Homeschool to Public School: How did we get here?

I wrote the following two weeks before school started:
I hear many moms say they cannot wait until their kids go back to school, but my heart is filled with mixed emotions.

My oldest is as reluctant as he was last year because he is going back where he will not only have a new teacher but all new classmates and a whole new school. He had to sacrifice his school and friends to be with his brother, to give him the support he needed. But I am confident he’ll quickly thrive as he did with his first year of school.

And then there is my middle son…I knew this day would come. I dreaded it, actually. If sending my first baby off to kindergarten last year wasn’t hard enough, here comes an even more vulnerable piece of my heart stepping out into the world. When your child is more fragile than most, it’s even harder for your heart to let go. You hope someone else will handle him with the same delicate dedication as you would. It will no doubt be a difficult transition for both of us, but I also know that this is a very important step for him. I am hopeful that he has a great team in place and that they have a genuine desire to help him learn and grow! (However, that doesn’t stop my heart from its aching.)

I do realize my oldest son’s first year of kindergarten only matured him and didn’t drastically change him, so maybe my middle son will be okay as well. I hate to lose a part of him that holds me so dearly, as I too hold him so dearly. Although school is part of life and this independency will provide opportunity to grow and mature, its necessity doesn’t take away the conflict in my heart. The grief that I feel. Because school means the beginning of letting go of him, just as I did with my first.

Back story: I never thought this day would come. I never wanted someone else to have my kids all day. I never wanted them to spend that much time away, learning about the ways of the world that likely conflicts from my views. Perhaps it was a little selfish; perhaps I just didn’t want to let go of them.

I made up my mind; homeschooling would be the best option. No one else would teach my boys. No one else would influence my boys—or steal their precious hearts and minds from my momma-grasp!

But God was working. His plan was falling into place though I never saw it coming.

We began looking to buy a house. For three years we searched and searched. House after house. Termite infested, too far tattered and worn, too expensive, or just plain not for us. None worked out. Until God led us to open our searching boundary. We looked at two houses first and bought the third one. We moved and settled in while pregnant with our third. (And I vowed to never move again—ha!)

Meanwhile, our middle son was just difficult all around—he always needed extra attention and care, even from infancy. He was hard to handle. Nothing we tried worked. Everything was a battle. Every interaction with his brothers was negative; it had to be monitored, interpreted and guided.  I was exhausted. He was not interested in learning and it became clear that I couldn’t give my oldest adequate time for schooling while caring for my other two boys. My middle son would not do any independent play and could not be trusted by himself. By evening, when my husband was home, all three boys were bouncing like basketballs. And soon it was suppertime then bedtime.

How in the world would I teach my middle son if I couldn’t even teach my oldest, who loved to learn!?

I fell into the trap of comparison. Why can so-and-so do it and I can’t? Why is even normal life so difficult? Why are they thriving and they have more kids and I’m struggling so deeply over here? I concluded it must be me. I wasn’t cut out for mothering, which I so longed for all of my life. (You can probably look back at some of my blogs and see the struggle.)

I thought about just sending them to school. Oh, how much easier that would be. My husband was fully supportive, but pridefully I took it as him doubting my ability and I resented it. I convinced myself that sending them to school would be taking the easy way out and I just couldn’t do that. No, I had to stick it out. I had to do it no matter how difficult it was. Because this was God’s plan for our family.

Even through my dad’s short battle with leukemia and death, I was determined to somehow make it work. I barely worked academically with my oldest, but I told myself that it was okay because I was allowing a break to grieve. But, really, it was only an excuse.

Hugely vulnerable to my emotions and struggles, my middle son was affected by the huge tidal wave of grief that rocked my world after my dad’s death. And his difficulties were worse than ever. That and his difficulties were becoming more complex with age.

If that wasn’t enough, reality punched me right in my already wounded heart.

One of the Occupational Therapists evaluating my son told me it would not be wise for me to homeschool him. My love for him was not enough to get him where he needed to be. He needed a team who was certified to instruct him through his special needs.

God was starting to reveal His plan. He gave me a child with Autism. I fought so hard because I was so sure homeschooling was what God had planned for us. But all along it was only my plan.

I was completely crushed. I felt useless. I felt like a failure. I argued with God. I accused Him of taking my dad and now taking away my time with my boys. (See, it was selfish.)

I reluctantly registered my oldest for kindergarten. This was not what I wanted. My son didn’t want to go to school; he wanted to be homeschooled. Because I was still recovering from losing my will against God’s I felt only sadness as he headed off to kindergarten that very first day. Off into the world by himself. Without me. All alone with no one he (or I) knew. Day by day it did get a little easier for my heart.

