Sunday, July 26, 2020

Is Homeschool the Right Choice in 2020?

There hasn't been much to be grateful for over the past few months, but one thing that I am happy about is that I don't have to spend the summer agonizing over what to do for the school year. 

Even though we didn't make the choice to homeschool in a pandemic, where safety was the paramount concern, we were forced into the choice a little earlier than anticipated. We'd been talking about it since Madison was born, but I wasn't totally convinced and I wanted to spend more time researching curriculum, groups, and everything else. But then things changed.

We started homeschooling a year earlier than our earliest plans, in the fall of 2014. Madison should have been entering PK4. We knew that homeschool was a possibility - even a probability at that point - for kindergarten in 2015, but I wanted her to have the preschool experience first. Circumstances changed, her preschool permanently closed that spring, and I couldn't find another program that was a) affordable, b) play based, and c) with openings for four year olds. 

We learned all this in March. By mid April, we stopped looking for new schools and started looking for homeschool curriculum. I had almost five months to plan for September, but I still felt rushed. Once we started, I felt a few months feeling overwhelmed, just like I had when I started my first public school teaching job, but I found the groove, learned how to adjust when necessary, and we haven't regretted our decision since.

Most parents who make the choice to homeschool do so deliberately. Sometimes they want more freedom, or a personalized education. Sometimes they feel like the curriculum in school is failing their child in some way. Some parents don't like their district. Some parents just love the idea. Some do it for religious reasons. Some are reacting to a bad experience, like bullying. There are many good reasons to homeschool, along with a few that I don't agree with, but generally speaking, the parents have made the choice, and usually after plenty of discussion and weighing of options. They've looked at curriculum and co-ops.

Does homeschool make sense for 2020?

2020 is an odd year, because some parents are feeling forced into a choice. They're choosing to homeschool because the other options feel worse, not because homeschooling feels right. And when you go into it with that mindset, it can become a more daunting experience with lots of hurdles. Some of those hurdles may be:

I'm not qualified to be in charge of their education.
I was a public school teacher, so plenty of people assume I must be qualified. I can tell you right now that it didn't do much to help me teach my own kids, with the possible exception that I know public school teachers doubt themselves too when kids struggle. You don't need a degree. Elementary teachers aren't experts in everything, they're just invested in helping kids learn and are willing to do the research to figure out how to make that happen. A lot of the time I'm learning/relearning right along with the girls. Any parent can find a good curriculum and your kids WILL learn.

Distance Learning/Homework is a TOTAL fail. They didn't and won't learn from me.
Listen, my homeschooled kids aren't magical beings and I'm not a magical mom. My kids don't listen to me when I tell them to clean their rooms and they become magically hearing impaired when I announce bedtime. But somehow, we get our schoolwork done. 

First, the sudden abrupt shift to distance learning that happened this March was NOT homeschooling and is NOT a good indicator of how your kids would handle actual homeschooling. They were ripped from routine without a chance to say a real goodbye. Teachers and administrators were scrambling. Everyone felt unsettled. If you feel like your kids didn't learn anything this spring, you aren't alone. Our brains were otherwise occupied this spring.

And if homework is a nightly struggle, homeschool can change that. Yes, they're doing more "work" at "home", but this "homework" isn't on TOP of a full school day. You get to work with them when they're fresh. And when they're done, they're done. 

They need to be with their friends.
Yup. They do. My homeschooled kids do too. They miss our full calendar. Remember, very few homeschoolers do so in a bubble. They have meet ups and co-ops and classes. My kids have been homeschooled for years, so theoretically the shut down in March shouldn't have impacted them. School was the same, right? NO. It was just as hard on them. 

Even if your kids return to public school, the interactions won't be the same. Staying six feet apart is tough, and school will be an adjustment this year, no matter which option your choose. Homeschoolers may have the advantage in this area, as they can do smaller meet ups outdoors.

