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.


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.

Seventh Grade: Plans for 2013/2014

School is underway for my seventh grader (whatever that means when you homeschool), now twelve. As I write, he’s working on math, and once that’s done, he needs to spend time on a project for an online class. Our early start wasn’t my choosing, but since his online classes started last week and he does better when occupied, here we are.

Math (mean, median, and mode today) picks up where we left off in the Spring. Rabbit trails, anxiety, and a textbook switch means he’s still a few chapters short of finishing Singapore’s Discovering Mathematics 7B (Common Core edition).This seriesweaves algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and miscellaneous math topics across four years of texts, meaning that we’re likely trapped in this series of four books until we see our way to the other side. That’s fine, Singapore has served us well for many years, and we’re both happy while he’s learning.

Biology is our science this semester, and I’m thrilled. I’ve spent weeks reworking the high school level biology course I used for his brother and a friend when they were technically in  seventh grade. (Syllabus here.) Centered around Exploring the Way Life Works (Hoagland) and Biology: Concepts and Connections (Campbell), this is a rigorous study with plenty of labs, reading, and writing, as well as explicit teaching of note taking skills.We have two weeks before our first class, and I can’t wait.

Much of my twelve year old’s learning is online this semester. He’s taking two classes from Online G3, an impressively taught source of real-time classes for younger learners ready for big ideas and dialogue. He’ll take Current Events, where a portion of each session is in the hands of a student who takes fifteen minutes to present on an event he or she finds interesting. (My younger son is taking on Common Core and presents next week. That should be interesting.) Also from G3, he’s studying Shakespeare’s Comedies, a high school level literature course using Lightening Literature’s text by the same name. For second semester, he’s hoping to take Shakespeare’s Tragedies and perhaps British Literature. My children couldn’t be more different.

New this year is Latin. We played with Latin in the spring, using Linney’s Getting Started with Latin, which provided a gentle introduction to the language. He’s enrolled in Lone Pine Classical School’s Latin 100, an intense course requiring strong study skills. What he does not have now he’ll hopefully develop along the way without too much drama or trauma for either one of us. He’s also plotting his language learning course, debating the benefits of four years of one language then two of another versus two years each of three different language. That’s my child. Planning years ahead when there is absolutely no need.

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month — write a novel in a month) will keep him busy come November, although he’s not decided on a word count goal. He’s participated two other years, with a published book coming out of his first experience. While I love his dedication to the project and accompanying word goal (25,000 this year, he says), it does take a good-sized chunk out of each day. Our only flexible point this semester is math, so we’ll likely take a break from that for November. He’s not complaining.

Social skills are my hidden agenda for him. Asperger’s doesn’t go away with age, and he’s struggling more again as he approaches his teens. There is more to miss, more subtext, and more to feel anxious about. We’ve not had an easy time, and I’ll admit that homeschooling has buffered us from not just the perils he’d face at school but  also made me a bit complacent about his lagging social skills. He has good friends who accept him as is. I’m grateful. But he needs some assistance in the everyday sorts of relations: small talk, meeting new people, even emailing a friend. So we’ll be hitting these harder at home and enrolling in a live class for homeschooling  middle-schoolers, Jury Trial. He adores the topic, and I’m glad to have him try some of those skills in a live classroom. We’ll see how it goes.

His extracurriculars remain the same: fencing with Salle d’Etroit  and piano with a private instructor. He makes slow but steady process in both. Neither come naturally to him, and I’m some mix of pleased and surprised that he’s not daunted by that. As he says, he’s not sure where his body is in space. He simply can’t feel it, and both endeavors are far easier for those who have access to that internal wisdom. I hold my breath when he struggles over and over with each, hoping he’ll stick with it despite the struggles. That can be hard for gifted folks. When so much comes so easily, persevering in what doesn’t (fencing, piano, social skills), takes a good deal of sense of self outside of one’s natural intelligence. I admire his persistence.

Reading through our plans, I realize my role is gradually shifting from teacher to facilitator. This didn’t happen with my older son until tenth grade, when he started dual enrollment courses and a few online classes. I can’t say I mind, since my younger definitely does well learning online, and the options for that mode of learning expand by the day, but it does remind me that we are closer to the end of our homeschooling journey, which started nine and a half years back, than the beginning. As I somewhat reluctantly look at our schedules and the waning days of August, I find that a bit of a relief.


