Feb 02 2016

What I’ve learned from four years of reluctantly homeschooling a twice-exceptional kid

What I've learned from four years of reluctantly homeschooling a twice-exceptional kidIf it’s February, it’s winter in Chicago, and I’m again suffering from a terminal case of AAS. It’s cold and dark (even when it’s sunny) and you wonder if you’ll ever be able to sit on a toilet seat again without ending up as a knot of icy goosebumps. Middle of the night potty excursions quickly teach you how to morph a scream into a nearly silent exhalation of temperature acknowledgement. Hot tea and layers and space heaters can only do so much. I hate winter.

But if it’s winter, it’s also another anniversary here in the House of Chaos. Last month Andy and I hit four years of homeschooling together. I am the ultimate Reluctant Homeschooler, so I’m still surprised that we’re this far in and that it appears we’ll be going through high school. So, in recognition of the last 48 months of I never wanted to do this I don’t know what the hell I’m doing please don’t make me do this anymore I’m convinced I’m screwing him up OH MY GOD, here’s my list of ten things I’ve learned from four years of reluctantly homeschooling a twice-exceptional kid. Learn from me, my children, it may save you some grief. If not, I recommend Black Box Malbec to ease the pain.

  • Check your expectations at the door. Better yet, don’t even let those suckers up the driveway. Turn off the outside lights, draw the blinds, pretend no one is home. Expectations will mess with your mind more than Donald Trump in a thong doing the splits (you’re welcome for that mental image). Calm your tits, it’s ok. You were already in charge of your kid’s education, now you have more say. Um…all of the say. Just don’t expect anything to look like what you have in your mind’s eye. Just like when your kid was a newborn, he hasn’t read The Books and doesn’t give half a golden shit about them. Educate the child, not your expectations.
  • Develop a support network. It can be in real life, it can be entirely virtual. But you’re gonna go batshit crazy without one. You never think you’ll need someone to talk you off a mental or emotional ledge until you do. Ask me how I know this, I dare you. I have a tight group of friends online and IRL homeschoolers nearby and I need them all. Sometimes you just need to know someone else has been through it and that you’ll be ok. And to remind you that there’s no Netflix in prison.
  • Have your own activities, something just for you, that you can look forward to every week. My husband and I play in a semi-professional wind ensemble. Once a week we get to go hang out with grownups and work our asses off making music. We don’t get to talk to each other (except in the car), but we call it a date. We even do drinks afterward (two fingers of whiskey or a small glass of wine when we get home to drown out the band music earworms and to wind down from being out).
  • I could really use a Patron Saint of Reluctant Homeschoolers. There are Patron Saints of parenthood, teachers, psychiatrists, and students. Why not one for the reluctant homeschoolers of the gifted? The closest I could find were the Patron Saints of Never Failing Hope, or Impossible Causes, or Dysfunctional Families, or Desperate Situations, or Insanity (ironically sharing a saint with Neurological Diseases). I’m sure some would say the Patron Saint of Juvenile Delinquents would qualify, depending on the day. But hey there, Patron Saint of the Wine Trade! You are welcome in my house, fo’ sho’.
  • Know your strengths and weaknesses and plan accordingly. Me? Strength: Planning out a course of study and scheduling it for my kid. It’s a scaffolding of sorts, which he’ll take over as he gets better at planning. Andy and I are doing a dystopian literature study together (compare and contrast with today’s society, dear child; you’ve discovered too much compare and not enough contrast? Welcome to adulthood…) and I make sure he’s on the computer doing his German study and he never needs prodding to jump into his newest programming language.
    Weakness: Math, which is why I’ve handed that over to Barry Gelston and The Collaboratory Zone. I’ve also farmed out found instructors for chemistry, and Online G3 is taking over US History this term.
  • You’re probably homeschooling a 2e kid because school was like pushing water uphill with a rake. You don’t need to recreate school at home, you’ll just make yourself crazy. School is not education is not learning; they’re all different aspects of the same thing. Focus on learning and your kid will get an education. NOTE TO SELF: REMEMBER THIS TIDBIT.
  • Follow your kid’s lead and trust yourself. You’re not homeschooling that other 2e kid you know, the one who is taking several advanced online classes and has been recognized nationally for his/her accomplishments, you’re homeschooling your 2e kid. Your 2e kid needs you, because you know his/her strengths and weaknesses best. So do the best you can to not compare your kid to others and forge ahead. Comparison is the thief of joy. NOTE TO SELF: YEAH, REMEMBER THIS ONE TOO.
  • Compromise is the name of the game. This is one game no one likes playing but everyone must. I have one kid homeschooling and one kid in middle school. The MS kid wants to homeschool, but I know leaving every day and getting a traditional education is a better fit for him right now. He’s bummed because he thinks he’s missing out on all the fun and games here at home (snort). Occasionally the homeschooling kid has to suck it up and leave the house when he doesn’t want to. Sometimes I have to drink white wine instead of red. We all make compromises.
  • Things will change. What worked wonderfully for awhile will slam into a cement wall and never work again, and what never worked before will finally spark and the kid will be off to the races. It’s ok. Keeps things from getting stale, keeps us from getting old. Or it just keeps the wine industry in business. But change is good, change means growth, change gives me something to blog about.
  • There will be good days and there will be bad days. There will be days you are so grateful to be homeschooling your kid, and there will be days you will spend hours searching online for a school upon which you can dump the child and run like hell. There will be days when you’ll be filled with white-hot rage at the whole thing, that you had to rearrange your entire freaking life to homeschool a kid with such complex needs and it’s not what you planned and how dare the universe do this to you. And then there will be days when you realize just how much your 2e child has changed since homeschooling, that he’s now more mature and less anxious and has incredibly deep thoughts and you’re so floored by the difference you can do nothing but breathe a silent thank you to the universe.

