From the outside, I was committed to helping him grow his academic success and resiliency, one spelling test at a time. On the inside, my stomach was in knots, and the friction of my inner wisdom was screaming at me, “THIS IS WRONG!”
I woke up today feeling hopeful and confident. Yesterday was full of negative thought patterns and downward spirals. Yesterday was not a day to write something to share; it was a day to write down every last dark thought in my journal—to give them a home outside of my body. Thankfully, I’ve learned enough about how I work to notice the dark days. I can bring in my wiser self to say, “Ahh, I see what’s going on here.” She brings my pen to paper to write down all the hard things in my journal and then close the book and walk away.
I never set out to go against the culture of public school. I signed my son up for preschool and kindergarten and never thought of doing anything differently. There were problems in preschool and the YMCA childcare, but they weren’t too alarming. The real problems started the first day of kindergarten and never stopped. His teacher’s list of what he wasn’t doing well grew and grew. The teachers were concerned about his academic deficits, while I was concerned about the emotional safety of the school setting. And yet, I had no language for any of this. I started having trouble sleeping well for the first time in my adult life, began drinking a glass of wine every night, and then as things got worse for him, I added another glass with dinner. Oh, it was pretty from the outside—classical music or rap playing while I donned my apron and made us a healthy dinner filled with vegetables from our local farm co-op. The wine softened me as I sat at the kitchen table, coaxing my son out from underneath it, where he was cowering. I cajoled him to come to the surface to study his ten spelling words.
From the outside, I was committed to helping him grow his academic success and resiliency, one spelling test at a time. On the inside, my stomach was in knots, and the friction of my inner wisdom was screaming at me, “THIS IS WRONG!” The deficit-based model existed at every school. After the public school didn’t meet his needs, I moved him to a private school, which seemed like a totally radical thing to do. When the private school didn’t meet his needs, we went even more rogue, and began homeschooling. Then we went full-on hippy and decided to unschool him or let him self-direct his learning. After five years of this, he chose a local charter high school, which was the closest fit but still an ocean away from helping him grow and learn in a nourishing way. The day we quit school for good tasted like the sweetest freedom I had ever known. For the first time, I knew it wasn’t about him not meeting their standards, but rather that they didn’t meet ours. After leaving this last school, he began to bloom in a new way.
He’s thriving; we all are. He’s working and collaborating with the internationally recognized artist, Virgil Ortiz. He has artwork in museums around the country! He’ll be making new pieces for Virgil’s event at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City in a few months. Our life now has a strength-based platform. Does this mean his life is easy? Nope. His neurodiversity makes public events stressful and challenging. I’m naturally a private person, but lately I have realized how important it is to tell our story. We only left one school after another because things were so dark that he couldn’t stay. If school had gone well enough, we never would have left. Things were either bad or terrible for him, and it cost him so much. He quit talking to us. He wore a big fuzzy hat and didn’t take it off for years. At one point, I couldn’t touch his back because it bothered him so much. My son is not the only child to struggle in school; he’s just my child. I’ll tell his story—our story—over and over with the wish that it offers hope for others who struggled when they were young. Or perhaps it can help those of you who are wondering if you could do something to change the landscape for your struggling child.
Drinking was a form of denial and a way for me to have a few hours of silence away from the internal roar telling me that this wasn’t the life I was born for. The roar is my intuition. Because I’ve chosen a life of sobriety, of honesty, and a life free from pretending, I now can live by the guiding light of my intuition. I can teach my son to live this way by cultivating his own inner wisdom. This means I respect what he tells me is true for him. When he uses language, it’s fabulous. But when that isn’t available to him, I must widen my search beam. Has he been whistling lately? Is he watching mindless videos on YouTube? (This is his version of wine.) Or, is he watching hours of intelligent, thought provoking, high quality YouTube? Is he waking up each day excited and motivated by his own projects? Can I act on behalf of his intuition and my own? If I am living within my highest integrity, this means a mountain of courage is necessary. It means quitting schools and trying new ones. It means quitting more schools, hiring more clinicians, and then sometimes firing them. It means hard conversations with loved ones and LOTS of boundary work. And yet, if we are doing this, we thrive. This is the benefit of living a life with eyes wide open. It means action, honesty, and sobriety. Even one glass of wine quiets the inner wisdom that guides me. I am learning about how my own giftedness is largely wrapped around my deep empathy and intuition. When I first learned about overexcitabilities, I was astounded that someone could articulate my experience of life. The world is just so much! It takes a lot of courage to live a big, beautiful, and neurodivergent life.
I do not have all the answers. We still have lots to work through. I still have a lot of questions. Anyone out there have an fMRI scanner I can borrow? But for now, I will keep writing, and I will follow my son’s lead when I can. I will address his deficits in a manner that call on his strengths. I will use his growing foundation as an artist to help him work on his conversational skills. I will guide him through group dynamics by encouraging him try out for a local climbing team versus enrolling him in a social skills group. This skill—learning how to create a strength-based platform for learning and addressing deficits—may be one of the most important skills I have learned as a homeschool parent over the last seven years. One thing I know is that no one had the answers for me. They were inside of me all along. Trust your gut, parents: it’s your own personal portal to god.