Friday, January 21, 2011

labels, labels and more labels

labels. i haven't heard so much about labels, as i have been recently. it seems everyone has so many feelings about labels; and everyone has been very open with me in sharing those feelings. First, lets think about labels as they relate to things, "objects". The online dictionary defines it as:

"a slip of paper, cloth, or other material, marked or inscribed, for attachment to something to indicate its manufacturer, nature, ownership, destination, etc."
So the purpose of the label is to tell people where an item came from, where it is made, what it is made from, and sometimes contains special directions for how it is to be cared for; and what some of it's intended uses might be. This is useful information, and as it relates to an object; it is not usually considered negative at all.

The dictionary further defines label as:
"a short word or phrase descriptive of a person, group, intellectual movement, etc."
AND this is where it gets tricky. People are generally uncomfortable with labels being attache to people. I think perhaps, people feel labels will take away from their individuality; or they fear people will associate a label with them and that is all they will become; that it will change what people expect of someone.
AND this strikes me as a little odd, because we label ourselves, all the time in ways that we are okay with; in ways that are considered positive, without attaching various fears to these labels.

We are comfortable saying "I am a mechanic."... or "banker" or "doctor" or "teacher" or "mother".... we are okay with this, because it tells the world something about who we are, what we are good at, maybe it says something about how we "see" the world. We are okay with saying, "I'm artistic" or "musical" or "athletic".... these to are labels, labels we give to ourselves, labels that tell the world something about us. We do not fear these labels will limit us; we do not fear people will only think of us as these things. We are okay with these labels.

"We are unschoolers"... this is a label could tell people a lot about how we as are as a family. I do not fear that this label will limit us; or that this is a label we have made some huge commitment to; one that limits us from changing; if we as a family felt we wanted to.

Why all this talk of labels? I'll tell you why, because when it comes to medical labels, all of a sudden people start to carry around all kinds of fear, and negativity. Especially, when these labels are being applied to children. I have had a lot of time to think about this; AND I'm going to share some of those thoughts with you.

My husband has a diagnosis of narcolepsy. A label, yes? yes.
People hear this label, and they get the mental picture of someone falling asleep while they are driving, or walking, or bowling, or eating soup. It makes people giggle, and joke; because of this mental picture; this impression the world has of narcolepsy; an impression that is not entirely accurate or fact based. These kinds of situations, that people picture when thinking of narcolepsy, CAN happen to people carrying the label of narcolepsy; but they don't always; in fact, there are varying forms and degrees of narcolepsy.

Narcolepsy is a diagnosis we fought for. I want to be clear about this; we wanted a label that would explain some of the challenges my husband is facing. We wanted a label that would tell us, and others, something about him; something about his make-up, something about his needs and abilities. A label that would give our family access to help, that we legitimately needed.

I'm going to be honest too; there was a process involved in accepting this label. It wasn't like my husband got this diagnosis, and we said "YAY! what a positive thing! this is going to be great!" NO, we had fears; and it was a big process of adjustment that we had to go through. AND I don't believe people see this label attached to my husband, and see him as only that. I don't think people see him as less of an individual. Another honest part of the process was educating people about what this diagnosis, this label, meant. It was a little exhausting, honestly, because it caused a focus to be on the label for a period of time. But overall, this was a positive thing because it let people know more about what we were, and are facing. And to the people who know us and care about us, this label has not been a negative thing.

In the pediatricians office with my daughter last week, I was listening to the doctor talking about ADD and ADHD. It was general information. She was telling me what this label meant, and she was telling me about the kinds of coping skills and strategies children and adults develop when their brain works this way. As I listened, I had to stop her, I had to interrupt.... because she was describing me! She was describing so many things about my childhood. She asked me some more questions about it; and ended up telling me I probably have ADD! This is a label that "could" have been very useful to me, as a child; this label is very useful to me now. It tells me something about how my brain works, and how I learn best. It explains why I have to listen to music, if I want to be able to focus on a task; it explains why I have had SO much trouble learning certain things. This is a positive thing to me; it is useful information.
AND it made me and my daughter giggle ALOT.... which is also a good thing ;)

Clearly though, this is not why we were visiting the pediatrician.

Originally, I wrote a lot of details here. Details that were therapeutic to write. But I deleted them. Because I don't want to share all the details. And I don't want to explain or defend to anyone. What I will say is this:

Unschooling has allowed us to honor our daughters strengths, her gifts and talents. It has allowed her to develop a love of learning. It has allowed us to be together; to support her in whatever way we could see she needed. It allowed enough time to pass, for her to have the maturity she needed to recognize that she is facing some challenges and to know that she wanted help. She knows herself incredibly well; and thanks to unschooling she knows a ton about her own learning process; enough to know that she wanted to learn more about her own process; about what is and is not working for her.

