You do you, my boy

Looking back at my birthday reflection from last year, my words now feel so ironic. I remarked on how Ollie was an ever-steady personality, that change hadn’t come much over the last year. And now I think about his year 5-6 and see how it was THE year of change for him. Beautiful, hard, deeply important change. He had some major battles, and his success was hard-fought and deservedly won, and I couldn’t be prouder of him for who he has become.

As was evident in his last birthday essay, Ollie struggled a bit with leaving me at school for some of the year while in Pre-K. He worried I wouldn’t come back or that he would be left alone forever. By early spring, I thought that issue had nipped itself in the bud; but, almost right after his 5th birthday, his anxiety came rushing back unexpectedly and with a fierce vengeance.

It seemed so startling at first because it was almost like over night he went from being reluctantly happy to see me go, to him being completely distraught all over again. Everyone in his life wracked their brains trying to figure out what was eating at him, but no one could pinpoint one single thing. Was it the first death in our family that made him ask me what would happen if I died? Was it his body finally realizing it couldn’t keep up with the pace of school and causing him to become overly sensitive? Was it something he’d seen on tv, something someone said, something we couldn’t imagine? Was it none of the above?

It was emotionally exhausting trying to figure out why he was suddenly clinging to me and sobbing when I tried to go anywhere without him, whether it be to school or just to the grocery store while he stayed home with grandma. It was so unlike him and it worried me to no end.

Finally, I took him to the doctor who suggested he see a psychologist. And after waiting almost a month to get him in, that he did. We spent our summer seeing his psychologist about once every 10 days. And eventually it began to make a difference. He started becoming less and less fearful, better and better with leaving me. And as tiresome as it was to maintain unflinching patience with him when I just needed to go to the store for 30 minutes, I think it ultimately helped a bit.

Until it didn’t anymore.

Until one day out of the blue he began again to act as though I would leave him forever. With no provocation, other than our push for him to be more independent. We saw he could and so we encouraged him to continue to do so. But he pushed back. And I feared he’d never get better.

Until he did.

And not because he saw the psychologist more often or because we tried more therapies. Because in truth, I was so tired of going to the psychologist about once every week just to see him show the same behaviors day in and day out that I finally made the decision to stop taking him. And maybe it’s not the type of thing that’s recommended because we didn’t phase him out, we just stopped. But it’s what we ultimately decided to do.

But you know what, after we just stopped, and told him we stopped because we saw he had gotten so much better and thought he didn’t need to go anymore, he really did get even better. It was almost as if he needed to believe that he had it in him to do whatever he needed to do. That it wasn’t that someone had to be there telling him how to manage himself, he could do it all on his own.

And I really think this was a turning point for him. This  was back in September, almost halfway through his year 5, and only a few weeks into our new homeschooling lifestyle that this happened. But after that point, instead of him assuming he needed to be taught everything or shown  or assisted in doing everything, he suddenly began believing he could do anything. And he began creating his own learning experiences and his own projects. And it felt, to me at least, that he was suddenly on his way. Just like it seemed that overnight he curled into himself and began feeling afraid and insecure, overnight he sprang from that mindset and went back to being his true self again.

And because I overthink everything, I’ve been trying to figure out what it was exactly that allowed this to happen. And the more I think and the more I read and the more I embrace this new way of living we’ve chosen, the more I realize that what it was that changed him was simply time. Time to simply grow up.

Now what I’m about to say may not be an opinion that sits well with everyone. And I mean this in no way to be judgmental. But it’s something I’ve come to believe very deeply over the last year since I began researching homeschooling. And now that I’ve seen my own children benefit from this way of life, I absolutely believe it to be truth. At the very least, our truth.

Kids are little for such a precious short time. And we in America seem to value achievement and competition so much that we impose these things on our youngest people and in a way that can , and often does, create irrevocable harm to them. We push them into schools, for many of them, not long after they’ve become potty-trained. We’ve traded daycare for preschool. School. For babies. We take away their time to play, experiment, discover, be free and push them to “learn”, to read, to write, to achieve more and more, outdo their peers. We take away nap time and story time and time to be messy and fall and hurt themselves for the “safety” of a room with tiny chairs and tables that they’re asked to spend most of their day at, sitting, doing as their told. And then we wonder why children act out or “fall behind” or any of the myriad other complaints we have about our children in schools these days. We impose unnatural circumstances and behaviors on our children and then fail to see why they don’t thrive.

