Homeschooling in the Digital Age

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For more on homeschooling highschoolers, check out the GHF Blog Hop. 

“Time to get off the computer.”

I don’t know how often I say that to my boys. I say it politely, adding a please. I say it with a time attached, giving a number of minutes. I say it with fewer words, each a sentence of its own: “Get. Off. Now.”  I say it with more: “If you continue to sit at that computer after I’ve asked you to get off, you’ll not see that game tomorrow (or this week, this month, in a lifetime of Thursdays).” I’ve yelled it. I’ve written it as a note or passed it as a text. Some I’ve even cried while saying it.

This is homeschooling in the digital age.

When I started this gig at the start of 2005, mom to one seven-year-old and one three-year-old, we had one computer, and we used it minimally. I checked my email. My older son might play a game for 30 minutes a day. I sometimes sought out homeschooling information and read through the archives of the TAGMAX and the like. My cell phone was a pay-as-you go, and texting wasn’t a verb I knew. As a family, we were fairly strict about “screen time.” We had a few educational games (remember Zoombinis?), and TV watching was limited to documentaries and other overtly educational programing. Our internet connection was slow, and our cable line nonexistent. We were largely unplugged.

We’ve come a long way on the technology train since then. As I write this, my older son, almost 17,  is in the basement on the computer he built, an “ancient” laptop (5 years old) nearby on the floor, sporting an operating system that isn’t familiar to me and being used for purposes I don’t understand. He’s doing his biology using online software from Plato Courseware. Before that, he worked on his 3D Programming course and his Intro to Statistics course, both free offerings through Udacity, one of several available MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses. Later, he’ll log into his course on the local community college’s website to work on his Advanced C++ programming class or English 101 course. At some point, he’ll turn to his Java homework, and while the homeschooling group class he attends this week is a live, in-person experience, the programming work is all on the computer, of course. After that, he’ll click through to  Codeacademy, his go-to site for informally picking up computer languages, where he’s picking up Ruby, a language, he tells me, that is something like Python, which still means little to a mom who learned Basic and Pascal decades ago. Then have an IRL human experience in the afternoon: real teens chatting and eating while real moms drink coffee and chat. Then, after an IRL dinner at the kitchen table, he’s likely back down to his computer to Skype with either programming online friends from the college or to Skype/Minecraft with a good buddies (most whom he knows in their human form).

His brother, twelve, who’s at another machine built by his brother, is on the main floor, working (I hope) on his Marine Biology Coursera course, another MOOC offering, or perhaps on one of his literature classes from Online G3. He could be checking in on what’s due for Biology, an IRL class I teach but that has assignments posted on the web and sites to visit on the web. Perhaps he’s honing his latest essay about aquariums and fish-keeping, using Google Drive for writing and the internet for research. Either way, after practicing the very real piano, tending to his water-, fish-, and plant-filled aquarium, and reading a book made of paper, he’ll spend an hour or two on Skype with a friend he knows in human form and play Minecraft. Loudly. Then we’re off to fencing — the live type, with foils, epees, sabers, and real humans.

As I read through those paragraphs, those ones that plant my children, for hours a day, a foot or two from a screen, I’m filled with a mix of awe, sadness, and concern. I’m awed at the offerings my kids have. Homeschooling has never been deeper in its offerings than it is now. While my younger still spends a few hours a day at the proverbial kitchen table with books, papers, and a real pencil, working with Mom, more and more the picture of homeschooling is more akin to partaking in a buffet than the family-style meal it used to be, and the buffet includes some incredible online offerings.

This metaphor, introduced to me by a friend as she related how she explained their eclectic homeschooling style to friends and the Powers that Be on the college Common App (meaning even the college application process has gone digital), fits how many families now homeschool. I can’t think of a more apt comparison. This monstrous buffet caters to learners of all styles and with all sensibilities. There are endless choices: traditional texts and workbooks, online classes for free, online courses for more than free, homeschool classes via co-op or even school district, in-school electives, DVD programs, subscription classes, field trips created for homeschoolers, individualized instruction online or live, dual enrollment classes at local colleges and universities — or online, and much, much more. It’s overwhelming, frankly.

A decade ago, when homeschooling was the back-up plan if the second school in two years failed, I talked to friends and paged through catalogues. I dog-eared pages and took trips to the local teacher’s store. I attended used curriculum sales, frequented used curriculum sites, and purchased the leftovers of my friends. We were at the library weekly, often with dozens of books exchanging residence during the visit. Our homeschooling day was a mix of reading aloud, discussing any variety of topics, working through math workbooks, doing science experiments, watching science videos, and playing. The computer had little to do with it.

Today, our internet connection is our lifeline. It links my younger son, who has Asperger’s and finds real-life interaction fatiguing and bewildering,  to classes, friends, and aquarium enthusiasts (he’s a bit fish-obsessed). I’ve seen his social skills grow, interestingly, and I attribute some of that to the practice with people without bodies that he gets through audio-only Skyping with friends. (Facial expressions and body language can overwhelm some people on the autism spectrum. He does experience people live often enough to be building skills in this area of communication as well.) It connects my older son with friends, other programmers, a few mentors, and even to students who can benefit from his programming knowledge. It brings him classes he can’t get from a book and encourages the rabbit trails that have brought him to find himself fascinated with computer engineering and programming.

And yet I remain uncertain about my sons’ relationship with their computers and the worlds they open to them. It’s hard to manage the lure of the online world, full of stimulation and distraction. I struggle myself, and I’m far from my impulse-driven teens. As a forty-something adult, I find myself checking email, online Scrabble, text messages, and Facebook far often than I likely should, distracted from writing and assorted computer-based obligations. Those temptations threaten the rest of my time, with a smart phone that makes access to diversions way too easy. So if I struggle, an adult with a (theoretically) fully developed frontal lobe with no deficits of executive function except those induced by child-rearing and homeschooling, how hard must it be for them, with their developing teen brains, to manage the Siren’s song of the digital world, balancing work and pleasure with habit and addiction?

Mighty hard. And so I set limits. I insist on meals at the kitchen table and time away from screens.  I plan time for them away from the screen and with live humans. But as my children age, I give them more say in how they manage their time, on the computer and off. This is part of their education, the management of whims and work, the balance of life offline with life (and often work) online. With practice, support, judicious limits, plenty of reminders, and some missteps on my part and theirs, I’m confident they can move healthily from homeschooling teens to working adults while living in the digital age.

