Thursday, 7 August 2014

Are we in school this year?...

Really? Has it really been 1 year between posts???

Well hello world. Many times I've been meaning to write, many times I've been pondering about my relationship with the world, and my role in it, and the place in the world that this little blog has. Maybe I should just take the lot offline. My mind is always flooded with so many thoughts, ideas, opinions. Sometimes there's just too much you want to say, you just don't say anything at all. So I'm not going to fill you up now with all the ins and outs of the past year.

This is the nutshell.

Last year I had a child losing herself at school. At school she was making friends yet understanding people less and less each day, already developing "clique" attitudes that I really didn't like, you know, you work hard for 5 years to raise this wonderfully thoughtful little human being, and then a couple of months at school start wrecking it all. She started picking up so many bad habits and attitudes we didn't like, this is a kid who adapts very well to new environments to fit in. I know it happens to many kids, but just because it does, it doesn't mean I'm going to be happy with it, when I know there's an alternative.
She was trying her hardest to keep up and fit in, following rules, trying to understand what the teacher really meant, trying to understand so many people, trying to understand her role in a big group, and all the time, trying her hardest not to show her multiple idiosyncrasies, not wanting to be seen as "different". So at school she mostly did lots of "bottling up", and not a lot of progressing. We're talking about a child who struggles to understand oral instructions (particularly if there are other sensorial distractions), a child who never coped terribly well with background noises (such as 15 other kids in class chatting...), a child who doesn't like touching certain things (which clearly wasn't very easy in a Steiner based school where there's lots of craft and manual activities...), a child who could already read at 4 and a half.
At home she'd unleash the beast: she was angry, nasty, violent. She couldn't switch off, she stopped sleeping through the night, waking up with memories of the day, just from too much stimulation (social interactions with others are for her extremely stimulating). She started losing weight. She started losing her spark.
So in May, Dan said "if you want to homeschool her, go ahead". Finally he'd turned around. He saw that we were losing our child, and that what we were doing before school was working way better than school.
So I had a chat to the principal in June last year, about this little girl not coping and being very stressed, and whether we could "tweak" the system or if we should just pull her out. The principal looked at me, and said "from what I've observed, and I see lots of kids, her way of coping with stress is not consistent with that of a normal 5 year old". So we decided to give this school thing a good go (Sosi wanted to stay in school because she made a best friend there) before pulling the plug, and went down the assessment path. Because for her to stay in school and get a more tailored approach, or get a teacher's aide to help her, or get anything, the school needs a label or they don't get funding.
Sosi started seeing a developmental psychologist, and after a while we get a diagnosis. One I wasn't quite expecting. Really, I thought she had a Sensory Processing Disorder, or maybe even be a bit Aspie, because really, there's a lot of social inadequacy on my side of the family, and this kids has loads of quirks.
Sosi was labelled as "Highly gifted with an anxiety disorder". Well, I'll be. The psychologist's opinion was that her quirks might be her way of coping with the stress of observing too much, thinking too much, never switching off. And some of the quirks might actually be her way of coping with boredom.
Plus, I might add, having anxiety and depression in her gene pool doesn't help...

I knew what had to be done. The school doesn't get funding for gifted children. I'd have to send extra work for her from home to do. Which I know she wouldn't do because she didn't want to look different, or doing different things, in front of her classmates. And that would just cover the academic side. Then there's still the stress management issue...

So on the 28th August, I registered her for homeschooling, and we slowly started weaning her off school by sending her part-time, as agreed with the school. Do remember she had made a couple of wonderful friends, and she really wasn't ready to be pulled out abruptly, she didn't want to.

Bit by bit, I started getting my kid back. I remember picking her up on the last day of school, in December, and crying I said "it's finally over". By that stage, she had accustomed herself to the idea of being home to do her own thing, and probably also seeing how the rest of the family was happy at the homeschooling idea, she appeared to be happy too.

By the time February 2014 arrived, we were again set in this "particular" lifestyle, but we still wondered whether it was the right thing to do, there was still a lingering doubt, just because the school's program was so inspiring, and the woman who was going to be Sosi's teacher this year was just absolutely wonderful and lovely.
So I had a chat to N, who would've been her teacher this year. I wanted her to know that if we did fully opt out of school, it was not because of her, she was one of the reasons we had that lingering doubt!
I wanted a professional's opinion, I wanted to know whether we should attempt some sort of very loose part-time arrangement with the school, whether we should just take a few months off and return to school at a later term, I wanted to get rid of any lingering doubt I had. Because you always have doubts until you make that one final leap.
We had a lovely meeting, very open and honest and insightful, and after talking about my child, and what we do at "home" (I use it loosely because we learn loads out of the home), and what my child learns for herself, N looks at me and says "By what you're telling, I really think you are providing wonderful opportunities for S and that you should homeschool her this year".

