Words to Lacey about Covid-19 Home School

Every August for the last 12 years in anticipation of a new school year, the same conversations fill our home, the same shopping trips are taken, and the same prayers are prayed.   Conversations that beg the questions- what if there are no friends in our classes, who will we sit with at lunch, or what if the teachers don’t like me?  Shopping trips for the latest trend in lunch boxes, school supplies and backpacks, and of course that perfect first day of school outfit.  An outfit that neither draws too much attention nor allows anyone not to notice you.  The one that suggests to the world “my children wake up like this every day” despite the hours of planning and preparation that goes into that obligatory first day of school picture for Facebook! 

And the prayers- “Lord please let Hallie find her people and let them be good people.  Let Cade’s teachers notice and understand him despite the dozens of other students in his classes that also need to be noticed and understood.  Protect Kori Jane from all the confusing and conflicting voices that she will hear again this year telling her what to love, value, and build her life upon.  And Lord, please protect little Lacey from the voices in her own head that tell her that she is not good enough.”   Lacey- I pray at the start of each year that all my children would grow stronger, shine brighter, think deeper, create more beauty, and love more fully no matter what that new school year may bring. 

With much anticipation, each August we attend Meet the Teacher, Back to School Nights and High School Orientations just before the new school year begins.   This is followed of course by the comparing of class lists and schedules with all the friends. 

This August your three siblings began seventh, ninth and eleventh grade in the usual fashion while you started your third-grade year at home with me as your teacher.  The years of struggling to fit you in the public-school box while you battled debilitating anxiety and relentless tummy troubles ended right about a year ago (halfway through your second-grade year) when we found ourselves on an unexpected home-school journey.   We made the choice to pull you from school and create an environment at home where you could learn and grow despite your struggles.  I realize now just how fortunate we were to be able to make that choice.  Fortunate that we could financially afford for me to not work in order to stay home with you, and that up until then my entire professional career had been working to help children with learning differences and disabilities and their families find success.        Unlike many families in similar situations we had both the knowledge and the resources to make a sudden change when a change needed to be made.

I am also realizing that the whole country is suddenly being thrust into homeschooling tomorrow without being given any choice.   We have suddenly all been faced with the challenge of figuring out how to create an environment at home where all of our children can learn and grow without regard to the availability of financial resources, our social circumstances or the knowledge and education we may or may not have.

So ready or not Lacey, our little Home-school of one has tripled enrollment and we are adding a middle schooler and two high schoolers to the mix beginning tomorrow!  

So while it is not August, we are none the less embarking on the first day at a new school- The COVID-19 Spaulding Home School.   I admit that I am a little worried as I keep thinking about the steep learning curve you and I endured those first few weeks and months as I tried to be the perfect home educator for you.  And a full year later, I am still learning to have grace on myself when most home school days look nothing like I had ever imagined or hoped.  Below you will find a list of ten things that I wish I knew the first time I found myself unexpectedly homeschooling you.  And now as I find myself unexpectedly homeschooling all four of my wonderful children beginning tomorrow, I give you full permission to remind me of these points in hopes that I do not have to make all of the same mistakes this time around.  May these ten realities help to manage all of our expectations, answer as many first day of school questions as possible, and remind us of all the things that matter most.