Strings Attached

018Birth is the start of a separation that most mothers long for, as gravid bellies grow beyond all believed limits and small hands, feet, head, and even pointy elbows poke the most intimate parts of their host. Nothing, for the pregnant woman, is done alone, and all that mom does during those 40 weeks is done with two beings in mind. But at the end, those weeks before birth, most moms are ready for the change to come, if only to experience less trips to the bathroom and to stop pushing that foot out from under her ribs. The first-time mom learns quickly that birth just changes rather than severs the connection.

Sure, squeeze-induced bathroom trips decrease in frequency after that first separation, but for the next oh-so-many years, they are rarely the private venture they used to be. And while babies out of the womb can be passed to another set of loving arms or even set down for at least a bit, they are persistently vocal about their preference, even when all the available arms full of groceries, in the shower, or holding onto someone else. And while we moms don’t do it with grace every time, we accept that our separation at birth was only the cutting of a single strand of connection. It was only the beginning.

And so it goes. That cord-cutting starts a cascade tiny separations. Weaning. Walking. Talking. Eating and toileting and dressing and bathing — with less and less assistance. Reading. Writing. Exploring the world and their place in it. Finding their own voice and learning to use it to show how separate they are from their parents and siblings. And all the time running away and coming back, more on elastic bands than string, with the furthest runs out followed by crashes back into the safety of a parent.

It’s not a linear process, and it’s often unclear when a given separation occurs. The child who spends weeks working solo suddenly wants mom by her side for math — every day. The boy who was saying goodnight to mom with little more than a quick and squirmy hug suddenly needs stories and conversations between the stuffed animals that returned to his bed after years of absence. No wonder it’s easy to be confused and conflicted about when and where and how to let go.

My older son is sixteen. He is a bit more man than boy everyday. I’ve not tucked him into bed in years, as his sleep cycle sends him to bed hours after my eyes close. He’s driving on a permit, taking college classes, and shaving (occasionally), and he spends much of his day in his office, a corner of the basement where interruptions are fewer and where, I guess, he feels more his own person. He’s working on the organizational skills required by college classes and the high school variety, a process that reminds me of whiplash. For days on end, all cylinders seem to be firing. Each time I check on him, he’s working on schedule or making adjustments as needed. I start to loosen my hold to the string that seems attached to his frontal lobe. I might even set it down for a bit.

And then it’s mayhem. Deadlines are missed. Assignments remain undone or not turned in. Test grades plummet. Alarms go unheeded. Chores are abandoned midway. 

And so I pick up the string, tie it around my wrist and pull. Hard. The resulting unpleasant collision of mother and son makes for all sort of ugly exchanges. I’m disappointed that he couldn’t maintain the organization needed for his life. I’m frustrated that I’m again his frontal lobe, which leaves me a bit short-handed for my own life. And I’m scared that he’ll not be able to manage just a few years down the road when I’m not so close to grab the string.

It’s that last part that’s the key. Separating is scary. Not separating is scary, too. As with the rest of parenting, there is no guidebook about when to let go. If my experiences are any indicator, there aren’t any clear rules. Strings are rarely cut outright or even set down with forethought and intention. Often, parent and child just set them down, either worn out from holding Most just slowly dissolve out disuse by both parent and child after some time on the ground, . It’s hard to see what separations have occurred without stepping back a good deal and seeing where you haven’t been in years. I’ve not tied his shoes in almost a decade. I don’t recall when last I cut his food, coaxed to shower, or thought twice about wondering if a household chore was within his ability set.

As he’s grown, we’ve formed other attachments, the sort where I need his assistance or occasions, those borne out of common interest. I’ve long turned to him for computer problems and other technical challenges, and he’s now the one who manages what’s up high and too heavy. There’s a comfort in this pattern of give and take, each of us with skills that help the other, an interdependence that feels somewhat similar to my relationships with other adults in my life. Somewhat.  He is still — and always be — my son. Strings attached.

Wrestling With Authority

Every day, I tell my kids what to do. Get in the shower. Pick up your dishes/clothes/books/shoes. Remember your English homework. Get ready for bed. Many of those requests begin with a “please,” but let’s face it. For most of us, “Please brush your teeth,” isn’t offering choice but rather a veneer of manners we hope helps our children that there are polite ways to tell someone what needs to be done when. “I’d appreciate it if you’d pick your dirty clothes up off the floor and put them in the hamper so they can be washed,” is just a sanitized, “Pick up your clothes.” It’s not an invitation to debate or discussion, and both child and parent know it.

But that’s not the kind of parenting I prefer. In the parenting world in my mind, we all do what we should because, well, we just should. We pick up our things and put them away because it is then easier to find them later. We do our respective jobs because they are simply our jobs to do or because they make our life as family better. We all brush our teeth because that’s good for our teeth. I pay the bills because it keeps the heat on and the keys to the house in our hands. We all take up the tasks of keeping that house intact, each to ability and time of life. And we never run out of ice cream or dark chocolate because that’s just not how we roll.

Yes, I have a rich fantasy life. It sustains me when I’m again reminding children to finish math, pick up socks, and place their own dishes in the dishwasher. I’ve pleaded my case for collaborative living and personal responsibility on numerous occasions, often being met with blank stares or, sometimes from my older, a ducked head, indicating a bit of remorse but no real idea what his crazy mom is requesting.

I’ve been known to struggle with authority. Not with appropriate authority — the kind that is given with respect, but not just the verbal trappings of respect. “Please” means nothing if paired with a useless, unreasonable, or impossible request. Where I’ve struggled with authority is where the authority is simply there for the sake of being authority. Authority should have purpose, and a person with authority should have wisdom and vision that those following the authority do not. 

Parents, theoretically, have that wisdom and vision. We are the first authority in our children’s lives, and most of feel ill-equipped as we wield use it. If we’re thinking as we parent, we wonder daily about when to exert authority and when to let go. Aside from the obvious health, safety, and legal points, knowing when to hold fast and when to let a child lead is largely a matter of opinion swayed by our own upbringing and our peers.  We’re charged with keeping our children alive until eighteen when, theoretically, they’ve gathered the knowledge and vision to move into the world with less parental prodding. How we interpret the vagaries of that job is up to us.

When I look back, the authority issues those first few years were simple, revolving around sleep, safety, and nutrition. The sleep issues bogged me down. My children weren’t big on naps. One just needed far less sleep that it seems a small child should, and one just found leaving mom’s moving arms too risky to chance. But I needed their naps. As an introverted mom, finding time to recharge alone was a priority for my own mental health. At many a nap time, I wondered who needed the naps more, me or the small child. But while you can lead a child to bed (or other comfy nap spot), you cannot make a child sleep. Not one to let my child cry it out for purpose or principle, I did what many moms do. I took to the car. Ah. Quiet for me. Rest for the little one.

