Sunday, November 27, 2016
Due to menopause, my body has gone through some interesting changes (see the post "Mom Reset" for details). At the same time, Liam had his mid-ten-year-old growth spurt, and began to have very clear ideas about what he would and wouldn't wear. I bought us both some new, better fitting clothes and assembled bags of our used things for the San Fernando Valley Rescue Mission.
Digging deep into the front closet for out-sized coats, I found a forgotten plastic bin full of hanging files and plastic baggies. It was the box we hauled to Liam's ABA clinics every month from age three to age eight-and-a-half. There were sheets to track his programs and Sharpie-labeled bags full of pictures related to people, transportation, school-related objects, actions, gender and more.
Despite the fact that it has only been about three years since we discontinued ABA and began to homeschool Liam, it feels like we have been away much longer. Or, maybe it's that we've come so far from the thinking we had at the time we started with that therapy. Much of it had been focused on getting Liam to interact in "an appropriate manner."
When we left therapy and school, we decided to discard the word "appropriate," both in education and in personal development. In the post "Free Falling," I noted how terrifying and liberating that choice had been. It would take some time of growing into our new life choices, to see how they would fit.
Now, instead of choosing from among those things proscribed by the school district, or the state or the insurance companies, we choose from among those things that make us happy and work for us, as a family. Accepting Liam's growth, as it happens, as a natural consequence of him following his passions, has allowed us to let go of anxiety over where he is, compared to his peers, in education or personal development.
Without that tried-and-true (or not so true, but accepted) road map, we have to find our own way. We accept that our lives will not be like other lives and we will not celebrate the milestones we were expecting to celebrate. When I saw my Facebook friends' posts about their children's plans to graduate from 5th grade and go on to middle school, I will admit to a momentary pang of "oh, yeah, Liam would be in that group." But beyond the image of him in the auditorium, "graduating," there was the memory of the overbearing curriculum, and the knowledge that his peers would soon expect even more of him socially, as they entered the painful middle-school years.
By allowing him to participate only in classes where he has an intense interest, among other homeschooled kids of varying ages, there is a greater deal of acceptance, a joy in learning and budding friendships born of common interest. He is also developing relationships with clerks and baristas and the staff at the bank, who seem to really enjoy him and even ask after him, if he isn't with me.
As a menopausal woman, it would be foolish for me to expect my body to look like those of the twenty or thirty-somethings that take my spin classes. I am a fit fifty-two, but I am fifty-two. There's no sense pretending otherwise. Likewise, it would be a mistake to expect my autistic son to look and behave like someone who is not autistic. He is sweet, brilliant, funny and talented, but he is autistic. There's no sense pretending otherwise.
Freedom from expectations has brought a number of changes, but one of the nicest is that we are now much more comfortable in our skin and our clothes. It just occurred to me that this discovery came, almost to the day, on the third anniversary of our journey. I can't wait to see what's next.
Thursday, November 24, 2016
I am grateful for so much right now. That I am here, in this house, with a cat curled up on the pillow beside me, my son and husband sleeping peacefully nearby. We are healthy, we are together, we have food to eat and clothes to wear. And we are all able to pursue our passions. My home is filled with instruments and art supplies. Two days ago, we drummed together in a community drum circle. In three weeks, Liam will perform again with his band. And tomorrow, I will be honored to teach a spin class.
Just now, the pattern has shifted again, as my son has joined me on the bed, the cat has moved to a nearby bench and dawn creeps around the curtains. Soon, a parade will begin and kitchens will fill with the smells of sage and butter. There will be turbulence in the oil, as people reach for respite from the lingering malignancy of a bitter election in familiar rituals and tradition.
But as comforting as traditions can be, I'm grateful for the communities of people that our non-traditional choices have brought into our lives, and the friends and family who have supported us from the beginning. I'm ever hopeful that my words, shared in groups like Unschooling Special Needs, Homeschool/Unschool Bloggers and Secular Homeschoolers, help give some support to parents who haven't found it close at hand.
And in the constant ebb and flow, I hope everyone can find a few moments of pure beauty.
Wednesday, September 28, 2016
|The letter "Q"|
At times my husband has said that he wished he could be as excited about anything as Liam is about numbers and letters. I honestly didn't know if there would be any practical applications for his interest, and it's only now that I can see the growth that happened at every stage, as he explored his passion:
In preschool, this interest led him to develop extremely delicate fine motor skills as he would cut various alphabets in all shapes and fonts from paper and draw them on anything and with anything.
Between ages 5 and 6, he realized that he could create his own alphabet videos, which led to him learning how to do stop-motion animation and teaching himself video editing software including VideoPad (around age 8) and Adobe After Effects (around age 9).
