Time for School

All summer long I debated what to do about school this year. I knew for sure I wouldIMG_20140909_122125 continue homeschooling Raine. But what about Athena? Her teacher was very honest in the final Junior Kindergarten report card. Things weren’t going well for her at school. Athena was withdrawn and eerily quiet. Generally when teachers or children spoke to her she either ignored them or walked away. It was impossible to assess what she’d learned because Athena would not interact with the instructors.

In March of last year the dentist informed me that Athena’s habit of skewing her jaw was creating lasting effects. Her mouth was beginning to grow incorrectly. At that point it was correctable. I started keeping her home from school most days and we worked on putting her mouth the right way among other things.

Based on those two factors I was planning to homeschool Athena this year. Still, as the summer wore on, I wasn’t sure. Her primary interest became making her sister scream. Raine’s come a long way in her ability to interact with other kids. It took a great deal of effort to get her upset. But Athena devoted herself to honing that skill. Our days were filled with lots of angry shouting from Raine followed by riotous laughter from Athena. I was not amused.

Then there was the actual school part. We kept working a bit over the summer. I would give Athena a task to complete – for example a page of the letter K. After writing one she would shout, “I’m done!” My request that she wait a minute fell on deaf ears. She’d continue shouting, “I’m done!” until I looked at her sheet.

“You’ve only written one letter. You still have lots more to do there.”

“I know,” she’d answer with a smirk. “I just wanted to tell you I was done one.”

After the next one the scene would repeat.

So……I decided to send her to school. It wasn’t my proudest moment. As a mom, I like to think I can make every decision based on what’s best for my child. This choice was in favour of what was best for me and Raine. Based on last year, I had no reason to expect school to be good for Athena. It was with a heavy heart, I got her ready to go on September 2nd.

Excited for Senior Kindergarten.

Excited for Senior Kindergarten.

Surprisingly, Athena was eager to pose for pictures. Normally she refuses to and hardly ever smiles while I’m snapping shots. This morning she was beaming. She walked to school carrying her backpack. And ran into the fenced kindergarten yard without a second look at Raine and I.

When I picked her up, Athena was happy. Last year she was always miserable at the end of school. Never did I know what was going on because she’d angrily tell me, “What I do at school is not your business.” This year, she chatted all evening long with story after story of what went on.

Her good mood and eagerness to share have continued. Even her teacher has noticed a marked difference, commenting that, “Athena is a completely different child. She’s talkative and interacting with the kids.” The teacher and a few friends have asked what changed over the summer. Nothing that I’ve noticed. She’s remained herself – a little more bothersome at times.

With Athena my focus has been confidence. She arrived very insecure and fearful. Time and prayer have brought her to a better place. I didn’t expect going back to school to increase her confidence. Honestly, I expected her to be shy and withdrawn like last year. Instead she’s confident and self-assured.

The information I had while making the decision didn’t indicate such a positive outcome. Yet, sending her to school felt right. Guiltily, I thought it was only going to be right for Raine and I. We would get some much needed quiet. Maybe if I’d taken the time to listen a little more to Holy Spirit, I wouldn’t have picked up that guilt. He knew going to school would be the best thing for Athena. Glad I at least listened to that nudging.

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1st day of school

Knowing it Won’t Work

Jake* has been with us the past three weekends. Today he returned and will be staying for 10 days while his foster family are on vacation.

Tuesday, August 5th my social worker met with me to do some training. Then she announced my probation period had come to an end. It was supposed to be 6mths but, thankfully, has been shortened. The reason for the leniency was the hope that Jake could move to my home.

Thanks to some inquiries made by my friend who works for the same fostering agency, I was ready for the offer. And had my mind made up. “For the same reason it’s not working where he is, it won’t work for us.” His current foster mom is requesting shared care. Between the two of us we could likely manage. But Jake, without school or daycare, is a little much for anyone.

He’s sweet and caring. When he goes non-stop then doesn’t sleep all night, it’s tiring for his caregivers. There’s no way of knowing if he’ll sleep or for how long. Being on call 24hrs a day, 7 days a week isn’t feasible. It’s just not.

Jake snacking on tomatoes while I try to can spaghetti sauce

Jake snacking on tomatoes while I try to can spaghetti sauce

So I said no. The social worker didn’t really understand. She used to work with autistic children in a school setting. Her suggestion is reward charts and using candy as an incentive. That may work for Jake in the future. At the moment he’s not able to understand. So that means endlessly redirecting and trying to anticipate what he might do. And sitting up with him into the wee hours of the night, waiting for him to fall asleep so we can wake in a few hours and start it all again.

I know he needs a home. He deserves to settle down, in a loving environment. But I’m not able to provide that long-term.