Authority issues expanded as they grew. I found myself locked in ridiculous power struggles, which any thinking person would recognize as unmistakable signs of authority gone awry. Debating clothing color choices with a four-year-old is a sign of insanity, and yet, I found myself explaining the lifetime woe my older would experience if his idea of matching was to wear a red shirt with an almost-red pair of pants. Yes, I learned. Clothing — and hair length — aren’t areas where my wisdom or vision help one whit. I learned a bit about when to let go.

As the boys grew, I continued sometimes to explode into unneeded authority tantrums, bids for power, really, which is the not-so-virtuous cousin of authority. I say with minimal embarrassment that one pleasure I take in my professional life as a physician assistant is that people actually at least pretend to listen to my wisdom. Yeah, I know they don’t all go home to exercise, eat more fruits and vegetables, and quit smoking, but they often say they will. Shallow? Perhaps. But some days, I just want some recognition that have wisdom and vision in something.

Homeschooling added another arena for the authority question to flourish and, in some ways, raised the stakes to the authority game. While I live in a state with no reporting and no regulation, I have always been acutely aware of the level of responsibility I have educating my sons. What to teach, how to teach it, when to start and stop, how to assure their competence — how to decide what competence means — and much more is firmly in my hands. It’s daunting. Heck, it’s often overwhelming. As my older reaches the end of high school, it’s no less daunting to count credits and wonder where to balance his passions with what he’s not so passionate about. And it’s daunting to know when to let him lead and when to exert authority about his schedule.

So where’s the line? I don’t know. I think it’s different for every parent and every moment in time. While I appreciate the adage that a parent is the one who best knows his or her own child, it’s not that comforting when the parent knows perfectly well that skills ignored today are going to still be required in college in a few years. And just as I’d have been remiss for failing to remind my children at four to brush their teeth or to give another child a chance at the swings, I’d be equally remiss if I did not insist on balance to their education. Computer programming is not a sufficient curriculum for my older. He must learn to read with comprehension and write in a way that transmits information and is readable. My younger must ingest more than literature and history — some math and science are necessary for a well-rounded education.

Of course authority extends beyond academics when parenting older children. Curfew is just as much about respecting the needs of the rest of the family and your obligations the next day as it is drawing a line of “late enough”. Talking back, while mostly just annoying at home, is the possible precursor to disrespect to professors, bosses, and partners in years to come. And nothing about parenting teens excludes reminders about basic hygiene.

So I continue to wrestle with appropriate authority. I wonder when to let a child walk away from an activity and when to insist he try at least a few more months. I ponder whether to legislate bedtimes and waking times for those who find themselves with too few hours in a day for homework. I wrestle with choice — how much to give about coursework and free-time choices. All the while, I yearn to step down from the role of authoritarian, or at least to step back into a more supportive and collaborative role. It’s work, figuring out how to let children grow up and finding your place as they continually grow and change. It’s hard work, the sort that haunt a mom in the night, wondering to which side she’s erred the previous day. It leaves me wanting an authority of my own, an instruction manual, specific for each age and stage of my children.

But there’s nothing, of course. So I make my own way, blundering daily, stepping on their toes one moment and letting them wander too far the next, always wondering if they’ll be ready when it’s their time to leave the proverbial nest.  Wondering what they’ll think once firmly ensconced in their adulthood about the level of authority they experienced at home. Wondering and just wanting them to be okay.

Parental Control(s)

Like most parents, I have a love/hate relationship with the internet and my children’s relationships with it. The internet has brought us access to amazing online classes, like those offered through Online G3, Khan Academy, Code Academy, and Coursera. These educational portals enrich every day of our homeschooling. It’s brought us Google Hangout, my platform for teaching, and Google Drive, the most sensible way to share documents from computer to computer and, for my boys, from our home to their home at their Dad’s. The internet brings us instant access to answers to almost any question while allowing us to talk about the quality and content of those answers. The online offerings available for homeschooling families have increased dramatically since I started this journey 9 years ago, and I really don’t know what our homeschooling would look like without it or whether we would still even be home.

And then there’s the hate side, or at least the more complicated side. There are all the sorts of sites I don’t want them to face. Porn. Malware. Scams. Hate speech.  Gambling. Phishing.  And then there are the sites they adore and find so compelling that time seems to stop for when they go to them: YouTube. Facebook. Minecraft. Reddit. Tumblr. Skype. Meme sites of every and any kind. And lately, CNN and the New York Times. 

I didn’t want to use parental controls.  I kept our computers in busy places where privacy was assuredly not available. I wanted to think that open dialogue between parent and children paired with of a good dollop of self-control and a cup of desire to follow the rules would keep my highly inquisitive children from searching for the stuff for which they should not search via internet. That’s mostly been true. But I didn’t count on an eight year old who would search for images of kittens and come up with scantily clad adult humans. Call me naive. Self control or not, something had to be done.

So for several years, the parental controls were about keeping disturbing material out. I had no more need to come across images of the wrong kind of kittens than my boys, and I’m all for avoiding what could be a scam, so I set controls that worked for all of us. K9, a free program that works with iOS and Microsoft machines, became my assistant in keeping the internet a place that worked for us.

Until it didn’t. While I admit that Scrabble and Facebook can distract me from work I should be doing, I generally manage to get done what needs to get done. My children are, ahem, less task-oriented. My twelve-year-old’s vice is YouTube videos of other people playing Minecraft (I don’t get it, but I know he’s not alone.) and, while less objectionable but no less distracting, the New York Times and CNN websites.  My sixteen-year-old is partial to aggregated readers and Skype (audio only), carrying on conversations with friends while playing games, reading other sites, and computer programming. Neither distraction is managed with moderation. My children, it seems, are unfamiliar with moderation.

So what to do? My preferred method of parenting is to present my thoughts (computer entertainment is getting in the way of education and Experiences with Real People and Things), explain the value I espouse (moderation in all things and regular contact with books, outside, and Real Human Beings), listen to their thoughts and plans for change (this part can get dicey), and wait for change to actually happen (and apart it falls). Something between steps three and four goes wrong, and my collaborative process of guidance fails to deliver.

