"Back in the saddle again..."

Sunday, November 25, 2012

(This post was written in late September.  Jus' sayin')

That song seems to apply to just so many different situations. :-)

It's quite astounding to me, the number of homeschoolers that blog.  Take Ann Voskamp, for instance, one of my favourite blogs...that I perhaps get a chance to read once a week.  She pretty much blogs everyday,  on top of homeschooling her 6 (I think technically 5 at this time, as one has gone off to highschool, I read) children, and generally accomplishing that old world position of homemaker.  As you can see from how many posts I have....I've not managed to carve out daily blogging time.  Add that to my list!

We've now accomplished nearly two weeks of homeschooling.  It's amazing what a change having Jairus at home has been.  Not saying bad change, just change.  Overall, our lives are looking significantly different than they did in June.  I'm liking it.

Back in the summer I made a few changes that has carried into the fall and assisted in our new way of life.  I didn't make these changes with any far reaching prophetic knowledge of how they would benefit us--oh no, don't be thinking I have such wondrous foresight.

One was an idea I had been trying to accomplish for months, probably years.  I had this philosophical thunderbolt a while back about laundry.  I think it's just positively ironic that 100 years ago we had to wash clothes by hand.  So that meant we all only had 2-3 outfits each, unless you were rich and had a maid to wash your clothes.  So then 50 years (or so) later, we developed the washing machine.  Now it didn't take so long to wash our clothes! Glory be!  Perhaps the washer accomplished it's goal for a few years...but slowly, as clothes got cheaper I would imagine, our wardrobes got larger...and larger...until now it takes just as long to wash all our clothes, as it used to take 'us' 100 years ago to wash 2-3 outfits.  So what have we accomplished, exactly?
All this to say, I decided that my children had too many clothes.  Yes, you read right!  I was sick to death of mountains (literally) of laundry up to my waist.  When my older kids were just tiny, I did have a bit of a schedule that one day a week was my laundry day.  At that point we all had enough clothes that it only took a days worth of having the washer going to get it all done.  As we added kids to the family, and all those kids got older, the one-day-a-week laundry day plan was not working.  A couple years ago I was blessed with the services of Christina McCarthy, home manager coach extraordinaire and one of her suggestions was basically to do laundry everyday.  At least a load from beginning to end.
On top of this, after we moved I finally managed to cut down the children's clothing.  I had actually done this before, but I had made the mistake of not cutting the clothing back enough.  I would still leave 10 to 12 or maybe 14 outfits---I'll admit, I was scared.  What if I cut back on clothing and then couldn't keep up with even that?  But it's worked out great.
I limited the kids to 7 outfits only.  I took each kid at a time and laid all their clothes out.  Even if they weren't all clean (which had been my excuse for a long time not to do this), I laid them out along the couch and had the kids each pick out 7 shirts, 7 pairs of shorts, 5-6 sets of pjamas and then varying amounts of other items like skirts, dresses or pants.  (For the summer I have them leave out 2 pairs of pants for camping and cool August evenings).  It was positively shameful how many shirts most of the girls had!  I think Afton had nearly 30 t-shirts!!
This has been an absolutely freeing feeling and laundry is now a breeze.  It also helps that my laundry is now on the second floor.  I highly recommend laundry facilities near the bedrooms.  Every morning after I make my bed, I go around and gather out enough laundry for a load out of the kids baskets.  The girls have a large sorter (Ikea) in their room, while Jairus just has a small basket, as do James and I.  No more do my dirty laundry baskets heap as tall as my youngest child (a rather tall girl).  And while I haven't found a better time yet to get it folded (evenings after the kids are in bed) I actually don't mind sitting down with a couple baskets of laundry while Bones plays on Netflix.
But enough of laundry.  This wasn't supposed to be a laundry post.
Another change we made this summer was fairly significant.  When we finished up all our activities in June, we were running around with the children, work and other events pretty much every night of the week.  I'm very mindful of our state of busyness and do try to keep an eye out, as best I can, for ways to streamline our activities so that we actually have time at home as a family.  Dr. Kevin Leaman and his gerbil book weigh heavily on my mind.  The whole 'supper as a family' thing was also something that was happening less and less.
This year is not much better.  On Mondays I teach choir, which now includes my oldest three.  Last year I was teaching a private student right after, which so far hasn't started back up yet, but then shortly after I would head off to the church for praise and worship practice.  It often meant James would come pick up the kids after choir, and I would not go home until after practice. I try to have something in the slow cooker.
Tuesdays Verity has gymnastics at 5.  I drop her off early so that I can get over to the west mountain for Honour and Afton's highland dance classes.  I've started teaching with a school of music close to our house, so now James meets me and I take off to do that.  So far I only have 2-3 students, so I get home at a reasonable hour, but Verity isn't done gymnastics until 8, so we've been ending up waiting to eat until then, since James doesn't get back with the other kids until after 7:30 anyways.  Again I try to have something made in the afternoon and ready--although this past week I was home just past seven and had a glorious hour or so with the house to myself to leisurely prepare supper, as James went to get Verity straight from dance.  I even put on Mad about you while I was cooking!
Wednesday is more gymnastics for Verity (she's training 10 hours a week), but she starts earlier in the day, at 2pm.  We make Wednesdays our library day and go there either before or after we drop her off.  Honour has another hour of dance on Wednesdays so the other kids and I take her there, again meeting James.  One of us goes off to pick up Verity, who is finished at the gym before Honour is done at dance.  We get home at a decent hour to actually eat supper together.
Thursdays bring Verity's final day of gymnastics for the week, from 3:30 to 6:30.  We drop her off and usually head back home.  James actually gets to come straight home, but I leave shortly after he arrives, to go teach at my other school of music job.  Again, I only have 3 students so far, so I'm home in time to read stories to the kids before bed, but usually don't eat supper until they are all tucked in.
Friday's is our one 'free' day, although right now I still have 2 private students in the city in the late afternoon. I want to switch them to another day when I'm already in town--I'm thinking about Wednesday.  We also still need to schedule Jairus' speech therapy and academic coaching, which we'll likely be alternating every week. (Hey....now that's a good idea.....perhaps I can schedule them at the same time each week...then it's just a matter or remembering which one to go to, lol).
Saturday mornings is Musikgarten class for me, although sadly I didn't get enough students to run a toddler class.  Small blessing however, to not have to get us all up and out the door for 9am.