Admittedly it’s not for everyone, but it’s amazing what you find yourself able to do when your child is suffering. I never wanted to homeschool, yet here we are and here we will be for another three and a half years. My kid is happier, more comfortable in his skin, considerably less anxious, and slowly becoming more open to new and different experiences. He gets to set the pace of his learning (with me to help keep a steady tempo) and still have time to deeply explore what is most interesting to him (programming and computer tinkering). Four years ago he was an anxiety-ridden child, beaten down from an educational system that mainly focused on what he was doing wrong and forgetting that there was so much right about him. Today I see a young man becoming the man he is meant to be, marching to the beat of his own unconventional drummer, confident in his abilities and getting better at improving his challenges. I’m no longer sobbing myself to sleep, he’s less likely to lose his shit over little things. I can’t believe it’s been four years; it feels like yesterday and yet a million years ago. Three years and a few months from now we’ll be wrapping up this homeschooling era, and I look forward to seeing just how it turns out.

Jan 15 2016

Reflections on a decade of blogging

Reflections on a decade of bloggingOne week ago I hit a milestone anniversary and, true to course, totally overlooked it because 1) I suck at memorable dates unless I’m married to you or pushed you through the lady bits and 2) please see item number 1.

January 8, 2006, So Why A Blog?:

Really, it comes down to “why not?” Yeah, blogs are trendy right now and mommy bloggers are the hot news item, but I don’t think that’s why I decided to do this. I’m far from trendy and certainly not hot (though my husband would argue that point; love that man!), it just sounded like something I could have fun with. I’ve been reading blogs for close to a year, and have been so inspired by so many bloggers out there. So here I am, spending what little free time I have doing more on the computer, and loving it.

I started blogging ten years plus one week ago. Originally called Never a Dull Moment, I dove into online writing just because. Because it sounded like fun, because I could write out all the little personal essays I’d been composing in my head since I was a child, because I wanted someplace to be ME, because being a mom is invisible and difficult. At first I just slapped up little snippets of writing and online quizzes, much like what you’d find on Facebook these days. Gradually I eased into writing more thoughtfully, getting a little recognition from other bloggers (I’m still proud of the post I wrote about our little library). I wrote about whatever came to mind: politics, bicycle helmets, that time I nearly ran over a cow. Then as I found my voice, I discovered I was writing more and more about giftedness and parenting and the difficulties of gifted parenting. That led to a book, then a contract for a second book, and recognition from the gifted community; apparently people liked what I had to say.

And say I did. Like that time I railed at the Today Show. Or when I shouted that not all gifted parents are bragging about their kids.

I’ve met so, so many people through blogging these last ten years. Most of them I still only know through my computer, but a few I’ve met in real life. Some have greatly influenced my life, changing its trajectory and those of my sons. All of them I call friend, none of them I would have met if I hadn’t taken the leap ten years ago.

