The truth about watching my special-needs son being raised by strangers

Standard

Oscar was diagnosed with epilepsy at 2 years old. By three it was also confirmed that he has autism and ADHD. His father and I split when he was about 18 months. Though apart, we maintained a good friendship and parented Oscar together but separately. Within the next year, I met Muzz (my now husband). Through many ups and downs, the three of us did our best by Oscar and communicated well with each other during the process. 

Oscar was approaching 6 when I had my eldest daughter Susannah. Though he struggled to begin with, I received quite a lot of care (in our home) for him and plenty of family support from my aunts and Oscar’s father so we made it work. We had rough days of course but mostly, we coped. The next year, I fell pregnant again. This time with twins. From the very beginning the pregnancy was hard. I was very sick, anaemic and constantly drained. Oscar’s anxieties increased as I was not able to deal with him in my usual way. His violence was severe. Oscar would fall asleep (exhausted) between 6-7pm every night. By midnight (often before) he would be wide awake. That would be all he slept for the night. I would try to leave him to play but he would trash his room and his things and throw his belongings down the stairs. I also received a number of complaints from my neighbours because of the noise he was making during unsightly hours. To say it was a difficult time is an understatement.
Oscar had been building up to stay over night in the local residential care home (which is actually part of his school). It was to be arranged he would stay there a couple of times a week to give me a rest. In July 2013, my social worker moved him in on a 52 week basis after hearing news of him kicking me repeatedly in the stomach (while I was pregnant). I didn’t fight to keep him home because at that point, I was desperate. No one in our house was coping and nobody was happy.
Since his move, Oscar has blossomed in ways I at one point never could have imagined. His anxiety levels are so reduced now that he is progressing in school. He is able to match all the letters in his name and he is even starting to try and copy the sounds as he does it. Oscar is pretty much toilet trained. Though he has to do it on a timer, he is mostly dry and so pleased with himself for it! My time with Oscar is only positive now. We cuddle, laugh, play. When he comes home he tolerates his sisters and the noise because he knows he can ask to go elsewhere when he has had enough. I am slowly building the time up but I will never force him to spend longer here than he can manage. I am hoping one day he will be ready to stay overnight again. Most importantly, Oscar is now happy. He is content with his every day life, beaming when he comes home and from what I hear, has a great relationship with his dad still. Rationally, I know that this should be enough for me to accept what has happened.
Sadly, and perhaps selfishly, for me this isn’t the case.
At the end of last year I hit a pretty dark depression. I am on my way out of it now I think. There  many factors of course but my feelings about Oscar are the ones I am struggling to come to terms with the most. I am trying very hard to recover. Sometimes my blogs really help with questionable emotions. So I thought I would share my daily struggles.
Here is a list of the things I find troublesome about our situation with Oscar:
1) The automatic shame I feel when people ask about him. I hate talking about him because it just makes me feel sad. And like I have failed as a parent.
2) I feel guilty about how little of me he gets compared to his sisters.
3) I have no control over his diet. I am fairly into nutrition. All of my children eat healthily. I have always lived by the philosophy of ‘if it isn’t in the house, they won’t ask for it’. And they don’t! Oscar was happy to eat what ever snacks and meals I gave to him. Now I have to sit back and swallow my words as I observe him eagerly consuming huge amounts of cereal bars, biscuits, crisps, white toast etc. The actual meals the children are given are fairly balanced as they are delivered by a kind of ‘meals on wheels’ type company but it’s the snacks and amount of sugar he is allowed to eat that upsets me. I just wouldn’t ever have him eating things like that except for the occasional treat. Now he will insist on those foods because he sees the other children in the house with them. Of course they can’t deny him what they have and I don’t want him being treated differently. Some won’t eat anything else so it is of course great when they eat anything at all this is I suppose why they stock such items. Oscar has always loved food and now he chooses sugar constantly throughout the day because it’s an option. Who wouldn’t? I simply have to smile and bare it.
4) The same goes for his wardrobe. I shouldn’t get upset by this but I do. I said to Oscar’s key-worker from the day Oscar moved in that if he needs anything then I want to get it. I am still his mother and want to provide his clothing. The problem is, they now receive the allowance I used to get for him so they have to spend it on him. Sonia is a wonderful person and I couldn’t have asked for a better carer to work with my boy. She really does go above and beyond for Oscar. She does try so hard to buy things she thinks I would chose, and some of them I might. But it’s not the point. I want to feel like I am my son’s mother. At best I feel like a really close aunt. The last batch of clothing I bought for Oscar was handed back to me the next day by one of the members of staff after they rather non-emotionally explained “None of these fit, you may as well take them back.” Of course the person didn’t realise, but that hurt. I don’t even know the right size clothing for my child these days? Ouch.
5) I adore my visits with Oscar. I like to spend time with him at the home and build a relationship (and trust) up with all the staff members as well as take him out and bring him home. There are certain tasks however, I struggle to hang around for. The kind of things that used to be part of my every day life and now I have to watch strangers perform. Like administering his medication. Giving him a bath. Changing him into his bedtime clothes. Putting him to bed. The real I suppose, mundane, parental and necessary duties. I feel actual pain when I watch other people doing these things. True heart ache.
6) I find it very difficult to make myself heard if I do have any complaints as the house is quite understaffed. I actually very rarely have any upsets but over the 2 years, the odd thing has arisen and when I have voiced these issues, they have pretty much been laughed off, like I don’t know what I’m talking about. I like everyone there so much that I don’t want to cause any friction so I generally just leave it. It’s very awkward sometimes.