So I’ve had to resort to what I really don’t want to resort to: tightening the controls. I hate doing that. I want people to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. So up go the blocks on the sites my younger loves the most, only to be unlocked by me. (Given we share computers, moving between two all day long, there is little else practical. We’ve tried having separate accounts, but the bouncing back and forth is a pain.)  Ugh. It’s a hate-hate situation, but it is, for now, our answer.

Parental controls for a sixteen-year-old who built his own computer is another issue altogether. I’ve wrestled with this question and found no reasonable answer. Products like OpenDNS that protect an entire home network don’t easily work with our internet provider’s technology, and I can’t put parental controls on a computer where he has all the, well, control. I’m running on trust when it comes to objectionable material, trust and the hope that he truly has the values he seems to have. That will have to do when it comes to content.

As far as time management, I’ve largely taken the stance that, at sixteen, he needs to learn to manage the lure of technology. He needs to learn to budget his time. It’s too early in the semester to know how that’s going, but I’m optimistic. And a bit freaked. This parent is not in control of a major source of distraction for one easily distracted not-so-much-a-child. It’s taking a good deal of deep breathing and no small amount of trust to stay this course.

So I try to exercise some parental (self) control, realizing that I’ve raised him well, and while that’s no guarantee he won’t make bad choices, in less than two years, he’s an adult. My younger son chafes at the relative freedom his older brother has regarding the computer, and aside from reminding him that his brother had limits at twelve, I don’t know what to say. I’m still figuring this out, parenting a teen, and I don’t have it all down.  I still remind my older than interacting with live people is part of becoming a healthy human being and insist on a live presence for all meals and the mandated fresh air exposure that comes with yard care. And I ponder what is right and what is good and what just is different from what I knew growing up. So it’s another deep breath as I regain my parental control and watch two boys grow up in the age of technology.

 

 

College Visits: University of Detroit Mercy

Last summer, we visited Oberlin College (summary here) to whet my older son’s palate for college. At 15, he was uncertain of what he wanted to study and saw no connection to his homeschool high school education and college. College was, after all, ages away. The visit worked. College started to look appealing, and he began to see the connection between his studies today and the choices a few years away. Since then, he’s found his calling: computer science and electrical engineering. He’s also decided he doesn’t want to leave home. This narrowed scope brought us to my and his father’s alma mater, University of Detroit Mercy.

University of Detroit Mercy

Location: Detroit, Michigan

Enrollment: 5,231 (2,868 undergraduate, 1,300 graduate, 1,063 professional school)

University of Detroit Mercy was in my backyard growing up. It was the school where my mother taught and housed the Jesuit-led Catholic Mass I attended from age five on up. It was familiar and, therefore, entirely uninteresting. At my mom’s insistence, I interviewed for a scholarship on a weekend visit that convinced me I’d be happy nowhere else. The money came through, and for the next seven years (undergrad, one year of part-time postgrad, two years of professional studies in their PA program), I called UDM home.

I’d not considered it as an option for my sons, however. I figured they’d want to go away for school, and honestly I envisioned broader choices for them than I had had. But when my son centered his sights on home and engineering, I made the call. My first call is always to the disability office. With dysgraphia, ADD, and something else that remains unnamed, he needs note taking services and other supports ( see Accommodating Disability, College Style), and unless a school will provide those supports, it’s not under consideration. When that call assured me they could provide what he needed, we scheduled a visit with admissions.

University of Detroit Mercy is a Jesuit institution within the city of Detroit. Approaches via freeway reveal the plight of the city. The school itself sits on the southern end of a still-thriving set of neighborhoods on the west side, and growth is evident among the businesses just north of the school. Campus itself is entirely fenced, with every entrance guarded and gated, creating a safe atmosphere in what is admittedly, at least on three sides, not the safest of areas. The campus consists of an attractive, well-maintained collection of largely older buildings with spanish tile roofs interspersed with enough green space to provide a bit of respite from urban stone and concrete. While largely a commuter school, UDM has six residence halls housing under 1000 students, including one dorm dedicated to housing first year students.

UDM isn’t an ivy league school or elite liberal arts haven. It does have a strong engineering program committed to project-based learning from freshman year on paired with an established co-op program where engineering students work in local and national firms for quite decent pay (and college credits) starting after their first summer. Rather than an optional extra, this is integral to the engineering program, bringing students the chance to try multiple work assignments over three summers or remain in one. (The co-op program isn’t just for engineers. As an English major many years back, I co-oped three times, formative assignments that helped me choose a career path.)

UDM is a small school. My son heard “You won’t get lost here” from everyone we met, a sentiment I’d mentioned when we first discussed visiting. Class sizes are small, with an average class size of 21 students. This is crucial for a kid who could become invisible in a larger setting. UDM is a warm and welcoming school, something I was reminded of during our half day on campus. Our planned meeting with an engineering professor morphed into an impromptu trip to the electrical engineering lab, where students and faculty were hard at work preparing a robot for competition. Despite their tight schedule, the faculty took plenty of time to talk to my son and I about the lab itself, the project at hand, and the department in general. While my son was rather quiet, not sure how to do this back-and-forth, they were eager to share and engage. We went on to visit another lab where a collaborative project with a university in Texas was underway, another stop not on the schedule but eagerly offered.

While the Engineering Department wooed my son, UDM’s strong core curriculum calls to me. My son is set on an engineering and computer-oriented path. University of Detroit Mercy assures he won’t leave college with only science and math courses on his transcript. They are committed to giving every student a broad liberal arts background, with requirements in the usual English and history courses but also in philosophy, ethics, religion, and the arts. Choices abound, and a perusal through the core options brought my son reassurance that he could find plenty of interest without having to resort to literary analysis courses or some such torture (his word for that fun, not mine). I’m with Klinkenborg and Brooks: the humanities are worthy subjects of study that support our connections as human beings. UDM supports a grounding in the humanities, and that, to me, is essential for a well-rounded human being.

With a year before application time and two years before the start of college, we’re not done looking around, but University of Detroit Mercy made a strong impression on my son and on me. Sure, I’m biased. UDM gave me a strong education in a supportive, intimate environment. It was affordable as well, given their scholarships for strong students. It grounded me in Jesuit values: service, justice, equality, and scholarship, values that cross the boundaries of religion and serve me as well as a Catholic as they do as a Unitarian Universalist. I’m certain they could do the same for him.

Modeling: Do As I Do

This afternoon, I sat down to an episode of The West Wing with my 11-year-old, my historian/writer with an interest in politics who took to the show after watching a short clip during the election cycle. It’s odd fare for a preteen, but I’m considering it educational.  As I generally do, I brought my phone with me to the couch while he searched Amazon Prime for our next episode.

