education

Hopes for a Good School Year as Expressed in School Supplies

We’ve had three days of school so far and three afternoon shopping trips. The first one doesn’t quite count as a “trip” because it was opening the box of a new school bag ordered off of the internet. My son carefully moved his pencils and folders from the ratty old bag that served him through three years of junior high. The new bag is a leather messenger bag, spacious and grown-up. Perhaps being able to see and quickly grab things will improve his ability to organize his work and plan his days. It has to be better than shoving things into and out of the string bag that was mandated by the (odd) rules of the junior high.

Day two came with a batch of fury for my daughter. She’d asked a school admin for an accommodation and been refused. I came to the school and asked then she got it. It was frustrating for both of us. Probably for the admin as well, because we’re requesting a non-standard usage of a class. But the fury wound down and then my daughter needed to go shopping for supplies for a particular class that she has already fallen in love with. The teacher was inspiring, and gave her a binder with pre-labeled dividers. A binder seems like such a small thing, but by giving the kids a tangible gift on the first day, this teacher has engaged them. For once I have hope that my kid will have a transformative experience in a class at school. I would love that. I would love to see her expanding, admiring adults outside her home, stretching to impress them, and growing.

The third day required socks. It was the need for a sketch book that sent us to the store, but it was socks that stole the show. Tossing the all of the old, welcoming the shiny and new. This school year is a chance for both of my children to re-define themselves. They can dress different. Be different. And wear socks with pumpkins on them because Halloween isn’t all that far away.

We’re poised at the beginning, hoping that this year will be the one where they fly under their own power and rescue themselves from their inevitable crashes only to take off and fly again.

Small Triumphs and Sadnesses Swirled Together

Our shirt Kickstarter closed yesterday. It did better than I’d expected, which helps plug a financial gap between the last book release and the next one. The vast majority of the money will go straight into printing shirts and shipping them. However the sliver that is left will pay our bills for a month or two, so that’s significant.

My 20yo has settled into his school and last night he figured out how to order pizza using his own money and have it delivered to him. It seems like a small thing, but it is hugely empowering to him to have an income and to be able to summon food that he likes instead of being at the complete whim of the cafeteria.

I spent a few minutes talking to one of my nephews who is the same age as my 15yo and who will be attending the same high school next year. My nephew energetically described his class schedule for next year, which he picked so he could be with his friends. It is full of honors classes, AP classes, and probable after school activities. Planning my son’s schedule was all about managing stresses and trying to tune things so he could function without being overwhelmed. The contrast was stark and I’ve cried a bit about the life limitations my son has to deal with.

My 17yo is far more stable than she was last year at this time, but there have still been absences for mental health days. I looked at her grades and realized that the absences have spawned missed assignments and tests. There are a couple of grades to rescue, and the thought makes me tired. We are always rescuing grades either for this kid or for the 15yo. It makes me weary.

Weather has warmed up and we’re starting to have spring flowers. I love spring flowers, they make me happy.

On Monday I had an enormous and multi-faceted To Do list. I plowed through almost everything on it. Yesterday was less effective, but already this morning I’ve gone through several tasks. The difference is in part because I’ve semi-abandoned the task app on my phone because it simply wasn’t helping me organize and plan in ways that work for my brain. I’ve reverted to hand-written task lists in my notebook. Amazing how much productivity goes up when I stop trying to use a broken tool.

Last night Howard and I had a deadline readjustment conversation. As self employed people we are somewhat in charge of setting our own deadlines. There is always the external deadline of “let’s not run out of money” but meeting that requirement can be done in numerous different ways. Sometimes we make a plan, but then need to shift the plan based on progress and realistic assessments of work yet to be done. The next two Schlock books will now be released after GenCon instead of before. Also Howard loosened his own deadline for wrapping up the current Schlock book because he realized that he needs to give the story the space it needs instead of trying to finish it on a specific (and unnecessary) schedule. The result of this conversation is shifting some priorities on the task list, also feeling less stress in the immediate future.

