Saturday, May 28, 2005


It happened again yesterday. I was talking to a friend, when she mentioned that her granddaughter asked her where Z had been(she and Z are in the same grade). My friend told her granddaughter that we were homeschooling Z, and she replied: "I'm happy for him, cuz everybody picked on Z!".

We have heard this numerous times from our friend's kids. GJ, the son of a close friend of ours, is 2 grades ahead of Z. GJ and Z have been best buds since Z was born. This boy has always been tall for his age, and built like a brick shithouse. GJ was Z's defender at school until his family moved out of town. GJ would go and stand behind Z whenever he saw him being bullied. His mere presence would make the bullies back off. Another friend's daughter told me that she couldn't understand why the playground monitors wouldn't do anything when Z would tell them he was being bullied.

True to my form, I researched homeschooling before we considered doing it. I knew that we could handle the teaching end of it, but I worried about socialization. The most powerful statement I read, came from a father's homeschooling website. He said: "What kind of socialization is constant bullying?" I'd never thought of this before. There's actually such a thing as good socialization and bad socialization. We chose good socialization!

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

We've all heard stories about people with OCD. They're the ones who have to have EVERYTHING just so. They have to vacuum their carpet until it wears out prematurely, they go back into their homes 20 or 30 times to make SURE the coffee maker is unplugged, they repeatedly wash their hands until they bleed. They also have obsessive thoughts about germs, crime, the weather and many other things.

Z has co-morbid OCD. It's never really bothered us too much, mostly because we didn't realize that a lot of his quirky behaviors were a result of OCD. Z's obsession with tornadoes and thunderstorms seemed like a normal childish fear when it started. Now it's become a full blown obsession, that takes over his life every time the rain clouds roll in.

Another quirk, that started several years ago, was the state of Z's room. Z's always been a packrat and can't bear to part with ANYTHING he's ever owned! This includes packaging from toys, deflated balloons, and toys that he's had since he was 2. When he was younger, we used to sneak things out of his room and put them in a box in our shed. If he didn't miss any of these things after a few weeks; we could safely dispose of them. When he got older we made Z responsible for cleaning out his room. We'd send him in there to clean on weekends. His possessions would get rearranged, but nothing ever got cleared out. We didn't realize what a huge problem this was for him until last fall. His room had reached the point where you couldn't walk through it. We knew that we had to get some order in Z's life before school started. It took the 3 of us 2 weeks to clear out and organize Z's room! We set up a 4 bin system: one for garbage, one for items to be donated to charity, one for items to keep, and one for the few items he wanted to save for his future family. This turned out to be a real ordeal! If left to his own devices, Z would have put everything in the keep and save bins, even the garbage. I had to throw away a pair of outgrown Pokemon bedroom slippers 3 times! Z kept sneaking them out of the garbage and back into his room.

About this time, our daughter, S, saw a TV show on hoarders. She told us that it's an OCD behavior. Apparently it gives people like Z comfort to be surrounded by everything they've ever owned. Just our luck; we couldn't have a compulsively neat OCD kid. We had to have Mr. Mess!

Compulsive shopping was another biggie with Z. When he was a toddler we couldn't get out of the store without Z buying something, even if it was only a trinket out of one of the vending machines. He didn't have the normal bratty child behavior, where he would scream until he'd get what he wanted. He would have a panic attack and become extremely agitated. As he got older we started paying Z for chores and made him spend his own money. This system has worked very well. He still shops a lot, especially online. He has 4 pages of bookmarked "want to buys". Most of the time he'll buy the first thing that he has enough money for, whether he really wants it or not. But, occassionally, he'll save up for something that he actually uses. We hope that these "baby steps" will lead to the point where he can responsibly handle his financesm when he's grown up.

The only "clean" OCD behavior Z has, involves the kitchen table at mealtime. It revolts Z to have even 1 drop of food spilled on the table. Anything spilled MUST be cleaned up IMMEDIATELY with a clean napkin! He also has a fit if food goes past the eating surface of his silverware and touches the handle. Again, he has to have a clean napkin to clean the handle. Either that or the offending cutlery goes to the dishwasher and Z gets a clean fork or spoon out of the drawer. Finger licking, at the table, is a no-no at our house too.

In researching OCD, I learned that only 20% of the behaviors are cured with medication alone. Behavioral therapy using exposure and ritual prevention is what is most successful. Anxiety subsides if the person is overexposed long enough, to the object of their obsession AND prevented from doing the ritual associated with this obsession.