And with that final blessing, and a very light heart, we said goodbye to a system we just didn't fit in, goodbye to mainstream, goodbye to being considered normal ;)

It's been a busy, busy year, adjusting to a new way of doing things, adjusting to our own way, we also had 2 overseas trips... we have tough days like all, but geez do the good days grossly outweigh the bad ones, so much different to last year!

Some kids totally thrive in the school system. Mine wasn't. Mine was slowly dying inside.

This our life now. We are homeschooling. We are happy.

Maybe in the end, I will keep writing....

Sunday, 21 July 2013

So what's been happening?

So this is what happened last year during my blogging inactivity.

Sosi started going to kinder last year.
Casi was the most challenging child and he/we had a year of meltdowns.
I was badly depressed last year.

I see these 3 facts as intertwined...

Here's the tough thing about wanting to homeschool your children: the status quo. People aren't used to it, it's not a common thing, I think with the way the western world is changing (I mean the wealth of knowledge that can be easily accessed technologically) we will see more homeschooling families than we have in the past. But, at present, I still feel that most people's first thought at the mention of homeschooling is "hippy freaks" or "religious nutjobs". I am not saying that people are dismissive of homeschooling, I am just saying that this is a perception that we are still carrying from the past, I do think that (unless previously exposed to homeschooling) this would be the common man's first reaction.

So when you present the idea to your partner, and father of your children, that you feel that homeschooling would be a great viable option for the kids' education, and when you also have a long string of teachers on his side of the family, of course you do not get an immediate convert.
And for family peace, and because it's the two of you parenting and not you alone, you make some compromises, more on the lines of "let's see how we go with this and then we will reassess".

So that's how Sosi started kinder. She was going 2 days a week in a Steiner kinder, with lots of natural materials and respect for nature's rhythms and creations, lots of unorganised play (which fits in quite well with my child-led learning ideas), organic meals cooked on site (which the children would help prepare), and a wonderful respectful atmosphere throughout the whole kinder. So it wasn't all bad nor against my views, still had plenty of time at home to do her own thing.

Sosi loved it. And we started understanding her sensorial "quirks" a bit better and we started noticing new "quirks".
Remember her hearing "issues"? (here's a refresher). Well, after she passed a hearing test with flying colours, I was essentially told by the GP "she's young, it's a phase, she'll outgrow it". Well, guess what? It morphed. From simply covering her ears and freaking out with certain noises, we started noticing that auditory stimulation was causing her to find relief in overstimulating another sense, usually the sense of touch. So when too many things were happening around her (lots of kids playing, lots of noise, too many interesting things at once), she would start biting her knuckle as a stress release measure, usually to the point of making the knuckle bleed (at the end of the year she had a big callous on it). We also realised that she couldn't bear certain feelings on her skin (damp clothes, sticky hands, little things like that), and making bizarre sounds and motions when she's in her own little world and imagining stories (I really don't know how to describe it, it has to be seen...) . Which really wasn't a big deal, she had a fantastic kinder teacher and all these quirks were quite manageable.

But, on the other hand, Casi did not cope well with kinder. Despite it being only 2 days a week, he struggled with the separation from his much idolised big sister. And of course there's parent duty. I was often at kinder helping out, the program it was meant that parents were asked to chip in with cooking and washing dishes etc, since morning tea and lunch were cooked on site. And every time I helped out, and Casi was with me, he would soon meltdown: until just a few months ago, if things didn't happen in the order he was expecting or if he misinterpreted people's intentions (he often thought that people told him off), I was looking down the barrel of at least one hour of screaming and throwing himself to the ground unless I figured out what he wanted or the order in which he expected things to go. I was always so torn between my duties towards my high needs youngest child and the expectations to help out at kinder.

And then the year progresses and everyone keeps asking about school. And again, for family peace and because everybody expects us to be normal, we enrolled her in the nearby Steiner primary school which is closely affiliated with the kinder Sosi attended. Which meant many of the kids she knew from kinder (sixteen) would be attending that school.
Again, I did feel my role as an educator taken away from me, just for the convenience of not stirring the waters too much.

Then one day we were late for a friend's birthday party, and I cried and cried and cried and realised I was not ok and hadn't been in a while and I was not coping. But you push it down, deep down, trying to function and do what the world expects you to do. Until one day you wake up crying, because really you didn't want to wake up alive. You try to do stuff with the kids, but all there is is apathy. Nothing is fun any more. You stopped eating because you don't feel hunger any more. And you wake up crying the day after. And the day after that. And the one after. Waiting for bedtime. And one day you sit in an armchair and you have no will to get up. Your body is weighed down by your soul and you can't remember the last time you smiled, the last time you were really happy. Maybe it was before your friend's funeral.

