A “stay-at-home” mom experiences life validation as homeschooling becomes what we do now.

Homeschooling HQ: Mom’s Room

I have long chided myself that my education has been squandered. I never finished my master’s or published my research. And that career I was scraping together? No, that’s not what I do now. I am a full-time parent who does not “work”.

I had spent years chasing my education before graduating with a sexy double major in Cultural Anthropology and Art History. I will be the first to admit that while I was thoroughly enjoying learning for it’s own sake that did not make me very employable in the 90’s job market.

I banged around the work force for years when I decided that further education was the solution. Graduate studies and kismet afforded me a position in a Boston museum; falling in love with my adventurous future husband provided me another opportunity in a new museum in San Diego.

I thought that my studies had finally paid off! I was on track with the career of my dreams. Until…bad luck and an asshole boss lead me to my own #metoo encounter. Naive and unsupported, I fled that job. (Separate blog post of the regret of that decision!)

I shifted my focus to starting my family. I expected that I could be a stay-at-home mother and still have, well, not a career, but a job, an outlet, a toe hold. I wanted to be home with children when they were young and then I expected to pop back onto my career path once they were in school. Well, that didn’t go as planned! BOOM. Autistic children. Now I really needed to be home and for the long-haul.

Loads of emotional self-plundering later, I discovered that I was back on my path of furthering my education. With an astronomical learning curve, I accrued a massive amount of knowledge about a neurological disorder. Then I became a full-time human rights activist, fighting for the legal and civil rights for my tribe of three boys. I became a local ambassador, pushing back against the stereotypes held by family and playgroup mommies. A community services proponent. A special education advocate, wringing out privileges from reluctant schools and recreation groups. A litigator against government agencies. I earned the gleaming promotion to “Warrior Mom”. Autism Moms know this is higher than any of the executive “C” titles. But no way was I pretending that I was a teacher.

Enter covid-19.

Phase 1 of homeschooling was the panicked shut-down in March which was surreal.
I spent most of those 12 weeks asking my husband,

“But this doesn’t count, right??!”

I was more focused on acquiring toilet paper food than worrying about how to teach a first grader how to write a hook sentence. I panicked! I am still panicking! But, betwixt anxiety attacks and existential crises, I discovering that, while I never envisioned myself as a teacher, I am amply capable. Weirdly, all of my paths have lead me to just this moment and I may be deluded, in part by lots of coffee, but I am doing this teaching thing and I’m not the worst.

This is what I do now. I am home with these hooligans, actually doing SUMMER SCHOOL, and managing their behaviors and their therapies (the equivalence of four additional degrees, thank you very much), while still trying to be a woman who values art, literacy, basic mathematics and citizenship.

We are keeping the kids at home for the next school year. For better or for worse. I’ve set up my teacher’s desk in my bedroom cum preschool classroom from where I shout instructions at the 2nd and 6th grader.

I did not realize that my own quest for education was going to put me right where I needed to be. That degree in anthropology is actually very useful in piecing together the bizarre and fascinating people with whom I live and “work”.

Paranoid Behaviors That Predict The Future?

This lean-to of sticks is my tinfoil hat

I’m feeling like that little girl from the movie “Signs”, the one who left the glasses of water everywhere that later became instrumental in the annihilation of creepy aliens.

Except it’s packets of hand wipes and my obsessive penchant for hand cleanliness that will save my family from getting covid-19.

For 15 years, I have been “the germaphobe”, carrying around Wet Ones in my purse just to have this moment of validation! And while I do so enjoy being right, there’s not a lot to savor here.

Has my anxiety disorder and OCD traits lent me evolutionary protection?

I’m being glib, but I am really trying to build a case here that being a stress-bag can pay out huge dividends as a survival strategy. Let us examine my mild tendency to horde things.

During my first pregnancy, I developed a mild hording mentality. This was pre 2-day shipping on Amazon, pre grocery delivery. (Yes, I refer to the antiquated days of early 2009.)

I bought extra everything! Extra toothpaste, extra shampoo, extra first aid supplies, extra diapers and pacifiers and wipes. I somehow “knew” that I was going to have a colicky baby who would not let me easily leave the house.

Was that an anxiety induced premonition? If I was making a human, he was going to be stressed out, too, so stock up on aisle 1 through 12 at Target. Know thyself and live to fight another day.

Let’s jump ahead to covid-19 times.