There are three things I need to pull off this single parenting gig I’ve gotten myself into: a good night’s sleep, time alone each evening, the opportunity to connect with friends. With Jake, I don’t get any of those things. We will make it through the next 10 days. But I can’t commit with no end in sight.

Sorry. That’s just the way it is. Still, knowing it won’t work doesn’t make the decision any easier.

*name changed

Moving Past Normality

Last weekend we had a 3 1/2 yr old little boy with us. I knew what I was getting into, but his foster parents didn’t when they said yes to the placement call. 3 1/2 sounded good. According to the social worker, there was a “slight possibility” of autism. The diagnosis hasn’t come yet, but autism seems fairly certain.

The little boy is vocal (makes noises) but non-verbal (doesn’t say any actual words). He’s much like an 8mth old in the body of a 3yr old. He can run, climb, and maneuver around. But like a young baby, there’s no consideration or comprehension and everything goes in his mouth.

bedtime snack after the splash pad

bedtime snack after the splash pad

It was challenging but we made it through the weekend. Monday I got a call asking me to take him for 2 1/2 weeks at the end of August while his foster family are on vacation. With nothing else coming along, I said yes.

Today his foster mom called the social worker begging for some extra support. He’s only been sleeping a couple hours each night. That wouldn’t be so bad if he stayed in his crib. But he climbs out and escapes from his room. Obviously it’s not safe for him to be wandering around alone. So his foster mom has been up with him all week.

He’s back with me this weekend so she can get some sleep.

Forgive me, if you saw me at the splash pad this evening. He loves water. It’s the only thing that captures his attention for more than a fleeting moment. Jake* did really well running and playing. Periodically he’d check in with me as I watched from the edge.

Then I shifted position to say hello to a lady from church. After a while Jake began looking for me. He rarely responds to his name. Words seem to float outside of his comprehension. So, after saying his name I clapped. Gasp. It generally works in getting his attention. Like a typical, healthy 3yr old he can run like the wind. Not wanting him to bolt, I tried to get his attention. And I did. Please forgive my method.

Raising unique children, often I need to move past normality. I wouldn’t normally clap or snap at a child. But for Jake the clapping works (not great at the splash pad where there are lots of other loud noises, but at home it’s effective.) Snapping works great with Raine. Sometimes she’ll get herself in a tizzy where words can’t reach her. Then I snap and she can hear me again.

Sometimes in this life/job the rule book has to go out the window.

*name changed

Friends

Friendship… is not something you learn in school.

But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship,

you really haven’t learned anything.

Muhammad Ali
Athena opting out of Kara's attempt at t-ball with the crew

Athena opting out of Kara’s attempt at t-ball with the crew

Friends are my greatest earthly treasure. I can’t imagine life without them. Some have been around a long time – like Erin who I’ve known since I was a toddler and Kara came along when I was 13. Others I’ve met more recently and we share a more immediate history.

My sister, born two years after me, was my first friend. Through out our lives we’ve always been good friends. I am excited to have her back in relative proximity. Instead of across the country, she’s now living only 3hrs away.

Often, I’ve wondered if my girls would have the same joyous experience of having each other and a close circle of friends to see them through life. There were times when Raine’s behaviour made me mournful. She couldn’t see how vehemently she was pushing away her peers – including her sister.

Raine and Kara's daughter, Ruth

Raine and Kara’s daughter, Ruth

This past year in homeschooling, my focus has been socialization. Yesterday Raine got a passing grade!
We went to the Christian campground I grew up at. Erin and Kara were there with their kids and another friend with her foster children.
There were a few moments requiring correction, but all in all both my girls did great. Athena was talkative and engaging – often she becomes incredibly shy in these situations. Raine was inclusive and patient. Still she emerged as the leader, but had an uncommon flexibility.

a quick dinner along the Grand River

a quick dinner along the Grand River

In the shallow wading pool, Raine organized a game where all the kids lined up at the edge. When she said go, in unison everyone ran into the water. Half way through the pool, at the deepest point, all the children dropped down and began splashing. They did this for what seemed like forever. Though leading, Raine didn’t get bossy. She patiently listened when the other kids talked to her. When discouraged, for whatever reason, Raine responded to her friends with kindness.
It was a beautiful scene. Previously, Raine could only tolerate friends in short bursts. But we were there nearly the entire day. And her good attitude continued as we picked up a foster child to join us for the weekend.
Even I was refreshed after our long day.

Even I was refreshed after our long day.

In the daily grind it’s easy to loose sight of how far we’ve come. Last year we were at camp for a week and it wasn’t so rosy. Sadly we could only go for the day this year, but it was well worth the hour long drive. I loved seeing my girls so happy interacting with friends. Some day they may be sitting at the edge of that same pool with those same friends watching their kids play together.
I am a rich woman, blessed with amazing friends – a few of whom I got to see yesterday.