“Put it down!” he emphatically requested.

I turned the phone over onto the couch next to me, but that was not sufficient.

“Down there,” he said, pointing at the floor, just out of reach.

I mentioned something about waiting for his dad to text about pick-up time tonight, left it by my side, and pointed out the popcorn on the end table. The phone stayed face down on the couch, but his point was made.

While “do as I say, not as I do”  is fine to say, it’s not really the best in parenting methodology. We are models of adult behavior for our children. What we do matters far more to our offspring than what we say. Personally, this disappoints me. My behavior is less than ideal far too many times, and I realize that I say one thing and model another, constantly aware that my actions speak louder than my words. And while my younger son is still phone-free and my phone-wielding son shows restraint with his, I can’t think that my attachment is likely the healthiest behavior either child could observe.

My too-regular responses to texts and checks on my Scrabble games are just two of the types of distracted behavior that serve as poor models for my kids. When working online, I tend to keep one eye out for email and another out on Scrabble or Facebook, not because I’m waiting for anything important but simply because my own ability to focus on one thing at a time is becoming challenged. I dispense advice to my older: Keep only your work on the screen. Close Facebook. Don’t read with windows open on the computer. He has a fair amount of the inattentive type of ADD and is easily distracted. I have no native ADD and am, perhaps, even more distracted. And yet I say one thing and do quite the opposite, with predictable results — he keeps screens open and flounders to finish tasks while I also accomplish less than I could if I minimized electronic distractions.

My modeling of mealtime is similarly poor. We’ve always been a meals-at-the-table-together kind of family. That worked well when dinner found us all at the table at the same time and the boys woke at dawn, making these natural family times. But with classes in all directions at all hours and three differing interpretations at what constitutes morning (and thus breakfast time, which influences lunch time), this meal bonding time has become less secure. And with online classes running over meals and hurried people with work and homework, eating at the computer became a new norm. Sticky keyboards aside, this practice also leads to meals consumed without thought and appreciation. The part of me that embraces at least the idea of intentionality and mindfulness shudders at this new trend of ours. Periodically, I’ll make a demand to return eating to the table. And for a while, we do so. But when the kids aren’t there, it’s easy to take my meal to the computer (lentil soup tonight), and when my older is busy with homework or Minecraft, he doesn’t want to remove himself from his lair and ascend to the kitchen.

Reading is another modeling opportunity gone bad. Now, I read, but much of the reading I do is while at my weekly allergy appointments, in the parking lot during my younger’s piano lessons, in bed before sleeping, in bed before waking, and at other points where no one is around to see it. So while I’m doing what I say, I’m not doing it visibly. My younger is quick to read without being asked, although coaxing him to read new material takes work. My older, who read prolifically when younger, hears the Siren’s song of the computer more loudly than the whisper of a good book or even an edifying magazine. So in addition to making reading a book previously unread number one on the summer list of tasks for the day, I’m making more time to read in front of my offspring. Given I’m three weeks from my recertification exam as a PA, that’s mostly medical journals and books, but it is reading they can see me doing. (To my defense, moms who sit down to read, write, talk on the phone, think, or sleep are seen as infinitely available to appreciate witticisms, field complaints, and receive requests that require leaving one’s chair. My public reading time diminished as a result of some sort of conditioning gone wrong.)

I model other bad stuff, too. On occasion, I’ve been known to yell for a child rather than walk to find him, despite telling my own to do the opposite. I even sometimes yell at a child (gasp!), and my mouth is not the font of always-genteel language that is was when they were smaller. My younger son loves to call me on all of this and more, having appointed himself the Master of Civility and Manners. Well, of Mom’s civility and manners. He feels free to follow his id while experimenting with the milder end of foul language and innuendo, behavior somewhat due to age but also a product of a mom with a loosening tongue. According to him, Mom, it seems, should be all superego, restrained, calm, and utterly consistent. I suppose in theory I agree, but that’s just not the mom the universe brought him.

This is not a cry for perfection from parents. We are human, despite what our children may say. We have our foibles and failings, and our ideals for our children often rest in the hopes that our children will have different ones – somehow better ones — themselves.  Somewhere in the first third of this post, I closed the split screen, with Scrabble on the left and this post on the right, switched to full screen for this document, so the email wouldn’t show, and set to doing one thing at a time. There is no one around aside from a rather silent foster cat on my lap to know about my focus, and she’s unlikely to tell. But tonight I’m modeling behavior for myself, reminding myself that at one point, I could attend to my writing, my work, my meals without other stimuli. I’m trying to do as I say, to do as I want to be, to do as I want my children to do.  And tomorrow, when the boys return, I’ll try that again.

Summer at Sixteen

It’s summer. Not the calendar kind but rather the school kind. Well, my younger son is finishing three Online G3 courses while my older strolls through the ends of a writing course, but it’s mostly summer.

Summer vacation once meant a break from school entirely. Aside from problems from the Math Can, weekly piano lessons, and plenty of time for reading, summer meant no planning for Mom or regular work for the boys. But last summer, we decided to move some of my older son’s study to summer, freeing up some time in the fall for the college coursework he had planned. He started a Coursera literature class towards the end of July. I started teaching Physics at the start of August, partly as security against the inevitable illnesses that would interrupt our study and partly hope that we’d finish before May. (We did.) Thus summer as free and light ended and some form of year-round homeschooling began.

Summer remains simpler than the school year, at least a bit. For my newly sixteen-year-old son, it offers a chance to focus on a few subjects, some  passions and some despised necessities, but without the distraction of five or six other areas of study. By age, he’s a high school junior. He has 19 college credits from the past year, although acquiring more isn’t the agenda this summer.  For the next three and a half months, he’ll focus on a few carefully chosen subjects, along with the usual piano study, balancing what he needs with what he wants. I like to think of it is the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down. He may have a different analogy.

For the remainder of May, he’ll study for the SAT subject tests in Physics and Math Level 2.  It turns out Calculus 1 and 2 don’t help you recall the vagaries of trigonometry identities, probability  and matrices, so those are receiving the bulk of his time. Physics is fresher and going well on practice exams, so less work is required there. Why bother with the standardized tests? Because some colleges like proof of mastery, plus studying for exams is a skill that could use some practice. Plus, as many homeschooling parents know, no matter how much we feel we’re getting this homeschooling right, a bit of outside evidence doesn’t hurt.