IMG_0591It’s hard to say when my drift away from childhood started. It can’t be at the point where each thought isn’t spoken and shared, for I can recall private success and shame from age three onward. We work to separate from parents from our first step. But at some point, the move isn’t just to more autonomy but away from childhood and toward all that comes next.

It might have started at twelve, in the basement of a new friend from my new junior high. Being the new kid in seventh grade may not really be any worse than being any kid in seventh grade. Almost everyone swings and sways the hormonal winds of puberty, starting each morning trying to dress a body that isn’t one’s own only to face crowds of kids in the same predicament, each deciding to flaunt or conceal nature’s most recent trick. But I weathered this storm with three girls who provided sure shelter in this period of shift, and with them, I found myself in the basement, music blaring.

Oh, Mickey, you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind. oh, Mickey! 

I can’t recall the dance moves paired with that unfortunate pop song of the early 1980s with lyrics I am sure I didn’t entirely understand at twelve. But the sense of experiencing and embracing what was mine — that made perfect sense. This wasn’t the music of my childhood – the classical, folk, and show tunes that had been the soundtrack of my first dozen years. This was…something else. Toni Basil’s Mickey begat Top 40 radio stations, followed mix tapes of favorites of the radio and long conversations over the phone or behind the bedroom doors of my girlfriends about school,music, books, mean girls, and cute boys. These were conversations for girlfriends only — no parents allowed.

His twelve is of course different. He parks himself in front of Minecraft videos and the game itself for hours, if left unchecked. (And sometimes, because I need the peace or I know he needs the same, I turn my head.) His siren song has riffs of zombie attacks and choruses of spawning cats and horses.  Sometimes he plays with a friend beside him, their loud voices exhorting each other to gather arms or resources or just to get out of the way. It’s public and loud, their banter and games.

His friendships look the same at twelve as they did a few years back, lacking the confidences and collusion of my version twelve. Sword fights and fantasy play dominate his offline time with friends, and his play still screams little boy. His conversations with buddies revolve around video games and trading cards, with occasional plots to bother siblings. He holds all the spirit of eight with his friends, although with an ability to compromise and apologize that are just beginning to bloom.

Twelve brought me changes to my body that bewildered and irritated me more than brought me delight. There seemed more to hide and disguise during that year, and too much time was spent in front of my closet’s full-length mirror trying to determine if my bra’s straps showed under my short sleeve white uniform blouse, and, if they seemed to, deciding whether to sweat out the day with a sweater to cover said straps, in a thicker long sleeve blouse, or wearing a t-shirt under my uniform blouse. Braces. Deodorant. Glasses. Hair that suddenly needed something done to it. My twelve was a constant tug between the desire to be invisible and to be seen.

His twelve smells sweetly sweaty, lacking the pungency of adolescence. His clothing choices revolve only around what is comfortable and within reach — the mirror in his bathroom receives little attention. His voice has gradually lowered in pitch to the point where callers confuse it with mine, a curse of the preteen boy. And while he is firmly, passionately male, his golden hair, which sweeps below his shoulder blades, throws off almost all strangers, who ask about my daughter. He’s confident in his masculinity, reminding me that after puberty, no one will make the mistake again. He is still far more boy than almost teen, from the soft curves of his cheeks to the bounce in his step, but the autumn of childhood is here.

At twelve, my father read to me most nights. Sitting on the edge of my bed as he had done since as early as I can remember, he introduced me to classic and contemporary literature. Whatever growing up I did during the day, I was still glad to have my father’s voice bring me mystery, adventure, fantasy, and a bit of childhood in the hour before I went to sleep. An affectionate child raised by affectionate parents, twelve brought less exuberant demonstrations of love, but goodnight hugs and kisses persisted at a point where physical reassurances that you are real and loved and still your parents’ child despite the churning changes you can’t control.

Firmly attached to mom, at least at the end of the day, he still waits for the snuggle before bed, greeting me with purrs and meows, rubs of his head against mine, feline behavior being his only way to express his affection and love for many years. This ritual tugs some nights, and sometimes my eyes fill. At twelve, we are reaching the end of this scene of childhood, and I don’t know which purr and rub will be the last. Each “good night” leaves me wondering. In daylight hours, I’ll just sometimes find his hand in mine as we walk somewhere. I hold his back with equal strength, allowing his to slip out as quickly as it came. Grasping works no better here than when a child learns to walk. Letting go at the loosening of their hands is part of the deal.

