Jul 01

A Forever Teacher

parent Teacher post 7-1-13Parents are their children’s first teachers.  I took this seriously and began teaching and reading to my children as soon as they left the womb.  I just didn’t expect to be still doing it 27 years out.  I’m talking about teaching here, not guiding or offering advice.  I mean helping my daughter read her mail, or better yet, making sure she doesn’t throw away her important mail claiming it is only credit card applications.  Spelling words for her so that she can fill out applications and inspecting the checks she writes to be sure they are properly written.  But I didn’t start this until Marie graduated high school and junior college.  Before that, it was enough to get her through the academics.

I believe that homework is a necessary part of any education, but it can become exhausting with a special needs student in the house.

In elementary school, the dining room table was always a mass of folded or spindled or torn papers.  Pencils, erasers, and erasable pens, rulers and homework planners, workbooks and textbooks were scattered everywhere.  That was where five children accomplished their nightly homework.  Well, most of the children.  Marie would leave the table with the rest of them, but she wasn’t finished.  I would sit by this chaos closing my eyes and rubbing my forehead, as if it could all disappear and I could have some free time.

I would sigh and reach for another cup of tea. Marie’s the oldest, yet academic work is difficult for her. And, she’s a hurrier. In elementary school, Marie would look at a paper and decide she knew what to do. From my relentless “Read the directions first!” sometimes she’d look at the first word—or even the first letter—and plug in whatever word happened to be in her head. She just wanted to say she was done, like the other children.

But she’s not like the other children.  She needed reinforcement and repetition. And this all took time—endless hours of correcting, reading, and explaining again and again.  Downtime that I could have spent enjoying the children, playing a game with them or going for a walk.  Quiet time reading a book of MY choosing, or spending time with my husband.  Visiting friends or shopping in peace.  But at my house, at that time, the world revolved around Marie and her education.

Dec 27

Life & Times of a Caregiver

The saying between a rock and a hard place couldn’t be truer than when you’re trying to help someone with mental illness, addiction and/or another condition.  You’ve got your loved one’s irrationals thoughts and need for help and on the other side the bureaucratic red tape of agencies and HIPPA rules alongside of that.  The situation can become so muddled you can feel like you’re watching an episode of “The Three Stooges”, but no, this is your life – the reality of it all.      

A mental health agency’s recorded message states to make an appointment call between 8:00 AM and 10:30 on Wednesdays.  The future client calls – and then calls.  After a time, a new message tells the client appointments have been filled – have to try again next Wednesday.  On the third Wednesday, the client gets through to a person, a real live one, who tells him to make an appointment, he first has to have a referral from a doctor and a physical (because it’s been some time since he’s been seen by a doctor).

The client then tries to find a doctor.  He begins calling a local clinic.  I try to help by calling them first to see if they accept the type of insurance and if they’re accepting patients.  They are taking new patients, and the receptionists says the future client can call the office.  He calls the office; The receptionist says the persons who takes new appointments isn’t there and to call back at 11:00 the next day.  The future client tries for two more days with the same result.  I call the office back and the receptionist explains that appointments for that day have been filled and the future client just has to try back each day. Continue reading

Nov 26

Sometimes My Child Needs A Different Mother

I’m frustrated and sad because I don’t know how to help you with this. I don’t like to see you in pain, but I don’t know what to do.”

Have you ever wondered if your child would do better in life if they had a different mother? Perhaps we all have. I have often had the thought that I am too soft to be good enough as a mother, that I have too much empathy that has gotten in the way of me giving my three children what they need. But having this thought as it applies to my oldest two children has been occasional and minor, where as this thought has, at times, been overwhelming when it comes to mothering my youngest daughter, Sarah.

Sarah is now in the seventh grade, her second year of middle school, the hardest year of middle school for most girls, and almost every school day over the past three months has been a challenge. My girl has had major mood issues her whole life, anxiety that manifests as angry outbursts, and ADHD. She has had many interventions over the years, but the most effective, it seems, has been riding horses. With horses she is able to relax, to be accepted, to learn about communication, among many other things. But medication has also been necessary and something she fights every day. Continue reading

Nov 23

Driver’s Education

Test taking is difficult for Marie, but there can be no modifications on a state driving test.  Nor should there be.  It just wouldn’t seem right—even for special needs students.  Marie is on her own.