I’ve been making small adjustments in my days in keeping with my January resolution to build a life that is less driven by anxiety. If I want my life to be different, then my days need to be different. So I’ve been including more reading, more handicrafts, more shared experiences like games or movies on our big screen, less Netflix on a small screen with ear buds. I do better some days than others, but small changes make a significant course correction over time.

And now it is time to get to work doing all the things.

On the Stairs

It was six pm and I was standing on the stairs watching my daughter on the floor of the landing while she had a panic attack. Life was too much. She could never do it all. She was failing at everything.

Every time I’m faced with one of these meltdowns, whether it be a panic attack, depressive episode, or OCD freak out, I have to choose. Do I use this moment as a learning opportunity, carefully nudging the person in front of me toward realizations? Most of the time I can so clearly see the choices they made that directly contributed to the meltdown. However, mentioning those choices often leads to lecture mode and the person shutting me out. Do I recognize the actual suffering in front of me and sit down with them in sympathy? This is more comfortable to me than confrontation, and thus I risk setting a pattern of meltdown and rescue. Except we all need rescue sometimes. Do I ignore both the sympathy and education paths to focus on management skills where they learn to set emotion aside and get stuff done anyway? Sometimes a little coaxing gets them moving, and motion makes things better. Other times, my push makes the meltdown worse, harder to pull out of. No choice is obviously right or wrong. The road is never clear.

Mostly as I stood there, leaning on the wall, I thought about how tired I was. How I’d spent several hours of afternoon helping another kid with his home school, and forcing us both to confront the fact that he is, once again, failing some of his in-school classes. That made me tired, discouraged. Because I’d thought things were going well. I’d thought he was stepping up and handling things. But he wasn’t. And we had to negotiate a carrot-and-stick agreement which hopefully will provide him with the necessary motivation to actually do the work and turn it in. I have an ongoing part in the motivational plan, a reoccurring task set, and I have to be willing to actually apply the agreed upon consequences. Even if the result is an unpleasant experience for everyone.

I also thought about how the other son has been in the depths of depression for days, completely unwilling to talk to me about it. He doesn’t want my answers. He rejects my experiences of depression and the tool set that I offer for dealing with it. He is absolutely sure that my answers won’t work for him. It is the same impasse we’ve had to varying degrees for several years now. A change is coming with the new year. It’ll be a big shift. It might finally offer him a way forward. It might be his path to a brighter and happier life. Or it might make everything much harder and darker. We have a long stretch of weeks before I can find out how the change goes. And that makes me tired too. Waiting is exhausting. Particularly when I have to watch him being miserable while I wait.

This all presses on me as I look at my daughter on the floor. The largest thought in my brain is that I really don’t want to help manage yet another emotional tangle. I was weary. In that moment, and many moments like it, I was irritated to have to deal with the excess of emotion. It was late in the day, I wanted to be unwinding and relaxing, not trading work effort for parenting effort. And I felt bad for these selfish thoughts and emotions. Maybe the right answer would have been for me to walk away. To let her figure it out for herself. I considered doing it, but I have to be completely convinced that leaving the person alone is the right course, and even then I’ll spend the time in a state of anxiety, actively preventing myself from going to them and trying to make it better. Walking away is as exhausting as staying.

So I stayed near and made exploratory statements down each possible path to see which one got a positive response. The solution turned out to be a blend: covering her with a weighted blanket and leaving her alone while I sorted a few jumbles of things in her room. Then she centered herself enough to request a reprieve from some home school assignments, which I granted. We made a plan for her to get math help the next day, and she pulled out her psychology homework. She ended up showering and heading to bed rather than completing the work, but she’ll likely be able to do it tomorrow without difficulty. We hope.

After all is sorted and calmed, I sit by myself with my computer. This wasn’t actually all that difficult a day. Not compared to days from the last several years. The ongoing struggles are real, but all of the kids are far better able to articulate what is going on inside their heads. They’re able to discuss problems and solutions with me in ways that they could not before. They’re able to listen when I explain why a situation is frustrating to me, instead of the faintest hint of my frustration turning them into curled up balls of stress panic. I can clearly see how much better off we all are than we were.
I’ll take that.
Tomorrow.
When I’ve had some time to rest.