7) Oscar’s father can not forgive me for allowing Oscar to live there. I understand. He is not a well man so cannot have him full time. And in his eyes, I have a cosy new family and Oscar is conveniently out of our hair. Part of me justifies my new life and embraces it. A larger part of me agrees with him, we all have choices in life and I chose to have more children and risk my abilities to look after my son who needs at least one-on-one with him at all times. I have four children (the girls are 3 and twin 18 months). The maths does not add up. I find impossible to forgive myself for the way things have turned out so how can I expect Oscar’s dad to? This does of course contribute to my unhappiness because in my eyes we are all still family and I care about him deeply.

8) If I envision a future without the belief that Oscar may not one day come home to me it makes me think terrible (some would say irrational) thoughts that I can’t control. Quite frankly, I don’t want to go on if that is to be my future. All I need to be happy is all my children, under one roof. I picture us somewhere self sufficient where we live of the land and our animals. Somewhere quiet and safe. It may be a romantic thought but it’s a dream that I use to get me through the days. Not entirely unachievable. One can live and hope.
I’m sorry if this is coming off bleak, but it’s reality. We are living a very complicated situation. I don’t know of anyone who can relate to my yearning. I don’t know if I will ever be OK. Maybe I won’t?
I just need to hang on to the truth, Oscar is happy. It may not be because of me or anything I have done for him as a mother but he is. The way he has advanced over the past couple of years, proves that he may one day achieve anything he desires. And he might come back to where I feel he belongs. Until then, I have to clutch on to any beautiful moments we share together and use that warmth to smile when I talk about him instead of cry. Until then I have to be grateful for how much fantastic support we receive as a family when so many people out there are struggling. Until then I have to remind myself that it’s better that I continue with a lugubrious hole in my heart than Oscar not gladly thrive and grow. It is a sacrifice. One that benefits him for now. That is of course what matters the most.

Homeschool follow up

Standard

So it seems I have caused a bit of a stirring with my controversial views and I wanted to set some things straight…