But blogging has changed in a decade. It’s nowhere near what it was when I created Never a Dull Moment on Blogger on a cold January night ten years ago. You can’t just write about what’s in your head, you have to have a focus, a niche. You can’t just slap up an amusing post, you have to optimize for SEO and have a pinnable image and cross-promote it. The community is on social media now, very rarely do people comment back and forth on blogs. A lot of the lighthearted fun is gone. The fun is on Facebook, the back and forth conversation is on Twitter, the pictures are on Instagram, and long-form blogging for the love of words is…flailing in the breeze. It saddens me, and it’s been harder and harder to write here over the last few years. I still love to write, I journal every day in Day One, but the glee of writing a blog post and reading comments (if there are any) is greatly diminished, because the community is gone. I love playing with words, with taking an absolutely shittastic situation and crafting the description to make people laugh in empathy. I’m a trained musician, and we get instant feedback at concerts; I got spoiled by the instant feedback blogging allowed. I continue to hope that the pendulum will swing back towards long-form writing and that I’ll be here waiting to grab hold, but in the meantime? It’s hard to write for a medium that provided instant feedback and no longer does; it’s hard enough to be solitary enough to sit down and pour out the words.

I never expected to be where I am today, ten years ago, but I’m grateful for it. In 2006 in never occurred to me that I’d have a book under my belt and another one in the works, with some fiction ideas tickling my brain. It never occurred to me that people would listen to what I had to say about gifted kids and parenting (I still can’t believe they do, talk about Impostor Syndrome). It never occurred to me that I’d still be writing, ten years later, and still enjoying it…when I finally do sit down and do it. There are so many interests in my life, all demanding my attention (especially those tween/teen boys who were so, so young when I started blogging), and unfortunately writing has been shoved to the back of the closet (see: instant gratification…I have to practice my flute or I’ll pee down my leg in rehearsal every week, that takes up valuable writing time).

After ten years, part of me thinks I should hang it up, because if I can’t do it to my high perfectionist standards maybe I should direct my attention elsewhere. Try something different, a new blog, a new focus. Write some short stories, let the guilty stress of not writing here just go. Yet another part of me acknowledges that this blog has been an important part of my life for nearly a quarter of it. Hard to give that up. So I don’t know.

Happy Blogaversary to me and Laughing at Chaos. It’s been a hell of a decade.

Jan 10 2016

My ode to winter

Chicago has finally blown a kiss to the unseasonably warm temperatures of late and we are currently in a bit of a deep freeze. Not nearly like the hellish Polar Vortex of 2014, but still cold enough to piss me off. So sing with me, my friends! Sing to banish winter to anywhere but where I currently am.

It’s my least favorite time of the year

With the freezing wind chills
And the high heating bills
And the shivers I fear
It’s my least favorite time of the year
It’s the worst time of the year for my hair
With the flyaway strands
And the static that lands
On it from the dry air
It’s the worst time of the year for my hair
It’s the col-coldest season of all
With the dry bleeding hands
And the snow covered lands
And the black ice for falls
It’s the col-coldest season of all

Dec 31 2015

When your last Word of the Year picks its successor

when your last word of the year picks its successor*Tap tap*

This thing on?

Where are the damned lights?

What the…what happened to my stack of drafts? Why are they all over the floor?

And who the hell is in charge of dusting around here? I swear to god I’m going to quit calling it dust and instead call it by its scientific name, Star Stuff.

Oh my, it’s quite Star Stuffy in here!
Isn’t it beautiful, seeing the Star Stuff dance in the sunshine?
Make your mark on the universe, write your name in the Star Stuff on the shelf over there!
Oh, the Star Stuff bunnies are reproducing under the couch! Awww, cute widdle baby Star Stuffs!

This place is a forgotten, nay ignored, pig sty. My own fault, I suppose. I should probably do something about that.

So. Word of the Year. I’ve picked one for the last several years, and it’s been pretty hit or miss as to the efficacy of the word in my life. When I pick the word, I struggle with it all year. It’s as though if I want it badly enough, it’ll work. Nope. I saw that with 2012’s grateful, 2013’s enough., and 2014’s story. Those words and I battled all year, and I eventually gave up on enough. that fall; I don’t easily give up on my word. But when I sit and allow the word to bubble through my brain and the word chooses me, then I see huge gains. In 2011 strong got me through a really tough year, even though in retrospect I was strong to the point of stoicism. And this year mindful changed the direction of my life.