They'll end up behind.
Behind who? Behind how? The world is upside down right now. If you have a kid in elementary school, they will be ok. Even if you have a few months where you think they didn't learn anything. They did, I promise. It's in there. You may find that your kid who was "behind" in traditional or distance learning will thrive in homeschooling, simply because they don't feel behind. Homeschooled kids are usually right on par with their peers, if not ahead.

I work, and I can't teach from 9-3 every day.
In this case, homeschooling might be a great choice! Homeschooling is flexible. You can get as creative as you like. Unlike many of the distance learning options, you aren't bound to the 9-3 schedule. Adam and I both work from home, and we've found that we can both make it work if necessary. If we had to go into work, we'd have to find childcare, but we could still make the school piece work. It's certainly easier if you have a dedicated parent who isn't trying to juggle, but most parents who work and homeschool can find a solution for their own situations.

Is homeschool the right choice in 2020?
The million dollar question. 

Maybe? Probably?

If you know you're being dragged into the homeschool choice kicking and screaming, and every day you'll approach it with doom, then maybe not. The one thing I'm confident in is that kids pick up on your attitude about it. 

But if you aren't comfortable having your kids in a school building, and you aren't confident in keeping up with the distance learning, homeschool CAN be the right choice for you in 2020, and maybe beyond!

Friday, July 24, 2020

So, Where Were We?

It's July, 2020. My first baby is ten years old. We're in a weird "not in lockdown but still not back to normal" state of the world. Everything feels unsettled.

Back in December, when the world was seemingly chugging along just fine, I stopped posting and started realigning my goals here. I wanted to take about a month off.

Can't you tell?

I started this blog when the girls were still babies. I wrote about funny things they did, and funny things they said. I wrote about pacifiers and potty training and the endless topics that come up in conversation when you have babies and toddlers. Random parenting stories about babies and toddlers were - are - relatable, funny, and easy to share.

Random parenting stories can be harder to come by when you have "big kids". They're still cute and funny and full of interesting anecdotes to share, but they're also their own people with their own personalities, and the parenting "catch all" just wasn't working for me. I mean, I look back at what I was writing in 2019, and I was all over the place. I had toy reviews, random mom stories, book reviews, home and parenting tips and tricks, dance mom stuff, homeschool musings, curriculum review, EVERYTHING. I mean, I may as well have thrown in some physics research. I didn't know who wanted to read this mess. Actually, I do know. No one. No one was interested in my scattered brain. 

And so I pushed pause. 

I needed to focus and write with some organization.

Do I want to go full on dance mom stories and advice?

Homeschooling curriculum and planning?

Stories of raising bigger kids and tweens?

I used to love doing reviews - could I go back and do that? 

Did I want to combine all these, working into a "many faces of me" thing? Yeah! That sounds good!

Wait, wasn't that what I had been doing? 

And wasn't the whole revamp because writing with a "many faces" angle was super scattered?


Well, shoot. 

I wasn't sure. Every time I thought I'd found a path, I second guessed myself. I have many, many notebooks where I tried to puzzle all this out. I made lists of what I wanted to cover on each topic, and I planned how I'd organize myself. But the fact that I couldn't really settle paralyzed me. If I was puzzling it out in notebooks, I was "working on it" without actually having to do anything.

I was also - and still am - writing for different sites in the interim, and trying to balance the time I could invest. I needed to look at the time I could dedicate to writing, then figure out how to portion that time out between writing I did for others and writing I did for my own site.

Then, just as I thought I'd figured that all out, things changed. I stopped writing for one site and started writing for another, and the adjustment period took me more time than I anticipated. The style of writing I was asked to do was different. Not bad, just different. And I fell victim to the "I don't have the time right now to work out my own stuff, and I don't want to start until I have everything worked out".

And then...the world turned upside down. And shut down. And there's no dance, which means I don't have those few hours when the girls are in class and I have time to myself. And everyone is homeschooling, but not really, and I'm writing more for other sites in the time I don't have about how to get through this. And everything I wanted to write about that isn't pandemic related seems trivial.