Getting the Hang of Home School

I’m taking a much more focused approach to partial home school this year because this year we have the emotional and time resources to do it. Last year we were all just trying not to drown in mental health crises and work stress. This meant that home school was unfocused and mostly served as extra time to manage regular school. Unfortunately last years unfocused partial home school means that my 16 year old is now behind on credits that she needs to graduate. So this year we need to work double time to make up the credits. Add in the fact that my 14 year old is now in ninth grade which means we can’t let him fall behind on credits either. I have to pay attention this year. I have to keep track and make sure they are on track.

I am fortunate in that I don’t have to create curriculum. It is all there in the online classes. However I do sometimes have to acquire materials. This means I have to look ahead so that I acquire the materials before the day we’ll need them. Other wise we end up losing a day.

I’m starting to get the feel of it all. I went and bought a weekly planner so that I could write down which assignments each kid should be doing for which class. They each have two classes, and often do 2-3 assignments per class per day, so it is more to track than I can just carry around in my head. One of the educational goals for this year is to transition this task of tracking assignments from me to the kids. Another is for the 14 year old to learn how to make himself do hard things. More than that, we’re trying to actively practice skills so that he won’t lock up and become unable to work. Hopefully those cognitive skills will then generalize so that he can manage himself better at school as well.

Right now preparing for and running home school stuff is taking a lot of time and brain space. Hopefully as we progress it will take less.

Book Review of Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood

I read a lot of articles online, but when I read an excerpt from Lisa Damour’s Untangled, I knew I wanted to read the rest of the book. I approached it cautiously. I’ve picked up so many parenting / therapy / self-help books and been disappointed in them. Sometimes these books irritate me by assuming things about me or my child that do not apply. Other times they accurately describe my problem, but then try to prescribe fixes for me that simply would not work in my house. Most often they simply have little new information to offer. I end up skimming through pages and pages to find a single idea that I can apply in my life. So I checked Damour’s book out of the library expecting to skim and glean some useful information. By the end of chapter two, I’d ordered a copy for myself because I want to be able to re-read it and write notes in the margins.

Right in the introduction Damour stated that she did not seek to be prescriptive, she just wanted to describe the natural emotional / intellectual development of teenage girls and let readers come to their own conclusions or solutions. (The same development happens in boys, but it manifests a bit differently and Damour chose to focus on teen girls.) She does offer suggestions here and there, but they’re almost always a list of “some have found this works” or “you might want to try this.” I can tell you the exact paragraph where I fell in love with Damour as a writer / psychologist / mother. She was describing a study that has been done about the correlation between teens doing well socially and academically and them eating dinner with their parents more than three times per week. I already knew about that study. I’ve read it. I’ve felt guilty about it and resolved to do better at making family dinner happen. Then I’ve watched the efforts fade away so I felt guilty again. After describing the study, Damour says this in a parenthetical:

Here are some questions I’m hoping further research will address. Must the meal be hot? Must it last more than ten minutes to achieve its magical benefits? And how often can I freak out about table manners and still have a positive influence on my daughters? Obviously, important work waits to be done.

At that moment I knew that Damour gets it. She understands that every thing we do for our kids, for our work, for or ourselves comes at the expense of some other good thing we could be doing. Time, energy, and willpower are limited resources and we all have to make choices about how to spend them. After that parenthetical I was very willing to read more of what she had to say. She didn’t disappoint.

The other reason I was afraid to read the book was because of where I was emotionally. I was in the middle of a grief I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to get rid of. I was actively grieving the normal teenagerhoods that it seemed my kids would never be able to have because of their combinations of mental health and developmental issues. I was very afraid that this book would just make me cry because it would describe a teenage experience that was out of reach for my family. It did the opposite. This book shifted the way I think about my teens (the boys as well as the girl) and healed much of the grief I had been feeling.