We have been implementing this method when Z exhibits his OCD behaviors and have been noticing improvements here and there. On our journey, we've learned not to expect overnight miracles. Just like any kid his age, Z has a lot of maturing to do. Overcoming a few minor handicaps just makes the journey a little rockier for him. We can handle this.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

The Importance of History

It grieves me to find that History is becoming a forgotten subject. I don't agree with the way that it's been taught in most of our schools, but at least they taught it. Our son wasn't taught ANY History until the 6th grade. Then it was 1 quarter of Ancient History, then on to the state mandated Minnesota History unit. Z was rather irate about this. They had just started studying ancient Egypt, something he's always been interested in, and bang, they switched to Minnesota History. This year they taught American History. Z's teacher was fascinated with the Spanish influence and spent the 1st quarter studying Spanish explorers and the 2nd quarter studying the hacienda system(a miniscule part of history, at best). How confusing is this to a young mind?

I shouldn't say that they never studied History. Every Thanksgiving Z would learn about the Pilgrims coming to America on the Mayflower. When asked: What's a pilgrim? Why did they leave England? Where is Plymouth Rock? What tribe of Indians helped the Pilgrims? Were there other settlers besides the Pilgrims? His answer was always:" I don't know". When we went on vacation through South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana; it floored us to learn that Z had no idea who Lewis & Clark, Wild Bill Hickock, Wyatt Earp, Custer, Sitting Bull, or Crazy Horse were.

It seems that "the powers that be" of education, have decided that, they were bored with learning antiquated dates and events. So. . . . why should we teach our children something so irrelevant? I'm serious. This is what I've been told at school conferences.

When we started homeschooling, I asked Z why do we study History? His answer was the pat: "Those who don't study history are doomed to repeat it". I told him that this was only part of the answer. I told him the reason we study history, is to understand what is happening in the world today. Z gave me a blank look. A society behaves the way they do, because of their history. Everything that happened in the past is what makes that society who they are today.

A perfect example of this is the current mess in Iraq. Geographically, Iraq is a hard place to live; lots of sand and mountains. You had to be tough to survive there. Ancient Iraqi society was nomadic, with constant tribal wars over the basic human needs of food and water. These tribal feuds have carryed on for THOUSANDS of years and exist to this day. If our politicians had bothered to study history, they would have known that we should have had a plan to rebuild Iraq, before we invaded. Did Iraq need a regime change? Absolutely! Saddam Hussein is a despot with no regard for human rights. Could we go in and overthrow Hussein with very little loss of American life? Of course! The question is; how do we help these people to rule themselves without another Hussein jumping in there? Beats the hell out of me? That's the problem; nobody had a plan before we went blundering into Iraq. Any historian could have predicted the mess we'd be in! After hearing this example, Z's eyes lit up and he said: "I get it. People today act the way they do because that's the way their culture grew up!"

Our teaching tactics for History have been to start at the beginning. We started with Sumer and Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley culture, and the Nile River culture. These are all located in the "Fertile Crescent" or "Cradle of Civilization". From here we're studying in chronological order, as civilization expanded. We're also teaching world religions, as they evolved. Understanding what a culture believes in, helps to understand why that culture behaves the way they do now. It's all a matter of how their civilization "grew up".

We'll study American history when we get to that era. It never made sense to me how History was taught. They jump all over, in random order. Then, out of the blue, you're studying American History and don't have a clue why people were coming here to start with.

We're on a journey of discovery. How did we get to where we are today? How did the cultures and civilizations on our planet "grow up"?

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Maybes of Research

As I've said before; I've done a lot of research on TS. The first year I mostly researched the mechanics of the disorder. The last couple of years I've centered my research on co-morbid disorders and educational issues. These issues were what was causing Z trouble, so I narrowed my search.

Occassionally, I would run across an article on current research. I quickly scanned these articles enough to know that MAYBE scientists had isolated the area of the brain that cause TS, and MAYBE they've discovered a drug in Germany that can reroute neurons to bypass faulty areas. I decided to leave this area to the scientists and wait for something DEFINITE. I'm on a mission to educate our child.