My older will also start driver’s ed, albeit with much anxiety from both of us. He’s not that eager to drive. I’m eager to have another driver, but I’m not so excited about it being from that tiny, helpless baby that slept in my arms sixteen years back. Growing up is hard on moms. He’ll also finish a programming course in Python through Computer Science Circles (University of Waterloo). He’s resisted programming for years, figuring like foreign languages that it was not accessible to his brain. For once Mom was right. It’s different from a foreign language and is now a preferred activity of the day, done first each morning. And after Python, he’ll move on to another language, possibly Java, although through what route of study remains to be seen. He sees it as fun, making just about any route effective.

With a friend and fellow electronics nut, my older son will work his way through Make: Electronics (Charles Platt), an instructional electronics book with plenty of photos and fun. (The first of 36 projects is to lick a battery.) From there, they move on to building progressively more complicated circuits, exploring transistors, logic chips, magnetism, and a host of electronic wonders I don’t understand. To document the work done, the boys will make a series of YouTube videos of their projects. He’d been dabbling informally for much of the past year, and formalizing the study encourages him to fill in holes, complete projects, and allows me to issue some credit for the amazing amount of learning that went on when I turned my back.

The “medicine” end of summer includes finishing an online writing course. With two assignments remaining, this shouldn’t take long, but somehow writing is always his last priority. After that, we’re moving to a literature study of a hopefully appealing kind: Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative, a Coursera offering. It’s not his mother’s literature class, but he’s a very different learner than his mother, so that makes sense. In my most optimistic mode, I’m picturing adding a history/English hybrid, with readings about scientists, mathematicians, and the history of science and technology. While I initially wanted to start that this summer, I’m becoming overwhelmed with the list of confirmed summer study, so perhaps that will wait for fall.

On top of his studies, my older has started repairing computers (PCs) for others. He received certification (TestOut PC Pro) by exam after completing a PC Troubleshooting and Repair class at a local community college. While this isn’t likely to produce steady work, it’s something he enjoys and does well. We’ve discussed communication with clients, turn-around time, rates, and other business practices, and are hoping for the best.

As I read through his plans for summer, I’m awed. He’s come so far in the last year, a time when I was frankly hoping he was reaching the bottom of the teen slump, since I couldn’t imagine him dipping any lower. Clearly, he’s on his way up and out. Along the way, he’s found his passions — computers and electronics. His passions match his skill-set, and he knows he’d like to pursue computer and electrical engineering in the years to come. I’m relieved. He seems to still find plenty of time for Minecraft, sleeping, and goofing around, top activities in his niche in the teen boy culture. And he still seems to like his family, at least most of the time. At sixteen, that’s a fine sign for our summer together.

Twice Exceptional: When Exceptions are the Norm

DSCN0301I realize that after three years of blogging about my twice exceptional boys, I’ve never written about what twice exceptional means. The conventional definition of twice exceptional, or 2e, is gifted with learning differences. Parents would tell you that it’s a life of contradictions and contrasts, often pulling against each other resulting in a child who looks, well, average, whatever that is. They’d also tell you stories of advocacy twice failed, kids who work twice as hard with half the results, and twice the concerns about where a child will fit in the world. And the kids? Some might tell about wondering who they were, wondering at why life seems so hard, and perhaps about just feeling not so smart.

Until my older son struggled in school with handwriting tasks, I didn’t know a child could be learning disabled and gifted. Since he was my first child, I took much of his way of being in the world as normal kid stuff. Well, I knew he was ahead in areas, largely in the academic realm, but I also knew he lagged in fine motor skills, from writing to tying shoes to buttering bread. The diagnoses of his level of giftedness and dysgraphia, a disorder of written expression, arrived in tandem, making sense out of what we’d noticed while making the job of finding an appropriate educational setting that much harder. The poor fit of school was made no easier with those pieces of information.

So eventually we came home from school. Three years later, the ADHD diagnosis came along for the ride, with a trail of question marks still following, challenges undefined and unexplained. And three years after that, my younger was formally diagnosed with Aspergers, changing everything and nothing in a few sentences that were too long in coming.

That’s what those second exceptionalities do. They change everything. And nothing.

Ideally, they how we frame our children’s challenges. What was once seemed stubborn is now likely anxiety about what just doesn’t come with effort alone. What looked lazy is avoidance of what just feels bad or is simply beyond one’s skill set. What appeared to be neglect is a brain that struggles to make sense out of time and space. When I knew that my older son’s refusal to write more than the briefest phrase was because holding the pencil hurt and that making each letter took intense concentration that made it impossible to focus on content, I stopped thinking of his resistance as stubborn or lazy. It was a reasonable reaction to facing a Herculean task. When I found out that his trouble following a list of tasks, never mind create his own, came from a frontal lobe that was taking its time maturing, I stopped seeing his day as strewn with neglect.

Or at least I mostly did. Truthfully, it’s hard to look at a kid who started to add at three and explore the details of earth science at four and understand why the trajectory of learning that came so easily when no product was demanded comes screeching to a halt when it seems to be time to write a simple sentence about the moon. It’s not much easier at 15, when detailed monologues about computer guts dominate conversations but writing a list of tasks and following it still requires Mom.

Parenting a gifted kid often means parenting a child who was somewhat like you. Even if time and thousands of questions without answers seem to have beaten the giftedness out of us, apples don’t fall far from trees, as my father would say. For many of us, there is something familiar about the intensity of our gifted children, if only in shadowy images as we remember our childhoods.

But if you are not also learning disabled — and my children’s father and I are not — the dichotomy of the 2e kid is frankly mysterious. I don’t know what it’s like to be unable to write  with ease, to be unable take notes during a lecture, to look for my homework that I’m sure I did only to find that I never did it, or be stymied by the social norms of conversation. I just don’t know. It’s an unfamiliar way of being in the world.

Now, that’s expected to some degree. I don’t expect my kids to like what I like or see the world the way I see it. They are individuals. But when their operating systems seems so foreign, it’s sometimes hard to parent effectively and respectfully. In a fit of frustration, I once asked my older if the world in his head was as chaotic as it appeared from the outside. “It’s much worse,” he replied, without hesitation or, thankfully, frustration with his stymied, frantic mother.

