(Guys, you know my commitment to questionable ideas -- they are my third favorite thing. Cats and Netflix being first and second.)
Well, after spending weeks researching a small island off of the coast of Nicaragua, analyzing how long we could live there on our savings, determining if the wi-fi signal was strong enough for me to work and discussing it all at length with a stranger I met who lived there for 8 years, I quit my job and took Big Kid out of school.
Not to move to Nicaragua though, I'm going to have to save that for my three-quarters life crisis because I can't figure out how to get two cats, a dog, a hedgehog and a box turtle to an island in another country and I think I should at least visit before attempting it.
(I know that's disappointing. I might have finally been book-worthy.)
Anyway, Big Kid was miserable in school -- beyond your normal tween misery. I'm not talking about the average drama of eye rolling and whining in the mornings, I'm speaking of a defeated sense of sorrow; of waking up with tears in his eyes and retreating more and more into quiet despair.
At first we tried to fix him. We've had similar issues in the past, always around school. He has friends, things seemed fine, just freaking hated school. We couldn't really figure out what was wrong, other than school.
We also tried to fix school. We reached out to teachers, guidance counselors and administration and were met with a bland indifference. They couldn't make any changes because it wasn't allowed or because they would have to do so for everyone.
No single issue was a big deal, I don't have some dramatic tale of injustice. We just couldn't fix anything and neither could they.
Then one day I saw this video about a boy who just wants to be happy. Later that same day I saw on the news that a middle schooler had been arrested for bringing a homemade clock to school. I realized that in the eyes of the adults present, a middle schooler would be more likely to bring a bomb than a homemade clock to the classroom. I looked at Mr. Ashley and said, "Holy shit, it's not him. There's nothing wrong with him. He's just in the wrong place."
I consulted my village and found two camps: the people who acted like we were giving up and the people who urged me to do something and cheered me on. Counselors, teachers, moms, and wise women all told me to trust my gut and relayed their own experiences of feeling marginalized or hopeless and helpless and how that affected who they became. The skeptics either seemed doubtful about my endurance or abilities (don't blame them) or worried that we were setting him up for a life of entitlement.
The truth is: real life isn't like middle school. It doesn't have to be.
I want him to be happy. I want him to feel heard. I want him to want to learn. I want him to have his own voice. I want him to know his creativity is valuable and powerful and a force to be nurtured. I want him to recognize when a situation isn't right for who he is as an individual and to honor that.
They couldn't help him because then they'd have to help them all. He is my all.
I found myself walking into his room to wake him up on the first day of homeschool and then realized that I didn't have to. I stood in the doorway and mourned the loss of my alone time for a moment as I watched him sleep and then thought, "Genie, you're free," like the end of Aladdin. It all felt a little like giving up my last wish; bittersweet but filled with boat loads of hope.
So he is doing Florida Virtual School (which is actually still public school, making me a bit of an outcast in the homeschool world) and my plan was to continue working. I do freelance writing and marketing and was the digital media manager for a chain of yoga studios. I made my own hours, worked from home, and had what I thought was a pretty good system in place. I finally had everything I thought I wanted professionally -- a flexible schedule, steady freelance work, regular pay in a position I liked, and I spent my days writing about things I truly believe change people's lives. My relationship with the yoga studio changed my world and my co-workers were some of my truest friends.
And yet I quickly found myself miserable. I thought this might be because I'm an ungrateful asshole. I would do the math and tell myself that 20-30 hours of work and 10-15 hours of freelance writing a week is doable and that I'm lucky to have it. I would remind myself that this is what I wanted. I would come up with new ways to carve time out of the middle of the day so I could actually help Big Kid. I would get so mad at myself for feeling like I was doing a half-assed job at everything.
And one day Big Kid said, "Maybe your job is like my old school -- even if the people are great and the work is fine, maybe it's just not right for you right now," and that landed so hard in me that my breath caught in my throat for a minute.
