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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.

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  1. Bea

    Congratulations! I’m glad your son is doing so well. I read your book sat week, so I know your road hasn’t been easy. More Malbec must be on standby order!

    Thank you for sharing, as it gives me hope that perhaps my future won’t be a complete failure. However, my kid’s turning 5 in a couple months, so I’ve got a long way to go.

    You’re a former teacher and I’m a former OT. Supposedly the professional who knows how to teach kids with special needs. Except, I never worked with one who happened to be gifted. It’s definitely different. I feel lost, frustrated, and overwhelmed.

    Having worked in the school district with the Special Education Department. I know my son would have a hard time in school. He stands out in the playground, never mind the classroom. The gifted private school looked at me in horror when I told them that my son was able to read at second grade level by the time he was 2 and a half years old. Surely, I was mad! Aside from the fact that $26,000 a year was not in my price range…preschool costs more than my college education!!!

    So we are embarking on our homeschooling adventure. Though I’m still looking for the magic school that will work. I need alone time!
    Bea recently posted…Our Story: 2 years after a baby strokeMy Profile

    1. Jen

      Sheesh, the GIFTED school was shocked by his ability? That doesn’t say much for their program!
      Homeschooling really is the best set up for a lot of gifted kids, I know it is for mine (I say as I’m still trying to dynamite him out of bed at 9 am). Good luck as you head down that road. I highly recommend GHF for support and online classes. I get that measure of alone time when he’s taking his online classes and I *KNOW* he won’t bother me. 🙂

    2. Diane

      It reassures me that you are a former OT 🙂 I’m homeschooling a 2E eight year old and lots of people have suggested OT. I just don’t think it will help HER. We do plenty of coordination, balance and sensory play at home. But if you think I’m missing something, I’ll sign up tomorrow 🙂

  2. Marion

    “Comparison is the thief of joy”… Yeah, I need to remember that…. Thanks.
    And this weather SUCKS!!!

    1. Jen

      Every day. Every single day I have to remind myself of that. Seriously hard when you’re a trained musician and have been trained to compare. Gah.

  3. Chavva

    Your blog is fantastic! The advice in this post is helpful and hilarious.

  4. Suzi G

    I’ve been there! Homeschooling was never part of our plan, but it became clear
    that it would be a necessity while my eldest was in nursery school.

    My biggest struggle was finding someone I could talk to about
    both our struggles and our triumphs. Those we knew in the local homeschooling
    community couldn’t identify with either our triumphs (we looked brag-y) or our struggles..
    It felt very lonely. If not for the gifted communities I found online I would have
    gone mad. At least you know what you are facing ~ I didn’t know anything
    about 2E’s or even giftedness until well into our homeschooling journey.
    What a relief when I began to realize we were not the only ones in the world
    with these issues ~~ I also learned a great deal about my husband
    and my own 2E issues along the way~~ what a revelation~

    If I could manage to stumble through this, you can, too. You are the person
    who will always care the most about your children’s education and future.

    Hopefully it will encourage you to hear that others have managed to help their 2E
    children blossom, grow, learn, and become responsible adults. I homeschooled
    both children through high school. One just graduated from college with a 3.96 average
    and has a full-time job. Sometimes I feared she could never take care of
    herself – in addition to some learning disabilities she also has some other issues.
    But now she is an adult who can take care of herself out in the big bad world.

    My other child is in college now and is doing well. I’m almost sorry my homeschooling
    days are over. Almost…..

    Take it one day at a time and your homeschooling years will fly by. One day you will
    be able to look back and see what an amazing job you have done.

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