After months in survival mode, and months of apathy and pretending, you realise it can't go on. The kids know things aren't good. They start pleading you to be happy. That's when you know you're in a downward spiral and you need help. But everything seems so overwhelming and you don't know where to start, who to call, what to say, what to do.

So this is what I did. On the 20th September, I stopped faking it. I got off the armchair, put a DVD on for the kids, and went to the computer to open up to my little world. And this was my fb status that day:

So, if anyone is wondering, I am not okay. 

When you see me smiling, it doesn't necessarily mean I'm happy. Maybe you caught me on one of those high days when I feel invincible, or maybe you are seeing me on one of the downslope days just before I get to the dark tunnel, when I pretend nothing is wrong, and nobody hears from me in weeks, or months, until I'm back out. Sometimes I isolate myself, because I'm going through a moment where, when people ask how I am, all I'm thinking is "I want to die", but I don't tell them because I know that I'll probably be better the day after and I don't want people to know. Because I've got this thing, where I want to always seem so strong and "with it". It's got something to do with the stupid arm not having been born with me.

I am not a bad person, I just struggle with things that seem easy to others.
Some days the ugly sides of humanity and life bring me down so much that I find it difficult to pull myself out of the ditch.
I struggle with expressing my true self in a language that isn't totally my own.
I struggle sending messages because I fear being misinterpreted.
I struggle calling people because I get anxiety attacks when I pick up the phone.
I struggle answering the phone because of the same reason. And also because of my hearing.
I struggle with being in groups of people because I get frazzled and confused by all the noise.
I also struggle in groups because of my chemical sensitivity and the fact that strong smells make me either depressed or raging, and there's no easy way to tell people that their choice in chemically scented cosmetics is what is making me behave so aloofly.
I often struggle finding the right words to tell people because my brain is on a different wavelength and it takes me a few seconds to process what people really meant and by the time I get it, the moment is gone and people must think I'm dumb, and that depresses even more because I'm not stupid, I am simply wired a little differently.
I understand these things more about me now, that I have kids, when I realise that in a couple of things they are wired differently too.
Sometimes I don't know straightaway what people mean when they say something and sometimes my brain is thinking about something else and the wrong words come out, and more often than not I am not quite sure what I am meant to say.

I mean well, but dealing with other humans does not always come easy to me. Sorry if I've ever hurt you or upset you or bothered, please know I didn't mean to, and sorry if I'm not the best of friends nor the most reliable.
If you have an issue with me, be honest, let me know, I am trying to do my best at this being human business.

I don't know really why I'm writing this, I'm just tired of pretending that I'm tough. Because tomorrow I'll probably be out of it and the world will be rosy again. But really, I haven't been coping in a while, I think it's time to be honest to everybody and let you know what's going on. I'm probably just trying to reach out, I just want others to understand that things aren't always as easy as they appear.


And I posted it. I was so desperate.

So there. It was liberating. I was so tired of faking it. I learnt who the real friends were, I got some real open arms of people I could tell "I'm not doing well today". Now it's in the open, I don't have to feign happiness or fake life. And finding my inner self and my strength has been easier without the oppression of "saving face". You cop so much criticism as a mum. You get little support in this fragmented insular "modern" society. You are stigmatised if you show your mental frailty.

Last year is gone. The Mayan calendar was right. It's a new era. I'm still not 100%.
I spent months picking up the pieces. This has been a limbo year. I still have to make some choices. I know that my life will be much different in a couple of months. I'll keep you informed :)

Heaven is not a place, and it is not a time. Heaven is being perfect. -And that isn't flying a thousand miles an hour, or a million, or flying at the speed of light. Because any number is a limit, and perfection doesn't have limits. Perfect speed, my son, is being there.”

 Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull
See you soon Real Me, haven't seen you in a while...

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

How Do I Love Thee? Playsets

Before this parenting journey started, I had no idea what playsets were. I didn't know what kids did in kindergartens, as I could only relate to the grim memories of my childhood kindergarten run by strict nuns.
Truth be told, I had no idea what kids did... I've never been a "clucky" person and I never really quite liked kids: quite simply my family was a little insular, we didn't have much extended family, and there weren't any younger children in my immediate circle of family and friends, so I could never get to know them and appreciate the beauty and marvel of childhood. I was, like many youth, very engrossed in myself and my own matters.

So when Sosi was born I changed. Suddenly everything was about doing the best I could for my child. Everything that pertained to children was suddenly interesting!
The best thing about not having prior children knowledge is, I am a blank slate. I am looking at all the possibilities with enthusiasm, all activities are exciting, anything new is amazing. No grown-up smugness.

So when I came across the concept of a playset, I was like "whoaa! way cool! gotta do that!".

