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What Do You Do?

It seems like a perfectly reasonable question. It is completely innocent and is a socially acceptable way to make small talk. But for me, it causes an existential crisis each time it is uttered in my direction.

“So, what do you do?”

The answer that comes out of my mouth the most is ‘I’m a mom’. The other person then replies enthusiastically that that’s awesome and a really important job. They ask how old my kids are. When I say 23, 18, 16 and 10, I suddenly realize that I look like a woman of leisure who has two grown children and 40 hours of uninterrupted ‘me time’ each week while the younger two are in school. It probably conjures images of daytime TV, a really clean house, yoga classes and homemade dinners. Hell, I don’t know all that it conjures, but I need another title.

Sometimes the response to my answer is “You’re so lucky” and although I am grateful for what Dennis and I have built here, ‘Luck’ is a word that sticks going down. It played no part in the formation of our family structure and completely discounts tough decisions, necessity, certain limitations and, at times, deep and abiding frugality.

I choke on ‘Stay-at-Home Mom’, ‘Homeschool Mom’ and ‘Primary-Caretaker-Of-An-Adult-With-Developmental-Disabilities”. Those words all come with their own visual misreprentation of my messy, complicated, and busy days. If feel like I am all and none of of those things. The jagged intersection of the roles I play often confound me, so presenting them accurately to someone else in a social situation is nearly impossible.

Why can’t I just be a secretary or a barista? See how neatly that comes out?

I don’t devalue my current responsibilities, but I hear a silent conversation in my head.

‘I’m a mom’.
Yeah, me too. And I’m a secretary, barista, lawyer, teacher…

No, I don’t think everyone has this conversation. But I know some do.

I don’t want to fall into a habit of justifying what I am doing, or more apatly, what I am not doing. Which is work. Outside of my house. For money.

It is hard to leave it at that point. No one wants to hear about kids who are not easily served by a conventional school system. It is complicated to explain life without school. I do not wish to launch into a conversation about the flaws and failures of the world of adults with developmental disabilities which makes life, not just paid work, incredibly challenging.

One of the other harder facets of this issue is that I am not entirely happy or satisfied with my current circumstances. There is a part of me that would love to have a fulfilling career that provides a sense of accomplishment, not to mention how much we could use an additional paycheck. There are compelling and appealing parts of the work world that lie in stark contrast to how I live now. A change of scenary and a job title seem very attractive.

I have developed a skill over the years of rehearsing difficult conversations so that the next time they happen, I can develop satisfying responses. But this one has eluded me. I cannot find an honest, effective answer to what I do.

Nothing. Something. Everything.

Sunday Scenes – The QuickChek Edition

We have a brand new QuickChek in town. Doesn’t sound exciting? They have offered free coffee since November 6 and I have availed myself of that each day since. They also have this neat little seating area that is sunny and warm and free of my household distractions. I rearranged my Pinterest boards, picked some future crochet projects, watched this Bullet Journal Series by Kara from Boho Berry and drank coffee. I will continue to work on this habit as it was delightful.

This. Make this.

The shredder broke. There was only one other option 🙂

I am working my through all the Neil Gaiman books. I feel so late to the party…I didn’t know he was this marvelous!

I ended the day in front of a fire that Dennis called ‘too hot’ and ‘uncalled for’ and asked if I was going to use up all of the wood. If I need to.

*’Sunday Scenes is an exercise in mindfulness and trying to connect to the little moments in time.*

Sunday Scenes

He drinks all of my coffee

Where I do my best work.

A lot of people = a lot of shoes

Sad, sad view

This book NEVER lets me down

I told the teenagers this was a BAD idea

Crocheting and praying for someone’s comfort – I will gift this beauty when she’s done

Keeping perspective.

Our Brand of Homeschooling

Many years ago, I wrote about why we homeschooled, but what keeps us tethered to this very particular lifestyle?

