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Homeschoolers by Surprise

We’ve suddenly become a homeschooling family, more by default than by design. Carter had a brutally difficult summer characterized by sleep trouble, med changes, acute anxiety, and crowned with getting kicked out of the daycare where I was director. Such a misery and definitely among the most painful times in my life. But more on that another time.

We didn’t really anticipate much difficulty with getting Carter back to school. In fact, throughout most of the summer, we looked forward to the beginning of the new school year because we expected that things would improve. It was to be his third year at the same school (first grade after doing kinder twice) and he’d never had significant trouble there. Carter didn’t expect trouble, either! He charged in on the first day, excited to get started. Then, around mid-morning, he started to cry and was unable to stop. The second day a teacher had to drag him off of me and he cried much of the day. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat, but worse. He started crying about school as soon as he woke in the morning, screamed when I left him there, cried on and off all evening from anxiety about the next day, and couldn’t sleep at night.

There are lots of ways we could have handled this, and most people we’ve spoken to think that we chose the wrong way. Ultimately, though, no one knows Carter better than his father and I know him, and no one but us is 100% responsible for him. I honestly don’t know if I can do as good a job with his academic education as the school can do, but I know without a doubt that his father and I can help him manage his emotions better than anyone else, certainly better than teachers who are responsible for a large group of children in addition to our troubled little boy.

I heard from a number of people that I should make him go to school to force him to deal with his fears. That seems to be the professional opinion broadly among educators and mental health providers who are in our world. I can understand that; Carter does need to learn that he’s stronger than he knows. On the other hand, I wouldn’t teach a child to swim by throwing him into the deep end of the swimming pool, and I never practiced cry-it-out sleep training with Carter. Forcing him to go to school in spite of his terror would be the same thing. Brian and I decided that whatever else we may decide to do in the future, we had to stop re-traumatizing our little boy right now. It was the only decent, ethical choice for us in that place. Besides, who can learn anything when they’re terrified? Put me in the lion cage at the zoo with a chemistry book and just see how well I can do on a test afterward!

So we’re onto a new adventure. I don’t know yet if I’m up to the task, but my sad, vulnerable little boy feels safer and for right now, that’s enough.

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