Right out of the gate, I took to the whole mask situation like a duck to water. I did not need any convincing that we were at war with an unseen entity. And thus, I now have a diverse cloth mask collection, as well as a substantial supply of surgical masks. I stress-buy masks many a late night, recently adding new filter material (get your Oly-fun fabric!). OCD? Perhaps? Hording? A lil’ bit! Yet, it gives me a sense of control during this pandemic.

I did not obsessively horde toilet paper. But I do understand why it happened. When confronted with an invisible enemy, the tangible roll or twelve is a touchstone and lends calm. These are my people, my mentally ill brothers and sisters.

Conversely, I feel like those people who are very lackadaisical about the future and the unknown might well be putting themselves in harms way. And harming others, more significantly. Their tendency to believe that nothing bad is going to happen to them could actually result in death.

What if those laissez faire people get exterminated? This pandemic is one hell of a case for Social Darwinism… And don’t we all know the person we’d most like to see win the Darwin Awards?

Where an ounce of precaution is worth a pound of cure, perhaps an ounce of OCD is what is keeping me safe.

While positive cases are spiking in my home state of California, my tendency to overdo it with the precautionary measures is definitely keeping my family better protected. My genetic material, “my nervous preparedness”, is going to survive and be passed along. That’s some evolution for you.

What I fear, or rather, another thing that I fear, is that after covid-19, is how am I going to tone this all down and get back to “normal”?

It could be argued that many of us are all going to come out of this pandemic with a manner of PTSD. It’s going to be a long time before I feel casual about many of the activities in which I once so casually engaged.

Shopping in a busy store, going to the movies, drinking at a bar?
Erm, not for me. Hard pass on arcades and children’s museums, too. Sorry kids. It’s nature hikes and picnics another decade.

It leaves me to wonder which other of my OCD traits will predict the next pandemic? I sure am buying a load of house plants these days. Maybe I’ll be protected against climate change? Yes, this is what I will tell my husband. It’s all about combating global climate change.

Savage Potty Training

I never imagined that I would be writing a potty training success story that involved carnivorous plants!

I have offered literally everything to my child if only we could say goodbye to diapers. And this is a walking, talking, knows-how-to-use-a-tablet-better-than-me little person. It was well past time.

In a family of thee autistic kids, I have wrestled, begged, bargained, and pleaded over pretty much any scenario you can concoct. If it involves the cooperation of a willful child, I’ve lived that life.

Our entourage of developmental therapists were each consulted. I choked on each bit of well-intended advice, at the suggestion of sticker charts. Oh, what a novel idea! That’s totally going to work! One M&M for a pee? He’s too smart for that raw deal.

I ignored the situation. I achieved acceptance. I surrendered.

Then, one morning, fighting down my wafer thin patience, I had an epic tantrum of my own and ranted, “I’M TAKING THE DIAPERS AWAY!”

Dramatically, I pulled the bin of diapers from the bathroom drawer and tossed them into my room. Rummaging, I found the underpants I bought 6 months ago.

Yes, I was not my best self. But it was time for SAVAGE POTTY TRAINING!

Our nanny had been trying to entice this child as well, and had bought an itty-bitty venus fly trap (“itty-bitty” and “flesh-eating” currently being two appealing concepts to my imp).

A bingo chart was quickly transformed to start the earning.

And it fucking worked! Finally! For a plant!

In three days, we had an extremely engaged toilet pee-er! In three days, he logged 24 visits to the loo and he’s EARNED HIS CARNIVOROUS PLANT!

In these Covid times, when we’re all pissing our pants from the conveyor belt of more and more bad news, I know someone with dry undies!

And, I now have two other children, willing to earn miniature flesh-eating plants for positive behavior.

Savage Potty Training. Patent Pending.

This was going to be the year I focused on “Me”.

I’m a woman of a certain age and I am due my mid-life crisis.

For a dozen years, my life has been the tough slog of motherhood. Making the babies, birthing the babies, caring for and raising the babies. I’m done with babies! Now, I’m surrounded by preschool to pre-pubescent boys and I’m really feeling the heat!

It was time for a mental shift. Many of my peers are deep into their careers, having never left the work force to follow the the level of domesticity that I chose as a full-time parent. Many women, I was feeling, had a lot more to crow about than I did.

So, I made my New Year’s resolution to write more. I have always been a writer. A poet. An essayist. An academic. A blogger. None of this professional, mind you. Or my full focus. But I was keeping my irons in the fire.

Now it’s time to get serious, I committed, and rediscover my individual purpose in life! No time like 2020! Time to find out who I am beyond a “mother” and a “home-maker”. I’m going to write, write, write! Publish some essays! Unlock my poetic heart!

Then, about 8 weeks and as many blog posts later, well, covid-19.

