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Healing a Young Heart October 6, 2016

Filed under: Family,Homeschooling — Meghan Hamilton @ 4:32 am
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When Alex was a toddler he had no reason to think about other people’s opinions of him and what he liked or didn’t like. Then he went to preschool. Did you know that peer pressure starts in preschool? It does.

Until he went to preschool, he had no feelings or associations with colors. He simply colored with whatever color suited his fancy in that moment. At preschool he learned that pink and purple were for girls. No amount of reassuring him that colors are for everyone would convince him to use those colors for the next four years.

When he was in kindergarten, my husband and I grew out our hair to donate. Alex tried, but the other kids teased him for having girl hair. So he insisted that we take him to get it cut.

By first grade he was a basket case. He was so worried about what his classmates would have to say about his clothes, his hair, the way he played a game, anything really, that he cried when it was time to go to the bus. Somewhere along the line he had lost his sense of self, and with it, his self-worth.

By October 2014 I decided enough was enough. I convinced him to hang in there until Christmas. Then we began our homeschooling journey. He continued to worry. He was mean to a lot of kids for a while. He had a lot of healing to do.

In the homeschooling world people talk about “deschooling.” It’s the process of letting go of the public school mindset and model in order to make the education fit the child rather than making the child fit the education. For Alex, this went deeper than adjusting to a new curriculum and schedule. This process went to his very sense of self. Educationally speaking, the rule of thumb is for every year in public school, it takes a month to switch gears and adjust. For Alex, changing the education plan went reasonably well. But it took a year and a half to undo the psychological damage.

He first showed signs of his true self being rebuilt when he voluntarily started choosing to use pink and purple in his art projects. Then at the start of the summer he chose sparkly gold flip-flops to wear for the season. I warned him some people might have a problem with that. He didn’t care, “Because who doesn’t love gold sparkly shoes?” I held my breath. If anyone gave him a hard time, I didn’t hear about it and he loved those shoes.

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Here he is, not blending with the crowd.

A few weeks ago his Halloween costume arrived in the mail. I asked him to try it on. Not only did it fit, but he loved it so much that he wanted to wear it everywhere. It’s a bright yellow Pikachu body suit. There is no blending into the crowd when wearing it. He wore it to the playground. Some former classmates were there and started their teasing. I watched to see how it would play out.

Alex stood up for himself. He told them they were being bullies and that he didn’t like them. They left him alone, then soon left the area. He continued to wear the outfit after they left. No one would rain on his Pikachu parade. Most people love seeing him wear the outfit and smile and say so. If you see a kid wearing something outrageous, say something nice. It helps them more than you know.

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Making his project without worrying about the other kids.

Today we went to a homeschool program where he was acquainted with a few of the other kids, but most he hadn’t met before. (We were in Providence, about an hour away from home and away from our usual group.) He knows one of the kids well and they don’t get along at all. He wasn’t distressed about it. He didn’t try to prove himself worthy of her attention. He just went about the business of doing his project.

I used to scratch my head in wonder about why it was so important for him to impress people who really didn’t like him. It takes so much energy and is generally fruitless. To see him put his energy into enjoying himself was wondrous!

As a parent, I want my child to have confidence. I want him to do the things that make him happy without worrying about everyone else’s opinion. I’m happy to see him becoming himself.

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Learning to Relax September 16, 2016

Filed under: Homeschooling — Meghan Hamilton @ 3:17 am
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We’ve started Alex’s 3rd Grade school year. Each month, and now year, that passes, I learn to relax a little more when it comes to his education.

Like many new homeschooling parents, back when I started, I was very worried about fitting in all of the elements of a good education. While that is still my priority, I’m realizing that we have years to do this, not days.

The concerned and organized parts of me want Alex to sit and do his lessons with good focus on a daily basis. I want him to enjoy reading and writing as much as I enjoy them. Then the part of me that loves and respects him as a fellow human point out that he’s still a young kid who needs to play. He may never enjoy reading or writing to the same extent that I do because he’s not me.