And I decided to extend the pause.

But I've realized in the last few months that I miss this space. I'm not ready to abandon it for good. No matter where else my writing lands, I want my little corner of the internet to stay.

So, while I have made no final decisions on direction, my lovely and dedicated writing time has been completely thrown out the window, and I'm generally feeling uneasy and stressed...

I'm back.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Just Don't Be a Jerk

When you're out in the world, interacting with society, this should be the absolute bare minimum:

Just don't be a jerk.

This could be online. It could be with strangers in the store. It could be with neighbors. It could be with family.

We've all got our own stresses, our own buttons that can be pushed. Sometimes, we make an active decision to be a jerk, because selfishness gets in the way of good sense, or someone was a jerk to us, so we feel we can go ahead and toss it out. Sometimes, we lose ourselves and our focus, and we're an accidental jerk.

But honestly, neither is ok. It's just not. You're not going to get anything good, not long term anyway, from being a jerk.

Maybe it's parking. Your neighbor parked in front of your house, blocking your mailbox, and you feel the need to pay them back in kind and block THEM in. Or maybe you don't do a direct retaliation, but when the opportunity comes up to be neighborly, you opt out, choosing to make their life a little harder. Payback, you might think. Or maybe it's a stranger in a crowded lot, at the height of holiday shopping. They squeezed their car in next to yours, and now you can barely get your body inside. So you decide that if they decided to be a jerk parking, you can give them the ding on the door they so obviously deserve.

Maybe it's online. Yeah, people tend to be super jerky about big topics - politics or vaccines or (ironically) bullying, but sometimes it's the little ones, topics that no one should feel all that passionately about, that attract jerky behavior. It's the time of year when seemingly calm parenting groups get all flush with arguments about the Elf on the Shelf. If you go all in, or if you don't do it at all, chances are you've either been a jerk, or you've had to deal with one. You feel like it's ok to be a jerk online, because it's an obvious right/wrong, and the other side is probably being a jerk right back.

Interesting anecdotal evidence - it is almost always the anti-Elf parents, not the over the top ones, who are behaving like jerks. The judgy, superior, smug, doesn't matter whose feelings I hurt, even a preschooler is fair game, attitude, usually the domain of the "sanctimommy", is taken on in a big way by anti-Elfers. They will mock, they will post hundreds of anti-Elf memes, they will let it be known that they are making the obvious "right" choice, and they judge you hard if you don't join in with the mocking. They might be totally normal and judgement free from January to mid-November, but those last six weeks of the year they go full jerk. Yes, I know. Not everyone. But still, I've found far more jerky bullying from the anti-Elf contingent. 

Really, it could be anywhere, with anything. You feel stressed, you feel wronged, you feel like if you AREN'T a jerk, you'll be taken advantage of, so why not?

But here's the thing.

Even if it works for you in the short term - you feel like you got even, you feel like you got what you deserved, you feel like you proved yourself didn't really win.

Because people remember. 

Negative energy, put out into the world, will create more negative energy. Maybe it'll come to you directly, maybe it'll come to you indirectly, but jerky behavior invites more.

I have found that the most powerful "revenge" is turning it backwards.

Your neighbor blocked you in? Shovel their sidewalk when you're out doing yours.

Someone tries to start a fight online? Take a deep breath and scroll by. Or defend someone (in a non jerky way) who is being attacked.

Someone is rude to you? Be extra kind back to them.

No, it probably won't be Disney movie experience, where the jerk immediately apologizes and you become best friends. But jerky behavior can't thrive in an atmosphere of positivity.

So just don't be a jerk.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Tried and True, Something New

There are some parenting hacks that work so well for me that I see no need to mix it up.

Girls lusting after something in a store, and I can tell the begging is near? We take a picture and add it to their "wish list".

Arguing over turns? Set a timer.

I like that I've settled on solutions that work for us. I know how to keep my kids - mostly - running pretty smoothly.