Damour’s book describes specific developmental drives that happen in teenage brains. She talks about how those drives can manifest differently in different teens and different parent child relationships. Then at the end of each chapter she outlines some things to watch for which might indicate that your child has a problem which isn’t covered by “normal teenage development.” Reading Damour’s descriptions, I was finally able to see how much of my teen’s behaviors are actually normal rather than driven by their issues. It can be really hard to tell with teens because normal teenage behavior would be disordered behavior if done by an adult. Damour’s descriptions have finally provided me with the tool to sift through the things my teens do and say. Knowing which behaviors are normal means I am better able to sit back and let them learn through struggling instead of jumping to their rescue. I’m also able to look at which developmental drives are being interrupted or hampered by the mental health issues. I can see ways to help that I hadn’t seen before. All of this is subtle, but very significant.

I think Damour’s Untangled is going to be like Gift of Fear by Gavin DeBecker, a book that I recommend over and over again to people who are struggling. It certainly feels like a personal paradigm shift, like when I first read the article about The Power and Peril of Praising Your Kids. That article changed how I parented forever. I’m still absorbing information from Damour’s book and letting it settle into my brain. Yet, I’ve already been less stressed and anxious. I’ve changed small decisions every single day based on what I’ve learned. Instead of jumping in with concern (thus communicating that the experience is not normal and is an emergency) I’ve been able to stay back and express confidence that my kid can handle it. And they have. And everyone was happier and more confident for it.

So if you have a teenager, are going to have a teenager, or know teenagers you want to understand better, I recommend Lisa Damour’s Untangled.

Notes from a Class on Building Good Digital Habits

The class was billed as being about digital addictions, but it turned out to be far more generally useful and less alarmist than the description made me fear. It was taught by Dr. Ryan Anderson, who wrote a book on the topic Navigating the Cyberscape: Evaluating and Improving our Relationship with Smartphones, Social Media, Video Games, and the Internet. It was the second such class, though I’d missed the first session which delved into the neuroscience of how digital media can create the same biological and neurological responses as chemical addictions. The second session focused on recommendations for what to do about the potential for addiction, or how to manage an addiction which exists. It was a topic that fascinated me, because there are folks in the Tayler household who are a bit too attached to their screens. Yet I approached the class with quite a bit of anxiety, very afraid that the teacher would propose solutions that would require me to upend our family’s coping strategies. That was not what he said.

The first thing the lecturer told us was that video games, social media, television shows, etc are not inherently evil. They have great potential to make our lives better, and probably already have. Second he clarified that while a digital detox can be useful to expose which of the digital media in our lives are problematic, detox isn’t an effective means to break an addiction. The core problem with digital addictions is not the existence of digital things in our lives, but that we’ve allowed our lives to get out of balance so that the digital things take up too much space. The fix is to find ways to balance your life, to make sure that you’re being mindful about the choices you make and intentionally choosing digital things only when they enhance your life instead of from habit or dependence.

One of the things he went over at length was how much time we should be spending on screens for optimal enjoyment. The golden zone appears to be 1-3 recreational hours per day. (Note that time on screens for work or school doesn’t count in those hours. It engages the brain differently.) People in my house routinely spend five hours per day (often more) on screens. But the teacher didn’t recommend the sudden imposition of a time limit, because time limits provoke battles. Instead he gave a long list of things which help us to bring balance into our lives, and to combat the patterns of shallow thinking which are the natural result of prolonged social media and sound bite exposure. I’ll list some of these suggestions below.

I wrote notes throughout the class. I do think that the lecturer had a strong bias to view digital media and games as more dangerous/addictive than they are to most people. This bias is the natural result of the lecturer working with and studying autistic populations who are particularly vulnerable to video game addictions. Yet I saw great value in his list of suggestions. When class was over and I transcribed the notes, I picked two things to apply in my life. This too was part of the class, he warned against attempting a major overhaul of our lives. Pick one or two small changes and let them settle before picking one or two more.

The two changes I decided to start with for myself were implementing a one-screen-at-a-time rule. If I am watching a show, I don’t need to be playing a game on my phone at the same time. If the show isn’t sufficient to hold my interest by itself, then I should do something else. I also want to consciously practice giving my full attention to a single thing rather than partial attention to multiple things. The second change is to spend the hour before bed away from screens. I don’t need to be checking on the status of internet things right before bed. Those things will be there in the morning. Looking at them in the morning is less anxiety inducing because I have the time and energy to take action, whereas at bedtime I just end up stewing on things. Then there is the science which says the light from screens can disrupt sleep patterns. The one caveat I’m allowing for me is if I’m watching a show or movie with someone else on the big family TV. That may happen before bed some days.