  1. You’ve already met your teacher. No need to ask if she will like you- she knows all about you and already loves you like only a mother can! Don’t bother comparing schedules or class lists with your friends; your teacher and your classmates are the same people you have already spent the last nine days in quarantine with.
  2. New Subjects to begin immediately. Any school happening at my home includes the long-lost subject of Home Economics including exploring the arts of mopping, cleaning out the refrigerator, laundry, lawn and garden care, and food preparation. There will also be a hands-on class called Communication and Conflict Resolution complete with practical tips for empathy building, non-verbal communication skills and how to assume the best of other people. Other subjects will be added as needed!
  3. No custodian or lunch lady on duty. You will eat lunch with the same people you’ve eaten dinner with most every night of your life. However, unlike dinner there is also the option for you to eat by yourself. Free breakfast and lunch are available daily however there is no printed menu- only a full refrigerator and pantry for you to explore your options. Your grade in Home Economics will in part be based on your ability to navigate mealtime on your own including clean-up.
  4. No dress codes. There is no need for first day outfits as everyone at The Covid-19 Home School already knows what you really wake up looking like. Pajamas are totally fine however you are required to continue showering even if you have nowhere to go. We will add a Self-Care class if necessary.
  5. No tardies to be given. 8:00 AM does not seem to be the hour of the day that our family is at our best, so official school days will not start until everyone’s coffee, medicine, brain waves, etc. have kicked in. This is not going to be the same for each of you as Hallie is often the first one awake, and she tends to accomplish more in the first hour of her day than she will with all the rest of the day’s hours combined. And then Kori Jane and Cade (as you know) tend to be obnoxious zombies for at least their first waking hour, and will therefore be required to spend that first hour alone. Given that the four of you are not only different ages and grades with varying strengths and weaknesses, but that you are also motivated and interested by completely different things, I am assuming that you will each benefit from different start times, schedules, amounts of social interaction, technological interface, and teacher support. We will figure it out as we go!
  6. Sick days are inevitable. For me that is- your teacher will need a sick day occasionally. She will also need a mental health day every so often. Unfortunately there are no substitutes lined up for any of that. It is also safe to assume that you and your siblings will need your fair share of mental health days as we are all processing what it means that there is a worldwide pandemic sweeping through. This means that you will likely be having even more virtual field-trips coming up to places like Arendelle or Camp Kaikawaka than we did last month. And that’s ok!
  7. Hours of operation vary. A typical homeschool day is not 7 hours long followed by several more hours of homework! In fact, all the work we do is technically homework. I have already mentioned that we will not be starting at 8:00 AM every day, but that does not mean that we will finish school any later than usual. In fact, it is likely we will have many more early dismissals than extended days as long as everyone gets their required district/school assigned work completed. I remember when we first started to home-school last year, and I tried to wake you at the same time every day. Then we’d sit down to do back to back lessons from 8:00-3:00. We were both losing our minds, and the tension between us was spiraling. I finally did some basic math to add up all the transition times, busy work, bathroom breaks and special assemblies in a typical school day. That’s when I decided that sitting with you one-on-one for an hour or two doing actual lessons and schoolwork was more than you were likely getting any given day in a typical public-school classroom. I’ve learned that there is simply no set amount of time that learning takes. Sometimes I take two weeks to cover a concept I thought would take a day, and sometimes we spend a whole day getting lost in learning about a period in History that I thought would take us a whole semester to explore. When I finally quit caring more about checking boxes than I cared about watching you grow, and started caring more about following your curiosities than following a schedule- that’s when your anxiety finally started to relent and your mind and imagination were finally unlocked.
  8. Learn to recognize the Fire Drill Alarm and follow procedures. The first time my volume begins to change you might want to look at my facial expression and body language to determine if it is just a warning or an actual fire-drill is in order. In case of a drill quickly and quietly go outside or retreat to your separate bedrooms. I will lock all doors and reopen them once my heartrate, breathing, volume, and mind return to normal.
  9. Peer tutoring is encouraged! If you need help with anything (including staying sane), please feel free to ask a sibling or even face-time a friend just as readily as you seek out help from me. In fact- maybe start with a sibling or friend as a way to help me stay sane! While the rules about no screens in bedrooms and screens turned in at night still apply, I am no longer limiting screen time as long as responsibilities are getting done. And while we are on the subject, no one is allowed to ask me about my own screen time.
  10. Pop Quizzes come in all forms. In a classroom full of students there is really only one way to show you are learning or what you already know, and that is by putting something on paper. At home there are a million ways to show what you are learning or what you already know- debates around the dinner table, conversations after readalouds, writing a song or short-story to share, playing an instrument or preforming a play you’ve created. Drawing a picture or retelling a good book. Going on a nature walk and identifying the flower or the bird you noticed. Helping cook dinner, mow the yard, or fix the car. Flying a kite, doing a puzzle, playing a board game, helping a sibling, playing pretend, or doing a craft. After-all when all is said and done the goal of education really should not be to get a good grade or raise your test scores, but rather to be able to think, to solve problems and to create. And all that with the ultimate goal of knowing our Creator and His creation more fully, while seeing ourselves and our unique purposes on this earth more clearly.
  11. Grace is the key! I know I said only ten things, but we are going to have to be flexible with each other. We are going to have to have grace- lots and lots and lots of grace. Everything keeps changing on a dime and the only thing in the world that is certain today is uncertainty. We all have more questions than answers and we all have no idea what to expect in the days, weeks or even months to come. While in isolation together for this undetermined amount of time, I’m sure there will be days when dad will be irritable, I will lose my temper, Kori will make us all feel stupid with her dirty looks, and Cade will talk too much about something that we don’t understand. Hallie will say things she does not mean and then pretend she never said them, and Lacey your anxiety will get the best of you. We must have grace on ourselves, our neighbors and friends, and especially on each other- even as we have received grace from our Creator.