So this brings me back to our other significant change.  I decided that if we couldn't always eat supper together, we would eat breakfast.  I think it's a brilliant idea, if I do say so myself.  The only problem is that sometimes James has to be into work reeeeally early.  Usually he has to the leave the house by 7:30 or 7:45 at the lastest.  Sometimes though, he has to be into work much earlier, like 7 or even 6:30.  On those days, I have to say, I don't drag us all out of bed before the sun just so we can eat together.
I also made this change though because I've always wanted to have my family eat breakfast together.  James' family often did this when I first met him and I thought it was so nice.  Another reason was because we seemed to be spending a horrid amount of money on cereal that my children largely wasted.  Day after day I would scrape soggy bowls of cereal into the garbage and ooooh, it made my blood burn.  I decided that the only way to put a stop to this would be for us to eat all together.  I surmised that it could or would be cheaper too, since cereal is so expensive.
Well, that didn't turn out to be so much the case.  I started searching out and planning easy, interesting and yet (I hoped) inexpensive breakfasts.  I started just a few times a week early in the summer and we had things like pancakes, oatmeal with different yummy additives like blueberries, apples and cinnamon, raisins and spices, muffins and fruit salad, perhaps bacon and eggs once in a while.
I was pretty shocked at how much our grocery bill went up.  At the same time, I started planning our lunches too....soon that led to planning snacks as well.  I was just tired of coming into the kitchen at lunch and scrounging for lunch ingredients.  Peanut butter and jam sandwiches were just entirely too common. (not that two of my kids ever complained about that).
My budget had been 225$ every two weeks, but I had jumped that up to $250 soon after we moved (no correlation, just time for a bump up--plus rising costs of food).  With the new comprehensive plan of pretty much every single meal and snack, our food budget was well over $300.  I was horrified.  I spent time with my receipts and figured out what each meal was costing.  According to our budget, I could spend $7.61 for each meal.  This worked out to $1.26 per person, per meal. (Does that not sound crazy cheap?)  My breakfasts, however, were coming out to 10-15$ for each meal.  At first I was outraged.  At who, I don't know.  Grocery stores?  Sigh.  After my anger simmered down though, I decided that the only way to fix this was to plan cheaper meals, specially the breakfasts.  I visited the 5$ dinner lady's site (although I find that I can never make the meals for quite as cheap as her--figured it was better than nothing), and started tracking the cost of breakfasts so I could pick the cheaper ones (pancakes is el cheapo) and only do the more expensive ones when there are sales.  I've not been completely successful yet--my food budget is still getting blown every week, but I think I've reached the point where I just can't feed my family for much cheaper.