And looking at different alphabet videos of course led to "related videos" in other languages. This has been ongoing since about age 3. On his own, Liam learned to decode and read Japanese, Spanish, Russian and recently Cherokee (at one point he could count in as many as 20 languages). His Mandarin teacher was amazed at how quickly he picked up both the written and sound sequences of Chinese. And last semester, he surprised his Urban Homeschoolers teacher by demonstrating that he already knew the entire Greek alphabet and could speak/decode it as well.
Eager to see different alphabets expressed in unique fonts (in English or other languages), he's learned how to create fonts in iFont Maker. He started taking photos of found-object alphabets, then imported the images into his font program and created usable, fonts based on the photos. He's memorized thousands of Fonts and will often point out the fonts on signs around town or in ads on TV.
|The font Liam created from photos|
|The reference photos before he imported them to iFontMaker|
The most important thing about all of those achievements, is that they were self-initiated. During traditional school classes, every task was prompted and monitored. Liam happily works for hours on his ideas on his own and will come out to tell us to "come into my room" to see some really cool work. I even caught him in his room, watching an instructional video on how to create a specific font, and another one on pixel art. He's learning to find and use tutorials to further his skills.
|A pixel art Yoshi that Liam drew while watching a how-to tutorial. I gave him some graph paper and he came up with the idea to do this, after creating a few on his own.|
What might not have been evident in a clinical setting, is setting the stage for what may become his life's work, or at least, his life's joy. On the iFontMaker site, I found his creations and discovered many similar variations on a theme (or a font). Looks like he was perfecting, experimenting and refining each time.Check out another font he created. Very cool. And it looks like 37 other people thought so too (see below).
For anyone else on this journey who worries about screen time, or one, single "obsession" that seems to drive your child's life - instead of judging it, watch it, study it, try to understand it. If you can introduce something to add to it, try that. Otherwise, relax. You may be amazed at what's growing in those minds. Here are a few of my favorites, from the alphabet photos, blown up to see the detail. Enjoy!
|The letter "M"|
|The letter "P"|
|The letter "W" (also happens to start with "w" so bonus points there)|
|The letter "X" (which took a long time to make in iFontMaker, as he had to use vectors to get the curves right)|
Thursday, August 18, 2016
I was pleased to see he was into the puzzles, and after a few minutes, he was back to where he'd been months ago. We've also been pushing forward with the animation program from JAM - "Animate with the Cartoon Network" (https://jam.com). The course has kids building an animation short from brainstorm to post production. Coming up with a basic story line and honing characters is a great way to ease back into writing. And communicating online with the instructor and mods helps him be specific in what he writes.
|A synopsis of Liam's idea. Drawing done in a coffee shop.|
|A free-form spider diagram of the second version of his Spiffyman Show Idea involving the Russian letter "Yus."|
Yesterday, Liam wanted to go to a coffee shop we've been going to since he was in a stroller. I brought his sketch book and iPad, so we could complete one of his animation assignments and post it to JAM. I smiled to see that, just like me, he loves working at a table with a drink, a pad and a pencil.
|The story has changed to include characters that are mash-ups of Mario Brothers and his original Spiffyman Show designs.|
|There will be Mario-esque spikes and "Spiffy-Thwomps!" Danny Tree has been replaced by "Spiffyguy."|
|Working on a detailed drawing of "Spiffy Thwomp."|
Today was a slow day. I've been sleeping poorly lately, due to some kind of repetitive stress injury to my shoulder. I was up and down all night long and really hit the wall around 2pm. Today was a day that I was very happy to be free of the morning rush, and the need to head back for pickup by 2:30. Liam had a piano lesson at 1 and learned a five-finger drill along with a review of "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor."
When bedtime rolls around, Liam is allowed to read with a flashlight until he's ready to sleep. He's been taking a book of Japanese Hiragana and Katakana to bed along with a Magna-doodle to write out the sounds and words. Listening to him happily reciting in Japanese, I'm grateful to be able to allow him to learn as late as he wants, and wake when he's ready.
Sometimes it takes a show a couple of seasons to find it's feet. This year feels like the third season of a show that finally clicked. We know our roles and it is going to be a very exciting season. Stay tuned.
Thursday, August 11, 2016
I was sound asleep. Finally. Sometime after Liam's endless serenade before passing out, and despite at least one full-costume change due to night sweats, I had managed to fall into REM sleep. I know it was REM sleep, because the next sequence of sounds first worked their way into my dream world (the denizens of which fought bravely to keep me unconscious). But, "mom brain" clicked in and at my cat's "alarm mew" and the sound of something very large flapping.