The pediatrician has praised us for choosing to unschool. She said we have been doing exactly what was needed and was good for our daughter; and that she wanted us to continue to do more of what we have already been doing. I am thankful, and relieved. I have carried the useless fear that unschooling had somehow "caused" her to be having this struggle.....

Well, maybe it hasn’t been entirely useless. You see, some people have asked me if I think unschooling has “caused” any of "this"- which of course is ludicrous! I've had a lot of time to contemplate what this question is really saying! Having the freedom to explore one’s own interests; and learn in the way one is naturally inclined does not “cause” a neurological disorder. For this is exactly how most adults live; following their interests, learning about things as they feel is most beneficial for them. If the belief that unschooling causes this kind of damage was true; we would have a world full of adults with neurological disorders... (wait a minute, maybe we do! ;)

Sorry, I got off on a tangent there.... my point is, the fact that this ludicrous fear crossed my mind has kept me from really “loosing it” on a few people. Just to put that out there.

So yes, this is a challenging and stressful time. And yes, we are going to continue unschooling our son. And yes, I still believe unschooling is a fantastic option for families. And yes, I am writing all this about labels because I am tired of hearing about other people's crappy feelings about labels; and labels on children. Whatever diagnosis we come to, (which I probably won’t be sharing on here) isn’t going to change who we are as a family. It isn’t going to change who my daughter is; or how we feel about her. It is going to tell us a little bit more about who she is; what she is made of; where she is coming from. It is going to tell me more about how I can best be supportive and caring for her. And that is important information to me.

If you read this all the way to the end, thank you. And if you are one of the people in our life who has been supportive and kind, then thank you.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Promise to my children

Below is a facebook status, the idea was to copy and paste into your own status if you feel this way.
PROMISE TO MY CHILDREN: I will stalk you, moan at you, lecture you, drive you crazy, embarrass you in front of your friends, hunt you down like a bloodhound and be your worst nightmare all because I LOVE YOU! When you understand that, I will know you are a responsible adult. You will NEVER find someone who loves you, cares about you and worries about you as much as i do!~love mom
I couldn't do it, because while I agree with the "I love you" message I don't agree with the underlining message. The behaviors described portray a message of distrust; an expectation that your children are going to disappoint you. The message is that because you know best, you have given yourself the license to act in disrespectful ways towards your children; to ignore their feelings as irrelevant. And the behaviors are justified with a "because I love you the most." But alas, these are not behaviors or attitudes that build healthy relationships; stalking, moaning, lecturing, embarrassing, hounding, annoying; these are the things that tear down. These things do not encourage respect, communication, or honesty.

~Who of us as adults would seek out a relationship like this?
Who of us would like to see our childrens in an adult relationship that looked like this?
It would be considered unhealthy at best.

I would like to revamp this, and compose a promise of my own.

My Promise to My Children:

I promise to trust you, to try to listen more than I talk, to really hear your feelings, to communicate with you.
I promise to feel proud of you,
to credit you with the best intentions and motives;
to share with you in your struggles and disappointments.
I promise to value what you need;
and accept that sometimes you do know what is right for you.
I promise to try and remember that everything in life is a learning experience; and that we can learn from each other.
I promise to be awed by your gifts and talents.
I promise to stand beside you as your advocate, to support you;
even when that support looks crazy to other people;
hug you, love you, comfort you;
and offer guidance when you need it.
I promise to laugh with you; and share in this life with you.

And I hope that when you are a grown adult we will still have a good relationship;
and that when you look back on your childhood
you will feel like you were loved and treated with respect and kindness.
I hope that in your life you will be surrounded by people who love you and care about you;
and I hope that you will choose me to be one of those people.
Because I love you. I loved you before you were, and I love the person you are.

~Love mom

Saturday, January 1, 2011

....and i was half right....

so, what is actually going on with us?
i have been reading friends blogs and i am impressed by how much they are willing to share of what is personally going on for them. i'm going to give it a try.

