We 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.