Interestingly, though I’m only imposing two rules on myself, I’ve discovered that some of the other suggestions have been implemented as well. Just knowing what they are helps me make more conscious choices in my relationship to technology. I haven’t imposed any rules on the other members of my household, but I’ve talked to them about the lecture and about the shifts I’m making for myself. I’ve already seen some of them begin making more conscious choices as well.

I think I may buy Dr. Anderson’s book and read it in detail. The suggestions I took notes on are covered in there. And I’m certain I missed writing notes on some good suggestions.

List of suggestions for improving life balance:

The so-so solution that someone will actually do is better than the ideal solution that someone won’t try. Take any step that inches you closer to a healthy balanced life. You can take further steps later.

Read a physical book. The tactile experience associated with paper focuses the brain differently. Some of us need to re-train our brains to engage with the slow unfolding of story and language.

Learn to wait without needing a distraction, watch your surroundings and pay attention to your thoughts about them. Learn to sit with boredom and see what thoughts come to you.

Make something with your hands (can be a puzzle or playing with magic sand)

Sketch, paint, or color

Pay attention to others needs and do something to help without being asked

Make a practice of thanking others, either out loud or in writing.

Cook from scratch

Meditate

Make amends

Have tech free time every single day

Only use one screen at a time

Go for a walk, or get outside, or watch a sunset. Do something slow which brings you into contact with outdoors or nature.

Do something to make your living space cleaner

Don’t begin a session of video games or social media until you have a plan for when it will end and what you will do afterward.

Plan a head and do full days with no tech.

Have an hour before bed with no screens

Before you google, think, question, hypothesize, experiment, explore, discuss

Limit tech locations, make sure you have tech free spaces in your life.

Have at least one tech free day per month.

Letter to the School

Dear school,

I’m glad that you have remediation programs which are designed to help students make up work when they don’t get it done. I like the focus on making sure that no assignment and no kid falls through the cracks. However I do wonder who thought that names like ZAP and CLAW were a good fit for these programs. Surely you could have thought up some non-punitive sounding name? Something where the kid doesn’t feel imminent doom the minute he’s notified that he’s been ZAPped or CLAWed? Something that sounds less like you’re going to tear a kid to shreds or electrocute him? Did no one stop to think, sure that’s a nice short acronym, but it doesn’t sound friendly?

Sincerely,
The mother of a kid who already has an anxiety disorder which your names are not helping.

Drop Off and First Day

Pulling out of the driveway didn’t feel like an event, not really, not even with my daughter Kiki’s life packed into the back of the car so she could re-establish herself in her college apartment. We’ve done this before, enough times that I have to pause and think to count them. There was a subtle difference this time, I can feel that we’re nearing the end. She only has 3 semesters left to finish her degree. We’re nearing the time when her life will shift into its next phase, but not quite yet. For now, she gets to have another year with roommates and college classes.

We went out to dinner the night before departure, Kiki, Patch, and I. Patch is firmly of the opinion that there should be a trip out for sushi anytime that Kiki is at home. I sat at the table with my oldest and my youngest (the other two are less fond of sushi and Howard was out of town.) Somehow the conversation turned to school things, and Kiki began telling tales of her junior high experiences. Kiki freely confessed some of the ways in which she made life more difficult for me and for her teachers during those years. I watched Patch as he listened and absorbed the information that this adult sister of his was not-too-long-ago much less adult. I could see him recognizing that if she could be that bad and end up where she’s at now, maybe he could have good paths ahead too. Patch shared some of his stories as well. Kiki listened and laughed along with the various predicaments and adventures. I was so glad we made time for the dinner. I think it gave Patch a chance to re-frame his experiences and contextualize him. It gave him a better shot at having a good year.

The morning of the departure, Link was sad. He would have liked to ride with Kiki and I to drop her off. Link likes long car rides. Unfortunately Kiki’s belongings fill the entire back of my car. In an effort to help him feel better, we went out to breakfast. I’m not sure it worked, but the food was good. Link will be home with us this year because there are ways in which he needs to grow and learn before taking on higher education.