I could tell from the force of the wings hitting the floor and then the window, that the mystery animal was about the size of a bat. I lay very still. If it was a bat, shouldn't I hear some cries? I did not want to open my eyes, let alone wander around in the dark to be sure, but I managed to follow Jake's chirpy, hunting mews behind the bay window curtain in the living room. To my relief, I didn't see anything dark and furry, so I stumbled to the couch and tried to find that happy, sleepy place again.
Whatever was hiding behind the curtain didn't have enough sense to stay there. I could hear the epic battle winding around the living room. I hoped Jake would have the decency to drag his kill onto the back porch. Part of me felt bad for the creature being tortured to death by my indoor kitty with no clue how to finish off his prey. And part of me was happy that my 15 yr. old cat still had the energy to hunt like that. I decided to let nature take its course.
When I finally woke up for good, I'd almost forgotten to look for what remained of last night's fight. I might not even have seen the body as it blended so well into the colors of our dusty-blue, living room rug. But a beam of morning light revealed the bump on the carpet. I slowly approached the body of a moth as big as my hand. Holy crap. My cat killed MOTHERA! Upon further investigation, I discovered that, sadly, MOTHERA was still clinging to life, so I gently placed him in the garden and wished him swift passage.
The past few weeks have been full of funny little surprises like that. Not bad, just unexpected.
Like pushing forward with the "becoming a spin instructor" part of my "Mom Reset" (see previous post). Vanessa Giorgio, the owner of Lotus Kitty Hybrid Fitness, had been coaching me to lead a class. I had to prepare examples of a spin set and floor work (abs and arms). I was surprised by how happy I felt, revisiting some of my favorite tunes and exploring new music to add to my sets. I was dancing around my bedroom, counting out moves and having the time of my life.
As a mental exercise, I began to construct sets to substitute teach any spin or combo classes on the Lotus Kitty schedule. I played a game with myself, tweaking sets just before going in to take a class, as if I were being called in to teach it.
While waiting for a slot to open up or a chance to substitute, I showed up to take a 5:30 pm class and fond the sign-in sheet missing. The class was about to be cancelled because the teacher's car had broken down. "Hey! I'm a sub!" A quick phone conversation with Vanessa allowed me to be the surprise guest teacher of my first class.
And as the new school year dawns, I am surprised by how easy it is not to think about what other 5th graders will be doing. We've been finding our rhythm, both in how we learn and how we relax. Last year, our first "full" year of homeschooling/unschooling, I still carefully constructed a series of lessons and time tables, which relaxed more as we incorporated more music, art and time with Urban Homeschoolers. I had expected to have to muscle through lessons and push my son and am happy to have discovered that the best learning comes from things sketched in ever so lightly - easy to erase or fill in with vibrant color.
I will sit down tomorrow to do my "sketching" and thinking about where we are and where we might go - no longer worried about outcomes, but seeing what comes. And it's usually better than what I expected.
Friday, July 15, 2016
This summer, I became a roadie for my son in his rock band. I follow along to art class (and sit in the next room, but ready if I need to step in and help re-focus him) and attend classes with Liam at Urban Homeschoolers as well. I actually get more of a break during private, at-home sessions in piano and Mandarin, since I can go into another room and still be close enough if needed.
In the beginning, I didn't know how we'd handle all of this togetherness, but we've found a balance. My husband and I work from home, so there are times I retreat into my studio, my husband goes to his studio and my son happily creates in his room. I am forever grateful that we have three bedrooms - three retreats.
My husband and I also have a regular workout routine. He does Muay Thai and I Spin (indoor cycling classes). We've been doing it since our son was diagnosed, seven years ago. With all that has come and gone, I'm proud of us for our commitment to fitness.
Over the past year and a half, in addition to adjusting to our homeschooling/unschooling life, I hit the "pause" in Menopause. I was thrilled. No more missing exercise class because of random bleeding, or watching the return of fibroids (for which I'd previously had a major surgery). Yes, there are residual hot-flashes and night sweats, but my body is free from the hormonal roller coaster!
The celebrations were dulled slightly by an almost immediate gain of 5-7 lbs. Even though my weight had crept up a little since Liam's birth, I had not had to buy a new pant size until last summer. A need which revealed itself, inconveniently, as I was getting ready for a party and found that ALL of my pants were now too small. Harmmf.
At my recent yearly exam, my GP affirmed that "from now on, maintaining weight will take a lot of work - and losing weight will require a Herculean effort."
I am of Polish/German heritage and, don't get me wrong - I love and respect my parents, but I watched their gradual transformation into Keebler Elves as they aged and am determined to "fall far from" that cookie "tree". I decided to fight my genes to fit into my jeans.