Because I made mindful my word this year, I was able to stay more in the moment, good and bad. I oversaw the second household move in four years without completely losing my mind, and in fact was the calmest I’d been in years. I’m less angry at winter (so far) because I appreciated the hell out of every warm moment of the summer. No, I didn’t meditate a whole lot, but I stayed more present in my life than I’d had in years. I’m calmer, more centered, and more grateful for my life than I’ve ever been.

A couple weeks ago my mind started wandering towards picking a new word. Bold was the leader for a great long while, because I want to work on being bolder in my life (and to anyone who thinks I’m already pretty bold…no…I’m pretty reserved for the most part). Open made a run, because I want to be open to new experiences etc. As time ticked down to today, I frantically searched WOTY lists, hoping a word would jump out at me. This is how act, emerge, enrich, strive, evolve, challenge, and fearless came to flirt with me.

At this point mindful just shook its head in pity, went into the hidden cabinet of my subconscious, and pulled out effort, and placed this kicking and screaming word into my arms. My reaction to that is not unlike the reaction I’d have to someone handing me a newborn saying, “Here, for you!” Shocked, horrified, indignant, angry, panicked, curious, humbled, exhausted, and delighted…all wrapped up in an ooooohhhhhhhh fuuuuuuuucccckkkkkkk ribbon. The ribbon is yellow, by the way, the color of insanity.

Last year the universe shoved me together with mindful, and so mindful returned the favor. All those other words I considered? Funny, they all require effort. Last year I noted that

I want to write AND teach and play flute AND homeschool AND rock as a parent AND have a strong marriage AND be a reliable and loving friend AND have a well-oiled household AND be prepared for the unexpected AND have time for myself.

Requires effort there, Jen.

If I want to write more? Finish my book sometime this lifetime? Effort.
Be more present for my family and friends? Effort.
Have a strong, well-run flute studio? Effort.
Read the books on my ever-growing TBR list? Effort.
Have hobbies that rejuvenate me instead of make me feel guilty? Effort.
Want to finally drop the 45 pounds of unnecessary weight you’ve been hauling around? Effort…ain’t gonna happen because you’re a nice person and shit.

As I looked around, I realized that every single thing I feel guilty about, everything that nags at the back of my mind, everything that causes me to be angry at myself…is because I haven’t put effort into it. I know that a great part of that is because I am so worried about overextending myself again. I’m really, really good at doing that. But after the chronic fatigue syndrome diagnosis last spring I just backed off of everything. My challenge this year will be to put more effort into my life without knocking myself into exhaustion again, for the umpteenth time. And while a lot of people may argue against me on this, I’m inherently lazy.

So as I trusted the universe last year when I was thrown into an arranged marriage with mindful, I will trust last year’s word that effort is the right word for 2016. I’m certain there will be days when I overdo it, or when I lose my shit trying to balance it all, but I’ll figure it out. Mindful isn’t going anywhere; just like strong is still with me after five years it will still guide me through the days. I’ll just need to be mindful of my energies and limits as I put more effort into the awesomeness that is my life. I can do this.

And I will.

Dec 17 2015

Last minute gift review: Compose Yourself

We’re at T-minus one week, ONE WEEK PEOPLE, until Christmas Eve. Are you ready? I am. Maybe. Kinda. I should probably wrap gifts and make sure I’m not missing anyone. And I think I need to get a few more little things. And you know, I don’t think Christmas cards are going to happen again this year and we moved in February so I’m pretty sure the mail forwarding has expired and any cards headed our way are all going to be Return To Sender and people are going to think we’re dead and I’d say pass the eggnog but I don’t like eggnog so just pass me whatever you put in eggnog and we’ll call it good.

So, if you are like me and a wee bit behind the 8-ball in getting it together gift-wise, I’m here to help.

I received a copy of Compose Yourself for review, and this post contains affiliate links. This post, however, is low fat, certified gluten free, and was never tested on animals.