So, I remind myself that he’s made steady academic progress. I remind myself that even with lots of days spent away from our school books to go on field trips or to playgrounds or just using Google to pursue interesting topics, (or hibernating for the entire month of February), we finished the books ahead of schedule in 2nd Grade.

Today, the familiar voice that says, “Do the book work!” clanged about inside my head. We went to a library program with other local homeschoolers. Then most of us headed to the playground to enjoy some gorgeous September weather. Then I took Alex to play Pokémon with another group of homeschoolers. I reminded the worried voice that these activities are also instructional and a very important part of childhood.

“You need to hit the books!” that voice insisted once more as I accepted an invitation to play tomorrow morning and another to visit family in the early evening. Alex wants to be a nice person. He expressed gratitude when I bought a book to help him with that. But experience with other people is the best way to learn that. So we’ll go to the playground. So many kids don’t get to know their grandparents or extended family. So we’ll take advantage of the opportunity to eat with my in-laws and other family members while we’re all together in the same town. There are lessons there that can not be learned in any text book.

I reminded that voice in my head that New England offers a very long winter that is perfect for sitting with school books. Here in my corner of New England, winter offers many icy days where driving is difficult and playing outside is just no fun for us summer loving folks. We will hit the books more often in those months. Alex will continue to progress in his education, sometimes in spite of me.

 

Homeschooling Begins January 16, 2015

Filed under: Family,Thoughts — Meghan Hamilton @ 5:10 pm
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Hello, Dear Readers!  It’s been too long since my last post.  Through the holidays I was sick with one minor illness after another (colds, stomach bugs, etc…).  Then I started home schooling Alex.  What a big change!  We are loving it so far.  I think that’s what I want to talk about today.

Why did Craig and I withdraw him?  For one thing, we always wanted to do this from the time he was born.  When Kindergarten rolled around, I realized it just wouldn’t work out.  I didn’t have the energy to keep him motivated.  At the time I had no idea that I was sinking into one of my deeper depressions.  In hindsight, enrolling him in public school was the right decision for that time in our lives.  I would never have been able to teach him through that first winter.  When it came time to make a decision about first grade, Alex really wanted to go back to our local school, so that’s what he did.

That brings me to our main issue with our local school system.  Alex ran into teachers with a very hands off attitude during free time like recess or lunch.  If someone isn’t being physically beaten or breaking an arm while falling off the jungle gym, the kids are often left to figure out their problems for themselves.  There is little to no guidance from the adults when it comes to disagreements and arguments among the students.  Though I certainly think that they should be given a chance to work things out for themselves, I know that they often need guiding through that process.  How many adults are in marriage/family counseling because they weren’t taught to communicate effectively?  People aren’t born knowing how to work out their problems.  We need to be taught a lot of these skills.  An assembly with an entertaining presentation telling the kids to be nice to one another isn’t enough.  The adult staff need to back that message up as situations arise.

Overall I am happy with the curriculum our town has chosen. Kids graduate from our local high school knowing a lot more than those from other towns.  But, as with most schools, there is a lot of bureaucracy.  In Massachusetts we require all teachers to earn a Masters Degree.  Yet when it comes down to teaching, they are handed a curriculum and told to use that and too bad if it isn’t working.  Why all the education for these people if they aren’t allowed to actually use it?  I’ve met some very smart teachers whose hands are tied when it comes to deciding what’s best for their students.  They know when the program isn’t working.  The parents know when it isn’t working.   But everyone is stuck until the entire system slowly makes changes.  With one child at home, I can make changes on the fly when things aren’t working for him.  I love that flexibility.  It’s why I teach music lessons individually.  I have my “go to” books.  But if a student isn’t learning from one method, I can try others until we find what works.

Given that I can tailor Alex’s work to his interests and strengths, we are already finding what works for him.  He easily does twice as much math and five times as much science as he did in public school.  Those are the subjects he currently loves.  While he is on target for reading, it’s not his thing.  He doesn’t enjoy it.  So I have the flexibility to sneak reading into his day without forcing him to read tons of story books that he hates.