Through following Sherry and Donna's Irresistible Ideas for Play Based Learning (here's their Facebook page and here's their blog), I stumbled across Homemade Rainbows. It is run by two stay at home mums, ex-kindegarten teachers, Janine and Michelle. They create playsets using natural and refurbished/recycled/repurposed/homemade etc materials. They are op-shop queens. They have a knack for eye-pleasing arrangements. They are amazingly talented. Here is their Facebook page. If I remember correctly, I was their 9th or 14th follower, something like that. Now there are over 2300!
If you have kids and like doing things with and for them, you MUST check out their playsets! They sell out REALLY fast (mostly to kindergarten teachers... and a couple of hyper-keen home educators...), and many are probably a bit too pricey for the budget-tight one-income family, but the array of themes and the number of ideas you can get from looking at the photos of their sets is humongous!

This is how my passion for making playsets really started. Sosi saw this (because we often look at nice things on the computer together):
from here 
And she said she wanted it. I thought, cool. Then looked at the price. 80 bucks? I'll see what I can do sweetie... the kid was so set on it. She even gave it a name. The Turtle Playset. I could see in her eyes that this thing that to me looked pretty, for her was heaven as far as making up stories with little figurines goes...
I decided to buy it. Too late, someone else had beaten me to it! So I thought, why not, sure I can go to a couple of op-shops and make the same playset, how hard can it be?
Oh boy, was it hard... I visited op-shops (hoping to find the right pieces), the $2 shop for bits (pebbles, stones, shiny beads etc, even found the treasure chest!), Toys r' Us for the turtles, Riot Art and Craft then Big W for seashells, Spotlight for shiny fabric, my kitchen cupboards for fancy bowls... It was a lot of work, but it was so worth it when I saw the look on the kid's face! Here's what I came up with:
my first playset... March 2011
Some elements are there, others I improvised a bit... Our love affair with playsets started then, I often prepare one at night for the kids to find as a Morning Activity, but they (mostly Sosi) like getting bits and creating their own.

Since following Homemade Rainbows' efforts I started regularly visiting op-shops. The kids and I have picked up so many interesting and useful items. Boxes, trinkets, gadgets, little wooden wheelbarrows, so many objects of dubious taste that your aunties and uncles might give you for Christmas end up in op-shops. And you know what? So many kitsch items are just so perfect to spur a child's imagination! And with a minuscule price tag! And so environmentally friendly :)

I am not even going to start on how many different sets can be made up. I think it is all about following your child's lead. We have lots of figurines (savannah animals, turtles, squishy reptiles and amphibians, dinosaurs, etc), so bit by bit everyone is getting their turn at having a playset purposely built for them. Even the My Littlest Pet Shop figurines! I used to really hate them (the concept of them) but Sosi always comes up with great imaginative play with them. 

Here are a few playsets I came up with. I think I'm getting better at them... ;) I will try to find more time to write more about each playset, and add lots more photos, let me know if you're interested! Also photos and lists of my "playset stash", all the bits and pieces that I've collected to make up cool playsets! I also bought one really big beautiful playset from Homemade Rainbows, with lots of great wooden bowls and scoops etc, which always find their way in my own playsets, lots of mix and match!
More parents should give it a go, they're really great fun for the kids, they tend to be quite cheap and quick to set up (once you've built your own stash) and are a great way to unleash your own parental creativity!

my 2nd playset, May 2011
marine playset, August 2011
snakes and frogs playset, October 2011
Little Pets (from My Littlest Pet Shop) playground
my father made the playground equipment a few months back,
with lots of popsticks and matchsticks and glue and creativity :)
dinosaur playset, February 2012
(with some references to the Ice Age movies, the kids' current obsession...)

I usually prepare them for the kids at night, so when they get in the morning they have an exciting Morning Activity they can keep playing throughout the day (we usually leave a playset on the yellow table a whole day before dismantling). Some nights I stay up way too late, just to make sure it all looks enticing, and that there are little elements of interest in each corner, like these: 
turtle cave (oil burner from $2 shop)

smooth sand for the turtles

nooks and crannies for the snakes to slither in and hide

Add caption

brontosaurus munching on a tree

and here's our version of Diego, Manfred and Sid from Ice Age
(this Schleich meerkat is pretending to be a sloth...)


I love this part of my job. It does take a bit of time to prepare them (but you get better with practice) and a few goes at figuring out what elements your kids will really love in their playset, but it really pays off: Casi is still little so the playset might only hold his attention for 10 minutes at a time, but Sosi will happily spend 2 hours or more over the course of the day playing with it! Now, to me that is totally worth the effort I put in it :)

Do you do playsets or similar activities for your kids? 
Any ideas you might like to share?