I was recently brought up short on my lack of knowledge, so I went back and researched the mechanics again. When I last researched the WHYS of TS, 4 yrs ago, the MAYBES were slightly different. Back then MAYBE TS was caused by the brains overproduction of the chemicals dopamine and serotonin. Now, they say MAYBE TS is caused by the brains overproduction of dopamine, or MAYBE receptors in the brain are overly sensitive to dopamine. They very rarely mention serotonin now, except to say that MAYBE it has something to do with TS, but they're not sure how. There are also scientists that say MAYBE TS is a co-morbid disorder of OCD(Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), instead of the other way around. They're so closely related, it's hard to tell.

For every researcher that says one thing, there is another researcher that says the exact opposite. These aren't mistakes. It's just proof of how complex the human brain and nervous sytem are! They're exploring all possibilities. I thank God for the scientists out there who are researching all these MAYBES. MAYBE someday, they will find a way to fix the human brain without horrible side affects.

In the meantime, our son currently has an eye-rolling tic that is so severe that it's interfering with his reading. This slows his schooling down considerably. In addition, his OCD is preventing Z from taking out the garbage in his bedroom; there may be something in the garbage that he'll need! We've got our plate full just trying to find ways around these hurdles and many others. I'll leave the MAYBES to the experts.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

The Daily Show

I'm not saying this will work for everybody, but at our house it's a surprise success.

Several months before we started homeschooling, Z started discussing news items with us. This really threw us for a loop. I don't know about you, but when I was Z's age, I'd do ANYTHING to make myself scarce during the hallowed "Walter Cronkite half hour". This may have had something to do with the fact that the Vietnam War(conflict,whatever) was in full swing at that time. Watching thousands of humans dying in the mud was more than my young brain could handle. Anyway. . . we finally asked Z, why the sudden interest in news? His answer-The Daily Show. It seems that he was watching this irreverant news/comedy show every night when he went to bed.

L and I had accidentally come across this show several times and could understand why a smart-aleck teenager would love it. However, the facts that were spewing out of Z went way deeper than The Daily Show. Incredibly our son had been researching news stories that he found interesting on the show. He was actually taking an interest in current events!

The real payoff came a couple of weeks ago. Z and I were at my parents house (my parents are 24 hr/day Fox News zealots). My parents asked me what I thought about a news item that day; I was clueless. Out of nowhere, Z started spouting facts and opinions that, quite literally, made my parents jaws drop open! After the initial shock, my Mom proudly hugged Z, and asked him when he had started watching the news? She frowned slightly at the mention of The Daily Show(they have been known to bash "Saint Bush"). You know what? Since this conversation, I have actually caught my parents watching The Daily Show. I've even caught them LAUGHING at the jibes. AMAZING!!

I realize that many of you parents don't consider The Daily Show "appropriate" for young viewers; but at our house, this show "rocks"!! Thank you, Jon Stewart, for enriching our son's education!

Friday, May 13, 2005

Have Faith in Yourself!

I'd hate to count the hours I've spent researching TS since Z was diagnosed 4 yrs ago! We originally thought that he had OCD(Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) because of all his repetitive behaviors. The ONLY thing I knew about TS was that it was the "disease" that caused people to swear uncontrollably.

After 15 minutes online, I discovered just how ignorant I was! By the end of the evening, I was pretty well versed in the hows and whys of TS. The next 4 years I read EVERYTHING I could find on TS, OCD, ADD, and Executive Dysfunction. Our local library had very little information so I did most of my fact finding online. I stayed away from personal sites and devoted myself to discovering the "true facts". What encourages me today, is how much research has increased in the last 4 yrs.

After we started homeschooling, I realized that we needed alternative learning styles for Z. I then started visiting personal TS sites. I highly recommend this to anyone dealing with a TS kid. It is a great morale booster to find out that you're not alone. There are people out there going through the exact same problems that you are.

I also started visiting TS message boards. This route didn't pan out too well. There really aren't any TS message boards that are current. Most of them hadn't been touched since 2001! I read the past messages anyway and I still learned a lot. The most important thing I learned was that I was probably the most knowledgeable person in my son's circle of contacts. This included family doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, neurologists, teachers, and Special Ed departments. This was a revelation! Scores of parents on these message boards encouraged other parents to seek help ONLY from QUALIFIED TS neurologists, psychologists, and psychiatrists. It had never entered my mind to ask these doctors if they had actually treated TS before.

I did find one message board that is current: There are very few TS parents there, but there's all sorts of help with dyslexia, Asperger's Syndrome, ADD, and OCD. These parents have also become experts at dealing with all the meetings and paperwork involved with Special Ed. Please go there if your child has a neurological disorder. These parents can be more help than all the so-called specialists you've been seeing!