And trust me, I’m no better than anyone else who has put their child into schools. I too pushed for them to read better and more when I saw they naturally could sooner than most. I felt pride when their teachers told me they were well-behaved or had good grades. Because that is what I was conditioned to believe.

But now, getting off my soapbox. I can see so damn clearly now that what Ollie needed more than anything else this past year was just time to mature. Time to be 5, to be barely more than a baby. Time to grow at his pace and at his comfort level. Time for him to take his own risks when he chose. To learn more about himself and his world when he was ready. When HE was ready.

And now he is ready. Now he’s back to being his silly, joyful, curious little self. It was heartbreaking seeing my usually happy, confident little boy reduced to fear, sadness, uncertainty, and involuntary tics, and thinking there was nothing we could do. And it feels so amazing now to know that the only thing he really needed was nothing. Nothing but us to be there, to love him, to believe in him, and to let him do what he needed to do when he needed to do it.

And now he’s ever the more not my baby boy. He’s grown so tall, and seemingly over night grown into a little man’s body with no more chubs hanging around his tummy or thighs. He’s strong, and sharp, and beautiful. He’s still got his smile that warms your soul, and a penetrating, knowing look, like his father, that bores into your core.

And he still has a sense of adventure, and to be honest, recklessness. He can’t quite decide if he wants to drive submarines when he grows up, or be an astronaut. He wants to build rockets, and discover new species of fish deep in the ocean. Of course, he might also like to be a veterinarian or a locksmith like his dad. And he wants to have kids someday but only if he doesn’t have to get married. And he still doesn’t care if Barbies are “for girls” or not. He loves Linda, his Barbie, and he’ll be damned if you try to make him feel otherwise.

And I’ll be damned if anyone, including myself, ever tries to make him feel, or act, or do anything he doesn’t feel ready for ever again. He trusts me with every ounce of his being to be the person who knows him the best and has nothing but his best interest at heart. And I will never let him down again.

And so, my Bubba-Boy, my heart, my love., a very happy 6th birthday to you. Even though I can’t quite wrap my head around you being 6 already, I will not wallow in sadness over 6 years gone because I know you have so many more to go. And I plan on seeing you though all of them as your biggest fan and greatest support. You continue to build your towers and then crash them down. You peg off your Beanie Boos with your nerf guns and then dress Linda up in her finest. You continue to feel the pride you deserve in reading aloud to us those silly adventures of Elephant and Piggie. You continue to run amok with your friends (real, honest to goodness friends), and challenge yourself to be your most authentic you. You are a beautiful force to be reckoned with, with a spirit and soul to rival no other.

Get your fill of Cheez-its and whatever other junk food your heart desires today because it’s your day. I love you, little buddy. Here’s to another year of you.

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Ch-ch-ch-ch Changes

Well, it’s official. I’m going back to teaching. Despite having said many times that I would never again be a teacher, I have changed my mind. Starting in September, I will be moving into a new position as an elementary teacher. Though I will have essentially 8 preps, as I’m teaching both Kindergarten and 4th grade, I’m super excited to begin this new chapter of my life. You’re probably wondering what school could possibly have one teacher teaching two separate elementary grade levels. It really is not very traditional, after all. Well, I can proudly tell you the name of the school is Mergler Homeschool.

Wait, come again?

Oh, no, you read that correctly. I’ll be moving into homeschooling my kiddos for the upcoming school year, and likely many more after that. Yes, my husband supports this plan. No, it wasn’t an easy or quick decision. And no, it’s not right for everyone. But it’s right for us, and that’s all that matters.

You see, we’ve taken pains to raise our children thus far with the mindset that they mustn’t  follow the crowd just because everyone else is doing something. We’ve prided ourselves in showing and encouraging individualism and promoting walking down the road “wanting wear”. And it has become increasingly evident that public school was not matching our values.

