I’m “just” a mom…

Ah, the time of year is upon us. It’s time for the homeschooling moms to make any last minute changes, curriculum purchases, or plans created for the coming terms. This year instead of the normal 2-semesters/4-quarters I am going full on Charlotte Mason and making this a 3-term year. At this year’s homeschool convention I had the opportunity to meet with the lovely Sonya Shafer of Simply Charlotte Mason. It was through meeting this extraordinary woman that I was able to brush away much of the confusion regarding homeschooling my special needs boy. Sonya Shafer is a homeschool mom, creates Charlotte Mason inspired curriculum and speaks at conferences and conventions. Most importantly, she is the only person I’ve met thus far who has continued to homeschool a child through such a difficult diagnosis. Her daughter is 18, is still homeschooling and will be for a very long time. Mrs. Shafer doesn’t doubt for a moment that she is meant to mother this child full-time. It was through her encouragement that Chris and I were able to come to the tough decision to continue homeschooling all three of our children. I knew that my oldest and youngest would continue to stay homeschooled as it’s proven to be superior to mass public schooling in every way, educationally, socially, human-ally. But my middle child is different. I wasn’t sure if being his mom was really my job. I love him more than myself, but I thought that parenting him full-time was too far out of my scope of training. Mrs. Shafer helped me to see that I am the most qualified person on earth to teach him and guide him for most of his waking hours.

This kid’s been diagnosed with everything under the sun at one time or another. I was told he had autism. I was told he had PTSD, but no one knew why. I was even told that he must have been sexually abused as a baby. A sociopath I knew tried convincing me that my boy was also a sociopath. Entertaining that thought and allowing that breed of crazy into our lives was like an exciting nightmare. Definitely not awesome. His special needs were once used to try to scare us into making bad decisions. In trying to get to the truth so I could effectively parent my son and help him reach his full potential as a human being it feels like I’ve been through a mommy-war. I have dealt with jealous mothers, nasty mothers, and judgmental moms. It is very lonely being a full-time mom of an undiagnosed different little boy. Lonely for him and lonely for me at times. Fortunately, for the most part I am met with kindness and understanding. We try to stay connected with homeschoolers or some sort of church family so that we are never alone. This has been a very, very long and heartbreaking journey. As you can imagine not many children want to play with the kid who throws a fit like a baby trapped inside a older child’s body. Homeschooling moms tend to be especially understanding, even if they don’t have special needs children themselves. I love you, fellow homeschooling moms.

In researching all of these labels suggested by well-meaning friends and family, and even the crazier ideas suggested by the crazier people, something never quite fit. I agreed with autism, as I knew he was somewhere on the spectrum from the time he was two years old, but there was something more. I know my kids well. I’ve made it my round-the-clock job to know my kids as a homeschooling mother. And a while back I came across something that seemed to fit, but I passed on the information I found as it would have been too painful to even consider. A couple of months ago our son was hospitalized, admitted by me, his mother. He was put through intensive therapy and testing. And we finally got answers that fit the questions we had been asking for years..

We discovered that he will not “grow out” of this, there is no medication for him, and this is not a problem that counseling will solve. He is developmentally delayed. He is mentally handicapped and does have mild autism. It’s why he can’t bathe himself, brush his teeth properly, or feed himself without making the mess of a toddler around his chair. It’s why he behaves like a two-year old when uncomfortable and it’s why he couldn’t communicate how he felt even though he eventually learned to speak properly. He cannot understand concepts that we assumed he could understand. He doesn’t have Down’s Syndrome, but looking at this little boy, it’s apparent that there’s something different about Hunter.

People who were once close to us have stepped away because of him. They don’t like him or don’t understand him. It takes a special kind of person to show the patience and love that’s required to be with Hunter. Anyone who is unkind to him because he’s handicapped doesn’t have much of a place in my life. I don’t have time for small-minded abusive rednecks. There are only a handful of people who have not been able to tolerate Hunter’s handicap and they are out. Unless they, you know, grow hearts.

I love and value my friends and family more than anyone because they know that I can’t make every play date. Hunter doesn’t run the show at our home, but we have to make special allowances for his needs. It can time hours simply getting him ready for a trip to the library. Trying to rationalize with a person who isn’t relational takes time and special skill that I am still learning. We keep a schedule, but life doesn’t always care about my schedule. Sometimes Hunter’s needs come first. Like I said, it’s a very lonely job and I highly value my friends and family who have stuck with me through this.

My son won’t get to graduate high school as a teenager. He will most likely need to be homeschooled his entire life. I will never stop working with him and I will never give up on him or his education. His IQ is low. It’s why he stopped learning at the same rate as other children in kindergarten. He has the reasoning and the problem solving skills of a toddler. He doesn’t understand when children are mean to him as he thinks everyone is his “friend.”

Like most moms I am 100% devoted to my boys. Unlike most moms I have also created a full-time job out of parenting and teaching them for the last 7-8 years. Fortunately, this would become necessary as Hunter can’t be left alone. He needs someone who knows about developmental delays in children to care for him if me or his dad are going to be away. He needs special education. Homeschooling is the best education for a special needs child so that’s what we give him. We have sacrificed a second income, more stuff, bigger house, etc. so that we can homeschool. I was able to gain some coursework credit in child psychology and early childhood education which helps a little, but homeschooling experience has been the real lifesaver in learning to help Hunter. After finding out about Hunter’s diagnosis we decided that we would live in a two bedroom apartment in the worst neighborhood in KC if it means raising our kids right. All that matters is making sure all three of our kids are given every opportunity to reach their goals and to give them experiences that will develop well-rounded human beings who care for one another.

As I make last minute preparations for the new school year, I’m nervous because I have a very full schedule ahead of me. And while nothing is promised I know that whatever happens this year, it won’t break us. I am the hedge of protection around my special little boy, around my other two amazing sons and even around my handsome, hard-working husband. And while we may not have a ton of money or a super large home, I know who has my children’s heart from the time they wake up until they go to bed at night. And I know who has mine. No one can take that from us.

Love,

Jackie

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