I’m not sure. Is that a verb yet?

“We all got covid-19’d”?

It should be.

Because we did, didn’t we?

You know that old chestnut where woman makes plans and the Universe laughs?

It turns out, I am very tuned into the Universe because the timing, it’s impeccable! I have a crisis of identity. BOOM. Try on these roles!

I’m now a homeschooling mom to 3, a navigator of scarcity, DIY mask maker, an alphabet of therapy specialists (OT, APE, SLP) to my autistic love bugs, and a fairly decent home barber, thank you very much!

Have I figured out the subject, an outline, or characters for my long awaited novel? Nope. But I have many tabs open in my Google docs with terrible first attempts.

I’m not ruling it out that something creative will come from this experience. I’m certainly doing a lot of navel gazing. Self-reflection is being forced upon each of us. Some days it sparks and others, I curl up and stress eat goldfish crackers. OK, most days.

Yesterday was a nerve-wracking shit show. Today, I’m hoping to keep it together until at least lunch. No promises! But, I did write this while the kids were quietly doing learning apps. So, you know, points.

Note: I would like to smack the people, (“People” being famous, accomplished writers/performers/celebrities, isolated in their mansions) who suggest that NOW is the time to ACHIEVE and CREATE! Well, yes, good point. I will try. But on the daily my current life goals are:

Securing food

Tolerating the constant presence of offspring and spouse

Showering? Eh, dry shampooing

Losing myself in a novel/binge-watching TV

Teaching math to resistant children. Failing and teaching math by playing Go Fish

Reorganizing my tchotchkes, because I miss shopping at HomeGoods so. damn. much!

It’s not going to be the sweeping transformative year I imagined. Instead, I’m focusing on baby steps. A global pandemic will teach a woman that little movements forward have value.

People who claim to enjoy enjoy homeschooling, and other tools I’ll be unfollowing on Instagram

Oh, you think this is an amazing opportunity to spend more time together? You’re excited to learn common core math? Those few hours when you had the house to yourself made you feel lonely and unproductive?

Well, bless your heart.

That means go fuck yourself.

I have never been less excited about the prospect of my children taking conference calls from my living room than during a global pandemic.

I’m trying to find FOOD AND MEDICINE. I don’t give a rats ass about sight words! And every teacher on my Facebook feed is talking about how much more challenging it is to do distance learning. Well, stop trying to out fucking do yourself! Can you not PLEASE assign a drawing of a rainbow or ask that they learn how to make their beds?

These adorable “learning resources” everyone keeps emailing me make my chest tight. And please, please do not suggest that I need ideas to keep my kids busy. That’s why our family has spent thousands of dollars on all of these toys that I keep stepping on.

No one can agree when the kids will be back in school, or if they’ll all be graduated or advanced to the next year. So, it sort of seems ill-advised to blast out of the gate with a distance learning plan geared at imploding my mind.

I hate to play the autism card, but, OK! Hey! My kids are autistic and guess what doesn’t really translate over the Chrome Book? Oh, my kids 1:1 aide or the occupational therapy room where they go so they don’t spin in 50 circles and smash their little faces into the counter.

You’re dealing with a woman whose worst nightmare is summer break. Guess what just happened three months early?

I really don’t need to challenge myself right now. I’m looking for ways to still find my children charming past 9:30 in the morning.

So, mom vlogger who is super excited to realize how great she is at teaching her kids, bye! More room in my feed for The Onion and reality show memes.

Casual Facebook friends who have set up little mock classrooms replete with desk and white board, ah-feck off!

This is a dark time! Can’t we drop the pretense that your kid made that popsicle stick periscope?

My children and I are going to draw a bunch of monsters and dragons, argue about what time is snack, take a walk and then I am going to reward their not being terrible with an hour of screen time. Because I would like some time to blot out this crap reality and read my trashy Kindle book!

That’s my home school. You will have detention if you send me a single suggested learning opportunity.

Top 10 “silver linings” of sheltering-in-place during the COVID-19 pandemic

10. Grocery shopping is simplified — it’s all “out of stock”.

9. Think of the money I’ll save on haircuts!

8. No more school pick-up line. (wait, this might be my #1)

7. Social distancing = freedom from feeling socially awkward.

6. Finally, scarcity will force me to use all of the beauty samples and hotel toiletries I always bring home.

5. Self-validation for having always been a spaz about hand cleanliness.

4. Having more virtual friends than actual friends makes isolating feel warm and familiar.

3. I get to postpone my dental cleaning, guilt free.

2. See, having three kids was a smart choice — playmates during the quarantine!

And, of course

1. Yoga pants all day, every day, baby!

Please share your silver linings in the comments or send me a message about how you’re coping with the new normal.