Firstly, I am not meaning to cause offence to anyone who has chosen (or is intending to) to send their children to school. I have friends who are far better parents than I could ever hope to be who have children in mainstream schools and they are doing just fine. I also know there are brilliant teachers out there, the best. We all long for these teachers and if our children were lucky enough to have one for each subject, along with more one-on-one time and a intellectual and emotional connection with each one too, then they would sail through each subject. But how likely is that?
Like any choice that is different from the ‘norm’ my thoughts are bound to raise some eyebrows. I do believe that the school system is outdated and is no longer designed with the best interest of the pupils’ individual needs. I think things were bad when I was at school (twenty odd years ago), and that it has got worse, and will continue to do so. I am generally talking about high schools. There are many amazing primary schools in my area. However I have a lot of friends with children in secondary school and not one of them has a happy story to tell. One just the other day was telling me about how her daughter got stabbed with a pen (quite severely) and the school denied any responsibility for this as ‘no-one saw what happened’. I have another who’s child is being hugely bullied; she has met with the teachers, head teacher and parents of the children causing problems. The school say that the bulling isn’t ‘severe enough for them to take action’. They have more serious issues to deal with like weapons, rape and drugs. I could go on, I have tons of examples. The thing is, if my children have a super time in primary school and the hit these kinds of troubles in secondary school, how can I tear them out of the system then? How I can I justify pulling them away from any friendships made and dividing them so consciously and brutally? This will cause so much difficulty for all of us. I genuinely believe these problems will arise at some point and there will be nothing I can do to stop them. So I feel that homeschooling from the very beginning is the only fair way it can be done. It will be ordinary to them and I will work hard to meet others where that is also their normality so that they don’t feel like they are missing out.
My experiences of school have affected my views of course but they have not tainted them. I experienced many school settings as I moved a lot as a child. My main two examples of teenage educational settings (both of which failed me as a student) are interesting. One was a large comprehensive (2500 kids) split over two buildings. And the other was a small, country private school.
The first was intense. I was bullied from the start. Many people were. It’s fair to say I’ve always been fairly eccentric and people at that age don’t like it my experince. The girls would all buy the exact same pairs of shoes and hair bands and wear make up and smoke. I was ridiculed for not doing any of those things. Really, hugely ridiculed. So much so that I needed a distraction. I soon discovered that if I was ‘naughty’ and acted out to the teachers, people would laugh at me instead of picking on me. I then had people saying ‘Vikki, dare you to do this’ and I would! I was now likeable. I also would make fun of people less popular than myself (only in front of the mean kids which is worse than all the time really) so I looked tough. I learned many life lessons, none of them good as I was shaping to be a not very nice person. I learnt hardly anything when it came to school academia.
So concerned at my behaviour and bad reports etc my family decided to place me in a private setting. As far as my image went, this was fantastic for me. I was now able to become whoever I wanted. I made meaningful friendships. However, the school had no hope for me from the moment I began. A school like that is very precious about ‘success’ and ‘results’. They were worried about me lowering their averages. Not many people pay for a school that don’t offer excellent averages. So with every given opportunity I was suspended and at one point they tried to expel me over very little. Fortunately my family prevented that from happening. So I made it out with to quote one of my teachers, ‘surprisingly good results’. They were so convinced that I was going to fail that they didn’t want to teach me. In some classes, all I would have to do was walk through the door before being asked to leave. Sure I had a cheeky attitude but I was not a bad kid. I did leave school believing that I was though. In fact I thought I was pretty worthless. And that did not give me the courage to really try anything else educationally.
