My big decision

I get a report from my nine-year-old son’s overnight camp that he is largely unable to read the nonverbal responses kids have to his humor. And, unfortunately, those responses are very negative. And, unfortunately, this is a camp for kids with Asperger’s so the bar was not very high to begin with.

I am sad.

I have been through school districts in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Madison, WI. I have hired lawyers, I have spent tons of money to win everything I want. I have been through enough hearings to know that in our current school district I would have to spend loads of money to enforce my son’s IEP and then I’d win and then everyone in our town would hate me.

Being right is not as important as being a good mom. So I decide the first kid I’m taking out of the schools is my nine-year-old who needs special services and it’s easier for me to spend my time earning the money to pay for services than to spend my time fighting the school systems to get services for free.

I am nervous about telling my son. I am worried he has already been sold on the idea of school by the school. I plan out what I will say and I rehearse. I worry he will not trust me to teach him. Or he will miss his current teachers. I worry he’ll call my bluff on the whole idea that you can learn from home.

At the end of dinner I say to my son, “We are going to do school at home this year. No going to school in the mornings for you anymore.”

He says, “What will we do for recess?”

25 replies
  1. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    This is the way I see it. You got a good report/assessment of your son. It wasn’t sugarcoated. It was an honest evaluation. Remember what you wrote in a recent blog post – “I have found, in my personal life, that if I face everything, even if it’s bad, then at least I have a chance at making it better.” I also have found that to be true. It’s also a good report in the sense that it has solidified your decision to try homeschooling – the tipping point. It sounds to me that based on everything I’ve read here on your blog that you’re making the right decision. Enjoy the journey!

  2. Margaret Goerig
    Margaret Goerig says:

    “Being right is not as important as being a good mom.”

    Great line. You can take out “mom” and insert so many other things: friend, husband, wife, daughter, son. I don’t mean all the time, either, like you’re just a doormat, but keeping it in mind can stop you from losing your head, when it’s just not worth it, because the loss will be greater than the gain.

    Also, these new sections on your blog are looking good. I’m happy for you that you’re feeling motivated to expand and try new things.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      You make the radical assumption that a kid with Asperger’s plays with other kids at recess. He doesn’t. Playing with kids at recess is actually written into his IEP (special education plan) and the school still can’t get him to play with other kids at recess.

      As someone with Asperger’s I can remember recess being purely escapism. I had to spend so much time dealing with other kids in the classroom that I needed recess to get away from everyone and have alone time.

      I spent recess in a far-away corner of the playground, and so does my son.

      But, what this really does is bring up the absurdity of people having a knee-jerk response to homeschooling by saying that kids won’t be socialized.


      • Libby McCullough
        Libby McCullough says:

        Hey Penelope,
        I am glad you are trying the homeschooling thing. You are right that sometimes it is best just to spend the money on educating and not spend it on the lawyers. Especially in the district you are in right now. Certain states and districts within states also have better or worse resources. You probably know how your 9 year old learns better than anyone else around there too. Since you and he are so much alike, you will probably be his best teacher.

        I am glad you are doing it. If you need some alone time, you might look for someone who can teach them one or two subjects, who you can pay to teach that, so you can do things you want to do like write or whatever you need to do to have some down time.

        I hope the best for you!!

  3. Yvonne
    Yvonne says:

    Our family is in a similar situation where spending the time and money enforcing our son’s IEP is a pure agony. We now do everything privately and finally have our lives back. Living in a farm with you son growing up next to you is a blessing. We look forward to reading more about the adventures the two of you embark together!

  4. karelys
    karelys says:

    omg Penelope I am so excited for you and I love your son’s response!!!

    I know you are super apprehensive about the whole thing.

    You made me think lots about homeschooling. I am biased for it because I did online learning. I learned more than what the curriculum had set for me.

    You’re always surrounding yourself with really smart people, delegating and outsourcing what you can.

    Homeschooling doesn’t have to be all on your shoulders!

    here’s what I’ve been thinking:
    1.why not ask your personal assistant to drive your kids to the cello classes or whatever classes they need?

    I know you don’t want to do it, and I wouldn’t either, but maybe you can include that as part of the job description?