Cracking into my Trump-ocalypse box!

When Trump was elected in 2016, I created a Trump-ocalypse box for my family. I was convinced we would have to flee to Canada when he brought about what I was certain would be the end of days.

I packed up medicines, first aid supplies, batteries, a flashlight, toothbrushes, tampons, family documents, and cash. When we moved to California, I maintained our kit as a fire evacuation kit and added gallons of water, wipes and diapers and spare clothing for each person.

Well, how do you like me now? My tendency to catastrophize any situation has become a positive character trait. Take that, former therapists! Because covid-19 is here and the world has lost its collective mind.

Today, I cracked into that kit and I was elated to find a bottle of hydrogen peroxide (sold out every where), hand sanitizer and a spare bottle of a much needed prescription that I haven’t been able to refill due to panic at our local pharmacy.

As a parent, I am focusing on minimizing panic for the sake of my young children. But my husband and I can speak of nothing else other than locating food and supplies as we self isolate. (This does include bottles of wine.) We whisper about the shipping updates on the two gallons of hand sanitizer we ordered from Staples last week and debate whether or not to buy a gigantic freezer to fill with bread and chicken nuggets.

My Facebook feed is choked with pictures of empty shelves and shopping carts filled with paper supplies and hand soap. Freaked out friends are triumphant over snagging rolls of toilet paper and where I formerly saw images of their artful restaurant meals, I see snaking lines at the grocery store.

Today, I am weirdly proud of my life long catastrophe preparedness, but I am not going out there to add to my horde. “We will be OK!” I type this to reassure myself because I AM afraid. I am worried for my mom and in laws who are above that threshold for contagion. And I am checking my sleeping children twice at night, relieved that they are healthy and safe in my nest.

I hope that I have over prepared and that the World will continue as I have known it for 44 years. But I am prepared for a very difficult time ahead.

My generation has blessedly never known true deprivation. We’ve never lived through a war on our home soil or a crushing recession. We’ve experienced general affluence and comfort.

This pandemic will certainly bring death to someone close me. And many of us are facing stark changes in our lifestyle due to loss of employment. Stores will shutter their doors and the freedom Americans have take for granted may be hindered by limited supplies and travel restrictions.

I worry for the future my children will know. Climate change, unemployment, economic collapse – these stark facts are at our doorstep. For the present, I will try to be mindful of today and the fleeting nature of the comforts we can still enjoy.

Hug your partner and babies and break out the board games. We’re hunkering down for a big fight. I’m wishing everyone peace and, of course, good health. And a new president in November.

Invisible Disabilities Are Misunderstood

Growing up in the 80’s, I was educated in “handicap awareness”. My second grade class was visited by a local woman who was vision impaired. She brought her seeing-eye dog and we learned not to pet the dog, because he was working. It was an awakening to realize there were people around me who had an extra level of challenges in their daily life.

Forty years later I’ve had to relearn how to speak and think about different abilities. And I’m learning it from the inside. My own family is heavily impacted by invisible disabilities. I have three autistic kids who could mostly pass as neurotypical. They’re verbal and sociable and to the uninitiated, they might not seem autistic. I wish we could walk around with a placard around our necks announcing our autism!

I can’t tell you how often I’ve thought about putting one of the kids in a wheelchair so people would see us through the proper lense.  You see my “healthy” kids, bouncing around CVS, speaking way too loud and then getting furious over a stubbed toe. That equals “naughty” not “disabled”. I get all kinds of nasty looks for not controlling my children when they are just not wired to interact with the world in the same way as others. That’s their disability.

We are fortunate to qualify for disability parking which is a privilege that I appreciate every single day. I love that hang tag more than birthday cake and a Sephora gift card rolled into one! It means that I can take my boys to the store or a museum and know that we will get from the car to the building safely. And if we need to bail because someone is melting down, we are able to book it out of there.

Today, I was parked at my son’s school in one of the disability spots. I was standing beside my car, looking able-bodied, waiting for my special needs kid to be escorted out by his aide.  A woman idled her car in the lot behind me. She yelled to me,

“Excuse me! Do you have a disability tag?”

“Yup! I do!”

“Because it doesn’t look like you have one!”

Really lady?  Can you see the huge yellow window decal that reads “Special Needs Children on Board” or the equally obvious “Autism Society” magnet?

Me, again, forcing a grin, “I have a tag!”

