Thursday, April 23, 2015

Here's To the Outliers

A good friend posted this on my Facebook wall and I couldn't agree more. She shared it with me because it pertains to raising my oldest son. Of course, this quote is true of all children, but as I have mentioned my oldest is somewhat of an outlier. You won't detect this if you meet him or even if you are one of his teachers, because like most of us he has learned to blend in and to do what is expected of him. He doesn't get in trouble at school, and he learned the hard way that crying at drop off would make him the object of ridicule because the other kids stopped doing that after the first week of school. Instead he will he will walk into school with his little eyes blinking rapidly, his face contorted in a way that only Mommy can see he is holding back the tears. Once he gets there he interacts well with the other kids and he does his work well. He is not shy and he makes friends easily. However, a noisy crowded lunchroom or bathroom is overwhelming for him. The smell of hot lunch makes him gag. Being away from home for seven hours is too much for him. He does early drop off with his dad on Fridays, not Tuesdays. If asked to do early drop off on Tuesday it will be a struggle to get him out of the car. He fixates on things, and remembers everything, like the crowded noisy lunchroom at his previous school. 

All of the environmental stimuli I mentioned are innocuous, right? Kids go to school six or seven or eight hours a day five days a week. They have twenty minute lunches in noisy lunchrooms. They use the bathroom at school. They say goodbye to Mom or Dad in the morning and reunite in the afternoon. Kids start kindergarten and then move up the ladder. After my son had completed his second year of preschool there was no reason for me to question the next logical step of full day kindergarten, and I passed the little twinge in my gut off as run of the mill transitional nostalgia. 

The school social worker, principal, and teacher saw his crying and feeling sick in the lunchroom and having to be carried into the classroom in the morning under the watchful eye of his classmates (none of whom were exhibiting any of these behaviors going into October) as an adjustment period. He would need to learn to deal with it. All kids do. Anxiety is treated with exposure not avoidance, and we all need to learn to adapt to our environment. I have a degree in Psychology and I am no stranger to the mental health field. I know this. But I don't agree. I don't accept. At least not in all situations.

In other words, there is no one size fits all solution. If I tell my son, "You have to do what everyone else is doing and act like everyone else is acting" then how will I turn around and tell him not to follow the crowd and give in to peer pressure? How will I teach him to be himself? Is it always necessary to mold the individual to fit the environment, or is it sometimes better to find an environment in which the individual can thrive and not merely survive? if I keep my smart, quirky, sensitive, intuitive, sometimes obsessive child in a traditional school setting "like everyone else" he'll survive. But like all parents I want more for him than just survival. I want him to thrive and I won't settle for anything less.

Of course, I am in no way suggesting that children don't thrive in a traditional school setting, or that it is not best for many if not most children. Most parents don't question sending their children to school not because it is the logical next step, but because it gives them the opportunity to thrive and to form their identity. Of these children going to grammar school, many will pass the original jitters and successfully find a niche in school. Some won't. Some children will be unable to sit through an entire school day without bouncing out of their seats. Some will require more daily physical activity to be productive. Some will find a classroom setting distracting and overstimulating. Still others will have difficulty keeping up or will find that they are not visual learners. Finally, there will be those children with psycho-social/emotional idiosyncrasies. Of these outliers, some will eventually have a diagnosis. Some won't. Many will adjust and thrive, either by virtue of growth and adaptation or with some accommodations. Many will be served well by remaining within the school system. Some won't. For the outliers, the square pegs who will never fit into round holes, is it best to continue trudging along? Should they buck up and deal with it? After all, we as parents want our kids to be functioning members of society. So do we shape and mold the outliers to fit into the settings we have envisioned for them, or do we meet them where they are, celebrate who they are, and respond to what they need?

