Theodore Roosevelt once said, "Comparison is the thief of joy."
I understand the meaning of this quote... constantly holding yourself up to other people and other people's lives makes you constantly question your own worth, beliefs and breeds discontent with your own life and possessions.
But I also know that, when used in a positive way, comparisons can be a wonderful learning tool. When we measure ourselves by truly good examples in others we can see the things we need to work on, we see the way we've grown and changed over time, we can assess and reassess our direction and goals in life. When we compare our own personal notes with those of the wise we gain skills and inspiration to take forward steps and uphold the best standard in our lives.
So what does this have to do with my son's Kindergarten graduation, you may well be wondering...
Well, I was comparing notes with where we were a year ago at this time, where we were at the beginning of the school year and mid-school year and where we are now. Rather than rob my joy about where we are now, this process has helped me see some things about us with more clarity and has helped me learn to love this beautiful learning experience all the more.
So let's compare and see what we see...
Last year at this time I was finishing up a very challenging school year with Bee. We had been homeschooling her and attempting a free-lance classical kindergarten curriculum. We had worked hard but made very little progress throughout the year in reading. I was thoroughly convinced that homeschooling was the only way to go for us but at the same time I was at my wits end on what to do to tap into my child's brain-power. We went into Summer not knowing what the solution would be but knowing something would have to change before the next year.
Throughout the Summer I pondered our situation and tried to objectively question all my motives and driving forces. Why was homeschooling the only option? Was this about me? Was I taking everything into consideration? Was I doing what was best for my children? How could I commit to add a full-time kindergarten homeschool curriculum to our already overwhelmed system? How could we add that kind of time commitment to our schedule when were already struggling to cover all our material with Bee? How was I going to solve the puzzle of why things weren't clicking for her without losing my mind and have any shred of patience left? How could a child who was so good at so many other things have so much trouble with this one subject? How can you remember, word for word, any story ever told to you or remember the classification of animal species but not remember what sound a letter makes from one day to the next? How was I going to plan and pull-off a much better school-year than the last one?
I finally broached the subject with Mr. Loggerhead that I was considering putting Tboy into public school for kindergarten. My thought was that at least he could get the learning he needed for the year and I could put aside all traces of guilt and focus more readily on Bee's issues and education. I mean, what harm could be done in Kindergarten? We could always go back to homeschooling if it didn't work this way. My hubby was in agreement. I was torn but resigned.
We started swimming lessons and I stuck up a friendship with this lady. Melody was homeschooled like me and had went into parenthood expecting to homeschool her children (3 kids, same as me). For one reason or another life didn't go quite how she expected and she was putting her oldest into kindergarten at the public school where i was looking to put Tboy. I was so relieved not to be alone on this journey. So many of our fears and doubts were the same and it was great to feel understood. It's amazing what a friend can do for a difficult situation. I gave thanks for meeting her... with the added bonus of my children now having the skills to avoid drowning! Thankfulness seems to cut any circumstance into a more manageable shape to chew on.
Fast forward to August... I was still sorta nervous but excited too. Tboy was excited to start something new, he was excited to be in the same class as Melody's daughter. Bee was excited to have my mostly undivided attention and tons of "girl-time". Her only fears were for her brother and she spent the weeks before school started giving him "sage" advice about how to listen to teachers and get along with others. Anxiety is one of the neurosis she shares with her mother, if you couldn't tell.
The first day came. We all did our thing. Tboy went to school. Bee stayed home. I taught, managed the 2 yr old, did school runs, volunteered in Tboy's class when I could, plus all the other mothering-wifely-housekeeper things I'd always been in charge of. Life went on. In fact it sped on at a break-neck pace that made me feel woozy at times. I thought we'd found the perfect solution.
But a month into the school year we were at another impasse. Bee was not making any progress in reading, in fact she seemed to have lost ground. All my plans and research and methods were not working. We went through the motions of our school day but without the skill of reading under her belt every subject in our 1st grade curriculum was a chore. She was discouraged, I felt helpless to help her, she felt Tboy had it so much better than her, her frustration at not meeting her own expectations was turning into resentment toward me for not being able to assist her. I felt desperate and alone; an alien in the crowded room of our local homeschool support group. They were all so happy, so thankful for freedom to homeschool their children, so convicted that it was right for them. I was losing my conviction, losing my confidence as a parent, losing my mind not knowing what to do.
I even quit blogging, I was so mixed up! I couldn't write about these issues, it was too close to home. I've only just become brave enough to put words to what has only ever been thoughts and emotions and memories. Thank you all, by the way, for your kind and encouraging words on my last post about Bee's learning disability. It gave me the courage to explore some more of the situation through writing here on my blog.
So one day when my daughter, once again, ended our reading lesson in tears and anguish and pulled a couch cushion over her head and wailed, "I hate reading!" I knew it was over. I couldn't do it anymore. The thought of her hating my very favorite subject was more than I could bear. There had to be help for this, there had to be people who knew better than me how to help her love reading again.
Luckily by this time I was more familiar with our local school. I had met and talked with our principle and instantly felt respect for this cheerful, often humorous woman, who always made me feel like she was really listening. My son had fallen into the school routine with amazing ease and the few minor behavior issues we had dealt with at home on occasion had never cropped up at school. My confidence that we had gotten lucky to find ourselves in this school district had started to blossom.