My twelve is only available to me in snippets, like the trailer for a movie. Sleepovers with girlfriends. Gut-knotting moments on the playground with girls who met puberty with vitriol. First crushes on oblivious boys. Math tests. Books that introduced me to the adult world, tantalizing and cautioning at the same time. Time home alone, similarly exciting and frightening. Homework on weekends. The constant tug of childhood and adolescence, with the latter winning out thanks to the unrelenting forces of nature.

I cannot recover the inner narrative of being twelve anymore than I can guess that of my son’s at twelve. His twelve is knowable only by what he tells me, and that is very little. I have no doubt his interior life is rich, but temperament and gender and Asperger’s keep it within his heart and mind. Sometimes, just sometimes, I can make a guess at what is behind his increasingly irritable tone, guess at worry and anxiety at a world that just holds too much mystery. Then bits come out, but still just glimpses at what it means to be him at twelve. In all ways, his twelve seems bigger than his eleven, with more talkback, more hair, more brilliance, more negligence, more sideways humor, more misunderstandings about the world, and even more tears. How does his still small body carry all that bigness?

Perhaps its hubris to try to understand his twelve through the lens of mine, over 30 years buried in my brain, but it’s the only lens I have. We share neither gender or life experience, but our temperaments are similar, and so I try to extrapolate — to guess, really — what might be inside. And for what? A chance to understand him a bit better before the throes of adolescence consume him even more. It’s coming. My little boy is going. But for now, we have twelve.

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. 

An Education in Humor: Keep it SOFT

My younger son (now 11) is working on telling jokes. He’s working on being funny overall, but specifically, he’s creating his own jokes. I’d like to report they are hilarious, appropriate works of humor art, but they aren’t. Yes, he says some hilarious stuff. Some of that is even intended to be funny. He has an odd sense of humor based on obscure historical references, plays on words, politics, and body humor, sometimes all in the same joke.

After a few months of watching his joke telling in horror and fascination, I decided it was time to take action and help the boy along with this budding desire to be intentionally funny. Together, we created a screening tool for jokes, which, with a bit of creativity, lent itself to a memorable acronym:  SOFT. Each humor intent is screened for SOFT criteria, with input from any impartial observers who are in on the system welcome.

S: Does the joke make sense? So many jokes fail this first test. Like most of us, my younger’s mind wanders to odd places that make sense to him but not to others. Like a few less of us, he fails to see that what makes sense to him might not make sense to someone else. That’s a hard skill to teach, and while he is growing in his understanding that different people think different thoughts, his sense of humor has yet to reflect that new knowledge. Now, I’m okay with not fully understanding the sense of humor of an eleven year old boy. I also understand that sometimes I’m missing something, so I ask my older son, 15, if the joke makes sense to him. If it fails both of us, no dice.

O: Is the joke offensive? Oh, this is a minefield. There are two questions here: Is the joke potentially offensive in content to anyone anywhere? If so, the second question is asked. Is the joke potentially offensive to anyone in listening range? When you assume everyone around you shares your political views and it’s election season, one can make frequent mistakes with the second question. I’ve leaned toward giving very specific feedback on this point, such as, “This is a joke you can tell around your brother and I at home when no one else is in the house.” Before we have house guests, we’ll often review what passes and what doesn’t by genre: body humor (not with Grandma), politics (yes, I give names), religion (similar list, but with additions) and current events (generally the same set of names as politics). He’s made strides in this area but tends to err on the side that everyone he knows shares his opinion on the above issues unless he’s been expressly told they don’t. Let me just apologize now.

F: Is the joke funny? Sometimes they just aren’t. Often the ones that aren’t funny also don’t make sense, but there are many that meet one criteria but not the other. This is definitely subjective and not a terribly big deal, as long as the lack of funniness isn’t because someone found the joke offensive. This is a minor criteria, given getting a blank look from his audience doesn’t really faze him. Score one for underdeveloped facial expression reading. Unless he’s told, he’s pretty sure he was funny, no matter how people respond.

T: Does the joke have good timing? A joke told about a conversation that ended five minutes earlier (or even two minutes earlier) falls flat, and given his rather reflective thinking style, this happens quite a bit. That timing faux pas isn’t a big deal but is worth gentle guidance. (Late jokes are an interruption in the conversation at hand. We’re working on interrupting, too.) Timing matters in other ways. A joke told in the middle of class may be funny, make sense, and not be offensive, but it doesn’t belong in the middle of class.  Along a similar vein, some (okay, most) body humor jokes just don’t have a place at the dinner table.