You already know what I think. I have chosen to homeschool Aiden next year. He will attend a homeschool school two days a week in a classroom of seven to twelve kids. I will follow the curriculum at home on the remaining days. Some people call  my decision giving in to my son's school reluctance and separation anxiety. I call it responding to his needs and providing him with the environment and structure he needs to learn and thrive. Is homeschooling the best for all children and all families in  such a situation? No. Like anything else in life, school is not one size fits all. Of all the schools I have toured, I feel that this one will be a good fit for Aiden. It will give me the best of both worlds, allowing separation and time in a classroom setting and also giving me the freedom to be his teacher. I finally feel as though everything is falling into place and I am becoming privy to God's plan. The school is five minutes away from my husband's office, which means he will be able to drive Aiden to school allowing me the freedom to drive my two year old to preschool. Oh, that reminds me of the other bonus: it just so happens that Aiden's classes meet on the same two mornings that Elliott will be in preschool. This means I will have five free hours a week, which will help me to avoid burnout. I also won't hate grocery shopping solo or writing uninterrupted. The rest of the time I get to be with my kids, and I am so grateful for this freedom.

As a parent, my job is to prepare my children for life. I believe this begins by giving them what they need so that they have the strength and resources needed to become independent, and I remind myself that needs are not purely physical. Comfort is a need. Security is a need. Quiet and solitude are needs. Is it unusual for a six year old to still struggle with separation? Maybe. But is it wrong? Right now he needs more of me and I am okay with that. I don't believe meeting this need means he will "never" be without me. I cannot tell you how much well meaning cry it out advice I got during Elliott's babyhood. I cannot tell you how many nights I slept on the floor next to his crib. Doing so meant he would "never" sleep through the night. It may have taken twenty eight months, but he now sleeps from 8:00 P.M. to 6:00 A.M. I am not suggesting this will last forever as sleep regression is a nasty bitch who likes to sneak up when we least expect it. Although I don't miss those two years of interrupted sleep and having a long distance relationship with me bed, I don't regret them either. It was what he needed to develop a sense of security. I'm not knocking cry it out, either. My point to all of this philosophical rambling is that children our unique little people with unique little needs. They all respond to different things. When I became a mom I read every parenting book I could find, and soon my head was spinning with parenting styles. I figured when my kids did X I would respond with Y and then we would all arrive at Z. Well, John Lennon once said, "Life is what happens to you while your busy making other plans".

 If I could choose one super power it would be the ability to see the future and avoid making mistakes with my kids. But, alas, I am far from a perfect parent. I have made a thousand mistakes and I will make a thousand more. Since I don't have a superpower, all I can do is pray for guidance and make the best decisions that I can with the information that I have. I know who my children are and I have a responsibility to respond to that. God has a plan for each of us and our children. It can be difficult to know what that plan is and even harder to follow it, especially amidst the confusion of so many other influences. If you don't believe in God you have probably still felt that sense of belonging, a moment where the shitstorm of your life made sense, and aha moment. For now, I have found mine and I am excited to open a new chapter of my own proverbial parenting book. I know not everyone will agree with my decision, and some may even think I am a little nutty (Which I am). Originally, I dreaded answering the question, "Where is your son going to school next year?". But, I have to say the responses I receive are overwhelmingly positive. So here's to the outliers and here's to us who add sides and corners to those round holes.

"Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do."
Steve Jobs


  1. Don't dread answering that question! When someone asks, you can proudly respond that you researched many options and are now delighted that he will participate in a homeschool program... then, if it is a friend you care to share the details with, tell them about all the fabulous opportunities he and your whole family are going to experience next year!

    I was public school educated, taught in public and private schools, sent my kids to parochial school and am a BIG fan of homeschooling. They can all be fabulous opportunities for our children- we have so many solid options for our kids now!

    Alex was a PRIME candidate for homeschooling, and his buddy across the street decided to go the homeschool route for 6th-8th grade... I almost regret not working with the same group for Alex.

    Holy cow, Kat, hop on a plane soon this summer, we gotta sit down and have a big ol' chat! I'll provide the comfy couches, the coffee and cinnamon rolls, you get Jan over here and we can all make a great day of it!

    1. Thank you! It has been great getting so many positive opinions and support of homeschooling. We are just taking it a year at a time. I still have second thoughts sometimes, especially when he has a string of good days at school, but I know he can always go back when of if he's ready. On the other hand, if homeschooling is the best fit we'll stick with that! I didn't know you were a teacher, maybe I can run some question by you. We will be out for graduation.