We homeschooled. That’s actually what happened over the past ten years. We homeschooled.
Here is another of many valid perspectives on “the rest of the story” or “our family’s last 10 years with Lauren.”
We homeschooled. And we celebrated life. That’s also what we’ve been doing for the past ten years.
Though Bryn graduated high school in 2008 and Lauren is really our forever student, from 2002 to the present, we have been dedicated to giving both Bryn and Lauren the best education they each could get as very different individuals with very different needs. We have also been embedded in a homeshool community our whole family treasures. Thankfully, it took me a long while to write this post, so I am fresh from another homeschooled friend’s graduation celebration. The graduate’s mom’s party decorations included a thorough poster board display of photos of 16 years of her homeschool (which is now officially closed—Yeah!). Bryn was in many of those photos, and Lauren was even in a few.
This graduation event reminded me of the families that took us in over the years in a variety of ways. The most prominent way was when our homeschooling group was going on one of (frequent) field trips, and there was little likelihood Lauren could be successful on such a trip. Bryn felt as comfortable going with one of 5 other homeschooling families as she did going with her own family. Bryn tells me today that she feels like she has many families. Though her experience of having a sister is far outside the norm (no experience of traditional sibling rivalry when your only sibling can’t talk/argue with you), she feels like she has had many brothers and sisters and she treasures her relationships with each.
I would love to show a few of hundreds of pictures of my kids with homeschooling friends, but I’m a big believer in not posting pictures of persons on the internet without those persons’ permission (which I’m too lazy to get). These people helped make possible our ability to celebrate life. In between, and even amidst, the trials, there were many celebrations. Here were a few:
In the spring of 2003, our homeschool group held an Arts Festival at which our students could display and perform anything representing their school year’s study within the arts. Bryn attended and recited some memorized poems, but both Bryn and Lauren contributed to a table display of our children’s work. Here was their display:
Five pieces were Bryn’s, and three (the 2 colorful splotches of watercolor, and a paler marker piece entitled “Feeling Better”) were contributed by Lauren. We were celebrating Lauren’s willingness to dab a paintbrush in water, paint, and then on paper at that point during that school year, so this display felt like quite an accomplishment. It’s amazing how easy it is to find something to celebrate every day when you adjust your standards to that which you have, and not which you crave. (One of the poems Bryn recited was T. S. Eliot’s Rum Tum Tugger, and she did a multi-media unit study based on Rum Tum Tugger, I believe, as I see the display once again—though there is an original, unrelated, poem there, too.)
I’m sure I would have never come up with the hair-brained idea to go to the Outer Banks, NC, in 2003 but for the excited announcement at a homeschool moms’ meeting about the centennial celebration of the first flight of Orville and Wilbur Wright at Kitty Hawk. Craig loves all things aviation, and for some reason, that became a desire and focus of mine—to make possible for Craig a memorable trip to the First Flight celebration. And we did it. (Three other of our favorite homeschooling families attended, as well.) The timeframe was when Lauren was at her worst behaviorally, so setting our expectations at a proper level was key to our success as a family.
Craig and Bryn thoroughly attended and enjoyed the festivities planned to celebrate the centennial.
I doubted Lauren would be able to tolerate such a crowded venue with lots of people, as well as surprising, loud aviation noises often suddenly overhead. And I was right. Lauren and I did get through the gates and I took a few photos of her tolerating those moments, but we soon exited the grounds and spent the next two days doing our own thing. Here’s evidence of how we spent one day:
I plotted out a course for Bodie Island lighthouse, and we found it! It was beautiful! We even saw some planes coming from the First Flight celebration flying past the lighthouse. I took many pictures of our adventure and we used the public restroom on premises (which was always a big adventure with Lauren back then). This is Lauren after our successful public restroom adventure and before we made our way home as successful tourists who had seen something fabulous:
I realized while going through family photos for this post that our family doesn’t have a lot of pictures of events where people usually take photos, like birthdays and vacations. (The photo above is “the best of” of Lauren on vacation.) Where we don’t have a lot of “event” photos, we have plenty of “moment” photos. When a “moment” strikes, we better grab the image of it to last a while, so we can get through until the next moment. Here are some moments that were well worth celebrating with a slew of photos to mark each:
Lauren tolerating not only clothes (other than a houdini), but wearing layers on a cold day in the fall of 2002.
On an early spring day in 2004, we discovered something Lauren loves . . . washing cars!
She’s master with sponge and bubbles, but be careful handing her the sprayer!
Another cherished outdoor memory was in April 2003, when Lauren acted interested in one of her sister’s then favorite pastimes, sidewalk chalk:
Though this next one (before SCD!) wasn't necessarily a super happy day for Lauren offering photo ops of smiles, in December 2003, we took many pictures of a day outside playing as a family during Craig’s week off for Christmas. Though you can tell in each of the photos that Lauren doesn’t feel so good, she often came in close for comforting hugs that afternoon, and that gave us one of my favorite photos of her and me:
Okay, so our family doesn’t have a bunch of photos of typical celebrations, but as you can see, we had many celebrations over the past ten years. Ours just occurred in a more impromptu fashion than for most families.