He has always been a fiercely independent person who wants to make his own decisions.  Obviously as his parents, Craig and I need to make some decisions for him, but as a homeschooling family, Alex gets to make some choices with his work.  What order does he want to do it in on any given day?  Where does he want to sit?  Does he want to do a math coloring page or just complete a list of problems?  Does he want to get everything done all at once and have the entire afternoon to play?  Or does he want to take it slow and have a few breaks, extending the day, but having a nice easy pace?  Does he want an actual paper to work on or does he want a computer based program?  These choices allow him more control over his own life and make us all a lot happier.

Another problem I have with the public school system is the amount of homework assigned.  There is a growing body of evidence that kids don’t need homework.  In Alex’s case, he was already tired from being in school all day.  Getting him to do more work was very difficult.  Now that he’s home, Alex is able to complete all of his work during the school day.  This makes sense to me.  Most jobs don’t require that you work from home everyday after putting in a full day at the office.  Though there are a few professions where this is the case, most of us leave work at the office.  Yet here in America, we routinely demand that our children put in a full day at school and then come home to do more work.  It doesn’t make any sense to me.  If the students aren’t learning enough during the day, something is wrong with the educational system.

playground-service-play-structures-2013But what about socialization?  I don’t think that children are capable of teaching one another how to be responsible adults.  Isn’t that what we want our children to grow into?  If he is spending his day with children that are being mean to him or jockeying for the “boss” position on the playground, what social skills is he really learning?  Over the last few years, as home-schooled children have become adults, they have proven that they are perfectly normal and capable of being around other people.  This Washington Times article is just one example.  This academic paper also addresses this issue and states that home-schooled students do just fine socially.  Alex and I are not hermits.  We go places.  He plays with other children on a regular basis.  He’ll do just fine.

 

Expectation vs. Reality: Marriage February 7, 2012

I don’t know about you, but I always have expectations.  They rarely match up to reality exactly.  Some things come close and some things are vastly different.  I suppose that is what makes life interesting.  It can also make life vexing. 

Today I want to talk about my expectations of what my marriage would be and what the reality of it has turned out to be. 

Expectation: Mr. Man would work and support the family financially.

Reality:  His bipolar has progressed to a level of severity that prevents him from working.  Fortunately he qualifies for Social Security.  But it isn’t enough.  So I must work.  I like working, but juggling it with a toddler is a challenge.   

Additionally, this means that I have him at home all the time with all of the ADD symptoms that often accompany Bipolar Disorder.  So, his clothes, dirty dishes, books, trash, and anything else he has recently touched, are dropped wherever he happens to be when he turns to the next item of interest. 

Why is this a problem?  I am already struggling as a housekeeper.  His ability to destroy a clean space in under thirty seconds is beyond frustrating.  I can not keep up.  Add in all of the toys our society seems to think a small child needs, and our apartment looks like the pictures of tornado victims’ homes.  Really. 

Expectation:  We would sleep in the same bed and have sex regularly.

Reality:  We started out in the same bed, but due to his resuming smoking and snoring, I sent him to the couch.  When he resolved those issues, he decided to stay on the couch.  I do not like sleeping alone.  So, I have not forced my son to go to his own bed when he decides to sleep with me.  Apparently, he doesn’t like sleeping alone either.  As you can imagine, this has had an impact on our sex life. 

The other major impacts on sex?  When Mr. Man is off meds, he is, to be technical, “hypersexual,” which means that he really can’t get enough.  His demands had become so strong, that it pushed me away.  (Not to mention that the smell of smoke to a non-smoker is very very very nasty and a major turn-off.)  When Mr. Man is on meds, his sex drive is all but turned off.  In some ways this is a major relief for both of us.  But somewhere I would like to find a happy medium. 

I have learned that even though I don’t get as much physical affection as I would like, this does not mean he doesn’t love me.  It just means that he is not at a point in his life where he can express himself physically.  Part of living with his illness is that he changes drastically from time to time.  That means I must change with him or end things.  At the moment, I am changing and adjusting.  No need to end it.