I was all excited about Marie learning to drive.  Yes!  One less person to chauffeur around.  Who knows?  Eventually, she could help me chauffeur her siblings to sports practices, dance lessons, or music events.  I was psyched!

I’d ask Marie daily how Driver’s Ed was going—to the exclusion of her other courses.  She’d answer as she always does, “Fine.”  But I was in my dream world.  My first daughter is going to drive, I repeatedly told myself.  In fact, I bragged to my entire family.  My dad even bought Marie a bumper sticker:

“If you don’t like my driving, stay off the sidewalk!”

I laughed.  I praised her.  My first daughter won’t be bugging me to take her places anymore.  She, in fact, will be able to help me take others.  I was in Heaven.

And then I woke up.  Class test grades filtered in for this 23-day course, and reality clouded my days.  Marie wasn’t going to pass the state test unless I studied nonstop with her.  And even then we are never sure.  My excitement about having assistance with chauffeuring children started to fade.

I hammered away at the notes, reading to Marie, having her actually look at the terms to be able to recognize them when she saw them on a test.  Each night we would both end a session of studying with tears.

This is NOT the way to study with a special needs child.  No matter what YOU want, some things are not to be.  Marie failed the test by 4 points, which is pretty good for her.  I told her we could study again and she could retake the written test in the summer.  She didn’t look interested.  At all.  My husband tried to get me to see.  At this time, Marie is not interested in driving.  I realized he was correct.  And then I cried myself to sleep.


Sep 21

Impulsivity and Saving

Impulsivity and saving.  It’s almost an oxymoron.  Except that I don’t think I can carry this “marriage of opposites” off.

Marie thoroughly enjoys working at Auntie Anne’s Pretzels at the mall.  She’s a people person.  The manager realizes this and puts her out in the mall with a sample plate.  She asks EVERY passer-by if he or she would like to sample a delicious Auntie Anne’s pretzel and spouts off her spiel without a hitch.  I watched her one time.  Those pretzel pieces must be glued onto the platter the way she races over to people.  You need to be on the opposite side of the mall to avoid Marie and her pretzels.  She’s also good at hand-rolling the pretzels.  It’s a win-win situation for Marie and Auntie Anne’s.

The only drawback is that she gets a break when working.  And where others would rest during their breaks, Marie shops.  She shops before work and after depending upon her hours.  I try dropping her off and picking her up in a timely fashion and still she finds ways to buy things.  The mall businesses love Marie.  She’s an impulsive shopper and buys things without any forethought just because she has money in her wallet.

This impulsive buying brings us to another dilemma.  Marie doesn’t weed through what she has; she just keeps adding to it.  Then, she feels she must keep all her possessions in her room…including $50 of luggage that she could hide a Shetland pony in.

I realize that it is HER money.  I’m trying to get her to be selective, to stop and think.  I’m also reminding her constantly that she needs to save for the senior class trip to Disney World.  I’m seriously contemplating charging her rent or taxi rates simply to put the money aside in an account in her name that she has NO knowledge of.  Any other suggestions?

Sep 14

Letting Our Kids Suffer

by flickr user andyarthurLast night I attended my first parent group as a parent. Professionally I am a clinical psychologist and have been doing parent groups on and off for years for those parenting teens with eating disorders. This all came to a halt a couple of weeks ago when I started a two year sabbatical from working to be home with my own three adolescents. So when word got out that a parent support group was starting at my 15 year old daughter’s alternative high school, I thought Why not go? After all, you can never get too much support while parenting teenagers.

