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Kristen is a home­maker, home­schooler, and a home­keeper. Her experience includes nineteen years of practice, raising three kids, a husband, and a dog. Writing about her life helps her stay sane. She believes that sharing stories helps others by providing opportunities to share advice (and helpful hints) about homeschooling, and raising kids on the autism spectrum, while supporting marriages and families that are striving to thrive.

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We're All a Little Mad Here

The Boy Is Back In Town

 

And just like that… He's back home!

So, for those of you who have been following the "Tommy journey" (Life Skills) read on! 

Tommy finished up his life skills training at Woodrow Wilson Workforce (formerly the Woodrow Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center) last week! I can’t believe how quickly 9 weeks just went by. I know I shouldn’t be surprised, but alas, I am a slow learner when it comes to judging time. While summer was flying by, Tommy was doing life-skills training in the lovely Blue Ridge Mountains. 

He learned things like how to keep his room clean, and do his laundry without being asked (and every week), mind you. Tommy had to live with a roommate and negotiate bathroom cleaning schedules with six other young people. He had to learn time management and get up for job readiness classes without the mom-person telling him to get up, get dressed, and go to class! Tommy had a guidance counselor/ social worker in charge of his case, and other people in place to remind him to do daily life type things, but he was largely responsible for keeping himself organized and put together. 

My mama heart overfloweth.

 

 

I can't describe how thankful I am for DARS (Department of Aging and Rehabilitation Services). It is hard to put into words how hopeful and relieved I am all at the same time. If I had known about DARS ten years ago, I might not have felt as frantic about launching Tommy into adulthood. His senior year of high school would probably have been much more relaxed. I would not have had to worry so, so much. I do hover on the worry-meter way too much, although that is just how it goes in our family, especially for me. I am so hopeful, now, though that Tommy has some options for his future, and supports in place to help him succeed. We will know more in a few weeks, but it looks like he will return to Woodrow Wilson to start some job training, hopefully around the start of the new year. 

 

 

When we went to pick him up, we encountered many of those people who Tommy has been with over the past nine weeks. Tommy, apparently, was known as the “jokester” in the student health clinic. They informed me that he had a joke for the nurses every morning and evening when he went to get his medicine. I was like, “whaaaat?!?” So, I know my son is funny. He actually has a pretty good sense of humor, especially for someone on the autism spectrum. He tells jokes, and people that know him know to be patient with him, with his stories, and with his jokes because he’s communicating when he is sharing these stories, and jokes. Can I tell you how worried I was (still, I am) about people getting frustrated with him while he is just trying to communicate in his own special way? Well, apparently, some people get it, and they enjoy Tommy instead of just merely tolerating him.

His counselor told us that he was a “star student”, that he worked hard and was able to express his frustration appropriately. He was respectful toward everyone. He was liked, and he didn’t cause any problems. Again, wow. Years of therapies, strategies, IEPs, and praying obviously have had an impact on my Tom-Tom. Did I mention my heart was full to bursting? Can you hear me smiling in my words? I am proud.

Already, Tommy is fitting right back in with us. He is telling his jokes and making up his stories about how he dominates the world with a sword, honor, and a groundhog. He is still frustrated over the interdimensional-multi-verse-time-travel conundrum, but he's working on it. In the meantime, he will go back to volunteering at the library. While Tommy is enjoying his "break", he is also looking forward to returning to Woodrow Wilson. Some independence has been good for him!  We (all of us at our house) are good with that, and we are enjoying him while he is home, for now.

Keep calm, and please love the people that work with people that have special needs.

And parent on!

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you might not want to say that...

 

So, I know that in this day and age of the internet, blogs, vlogs, Facebook, and all the other social media, it is so easy to get offended. In fact, I know a great number of people that actually enjoy being upset and seem to hold grudges for a long time, and then they post about such offenses ceaselessly. Let me assure you that I am not at all offended when these things are directed at me, but I also know that it hurts for some people, some of my friends, to hear such statements, so I am here to offer some alternative suggestions...