I'm happy with how our new breakfast plan has been working.  We also eat more fruit because I plan it into each breakfast.  This morning was an especially fun one--I made some peanut butter banana muffins (from $5 dinner lady) and some fruit kebobs.  The kids wuffed these down! (ok, some kids traded fruits they didn't like).  It was pretty easy to pull all together too. It's meant I've had to face one of my laziest fears--getting up early.  I'm finding that really, I have to be up by 6:30 to have something ready in time for James to leave for work.  But what I love is that we are all done eating by 7:45, leaving us plenty of time to get dressed (if the kids aren't already--they're supposed to be dressed to come down to breakfast), make beds, tidy rooms, highland dance or piano practice, put laundry on, do some chores, or whatever else we never have time for!

I knuckled down and got our chores back online. (not...really...online).  We had a good schedule a couple years ago, which also included Dave Ramsey inspired commission payments for said chores, but somehow we fell out of it.  Now I have a schedule up in the pantry with the dishwasher jobs (dishwasher unloading split into three parts, one kid gets a freebie day), daily 'big' chore and supper chores (setting table, clearing, wiping down table and chairs, etc).  We started back into commissions by paying a quarter each day that all the chores were completed. (this is a raise from a dime 2 years ago), and we're trying to give it immediately, as my youngers really need the feedback right after the accomplishment.

This is our fall so far!

The end is near

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Last week I sent a number of letters out; letters to the principal, to his teacher, to his past teachers and EA's, and everyone else that has worked with Jairus.  I sent a letter to the board as well, as I figured I needed to.

I thanked everyone profusely for everything they've done for Jairus these past 3.5 years.  There was another important group of people I needed to talk to however....

I was surprisingly nervous to go into Jairus' class today.  I had arranged it with his teacher, that I would come in and speak to the class for a few minutes.  She arranged that Jairus would go out with his EA for that time. It all went off without a hitch; Jairus had no idea we were there.  I felt strongly that Jairus' friends needed to be told that he would not be there in the fall.  Like I said in my last post, he's been part of a really amazing group of friends that I have been very thankful for.

This is what I said to them.