The group facilitator, a school co-director and talented adolescent therapist, introduced the idea of letting your teen sort things out by themselves. We all went around and talked about how difficult it is to see your kids suffer, how everything in your being wants to take their pain away even though logically you know that struggle is part of life, a valuable part of life. All of the nine or so parents there could relate to this concept. It might help for you to know that all forty of the teens at the school (tiny, I know) are there because it did not work out in “regular” schools, whether public or private. The students at this wonderful, creative, wacky, nurturing, and sometimes counter-culture school did not fit in socially, have learning differences, have had some trauma, or struggle with anxiety or depression to some degree. These are kids (and parents) who have already been through a lot. I am one of those parents. Continue reading

Sep 07

Stay at Home Mother: First Day on My New Job

On the upside, I sit in my favorite coffee shop at 10:30 in the morning on a weekday writing for the first time in months. When I bought my coffee a few minutes ago, I put 25 dollars on a gift card (a gift to myself) suggesting that I expect to be able to do this on a semi-regular basis. I wear flip-flops, black yoga pants and a dark green t-shirt. Sun glasses propped on top of my head, I suppose I am wearing the uniform of a stay at home mother and I must say, it is comfy. Just how I like it.

On the downside, I have been weepy all morning. You see, this is the first official day of my new job. For the next two years I have walked away from paid employment. I am someone who hopes not to lose my mind, someone who hopes to improve on the balance in our family of five which includes a dad who works long, long hours, me, two teenagers in high school, and one preteen with ADHD in middle school. I hope for basics like cooking more nutritious meals (or cooking at all), being a mother who can breath, more support for completing homework, a presence when a random teen decides to open up, flossing my teeth, some yoga, as well as developing my writing. If you are snickering at my unrealistic expectations, I understand.

Last Fall I wrote for this blog about my ambivalence about working and mothering three intense kids, one who I comfortably think of as high need. At that time, I decided to stick it out with my job as a psychologist who, for the past decade plus, has worked with kids and teens at a local medical center. Even after my decision to stay at work, however, I continued to be preoccupied and torn in two different, demanding directions. Then one day in June, with my husband’s full and loving support, I sat at my desk at work and thought if I don’t just do it, I will remain stuck and nothing will ever change. I decided not to stay in my job based on fear, but to make a change despite the fear. So, right then and there, I wrote a letter of resignation and sent it off to my manager. When we met later that day, I told my manager that I could stay until September in order to facilitate a smooth transition for my patients and the department.

The relief of this decision lasted about one day. Maybe two. This was then replaced by a constant state of feeling terrified. Continue reading

Jul 10

Guest blog: Beth’s Story

Today’s guest blog is by Beth. She is the mother of two beautiful sons who have always been “Easy to love but hard to raise”. My oldest son has ADD and Dyslexia, my youngest has a diagnosis of ADHD with impulsive tendencies and PTSD.

When I became pregnant it was totally unexpected.  My husband had two children from a previous marriage who were 13 & 18 and I had brought a 7 year old into the mix. I had been told after my first child that there was no hope for concieving another child so imagine our surprise when after TEN home pregnancy test and TWO blood tests I was definitly pregnant!

My blessing turned into panic when my first exam showed I had a spot on my cervix, after a biopsy I was told it was cancerous cells that would have to be taken care of. I refused to have treatments while I was pregnant and suffered through with the stress of very high blood pressure. It was considered a high risk pregnancy. After 8 months my body and the baby couldn’t take it anymore and my blessing was brought into this world a month early at 5lbs.

His daddy named him Trex although I have no clue to this day where that comes from. It is a strong name and just like a tyrannosaurus Rex he roared his way into this world. Continue reading

Jul 05

Keeping the Knowledge Base Refreshed: Tutoring Sessions

I had to pay for summer tutoring all through grade school even though Marie was in special education.  Marie requires much repetition to maintain where she is in a particular subject.  Remembering and recalling information are part of her difficulties.

To help Marie not feel ostracized from the family, I incorporated a study program for all five of my children throughout the summer.  For about an hour, five days most weeks, the children worked on academics.  This time did not include when I would read to the children or when the other children would read on their own.  I allowed the children to choose morning or afternoon as the time to work, and then kept it the same throughout the summer.  They chose mornings as they were early birds and their friends were not.

Each child had a notebook and would work on grade level math and English [spelling/writing skills] with me.  I’d be the one who spent the hours reading, checking, and writing comments on their pages.  If they made mathematical errors, they needed to redo the problem.  Grade-level misspellings in their essays required repetition of correct spellings.  Then they just had to choose fancy stickers—after they read my comments—to place on their notebooks.