I know that not everyone’s experiences mirror mine but I can’t help but think my children are bound to have (already do) possess some of my (and our family’s) eccentricities. I want to embrace them rather than make them feel ashamed of who they are. I don’t want them to conform to the standards that someone, somewhere has decided is correct. I want them to grow into well rounded, helpful and kind people with an open mind and a passion for learning. Give me a school that can guarantee they will try their hardest to achieve this which each and every student?
Secondly (back to my last blog), I definitely allowed my anger at the growth and horror caused by capitalism to take over my main points. My fears of schools changing for the worse are caused by this, but I do realise it is a separate issue. I also suffer from anxiety so it’s safe to say that these thoughts may overwhelm me and keep me up at night on a regular basis so I know I have to evaluate them frequently. It does not make them all completely irrational though.
Thirdly, I am not intending to shelter my children from anything; quite the opposite. My eldest daughter is only three so I am only just starting my research and plans for our educational journey. I am reading heaps of books by fascinating and inspirational authors such as Alfie Kohn, John Holt, Maria Motessori and Rudolf Steiner to name a few. There are many home ed groups in my surrounding areas and I am planning to meet as many like minded people as I can and help develop the community. I feel there is a higher chance of building something wonderful for education locally outside the grip of school than in it when there are so many people to go through. I am planning to offer free music and cooking classes to children in the same situation as mine once a week with the hope to inspire others into sharing their talents with our children. I plan to bring accomplished friends in for days here and there to teach my children skills such as knitting, sewing, shooting, fishing, climbing, sailing, horse riding, building, carpentry and what ever else might be on offer. I also intend to en-roll my girls in any groups they wish to join. Susannah is starting a dance class next week. There are also drama groups, gym classes, sports teams and all sorts that we can look into depending on their interests. There are also local forest schools that we can attend every now and then to develop their nature skills. That’s the social side of things explained.
As far as the life lessons school gives: let me be clear, I am not at all wanting to raise my children wearing blinkers. But what kind of lessons of enormous value will they be missing out on exactly? The only one I see is how to survive (if they do) under huge amounts of unnecessary pressure. As far as knowing about the troubles in the world, to start with, we already have a lot of stories in our direct life that proves how different  one life experience can be from the next. We are also going to do community work once a month to meet all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds with the intention to teach my girls that anyone can end up anywhere and to never to judge. We are going to keep a daily journal for ‘random acts of kindness’. They will have to take it in turns to think of something kind we can do each day for another person. This will hopefully show how easy it is to be there for others when one puts their mind to it. A valuable life lesson that schools most certainly do not focus on.  I want compassion to be their main attribute to anything they do. I feel it’s the most important trait any person can possess. Without compassion there is no room for growth or change. Without compassion, everything else one does is inconsequential. Without compassion, the world and everything in it has no worth.
A last huge pro to home-schooling is being able to chose how we learn. We can take trips, meet people from around the world, any time, any where. I will be there to help with every struggle educationally and emotionally. Not only will that make my understanding of my children a deeper one but I will be able to be actively involved when we hit any walls (which of course we will).
I have no doubt that my gorgeous, intelligent and funny girls would survive with Muzz and me as parents through the manic school system. (Which compared to many countries I accept that we are extremely lucky to have). We could guide them the best way we know how.
But to me, survival is not enough. I want my children to reach their full potentials, intellectually and as human beings. I am not saying I can absolutely do that, that is a massive assumption. But I am willing to sacrifice everything to try. Because I think I have a better chance of achieving that than anywhere or anyone else as far as my kids are concerned. Maybe I am crazy, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong.