Hello Everyone!  Thanks for letting me come for a little visit.  I have a couple very important things I want to tell you.
Jairus has been coming to this school for 3.5 years.  Some of you might even have been in the class he started in, grade one.  And some of you might have gone on to grade two, grade three and now this grade four class with Jairus.  Well I'm going to tell you a secret.  When Mr. Kent and I decided to put Jairus in school, I was pretty scared to bring him.  I think you probably know why I was scared.  Because Jairus is different, I was scared that he would not be accepted.  I had seen before in his life, that some kids were very friendly to him....and some kids were not.
It only took a week or two for me to find out that you all were a very friendly group of kids.  I was so happy and pleased to see that you accepted Jairus.  You made all my fears go away!  And whenever I saw you guys helping Jairus and being nice to him, it just made my heart sing.  I'm not your mom, but I have been so proud of you all!  You have learned a life lesson that even alot of grown-ups have not figured out yet!  You have learned how to treat someone who is different with honour, respect and compassion.  I wish I had certificates to give you all, to show that you have learned this very important lesson; of how to love one another.  I hope that you can take that with you wherever you go for the rest of your life, because it's so important.
Now I have to tell you something confidential.  You might know what confidential means, especially if you watch spy movies.  There's always something that needs to be kept confidential in a spy movie.  It's a little bit like a secret, but something that is confidential is being kept a secret for a very important reason.  And it's not really a secret; it's just information that you need to know, but not everyone needs to know.  Kind of like your doctors records.  They are for you and your parents to see, but they are private and not everyone should be able to see them.  Or your report card.  You take that home for your parents to see, but you might not have shown your friends.  It's private.  It's confidential.
But this confidential information is only to be kept confidential from one person: Jairus.
When you come back to school in the fall, Jairus will not be there.
Now, this is to be kept confidential because if I told Jairus right now that he wasn't coming back to this school in the fall, he would be very upset.  He would be confused, and he might not understand.  Even worse, by the end of the summer, he might forget!  Then I'd have to tell him all over again, and he would get upset all over again.  I don't think there are any mommies out there that want to make their little boys upset two times for the same thing!
You all have often treated Jairus like he is your little brother.  You know why that is---because sometimes Jairus needs extra help.  And just like you are protective of your little brother, I want you to protect Jairus from being upset and confused. 
I wanted to come tell you this because you have all been such good friends to Jairus, that I didn't think it would be fair to you all if you came back in September and he just wasn't there.  I wanted you to know that when you say goodbye to him tomorrow, it will not just be for the summer.  Now, when you say goodbye, don't go overboard.  If you're all "Oooh, Jairus, I'm going to miss you sooo much", he's going to think..(funny face from me) "hmmm....somethings up".  Because Jairus might not be able to say much, but he does aloooot of thinking.  Right? (Kids nod).  
You are most welcome to stay in touch with Jairus!  I would just love that; if you wanted to send him letters or emails, call him or come for a visit.  You know he moved to a new house earlier this year; it would be great if you wanted to come out for a visit.
Tomorrow Jairus will have some cards with his name and phone number on them.  If you would like to stay in touch with Jairus, you ask him for a card.  I'm sure he'll be very happy to give you one.

His teacher added a few more comments and thanked me for coming.  I think it went fine.  I think the kids were tracking with me and were accepting of the news.  I think his teacher must have fielded a few questions after I left, because one of his best friends came to me after school and started to ask something about him doing school at home, but then Jairus came out and he had to let it drop.
I worked on this talk for a couple days and wrote it out in point form in a notebook that I brought with me and referred to.  I wanted to make sure I didn't get off on any tangents (common with me in front of a group of children).  I didn't want to get emotional and make them all uncomfortable.  I just really wanted to do right by this group of kids.  They're just a really great bunch of kids.
I nearly lost my composure when I had to tell them the 'confidential information'.  But other than just being generally wobbly of voice, I was ok.

Just one more day now.

And now a word from our sponsor.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Taking a little break from house posts to talk about something a bit bigger right now.

Jairus.  School.  Sigh.  Yep, this right now is actually bigger than my house.

So, little recap.  Jairus is just finishing up grade four at the elementary school that was around the corner from where we used to live.  I was going to say the name of the school but suddenly I thought it might be socially unsafe to do that.  I'm not usually concerned with all that when I blog, but for some reason naming the school right out seemed like not a good idea today.
This is the close of a little over 3 years for Jairus in public school.  James and I put him into school after two years of homeschooling because we were starting to run into roadblocks in providing services for him.  For instance, CDRP (therapy services through the Chedoke campus of Hamilton health sciences) discharged him when he turned six.  They told me that 'the school board' would take care of him now.
Ahem.  I was his school board.
We looked to the CCAC (community care access centre) as recommended.  They sent out two speech-language pathologists (at my request) to assess Jairus and turned him down for speech services because he was too delayed.  Yes, you read that right; they don't provide speech therapy for delayed children.  I can't say exactly why but I can tell you what reason it feels like.  It feels like they don't want to bother giving speech therapy to children who aren't going to develop properly.  Who aren't going to become a successful, contributing member of society.  That may not be the reason.  But they never bothered to explain to me why, even after a few firmly worded letters, so I'm left with my impressions.
But back to school.
We had been using Special Services at Home money to have my moms cousin, a retired EA, come out and help me with programming and a little hands on work with Jairus in his homeschooling.  In the February of that school year, she began to suggest that we could be accessing alot more resources for him if we were in the school board.  James and I gave it some serious consideration.  Not only could we get services for him (we thought), but with three girls now coming up behind Jairus, I was finding it increasingly difficult to accomplish our homeschooling.  Jairus needed alot of one on one time.  So we put him in school.