Our family’s style of homeschooling has always been very hands-on, unstructured and casual. From the very beginning, I saw that the boys picked up the most information from ‘doing’ things, rather than reading about them – apple picking, beach trips, family vacations, board games, fairs, festivals, camping trips, museums, and visits to state parks, etc. have always produced much more meaningful knowledge than any textbook. I would rather help my kids develop a practice of ‘how to learn’ than attempt to fill them with facts. They can go on to learn anything they want once they can gather the resources to teach themselves. I want them to know and believe this.

This year, Gavin is a senior in high school. He entered school for the first time as a freshman and I have seen him use school as a tool instead of depending on it as his sole source of education. He continues to educate himself in more ways outside of that structure than he has within it. He has maitained a good balance of experiences that he has wished to have during his high school years  – most of which were not academic in nature. I am glad his education has been self-led. I firmly believe that I would never have made as good of choices for him as he has made for himself.

Mikey went to school as a 7th Grader for a myriad of reasons. He REALLY wanted to go. He needed to experience what was going on in those buildings and see for himself what ‘school’ was like. He was also working with an educational consultant at the time who felt that school could provide many academic supports and services that were not available to homeschoolers. While he enjoyed the structure of the school day and the social aspects and chaos, I can tell you that they did not, at all, provide what was promised and his experience was very flat, narrow and dull. School was limiting for him and it cut into valuable time he could be developing skills that will be more meaningful for him in the future. It became clear to Dennis and I that the opportunity cost of going to school was just too high for Mikey.

This summer, when we began to assess his strengths and challenges, it became clear that what we wanted for him could not and would never be addressed by school. He has several short years before he is an adult and we believe the time is best spent on an education that is extremely practical and as broad and experiential as we can create for him. During his time in school, Mikey came to believe that you are to sit still (which he did NONE of) and a teacher spoon feeds you information that you produce for a ‘test’. I can think of few things as dangerous as that for Michael. Seriously.

Nope. Photo op – Denied.

So, we are here. Back to basics in a very true sense.

Sean continues to attend the same ‘school’ that Gavin did at his age – The Costello Academy for Feral Children. His current focus is an obsessive pursuit of All Things Yo-Yo. Sometimes he watches videos and practices techniques for hours on end. He reads about the physics and how to repair and modify yo-yos. This might seem frivolous if you are not looking through the lense of self-education. Sean is laying a basis for a lifetime of learning. He chooses video series wisely, weighing the quality and camera angles for their ability to clearly show how tricks are mastered. He found reputable websites containing products and articles about the ‘art’ of yo-yo-ing. Although the topic might seem questionable to some, the skill set of teaching yourself ANYTHING is worth allowing him to spend as much time as he needs down this rabbit hole.

The truth is, some of my kids are living without school, but don’t confuse that with living without ‘An Education’.

See the source image

Have you ever watched anything by Sir Ken Robinson? Watch one. Then watch them all.

Right This Second

It’s 1:30 on a Friday afternoon, when yet again, it hits me that Clan Costello is strange and different and seems to function outside of many societal norms.

This year’s two homeschoolers have begun a tea party. They have decided that they need tea – Mikey for his sore throat and Sean for his incessant love of herbal teas (this one purchased at last Sunday’s Renaissance Faire). I realize ‘Make Tea’ is a task in Michael’s home economics book, so the task becomes a little broader and intense.

Gavin walks in from school. He has taken an ‘light’ senior year, completing only the requirements he has left to graduate – English, gym and photography. Even with his welding shop and lunch, he is home very early.

Dennis works from home more and more these days. Why? I am unsure. Certainly the office is quieter and more civil. If I could go to an office, I would. He is chatting away on a conference call and it adds to the din.

Ethan, who is supposed to be at his day program, is not. 50% of weeks that go by, he insists his program is closed on Fridays. We, of course, know that it is not, but he thinks he’s tricky. He colors at the dining room table and requests ‘cowboy music’, which is my country music station. At least it’s not his Christams Music. I comply and it adds more decibels.

I occassionally pan out on our life and think that it’s nuts and wonder how we ended up with such a messy, crazy life. Dennis has a mantra that kind of goes like this – “What have we done?” Yeah.  We live in a very small house and I try to convince myself that moments like this are sweet. But then I brought back to ‘crazy’ and I guess for some folks, that’s just fine.