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The first days of real school
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Thursday was my younger son, Caleb’s 11th birthday. Unreal, right? One of our gifts was a new Lego Star Wars bookbag, celebrating his love of Legos, Star Wars and a Lego Star Wars video game he and his brother, Joshua (also 11; he’ll be 12 in October), love to play.

The bookbag was an appropriate gift since Thursday also marked his first day at school. His first day came two days after his brother’s first day of school.


Tuesday and Thursday were their first days of traditional school -- ever.

I’ve never mentioned it, at least not directly, but we have homeschooled the boys since they reached school age. We made that choice for personal reasons, believing strongly that it was the right thing to do for us and, more importantly, for them.

At one point, we started noticing that both boys, but Caleb more than Josh, were having trouble learning certain things that had come easily to us as kids 30 years ago.

Joshua quickly learned to read, but had trouble with certain math concepts. He seemed to rush through things and not focus on lessons that we were teaching him.

Caleb never seemed to progress past basic ABCs and counting. Reading and doing math problems on grade level was beyond him. We thought dyslexia might be involved, but that something else might be going on as well.

We had both boys tested for various things and found that they both have levels of attention deficit and/or hyperactivity issues (ADD/ADHD); Joshua was also diagnosed with mild Asperger’s.

In addition, Caleb’s level of “dyslexia” or visual processing goes beyond what is normally described by that term. He, literally, sees things differently from the rest of us.

Joshua, on the other hand (but Caleb, too, to some degree) can be affected by the foods he eats, ratcheting up behaviors we’re trying to minimize. Depending on his diet and other factors, Joshua can have trouble focusing on the task at hand.

We continued homeschooling after learning these things about our children, but also began seeking help. The boys (collectively) received visual perception and occupational therapy. We paid for a tutor to focus on “core” skills and have seen an improvement in regards to reading and math.

We also did something else we never thought we’d do: placed them on ADD/ADHD medication. Putting your kid on medication is a choice that each parent must make for their own child, but I have to say we’ve seen the results and while not perfect, they do work.

Most recently, we felt that our efforts just weren’t getting the job done. Still wanting to school them at home, however, we tried out -- for just a few days -- a virtual public school. But Mom is still Mom and Dad is still Dad, and sometimes kids don’t want to take educational instruction from their parents. Also, Caleb was having a very hard time following the material because he, essentially, doesn’t read as easily as the rest of us and doesn’t understand abstract concepts.

It took a blow-up from Josh to make us understand that they needed more help than we could provide ourselves ... and afford.

It’s tough to come to that realization, that you can’t provide for your children the way you want to. It’s been especially hard on my wife. As she put it, she’s been joined at the hip to both boys since they were born aside from both daytime and overnight field trips, vacation Bible school and other activities.

Through the tears and with a lot of anxiety, we took Joshua in first and enrolled him in fifth grade. We were fortunate that Joshua has a great teacher – one that friends have confirmed is awesome. Two days later, after some more soul-searching, we enrolled Caleb at the same school in fourth grade and got a teacher we believe will help him.

We are trusting that Caleb will be able to receive assistance from not only his teacher but other staff that are trained in helping kids like him learn while respecting his unique abilities.

I say unique because, as we also celebrate Caleb’s 11th birthday, we celebrate his ability to put Lego blocks together to make spaceships and other neat things. He may not understand what’s on a piece of paper the way we do, but he sees things in his head in three dimensions and can put them together. I can barely make a house.

Joshua was very excited to head off to public school and his teacher sent back a note saying he had a “fantastic” first day. Caleb -- whose sensory issues seemed to be on overload as we walked down the hallway to his classroom -- had a bit of a deer-in-headlights look. He did a good job, though, of politely greeting his teacher and answering their questions. He was exhausted when he got home, but said he had a good time.

We’ve already been impressed so far with the staff at their school -- the principal out there helping with drop off and pick up, the understanding of teachers and the school staff about the needs of both boys -- basically while it’s been hard to have to do this, we’d say that, so far it’s been a positive experience.

Our hope is the same as any other parents’ hope: that our children will succeed in school so that they will, one day, be productive, responsible adults.

So, here we are, taking a heck of a turn on the journey that is raising our sons. I hope you understand that I probably won’t write about them very often anymore (Dad, that’s embarrassing!), but that doesn’t mean I’m any less proud of them or that I love them any less.