I was recently contacted by ThinkFun to see if I’d be interested in trying out some of their new games in advance of holiday shopping. Being a lifelong musician (minus nine years), I jumped on the chance to play with Compose Yourself. Hm. How best to describe? It’s a stack of transparent cards, each with a measure of music printed on them. Because of the transparency, you can flip and rotate the cards to get four different variations. Set out 4-16 of these cards, in any order, and boom! You have written a piece of music. But wait, what does it sound like? That’s when you go to the special website for Compose Yourself, plug in the numbers in the upper left hand corner (remember there are four different variations, and each one has its own number), and the website plays your composition for you. You can hear it performed on solo marimba (recorded by Evelyn Glennie, who is a world-renowned percussionist and, believe it or not, is deaf), by a full symphony orchestra, or both. It’s a clever concept, and I enjoyed tinkering with it.

Compose Yourself | Print



Only one of my boys would play with it; the other was neck-deep in end of term projects he had put off (much to my homeschooling chagrin). But J enjoyed it and wrote a few ditties before giving it back to me and returning to the mind-sucking world of Minecraft. Again with the breaking of mama’s musician heart…

This is a great intro to composition for younger kids, maybe 6-11 or so. I had only a few issues with it. For starters, I really wish there was an app instead of a website. The website doesn’t work too well on mobile, and with so many kids using iPods and iPads, an app would be a great addition to this game. My other quibble was strictly musical; I’d love to have the option to speed up or slow down the composition. How fun would it be to write a piece, get it to a tempo you like, and save it as a ringtone? No? Just me? Look, I need text/ring tones for different people, it’s the only way I can keep up. Plus I’m easily entertained.

We’ve had ThinkFun games in our house for years. I think the first one we got was Rush Hourwaaaayy back when Andy was in occupational therapy, lo those many years ago. We played Zingo! when the boys were emerging readers, and used to play Math Dice before the dice were sucked into the collection now in one of the boys’ rooms (just like grandpa…who, we discovered over Thanksgiving, has a die with 5s on all sides…made playing Ship, Captain, Crew entertaining).

Feel a little better? Have some ideas for your nieces and nephews? Take a deep breath, have some wine. With online shopping and quick delivery, your shopping fears are over. Maybe. Kinda.

Could you, uh, pass whatever you’re pouring into your eggnog? Thanks.


Nov 16 2015

No such thing as balance in gifted parenting

No such thing as balance in gifted parentingI’m on an eternal quest for balance. How hard can it be, right? I’m an intelligent, reasonably functional woman who is above average in adulting, you’d think I’d have a handle on balancing this whole gifted parenting thing.


I so want my life to behave like a perfectly balanced teeter totter. Both sides equidistant from the hard ground, while I hold court in the precise center, the calm in the eye of the storm, juggling my flaming batons with ease. There’s a smile on my suddenly unlined face, a gentle breeze ruffles my hair, and all is right with the world. Ahhhh….

Right. No one has that life.

In reality, my teeter totter tilts wildly and without warning. I dash from end to end, barely keeping up with the flaming batons and often coming close to singeing my eyebrows. WHAM! The teeter totter slams back down into the ground and it’s no longer a fun piece of playground equipment but a catapult, heaving me into the sky, off-balance, limbs flailing wildly, entertaining the world. If I were wearing a skirt y’all would get to see my oh-so-sexay undergarments. This is why I rarely wear skirts. Well, that and the complete lack of Spanx in my life.

And that right there is what it’s like parenting twice-exceptional boys.

Over the top pun-tastic humor that sends me into hysterics. A breathtaking maturing of empathy.

Overwhelming anxiety when presented with the unfamiliar. Asynchronous development that gives me ulcers.

Executive function disasters all over the place.

Things are going great. Things have plunged deep into the shitter.
Everything is awesome! Everything is crap.

Very high highs and very low lows. Brilliance in some areas and devastating struggles in others. Always scaldingly hot or blisteringly cold; never, ever just toasty warm.

Up. Down. Up. Down. Flaming batons singeing eyebrows left and right. Funny how I still have to pluck the damned things.

Twice-exceptionality can sometimes present as an average kid; the highs and lows mask each other. No such luck with this; the highs and lows of gifted parenting don’t average out, they just give me whiplash.

I take refuge in the fact that the highs are starting to edge out the lows. For so long the lows had the upper hand. But now, as the boys get older and we all have better coping and management skills, the teeter totter is leaning a little more to the positive. I’ll take it; for far too long it was pinned to the low side.

We have some seven years left on this 2e parenting seesaw. Perhaps I’ll find my way to the center of the teeter totter once before we’re done.