So I said "Cue Hercules!" and made some big changes before my 52nd birthday:
First, I upped my fitness game. I'd been toying with becoming a spin instructor for the past few years. So I registered and did it (and got my CPR certification too).
I lost a few pounds after certification, but needed to drop a few more to avoid endless letters from Kaiser Permanente reminding me of how I was still "overweight" according to my BMI.
So, I did something I had not done in my entire adult life. I signed up for a diet. As someone who had a teenage eating disorder, I've been wary of anything which makes me pay attention to a scale. Technically, what I was doing was a cleanse, but I knew that one sure result would be losing the final 5-10 lbs. The diet was appropriately called "Food Reset." I realized that a reset is exactly what I wanted. Not a reset to my 20s or 30s, but a reset to what will be my new normal.
I know full well that it will take focus and attention to keep myself fit, but it is essential for my own well-being and for my son. I'm almost 52. He is 10. He will need me for a long time. I will need me for a long time. And, yes, there is more than a little bit of me that wants to look as good as my husband does with his boxing-toned arms. One final treat has been reconnecting to my favorite music as I build song-sets for classes.
How does all of this fit into unschooling? I now understand that the core principle of unschooling is allowing children to learn based on their passions. In that spirit, I believe it is important for Liam to see us pursuing OUR passions and taking care of ourselves. Unschooling is a lifelong adventure that we take together and it is important for all of us to be well and strong.
If you're on this path, make sure you check in with yourself to see what YOU need, physically and psychologically and look to friends and community if you need help to get there.
If you have a favorite way to reset - let me know in the comments section!
Friday, July 8, 2016
At first, I thought it would be cool to have Liam write out everything he would say for his introduction and other posts and read it like a teleprompter. It worked, but he was a little stiff. I reverted to an interview style in helping Liam post his videos, since linear thinking is tough for him. We had to restart a few times when the interview strayed too far from topic. On one of the last passes, as we were discussing his favorite characters, Liam revealed, much to my surprise, that his favorite part of most of the movies he'd seen were the boyfriend/girlfriend relationships! I dared to ask if he liked someone and he said, "yes!" I will not reveal his crush, but it made me smile.
He also showed that he was pretty well aware of the major plot lines in the films (if not the minor ones). It's not surprising that a 10 yr. old would like girls, but since Liam never talks ABOUT anyone or anything, I never knew his secret love of romantic themes.
Of course, as I write this, he's staging a major battle to the death in Blocksworld. Boys are funny like that. You never know what they're thinking! Oh, and if you were wondering how Rock Band Camp worked out, you can see the mini concert they gave for friends and family here: https://youtu.be/R70GGk_9ywE. Peace, Love, and Rock and Roll!
Monday, June 20, 2016
It happened at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, when we met a couple of young adults who were happy to cast spells and write about them in special spell books, excitedly and lovingly sharing details of the movies with Liam, a new inductee into the fan-world of Harry Potter. I could see that in this group, he was immediately accepted.
It happened the first time Liam sat at the keyboard during Rock Band class, he was fully engrossed in the musical conversation and was able to follow along. He "got it" and he was in.
Today, we're taking a bigger step and starting Rock Band Camp - three hours a day, four days a week for two weeks. I hope the smile I often saw on his face during Band class stays. I hope that music can be for him what Theater became for me.
I was the kind of kid who was perfectly happy to spend hours reading, drawing or writing by myself. It wasn't until I fell in love with acting, that I found something that REQUIRED me to be fully engaged with a whole group of people. Music may do that for Liam. Or it might not. At the very least, it will shake up our daily routines and that is never a bad thing.
Thursday, June 16, 2016
On the weekend, we had a party with a theme Liam chose - a Goombirthday Party. Temperatures soared over 90 degrees (and our back patio is all concrete), sooooo the outside party I'd planned was quickly re-invented as an inside party. We had 9 kids and 11 adults in our little house. I set-up t-shirt painting using drawstring garbage bags as aprons and larger, cut-open lawn and leaf bags as a dropcloth in our newly-airconditioned sunroom.
Around the house we set up "Goomballoons" - balloons with sets of eyes I drew, attached with double sided tape and mouths drawn on with a sharpee to look like Goombas from Mario Brothers. Brown cake plates were cut for feet. Liam created a Goomba cake topper too.
After the planned activity in the sunroom, which is usually our gym, the kids spotted the mini-tramploine leaning against the wall. John helped break down the tables and chairs and what started as a "bounce-off" turned into a full cage match. The girls at the party are both studying Krav Maga, so they were in the mix too (and kicking the boys' butts, by all accounts). In the end, my husband had a pile of kids on him, all trying to do a takedown. By that point, Liam had retreated to his room, as he had off and on throughout the party. He never minded kids coming in and joining him there, but I think the chaos of so many people kept him out of the mix.