Things not to say to a homeschooler…

Oh! You must have the patience of a saint!”  --Um, no, I really don't. I mean, I might, but probably not. I lose my cool like most moms do. I get frustrated with my kids, my dog, and my husband. I say things I don't mean (“if you do not clean up this mess in the next ten seconds, I will throw everything you own into the trash!!”), and I can spew empty threats with the best of them.  My daughter no longer believes, for example, that I will cut off her hair, although I have done it before. I'm just too tired to deal with the emotional trauma that will follow said hair shearing… Today. Maybe tomorrow, though.

Here's what you can say:  “Wow, I would think it must take more than normal amounts of patience to homeschool. How does that work?” --or--  “You are doing great!”

 

See? Tired eyes, hair falling out, and so not completely calm.

 

Another thing not to say...

I could never do that!”  --Well, yes, you could if you had to. When the transition to middle school for Tommy wasn't working, and the powers that be would not give him a paraprofessional to help him with the major change of schools and schedules and people not being so freaking terrifying for him, out of concern for safety, I had to homeschool him. I refused to wait and see if he would or would not wander off, and I refused to trust that the middle school kids were all really just kind children that would watch out for him. I didn't know any of the teachers or staff. We did not have money for private school, or lawyers. I had to homeschool. Lucky for me, I fell in love with it, and homeschool is so much more than just school. Another thing: what if I were to turn that phrase around to such naysayers? It would go a little like this: “What?! You send your kids to school?!? I could never do that!” Think about it:)

Instead:  “What inspired you to homeschool?” --or--  “You're doing great!”

 

schooling anytime, anywhere

 

The one question to try to avoid… unless you are really searching for clarity or seeking to understand, and then only with open sincerity and no disdain:

What a about socialization?”  -- Ah, yes, a fan favorite. I don't know any homeschool families that never leave their house, and none of them have confessed to locking their kids in a closet and/or forbidding them to play with other kids. Socialization is important. It is important that all kids learn to treat each other with respect and kindness. Navigating social situations is also a life skill that needs to be learned. Here's the thing, though: a lot of those skills don't actually happen in the classroom, and social skills are so much more than getting along with twenty to thirty other kids that are all the same age.

Kids being with younger and older children teach kindness, respect, and responsibility. Older kids end up mentoring the younger ones. Learning how to talk with people of all ages is what is going to really help these children in the future. Work environments, school environments, social environments -- these are all filled with people of different ages, ethnicities, and skill levels. The homeschool community is filled with kids, a lot of kids, and they are all different ages, ethnicities, and skill levels, and they are learning to communicate, problem solve, and get along with one another. These kids are in scouts, dance, swimming, karate, they volunteer, and most of them are active in their churches. Socialization happens. 

Better:  “Do your children hang out with other kids?” --or-- “You're doing great!”

 

a homeschool production- grades six-twelve

 

Here's a good one:

I don't think my kid would listen to me all day!”  -- Well… They won't. I mean, they're kids, not angels. Kids are some of the most manipulative creatures on the planet. I've been played several times; I've been ignored, disrespected, and eye rolled at. Homeschooling is a lifestyle. Learning and living together all day is not a fairytale, but it is not impossible, either. The first year is rough, as you learn to live, be in school mode, and be in family mode, all together. There is usually a honeymoon phase (This is the best thing ever! Why did we wait so long to do this?!) then there is the what-on-earth-was-I-thinking-this-is-the-pit-of…. Well, you get the idea. There are ups and downs. You, however, are the parent. You are, above all else, the parent. Your child will respond to your authority, mood, consistency, rhythm and reason. 

Say this instead:  “I'd love to hear how you all handle conflict.” --or-- “You’re doing great!”

 

 

Katie changing a tire

 

Don't get me wrong, homeschooling does not make me a better anything (mom, wife, teacher, friend). We all have to make the best choice for our families, for our kids. It's not all or nothing, either; I know families that have one in public school, one in private school, and one or more at home. There are pros and cons to every situation, all the time, everyday, and the last thing we parents need is judgement- perceived or real. So, be kind to one another, and instead of saying something crazy to someone who does something different than you, ask them about it in a kind and curious way, if you must, or smile and ask how you can help if you can, or simply cheer them on. Positivity usually wins, and is well received and appreciated. So, be a little bit mad (in the zany way) and respond to one another with crazy, wild encouragement!

