Years ago a friend invited me to a house-warming party.  I foolishly accepted a ride there instead of taking my own vehicle.  My friend was immediately caught up in the crowds--yes, crowds!--of people, chatting happily and showing no signs of stopping.  I spent the evening huddled in a corner, pretending to talk to another very uncomfortable girl.  I caught sight of another person sitting alone in the office, a comfortable door between him and the crowds, and I envied him.

A few years later, some other family members bought me a gift certificate for a massage.  A massage!  How wonderful!  How thoughtful!  How delightful!  I never called to make an appointment.  I could never quite pinpoint why I didn't; there always was some reason why I couldn't do it just then.  It was only today that I finally nailed it down:  They paid a stranger to touch my naked back without my permission.  Here, look!  We paid an exorbitant amount to have you take off your clothes and let a strange person touch you!

That might sound like an extreme overreaction, and perhaps it is, but this is my body and I get to decide who touches it.  I'm sure the masseuse would have been wonderful, but the fact remains that I didn't get to select her.  I was not given the opportunity to decide if this was something I wanted or not.  I am grateful, really, that my family gives me gifts they very obviously value so much.  I just wish they had bought the massage for themselves and gotten me a CD instead.

So is it just that I'm an introvert?  Am I antisocial, or a people-hater?

No.  I am just selectively social.  I really do like people.  I can chat easily to other parents on the playground and random old ladies in the grocery store.  I go to church and smile and greet people.  I can do all that, but it exhausts me.  It tires me beyond belief, and then I have to crash by myself for a long time to recover.

That might sound like introversion to you.  Introverts get their energy from being alone, right?  

The thing is, I also get energy from being with people.  Specific people in specific places, and in small groups.  By "group" I mean no more than three or four people maximum.  Except for when I'm with my immediate family, I am comfortable socializing in three places:  my own home, the park, and a coffee shop.  In my home, if I'm not involved in a conversation, I can busy myself with fixing tea and preparing snacks.  I know the territory and can move where I need to so I don't feel awkward.  At the park, I move around a lot to keep up with my children.  This keeps me from sitting in an awkward silence.  At a coffee shop I can busy myself with my cup.  Not much conversation is expected there, anyway.

And yet, I love to be surrounded by people.

Yes, I love to be surrounded by people.  Not all people, mind.  A few of my friends; a few of my stepson's friends.

I like the sound of conversation swirling around me as I sip my tea.  I like hearing laughter and joking as I change a diaper.  I like contributing a sentence or two as I pass cookies around.  I like having them present, having them in the house, in the room, without feeling the need to entertain them.

So what's the difference?  The difference is that these are people with whom I am supremely comfortable.  They know me.  They know what to expect when they see my home.  They don't have any crazy expectations of me.  More importantly, I know what to expect of them.  These are people who have woven themselves into my heart and made themselves family.  They know my fridge and pantry; they know where the tea is stored.  I have tested them with small fragments of my soul and they have not disappointed me.  They belong here, in a way I could never describe with words.  Having them around is simultaneously relaxing and energizing for me.

So do I get energy from being alone?  Yes.  Do I get energy from being with people?  Yes.  Both of those can also weary me beyond belief.  It just depends on the situation and the people involved.

If you're not yet one of my inner circle, I still want to see you.  Yes, you.  I really do like people.  Just--one at a time, please?  That will give me an opportunity to focus on just you and get to know you better, instead of feeling harried and pressured to chat up everyone at once.  I might even bake cookies.  

Monday, August 3, 2015

Too Much Facebook?

I read a post today entitled, "Why Men Criticize Their SAHM Wives."  I like the post a lot.  It has some very good points.  And although I have a wonderful, fabulous, amazing, supportive husband, I realized that I have been judging myself for some of these things.  On some things I know I could definitely do better, but there is one point in particular where I wonder--over and over in my mind until I want to scream--if everyone else out there judges me for.  They're probably not, but that doesn't stop me wondering.


Oh, Facebook.  Nearly everyone I know has a love/hate relationship with it.  It's a great way to stay in touch with family.   It's full of mindless drivel.  You can reconnect with old friends.  Some old friends might be better left in the past.  It's entertaining.  It's a time-sucking vacuum.

