“Mama, school is not for me,” he would tell me over and over.
I would toss my head back, laughing, and say, “Oh buddy, school is the place where you get to learn the things you need to know so you can do the job you want to do later on in life.”
“Then why aren’t they teaching me how to fly airplanes?”
Dang. Kid had a point.
My ten year-old son has autism. He’s high-functioning enough that he often appears to be an insolent troublemaker who can’t sit still; challenged enough that he needs real support to navigate daily life.
He’s also an incredibly loving and brilliant human being that happens to bring me to my knees regularly as I figure out how to create our life in a way that works for both of us.
But truthfully, I needed him to be in school. I needed those six hours a day to reclaim my sanity, to attempt to build an income (after years of shaking up that foundation and going from a job to starting a business), and maybe get some exercise or fresh air.
It wasn’t convenient for me for him to not go to school.
So I plastered on a happy face as we set an incentivized timer every morning for him to get ready. Often it resulted in tears over putting on socks or spilling cereal in the car. This was our normal.
Until normal started to suck badly enough that I wasn’t coping so well. Emails and meetings with his teacher, a weekly check in with his therapy supervisor and the school administrator, a daily report from his ABA therapist who spent the entire school day with him. He was doing well, mostly, but at the end of the day, still autistic. (I didn’t need meetings to know this.)
Every day after school was a battle for homework and iPad time. Tears and anger from him; a measured, well-rehearsed response from me. I was sad and pissed off, too, but I had to hold those feelings for later, when my reaction wouldn’t feed his needs for attention or allow him to escape an expected behavior.
Finally, it became apparent that having him in school was asking him to be someone he’s not, and to fit somewhere he didn’t feel like he did. He’d been telling me that school wasn’t for him; we decided to listen. His dad and I committed to homeschooling him for a trial period to see what happened.
A well-conditioned lesson: if he’s doing well, my life goes better.
He’s the canary in the coal mine of our lives: if something isn’t working, he’s the first to die. Ok, not death, but I can bank on a strong reaction or resistance to whatever typical daily task we’re trying to complete when something is the slightest bit not right for him.
Parenting a child with special needs has a distinct feedback loop. When our kids are doing well, our lives flow more easily. When our kids are dysregulated and anxious, our lives get stopped in their tracks by things like…socks.
My son has taught me that him being happy and well-adjusted are in my best interests, so I’ve focused so much of my energy there. I never in a million years wanted to be a homeschooling parent. I have a business I love, I enjoy connecting with other adult humans, and even relish the chance to have my thoughts to myself for periods of time! I didn’t need another reason to spend more time with my child.
There’s no question in my mind, that at this time in his life, homeschooling is absolutely the right choice for my kid. But it is not for me.
It is my turn to pay attention to myself as the canary in the coal mine.
The signs are everywhere. I resent it. I want to be somewhere else. And while it’s great for his well-being, it’s terrible for mine.
Investing in his well-being as a means to my own has capped on its return. Now it’s time for something different, which in my world, looks like a tutor or a nanny, or both, for a few hours a day, so I can work and tend to my own thriving. (If you know Mary Poppins, please send her my way.)
If you’re anything like me, you recognize that our special kids are here to change us for the better, and you’d do anything for them to find their place in the world so they can be loved and accepted for who they are. I hope you also recognize that the place in the world where you thrive, where you don’t have to be the center of all of those things, is a place to hope for and work towards, too.