Expectation: I will have to do most of the cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc…

Reality:  He wanted to learn to cook!  I taught him and he loves to cook!!!!!  I can not say how much of a relief and delight this is most days.  I can cook, but it is a chore.  Because I taught him how I like things, many dinners are made to my tastes.  All I have to do is mention it!  Hooray! 

Laundry is split between us.  I have a bum knee and have difficulty going up and down stairs.  We live on the second floor and the washer and dryer are in the basement.  Mr. Man takes care of lugging it up and down for me without complaint.  I fold and put away most of the time.  All right, we often live out of the baskets, but hey, at least we have clean clothes to wear on a regular basis without further wear and tear on my aching joints.

Cleaning is mostly up to me.  But he does the dishes and cat litter boxes most days.  I take care of the bathroom and vacuuming and changing of sheets and whatever else needs doing.  Not a bad split.

Expectation: We would be able to have open and honest communication at any time.

Reality: While I am always honest with him, and he with me, communication is sometimes difficult.  Bipolar takes Mr. Man deep inside himself and he has difficulty coming to the surface to see and hear what other people are saying or doing.  Literally, he can’t always see and hear other people.  Crazy Boy and I often repeat ourselves, shout, and repeatedly tap him to get his attention.  So sometimes things go unsaid.  It’s just not always worth the effort to get his attention.  I know it isn’t because he doesn’t care, but this is one of the ways his illness affects our lives.  If I need love and understanding in a tangible way, I seek out a friend more often than my own husband.  The times that he is able to see and hear me are made more sweet for knowing what an effort he is putting in to be there for me.

Conclusion:  Just because the expectations and realities are not always a match, sometimes reality is livable or even better than the expectation.  Mr. Man and I don’t have a traditional marriage.  We don’t have a marriage like either of our parents have.  But we do have a relationship that seems to work for us.  Isn’t that what it’s about?  Making it work? 

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog.  Feel free to comment below, or find me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/meghantellsit for a quicker response. 

 

Beauty Pageants and X Games January 28, 2012

I have been pondering beauty pageants lately.  A mom on Facebook asked if she should allow her daughter to participate in a beauty pageant.  She had been in one as a child and loved it.  But she wasn’t sure if it was really appropriate.  It would also be a great expense.  She received differing opinions on the subject.  But it got me thinking. 

As a little girl, I watched Miss America and Miss Universe on television.  I loved to dress up in what I thought were glamorous clothes.  I loved to put on my mother’s makeup and wear high heels.  I would day-dream of walking down a runway in a formal gown.  My sister and I would have contests and ask our family who they thought was prettier. 

Although Miss America and Miss Universe are no longer a part of our lives the way they were a few years ago, the television show “Toddlers and Tiaras” demonstrates that these types of pageants are very much alive (if not so well) in our culture.  So many people claim to hate the show, yet how many hundreds of thousands watch every week?  According to Inside Edition, over 2,000,000 people watch each week. 

What about television in general?  I don’t have those numbers.  But the number above amazes me.  If you read their article, there are more amazing numbers about how much money some people spend on these pageants.

Why do we do this?  What is so wonderful about it?  Even those of us that don’t participate in beauty pageants often go to great lengths to look good.  How many of you reading this blog have ever been on a diet?  How many of you have been on more than one diet?  What was your motivation?  Was it to be healthy?  Be honest.  It was more likely that you wanted to look good. 

What looks good?  How do we know if something looks good or not?  Our notions of human beauty have changed over the years and across cultures.  But who determines what is “pretty?”  In our day and in American culture, we watch a lot of television and look at a lot of magazines with pictures of TV and movie stars.   

According to Nielsen, the Average American spends 20% of their day watching television.  That’s 4.8 hours.  If you figure that people spend 8 hours sleeping, that figures to 30% of our waking hours.  Where am I going with these figures?  And where do the X Games come in?  Bear with me for a moment.  If we are spending that much time looking at enhanced images on the television.  Yes, enhanced, enhanced by makeup, lighting, and computers.  These people do not look like this in real life.  Not even the so-called Reality Television stars. 