But then, I've noticed that sometimes, mixing it up with something new is exactly what I need.

For example, I feel pretty confident with long drives. The girls are accustomed to 1-2 hour trips - we make them to visit family, we make them for homeschool field trips, we make them for dance. This is standard, and we're all pretty good at knowing exactly how to make the drive go smoothly. We know what to pack in the girls' bags, we know what snacks we'll need, we know how to handle rest stops.

But when something changes, I need to adjust. Maybe it's what time of day we're driving, maybe it's distance, maybe it's why we're traveling, but something needs to change to make the trip go smoothly.

We hit into this the other week. It was super early in the morning and we were driving the full length of the state. Just me and the girls, since it was for a dance thing (shocking, right?) It was the worst drive we'd made in ages. They bickered over chargers and who needed which cable more. They didn't have water. They didn't have anything they wanted to eat. They needed bathroom stop after bathroom stop (which was bizarre, considering the beverage situation). They were asking how long until we got there. They were just feeding off of each other, and I was completely unprepared and annoyed.

So, while they danced all day, I hit the local shop and I mixed it up. I got snacks. I got color coded cables. I even hit the dollar spot and got some new trinkets, which I packaged "blind bag" style to add excitement and novelty. I mapped out when I'd be willing to stop. When they climbed into the car that night, I filled them in on the changes, and, whether in spite of, or because of them, the ride home was easy, and they were happy.

Tried and true is the way to go, but when something changes things, don't fight. Time to go with something new.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Navigating New Waters

We're entering the tween years. Madison is growing up faster than I ever imagined.

Mostly, her personality is consistent with who she's always been. She's empathetic and compassionate, she's a good friend, she's cautious initially, but fearless once she feels comfortable.

But now she gets irritated more easily - her sister being the prime target, but I'm in that line of fire as well. She wells up and cries at music, movies, even discussions of emotional topics. Sometimes she doesn't understand WHY she's crying, and I want to singsong, "I know why!"

Her interest in boys has been peaked. She's not in school where she has a plethora of young men to choose from, and dance, as well as many of her other classes, tends to be female dominated, but she has focused her attention on one particular boy in her art class, who (hold me), has focused HIS attention on HER.

In fact, his little brother told Reagan that he does have a girlfriend, and that girlfriend is Madison.

(Man, gossip is adorable when it's innocent and whispered between siblings in the under 10 crew). 

Does that mean anything? Nope. They play together, with others, at the end of art class, and they usually sit NEAR, but not NEXT to each other at the art table. And she wants to get him a Christmas gift. Do they call each other? Arrange (play) dates? No. Not yet. It's the innocent, elementary school style "relationship", but's a change. And while I'm blinking and wrapping my head around reciprocated first crushes, Adam doesn't know WHAT to do with this information.

Although I know, logically, that it's still a few years away, based on the passage of time, I fully expect to blink and find myself bringing her for her learner's permit. Or looking at colleges. Or packing up her room.

It happened with nine. The halfway point of childhood. Eight year old Madison was all kid. A mature kid, sure, but ALL kid. Giggles and bubbles. Nine year old Madison has plenty of kid left. A kid who plays with American Girl dolls and builds with LEGOs, but also a girl who listens to music while she works, obsesses about her outfit each day (even though we mostly stay home), chats with her friends on the phone, and takes pictures with her Instax Polaroid.

She's riding the wave of the tween...little girl one moment, teenage wannabe the next. She's mature and responsible one moment, then getting distracted by her toys the next. She's giggles and emotional tears and then giggles again.

It's new waters, and I'm new at this too. Hopefully we'll navigate as a team.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Surviving Surgery on Your Kids

No matter how minor the procedure, pediatric surgery is NEVER fun. NEVER. It doesn't matter if you've dealt with medical issues since birth, or if your seven year old is going in for the first time. It might be minor for the doctors, but it's a big deal for you, and as experiences go, it isn't the best.

It's scary for the kids, and it's scary for parents. And no matter how prepared you try to be, there are always things you wish you'd known.