These four easy-to-remember criteria aren’t a miracle cure for all humor errors, but they are providing guidance. When he’s on the verge of a joke, I’ll sometimes interrupt and ask, “Is it SOFT?” That can sometimes be enough to avoid serious social discomfort for the mother of the teller and the recipient. Is this a selfish system, designed to protect me from embarrassment? A bit, perhaps. But it also informs him of the very social norms that elude him so often. It’s another reminder that all of our minds work differently as well as a gentle nudge to a more gentle, considerate way of being in the world. Asperger’s or not, it’s likely helpful for plenty of kids and some adults who might want to make sure a joke is appropriate before launching it. Try it with your own kids or someone else in your life in need of guidance, and let me know how it goes.

Review: Salle d’Etroit Fencing Academy

Many of you aren’t from the Metro Detroit area, making Salle d’Etroit a bit of a haul for fencing lessons. Read on anyway. Fencing’s an amazing sport and perhaps worth a look for your family wherever you live.

My younger son, nearly 11, has been waving swords and sticks since he was five. Entranced with Greek and Roman history and mythology, he wielded the duct tape weaponry created by his brother and soon mastered the art of faux sword-making himself. A fascination in Medieval times followed, and his interest in the weapons of the era increased. At some point, we met fencers. They were homeschooling teens who wielded the foil, epee, and saber for fun and sport. They were having fun and staying fit, and my younger was interested. However, we were deeply invested (in time and money) in Tang Soo Do, a Korean martial art, so fencing would have to wait.

This fall, we ended our four and a half-year odyssey with karate. After a rather bittersweet adieu, we found ourself without athletic outlook. My older looked toward tennis, I tried yoga and running, and my younger picked up a foil. Six months later, my younger son is fencing twice a week, taking lessons at Salle d’Etroit Fencing Academy‘s Ben Schleis, fencing with other youth at Becky Keeling’s monthly Friday Fun Nights, and even participating in a novice tournament. He’s not the quickest to pick up the physical skills but he is persistent, and Ben and Becky are patient and just as persistent. The right balance of focus on what’s going well and insistence fixing what’s not makes for a learning environment that works for my younger and, it seems, plenty of other students as well.

While two classes a week are devoted to kids ages six to ten, my son attends the classes listed as for ages nine to ninety-nine plus. Mixed age groups with plenty of older learners works well for him, and given he started fencing at ten and a half, it made sense to start where he’d end up soon anyway. Classes are small — almost always under ten students and often with an experienced student on hand to assist.  The first half of the class is done without mask and jacket, and focuses on footwork, stance, precision of moves, and other basic skills. After suiting up (mask, glove for the fencing hand, jacket, and weapon), the lesson continues, this time with an opponent. Open fencing (a chance to fence against any available opponents) follows, allowing a chance to put those skills to the test and learn more of the rules of the sport.

Fencing is a smart sport, one that requires reading an opponent, analyzing that reading, and acting accordingly, all in a matter of seconds. At Salle d’Etroit, the smart end of these fencers is evident in their work on the floor and in their dialogue. In addition to learning fencing, my younger son has found others interested in discussing the vagaries of World War II and debating the outcome of the American Revolutionary War. He has found fencing companions and discussion partners.  Slowly, he’s even making friends. The folks there resonate with him, and that’s part of what keeps him going.

Along with wanting to learn to fence better, my younger son wants to learn to direct. Directing fencing is akin to refereeing. To direct, one has to have an intimate understanding of the rules, and there is nothing my younger son loves more than rules and their enforcement. The powers that be at Salle d’Etroit are happy to encourage and tutor him to this end as well. There’s a process involved, including a class and a test, and I know they’ll support him to reach that goal.

I’m impressed with Salle d’Etroit’s instructors and students. I have a fairly quirky, outspoken kid who isn’t a natural when moving his body through space. Team sports aren’t his forte, and he doesn’t like the bodily contact that karate offered and sports with moving projectiles are just not his speed. Fencing works for him. He’s not the easiest child to instruct, but he’s full of enthusiasm. Ben and Becky manage well, and he likes and respects both of them. They are straightforward with him, both on his strengths and weaknesses. They’re also responsive to me, generally appreciating a communication or learning problem before I get all the words out. While his Asperger’s is “out” to the instructors, it’s taken as a matter of course, with a focus on communicating effectively with him a priority. My son and I appreciate the acceptance he’s found there.

