A Tale Of Two Teens Headed Back-To-School Two Ways
When back-to-school means different things for different teens in the same family, the name of the game is making sure that everyone gets what they need.
We live in the south, so—while I know many of you across the country feel like your summer is just getting into the swing—for us, school starts up again next week. (It’s fine to take a minute to gasp and clutch your chest. I know I would’ve, back in the school-starts-after-Labor-Day days.) True, it took some adjusting, when we moved down here, but I’ve come to love the early back-to-school schedule because it holds the promise of that mid-May completion, and then we have a glorious month of summer (with decent temperatures, usually) while the rest of the world is still stuck in classes.
Our family is about to embark on Year 3 of one child attending public school while the other child is being homeschooled. You might think this would be old hat for us by now, but only if you didn’t know me. See, my superpower is angst. I’m capable of worrying about just about anything. It’s a gift! (A gift that came without a receipt and cannot be returned!) A huge part of me feels like we should have this down by now, but this year also feels really different. For me, that’s anxiety-provoking. I don’t want to fail my children. I’m taking lots of deep breaths and reminding myself that—no matter how it may feel in the moment—we have time and nothing is carved in stone.
It’s true that since becoming an accidental homeschooler a few years back I’ve grown more comfortable in this role. Each year my son has been home, I’ve taken on more of the day-to-day planning and instruction he needs. I’m no longer convinced I might somehow break him or screw up his academic path permanently. (Hey, I told you angst is my superpower.) He’s currently excited about his upcoming online classes and I’ve found a small group co-op for him to attend one day a week, as well, and from the outside looking in, I can see where it looks like all is well.
From the inside looking out, though, it weighs heavily on me that this is my son’s last year of middle school. The clock is ticking: What will we do for high school? Will he stay home? Will we try him at his sister’s school? Is there a different school that would make more sense? If homeschooling has taught me anything, it’s that flexibility is the name of the game; whatever decision we make for next year can change, if need be. But… if we do want him to try our public high school, socially and emotionally it would be best to start him in 9th grade with the rest of the incoming freshmen. Will he want that? Will he be ready for that, even if he does want it? Right now I don’t know. I keep telling myself I’m not even going to think about this until January—better to get through the fall semester, first, and then take stock of how things are going—but you try not thinking about that elephant in the room.
This morning I finished up my standard round of emails to his virtual school teachers to introduce him, introduce myself, let them know that he has a 504 Plan on file with accommodations for his autism, etc. I’m struck by how far he’s come in the last few years; I’m so proud of his hard-won growth I could just burst. On the other hand, I’m also struck by how large the gap still is between him and his neurotypical peers, in some areas. And then I remind myself that I am not thinking about what comes next until January. (This is me, not thinking about it. Nope. Not at all.)
Public High School
Then we also have my daughter, who is about to embark on her sophomore year of public high school. I don’t remember a lot about my high school experience (perhaps I blocked it out?), but I am amazed by how early these kids are called upon to start planning for college. My daughter and her friends are already being forced to take these online assessments to figure out ideal career paths, and their guidance counselors are already helping them craft their course schedules based upon what would make most sense for college prep. It’s good, I guess, but it also feels early, in some ways, and the amount of pressure being put on these kids (to pick the “right” classes, get the best grades because GPA! Scholarships! Class standing!) often feels dangerous to me. A part of me fantasizes about flinging myself over her, spread-eagle, using my body as a shield to ward off the constant barrage of “plan for your future!” propaganda. “Enjoy the right now,” I’ll whisper to her. “You’re just a kid. Be a kid, because you’ve got the rest of your life to worry about everything else.”
After School Activities
Despite the group-think and pressure, I see ways in which the public school experience is working in wonderful ways for my daughter, too. Unlike my son, who finds group activities stressful and overwhelming, my girl has spent the last couple of weeks at band camp, reuniting with her marching band family and gearing up for the marching season. She’s also comparing schedules with her friends and planning out various clubs and activities and looking forward to getting back into the daily school routine as far away from her tragically unhip parents as possible. We all get along better when she’s out of the house for most of the day. That’s not a commentary on her or us (I hope), but she’s deep in the thick of finding herself and figuring out her place in the world, and from everything I’ve read and seen, that involves concluding that your parents are morons. At least I can rest assured that if I don’t manage to perfectly finesse the balance between encouragement/expectations and reminding her to just be a kid, she’ll just assume it’s because I’m dumb, I guess.
So there it is; the countdown is on. Next week my daughter goes back to the high school and my son resumes his studies here at home with my guidance, and both of them will be getting what they need and I have nothing to worry about. Mostly. I think. I hope.