I expected the days would be easier with only two boys at home. But it wasn’t. It was just as difficult. In some ways it was more difficult because my middle son did not have his big brother to imitate his play after. He was on his own. I could not trust the two of them. I couldn’t rely on their judgements, after all, one of them was only a two-year-old. They copied each other. And I had no more freedom in my own home than I did before.

Nearly every time we go out I’m asked if my two youngest are twins. They look like brothers, but it is more than that. My youngest is quickly catching up to my middle son. His size. His speech and communication; in fact, my youngest is starting to develop better sentence structure than my middle. He’s starting to understand concepts and social cues that are missed on my middle. And my middle’s maturity is more on his younger brother’s level. It is very much like having twins. And any parent knows if one boy jumps, the others do. If one boy screams, there is a scream competition. If one boy runs, it’s an invitation to a game of tag. Boys are the best imitators, competitors and instigators. And as a mom of three boys, this is a constant.

I have learned a lot about my middle son this past year: his struggles, strengths and personality. He has made some small progress. But now it’s time for him to take that big step into kindergarten.

He struggles with anxiety, one of them being separation anxiety. For a long time, he wouldn’t go into another room by himself—not even the bathroom—without the door wide open or someone sitting with him. He started a once-a-week communication group last year in which they took him from my van crying and kicking. Months later it still took several minutes and lots of work to persuade him to get out of the van. No evaluation could be done with him alone because he would not go into a room without me. The closest we got was when he sat in a chair in the open doorway (within eyesight of me), but he kept turning around to say hi to me (making sure I was still there).

So, kindergarten is an incredibly huge leap.

As I prepared to send my second son to school, God began opening my eyes. Instead of feeling guilty that I had taken the easy way out, I was beginning to see public school as God’s grace. Anyone who’s done it knows caring for a special needs child is incredibly tough. It is a full-time job that most days I do not feel capable. But amidst the mixed emotions of sending him into the world for the first time, there is a twinge of relief. Of having easier days. While my heart is still unsettled, I look forward to the quieter days with only one child. A son who truly enjoys playing contently by himself, giving freedom I never had. After many years of having a son follow me around lacking the skills to entertain himself independently—and when he tried it caused squawks of conflict from his brothers, I do feel a slight twinge of joy coming once they start school.

Fast forward: School began.

The first day was hard. Tears filled my eyes as he rode off in the school van. I wondered if he was okay. I wondered if he was upset. I wondered if he was scared. I wondered if he remembered that his brother would be there with him. But I had no way of knowing.

The house was quiet, yet my mind was loud with thoughts.

But my sons did fine at school! Evenings were a bit rough, as my middle son held it together all day and fell apart for us.

Fast forward: The second week of school is complete.

It was a little easier to send my second son to school than I anticipated. I wasn’t sending him off alone; his brother was there with him. Few truly understand the joy when you hear a great report of your special needs son!! I was just hoping and praying that given the right environment he would thrive. That his sweetness and love of people would shine through, though as difficult as it may be for him to convey and as misunderstood as it is. And even academically, as much as he struggles that too would come along as well. Perhaps he would even develop a love for learning.

Isaiah 42:16
And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.
This has been the journey thus far with my middle son. I was deeply hurt because I knew God was asking me to give up homeschooling. Yet, now, to see God planning the path before us (down to coordination of bus times, the aid being a neighbor of ours, and more). His path is one that’s beyond my knowledge and understanding. But God knew all along what his struggles would be; where he needed to be, the supportive people we needed by our side, the home we needed to buy to be in the right school district for our family.

Rewind slightly: It’s only fair that I briefly reflect on my dad’s death. The hope I have in losing him is that his death was not in vain. That God had a bigger plan than just taking him from us. I do not know God’s whole purpose in my dad’s death, however, I do know this: Because of his death, a friend I knew a long time ago sent me a Facebook friend request. I accepted and upon this person giving me feedback on one of my blogs about my son, she introduced me to another friend and the whole process of my son’s diagnosis got started. There have been a few very dear to me who have been a great support as well during this process. (You know who you are!) And, because of his diagnosis we now have a wonderful support staff and an amazing classroom. I cannot imagine doing this without them. They are vitally important to my son and to our family.

Proverbs 16:9
The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.

My husband and I subconsciously planned out our life as we expected. But God had a different journey for us. Through it, it would bring glory and honor to Him. His journey would allow us to see His faithfulness and grace more than the path we had planned. His path would require us to long for his fresh mercies every morning. It would cause us to see our desperate, desperate need for Him and require our moment-by-moment trust. And to be still and know that He is God.

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