The drive to college was filled with conversation. You’d think that after a summer of living in the same house, we’d have used up all the ready made topics. Somehow the act of packing up the car and driving opened up new sections of thoughts in our brains. We talked about things that we haven’t really paid attention to for most of the summer. Life feels like it has a forward momentum again now that we’ve moved out of the eddy of summer. I didn’t stay long at her apartment. Other years I’ve lingered for hours because we didn’t quite want to let go. Neither she nor I needed that this time. Some of it is influenced by the fact that we’ll see each other again in only three weeks when we’re taking a big family trip together. More of it is because she’s in a good place, ready to face forward and learn new things.

That drop off was two days ago. This morning I dropped Gleek at the high school and waved to Link as he left for his bus stop. The house is quiet. I’ve been awake since 6:30 and working since 8am. I love the structure that school schedule provides to our days. Over time it begins to wear on me, but for today it is a breath of relief. I have more space in my day to really focus on the work I have to do. I don’t know why it feels that way, since my kids are old enough that they don’t really interfere with work anymore. But somehow having them in the house puts part of my brain on parenting duty, and that part can rest when they’re at school. By afternoon I’ll be checking in on the school kids and evaluating what else needs to be done today. I’ll find out how the first days went and whether we have any issues to manage. I don’t really expect any. The hard stuff doesn’t pop up until later.

Walking Into High School

I just watched my 15 year old Gleek walk into the high school building for her orientation day. There was this moment when she walked past the pep squad sent to greet all the incoming sophomores, where the bottom dropped out of my stomach because I could see all the way my daughter was visibly different from what is standard dress and behavior in our community. We live in a place with a predominant religion. In our town 80% of the students she meets will be LDS (Mormon). Since we are too, this is a little bit comforting. We have at least a baseline expectation for what priorities and values the people around us hold, even though there is a lot of individual variation in how committed people are and how they interpret doctrine. My daughter is a walking, visual variation.

The norm in our community is short hair for boys, long hair for girls, conservative dress, natural hair colors. Even the teens who aren’t Mormon tend to follow this norm. Utah is very clean cut, Orem especially so. This morning my daughter walked into the school building with bright blue hair cut into an anime style pixie cut, short in the back, long near her face. She wore flowered cargo shorts and a black hat. Her arms were adorned with sharpie marker flowers and swirls reminiscent of tattoos. Her surface defies the norms of our community. Her heart embraces our religion. She loves church, and she consciously examines its doctrines. She studies scriptures on her own. She has developed her own relationship with God which is part of how she navigates her personal challenges.

Mostly she’s gotten positive reactions from people at church. I get lots of women telling me that they love her blue hair, that she’s adorable. Thus far I haven’t heard from people who think her blue hair is a sign that she is drifting, lost, or not committed. I assume those people are out there, and I’m grateful that thus far they are keeping their judgements to themselves. What I don’t know is how her surface appearance will affect her relations with peers at school. High school always sorts itself into groups. I worry that she’ll be pushed into groups where her appearance matches rather than being able to find places where her heart matches, no matter what she looks like. She enters the school with a group of established friends who have long accepted her for who she is. I hope that continues. I hope she finds people who celebrate both her internal strength and her enthusiastic creativity. I hope she finds friends who will be there and support her on the hard days, because high school always has hard days.

There are so many things I hope and fear. Mostly I try to not let those hopes and fears leak to where she can see them. My emotions are mine, she shouldn’t have to feel the weight of them. In a few hours I’ll go pick her up and I’ll get to hear how everything went. I would love for this year to be more aligned with hopes than with fears.

Ten days to Start of School

Before GenCon we’re in the midst of summer. After GenCon, everything is propelling us toward the onset of school. This is true most years, but feels particularly true this one. I’m still wading through GenCon laundry and accounting, yet my schedule begins to fill up with school things. I filled out school forms, paid school fees, and set up appointments to meet with school counselors. I know that last one isn’t on the list for most parents. There is a part of my brain that wonders if doing it makes me helicopter-y. Except the universal response from the counselors is “Oh yes. We definitely need to meet.” School counselors are very busy people who are not shy about dodging meetings if they think the meetings aren’t necessary.