A moment later, someone left a spot next to me and this woman parked. I watched her get out and she shot me a snarly glare. She had a cane. Her need for the special parking was obvious. And I’m betting that irritated look on her face means she’s thinking she deserved that spot more than we did.

I wish that I had told her that earlier this year, I proposed that the school should provide additional parking for the disabled members of the school community and I won! There’s now an EXTRA blue space for all of us. Because of my pushy emails. You’re welcome!

My own struggle with auto-immune disease is a tale for another day, but I have come to think of myself as having a disability. Much of the time you see me, you’d never guess. Yet there are many days when I am in bed or shuffling around in pain. Is my disability less than someone who is in a wheelchair or missing an arm? Or who is autistic? 

I don’t think one’s disability is like that awful pain scale we’re all asked about at the hospital.  

Please rate your disability on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being barely disabled and 10 being the most disabled you’ve ever felt in your life.

Speaking for my tribe of invisibly disabled people, we slide up and down that scale, but we’re always on it. Our lives are impacted and there’s an innate, daily struggle that makes typical situations some exponent more difficult.  

We can’t always expect people to treat us with the sensitivity we need. But I think there is a trend towards greater compassion. I see it with the increased presence of emotional support dogs. And with the new ADA policies that allow people with challenges the chance to enjoy community attractions.

I hope that woman from the parking lot will see my car again tomorrow and think about why I must be parked there. That maybe our lives are more similar than she assumed. Also, I’m hoping that I don’t have a new enemy because I am already flush, thank you very much.

Dumbest Parenting Advice Chart Topper

I’m live-streaming fury over the ridiculous advice people give me about raising my autistic kids.

I don’t expect other people to understand the shit show that is parenting three autistic kids.

Really, any parent gets dumb advice. I don’t know, maybe it’s easier for me in this one regard because I’ve given myself the pass to say STFU. Move along.

So how do I survive? I am the Queen of Pushing Back.

Example: A child psychiatrist who knows my heavily impacted eldest child, suggested a type of in-home therapy called ABA for my middle kid.

I do not like ABA. Every damn person I meet, including the dental hygienist who has a cousin whose kid is autistic, says how wonderful it is! Well, we’ve tried it and it doesn’t work for my family. (That’s really controversial in the autism community to be Anti-ABA. Suck it.)

Here’s me pushing back:

Sorry Dr, we’ve tried it and it just stirs everyone up and makes chaos and I’m not signing on for more chaos.

“Well imagine”, he says, “if you only had ONE child with autism how it would be helpful.”

Hmm, in this alternate universe, do I also have a pony and mermaid hair? That absurdity is not worth a single second of my time because I am never going to have ONE autistic child. Stop right there. Next suggestion!

Doctors, teachers, therapists, swim instructors, mom I met at the hair salon…thank you for your entry into Most Ridiculous Words Heard list. I’m locking down this conversation.

The best advice I have to give is to never sign anything at the IEP meeting, don’t feel guilty if you have to say “No” because you feel too worn out, and say “Yes” as much as you can to your little people.

I came across the cutest cross stitch on Etsy:

You don’t have to explain yourself to idiots.

You’re not the Fuckface whisperer.

I think I’m going to buy it and wear it as a necklace.

I hate stroller fitness classes

I see you mommies, with your SUV strollers and hydro flasks, convening in the most public of venues, stretching lycra clad limbs, while your tiny charges sit calmly and silently. Maybe if my own kids would have ever deigned to allow me the same personal freedom then I wouldn’t think of you as inglorious bitches.

My kids would wail and screech when I was moving around the park or the mall. There would be no stopping to stretch or chat. Even that one year I joined a gym with childcare, my parent buzzer was going off before I could even get logged into the jogging program on the treadmill.

“Cynthia, your kid has been crying his head off. Please get him out of here before the other babies realize this is a choice and follow suit.”

Stroller class moms are the adult equivalent of cheerleaders. They have lots of friends and better butts than I do… because they are allowed the chance to participate in fun fitness while I was only ever sweating from anxiety, trying to settle my kid down even one notch from hysterical.

Mom who is wearing her baby while still trying to take the class, you get a pass!

I did have two kids who tolerated my adult choices, but only when I wore their little faces smooshed into my breasts. And I wasn’t going to be so foolish as to use those moments working out! Scratch that. I did count walking the mall between stores that sold only grown-up clothes as aerobic. It was still a solitary event, however, as I had made a name for myself as the one with the difficult kids.

It’s been a year since I had a child small enough to ride in a stroller but I still give you a glare as I walk past your overtly public display of healthy parenting.

Just like with the cheerleaders, we will never be friends.