Having a child who is twice exceptional means school will never be a sure fit. Or at least not a simple and comfortable fit. Mid-second grade, when my older came home, I was exhausted by meetings where I tried to explain what seemed like impossible partners, my son’s disparate needs for more information and challenge with less written output (although a keyboard would have been welcome). Having mercy on my son, myself, and even the school, I took the challenge home. That doesn’t make any exceptions vanish, but it does return your child to being your child, free of as many comparison points and evaluations. The dissonance with the world persists when field trips are missed (too loud, too many people, too many places to go in a day, or just too something else) and when reading through boards for parents of gifted kids, but being at home is a respite from the expectations of the world, where “gifted” and “learning disabled” mean different classrooms, methodologies, and outcomes. And as I’ve returned one to school (dual high school and college enrollment), I’ve been reminded that the differences persist, causing different challenges than eight years back, but still making fit difficult.

And for the kids? It’s even harder. For my older, having learning disabilities has caused him to question his intelligence. How can being smart and a quick learner coincide with forgetting to do assignments and struggling still to write a legible sentence? It seemed a more likely explanation that he wasn’t very smart at all, I suppose, and at an age where being “normal” is valued above being oneself, it seems reasonable to want to wish both away. Having both his giftedness and other challenges negated by school didn’t help, either, although by now I thought time would erase those feelings fo poor fit. Thankfully, college experiences in schools with strong disability resource offices have somewhat ameliorated of those feelings. (See Accommodating Disability, College Style for more on that adventure.)

My younger, at least on the surface, has an easier time. At home and in online classes, his difference doesn’t often interfere. After all, a preference for no eye contact, fewer bodies in the house, and a tight routine all mesh well with homeschooling. He’s also comfortable in his own skin, embracing his difference. (Don’t you dare call it a disability, Mom!) But I worry. The accommodations for him are largely invisible to him — careful scheduling, plenty of time for transitions, and adequate downtime happen without him realizing it. And while he’d likely be eaten alive in a live middle school classroom, he’s just one of the pack in his online classes. I’d not say it’s been easier to parent him over the years (oh, it’s not been), but out of school, the social issues just don’t cause as much difficulty day-to-day. He sees himself as smart and capable and enjoys the friendship of some wonderful children and adults who accept him as is. I’m grateful for his comfort within his own skin.

There is no ending. Twice exceptional kids become twice exceptional adults, and with guidance, support, and a bit of luck, they enter adulthood confident in their talents and equipped to seek and use supports for their disabilities.  I keep my fingers crossed, admittedly, but mostly I just keep guiding and supporting. And loving.

If you want to know more about supporting 2e learners, follow the links below. 

Accommodating Disability, College Style

I was a lousy grade school advocate. I tried my hand at speaking up for my oh-so bored (but don’t use that word) older son during his first grade year, asking for assignments that took bigger bites with less repetition. I didn’t get very far, and even when we handed over the testing they requested to prove that he really didn’t need that, the testing that showed that he very much did, nothing happened. We were welcome to keep him in the school, but with the understanding that they had nothing to offer him.

Thinking that getting little for nothing was a better deal than getting nothing for 10K a year, we tried a public gifted program. Now we had more information. In addition to a quick mind, my older had a writing disability. Intervention via a scribe or keyboard wasn’t available for a gifted kid, it seemed, so while free, he was stuck with education that was boring and unaccommodating to his disability.

So eight years ago, we went home.

Last spring, it was with great trepidation and a good amount of encouragement from a psychologist who “gets” twice exceptional (gifted and learning disabled) kids that I made the call to Madonna University  a small private college just minutes away from home. With my son just months from 15,  called their designated admissions advisor for dual-enrolled students (a good sign of an open-minded institution). I spouted a few scores and what we were seeking — Calculus I and Sign Language and Society (a liberal arts intro class with no signing). Yes, they’d be glad to have him. Then I asked for what I’d not asked for in the previous seven years — accommodations for dysgraphia and ADHD (and assorted executive function disorders.

I held my breath.

“Of course we can accommodate him,” she began before spouting off a list of accommodations I’d not known was even possible. I exhaled, thanked her profusely, and nearly cried on the line.

A few weeks later, after scheduling his classes, we were walked down to the Office of Disability Resources (ODR) to meet his advisor. This would be a first for the university, a dual-enrolled student using the ODR, we were told, with a smile and not a small amount of enthusiasm. I could hardly believe it. Two grade schools had met him with doubt of the validity of his gifts and his disabilities, despite reason, pleading, paperwork, and repeated meetings. This place — this college — was ready to help as soon as we presented ourselves.

Well, not only ourselves. We’d brought the latest evaluation from his psychologist, complete with diagnoses and specific recommendations. We had ACT scores and more, hoping that the high scores on those measures wouldn’t negate the very real challenges my son faces. My son and I were both nervous. Me because I’d failed every previous attempt to advocate for him. Him because he was sitting in a college advisor’s office and was not yet 15, plus he felt that somehow his disabilities negated his intelligence. Being twice-exceptional is quite the head game.

The rest was easy. The advisor chatted with both of us, getting a feel for what worked and didn’t work for my son. Note taking was the biggest concern. Dysgraphia affects the ability to write by hand but also the ability to organize thoughts. Note taking in college classes require a rapid hand and an ease with sorting out what is relevant and noteworthy from what is just interesting. It requires constant focus, which in these classes, meant attending for up to three hours at a time. Note taking is his greatest nemesis.

And the box was checked for a note taker. A paid — by the university– note taker chosen by the ODR was available. This service could be done anonymously or more openly, with carbon copy notes either handed over after class, sent via email, or placed in a numbered box in the office.  If the first one didn’t work out, a replacement would be provided. Either way, a student already in the class would provide him with notes. I exhaled again.

What else did he need? Quiet testing? Okay. Time-and-a-half for testing? Just in case. Keyboard for testing anything longer than a single-word answer? Definitely. Permission to use a laptop during class for in-class writing assignments? Yes.  We were handed the list of possible accommodations to consider, encouraged to take what might be needed. It was overwhelming. And encouraging.

College accommodations come with a caveat: it is up to the student to enact them. The student needs to approach the professor with the paperwork for scheduling a test in the testing center then file the paperwork with the ODR secretary. The student needs to ask to use a keyboard for an assignment in class instead of writing it out. No teacher or advisor will come after the student, meaning that it all can be in place on paper but go unused in reality. For a student with executive function issues (difficulty planning and organizing), this seemed a daunting task.

Fast forward to fall, with nine credits on the schedule, a nervous mom, and plenty of adrenaline for my son. Only the note taking accommodation was used, and without that, he’d have been lost. Thanks to long class times, extended test-taking time wasn’t needed. While offered a reader and a scribe for tests, he decided to use neither, and thankfully his Calculus teacher assured him she’d dealt with far worse handwriting than his (somehow his numbers are legible where his letters aren’t). He was sure that telling someone what to write down for math would be far more challenging than just showing the work himself, and he was likely right. But just like most security blankets, knowing the accommodations were there for the taking was a comfort.