From the first day, it was a good thing.  We put Jairus in grade one even though he was age appropriate for grade two.  They gave him an EA right away, full time.  Jairus was not toilet trained at that time so he needed that kind of assistance at school.  Having never been in an elementary school environment at 7 years old, they eased him in with half days.  By June he went full time and his wonderful EA determined to have him toilet trained by the end of the month.  She was largely successful.  I was grateful!

When he returned that fall, it was to a different EA.  I was slightly bothered to find out that he'd only have the EA part time; he'd be sharing her with another little boy.  It worked out ok though, as she was in the classroom pretty much full time, and sat between the boys to give them maximum assistance.  She was very nice and the year went well.

The next year was grade three.  He went back in the fall with a new teacher, and a new EA.  The teacher seemed great.  Full of energy and constantly positive, she would turn out to be one of the best teachers I've ever met.  The EA didn't work out so well.  He was a man (not saying that was a problem, but it was different from what we were used to) and english was not his first language.  He had a very strong accent and this I had a big problem with.  Jairus' biggest need was speech assistance.  It was clear within a few weeks that Jairus was becoming frustrated at school and acted out his frustration on the EA at one point, resulting in a 'Safe schools' report on Jairus.
Fortunately, right after this, the EA postings came out and Jairus received a new EA.  An older lady this time, with years of professional and personal experience; she had a non-verbal daughter of her own at home.  The rest of the year went great, although I was becoming increasingly concerned in the lack of time Jairus actually  got with his EA. I spoke to his teacher about it, and then contacted the Board.  After a few responses that basically put the onus back on the principal to assign EA time as needed, I spoke with the principal and she 'tweaked' his schedule.  There was some improvement as she rearranged the EA time so that Jairus didn't have so many long gaps with no assistance.
On the last day of school I learned that Jairus would be getting even less EA help in the fall, perhaps amounting to 1/2 a day, every other day.
It actually turned out to be less.
This past fall, Jairus started grade four. Before school even started I went into the school and spoke to the principal.  I wanted to find out how much EA time he'd get and a few other things, like what were they going to do about french class.  I didn't get far....the principal told me to come back in a few weeks when things were more settled, and then she'd be able to tell me how much EA time he was actually getting.  It turned out to be 1/3 of a day, every other day.  I was not impressed.
Just a little rundown here, for anyone reading who doesn't know much about Jairus.  He turned 11 this past March.  His assessments have him working at a kindergarten to grade one level.  He's considered non verbal and has perhaps a dozen words that he can say that the average person can recognize.  He uses an augmentative communication device called a Vantage where he can touch the pictures on the screen and it speaks for him.  You can read a little more about why he's like that here.

By December I had made enough fuss that a meeting was held with the Augmentative Communication team and all the school staff that dealt with Jairus.  I pulled out all of Jairus' IEP's to get an idea of what kind of progress he'd made.  I was shocked to find that his IEP's were worded exactly the same, year after year.  The only thing that changed was the percentage he was expected to accomplish the goals.  This was very discouraging. (Sidenote: I also discovered a few weeks ago that Jairus' DRA (developmental reading assessment) score is unchanged in three years).
As these meetings usually go, we left it feeling like our concerns had been discussed, but nothing was really improved.  Since no more EA time could be stretched to Jairus, instead they began sending him to two outside-of-class programs, one the KLLIC program with the Kindergarten class, the other called Class Act, administered by an EA and attended by Jairus and a few other special need children in the school.  Both were basic literacy, phonetic and speech programs that were right at Jairus' level.  The rest of his time in class however, was largely attended with no assistance.

With our impending move, I began wondering if Jairus' time at this school was going to be limited.  I was increasingly frustrated with the whole mess.  Sometime after the new year, I chose a bone and picked on it.

