Thursday, April 26, 2012

Being Different

Yesterday JT had his annual medical check-up. Before we left the house, I had a discussion with him about how he should talk with the provider. Many times when we are visiting the doctor's office, JT enjoys saying things that might set her on edge. For example, when she asks him if he wears his helmet when riding a bike, he'll say something like, "I love flying down the hill recklessly. Pain is only pain. I don't mind."

I spend the appointment cringing and waiting for her to begin the 'You Are a Bad Parent' lecture. I have endured these lectures on many different occasions. I know she's just trying to be helpful, but she really doesn't understand my boys all that well. I'm not sure how the medical community became society's go-to place for how to raise a child, but long ago I learned they have very little to add to my ability to take care of my kids.

During the conversation with JT, I explained that we are really only going to the appointment to have his health checked, not to benefit from her parenting advice. The less we chat, the less we have to be lectured. He asked me for an example of things she has said in the past. One that stands out in my memory is her advice on how to get my extremely picky eater, EM, to eat more vegetables. Her first suggestion was to puree veggies and hide them in his spaghetti sauce. I told her that he is hyper-sensitive to textures and smells and that there is no way I could pull that off with him. Then she suggested I give him some of the new V8 drinks. I just laughed. The boy drinks milk, raspberry Juicy Juice and grape Juicy Juice. Nothing else. I know this because I have spent the last six years of his life trying every possible means to entice him to try new food and have come to the conclusion that he will make it to adulthood on his limited diet. JT laughed hysterically at the idea of EM not noticing something added to his spaghetti sauce. HE knows what his brother is like and understood the futility of such a suggestion. HE KNOWS HIS BROTHER. This is the key. Knowing the child. Someone who sees my children a total of maybe one hour a year is in no position to suggest the best way to take care of them.

So, back to the appointment. The first snag we run into is the nurse telling JT he will need two immunizations. I had come to the appointment knowing they were probably going to want him to get the meningococcal conjugate vaccine. Common practice in PA is to give this vaccine upon entry to 7th grade. I wasn't sure if I wanted to have that one administered yet, since he isn't the typical age for a 7th grader. It used to be given to kids before college entry, not in middle school. I wasn't sure about his risks for contracting any of the illnesses associated with this vaccine. Plus, I had prepared him for the possibility that he might get one shot, not two. I was surprised that they wanted him to get a DTaP booster, since I thought the standard dosage was to give a booster every 10 years. We chatted with the nurse for a bit and I told her we'd discuss it with the doctor as well. We came to the conclusion that we'd only do the meningococcal and save the DTaP for next year.

JT mentioned that his throat has been a bit sore. The doctor took a look and found he had a small ulcer on the back of his throat. I get these ALL the time, usually when I have been eating too many acidic foods. I also used to get them from cinnamon gum until I found out I was allergic to the acacia found in most brands and stopped chewing it. I told the doctor that's probably what it was, but before I even had a chance to discuss it, she was doing an unnecessary strep culture. JT told her he didn't have strep. I told her it wasn't strep. But does anyone listen to the non-experts? Nope. 30 minutes later the rapid strep test came back negative. Big surprise there.

She also spent a great deal of time quizzing me about JT's school work and progress. Up until now, I had always found her to be a supporter of our decision to homeschool the boys. For some reason, she now had a need to find out if he does any testing and how he does on the tests. In the past, I would have chatted about his school work with her. The way she asked this time made me feel like I was being examined, so I told her he tested advanced in all subjects and I'm not concerned about any thing in his school work.

We left the office feeling like we had been defending ourselves through the visit. JT was irritated about the strep test and why they wanted to give him two shots. I felt like I had been through an interrogation. When we got home, I complained to my husband how the doctor hadn't listened when I said it wasn't strep and how next time I was going to have to be forceful in order to refuse unnecessary testing. He said that most doctors are probably used to people accepting what they say without question. I know this is true. I am just tired of always being the 'weird' one. Granted, I don't really want to be 'normal'. I enjoy my life. I feel I have made very good choices for our situation. I'm just tired of having to keep my guard up around all but my closest friends. The people who 'get-it' are few and far between. I often worry that my boys will have a hard time finding people who understand them. It wasn't until recent years that I recognized that I really hadn't found many people in life that understand me.