Fencing offers plenty for the young or older fencer. It builds core strength, encourages hand-eye coordination, demands attention and focus, and improves stamina. It’s also fun and challenging while being fairly safe. (Aaron’s coach claims it’s safer than ping-pong. That may be an overstatement, but it’s far safer than the soccer, baseball, and karate our family has tried.) It is a sport that spans the ages, with participants ranging from under ten to well over sixty. Fencing encourages respect, fostering sportsmanship every time two fencers come together in either practice or competition. And, heck, it’s indoors, a plus to parents and participants like me who don’t like to brave the elements in the name of sports.

Salle d’Etroit supports fencers, young and not as young, in all those elements of fencing. They provide a safe place to learn with encouraging instructors and a fine group of fencers. They allow the new fencer to borrow equipment (although the desire for a mask with only your own sweat encourages one to start to accumulate the clothing and gear required) and options for group and private lessons. Floor time for open fencing is affordable and abundant.  If you’re in the Metro Detroit area, give them a look. If not, search here to find a fencing club near you.  On guard. Ready. Fence!

We’ve Come Full Circle: Ken Burns, The Civil War, and Homeschooling Memories

This week, my younger finishes up his third American history class from Online G3, and the last topic of the course is the causes of the Civil War. He has three months before starting the course that covers that war, but he’s ready to study it now. So today, we started watching The Civil War, a Ken Burns film from PBS. It runs 660 minutes and covers just what the title says. It will take some time to get through, but he’s all enthusiasm.

I’m all memories.

My older came home from school seven and a half years ago, in January 2005. He’d grown enormously in a fine Montessori preschool for ages four and five. Under the tutelage an open-minded teacher who truly valued his intellect and respected his limitations, he’d grown to adore and appreciate math and geography. He’d weathered (barely) first grade in another Montessori school, where output was valued more than the joy of learning. In that year, he learned to dread the pencil and that learning was more about the amount of paper one produced than making connections about the real world. He’d barely tolerated half of second grade at a public gifted and talented school, all the while wondering where the math and science were. Since he was offered nothing new to learn in those subjects, he assumed he wasn’t smart enough to be taught them. Halfway through the year, out of options and nearly out of hope, we released him and brought him home.

Over the Christmas break, I researched and planned, ordering only what I felt sure we’d use, avoiding the temptations that were in the Rainbow Resource Catalogue and our local teachers’ supply store. I bought a balance scale, gram weights, some Key Press Key To.. math workbooks, a Wordly Wise vocabulary book, copies of Usborne’s and Kingfisher’s history encyclopedias, Handwriting Without Tears Printing 1 and 2, and the entire set of Joy Hakim’s History of US. Overall, my choices were wise well-used. (If only I’d continued to use such restraint.)

Back to Ken Burns. I asked my son that December what he wanted to do for history. My own history education had been abysmal. I recalled next to nothing of the names and dates that filled my elementary and high school classes. I’d hated the subject so much I’d avoided history entirely during my undergraduate years, earning credits instead in courses on race relations and other tangential studies that avoided the word “history” in the title. So when I opened the question to him, I did so part because I had nothing to offer from my own knowledge on the subject but also because I wanted him to shape his own education.

His reply was short. The Civil War.

Groan. Aside from the bare-boned facts about the war (Lincoln, slavery, who won, and approximate dates), I was ignorant about that subject. Okay, I was ignorant about most of history, so this choice didn’t unnerve me more than any other would have. So I did what any sane homeschooler would do before the proliferation of online forums and chats. I went to the library.

I left the children’s sections with stacks of books on the Civil War but no videos. I wandered to the adult documentaries and found the Ken Burns title. I vaguely remembered good reviews of the series, which I’d of course not watched on PBS because I really despised history. But now I had a mission. Home it came.

We took our time with the videos, the library books, and the Joy Hakim book on the war. The more we read and watched, the more my interest grew. His grew right along with mine, and in those few hours his younger brother attended preschool, we took in all we could about that part of American history, following rabbit trails as we went. During our study, I came to understand just how hard the physical act of writing was for him. His brain and hands, which worked so well in concert at the piano, were enemies with a pencil and paper. I learned to scribe for him, writing out paragraph-long descriptions of the events, places, and people we studied on oversized index cards which went into a timeline box.