Why I intend to homeschool my younger children

Standard

It’s probably easiest to start this post with a list of what I think it is most important that my children learn:

1) Compassion
2) kindness
3) The ability to reflect and grow
4) The acceptance of others
5) The skills to forward think (anticipate political, educational and environmental changes etc and have an opinion on these things)
5) The art of debate
6) Respect for other living things, and for the planet we live on
8) To listen and be open minded
9) How to live off the land
10) How to care for animals
11) To be inquisitive
12) To forgive others and themselves for wrong doings and learn from regrets.
13) To look after their body, mind and soul (by soul I mean the desires inside that are often ignored i.e the individual’s personal path to happiness.)
14) To be patient.
15) To appreciate the input of others and not compete at life.
16) To be able to express and understand their emotions.
17) To appreciate the beauty of art, drama, dance, music and literature.
18) To be confident.
19) To be spontaneous but not reckless.
20) To appreciate the beliefs of others.
21) To make clothes.
22) To nurture the born desire to learn in their own way and in their own time. There should be no race to knowledge but one should understand what they have learnt and find a way to make it interesting for themselves what ever the topic.
23) To confide in others.
24) To be approachable
25) To always help others in need.
26) To be brave enough to stand up for what they believe in.
27) To laugh and have fun and enjoy every moment they can.
I’m sure there are a million other things that I will think of after posting this. But you get my point- I believe that teaching our children to be compassionate, helpful, and respectful of the planet and everything on it should prioritise any other kind of learning. Knowledge of other subjects is of course valuable, but it is not helpful alone especially if not taught well. If all children enter this world with a passion to learn, it seems to me that the factory setting of a school annihilates that yearn almost immediately. The pressure ‘to do well’ by the teachers coincided with the demand ‘to fit in’ by their peers is a recipe for disaster for most sensitive human beings. And most human beings are sensitive in my experience. I don’t ever want that to burden my kids with those unrealistic and meaningless expectations. That’s why I will never force, only gently encourage them to learn in fun ways, and I will learn with them. I will embrace their individual flair, aptitudes and talents. Or I will try my damn best to anyway.
We will tackle each subject like a game and make sure that everyone is enjoying the work and absorbing the knowledge. I know this is easier said than done but I will of course take on the challenge. I will not be authoritative, that is part of the respect. If they are having trouble with a subject, I will cross that bridge when we get to it. Even if it means hiring a tutor for certain parts. I am not saying I am capable of teaching all topics but I do want to work with my children’s personal strengths and weaknesses, and make decisions with them as they go along; as they start to process more about themselves, and what they are most keen to excel in.
To learn is a beautiful gift that makes us human and I want my children to realise this. I will urge them to discover that there is no limit to knowledge. I want them to be hungry for it and feed that hunger for self satisfaction and not because they are told to.
There should be no such thing as failure. Failure is a word I will not tolerate. It is a destructive word that offers no advice. It is a label. If something is not understood, we will find a new way to approach the learning of that field. One that suits their wavelength and pace of learning without making them feel stupid. Schools have many ways of making a child feel useless without even saying the words. Putting a child in ‘sets’ for example: anyone put in a ‘bottom set’ may as well be told not to bother because they are too stupid. Anyone put in the ‘top set’ may as well be told “go on kid, prove yourself or you are going to fail like the people below you.” Worst of all, the childrens’ abilities are so often misjudged because of a lack of confidence, or different approaches to learning that don’t fit in with their standards, or simply because they did not gel with their teacher. That in my eyes is unacceptable. And potentially mis-shapes our childrens’ future.
I don’t believe in grades however I also know that I would never want to limit the options for my children as they grow up. I also want them to be able to communicate with other kids they meet in clubs or at the park without seeming like they are from a different world. That is my only reason for deciding to follow the national curriculum and enter exams (only the big ones though I suppose some how we will have to practice for those but definitely not until they are in their teens.)
All though, deep down, I have no idea where our country will be at that time and whether I will want us to stay in it.
Possibly the main reason I am in anguish for my children is because of their undeveloped mental health. My family has a long list of victims of pretty much everything you can think of when it comes to mental health issues and addiction problems. Also, It seems to me that as time goes on, more children generally are suffering with anxiety and depression, self loathing, body issues, addictions, crime, even psychotic episodes. I do not think that the children or the parents are to blame. Our culture is. We have created something too big for most people to live in peacefully and right mindedly. Half the people I know are on medication just so they can survive this insufferable rat race that is every day life.
People regard ‘sucess’ as being wealthy and in a high-flying job. It sounds crazy but I feel sick every day by how much people seem to ‘need’ material things. The business, the noise, the smells, the anger, the bullying, the expectations, the poverty, the sickness, the ignorance, the loneliness and suffering. Money, things, money, things. I can’t bare the reality that we are living in. I don’t want my children to be a part of something that I consider the opposite of natural.
I read a couple of weeks ago that the 85 richest people globally possess more than it would take to wipe out world poverty. I honestly lost sleep mulling over this for a while. How can anyone be ok with having so much money when there are people dying every day from hunger and ill health because of being so poor. I know it sounds cliche, but it is happening and people ignore it. I hate that people justify this. The guilt and sadness this truth fills me with makes me unstable. I’m sure I’m not the only one. It will never be ok to me. Why it is to anyone else is beyond me. I just don’t understand it.
People are so strange. We all have the same fears, but the way I see it is that we focus on the wrong precautions that ironically contribute to the problems. We are terrified our children will succumb to bullying, drugs and crime so we ram exams down their throats and judge their ‘intelligence’ on a daily basis and most of the time tell them they need to do better. We fear war so turn to the government for support with weapons and armies instead of preparing for a life after mass destruction. We are already destroying our planet and each other every single day but we condone every moment of it. And we pretend it won’t affect us even though it already is. We tell ourselves that there is nothing we can do about it.
Imagine if we lived in a world where everyone literally looked after their neighbour.
Imagine if we all followed our basic instincts and turned away from the monstrosity we have created around us.
I don’t want to be a part of it but sadly, I am. We all are.
I can’t control my children but I can give them all the tools I think they will need to survive as healthily as possible in this hell we are all part of. That to me is success. Everything else is a bonus.