 

 

Keep calm, and parent on!

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balancing act

 

I am not a high tech mama. I am trying to be one, but the oven gives me trouble, let alone Windows and iTunes. That being said, I have spent the greater part of today establishing new Apple IDs for my kids. Apparently, it is no longer recommended that we all share an ID. This week has been increasingly trying for some reason, because all of the sudden, my daughter is my son, he is her, and I am both. Facetime comes up with me ‘or four others’ every time one of us tries to facetime each other.  We can see everybody’s texts and conversations. There is no privacy (my husband sent me a love text and everyone saw it- not good- we aren’t allowed to be romantic, apparently. The kids must think we asexually reproduce or something). I am having a meltdown, because it is (of course) all my fault because I was trying to be security mom by setting us all up on the same ID.  I am the one who has to fix it. I have been on support sites, Google, and iTunes for four hours.  I’m not even kidding. I can’t make this up. To make matters worse, I’m pretty sure I deleted Tommy’s account, which may mean I have to make a roadtrip to see him if I hope to communicate with him before Labor Day.

Meanwhile, there are people evacuating homes because of flooding in Louisiana, and children are starving in Africa. I am consumed with iTunes.

Houston, we have a problem.

 

 

I keep saying there has to be some middle ground between what I perceive to be a real problem, and a real problem. I think a lot of us are stuck in what seems like a feeling of despair. We can’t seem to make a difference on the big stuff, so we concentrate on the little stuff. I can’t end the famine in Africa, so I focus on the state of my floors. I don’t seem to be able to stop racism, so I focus on the weeds in the yard. No amount of debating seems to alter the human trafficking issue, so I worry incessantly about the kids’ safety. I don’t care for the candidates for President (any of them), so I am house-hunting in New Zealand and planning a defection. Today it’s Apple IDs, tomorrow it may be the heat index, but it is truly the perspective I need to focus on.

How does one change their perspective, though? I am fortunate enough to have had years of therapy, so I have that going for me. Seriously. I also like to think that people are not as bad as the media would lead us to believe. While I may be known as anxiety-girl in some circles, I am not afraid to travel, to let my kids play outside, nor am I scared of Zika, Ebola, or Avian Bird Flu (I am, however, diligent with washing my hands, and I make the kids take Airborne if someone we’ve been around turns up sick). I really do think most people want to help others, and most of us are good lending helping hands to those in need. Some of us just need to know where to look, perhaps, for ways to contribute to those in need, and certainly we need to know where to look for the good news, because it's not coming from CBS, NBC, or Fox. I’m wondering if we all just start to demand good news, would the media listen? Maybe changing perspective means choosing to listen to the good news, to filter out some of the noise of the bad news, and learning to live in a manner that is positive. I wrote about that (social parenting) a few weeks ago; we parents can’t get caught up in other peoples’ highlight reels as the normal everyday life that most of us live in. Nobody is beautifully made up and dressed in non-athletic wear every second of every day, and the children aren’t always looking like a Gymboree ad, either. 

Perspective, also, depends on actively choosing the reality that things are not-that-bad for myself. For example, I know I couldn't do this life as an atheist. I love my church, my faith, and my God. Faith is just believing in what you don’t physically see, and having hope for a better tomorrow. Choosing faith means I know that there is going to be a good ending. All these bad, terrible, horrible things that can paralyze me (us) on this earth will end. While I may still freak out over my iTunes account and the dog hair that accumulates by the hour, I can have balance in not obsessing over everything, and I can focus on enjoying my hot, overgrown backyard. Why? Because I am blessed to be here, where I am, right here, right now. I’m super lucky to have the very problem that is my iTunes account. What are you blessed with?  What makes you realize that you have a lot going for you? How will you take steps this week to have balance in what you worry over?