So we look at these people for a long time.  We might begin to compare ourselves to them.  You don’t?  Okay, let’s say you don’t.  Do you have children?  Do they see you looking at these people for 4.8 hours a day, give or take some time?  And how many hours a day do you spend actively engaged with your child?  All right, I am not trying to make you feel guilty – I spend plenty of time not actively engaged with my child. 

I am going to go out on a limb here, because I have nothing to support this hypothesis.  But what do you suppose our children are learning from this?  They are learning that the images on the screen capture their parents’ attention.  How should our children capture our attention?  By trying to look like the images on the screen.  How can anyone look like that?  Makeup?  There isn’t enough to quite get there.  Clothes?  Maybe it will help a little.  Lose weight?   That might help too!  Can some people’s distorted body image be traced to seeing what their parents thought was important and what captured their attention?  Probably. 

According to the South Carolina Department of Mental Health, 8,000,000 Americans have an eating disorder.  That is a very high number. 

Our vision of beauty must change.

Here is where the X Games comes in.  They started in 1995.  Snowboarders, skateboarders, and the like were not recognized by more traditional athletes and the Olympics.  So what are talented people to do?  Put together their own event with their own medals and get a television network to cover it.  In 1995, this event first aired on ESPN for “alternative” athletes.  It is now huge.  Few people today would tell a snowboarder that they don’t participate in a real sport.  Few people today would tell a bicyclist doing tricks in a 20 foot half-pipe that they are not a real athlete. 

So what does this have to do with beauty pageants?  Why can’t we demand a change in what we deem beautiful?  By watching the shows that the television airs, we agree with the producers and program directors.  So how about we turn off “Toddlers and Tiaras” and most of the programming out there.  What if we host our own beauty pageants for our daughters and granddaughters and nieces and neighbors?  We can celebrate people’s achievements that contribute to a healthy society.  Did your child participate in a neighborhood clean up?  Get her on the stage proclaiming that.  That is beautiful!  Did your child get the highest math score for the year?  That is beautiful!  Did your daughter volunteer at an animal shelter?  That is beautiful! 

Why limit it to our girls?  How about the boys?  Get them involved.  Get all of the children you know up in front of a group of people and celebrate their achievements, not just their ability to put on makeup and stay skinny.  Don’t wait for their school to do it.  Show them how important they are by turning off the television for a few hours and planning a new kind of beauty pageant.  Maybe the television people will catch on and put on a new kind of program.

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog.  Feel free to comment below, or find me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/meghantellsit for a quicker response. 

 

What is in a color? January 19, 2012

I never thought of myself as a feminist.  I had always considered myself more of an egalitarian.  Feminist is such a loaded title, that it repelled me.  I don’t feel like we should be talking about women’s rights so much as we should be talking about human rights.  I am grateful for the feminists that went before me, paving the way to my education and vast array of career choices.  None the less, even today, here in the good old U.S. of A. we seem to have some more work to do with regards to equality between the sexes.  (Wage inequities and sexual harassment come to mind as I write this.)

Butterfly Beauty ShopSo what does color have to do with anything?  People, feminists and parents of girls in particular, have been buzzing about the new line of Lego Friends.  Lots of people and news organizations like Business Week reported on how Lego spent four years researching how girls play and what they like.  The result is a line of mostly soft pink, purple, and blue blocks and figurines.  Many people are crying out about this as another way of promoting girl vs. boy thinking and a regression of the gains women have made over the past few years.

I won’t disagree with the research about how girls play versus boys.  I was exactly how they described when it came to Legos in particular.  The object on the box was never my ultimate goal.  I rarely completed it.  Whenever I got a new set of the little blocks, I would make a stab at assembling the spaceship or building pictured on the box, but rarely had the patience or drive to complete it.  Instead, I would inevitably add the new blocks to the existing collection my sister and I had.  Then we (my sister and our friends) would build our houses and castles and our own versions of space ships and airplanes and use our figurines for role-playing.