Bottom line. . . . Learn from my mistakes. Don't assume that every neurologist is well versed on your child's disorder. Trust in your own knowledge. . . . If it seems that YOU are the only one that understands your child's problems; you probably are! Trust your instincts and. . . . HAVE FAITH IN YOURSELF!

Tuesday, May 10, 2005


Our first mission when we began homeschooling was to rebuild Z's self-esteem. Our school system and years of bullying had pretty much deflated his ego. This was heartbreaking to us as Z had always been a cocky little shit!

We needed something that he could succeed at while we were putting together a curriculum and gathering materials for him. Since we had recently purchased a new computer, L suggested that Z rebuild our old computer for homeschooling and personal uses. With very little guidance from L, Z reformatted the hard drives, installed a writable CD drive that we had laying around, and installed HIS hardware (lego cam, digital camera and game controllers). L also guided Z through cleaning the interior of the cpu. Z then installed the software that he wanted on HIS computer and he was ready to fly. The only thing missing was a printer, which we ordered online. When the printer arrived, L was at work.and Z was antsy to install his new printer. Against my better judgement, I let him do it. Within an hour Z had unpacked the box and instruction manual (no small feat), hooked up the cables, installed the software, loaded the ink cartridges, ran a diagnostic test, and was happily printing his digital pictures. I was amazed!(So much for my "better judgement".) He couldn't wait for Dad to get home from work so he could show him his handiwork!

The other thing that Z was enthusiastic about learning was cooking. Unfortunately, in our society, cooking is becoming a dying art. We long ago decided that no child of ours was going to think that home cooking was something thrown together out of a box, bag, or can. The first day that Z was out of school he made omelets and fried potatoes for dinner. After completing this meal, he astutely came up with the idea that the most important part of making a meal come together was the prep work. He's become quite skilled at peeling and cutting vegetables. His pot stirring technique still needs a bit of practice; his first attempt at gravy making was a bit lumpy. The most important thing that Z has learned through cooking is that new skills improve with practice. Z amazed his Grandma last week when we went over there for dinner. She was making pizza and Z offered to cut up the toppings for her. Grandma sat down and let Z finish the pizzas. She couldn't believe how well he handled a knife! Now meal preparation goes a lot faster with an extra pair of hands helping.

What's the best part of all of this? We have our cocky little shit back!!

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Our Beautiful Babies (S on left, Z on right)

Happy Mother's Day!

This post is dedicated to all you beautiful children out there (even the adult ones)!

We mothers tend to forget that we wouldn't be celebrating this day if it wasn't for the miraculous beings that we created. My wish for all of you is that you have (or had) a mother that you are grateful for. Someone who nurtured, guided, and LOVED you enough to make you the person you are today.

Unfortunately, this isn't always the case. My mother-in-law is the perfect example of this. If you are one of those unfortunates (sure hope it isn't my kids) whose mother spawned them and moved on with her life; TRY to forgive her so YOU can move on with your life. THEN make it your mission to make your children's lives better. Become your child's "soft place to fall". Make your home a safe haven that your children can escape to when the pressures of this crazy world are too much for them.

For those of you without children; consider mentoring a lonely child or struggling mother. So many "bad" mothers out there want to do better. They came from totally dysfunctional families and don't have a clue how to raise their children in a loving environment.

The only way we can change this world is ONE PERSON AT A TIME!

Saturday, May 07, 2005

2 Questions

Ever since we started our homeschooling odyssey, I've been bombarded by the same 2 questions from friends and family. "How do you find the time?" and "Isn't homeschooling expensive?"

The answer to the first question is the reason I came up with the homeschooling idea to start with. I was spending ALL of my nonwork time dealing with the school and trying to catch Z up on his assignments; and he was STILL FAILING!! Since my husband, L, works nights and I work days, I was the one who was home when Z was. L tried to help on weekends, but it took more time bringing him up to speed on what was going on than it did for me to keep doing it by myself. My stress and frustration levels were horrid. Not a good thing for an old broad enduring perimenopause!! Our family life just plain SUCKED!! All of our lives revolved around getting Z through one more week of school.