 

 

Here are a few good tips:

Turn off the news.  At least don’t listen to it every moment, and refrain from watching it in front of your children. While you’re at it, go ahead and start a petition to insist that the media share the good news, too. I need to get on this, myself. And for heaven's sake, limit your time on Facebook!

Contribute to a charity through your church, or in your community. Serve at the homeless shelter, donate some food to the Serve food bank, bring a backpack or school supplies to a drop off location that is collecting for the new school year. Give back, pay it forward, and smile.

Breathe when you feel that anxiety creeping up. Decide if this situation is worth the worry it seems to be causing. Breathe some more. Pray. And, breathe.

While our first world problems are very much our very real problems, don’t be afraid to admit that it could be worse, it could be better, but it probably will be just OK. Tell your anxiety to get lost, and don’t let the web of electronics or dirty floors get you down. Technology will change, and dogs do shed. It’s normal.

 

 

We’re all a bit mad here, at our house, but we are trying to laugh and figure out who is calling when facetime rings; and the kids are currently being requested to just ignore lovenotes between us parents. I didn't vacuum for two whole days last week, and the world didn't implode. The kids are secure, the lawn will still have weeds in the morning, and iTunes will still have future updates. 

Keep calm and parent on!

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Upward and Onward

 

Since everybody seems to love a Tommy update, I'm going to write one! As many of you know (Life Skills), Tommy is a little over halfway through his life-skills transition program out at the Woodrow Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center in Fishersville, Virginia. He has been living with a roommate, sharing a bathroom, going to classes, and having room inspections every week for five weeks now. He has to set his alarm, and be in class on time Monday through Friday, without anyone hovering over him, reminding him to set the alarm, and reminding him to get up, and dressed, and all that morning routine stuff. I can hardly believe it!

He has failed one room inspection because he opted to see a movie instead of doing laundry. He was really upset about it, too. The failure part, that is. He texted me a rant full of excuses- “I was going to do the laundry when I got back, we were going to take the trash out when we got back, the movie was longer than I expected…”

 

Oh, boy. I texted back: “well, I guess you learned a lesson, didn't you? You need to follow the rules, I guess, so you don't fail again. Right?”

It is so hard not to hover, not to validate any excuses, not to be so worried about every little thing. I'm not good at not worrying. I'm also not good at not jumping to conclusions, like, “Oh my gosh.. he failed a room inspection… what if he fails another, and then gets asked to leave, and then there will be no hope of anything good happening for him… and he doesn't have the finesse to even sweep a floor!”

After a few hours of radio silence I got the text that indicated all was well, the re-inspection went well, and -bonus!!- I even got the “Yes, I guess I have to follow the rules” text. Everything is indeed ok, apparently, lots of the kids fail room inspections at least once. They just have to clean up, empty the trash, do their laundry. And the movie (Suicide Squad) was great, by the way.

Elation. Happiness. Joy. 

People, he's getting it. He is learning, slowly, but surely, how to organize himself, and how to keep himself together. I truly believe that some life skills need to come from a “not mom” person. I want the best for him, but I start to sound like a parent from a Charlie Brown movie (mwammm mwah mwahhhmmm) when I'm trying to teach these things to him. I admit that I'm nagging sounding (begrudgingly admit it), but, let's face it, children get really good at tuning mom out sometimes. Also, I run out of energy trying to sound therapeutic, and trying to convey understanding while teaching the reasoning (again) about the necessity of clean clothes and daily showers, and sorting laundry. It's true.

Two weeks after Tommy arrived at Woodrow Wilson, I went up to retrieve him for a visit home for the weekend. He met us in the common room, and right away I noticed that he wasn't shaving, and he looked a little more oily than usual. I kind of expected that, so I didn't say anything as we walked to his room to grab his laundry and his backpack. When he let us in his dorm, I thought it looked pretty typical for a room shared by two young men. It smelled pretty typical, too. I was impressed, however, that his laundry basket was not totally overflowing, and that the bed was made, even if the comforter pattern was sideways instead of being vertical.