If you happen to be someone who gets it, thanks for listening.

If not...keep it to yourself for now, okay?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Under the Hill

In the last week we have taken two field trips that have plunged us into the cold, dark, depths of the earth. Fun, right? You better believe it!

On Saturday, we went with our church youth group on a trip to the Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine tour in Ashland. The tour takes you 1800 ft. into the side of a mountain in a horizontal drift mine. Visitors travel by mine car to a depth of 400 ft. under the mountain. We spent the week prior to the trip learning about the formation of coal, oil and natural gas.

When I first began planning this unit, I was hoping to get the boys to see one of the caves in PA. We have a few within easy driving distance. I really wanted to take them to see Woodward Cave. When I first checked their website, I found that their tourist season doesn't have weekday hours until May. I really didn't want to try to squeeze in another weekend trip, so I figured we'd have to wait until summer break to visit. Then I noticed on their site that they sometimes do weekday tours if you request one. I thought it probably wouldn't be worth it for them to have just the three of us visit, but sent an email out just in case this weekend. Monday morning I had a message from the owner of the property telling me that he would just so happen to be at the site Thursday morning if we could come out.

The best thing about this tour was that it was only my boys, myself and the tour guide. We had a very individualized experience. Woodward Cave originally had a stream that flowed through the lower portions of it, carving out the caverns in the limestone bedrock. In the 1920s the owners diverted the stream, cleared out the mud and opened it to the public for tours. Immediately inside the entrance of the cave, you can see that the passageways are somewhat narrow and low. This is the area that had to be cleared of mud. There are few stalactites and other speleothems in this area, probably due to the volume of water that would have flowed through at one time.

Our guide told us how the Penn State geology professor brings his students there to see features that are rare in caverns of PA. I will share a few pictures of the things we saw today.

The Tower of Babel is a nice example of flowstone.

I like bananas...because they have no bones...

Bacon! This formation is actually called a bacon strip.

We have one week left in our geology unit. In fact, it will be the last full week of science for this school year. We are considering taking one more trip to Rickett's Glen State Park. I would really like it to be a camping trip so that we can spend a couple days exploring the trails, instead of trying to pack it all in to one day. I'm pretty sure we'll have to wait a bit before we can pull that off, maybe not until later in the summer. No problem...the learning can keep going, even when the school year ends.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Decisions, Decisions

This picture really has nothing to do with what I have to say tonight, but I thought it was gorgeous, so enjoy!

We have 17 more days left before we begin our summer break. Once we have finished up our work we will meet with our evaluator at the end of May and I will turn in our portfolios to the school district before the end of June. When I turn in the portfolio, I will also submit next year's objectives for each of the boys... and I have a decision to make.

JT began his schooling path in the public school system. He attended K4 (pre-Kindergarten), Kindergarten, skipped first grade (after a momentous battle with the school district) and second grade. We placed him in a cyber-charter school for third and fourth grade and have now been traditionally homeschooling him for what we called fifth and sixth grade. By typical standards, he is a full year younger than most other kids in sixth grade due to having skipped first grade when in public school. As a homeschooler, grade level really has not affected the curriculum he has been using. I have never really ordered anything based on his grade level, I just looked for things that would fit where he was and what he was interested in studying. The only real reason, as far as I can tell, that I even need to call him by a grade level is for school district purposes. In PA, I need to submit standardized testing in 3rd, 5th and 8th grade. I also need to submit appropriate medical forms based on his grade level. Up until now, I just went by what grade he had been when enrolled because it seemed easier that way.

But I have a few reasons now to think that it might make more sense to start grouping him with his age-peers. First of all, we have found that many of the activities he wants to participate in go by grade level instead of age level. So far we haven't had too many problems getting exceptions to things where his younger age may make it appropriate for him to continue participating in something, but I am concerned that we are going to run into a problem next year with basketball. I am also having second thoughts about him being ready for college at 17 yrs 6 months. It may seem like early worrying, but I know that time is going to fly. One other issue that is directly related to the deadline to submit the objectives is that if he is a seventh grader next year, I need to submit objectives for secondary education instead of the elementary objectives. Not a big deal, but something I will need to plan.

