Saturday, October 02, 2004

School at Home

Before my twins were old enough for school, I figured I would homeschool. I'm a homebody, a crafty soul, an excellent student who rarely missed a spelling word and was the first person in my third-grade class to memorize the times tables. How hard could it be, really?

But as my twins grew, I realized that they are not me. They hated to color. They rebuffed my attempts to teach them to write their names. They displayed complete apathy where art projects were concerned--unless it was paint, and then they painted their arms and occasionally their faces.

I might have homeschooled them from the very beginning if we'd stayed in rural northern Michigan, in a town with a horrible school district. But we moved just in time for them to start kindergarten in our new local public school, a place with an excellent reputation. I was happy to send them to school because by that point, I had a 7 month old baby. I couldn't imagine teaching them at home. Just the logistics made me dizzy.

They are boys, rowdy boys, with no interest in scholarly things. Did I mention that they are very different from me?

Anyway, TwinBoyA has always been a competent student, though he suffers from seriously bad handwriting. He is a voracious reader and has a shockingly complex vocabulary. He never stops talking and he is particular about everything. He's bossy.

TwinBoyB has always hated school. When I picked him up from school when he was in first grade, he'd chant all the way home, "I hate it, I hate it, I hate it." His handwriting was spidery and illegible and often backwards. He never caused trouble in his classroom, though. He qualified for additional help in reading one year and in math another. He slid by, doing as little as possible, and for quite a while, the teacher wouldn't even really notice that he was essentially failing the class. As he got older, he'd "forget" about projects and assignments and at the last minute, I'd be involved in his desperate attempts to do a two-week school project in one night.

He's bright, but he's distracted. He loses stuff, he loses his train of thought, he loses track. It's as if his brain is a shelf which can only hold one item at a time. You put a second item on the shelf and the first item falls off. This is a problem when you ask him to remember concurrent things. He just can't. School has been a challenge he hasn't been able to master.

So, he's grown to feel like a failure. He has no confidence in his intellectual ability. And somewhere along the line, he's become a target for bullies, and so has TwinBoyA, though I can't figure out why. They are just ordinary boys.

Last year, on the last day of school, TwinBoyA wanted to wear his hair "spiked." So, he used gel and fixed his hair until he thought it was cool. When he came home, I said, "So, did anyone say anything about your hair?" He smiled, sort of, and said with a shrug, "Well, let's just put it this way. Sticks and stones can break my bones . . . "

Last fall, I eavesdropped on a kickball game, and my heart broke to hear how the other boys treated TwinBoyB. He never did confide in me about that situation, and I've come to realize that there have been many other similar situations in which he is mocked, ridiculed, and left out. He never lets on. Neither does his brother. But there have been very few birthday party invitations over the years, and few playdates.

I don't know why.

We have done our best not to make them The Pastor's Weird Kids. They play Nintendo and sometimes they wear sweatpants to church. We let them play with Pokemon cards and Yu-Gi-Oh cards and we do our best to make sure they experience a normal childhood without the added pressure of worrying that they are making their dad, The Pastor, look bad. We try to be normal, whatever that means. We are normal. (What am I saying?)

And yet, they haven't been very successful making and keeping friends in their school classrooms. Oh, they do have some friends, but as time has passed, it seems that the bullies outnumber the friends. Couple that with TwinBoyB's difficulty achieving academically, and we felt that middle school might be a catastrophe for him. Middle school years can be so cruel--the cool kids get meaner and the kids on the fringe become more marginalized. We didn't want him to become that kid smoking in the parking lot, skipping class, wasting his life.

So, we decided that TwinBoyB needed more attention academically and protection socially during these especially difficult years. TwinBoyA decided he'd like to school at home, too. Then our school district decided to implement and start a virtual academy. We were delighted to be able to participate in this pilot program.

So, how's it going, you ask?

The materials, the curriculum, the organization of K12 is fabulous. As the teacher, I love how everything is prepared for me. All I have to do is consult the schedule and follow the plan.

TwinBoyA performs extremely well. He's cooperative and eager to learn. TwinBoyB gets easily distracted, makes careless mistakes and then gets angry with me when I attempt to help him figure out the correct answers. He spends a great deal of time and emotion goofing off and I sometimes find myself yelling at him in frustration, to my dismay.

Last week was particularly bad. I was sick with a cold, Babygirl was still feeling the symptoms of her cold, as was DaycareKid. So the toddlers were more demanding than usual, and the boys dragged their feet. Babygirl is newly potty-trained and at one point, I was in the kitchen, working on lunch for the toddlers, while my twins were working on schoolwork at the table. They were both speaking at once and then Babygirl cried out, "I peed in the potty!" My head was about to explode from too much input at once.