We have been on winter break for a while, we have one more week to go. It has been a refreshing break; which seems weird to say, even to me. What has changed? no running the kids to drama and dance. nowhere we've had to be. no weekly reports to write and send in to the school. we were ready for a break. but that is not what made the break needed. there is mor to it than that.

you see, for a while now i have known that our daughter was going to need some extra help in learning to read and write. just before the break, it was suggested by the school that she could benefit from having a formal learning assessment to try and identify the reason for some of the challenges she has been having. our daughter agreed that she would like to do this.

so why wait until now? very simply, she wants some extra help now. i have known that she was having some difficulties in this area for a while; i have known that most school would regard her as "behind" her grade level. however, until very recently, the skills of reading and writing didn't matter very much to her. She was satisfied with what she was able to do (and she is gifted at so many things); and i felt confident that one day these skills would be important to her, and that she would have the ability to get "caught up" to where she would like to be; I felt confident that i would be able to help her to learn these skills.
..... and i was half right...
these skills have become important to her; she would like to i.m. chat with her friends, send letters to people, read books and magazines, look stuff up on the net....
but alas, i am not the person to help her learn these skills right now...
i am the person who is driving her to various appointments, to have various tests and assessments done, which is helping, i guess.... but not quite in the same way as i had imagined. i am her soft place to fall.

and i am sharing this for a whole bunch of reasons; (with my daughter's permission, of course.)
i have known for a while, we would be needing this, but when we finally got to this point in time, it felt weird, scary, and unknown....
....i suppose that there are probably other parents out there who maybe, like i knew, know that at some point they will be crossing this bridge.... i wanted to share that it can still feel icky, it did at first for me anyways.

i also want to put out there that it is okay to wait to cross this bridge until it is the right time for the child... i have heard the philosophy, so many times, that the earlier you can get the help- the better. but, from our experience, so far, i think i disagree.

my girl is almost 10. she has the maturity to be involved in this process in a powerful way. she is the driving force behind this process. she WANTS the help. she WANTS to learn how she learns best. she WANTS to learn what her strengths and weaknesses are. she WANTS access to the help of a teacher, trained to teach how she learns best. and what she wants is of great value and importance to me. the knowledge that there is a reason she hasn't learned these skills yet, has taken the pressure off of her. which leads me to my next thought,

can we please stop putting kids on the spot to read and do math?! to prove they have these skills to us?!
i'm not sure what the motivation is of an adult who does this to a child. i'm not sure i care either. usually, i'm pretty good at giving good motives to people, even if their actions look bunk; but in this case, i can't do it.

what is a person like this trying to achieve? it can go one of a few ways...

the child might have the desired skill, and perform the skill as asked, and the child might feel good about getting to show-off something they are good at. this is the best outcome. not one i have seen or experienced though.

the child might have the desired skill mastered, but not feel like performing it; or might feel puzzled about why this adult is asking them to do it; which at worst, leaves the child feeling conflicted about whether to listen or not, and probably feeling alienated from the adult who did the asking.

take it a step further, suppose the child doesn't have the skills required. now what?
what does the child do? and how do they feel? and what if, they have had difficulty learning whatever the skill is? now, they are on the spot, feeling bad for not being able to do whatever it is. it is simply not fair or kind.

so can we stop expecting that everyone of a certain age will be at the same place in their learning? it's not a reasonable expectation.

and also, just putting this out there, as a parent i felt afraid that i would be blamed for her being "behind".... that people would think that our unschooling lifestyle was at "fault". and that has been implied by people. but here is what I want people to know, what my daughter is facing is a real thing. it has nothing to do with curriculum; or being forced or not forced to do workbooks. it is as real as being born with brown eyes. it is a part of her make up. one doesn't get to choose the color eyes nature gives them. just as our unschooling did not create this challenge. our unschooling has allowed for my daughter to be in control of this challenge; to wait until the time was right for her to face it; and i wouldn't go back and change that. it has been the right decision for her. for us.

she has used the extra time and energy, to develop some amazing skills and abilities. i think perhaps, she may not have been able to do that if we had been busy wrestling with her brain, trying to force it to do something it was not ready for yet. she has also developed some pretty solid confidence and communication skills, empathy, grace, and social skills.

she amazes me everyday, by the kind of person she is.

this week she started her own blog. one which she dictates and i type up for her. it is an amazing blog, and i am looking forward to seeing all the cool things she will share with the world through her blog.

SO, i put all this out there because someone has to. there are plenty of families and children who are facing these challenges. there are plenty of friends and extended families of the families facing these challenges. i wanted to share what it looks like for us. not to gain approval or acceptance. but to inform. and hopefully to give people a better idea of how this feels for us; and maybe how to support ones going through this.