Marie worked with a tutor about three times per week.  When she worked with the tutor, Marie did not do my notebook work.  I ask the tutor to review grade-level math especially and science/social studies with Marie.  I usually focused on reading and writing with the children.

Marie worked better with the tutor.  She wouldn’t fight as much about doing the work.  And she always wanted to know what her brother and sisters did while she was being tutored.  Hence the need for me to work with her siblings while Marie was being tutored.

Now that Marie’s a part of the high school special education program, she is entitled to free tutoring, one on one, with a special education teacher about three times a week for a few hours with no homework involved.  So far, so good.

May 23

Kids Determine Their Own Interests


kids interests, stick to same interest, let kids have own hobbies,

Image: L. Weldon

Snake wrangler, computer geek, vintage auto restorer. These are a few of the identities one of my sons tries on as he masters areas of interest to him.

He used to patiently stalk alongside our creek and behind the woodpile to find snakes. He didn’t hurt them or even keep them for more than a few minutes. I’m not sure even now what the object was other than a pursuit of something that fascinated him. He brought many of his captives up to the house where we marveled at them before he released them. Personally I prefer to marvel at snakes from a healthy distance but I can squelch the shivers when necessary. He didn’t just wrangle snakes, he also studied huge reference books about snakes, drew pictures of snakes, talked about snakes. Then one day he moved on to other interests.

Mostly out of necessity he put together his first computer from cast-off parts. That started a new fascination with bettering computer operations. He became particularly intrigued by the cooling systems. I listened, or at least kept my head swiveled in his direction, as he explained excruciatingly in-depth explanations about cooling system modifications and the resultant effect on computer efficiency. He taught himself so well that he’s still paid to fix our friend’s computer problems, both software and hardware. Sometimes he shakes his head sadly at how poor cooling compromises these systems.

He became interested in auto restoration before he was old enough to drive. Using money earned by shoveling manure from horse stalls, he bought a 1973 Opel GT. He clearly relished the time and mess it took to carefully tear nearly everything out of the car. Now he is in the rebuilding phase, his progress limited to what parts he can afford.  He shares details with us at the dinner table and tracks each step with friends on forums. The day his little Opal is roadworthy I know that acclaim will come from friends, family and forum pals all over the world.

My husband owned his own computer business and has always fixed our cars, but he recognizes (sometimes to his chagrin) that our son prefers to go his own way as much as possible. In fact, when a question about computers or cars comes up it doesn’t always stay in the realm of consultation. It’s just as likely to become a spirited debate. That’s the nature of young people as they prove themselves, and we try to understand. That is, as long as the tools are put away.

We’ve noticed that eager parental encouragement doesn’t always translate to more eagerness on the part of our kids. Sometimes we like a hobby, lesson or interest much more than our kids do. Sometimes, even when they’re winning awards, they don’t want to continue. Or perhaps our excitement has put a damper on the pursuit. As our kids get older this becomes more evident.

We’ve learned our kids’ interests are their own. There’s no real value in forcing, cajoling or otherwise pressuring a young person to stay with an endeavor that has lost its allure. Kids in our house have to stick with chores and other work obligations, not interests.

Child development expert David Elkind notes in The Power of Play: Learning What Comes Naturally it’s a misperception that children should “stick” to a pursuit once they’ve started in order to build better staying power for adult challenges. As Elkind writes, “The common assumption that commitment transfers from one activity to another is wrong.”

Making sure that a young person pursuues interests for his or her own reasons, not the parent’s, keeps motivation alive and passion genuine. Recent research backs this up.

Sure, we can foster our children’s enthusiasm with our approval and guidance when necessary. But we can also show them by example. We can pursue our own interests with the kind of joy and fervor that can’t help but inspire. That’s my newest excuse for my own art projects. I’m not making a mess, I’m providing a good example!

Laura Grace Weldon is the author of Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything. She lives on a small farm with her family where they raise bees, cows, chickens, and the occasional ruckus. Laura writes about learning, sustainability, and peace for print and online publications. Connect with her at www.lauragraceweldon.com