But I felt we needed a project, a way to demonstrate all we’d learned. If I sound enmeshed in this learning experience, it’s because I was. Finally, history was coming alive. It was a story, the telling of what actual humans had experienced. It chronicled the best and worst of humanity, along with a bunch of what was incredibly average and everyday. We were both smitten. So together, we designed and created a board game about the Civil War. Using the internet to find images and our books to find questions, we made a trivia game of sorts. I typed what he told me to type, and together we created questions and decided upon the rules. Those hands that could only write with pain and struggle worked hard to cut and glue. He laid out the board to his liking.  A coating of contact paper covered the top, and we were ready to finally play. Of course having created it, we were quite good at playing, and winning was fairly easy, but, boy, were we proud.

The next year, we started at the beginning of the Hakim books, reaching for our library card for books and videos all along the way. We moved from Hakim to Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World series, with a stack of library books following us from room to room and a steady stream of videos gracing the TV stand. We were hooked, and by the time my younger was five, we’d hooked him, too.

So we’ve come full circle, returning to where we began. As the first strains of the fiddle playing the Ashokan Farewell theme song for The Civil War, my older smiled and turned to me. “I remember that!” he noted with pride and a sense of nostalgia. My smile returned his, and we settled into the start of the series. With far more history into my knowledge banks, connections came quickly, and I soon was tormenting both boys with liberal use of the pause button and bits of information I just had to share.  Afterward, I dug out the game board, rules, and pieces for us to admire and then admit that we were too rusty to play yet. The details will come back. The important parts — the whys and wherefores — implanted deeply and have informed the history study that followed that first attempt to understand where humans have blundered and succeeded.

But more important, my older regained his love of learning through that first history study. Not all our time was that blissful. I made my share of blunders and missteps that first year (and in every year since). But together, we made our way to learning at home, and a few years later, his younger brother joined us. I don’t get it right all the time, and neither do they. They’re learning, and that’s the point. I’m learning, too, and that’s just delightful.

Moving from Autism Awareness to Acceptance


April 2, 2012, was Autism Acceptance Day. Some people refer to it as World Autism Awareness Day or the start of Autism Awareness Month, but I prefer the first term. Awareness is the easy part, although it is necessary first step to acceptance. Acceptance is what causes people to struggle, but it’s the essential step to granting the dignity and respect each human being deserves.

I’ve written before about the relief that came with my son’s diagnosis of Aspergers a year and a half ago.  It was the day I stopped wondering if I was a bad parent, if he would just “outgrow” his challenges, if I was just getting it wrong. I’d wondered if he’d had a spot on the autistic spectrum prior to age nine. The question of a pervasive developmental disorder had been raised since he was four, discarded because of his prodigious vocabulary and high intelligence. I’d spent the previous few years “acting as if” to some degree, relying on books about parenting kids on the spectrum. I knew before I knew.

The formal pronouncement wasn’t a surprise. It wasn’t devastating. It was a point of peace. It was the start of understanding my son better. Perhaps those are some of the reasons why I found Hannah Brown’s article in the Huffington Post bothersome. Her piece 10 Things To Do After An Autism Diagnosis treats an autism diagnosis like a death sentence for a parent. It removes focus from the child and places it on the parent.

Who has the diagnosis here? Yes, finding out your child is likely to need support and assistance on many fronts possibly for life is daunting and gives one pause. Even with the relief I found initially in my son’s diagnosis, I experienced (and still experience) a sense of the enormity parenting a child who’s wiring will always be quite different from that of the vast majority of other people. Helping him find his way through the world; aiding him in feeling comfortable in his own skin: these were the tasks that daunted me and brought (bring) me to tears.

This is, after all, the same child that one has been parenting all along.   Whomever gives the diagnosis isn’t changing a child’s biology just explaining it. The nine years of parenting my younger son before his diagnosis were harder in many ways than the year and a half that have followed.  With a diagnosis, it was easier to access help (although not the kind covered by insurance).  Just calling local psychologists and opening with, “My son was diagnosed with Aspergers,” made vetting therapists and getting appointments easier. Just having a schema to support my understanding my child’s behavior and mind helped me understand him a bit better. Information is empowering.  An accurate diagnosis on the autism spectrum provides information for a family and, depending on the age of the child, an opportunity for self-revelation for the child.