Tomorrow is the meeting for Patch. We will examine every class to determine how the teachers will affect him. Last year he had one teacher in particular who loved him very much and wanted to help, but the ways that she approached trying to help made him more anxious and shut down. We went several rounds of trying to help her help him. Ultimately we just muddled through. Sometimes it happens that way. There is a limit to the amount of change I can ask of another person in order to accommodate my kid. I can absolutely say things like “write down his assignments for him.” I can’t really say “Make sure that you aren’t projecting anxious concern when you speak to him.” It is easy to define “don’t corner him” when you’re talking about physical space in a room. But unless someone has an instinctive understanding of his internal landscape, they can emotionally corner him without even being aware they have done so. The school year will be much easier if we start by placing him in classrooms where student/teacher affinity already exists, then we can use the affinity to help education flourish instead of spending all our energy trying to create affinity.

Gleek’s school counselor is going to be more difficult to track down, which is not surprising for high school. She’s answered my emails enthusiastically and would have been happy to meet with Gleek today, except that today began with getting Gleek’s wisdom teeth removed. She’s not coherent enough to be out in public quite yet. The teeth removal was a last minute, lets-get-this-done-before-school-starts effort which was triggered by her complaining that her jaw hurt. She’s a teeny person with big beautiful teeth, so I was pretty sure that the removal of the teeth was inevitably going to be necessary. The other school preparation which was important to Gleek was refreshing her blue hair dye. I’ve been assured by two different school personnel that blue hair will not cause her disciplinary problems on campus, but until she’s been on campus for a week without problems, a little worry will linger in my head. Fortunately we already know exactly what classes Gleek has and which teachers. We tuned it carefully, but the rubber meets the road when she actually attends class.

Next week will be Kiki’s packing week. She has to decide which of her things need to be transported to her college apartment and which things can continue to live here until she returns for Christmas. She and I are both getting weary of this nomadic two-location existence. She has 3 semesters of work left, so we probably only have four relocations left to do. I’m feeling how much I’m going to miss having her around. That feeling has varied from departure to departure. This time is a bit stronger than most. Tangled up in the packing week is some frantic scrambling to help her pound a story into shape before she goes. It is getting there, but unfortunately she ends up waiting on me for feedback. Often. Because my brain is full of all the things.

Link is not headed back to school this fall. We’re entering a gap year for him. None of us feel like spending the money or stress pushing him into a college education that he isn’t emotionally ready to handle. Asynchronous development is very common for people with autism. Link is more advanced than his peers in some ways and less advanced in others. He’ll be hanging with Howard and I at the house, taking an evening class, working for me, and pursuing some personal projects. We’ll also have him doing some of the family cooking, life skills for him, dinner for us.

I would like to be super optimistic about the coming school year. I remember that beginning-of-school rush when I looked forward to all the cool things my kids were going to get to do and learn. The past four years have leached all of that out of me. Yes there have been some wonderful teachers, some beautiful moments, but they feel like flickers of light. I’m entering this year with plans already in place for adjusting schedules, pulling back from stress, and partial home schooling as needed. I’ve laid groundwork with allies, and I know who I need to talk to in order to make adjustments happen. I’m braced for emotion. I don’t know what emotions I’ll have. I don’t know when they will hit me. I just know that I’m afraid that the coming months will reveal even more hard things. I refuse to stand helpless if the school system that is designed for typical children begins to wear away at my kids. They are not typical. This is both a wonderful and difficult thing. Of course I’m also afraid that I’ll be too quick to declare “this isn’t working.” So I’m sure I’ll spin in tight stress circles trying to decide what to do.

For today, I’m working to not borrow trouble. I’m consciously recognizing that Patch is going to get to have a couple of computer classes, which have the potential to be amazing for him. Gleek is getting to take a health sciences class which will let her explore possible careers in psychology, therapy, and other medical sciences. I don’t know if she’ll ultimately move that direction, but I think she’ll find the class interesting. There are going to be good things. I need to consciously remind myself of this instead of just stewing in all my fears.