 

 

Surveying the room, I was nodding appreciatively at the relative tidiness that the boys were keeping up. Then, I noticed that on his desk-- in the exact same place I had left it-- was Tommy’s bath caddy. Inside Tommy’s unmoved, still very new looking and very dry bath caddy were the following: one unopened bottle of body wash, one unopened bottle of shampoo, one still-boxed and unopened tube of toothpaste, a dry scrub-poof with tag still attached, an unopened package of razors, one factory sealed shaving cream bottle, and an unopened package of four toothbrushes.


Um… Wow. 

“Tommy?”

“Yes mom?”

“Have you been showering? At all?” 

“Ish,” he replied, very confident sounding.

I may have levitated, I'm not sure, but Tommy was looking at me suddenly with an unusual expression. 

“And your teeth?? Have you brushed them? At all?” I asked in a very low voice, that I was extremely carefully not raising.

“Um… Ish?”

“TOMMY!!!”

Oh my goodness! I really tried to not shout at him, but, seriously? Danielle was with me on this little soiree, so she starts immediately whispering’ “Yoga fire breaths, Mom, breathe.”

“In two weeks, it didn't dawn on you to brush your teeth or take a shower??” I yelped at him as softly as possible, “and what is ish?! How do you ish take a shower or brush your teeth?”

 

 

Tommy, looking much like a cross between a six foot tall Dr. Who and a child looking like he wants to get away from a Harry Potter howler message in person, says very softly, “But, mom, you didn’t tell me to do that.”

Time momentarily stops just for me sometimes. In a flash, everything goes silent, and I see in front of me my six foot tall son as a preschooler, wanting to please, waiting for instructions. It is so. so. so difficult to not have a typical reaction to an atypical situation. 

“Son,” I whispered, “in the nineteen years that I’ve been telling you to brush your teeth twice a day, I kind of thought that you would just know to continue to do that. The toothbrushes and toothpaste and the soap should have been a clue. I need you to shower and brush your teeth every day.”

“So, everyday?” he asks.

“Every single day,” I answer.

“Oh- ok- I got it. Can we go home now?”

“Definitely,” I answer. 

 

 

When we got home, my husband autoclaved my son, twice, for good measure. Tommy fell right back into his normal routine once he was cleaned up and re-instructed in the importance of grooming. When I dropped him back off at Woodrow Wilson on Sunday, I unwrapped all the toiletries, and wrote on his calendar: shower-use soap, deodorant, brush teeth with toothpaste in every square space. Reminders, I hoped, would help.

Tommy insisted on playing his epic return song (loudly, off his iPod, so everyone could hear), “Back in Black” by AC/DC as we checked him back into the dorm, and dropped off his meds at the clinic. Yes, kids stared at us, but they were either smiling at us, or ignoring us completely. The counselors and staff were nonplussed by his epic return song playing out loud. It occurred to me then, that Tommy is exactly where he needs to be. He is learning and doing and growing. He may not always shave or have shiny teeth, but with a few reminders, he’ll get there. My Tommy is becoming the best Tommy that he can be, there, with a little help from some friends that are professional counselors and teachers and not-moms. 

And we’re all a little bit mad here, but life seems to continue to work despite us not always being in the same place, and we all fit together like puzzle pieces...

 

Interesting how that (puzzle piece) is the autism symbol, isn’t it:)

Keep calm, and parent on. 

 

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First Day...

 

One of the most momentous moments of my mommy career was that auspicious occasion called First Day Of Kindergarten (another first and momentous occasion was First Day of Preschool, but that day only gave me three and half hours of not having my oldest home with me, so kindergarten was a whole new ball game). How exciting and anxious I was for the First Day of Kindergarten! My precious little son was beginning his scholastic career, and I went from being a new mommy to being the mother of a school aged child!  It all happened so fast, too. The notion of having a whole day to myself was a bit of a fairytale… and it was a fairytale, actually, because I totally had a baby at home with me when my first went to kindergarten.  Although it was beautiful to have some alone time with my new little one, I wasn’t totally, you know, alone. When she went to kindergarten I had another new baby at home. And, when she, my youngest, went to kindergarten I started homeschooling the older two...  Hmmm… I might be a bit of a kindergarten "failure", actually… as a mom, I mean. I’ve never really been at home without a child (or two, or three) being at home with me.