Against that tide, however, Lauren’s 16th birthday turned out to be a lovely Sweet 16 celebration because of the relationships we had built with our dear homeschooling friends. I was inspired to actually have people over for the event because Lauren was feeling so good (it was 3 years into her healing on the SCD) and we had just completed a remodel of her bedroom that I wanted show off:
After years of Lauren’s room being simply a pared down safe space, it now looked like a room fit for a calm, happy girl—the young lady she had become.
This was the first room Craig and I hadn’t painted on our own, because we needed to completely focus on keeping Lauren happy while her bedroom was torn apart and off limits, and a professional could do it quicker. But the professional took a day longer than expected, so we were challenged with 2 whole nights of attempting to get Lauren to go to bed and asleep in a foreign space. The depth of that challenge was probably what made us want to party and scream from the rooftops, “It’s done! It’s done!” Lauren loved her new space.
That party was a happy thing because, once again, we planned it around Lauren’s limitations. Lauren has never been patient for long with people sitting around in a sitting room, and she usually left such situations quickly. But Lauren has understood since she was very young the appeal of a “table party.” Table parties are ones that occur entirely at the table. Lauren completely grasps and appreciates the concept of gathering where there is food. She is happy to make eye contact across a table, to hold hands and nod in agreement about the goodness of the food and drink. So we had a short, evening table party for Lauren’s 16th birthday celebration, inviting her grandparents and our friends.
We served SCD peanut butter brownies and traditional chocolate brownies all from the same platter so Lauren didn’t feel like she wasn’t permitted to touch the platter of good stuff.
I don’t think she noticed some brownies were darker in color than others, and the peanut butter ones are great anyway.
And Lauren had a great time.
That “all on the same platter” made me think of Bryn’s Sweet 16 celebration two years prior, which turned out to be another of life’s amazingly unexpected blessings and a celebration of life so much bigger than a 16th birthday party. Thanks to some dear neighbors who provided dinner, Bryn’s party was a sleepover with a fondue dinner and fabulous cupcakes from a local bakery for dessert. We weren’t worried about Lauren’s participation in the dinner, as we didn’t think she would be interested in fondue, particularly as we held the dinner in our sunroom where Lauren’s unaccustomed to eating. I was concerned, however, about Lauren being able to join in the singing of Happy Birthday without being denied a cupcake after the candles were blown out—I had not yet figured out how to make an SCD cupcake that could rival the look and appeal of this bakery’s cupcakes.
One of our dear fellow homeschooling friends came to the rescue. She took the cupcake and frosting recipes I had, asked how the bakery cupcakes would be decorated, and then went to work to create an acceptable SCD duplicate. Though I have no good pictures of her on the occasion, Lauren sat giggling among Bryn’s girlfriends much of that evening, and was fully present for the singing of Happy Birthday, as well as for the birthday cupcakes. Her SCD cupcakes were on the same platter as the regular cupcakes, frosted with white icing and decorative colorful polka dots just like all the other cupcakes. My friend had taken my nut flour and probably some butter and honey to use in the process, but otherwise searched out her own ingredients and figured out a natural way to make colorfully dyed SCD legal frosting for the tops of Lauren’s cupcakes. There was not a moment of her sister’s Sweet 16 birthday party when Lauren didn’t feel welcome, mostly thanks to this dear friend’s great efforts.
One of the last “field trips” we went on as a family (before Bryn headed to college in 2009) was a summer day trip to Toccoa Falls, GA. I had heard of these falls when traveling in the North Georgia mountains on another homeschooling field trip, and then saw them when looking at colleges with Bryn, as they are actually on the campus of Toccoa Falls College. We rarely travel this far away from home with Lauren, but I was sure that, with much planning, I could plot out a day of fun—a pretty, scenic car ride to Toccoa; a stop at the college’s public restroom (key!); a short, dirt trail walk along water from the parking lot to the falls (Lauren loves to hike); hopefully some time at the falls (the most unpredictable element was Lauren’s reaction to the potentially overwhelming site of the roaring, super high falls); then no matter how quickly we needed to get her back to the car, I had the path to an acceptable, close-by, Lauren-friendly restaurant plotted out, as well as their menu perused and SCD options pre-chosen. Mama was ready . . . and it turned out to be one of the grandest days of celebration in our family’s adventure so far . . .
Lauren’s first sighting of the falls.
Yes, those are people below. We called them the blue shirts. (Apparently a camp was in session.)
For a long while, “I’ll just look at them from here—a nice, safe distance.” But she was sure they were close enough to touch, and kept trying to.
Bravely getting onto a HUGE rock with her dad’s help.
Lauren, Craig and Bryn . . . SO close! Now they CAN touch the falls, because the mist shoots off it that far!
Mom’s joined her clan on the rock. Lauren’s super comfy with the huge waterfall and we’re loving the mist on our faces.
The best, most relaxed picture of Lauren ever taken her entire life. It only took a deafening, water-throwing, phenomenon of nature to make it happen! (With credit to the photographer, Bryn Silvernail.)