Today’s post was part of the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum blog hop on the Highs and Lows of Gifted Parenting. We all have stories to share; go check out some other participants.


Nov 04 2015

My mad NaNoWriMo procrastination skillz

My mad NaNoWriMo procrastination skillzSo we’re well into NaNo now, and while I am making my daily word goals, there will inevitably come a time when ye olde words refuse to come out and play. I don’t have the time these days to sit and bang my head against the desk (plus previous head+desk adventures have left the top cracked and weak), so I’ll have to fall back onto good ole’ procrastination.

Oh, procrastination, how I love/hate thee. I hate the eventual panic of a job delayed, but I love the feeling of “hey, I know I’ll totally get that done, but I have to get this done first!” because that other thing actually gets done. I’ve gone as far as sorting out the different kinds of procrastination, because…you know, procrastination.

Procrasti-cleaning: It’s the month of organize my closet! Scrub the showers until we’re blinded by the shine! Wash the curtains! Clean out that pantry and gosh darn it, go ahead and put down shelf paper! And the kitchen floor is just begging to be scrubbed by hand with a toothbrush! Don’t forget the refrigerator!

Procrasti-cizing: Is it really procrastinating if you’re exercising because of your rapidly expanding ass?

Procrasti-cooking: This is the perfect time to try that new seventy-five step recipe!

Procrasti-planning: Homeschool lesson plans, homeschool class plans for next spring, meal plans, going to eventually paint the master bedroom what color plans, what will I do with my life in seven years when we’re empty nesters plans (wait…only seven years???). Doesn’t matter the area of life, I can and will plan it to avoid something else.

Procrasti-sorting: Now is totally the perfect time to sift through my 20,000+ photos on two different hard drives and organize them and sort them into easily searchable albums and back them up online in several different places! Best time ever!

Procrasti-parenting: Card games with the boys! Making cookies with the boys! Taking the boys to a movie! Helping the boys clean their rooms! Chasing after the boys as they run away from me, unaccustomed to my sudden hands-on parenting! All parenting, all the time, all month long! We only have seven years!

Procrasti-practicing: Can’t find words? Go woodshed your flute music some more, Jen. You have a concert in a few weeks and you have parts more exposed than a nip slip. Screw those up and the whole world will know.

Procrasti-blogging: Dig out the list of blog post ideas you’ve had in Trello for the last year! Pick one and just start writing. It is writing, after all…and it may or may not be what you’re reading right now!

Procrasti-sleeping: No. Just no. When you have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Seasonal Affective Depression, sleeping isn’t procrastination, it’s what you do to not kill the people around you.

Procrasti-panicking: Oh, we all know this one! Sudden realization that the deadline doth approacheth. Tea must be brewed, appropriate music must be found, yoga pants must be donned, fingernails must be trimmed, earplugs must be acquired, dog must be let out, children must be duct-taped to non-movable surfaces. More than likely, it’s far past sleepy time and you’re screwed. Shouldn’t have waited so long.

Mad procrastination skillz. I haz dem.

Nov 02 2015

What a difference a year makes

What a Difference a Year MakesI was sitting and thinking the other day (dangerous, I know) about change, and just how much change we’ve seen here the last few years. And for the first time, I wasn’t angry about it. I just sat with it, and was amazed that we survived the events of the last five years. Sometimes I really think it’s a miracle we’re not only still speaking, but still married.

This time five years ago we had three unexpected back-to-back-to-back updates from our families that hit us hard, on top of uncertain job stuff, and we decided to move back to Illinois.
This time four years ago was the ugliest, hellish, and most painful three months of my life. We were in the middle of an ugly 18 month stretch of stress. School for Andy was a nightmare, I routinely sobbed myself to sleep, I hated every single thing about my life. (You can read about this awesome time in my life in If This is a Gift, Can I Send It Back? …it’s funny, I swear).
This time three years ago we were pulling ourselves out of that 18 month death spiral, but were still reeling from it all. I was in the first year of homeschooling Andy, Tom changed jobs that spring, and the enormity of the previous couple of years kept washing over us like waves. Treading the water of life, and getting worn out.
This time two years ago we crept around life, waiting for the other shoe to fall. We thought we were happy, but it was just that we weren’t painfully miserable. It was a grey, hazy, limbo-like existence; the pain of so much ugly change wasn’t there so we weren’t miserable, but happy? No. We tried, though. I was emotionally battered and bruised through my own negative self-talk, and I’m sure I was just a joy to live with.
This time last year (after weeks of intense discussions about what we wanted out of life) we had just put our house on the market and almost immediately had a great offer. But, because Murphy’s Law wasn’t quite done torturing us, of course it wouldn’t be that easy for the House of Chaos. We actually sold our house four times before it stuck and we finally moved in February (really don’t recommend moving in the dead of winter; 5 degrees on moving day only five days after a huge blizzard suuuuucked).