Another friend helped me though this stage. Jaala had just moved to our town that summer when her husband's job tranferred them to our end of Nebraska . She had done extensive research on surrounding schools when they were deciding what town to live in and was pleased with what she had learned about this school. That was encouraging to me for starters. Then there was the fact that she had five children and had invested a great deal of time and energy in making their education (so far always in public schools) a success.
Her youngest was in kindergarten like Tboy but in a different class so we connected on that scene as well. She had dealt with education challenges (not necessarily the same ones but just as complicated) and she talked me through what it was like to make yourself a team-member concerning your child's education vs. a bystander. Jaala pretty much epitomized the mom I wanted to be if I was going to be a public-school mom. She inspired me to the point that I wasn't afraid of "losing" my child by putting her "into the system". Again I gave thanks for the right kind of support at the right time.
So I made the call, dreading the condescending tone I assumed would come when I explained we were homeschooling and it wasn't working and we needed help. It didn't come, the principle, Mrs. D, was so kind, so quick to reassure me that different kids learn in different ways and environments and at different speeds. She said they would make every effort to help Bee excel and she could start the next week.
So my daughter left our little homeschool for a class of twenty-one. You can see in this picture how nervous she was. You should have seen me. I had thought I would cry when I took my little boy to his 1st day of kindergarten but I was too busy coordinating our parrelel homeschool routine to get more than a little emotional but I bawled the day I dropped off Bee.
Pip and I walked home from school that day, the house was quiet. I was so afraid we might have done the wrong thing. It felt like a whole new ball game. What on earth was I going to do with all this extra time? What would it feel like to not be solely responsible for planning and executing a lesson plan for my girl?
I worried and fretted the day away.
But she came home so happy that day and the next and the next. Her progress was slow at first. But they worked through it, she made friends, she loved her Title 1 teachers and the para who devoted 45 minutes one on one to her each day. I gave thanks for a well-funded and well-staffed elementary school. Bee was bubbling with happiness and was excited at each new success.
I jumped up and down with her when, in a single quarter, she jumped from a 4 words per minute reading level to 35 words per minute. It felt so good to be celebrating something related to school work.
I learned to be a team-player when it came to my kids' education...
Connecting with their teachers (both of whom I loved immediately and give thanks for daily), trouble-shooting with them and targeting problem areas at home when we could, being diligent to confirm and solidify what they were learning at school with discussion and practice at home, joining the PTO to help support the school in general.
At the end of the year, Bee had read two books every single school night and reached the high-achievement level of "The 200 Club" for reading 200+ books this year. We had jumped a big school-related pothole and ensured she would move on to 2nd grade vs. taking 1st grade again. Support has been put in place for next year and she is already looking forward to the new things, more science and history especially, that a higher grade holds.
Both kids cried on the way home from the last day. Dilly bars in hand, they cried about
missing their teachers. One huge bonus of being put into a specialized schedule with extra help is that you connect with more teachers. This was mostly evidenced in the length of time it took my daughter to make her way around the school yard, hugging all the people who had a hand in her education this year. I gave thanks for every single one.
Mrs S and Mrs R from Title 1, Priciple Mrs D, Reading teacher Mrs T, Angel and para Mrs P, PE teacher Mr. A and Counselor Mr. T
So what does all this mean? What is the point of this very long and wordy post? What did the comparisons teach me?
I learned to value every accomplishment of my children. Those things they do really well help balance the challenges and keep us on track in the attitude department. Small things, like graduating from kindergarten become big things when they are the direct result of a successful negotiation of life's sometimes troubled waters.
Jaala's son and Melody's daughter.
I learned to put more stock in friendships. I don't feel alone or alienated and I see public-school and home-school families more objectively. Instead of comparing what it is we are doing, I compare our joy in what we are doing. And we don't come up short anymore.
I see my children better too, their strengths and weaknesses. How they are alike and how they are different.
Along with her hair-do, her perspective (as well as mine) is a bit more relaxed and much less stressed-out. We are both more comfortable in our skin and in our place.
He is still my quirky boy and he still doesn't always keep himself from spacing-off mid-lesson in class but he is a better listener than he was. He isn't perfect and he is just a bit behind in a few things but he does well over all and has a very good attitude about school. He has grown a lot and is excited to be in the same class as Jaala's son next year.
We've all grown. I am less dogmatic and try to be more perceptive and open to what is right vs. what I want. When you have struggled for solutions and conquered what felt like impossible heights it makes day-to-day annoyances seem so small be comparison. That's where healthy comparing comes in. I give thanks so often for the relief of answered prayers. Nothing is as comforting to a mother as knowing you aren't the only one or the wisest one looking out for the well-being of your child.
The smiles on our faces are bigger, quicker to appear and more free than they were at some points in the past year. That is huge for me. We walk forward with a spring in our step toward the next year, we give thanks for where we've been, where we are and where we are going.
There and then is all wrapped up in the here and now. Who we have been is all entangled in who we are today. And when you've been without it, nothing can compare with the inner peace of being who and where you are supposed to be.
Comparative joy in NE