Five years ago, I wrote a post called "Surviving the Toddler Tonsillectomy". Reagan was two and a half, and it was an experience. I had so many parents reach out and thank me, because they were about to go through the same thing. I answered questions as best I could, and I felt good that our experience - the good and the bad - was helping others. I know how much I'd scoured the internet, and I like that real life experiences are out there.

In those past five years, we've dealt with a few more minor things. Madison had a "unicorn tooth" (techically a "mesioden" or a super-numerary) removed, which was sort of similar to an adult getting an impacted wisdom tooth out, which means out-patient surgery with an oral surgeon, and she had a minor procedure done on her kidneys. Both were done under sedation, but were fairly low key. 

But this past year we were stunned to learn that Reagan had a problem with her eyes that ended up requiring another surgery. At her seven year check up, her pediatrician noticed her eye drifting and referred her to a specialist. Turns out that she was a late presenter of strabismus (wandering eye), and after an attempt to remedy it by patching, her doctor determined that correcting it surgically was in our best interest. If the brain isn't able to connect the eyes to work together in early childhood, it often has a hard time making that connection later. So we found ourselves moving from simple patching to scheduling an MRI (we opted not to sedate her for the MRI) and a day in the OR.

Things felt much different with a seven year old who could understand what was happening than a toddler, so I'm writing again about what we learned!

1) Let them know what's going on (in an age appropriate way), and follow their lead for how much information they want.

We talked to Reagan about why this had to happen. She was with me as I did all the initial paperwork in the eye doctor's office, with tears leaking out of her eyes, and she cried fully on the way home. She didn’t seem to want the details of the actual surgery as much as she wanted to know how she’d feel, or what she’d see them doing. We made sure to answer all her questions and let her know that it was OK to be scared - it meant that she was going to do something really brave.

2) Dangle a carrot.

I’m not advocating bribing your kids to get through every little thing, but for this one, we needed to give Reagan something to look forward to, rather than a day to dread. We let her choose a reward, and she chose “Blingers” (which I still maintain is just a fancy name for a bedazzler). On the calendar, instead of “surgery day”, we marked it as “Blingers Day”. “Blingers Day” was something to look forward to!

That morning, when Blingers didn’t seem to be cutting it, I surprised her with two new apps she’d been asking for loaded onto her tablet. She was thrilled to play with them on the drive and in the waiting room, and it helped distract her. It felt like she woke up and found a treat.

3) Prepare

Our children’s hospital is excellent, and they offered a surgery preparedness class. We took it the week before her scheduled date. It was run by a child life specialist who walked the three kids in this group through all the steps. They each got a stuffed animal, and had the chance to tape the various wires and sensors onto the critter, feeling exactly how they’d feel when they did this “for real”. They got an anesthesia mask to place over their own face, and then the stuffed animal’s face. Then they got to visit all the rooms - from the initial prep, to the OR itself, to the post op “wake up” room. They saw exactly what they’d put on, and even got to don the gown, cap and mask as they walked their stuffies through. They looked at pictures of the nurses and anesthesiologists, and the child life specialist was even able to look up who they’d probably see, based on the schedule. They chose their scent for the mask, they learned what they’d be allowed to eat before and after, and what they could bring with them. Reagan left this appointment with SO many worries put at ease.

If you don’t have this option offered to you, see if you can get a book (there are a few good ones that give the basics), or even call the hospital to see if you can arrange a visit. Even if you can’t get into the actual OR, just seeing the hospital in a low pressure way can help.

4) Give them ownership of anything you can.

Reagan didn’t have a choice about the surgery, but we tried to give her the rest of the choices surrounding it. Her cutoff time for clear liquids was 7:00 am, and she’s a late sleeper, so we gave her the choice of letting her sleep, or waking at 6:30 to have Gatorade and Jello. She chose to be woken. We gave her the choice of what kind of Gatorade and Jello. She chose what to wear, what to pack in her bag, what music we listened to on the way. She got to choose her mask scent. She got to choose her post surgery treat of a popsicle or an ICEE.