Accommodations even when enacted, don’t solve all the problems of the learning disabled student. Poor executive function — the skills of planning, organization, and impulse control — isn’t easily accommodated for. I’ve served as his frontal lobe for a good long time, and I’ve had to continue that role as he moved some learning to the college classroom. While we’ve worked on ways to keep schedules and lists, these skills still aren’t used to anything close to their full potential. Additionally, a few tests went bad — or at least weren’t that great — mostly due to poor self-monitoring and a tendency to be overly optimistic about what he knew. An assignment was missed (miraculously just one), likely due to wishful thinking that he’d already done it paired with a lack of follow-up to assure that was true. In short, the  usual problems persisted.

So this semester, he’s taking three classes, carrying eleven credits between two colleges. I hold my breath again and again, wince regularly, and cheer whenever appropriate. The second school offered similar supports, including audiobooks, preferential seating, advance copies of in-class reading and writing assignments, and speech-to-text software for writing assignments and tests. None of those are necessary in the PC Troubleshooting and Repair class he’s taking, but it’s good to know they are there. For a reading and writing heavy class, he’d need it all.

Accommodations are readily available at the college level, even for dual enrolled students. While they can help with some of the challenges of the child with disabilities they can’t touch the underlying executive function issues many kids with learning disabilities experience. Twice exceptional kids who need the intellectual stimulation of the college environment will still need support at home to meet deadlines, hone studying skills, and provide organizational support. It’s a continual balance between those disparate needs.  Disability resource offices offer some substantial support, but parent will end up offering a good amount, too. At least for me, that job doesn’t seem likely to end soon.

 

Cautiously Optimistic

Depending on how I count it, we’re either in our ninth week, fifth week, or third week of school. Since it only really all came together in the past few weeks, I’ll pick the latter.

I’d been dreading this school year since at least May. Okay, maybe even April. The previous two years were a downward spiral, with my older son and I finding our way ever more deeply into a black hole of discouragement, despair, and daily battles. Okay, perhaps that’s a bit strong, but neither of us were happy with each other or ourselves. And Instead of working together, we both seemed bent on proving to each other that things could indeed get worse. So they did.

As August approached, my dread increased. I certainly wasn’t helping my older grow into more responsibility. If anything, I was hurting the process. In acute distress one day, I went so far as to call our local public high school two weeks before it was to start, ready to demolish our plans in hopes that school could help him more than I could. The act of calling calmed me down and absolutely convinced my son that immediate change was required. Besides, it reminded me why we’d left school almost eight years earlier. Asking for accommodations for an exceptionally gifted kid who needed significant support for his dysgraphia wasn’t going to be easier at 15 than it had been at seven. Anyway, the promised returned calls after the initial talk with the counselor went unanswered. Surely that was a sign to continue as we had planned.

And so continue we did. He’d begun his Coursera literature class in July and his physics course in August (the only class with me at the helm but with the benefit of a friend in attendance as well). After Labor Day, two classes at Madonna University promised a new way of learning independent of Mom but requiring a far higher degree of autonomy and responsibility than previously experienced or exhibited.

Yes, I had my doubts. And instead of remaining upbeat, positive, and generally supportive, I was sitting in a place of fear tinged with not a small amount of resentment and anger. Boy, did it show. But there he was, excited about university classes and tolerating the accommodations offered given his learning differences. Somehow, despite my negativity, he was still quite sure he’d be fine. As his first day of school approached, his excitement built. Mine did, too, although I continued to worry.

Then I stopped. His university classes were days away from beginning. He was more excited about those than any other academic endeavor in the past two years. Perhaps he’d be fine. And if he wasn’t, perhaps that would be the nudge he needed to work harder on the organizational piece that’s always plagued him.

Was I comfortable with the idea of letting him fail, or even letting him flounder and swallow some poor grades? Not really. Even at a reduced rate for dual enrollment, the tab for eight credits is significant. Beyond the financial investment was my concern about his ability to manage the deadlines and dates that school requires. He’d struggled mightily with that at home, and how much was teenage rebellion and how much was executive function challenges was unknown. But my deepest concern was that a failure at school would confirm his growing sense of identity as someone who couldn’t succeed.

He, however, was all confidence and enthusiasm, and that was contagious. And hopeful. So I relaxed.

He returned from the first class, Calculus I, ebullient. He’d attended with another 15-year-old friend, and together, it seems they took the class by storm. The professor asked questions, but the other (traditionally aged) students didn’t answer. Some would mumble, my son reported, but only after much prompting by the professor. So he and his buddy started answering questions. After suggesting he make sure others have a chance to answer, I let out a mental exhalation. In those few hours, he’d been reminded of what he’d forgotten for years or perhaps what he never actually believed:  he was smart.

Yes, I know that plenty of college (and high school) kids zone out in class, knowing plenty but saying nothing. But participating successfully in that setting (yes, I asked if his answers were correct) reminded him that he wasn’t stupid. Nothing I’d been able to say had changed that perception of himself, as for years he’d only seen the learning disabilities and not his own giftedness.

That bit of confirmation of his own abilities along with the desire to do well in the college setting seems –so far — to be enough to help him summon some basic organizational skills. While his binder and backpack were scary when we looked through them today (first check), I could see that he’d received excellent grades on all his assignments. Heck, I was thrilled he’d remembered to do them and to turn them in, but the grades on them confirmed to him and to me that we’d made the right choice this year. Today, three weeks in, we spent some time on Basic Backpack and Binder Organization 101, and while I’m sure paper chaos will return to that black maw, I’m seeing some light at the end of what’s seemed like a very long tunnel, and I doubt it’s an oncoming train.

So here I am, cautiously optimistic with a son who’s happier, more independent, and more confident than he’s been in years. It’s early to say how the semester will go, but I think there’s every reason to believe it will be fine. His improved organization and planning have spread to his Coursera class, where he’s taking more ownership over his work and no longer asking for assistance on essays. Honestly, this independence is taking some getting used to. I’m accustomed to butting in more, and those habits persist. Being rebuffed because of growing ability, however, is fabulous.

May the “No, thanks, Mom. I’ve got this,” that I’ve heard so often these three weeks continue. Those words are warming my heart.

Is growth happening in your house? Share away!