Now my load is cut in half. L handles Z's schooling from 8 a.m.-noon and I handle the 2-6 p.m. shift. From noon-2 p.m., Z has lunch, unwinds, and does his household chores (something he never had time for before, so L and I were doing Z's chores too). Right now I'm in charge of setting up the curriculum, researching materials, and Math. L handles test writing, grading and English. We both contribute to Science and History. The most time consuming and frustrating part is keeping Z focused.(I'll discuss this at a later date) I was the one in charge of writing up a daily assignment list, but that's gonna change this weekend. We'll now have a weekly meeting and write down expectations for the week. (I'll let you know how this one works.)

As for the expense part: so far I've spent $60 for books, $7.95 for a new globe, $19.95 for a small cassette recorder to help Z with notetaking, and $7 for VCR tapes. This is pretty much all I expect to spend for the next couple of months. So far this has been less than the $35/month we were spending on school lunch! The rest of our materials come from the internet, our wonderful public library, the amazing educational channels on cable TV, everyday life, and the beautiful, but crazy, world around us. Every week I check the schedules of the educational channels and write up a list of shows to record. Some of the shows are relevant now, some will be used in the future when we get to a particular subject.

Homeschooling has come naturally to L and I, since most of the worthwhile things we know, we learned on our own. L was a self-taught professional musician for 10 years before we married. Now he's a self-taught computer whiz and keeps all of our friend's computers running smoothly. I pretty much self-taught myself through high school and college. I had a few good teachers, but not many. What I wouldn't have given for the internet and word processors when I was in school!!

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Why Me?

Our daughter recently asked me if I ever asked God; "Why me?" Z isn't the first member of our family to have problems. Our daughter, S, had SEVERE problems with clinical depression in high school. It's rather ironic that 2 out of 3 of the brain chemicals (dopamine & serotonin) that are overproducing in Z's brain, were underproducing in S's brain. Our family has often joked that it's too bad that we couldn't meld the brains of our children to average out their brain chemicals and have 2 "normal" kids.

I laughed when S asked me that question. I had that conversation with God just 2 weeks before she asked me this. Having worked the 6 a.m.-2 p.m. shift for 23 yrs, my body refuses to let me sleep later than 6 a.m. I long ago gave up the notion of trying to sleep in and decided to enjoy my early morning alone time on my days off. This particular morning I was sitting by the light of a candle at my kitchen table, enjoying my first cup of coffee, with my dog's head in my lap. I had just been through a week of dealing with TS and an inept school system when I just LOST IT and starting sobbing in my coffee. I wanted to know why MY beautiful children had been cursed wtih brain disorders beyond their control? Why had I been forced to battle with a school system that would rather write off my kids than help them? WHY ME??!! At that moment a calm voice spoke in my head: "Because you can handle it".

At that moment, I stopped crying and searched my soul for an answer to this simple statement. Where would my kids be if they had a mom whose career came before family? Where would they be if they had a timid mom who believed that authority figures were always right? Where would they be if they had a party girl mom who cared more about her pleasure than her kids? Where would they be if their mom wasn't an ornery, foul mouthed, she-bear that would protect her family at all costs? You know what God? I guess you gave my kids the right MOM! I CAN handle it!!

Wednesday, May 04, 2005


I've been message boarding again. It's quite heartening to share other parent's experiences with their school administrations. Reading of their struggles with teachers and Special Ed makes me realize that we were 100% right in pulling Z out of school. There are hundreds of parents out there that are having the exact same problems that we did!

Equally disheartening is the fact that there are hundreds of kids, connected to these parents, that are being failed by the system. These kids suffer from a variety of maladies including dyslexia, ADHD, TS, Asperger's Syndrome, auditory dysfunctions and many others I've never heard of. Many of these parents have spent their last penny getting their children specialized tutoring, only to have their school systems refuse to incorporate these successful learning methods into their child's IEP(Individual Education Plan). One dyslexic child, that had already been held back a year, started getting A's and B's in all his classes using the methods taught in his tutoring sessions. The school, however, decided to hold him back another year because his reading level was 2 yrs behind his peers. Wake up people!! This child will probably never read at his age level. He has learned to compensate by using memorization techniques so he doesn't have to rely on reading alone. Instead of encouraging this child for overcoming his handicap; the school chose to demoralize him by failing him again.

Many parents are asking how they can get their schools to accept the diagnosis of their psychiatrists and neurologists. These parents are all doing the responsible thing and having their children tested, at their own expense, and their schools refuse to acknowledge the findings.

My question is: HOW DO WE FIX THIS?