In PA homeschooling, the parent sets the grade level. So by all the rules, I could very well say that he is a sixth grader again next year. As far as I can tell, that shouldn't be a big problem with reporting. I asked JT how he would feel if he wasn't a seventh grader next year and he was concerned that he'd, "have to do sixth grade work again." When I pointed out that the work he had done this year wasn't sixth grade work either, he realized it really wouldn't make a big difference. And as far as when he'd finish his PA, you only submit a portfolio for homeschooling until the child's 17th birthday, so either way his required schooling would end at the same time. He could continue doing school work at home after 17, but I assume he will be taking classes at a community college or local university for most of his 'senior' year anyway.

So why am I even worried about making this decision? I guess because in some way it feels like cheating the system. I pushed and fought to get that grade skip for him. I even filed Due Process against the school system for failure to meet his educational needs! Suddenly saying, "You know what? I think we'd like to go back a year after all," seems wrong in some way. I know grade level means almost nothing as far as his education goes now. But it still feels like it means something. I've written 'pro' and 'con' lists a few times in the last week or so. I've written up time-lines to see what age he'd be at different points in his path if I change him or keep him where he is. I have asked advice from friends and driven my husband insane presenting the same arguments over and over again. I have swayed from complete certainty each way at least three times now.

Maybe by June 30th I'll know what I want to do... or then again, maybe I won't.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Ultimate Ball Pit

Do you know those ball pits that little kids adore? Now imagine a HUGE ball pit, filled with small, medium and large BOULDERS. That's where our latest geology field trip landed my family. The Boulder Field at Hickory Run State Park is a National Natural Landmark. It is also another stop in the Pennsylvania Trail of Geology series. The field is 400 ft. by 1,800 ft. with depths of about 10 ft. and was formed by a process called gelifluction. Walking on these boulders is quite the workout! My adult daughter came along to be the extra set of hands I knew I would need. I was having enough trouble of my own, let alone worrying about boys and their dare-devil behavior. On Tuesday, I was diagnosed with foot tendonitis. I managed to hurt myself and my new-found running addiction had to be put on hold. The doctor assured me that if I wrapped my foot and ankle well, took my meds and wore good shoes, I'd be able to handle the boulder field. Part-way out I had to take off my boot and make some adjustments. After that, things went fairly well. My daughter insisted that if I did Yoga like she does, I wouldn't have been having so many issues with my balance.

My boys surprised me a bit with their different takes on the place. When we first left the car, EM asked me where the glacier was. He seemed to have misunderstood the fact that although during the last ice age there was a glacier that came as far south as the park, that had melted a LONG time ago. Once we were out in the boulder field itself, EM took off and had no trouble at all. He was jumping from one boulder to the next, trying to give his poor mom a heart attack. JT was taking things nice and slow. Now usually, I wouldn't think of JT as the cautious type. He climbs trees...trees that seem much too high to me. He has been known to ride sleds in ways that make me have to stay in the house and not watch. But today, he was in no hurry to move. At one point, EM was telling him to hurry up and just jump across the rocks. JT, recalling a conversation we had this week about brain development and risk assessment replied with something like, "It's obvious your prefrontal cortex has not developed completely!"

We took note of the types of life that are finding ways to survive in what seems to be a pretty inhospitable location; a lone tree growing away from the edge of the field, lichens on the rocks, spiders weaving their webs between rocks, the way the forest was slowly encroaching on the field itself. By far the biggest threat of change to this interesting geological feature is human beings. We saw many instances of graffiti and litter. We also saw a family toting rock picks, in spite of the warnings to take nothing from the field except pictures. One other thing we noticed, that seemed odd, was two families with dogs on the boulders. I would think it would be easy to lose a small poodle in some of those crevices!

We wrapped up our day with a visit to the sand beach next to one of the park's lakes. Swimming season has not begun, so the boys had the beach to themselves. Many dams and locks were constructed from sand and water plants along the water line and much messiness ensued. The boys' feet and hands were freezing when we started to clean them up, but they had a wonderful time. I will probably take them back for another visit later this spring or summer, so we can dedicate more time to the trails.

Geology rocks!