Brown’s first three items to do after diagnosis reek of negativity and doom.  Advising one to obtain Valium (#1 on Brown’s list) and reallocate assets to one’s own name to prepare for the inevitable divorce? (#2 and 3)? Please. (The stats show no difference in divorce rates between parents with spectrum kids and those without. I was divorced at the time of his diagnosis, and I assure you, it was not my child’s fault that my marriage imploded.) Not that parental needs and feelings don’t matter. Parental mental health contributes to the mental health of the child. If that’s Brown’s point, however, she’s missed the mark. Certainly any parent feeling overwhelmed or depressed should seek professional help and the support of others, but Brown’s drama and narcissism removes the focus from supporting the child. It is, after all, the child who is autistic.

So here’s my list, limited by my own experience with my child who is on the Aspergers end of the autistic spectrum but perhaps helpful for someone else.

  1. Remember this is the same child you had before the diagnosis, the one you’ve parented since the beginning. Nothing about being labelled autistic changes your child. The label provides information for you, your family, and those whose lives touch your family. For an older child, knowing one has autism can be empowering and peace-bringing. Schoolhouse Rock was right: knowledge is power.
  2. Breathe. Eat. Try to sleep. Brown’s suggestion to meditate was a good one (although sullied by her application of using the practice when comparing your kid to other kids). If you are the prayerful type, pray without looking for direction but rather in search of peace and inner quietude. All parents need plenty of that.
  3. Read. Read widely. Start with The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism book and blog. Continue reading the blogs of the parents and autistic people who post there. Start looking at autism from those who live it. Here’s a list that helped me: Reading Through Aspergers: Part I and Part II.
  4. Listen. Learn what self-advocates have to say, even when it hurts. Yes, there tends to be a tension from adult autistic self-advocates and parents of autistic children. It can be hard to read stories from those who grew up autistic even ten or twenty years ago. It’s even harder to be rebuked and corrected by these same adults when you’re trying your best to figure out how to help your own kid. Listen anyway, with as open mind as you can muster. Then open your mind just a bit more. There’s much to be learned.
  5. Think and research. Brown and I agree here. There are plenty of interventions, proven (a few) and not (a large number) for those with autism. The Autism Science Foundation and LBRB: Autism News, Science, and Opinion are fine places to start when investigating therapies and interventions. Avoid anything using curative language. There is no cure, although charlatans will be glad to try to sell one to you.
  6. Maintain relationships that support you and your child. It may be tempting to reduce your world to those with autistic children, but don’t. It’s a big world out there, and autism isn’t all of it. Your matter-of-fact presence in that world with your child on the spectrum can benefit your child, you, and that big world.
  7. Teach others about the autism spectrum and about the needs of your child. Not the preachy kind of teaching but rather the more spur-of-the-moment sort of teaching. Pass on books or internet links to those who are interested. A world that understands autism is far more likely to appreciate and support your child now and into adulthood.
  8. Vote. Vote for public officials who work to expand insurance coverage of autism therapies. Vote for health care coverage for all, coverage that includes mental health care.
  9. Remember the rest of the family. It’s easy for the autistic child’s needs to be so great that the needs of the “easier” members of the family become lost. While your time might not be spread equally across all the family, your care and love can be. I remind myself (and have reminded my older son) that fair treatment doesn’t always mean equal time. Remember that just because your other children may have quieter needs, their needs are no less important. Nurture that relationship with your partner, too. A loving teammate can make a difference.
  10. Accept autism. Start by accepting your child just as he or she is while continuing to help that child be all he or she can comfortably be. Acceptance isn’t passive. It’s an evolving spirit of support, love, and compassion. It also isn’t always easy, so be prepared to start over with acceptance on a regular basis. That’s okay.

Balancing Hope and Acceptance

What about parenting and/or homeschooling do you find most challenging? What keeps you up at night, sounds its sirens to you at top volume during the day, and suddenly tugs at your chest just when you think it’s furthest from your mind?  What do you swear you’re going to master or promise you’ve going to accept, yet only to find yourself face to face with it again?

I ask because I’m hoping I’m not alone here.