For the record, it was Liam who insisted on a party. And ironically, every year, he insists on having a cake, which he never eats. I think he just associates birthdays with blowing out candles on a nicely decorated cake while everyone sings "Happy Birthday." And so we did. This year, I picked the cake - Chocolate Grand-Marnier Mousse from the best cake-shop in town - Porto's Bakery. The kids may have come for the shirt painting and cage match, but the grownups come for that cake!
And I know it was a great party. Because I forgot to take a single picture of it. That's right. Not one picture! Later, John and I joked about the Louie CK routine about parents watching their childrens' recital through the lens of a video camera,"Check out the definition of the live performance - it's incredible!"
There may have been no pictures, but I got several wonderful take-aways from that day.
1) Our friends are awesome. The people at that party came from many different areas of our lives and they all meshed together so nicely.
2) Liam is different than other kids, and kids are cool with that. There is something about Liam that engenders acceptance and kindness in kids around him. Liam recently got hooked on singing old nursery rhymes and was singing a few during the party. Instead of teasing a 10 year old for singing kiddie songs, the others joined right in!
3) Planned things are fun, but unplanned things are even better. I was a little worried that I wouldn't have enough in our wee space to entertain the kids. I forgot how easily a group of kids can make their own fun.
After the party ended, we left the Goomballoons to gradually deflate and have enjoyed watching their expressions change. Here is all that is left of a happy, 10th Goombirthday!
Happy birthday, kid!
Monday, May 16, 2016
No parent outruns these thoughts. We all race to provide enough of a foundation, enough education, enough wisdom to see our children off onto a future we may or may not join. We all feel, from time to time, that we cannot possibly be enough. And if your child has special needs, there is another, terrifying thought, "what if they CAN'T make it on their own? What if life claims its promise of us before we can prepare them to make their way, or protect them from those who could harm them if they can't?"
So we run harder, faster from the fear and towards the hope of help from "experts" and those that came before. Hoping that their answers will be THE answer to see us through.
Early on in the "race," my husband and I started to sense that "fear" and "hope" were far more the enemy than inadequacy. Our son's brain is unique. There is no expert who knows him as we do. Our templates for how life is "supposed to be" and our "hopes" that he could have the lives we've had, needed to be re-examined. What does HIS life look like? What does HE love? What is that thing we are filling in between jumping on and jumping off of this ride? Do we want a life of constant therapy, working to fit into a school system that we don't see as all that useful, even for typical kids, towards a future we might have wanted for ourselves, but may not be at all useful or happy for him?
It can be hard to walk away from institutions and even well-intentioned friends, family and others "with children like yours" nearly shouting at you that, "you want to do EVERYTHING POSSIBLE for your child, don't you - because look how well it's worked for other people and some people don't even have access to these services and what if he wants to go to college someday and I know someone who did this and their child is graduating with honors now and you have to try gluten-free, chelation, RDI, Dan Protocol, ABA, Special Oils, Occupational Therapy, Speech Therapy, Allergy Testing, or you AREN'T TRYING HARD ENOUGH!"
One thing my autistic son is, is very present in his NOW. He is usually happy in his NOW. What if we let go of the supports and the voices telling us what we should be doing and let his strengths, joys and struggles guide us? What would it be like to free-fall? Scary? Of course. But liberating too. Realizing that there is no ONE WAY to do something - that the ride is as different as each brain is different, is a source of power.
And that may sound lonely, but we've found that there are others walking this path, without judgement, offering friendship and sharing stories to take or leave if it serves us. Facebook groups like Unschooling Special Needs and Homeschool/Unschool Bloggers offer tips and advice and you can ignore posts that don't fit. There are blogs by adults on the spectrum that shed light on their personal experiences and what helped or hurt them.
And once you find some like-minded folks, you can even meet some of them in person. Maybe there will be one group that is great for outings, another that has some learning ideas, or unschooling support.
And you will learn that the eclectic life you create with your child and family in mind, is perfect for you and for them. And you'll learn to ignore the critics, and those with methodologies too rigid for your needs. You'll find a community you never knew existed, and a life that is nothing like what you imagined, because you never imagined what free-falling would feel like - glorious, terrifying, surprisingly fun, sometimes disorienting, but FREE.
For those of you along on this jump - welcome. If I learn any cool tricks, mid-air, I'll be sure to pass them along. And you are always welcome to share your own stories, ideas and observations in the comments section.