And Lacey when all else fails, let us remind one another once again that I may now be your teacher for this season, but I am your mother first and forever. 

In anticipation of tomorrow, my prayers are slightly different than previous first day of school prayers- “Lord, thank you that we get to be Hallie’s people and that I get to be her teacher for this season.  Thank you that she has a teacher that loves her more than she could ever know.   I pray that she feels like her home and her family are right where she belongs even as she navigates the internal and external muddy middle school waters.     Lord, thank you that Cade can’t fall through the cracks in this home school- Let him know that he is noticed, understood, and loved, and that he has been fearfully and wonderfully created with a purpose.  Thank you that Kori Jane has a break from the onslaught of all the confusing and conflicting voices telling her what to love, value, and build her life upon.  Thank you for the gift of time you have given me to pour into her even as she is almost grown and ready to fly.   And Lord, take away Lacey’s anxiety, and use this crisis and the extended time we have together as a family to quiet the voices in her head that tell her that she is not good enough.  Let Your voice be louder, clearer, and sweeter than all the other voices around her. 

Thank you Lord for not only the privilege to pray for my children, but that for this season I can watch from up close as they grow stronger, shine brighter, think deeper, create beauty, and love more fully despite all the uncertainty and change that this year has already brought.

Love,

Mom 

Words to Cade after 8th Grade Graduation

Dear Cade,

This week you graduated from 8th grade. It was an emotional week for me, but not for the reasons others might expect.   

I remember being emotional when your older sister walked across the 8th grade stage to receive her “most likely to be a best-selling author who inspires the world with her words” and “student of the year” awards just two years ago.  I remember holding back tears when she told me to stop taking pictures before sending her off to the 8th grade dance.  Not only did she feel too old to have me hanging so close, but she looked much too old for my liking in her fancy dress and heels.  I was having to accept that she was much more her own person than she was my little girl any more. I remember being sad that her little group of friends, who seemed to her to be the most important people in the world, were all going to different high schools the following year. And the mom friends I had made through her middle school friendships would likely never be the same either. I soaked in every minute of that week- the medals and certificates, the final middle school beach trip, the many parent planned end of year gatherings- I soaked them in and I posted all about them on social media so everyone I knew (and even those “friends” I don’t really know) could share in the joy of my amazing daughter’s 8th grade graduation.    

But Son, this week was emotional for me not because it is hard to watch you move on from 8th grade, but because it was far too easy. It’s not that you chose to skip out on the 8th Grade Dance or the final Beach Day that made this week hard- that’s not really your thing and I have no interest in making you fit a mold that you were never meant to fit.    It’s not that there were no invites to end of year gatherings- I’d have been the first parent to host one if I thought that kind of thing was important to you. 

I did not cry because of the multiple hours you spent creatively planning and then solving your 6×6 rubik’s cube- making it spell 8GD in an attempt to get that girl to accompany you to the 8GD (8th grade dance).  The skill, thoughtfulness, and creativity it took for you to pull off such a feat makes my brain smoke and my heart soar. But her less than gracious response and the rejection you felt when the taunting on social media followed are likely what started my emotions on a downward spiral.

Then came the big 8th grade graduation and awards ceremony. You are not one to set a trend like KJ, lead the way like Hallie or steal the stage like little Lacey. In fact, unlike your three sisters you have little desire or need to be noticed or recognized- and while doing the right thing is supremely important to you, you are not especially interested in impressing or pleasing anyone else. But even though I knew that kids like you do not get straight a’s, perfect attendance, or Principal’s Awards, I still held out hope that your accomplishments this year would not go unnoticed. I know you are also not the most athletic, you probably will never star in the school play, nor would your quirky absent minded ways lend themselves to you being named “student of the year” or “most popular” -but I still hoped.  I knew that you had not really connected with any of your peers, but still I hoped that someone would have seen the beautiful mind and kind heart hidden behind your quirky behaviors and unique interests.

But, alas, the only time your name was called was when it was your turn to walk across that stage to receive the same certificate as everyone else- acknowledging your completion of 8th grade.  On that certificate was the obligatory statement that you were “most likely to be a famous mathematician.”  While that sentiment was a fair assessment in my mind, I had to work even harder to hold back my tears when the first thing you did after the ceremony was share your disappointment with the idea of being thought of as a “famous mathematician.”  You took note that all the other student’s obligatory “most likelys” seemed to you to be so much funnier, more personal, and more thoughtful than your own.  After all, not only do you have zero interest in being famous, you also eloquently pointed out that there is no such thing as a “famous” mathematician- except of course among other mathematicians.  You kinda knew that you were the odd kid who likes math, but now you were walking away from middle school with a certificate to prove it.   And while I adore that odd kid who likes math, I too wanted your peers (and their parents), who never quite understood you, to know that there is so much more to you than that.