There I was evangelizing to him and the whole rest of the world about finding happiness and feeling empowered and believing in yourself and changing your perspective and I was completely unwilling to do those things for myself.
So I resigned. It was as easy and as difficult as that. Again, it was bittersweet and filled with boat loads of hope.
One day after I gave my notice, one of my bosses and I were working together, sitting in an empty studio like we had so many times before. I had just been thinking about how I would miss that -- lounging on that floor barefoot for business meetings. She was lamenting about how she would miss my help and when she finished I said, "You know, this is really scary for me too."
She looked at me and asked, "What's the worst that could happen?"
I considered that for a moment -- maybe I would do a shitty job at homeschooling, maybe my relationship with Big Kid would suffer, maybe I would lose my place professionally or lose the connection with my yoga friends...and I knew none of that would happen.
"Well...maybe I'll be bored?" I answered, feeling great relief to realize what was actually at risk.
She shrugged. "Then you can come back. We'll be here."
They'll be there.
Everything that really matters will always still be there.
On the second day of homeschooling, Big Kid looked me in the eye and said, "Mom, thanks for going through all this trouble, and for understanding and for listening to me and making it better," and there he was again -- the actual him, with the spark of life that makes him him.
He's been homeschooled for six weeks now and he's happy.
I've been doing my thing for three weeks now and I'm happy.
So far the only thing missing is the boredom I so feared, but there's time for that.
And that's the story of my way-less-exciting-than-Nicaragua midlife crisis. I don't know if it will be our happily ever after but it's our happily right now.
I'm so glad you've been able to find something that works, for BOTH of you. You both certainly deserve it! I have no doubt that Big Kid will succeed in everything he does not in spite of what you've done for him, but because of it. Every child should be so lucky to have parents who LISTEN the way you and your husband have listened to Big Kid.
How has little kid handled the change? Is he feeling any jealousy towards Big Kid's situation?
I think this is so completely awesome! So happy for your family! And you're right...this is what's best and right for now. I am forever trying to remind myself that I don't need to make a decision that will be THE decision for the next 50 years. I just need to get through this next life season. Big Kid is so lucky your family was able to work this out. Way to be an awesome momma, Ashley!
Cheers to going against the grain!
checkout Florida Unschoolers too. Congrats!
That's awesome! Good for you and Big Kid. I had a similar experience with my oldest, but it was in 1st grade. I home schooled for a semester before finding our Montessori school that has been an answered prayer. It's so nice to have options - and that we are able to see our kids unhappy and do something about it. I can't wait to see how it works out for you all.
Good for you for finding a solution.
You are fabulous girl! I've commented a couple of times on your blog (which I read almost daily) and I find you to be so refreshing, real and just plain awesome. What a great listener and mom you are, makes me wish I could "do over" my oldest son's younger years, but .... oh well! One size does NOT fit all, kudos to you chickie! I'd like to adopt you as a second daughter, you the shat!
Thank you so much for the comments, all! It's so nice to hear from my virtual village!!
TH, little kid LOVES school. He has an amazing teacher and his best friend is in his class. He has been awesome and understanding about his brother.
That's what I assumed about little kid :-) He seems to be such an empathetic, kind young man. And I know he loves his brother, so of course he would want the best for him!
The last 2 years were MISERABLE with my son and school. Thank God this year seems to be better. I debated having him go over to the charter school, getting him tested for a learning disability, etc. This year he's like a whole different kid, which is fantastic. I actually cried when I went into his parent teacher conference and saw how well he was doing. I think maybe it's because his teacher teaches differently or something? I don't know. It's horrible though when you know your kids are miserable and you don't know what to do about it.
Wow, Nicaragua or not, this is a huge adventure and life change you have made, and I have much respect for this.
So wonderful to see "Big Kid" doing really well with his new school.
Hats off to both of you! :)
You are a great mom with two awesome kids.
You are a great mom with two awesome kids.
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