So, another momentous occasion was the occasion called the First Day of Homeschool. I love, love, love to talk about homeschooling. I actually did not really ever do a kindergarten year of homeschool because Katie was a first-grader when she started homeschooling, but it was still a first, and it was so fun, and continues to be fun, really! Danielle was in third grade, and Tommy was a seventh-grader, that year. We did have one year after we started homeschooling that they all went back to public school for a year (and it didn't go so well, which is why we committed to homeschool again).  While Tommy went to public school for high school because it was best for him, the girls and I continue to do school at home to this very day. We celebrate the first day of school every September, too, even if we never really stopped doing school in June, because summer is so, so, so relaxed school-wise.

 

 

So, the first day of school is always the best day of school! We celebrate at home a lot like people do that go to school away from home. We wear cute outfits (or pajamas-a new tradition), we have a fun breakfast and lunch, we organize our desks and use new notebooks and pencils. Lesson planning still happens, schedules get put together, and we go to work, together. We have some trial and error days as we figure out the first few weeks of school, and which days are the best days to do extras like art and music. I used to be really uptight about schedules and school work, and the first day, but I’ve learned that we all learn best together when we figure out what works best together, and that takes time. Since we’ve been doing this awhile now (eight years, I think? How is that possible?!) -I’ve become less intense about it all. It has taken a while to get to the less intense state of being, though. I think my kids would probably report that I'm still pretty intense, but I think I've chilled a bit. Perhaps receiving and listening to some advice would have helped. So...

Here is some advice I wish I’d gotten early on. Sit down, and get ready, because this is the best advice ever. Ready?

Relax.

That’s it. For real. Relax. That goes for all first-timers be it whatever kind of school: private, public or home.

 

 

I know it seems too simple, but especially with kindergarten through fifth grade, just relax. Did you know that colleges don’t look at elementary school grades at all? They don’t look at middle school grades, either, for that matter, unless your child took a high school-level class during this time. In fact, grades, honor roll, SOL results- none of it matters until your student is in high school. Of course, the elementary and middle school years are important to establish good habits, like studying and learning the basics, but grades don’t really matter. So, relax. Also, if you are homeschooling, you don’t even do SOLs. 

 

 

Another bit of advice I wish I’d gotten is that not all homeschooled students are geniuses. There are many, many reports that espouse the genius-level intelligence of kids that are schooled at home. There is actually a lot of perceived pressure in the homeschool circles to have super smart, gifted kids. Let me tell you, I’ve got three kids, and they are all at different levels of scholastic ability, and only one is what I would consider gifted in terms of school-work type activities. Mostly, though, the homeschooled kids I know, are typical, in that they aren’t going to college at age fifteen, nor graduating college before they are eighteen. It happens, I know, but those cases are few and far between. It helps (me) that I belong to a co-op, because it’s nice to be around other homeschooled kids (and their parents) once a week. It’s nice to know that everyone is struggling with a lot of the same issues, like the kids that read well but can’t do math and vice-versa. Everyone, including the kids and the parents, have strengths and weaknesses.  We (we parents) are all trying to do the best we can, and we want the best for our children, but it’s nice to know we’re all raising pretty typical kids in this arena. 

I think there is a lot of pressure to make the first of anything great and fun and fantastic. I know I seem to want everything to be just perfect on the first day of school. Can I tell you something? The first day of school is special, and new experiences come with a bit of anxiety, so I think I've learned to go with the flow, so to speak. Don't give in to that pressure to be perfect! Hug your kids, have some tissues ready and let everyone know you love them, period. Authenticity is the real winner of the day.

So, no matter what school or ‘first time’ parent experience you are getting ready to have, enjoy it! Take pictures and post them for friends and family to see. If you are truly alone and are able to, go see a movie, or get a pedicure, or go on a date with your spouse. If it’s a moment to have some alone time with a younger child, enjoy that, too! First days are awesome. New moments are only new for a short time, and then the newness wears off, so be happy, keep calm, relax, take pictures, and parent on!

 

 

 

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