Certainly someone in those three years took note of the immense integrity or wisdom that you possess.  Someone surely noticed the depth of your faith, the depth of your mind, or the depth of your kindness and empathy.   

As often happens to me when my emotions take over- my mind started to spin.  Laying in bed that night I couldn’t help but think about the hundreds of other kids who were also forgotten that evening. Every May, all over the country, parents and kids dress up and gather together to celebrate the achievements of a small number of exceptional peers.   After fifteen years of working to advocate for kids who struggle in school, I was well aware that the low achieving kids did not get awards. And I was average enough in my time to know that the average kids don’t either. But I hoped that your perfect score on a PSAT at 13 or the fact that you completed two years of high school during your 8th grade year might just be exceptional enough to be “end-of year award ceremony” worthy. But turns out that what gets celebrated is not being exceptional. What gets celebrated is fitting perfectly in the school mold.

That night I thought of all the other moms who sat hopeful that someone noticed something “recognition worthy” in their kid, only to hear the same five or so names called to the stage over and over.  Despite the fact that these same kids already received their due praise all school year long, simply for showing up to school each day and being who they were created to be.   The rest of us are convinced we need to keep trying harder to be like those kids- you know the ones who are born good at school.  Somehow someone convinced us that the kids who get the medals and the trophies are more valuable than the rest.  I remember being the kid at the awards ceremony desperately longing to hear my own name called out, and I can attest to the fact that not being the trophy winner had no long term bearing on my success or happiness.  I am certain that the same will be true for you and so many of your struggling, average and exceptional peers who also went home without an award. But it’s harder to remember that these days, because there was one huge difference when I was a kid-  once Mom and I went home, we were free from the onslaught of visions of other children smiling with their awards, or their dates to 8gd or other end of school year celebrations.

Your last day of middle school was Friday.  I’d watched all week as picture after picture had been posted on social media- pictures much like the ones I’d posted of your sister a couple years ago.  Pretty girls in dresses and handsome boys in suits.  Trophies and medals held out for all to see, and large groups of friends sharing in each other’s joys and accomplishments.  Once the last day of school pool party pictures started to show up in my news feed, I felt another flash of sadness realizing that while your sisters were off celebrating the end of their school years with friends, at any moment you would be walking in the door with only your mom to greet you.  So I did the only thing I could think to cheer myself up- I began to frantically look through my phone for any photos that I could post that would assure others that we were celebrating your graduation from 8th grade and proclaim to them all just how proud I am of you.  But nothing I could find would ever come close to capturing how proud I am of you, and nothing could show the world how grateful I am to God for fearfully and wonderfully creating you exactly as He meant you to be.

And then you walked in- BEAMING!  You greeted me with one of your full on hugs, excited to celebrate the end of 8th grade with me!  We talked and laughed, played some video games and ate some junk food.  You helped me once again to think about what is real, what is meaningful and what is eternal.

 Why should I be sad that the world is missing out on knowing you?  Should I not rather be grateful that I am one of the lucky few who gets to know you- that I am the lucky one who gets to be called your mom!  Why should I be upset that it is impossible to capture your gifts or your value in a ceremony or social media post?  Should I not rather delight in the immense depth of your brilliant mind and your kind heart.  Why should I be downhearted that you have not found a place to belong among your peers?  Should I not rather rejoice that you belong to God and that you belong in our family.  Should I not be filled with thanksgiving for the way that you help to make our home a place where anyone can belong.

It’s about time for me to stop trying to tell the world how proud I am, and just tell you instead.

And while I am at it, I better make sure your sisters know how proud I am of them.  I have a feeling I have been a little too busy editing pictures to make them look extraordinary, instead of celebrating who they have been created to be and teaching them to be content in the ordinary.

Congratulations on finishing 8th grade this year, Cade! Congratulations for being so far outside the box that there is no award or trophy that could ever adequately capture your giftedness or value.  Congratulations on being the most humble, kind and intelligent kid I know.  You will never know how much I love you, how much joy you bring me, or how much I learn from you.  I am truly grateful that I get to be your mom.

Love,

Mom