Now? I look back at the last five years of hell and am so grateful for what we have now. Tom has changed jobs yet again (and it’s such a perfect fit for him it’s ridiculous). Andy is thriving as a homeschooler (for the low, low price of Mom’s Anxiety Attacks About The Future) and J is actually starting to like middle school. I love my house, to the point of astonishment that it’s ours. It’s not perfect, it needs a little work, but it fits my family like no other place we’ve lived, including the house in Colorado we built. Living here makes me happy, and that’s something I haven’t felt in a long time.

Let me repeat that in case it got missed.

I am happy.

For far too long my default emotional state was frustration, anger, anxiety, discontent, pain. Bad news of any sort sent me back into the vortex, and it just fed on itself. Again, I’m sure I was just fantastic as a wife and mother and friend. But over the last year the vortex has weakened and I’ve been able to climb out. Living where I do now has helped immensely. My husband’s new job (and resultant lowering of stress and uncertainty) has helped immensely. Small bits of good news and life improvements have helped immensely. I’m calmer, happier, more centered than ever, and it’s scaring the everloving shit out of me in the best way possible.

What a difference a year makes.

Oct 26 2015

From annoying to absurd

The other day I had to buy printer ink. I tend to run the printer dry, get pissy that printouts have all the color saturation of glass, and eventually make the trek for replacements. After shelling out the cost of a fancy dinner, I posted this to my Facebook wall:

printer ink

(Thanks to my friend Elizabeth for taking my words, meme-ing them, and surprising me with it on my wall).

It was well received, with many laughs. But I was asked more than once where I come up with this stuff. (I was also asked what I was on, but as I was thumb-typing this at stoplights, I guarantee I wasn’t on anything).

I take the annoying and make it as absurd as possible.

Look, life can really suck sometimes. We can post and gripe and whine about it, or we can stick a finger up its nose and make fun of it. Call it gallows humor, call it silver lining, call it laugh to keep from screaming. Whatever. Most of the time I can do this and that’s when I do more writing; when I can’t make fun of life it’s probably sitting on my chest giving me a wet willie with its big toe while it farts in my face. The best writer of this style is Jenny Lawson (The Bloggess); her new book Furiously Happy (<-affiliate link notice so the FCC doesn’t egg my house) had me laughing so hard this weekend I’m convinced I broke something inside. My spleen is rather tender today, so maybe that’s it. Or maybe it’s cholera, I don’t know. I just know I haven’t laughed that hard in a very, very long time.

Lately I’ve been having lots of good days. I don’t know why, I’m not going to question it, I’m just going to enjoy it and write. Hopefully they’ll stick around through November, as I clickety-clack my way through NaNoWriMo. One week to go; coincidentally and rather frighteningly….NaNo starts the same day as Daylight Savings Time. So we’ll all be in the dark and won’t that be fun.

I’ll have plenty of opportunity to take the annoying and find the absurd.

Oct 20 2015

2e Tuesday: Homeschooling through crippling self-doubt

2e Tuesday - Homeschooling through crippling self-doubtWe are a comparative society. From the moment our kids are born they’re ranked in some way against others. APGAR scores, height and weight, when they sleep through the night, are they gaining weight, how early they potty train, when they talk, when they learn to read. There’s even more of that in school, in work, in everything, and it never ends. Everything in comparison to others.

Ranked from cradle to grave.

Parenting an outlier child you’d think I would remember this, and temper my inclination to compare my sons against others or anything. But I struggle with it mightily, and doubt myself hourly. I struggle against comparison, of everything, all the time. Part of that is because I’m a trained musician (and you’re only as good as your last performance so you’d better be critical of yourself, and should probably know where the competition stands too), and part of it is simply because I’m human.