When it comes to moms, Facebook is a deadly trap.  There are so many fabulous pages and communities where we can find other moms and say, "At last!  Someone who gets it!"  That is a wonderful thing, of course, but there are other posts out there, too.  Posts that say, "Put down your phone," and "Limit your child's screen time," and "You're spending too much time on Facebook."  Ironically, these get posted on Facebook.  I understand these posts, and I partially agree with them, but the end result is that I feel guilty any time I pick up my phone--even to take a picture of my children--or check my Facebook notifications.  And I wonder if all my Facebook friends think I'm neglecting my children so I can just play all day.

So for the purposes of clarification, and also so that I can see it in print for myself, I'm going to explain.  Yes, I probably spend more time on Facebook than I "ought" to or "need" to.

Here's what you see:  I start off the day by sharing a post at 6:30 a.m.  That early, and already I'm Facebooking!  At 1:50 p.m. I share another post.  Maybe I even comment on a few things.  At 2:43 p.m. I share another.  Then another at 8:56 p.m.  I imagine the commentary:  Is she on her phone all freakin' day?  Doesn't she do any work?  Her poor, neglected children.  Her poor husband.  It must be awful to be around someone so addicted to her phone.  No one has said this to me, of course, but the articles and blog posts I see on the subject seem to stab me personally.  Maybe it's just that I always feel like I could do better.

Here's what you don't see:  Shortly before 6:30 a.m. I awakened to a small child lying on my hair.  I very carefully extricated myself from the bed and headed for the bathroom.  No one else was awake; this was my time.  I checked my notifications and played a few games of Candy Crush.  I left the bathroom and found that both of my children had woken up and were downstairs.  I scrambled into my clothes as quickly as I could and ran down to make sure the front door and the back gate were closed and locked.  It's been hot out, and we've taken to opening up the house in the morning.

The morning passed with minimal fuss--for once--and then it was time for church.  You didn't see me there, telling my distraught 6-year-old that he couldn't take the stroller to church to play with.  You didn't see us stop on the way so that I could explain once again that it is not okay to stand the very edge of the curb, because it make drivers nervous.

You didn't see that I had to stay in the children's church for the whole service with my 3-year-old clinging tight to me, wiping his nose on my shirt and snapping my bra straps repeatedly.  Snap.  Snap.  Snap.  You didn't see that I carried my 6-year-old all the way home from church, with him sobbing that he didn't have a chance to play the Xbox.  You didn't see the way I forced myself to be gentle and speak calmly when he bit my shoulder in an attempt to muffle his sobs.

You didn't see how desperately I watched the playground while we ate lunch with another family, visually tracking my children so fiercely that I hardly noticed what I ate or who sat near me.  You didn't see the way I ran to where my sweet, precious, autistic 3-year-old had blundered into a group of boys twice his size, who tried to talk to him and couldn't understand why he just ignored them.

 You didn't see the way I pushed the merry-go-round around and around and around while my 3-year-old balanced precariously on a rail, watching the patterns of dirt as he whirled by.  You didn't see the teenage Down syndrome girl who sat by him.  You didn't see how sweetly they smiled and babbled to each other, her mother looking relieved that we didn't run away.

You didn't see my panic when I realized that my 3-year-old, who had been playing in his room just five minutes before, was no longer there.  Five minutes of taking a break with Facebook and posting something.  Never mind that I was thoroughly exhausted from the day already; my mommy guilt said that I should have spent every waking moment glued to my child's side.  Mommies don't need or deserve breaks.  Facebook made me lose my child.  You didn't see my overwhelming relief when my husband found him playing in Grandpa's camper.

There are so many more things you didn't see, and don't see, and that I really don't see either, even though I'm living them.  I see the sparkle in my son's eyes when I sit down to play trains with him, and instead of feeling happiness at his delight, I feel guilty that I haven't been playing with him all morning.  I fold a basket of laundry, and instead of feeling accomplished, I chide myself for not doing it earlier.

So do I spend too much time on Facebook?  Yes, I suppose that could be argued.  I could read a book when I take a break.  Better yet, I could just work without pause, without taking any breaks.  Here's the thing, though:  If I am allowed pauses in my day, why not Facebook?  Why is it any worse than anything else I could be doing?  With it, I can share fun stories with my family.  I can connect with other people who are just like me.  I am the administrator of a support group to strengthen and encourage people.

Like anything else, Facebook is a tool.  It can be used wrongly, but when used in a good manner it can strengthen, support, and build up.  It is a vehicle in which we travel to community.  When I can't get out to see people in real life, I can turn to my online friends and they say, "I understand.  I've been there.  You can do this."

Perhaps the judgment I should be worried about is my own.

What do you think?  Is Facebook a hindrance or a blessing in your life?