5) Advocate for anxiety help.

Here’s where we failed. I knew, knew, that the “cocktail” Reagan had before her surgery when she was a toddler made a big difference in the day. When Madison had her tooth pulled, I requested it, but the surgical center told us they don’t like to overmedicate kids if they’re compliant. Madison was terrified, but compliant. I asked if Reagan would have the option this time, and I was told they’d monitor her in pre-op and make sure she was ok. I knew Reagan had massive anxiety over this, but on the actual day, she was putting up a good front, so I didn’t push.

Well, she did fine until the actual big moment came when they tried to take her back. She had a massive panic attack. She screamed and cried and tried to run. And by then, I was told, it was too late to turn back and medicate her. We dragged her into the OR and held her down while the mask was held on and I gripped her little hands and told her I was there and it was going to be ok while she screamed and hyperventilated and fought with every little bit of strength she had. It was horrifying and heartbreaking.

Afterward the anesthesiologist told us to always, ALWAYS fight for the anxiety medication, even if it doesn’t seem necessary. We know our kids, and I knew that however she was “complying” that day, that we had weeks of built up fear bubbling under the surface. It is NOT overmedicating to avoid a traumatic experience. Fight for your kids, and TAKE the meds.

6) Take care of yourself.

The poor child life specialist who had just helped me hold down my screaming seven year old helped me regather my bearings, and then told us to go get food, coffee, something, but to LEAVE the waiting area. Take a walk, browse the gift shop, but don’t sit and stew. We knew that we couldn’t do a thing, and that we’d get updates, but that we would just worry sitting in the waiting room. So we left, had a late breakfast/early lunch, wandered a bit, and were back to sit and wait long before we needed to hear an update and hear that she was on her way out.

This served a double purpose. Obviously, we didn’t eat in front of her that morning, and we knew from past experience that we wouldn’t eat in post op. You can’t help anyone if you’re falling down from hunger, so it was smart to feed ourselves when we could. It took us out of the waiting room where we couldn't help but think about what was going on.

7) Be prepared for a tough wake up.

I knew this from past experience, but kids don’t always wake up peacefully. All Reagan wanted to do was rub her eyes, HARD, which is obviously not encouraged after eye surgery, and she was fighting hard and crying. We knew it would pass - she’d doze back off after the medicine, wake up a little calmer again, and then perk up more once she had that popsicle or ICEE in her. It’s hard to see, but it really does pass.

8) Understand your Post-Op instructions, and make sure your kid understands them too.

Reagan's toddler surgeon was one of those doctors with both great skill and an incredible sense of humor. He handed out his post op instructions and they were thorough and funny. We didn't have many questions because he had covered them all. Reagan's eye surgeon was more of what I think is the norm. He was kind and beyond capable, but far more serious and business like. While we understood the tonsillectomy = sore throat of the first surgery, we had no idea what recovery from eye surgery would entail, and his instructions were very basic, and in some cases, so vague that we were confused. We didn't know what activities she could do, and when she could do them. We weren't sure when her recovery was normal, and when things weren't right.
If you don't understand, ASK. 

Once we knew, we could explain to Reagan that her eyes might feel itchy for a few days, but wouldn't hurt. When she left the hospital she'd be sensitive to light for a few hours, but she'd wake up fine the next morning. She would need drops daily, and they might feel cold, but wouldn't sting. She could go and watch her soccer game, but she couldn't play in it. She could go to an arts and crafts birthday party two days later, but when they went to jump on the trampoline, she needed to watch. We explained why some activities were ok and others weren't. We marked on her calendar when she could return to dance, return to soccer, when she would finish the drops, and when she had a check up. 

Adults get anxious about medical procedures, so it's natural that kids do too, even when we do our best to prepare them. Taking time to walk them through everything they have questions about, and hopefully everyone will make it through with the least amount of stress!

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