I don’t want to compare my sons to anyone else, or anything, or against standards, and yet I do. We all compare ourselves and our situations to others, regardless of our insistence otherwise. It can be detrimental but I also think comparison can make us better, make us push ourselves to be better. By homeschooling, Andy doesn’t quite grasp this. And while it’s great that he’s able to work at his pace and not the artificial pace set arbitrarily by others, he’s missing the positive aspect of a bit of peer pressure, the kind that encourages self-discipline and motivation, that informs you of what is possible through effort. He doesn’t see what others want to accomplish and how they work to reach those goals.

Like a lot of homeschoolers, by February I want to give up, throw in the homeschooling towel, call it quits. Done, finis, no more. Cannot manage another day. I scour the internet for a new school, much like standing in front of the fridge looking for something to eat; even though you’ve looked a half dozen times in the last five minutes there is still no food. Or school. Whatever. In October I beat myself up. Well into the school year, a routine of sorts established, expectations set (and missed), and I look around and doubt every single decision I’ve made to date. I don’t know how to explain it without making me look like the worst example of homeschooling a high schooler, but I’ll do my best.

By 9:30 most mornings I have J off to school, have had breakfast with several cups of Earl Grey Tea (but not coffee, because my stomach finally sent a certified letter to my brain stating that if I had another cup of coffee before, say, 2017, it would be forced to march upstairs and beat the living shit out of it), have hit the treadmill (on a good day), and have gotten cleaned up. Then, and only then, do I start poking the bear rousing Andy; any earlier and I’m taking my life into my hands. An hour later (on a good day) he’s finally up, showered, and toasting waffles. If he’s doing schoolwork by noon it’s a miracle. His brother is home from school at 3:15. This gives my twice-exceptional, easily distracted, does not function well when nagged homeschooled teenager approximately three hours to do a day’s worth of high level work. On a good day.

I talk to other parents homeschooling G2e kids and I don’t see this. I hear them talk about how their kids are doing so much, about college entrance exams, about AP test dates, about their successes in languages and sciences and arts. I can barely get my kid out of bed and functioning before lunchtime. He’s taking two online classes (one of which has a heavier workload than he’s used to) and the rest with us. And I’m failing him. Example. He wants to learn German. I do not know German, I was once fluent in Spanish. So we’re learning it together. Kinda. Badly. As in, his online classes require more immediate attention and so a foreign language I do not know nor wish to learn falls by the wayside. Same with the chemistry we’re supposed to be doing; there are only so many Crash Course chemistry videos he can watch as an introduction (and he has just informed me he has watched all of them, FML). He reads his U.S. History to discuss with Tom, but in the course of overheard discussions I discover he may be reading but he sure as hell isn’t absorbing the details. I can plan until the end of time but if he can’t (won’t?) get the work done in a timely manner, why bother? But the online classes? He’s rocking. And so I go looking for educational alternatives for him yet again, four months early.

The crippling self-doubt of homeschooling a twice-exceptional teenage outlier is debilitating. Paralysis by analysis; what do I do, how do I get him to his future, how do I help him navigate back into a comparative society? Two years from now he’ll start at the district’s Tech Campus, will he be ready for that? He’s started talking about college, something that is only four short years away. For awhile there we weren’t sure he’d be off to a traditional college and we’d made our peace with him being a slow to launch kid, but if he’s talking about it I need to have him ready for it. And let’s not even talk about the cost (as an aside, I’d like to take this opportunity to say to those who caused the economy to crash, taking our investments and income with it: may you have an incurable and terminally acute case of crotch rot, compounded by blood-sucking armpit fleas, and finally just rot in hell you assholes). I thought, “Hey! There’s that college where the students only take one class at a time! That would be perfect for him! Good memory, self!” And then I went to check it out, and at almost $50k/year, nearly had a stroke; yes, I could sell parts of my liver, but it only grows back so fast and frankly I need all of it because wine.

Unlike the previous few years, it feels critical now that Andy hits certain milestones by a reasonable date. It’s high school, it’s for real now. I remember a friend telling me that when we were freshmen; he had two older brothers and saw it first hand. Those milestones aren’t always met, or rather, not met in ways easily understood or accepted by the outside world. Asynchrony and quirkiness don’t transfer to a transcript or college application very well. Or at all.

So I sit with this debilitating self-doubt and plan for a future that is murky at best, always hoping for some kind of breakthrough from our son to light and guide the way.

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