Lily has always been naturally curious and has genuinely enjoyed learning new things. And Ollie was very obviously following in her footsteps. From the outside, Lily’s honor roll grades, and Ollie’s enthusiasm for Pre-K might seem like the ideal situation. But I can tell you that the insider’s perspective tells a very different story. Lily has been bringing home worksheet after worksheet after worksheet for years now. And it’s not because she’s had terrible teachers. She has had, in fact, several wonderful, caring teachers. But because the climate of education has changed in the last decade, the teachers have had to do things in their classroom that they wouldn’t have done otherwise if not for the pressure put upon them. Hell, I know this firsthand.  (Yes, education has been constantly changing. Let’s not argue about this. But the last decade has seen some particularly unfortunate changes to how teaching and learning take place.) And because of these changes, I’ve seen my bright and inquisitive daughter slowly begin to dislike school. Instead of smiles and excitement about what she’d done each day, she’s begun complaining about what they don’t do, and how many worksheets they have to complete. When my mother asked her what she was doing in all of her subjects, she replied that they only do math and reading now because of the state test. Not ok.

But like so many people, I was afraid to even imagine an alternative. Kids get to a certain age, and then you send them off to school. And you encourage them to do all their work, don’t get in trouble, and in doing so, make you proud. You, essentially, choose to have children, and then leave them in the hands of other people and environments for most of their day. And then you deal with, potentially, rectifying the unwanted changes school makes. Why? Why do we give up this power? And if school seems less than ideal, you just shrug it off as “Well, that’s how it is sometimes.” Nothing is perfect. And though schools and teachers try their hardest, nothing can ever be what every kid needs. That’s the truth. That’s just how it is. But it doesn’t have to be.

You see, that’s just the thing. There are options. Some parents move their family to a school district that better represents what’s important to them. Some families attend private or Catholic schools. And now, some are even able to stay within the city by sending their kids to a charter school. So many options. And these options are very rarely, if ever, questioned, frowned upon, or cause a shifty, sideways glance from others. Yet, another alternative–homeschooling–very often is. What about socialization?? Aren’t they going to grow up to be weird?? Are they really going to learn anything?? Aren’t you sheltering them too much?? Won’t you get sick of each other?? How are they going to learn to get along with others?? I could continue, but I think you get the point.

The point is that there are so many valid questions to be asked of any schooling situation, but we’ve become so accustomed to the norm of public schooling. When someone decides that his/her child will be beginning school in their district, there is seldom any feedback other than “Oh, how nice.” Yet when a parent chooses to do something out of the norm for his/her child, there is an almost immediate storm of questioning and opinion giving.

With all due respect, my readers, please don’t bother. Because, believe me, I have done my fair share of research on this topic. I’ve joined homeschooling groups and talked to other parents. I’ve read scholarly articles on the subject, as well as firsthand accounts from parents and children. I’ve researched curriculum, and standards, and benchmarks for each grade. I’ve sought out cooperatives, classes, playgroups, and activities for the kids to join. My parents and in-laws have graciously paid for memberships to the science museum, art gallery, and aquarium for the kids to use as places to learn and socialize (And we’ll work on the zoo and botanical gardens as well). I have taken this transition so very seriously that there is honestly nothing anyone can say, particularly someone who either hasn’t  lived it or researched it, that will change our minds. There are so many myths and false perceptions surrounding homeschooling that I understand why some may be concerned. But I assure everyone who knows us and loves our children, we would never, ever do something that is not in their best interests.

And what is in their best interest right now is pulling them out of a system that is killing their desire to learn and grow in the way that is best for both of them individually. I have the ability to cater to their needs and interest in a way that school never could. And I also have the benefit of knowing my children so well, that I know what types of activities would be best to play up their strengths and remediate their areas of weakness. I can, and will, integrate play-based learning and art-integration lessons, and so much cross-curricular units that so much of school won’t feel like what we think of school at all. I have time and the flexibility to include field trips on a weekly basis, and time to allow for independent reading and self-selected projects. I can let my kids be kids. Not test scores. Not statistics. Not robots. Not cogs in the wheel. They can be who they are, in all their complicated wonderfulness.

And so I put this out here to you simply as a request for understanding, caring, and support as we move from one type of lifestyle to another. Both of the kids are incredibly excited to begin this next phase of their schooling (Shockingly, convincing them was the easiest part!). One of the most beautiful parts of homeschooling, in my opinion, is the movement back to the concept of it taking a village to raise children. My kids will be so lucky to benefit from the wisdom, knowledge, humor, interests, and experiences of everyone in our lives. And we would love to have guest teachers for workshops, classes, or just some hanging out time anytime there is interest in doing so. And of course we also just look forward to your love and presence in our lives. And if anyone wants to have a sincere conversation about more reasons why homeschooling is the right option for us, or would like resources to do research of their own, feel free to let me know.

But for now you’ll have to excuse me, as I have a lot of planning to do before September!