Peeing in the potty still requires a great deal of pomp and circumstance. She peers right into the pot, nose practically wet, and unassembles the potty-chair and sloshes to the bathroom with the pot. I have to run to her to make sure the carpet stays pee-free, plus she is tiny and needs help flushing and washing her hands. It's quite an ordeal.

So this particular day, I was sweaty and DaycareKid was fussing and Babygirl needed me for the Potty Ritual and the boys were talking and I was sick and the phone kept ringing and it was just too much.

Some days are like that.

But, the routine of schooling is getting easier. The boys are learning what to expect and they are complying fairly easily. I love the materials. I am so thankful that my boys aren't being called names and feeling icky about themselves because some cruel seventh grader senses fear and pokes at an easy target. The toddlers do complicate my mornings, but fortunately there is always Sesame Street (on twice in our area) to distract them.

We are still waiting for the History curriculum, and we haven't started Art and Music, yet, but everything else is going well.

I don't think of myself as a homeschooling parent. (Even though I have friends who homeschool, I still have a stereotype of a homeschooling mom in my head and frankly, I'm just not her.) My kids are still enrolled in public school. My first grader is an excellent, happy student in public school. I believe in public school. I know many of the teachers in my district. I hope my boys will be competent and confident enough to return to public high school.

But in the meantime, this is the right choice for us, even though selfishly I wish I could send them out the door to be educated in a regular classroom. It would be way easier for me if that worked for us. But it wasn't working well enough and my kids only have one childhood.

My kids are not isolated. For instance, tonight, they are having their twin friends (from church) sleep over. They go to youth group once a week. The neighbor kids come over almost every day to play. They have siblings to play with and cousins, too.

I wish there were a guarantee that if you did X,Y and Z, your kids would turn out and go to college, get a good job, meet a great spouse and live happily ever after. But it's so much more complicated than that and sometimes the uncertainty almost undoes me.

I dream of a life someday without children constantly stepping on my feet and interrupting my thoughts. My thoughts are like little ants, stepping in orderly lines, heading for their destination--and my kids are like kids who interfere with the progression of the tidy little ant-line. My thoughts get scrambled and regroup, and the line resumes, but a few of the little ants get smooshed in the process and sometimes it takes a long time to say in my head, "Now, where was I? What was I thinking?"

I like to think.
No. I love to think.

But these kids! They just want to talk, talk, talk, wrestle, wrestle, wrestle, holler, holler, holler. I'm told I will miss this, but I'm not so sure.

Anyway, that's how it's going. It's hard work to school two reluctant pupils every day while meeting the needs of an irrational Babygirl and DaycareKid. Especially since Babygirl is on Day Four of a Nap Boycott.

Send chocolate.


Blogger Tina said...

You are such a good mom! I think your boys are blessed that you are looking out for their specific doesn't sound like it will be easy, but I am sure it will really pay off. I remember those awkward years for myself and for my older children...I think I helped my older children come through it better because of my own memories. It seems like you are doing a similar thing.

7:20 PM  
Blogger Judy said...

I think you only miss SOME of it! I don't miss the constant bickering, the messes that never went away or the feeling that if they failed at something - I failed! No, no, no, I do not miss that at all.

What I DO miss is hugging them every morning, sitting down for dinner with them every night, and praying with them before bed. You know, those SHINING moments.

I think you are on to something that a lot of people totally miss. We have to do what we know is right for OUR children, and just because something is right for someone else's child, doesn't mean it is right for our's, or even for another one of our children. And, it is HARD WORK - such hard work, and it comes with NO guarentee that if you do it all right, things will turn out good in the end.

My hard to motivate home-schooled for high school child leaves in three months to study at Oxford for a semister. He is MARRIED. He has a freelance contract with a newspaper. He has a leading role this week in a university play. But, if you had asked me 10 years ago were he would be today - hmmmm...I would have guessed he would still be sitting here in front of me saying 'this is so stupid, why do I have to do this?'.

Hope. There is ALWAYS hope! And the Grace of God. Lots of grace. And, they DO grow up.

6:05 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

You ARE an amazing mom and it shows in your frustration. You wouldn't be frustrated if you didn't care so much for them. I think it's fabulous that you are making the hard choice and doing what's right for your kids. I can say with a certain amount of confidence that I won't miss these years either, but, like you, I worry and pray that I am doing the right things for them. and i was raised a PK, so all the thought you are putting in to that whole aspect is wonderful. One day they may actually thank you. LOL

3:56 PM  
Blogger QQ said...

Sounds like you are all adjusting well. You should pat yourself on the back...your doing a good thing for these boys and I hope if not now, someday, they realize what kind of sacrafices you have made.

6:21 PM  

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