Jairus would bring home work all the time with his name misspelled.  Usually I ignored it, but after he misspelled his name on his Junior Soldier diploma, it started to get to me.  When I started to notice his name misspelled in a teachers' handwriting, that's when I decided something needed to be done.  It was the new kindergarten teacher---well, new to Jairus.  It was the KLLIC teacher who apparently didn't know how to spell his name.  So I sent a note in his agenda asking that all the teachers and EA's who worked with Jairus be apprised of how to spell his name. (Sidenote: this was also after seeing that his name was misspelled about 50% of the time in his IEP that year).  Frustratingly, she responded that Jairus was the one misspelling his own name and that all the teachers and EA's DID know how to spell it.  The day of that response, Jairus brought home a paper with the teachers writing on it....with his name spelled wrong.  I circled it and wrote a further note on the back and sent it in a few days later.  I ended up speaking with the teacher personally about it and she insisted that Jairus was misspelling his own name.
I was slightly stunned at misconception going on here.
I was quite aware that Jairus was the one misspelling his name.  It was his own handwriting.  What I wanted to see happen, was that when Jairus was spelling his name wrong, that someone would stop him, correct him, and help him learn how to do it right.  Was that too much to ask?
Apparently it was.  I decided to chuck the bone out the window.

Once we moved and I was driving Jairus to and from school each day, at a time usage of about 2 hours a day, the thoughts of whether we would keep him at this school became more prevalent.  I tried to limit my thoughts strictly to his academic needs (and not my need to stop doing all that driving), but as a good friend pointed out, if I felt that school was really a helpful place for him, driving him would not be a problem.  After all, I had driven him to and from Toronto for 30 days late last year for his Tomatis training because I felt it would be a tremendous benefit for him.

To help in this decision, I sent the girls to my parents for a day and shadowed Jairus around school.  I won't make this post any longer with the details of my observations, but the bottom line was that Jairus was not getting enough help.  Not enough EA time.  Not enough speech help.  The one shining positive about Jairus going to school was that his classmates were wonderful friends who would jump at the chance to help Jairus every day.  Was that enough?

James and I prayed and wrestled with the issue.  I begged God to show me what we should do.  I talked with his classroom teacher.  I spoke with the principal.  Slowly, a picture was emerging.  And it did not appear to involve public elementary school.  But I needed to keep searching....

I met with my moms cousin once more, and a colleague of hers in special ed.  I went out to the Gregory school for exceptional students and considered their private and expensive program.  I spoke with a friend of a church friend who runs an enriched kindergarten program and tutoring/therapy clinic.  I asked advice from a gymnastics mom (whose daughter trains with Verity) who is a Learning resource teacher in another board. I sent a letter to a Board of Ed trustee who in turn also contacted the Principle of Special Education.  We chatted.  I spoke with the principal of the school closest to us in the new board.  They put me in touch with the Special Ed teacher consultant.  I visited the developmentally delayed class for our new board.

Over and over I kept hearing the same excuses: EA's are allotted to the schools based on the needs of all the special ed students, then the school divies up the EA's as they see fit.  Therefore the board was absolved of responsibility here for Jairus not getting enough help.  The school insisted that they weren't getting enough EA's and that they needed to give them to students that were in physical need, or a danger to themselves or others.  Non verbal and working at half his age level was apparently not important enough.  The school therefore has their hands tied.  Speech services were again denied through the school (administered by the CCAC....not them again...) because of his delays.  The augmentative communication team provided resources for the teacher...but nothing for Jairus, not even of a consultative nature.  We could bring our own private speech therapist in, sure.  For twice the cost of a usual session as we pay for her travel and extra time.  For sure we can do that.

Bit by bit the picture was coming clearer, like a photo being swished through the developing solution....

Then last Tuesday after speaking to the principal of Special Ed,  I held the picture up to the light and guess what I saw?

My little boy, at home with his mama, and his three sisters.  And I sighed with relief.

That's right, come fall, Kent Academy welcomes its original member back where he belongs.

Welcome home son. We sure have missed you.