But what about the colors?  Did we care that we were playing with primary colors and shades of gray?  Did we want pinks and purples and softer colored bricks to create our buildings?  I won’t presume to speak for my sister, though she has always enjoyed the color pink.  It certainly didn’t matter to me other than I would have loved to have had more choices in general.  When it came to crayons, I didn’t like the small boxes.  I wanted the big box.  So I could have more shades of pink?  No.  So I could have more shades of everything.  Nothing pleased me as much as having lots of colors to choose from when it came to making things.  I loved my mother’s collection of colored pencils.  She had lots and lots and lots of colors. 

Thirty years later, has this changed?  Do all girls want pink and its color cousins?  If you walk down the aisles of Toys R us or many other toy stores, you will see aisles full of pink and other aisles full of primary colors.  Guess which aisle is for which gender?  According to marketers males like certain colors and females like certain colors.  Is this wrong?  I think that associating colors with genders is wrong.  Do I think this is reversing gains in women’s rights?  I couldn’t say.  Do I think girls should steer clear of pink?  No.  Do I think Lego should stop marketing to girls?  No.  I do think that we all need to rethink how we market products to girls and boys. 

Why should girls be told they ought to buy pink and boys be told they ought not to buy pink?  My three year old son loved pink until he got to preschool and someone told him that pink is for girls.  Why is pink for girls?  Who decided this?  What if my son gets into Legos and wants to have some of the Lego Friends sets so he can have a complete town?  Is he supposed to steer clear and make sure his town is populated by men and boys who hate the color pink?  That is ridiculous!  What if my niece gets into Legos and wants to have a complete town?  Am I supposed to say no to buying her the boy sets and force her into a town full of women and girls who only use pastel colors?  That is also ridiculous! 

How about we stop assigning colors to genders and just let kids play with any toy of any color they like?  Why is that so wrong?  It might even sell a few more toys if the boys aren’t afraid of playing with dolls and girls aren’t afraid of playing with cars and trucks.

Where would Pablo Picasso have been if he had been told he couldn’t use pink because it was a girl’s color?  What if he had been told the couple in this picture needed to be clothed differently?  After all, shouldn’t the woman be in pink and the man in blue?  (And let’s not get started on body image here.  Look at the painting!  She is fat by today’s standards.)  Lovers by Pablo Picasso art print He and a lot of other artists would not have been able to produce the celebrated works we enjoy today. 

What if every parent takes their son down the pink aisles in the toy stores?  What if every parent takes their daughters down the blue aisles?  We might move towards a more egalitarian world.  And if we are all equals in terms of opportunity, then we might find ourselves a little happier and a little more satisfied with life.  And who knows what that might lead to?  World Peace?  Dare I hope?

 

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog.  Feel free to comment below, or find me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/meghantellsit for a quicker response. 

 

What about the kids? November 15, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Meghan Hamilton @ 3:39 pm
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Yesterday while I was driving and doing my Monday errands, I heard an ad on the radio for a segment to be aired today about what the victims of Coach Sandusky of Penn State might do to seek treatment and help to deal with the abuse they suffered.  It got me thinking, “What about the kids?”

We have heard a lot from the media about child abusers in the last few years from priests to teachers to this latest scandal.  As a society, we need to show each other that this behavior will not be tolerated, so these people need the negative media attention they are getting.  But what about the kids they affect?  When do we show them transform from victims into survivors?  When do we point the countless other victims of low profile to no profile cases in the direction of help? 

I have long felt that American media lacks balance.  This is no different.  I have been following a page on Facebook whose administrator is in another country.  She is trying to raise awareness about the long-range effects of sexual abuse on people.  I count myself lucky to live in a place where people realize how horrifying it is to treat a child in this way.  But I don’t think we do enough.  If all we do is demonize the perpetrator and don’t offer enough resources to the victims, we have only done half of our job.

The children that Sandusky hurt are going to need a lifetime of support.  Your neighbor’s children who you don’t even know are being abused are going to need a lifetime of support.  Will you know where to point them when they come to you for help?  What if it’s your child?  Where will you go?  If you, like me and have no idea, we as a society need to do a better job of publicising what resources are available and make sure there is enough to go around.