I’ve written extensively about the learning challenges my boys have.  My younger son’s Asperger’s, formally diagnosed just over a year ago, is an omnipresent reality in our home. It was no less a reality for the nine and a half years before that, but without the blessing of a name (and is was, indeed, a blessing), it was harder to describe the brain difference itself.  Instead, the focus was symptoms: tantrums, meltdowns, rigidity, precision, social skills, and more.  He was the primary focus of household angst.  He demanded it, not with words but by the depths of his distress.  Today, his Asperger’s is no less present, but most days, he’s more settled and comfortable in his own skin and his world.

His Asperger’s is not my biggest parenting and homeschooling challenge.

My older son is a sensitive, compassionate, kind young man.  He avoids conflict (sometimes to his own detriment) and feels deeply for others.  He’s smart and talented, with a sense of humor that ranges from dry to slapstick.  He’s helpful when asked and often even when not.  I love him beyond all reason.  He also has ADHD/Inattentive type, and some of the traits that go with his ADHD challenge me above anything else.

I joke that I have a case of acquired ADHD. I always seem to require a return trip into the house before we can finally leave the driveway. I misplace my coffee daily. I slip into autopilot in the car, finding myself driving to church or the library when my destination is in the opposite direction. But I don’t share his ADHD, not really. I don’t know what it’s like to live without a firm hold on time, to be distracted by minutia, to struggle to prioritize and order an hour, much less a day. I just don’t get it, and it shows.

Every week, sometimes every day, I start anew, thinking, “Today, it will sink in. Today, he’ll remember to complete his assignments/budget his time/organize his day effectively.” I’m that hopeful, I suppose. But I think that hopefulness is exactly the problem. I don’t wake up each day thinking my son with Asperger’s will now be appropriately social, able to read metalanguage, and enjoy unpredictable situations. I accept him where he is — who he is — and gently encourage his growth. Yes, I’m hopeful that he’ll find a way in the world that doesn’t leave him lonely. No, I don’t find myself hoping that this is the day he won’t have Asperger’s.

If only I were so charitable to my older son. My hopefulness damns us both to repeating the same (one-sided) conversations (tirades), where I think that this time, I got through.  This time, he’s going to see how being more organized will make his life better, I think hopefully. And I really believe it. Then tomorrow comes and he struggles as he always has. And I’m disappointed.

What’s hardest for me is to accept is his attention challenges: the executive function skills that just aren’t in place because his brain is wired in a way that places priorities differently than mine does. It’s no more or less of a brain difference than his brother’s autism spectrum brain difference.  Perhaps, however, I’ve always seen it as less. After all, he’s been a far easier child to raise, and he is pleasant and accepting nearly to a fault. He values family harmony, humor, and fun while caring deeply about the feelings of others. All these delightful character traits were part of what kept it from really seeing his ADHD until he was in double digits, when the difficult parts of ADHD really made teaching him harder.

Accepting his learning differences fully is what I desire. I want to accept his brain as-is, while encouraging him to acquire the skills he needs to get where he wants to go in life. I want, in a sense, to be less hopeful that tomorrow will be any different from today, that the long view is far more important that if this week’s planner use is any more effective than last week’s.  Maintaining long-term hope for the ability to enjoy his higher education (yes, he wants that in his future) and find a career he finds satisfying is different from hoping for change today. It requires more emotional distance than I’ve been able to muster thus far. It requires more appreciation of his brain as-is than I often have. In truth, my deepest panic is that he’ll struggle years down the road, that he’ll find himself unable to do what he wants to do in life.

Saying it like that helps. Certainly he will struggle (we all do) and undoubtedly his every wish for his life will not come true. That’s life, and no amount of nagging, hoping, begging, or wishing will change those essential truths. Of course, I want him to struggle less and succeed more, but that’s parenting — wanting an easier way for our children.

So it’s out there. I’ve said aloud (or at least in print) what worries me most and challenges me the greatest.  I’m seeking to be more accepting rather than constantly life-changing organizational solutions or hoping for sudden change. This works nicely, since acceptance seems far more likely to find and is actually within my control. I want better than the intermittent acceptance, interrupted by my fear and latest flash of (not) brilliance of what will help him now. It can only be better for him for me to find a deeper acceptance than that. It would also be better for me. I’ve not abandoned hope, but I’d like to move it to the periphery, like it is with my younger child. This is perhaps, ironically, the most hopeful course of action I could take.

Now it’s your turn.  What wakes you at night about your homeschooling or parenting journey? What mistake to you fear you’re making? What would you like to master or to never do again?