Saturday, July 19, 2014

A year of learning

Publishing this, unedited and as is, two and a half years after it was written...clearly a vastly unfinished piece, and yet, somehow, manages to find the perfect non-ending.

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Grieving sucks.  It takes away so much of your energy and motivation that it can make just making it through a day under normal circumstances exorbitantly difficult.  Knowing this, and knowing that it will take a very long time to get through the initial flood of it, I knew that I was going to have to prioritize where I would spend the precious little energy I did have, and make allowances for myself to let go of tasks that I would normally find mandatory.  The choice was pretty easy; my priority was the kids, and making sure they were getting the love, support - and education - that they need and deserve.  Unfortunately, the biggest thing that ended up falling by the wayside was the paperwork aspect of it - namely, the documentation of the work that we were doing.  I had hoped - and thought it hugely important - to document the experiences and discussions we engaged in as they happened by adding (ideally: daily; but 'realistically': weekly) entries into a portfolio.  To that end I did take digital photographs throughout (most) days, weeks, months -and now the full school year, but until now I have not managed to get myself to sit down and write any of it out.

Unfortunately this means that this portfolio document will be pathetically incomplete.  As I sit down now to try to compile all of the information I can about the amazing journey these kids and I have undertaken this year, I am aware that I am going to have to pick and choose what to put to the page in order to give as much of an idea of scope as I can while still paying attention to some of the finer, pertinent, details.

So here goes:

Our homeschooling year kicked off in a hard way, with our first official day of homeschooling coinciding (horribly) with the sudden and rapid decline in my mother's health.  (In fact she was rushed to the ER on Cadie's last day of public school.) Mom lived with us at the time, and the freedom to care for her was one of the many factors that contributed to our decision to homeschool in the first place; but we had thought we were still weeks to months away from the end.  It ended up being mere days; and thus homeschooling for us has been inextricably tied up with love, grief, and healing...and of course along with that comes mental health.

Throughout the year we have talked a lot about the various ways our brains and bodies work, with an obvious emphasis on emotions and what mental health means, and how we can work towards mental health in the same way that we work towards physical health.  We have talked a lot about how much we use our bodies and what we eat effects the way we feel, and how easy or difficult it can be to keep ourselves balanced depending on how well we are taking care of our bodies.  Our family is no stranger to depression, as every adult member of our extended family on both sides has suffered from some version of it, ourselves included (James takes medication daily as a tool to help him manage his OCD, I have suffered from clinical depression since I was a quite young and several years ago received a diagnosis of PTSD on top of that).  After meeting a new friend here who at the age of seven suffers from severe Bipolar disorder, we expanded the discussion to talking about how certain mental disorders can make it more difficult for certain individuals to manage their own emotions and their reactions to the surrounding environment.  We talked a lot about finding ways to look at our own actions to see where an overblown reaction may have roots in reality, and where it is ok to acknowledge that this is not the fault of any one person, but that we can assess the situation to find ways to make the sufferer as comfortable and safe as possible to help them come back to a place where the problem can be addressed - and that sometimes there isn't a specific problem that needs addressing, but that the person may still need space to come back to 'reality'.  As the year wore on, it became increasingly clear that Hazel suffers from some form of extreme anxiety, and we began taking her for weekly appointments with a psychologist (whom she simply adores).  Hazel describes her therapist as a "doctor who helps you make your bad dreams go away," and while perhaps not a completely comprehensive description of what a psychologist can do, I found it to be a wonderful way to distill the usefulness of talk and play therapy - especially at a developmentally appropriate level. (She's four.)

Cadence has been -perhaps unsurprisingly - very receptive to all of the information about how to handle the hard feelings that she encounters - both from within herself, and from friends and family around her.  She draws remarkably perceptive parallels between moments of hardships in her friend and her sister in ways that allow her to expand her inherent empathy and arms her with the ability to maintain her own sense of self, and not get caught up in the fear and rage that sometimes arises during play sessions.  She has become adept at recognizing when she can make a change to help someone 'come back downstairs' (as Dr. Dan Siegel would say) after flipping their lid, and when it is ok for her to step away and wait until the storm has passed - and that stepping aside did not make her a bad person.

Anyway, back to the beginning:

Mom's health suddenly became the focus of our household, but we didn't let that deter us from our mission.  Mom came home from the hospital with a daily barrage of medications - pills, supplements, elixirs, you name it - and of course they all had to be taken at specific times in specific doses, alone or together...And so we set about learning about charts.  Cadence undertook the admittedly formidable task of creating a chart that would help us to keep track of which meds mom needed to take, when, and whether there were any requirements like restrictions on .....................................................................................................................................................................................................................fcc(terror of the disco werewolves)