    2.Why not “hire” excellent tutors in exchange for something valuable you can give.

    I read A Cup of Jo everyday (blog by Joanna Goddard) and she has one or two “interns.” Pretty much people who do stuff for free in exchange for mentorship, exposure, writing help, blogging help, etc.

    3. Also, Skype.

    You could find a great math tutor in Maddison but no one wants to drive to meet each other.

    Your kids are already growing up with technology and it might even be interesting to meet the tutor on skype because they already do a lot of tech anyway.

    4. I loved loved loved reading about your kids’ business ventures.

    I think what’s so awesome about homeschool is that parents like you can teach the kids self discovery. Starting a business or “project” from start to finish maybe part of the curriculum requirements you set in your home.

    That would take quite a bit of time and your kid won’t be idle. Which I doubt they would in a farm.

    5. Kids love trips and that could be something that you guys schedule sort of often as a way to implement what was learned/reward for finishing the work.

    6. Maybe other kids want to come to the farm to hang out once a week or so and your kid in charge of being a host making sure the friends follow rules.

    As I am typing I am sort of thinking of what I’d do if I homeschooled my children.

    I don’t want them to grow up and barely come acquinted to the idea of finding themselves. Also, I hate that we’re sold into the idea that part of growing up is getting a job. I never want my kids to get a job. I want them to have their own projects that make money.

    I think that when they start as kids, when there’s no bills to pay, they lose the fear earlier.

    You’ll be great at this Pen!!!

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thanks for the suggestions. You can be sure that I’ll be hiring a lot of people to help me. Honestly, my biggest worry right now is how I can both be home with the kids all day and earn enough money to pay for all the help I want to have during the day.


      • karelys davis
        karelys davis says:

        your visibility and mentorship is so valuable I am pretty sure many people would want to trade their skills for. I know that if I was this great awesome kid who knows how to explain math to your child I’d gladly do it in exchange for some learning. That’s what interning is anyway.

        So that will probably take care of some things; not everything but some.

        And then, I’ve read about the time you went blind because you were so stressed to get funding and you did it anyway.

        I know this is super motivating for you that’s why I am sure you’ll figure it out no problem.

        ps. maybe someone will pay you more money to blog about them or their product because you’re good at it.

        I am looking for a bed and now I’m biased for tempur pedic because of your post. So there you go.

  5. Karen
    Karen says:

    Congratulations Penelope! Making the decision is the hardest part. I’m so looking forward to following your blog this year as you move from talking about homeschooling in the abstract to actually doing it. It’s going to be fascinating. I’m really rooting for you because I think you can do this.

  6. Tanya
    Tanya says:

    Yay! I’m so happy for your son! I think all children deserve an individualized education, but the necessity is greater for kids with special needs. And I LOVE Karelys’ list. The camp story made me so sad. But at the same time, I’m very happy for him that he has a brave mom who is willing to step out of her comfort zone to give the best for her kid. I have no doubt he will flourish as a young man thanks to having a mom who is willing to think and live outside the box. Exciting times ahead for you guys! I really don’t think you will regret this.

    • karelys davis
      karelys davis says:

      twice I told people in the past that if they wanted to be so cool and “think outside the box” they had to know the inside of the box first.

      They thought I was brilliant.

      Then I felt so guilty and called them to tell them Penelope said it first.


  7. Gala
    Gala says:

    We came very close to homeschooling Bry between 1st-2nd grades. We wanted to have him repeat 1st and the priniipal at Elm Lawn and I went head-to-head. They were not happy to hear me say “FINE….I will homeschool AND work fulltime outside of our home”. Needless to say, we moved him to Sauk Trail. And I don’t regret it a moment.

    GOOD FOR YOU for making this leap.

    I wish you the best of luck. And your sweetheart of a son will do just wonderful I am sure!!

    (BTW: it was great to see him Saturday. Bry was soooooooo excited)

  8. brooklynchick
    brooklynchick says:

    I don’t know anything about Asperger’s; how will he learn to tune in to nonverbal responses from peers if he is home with you? I’m honestly asking.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      That’s a great question, and it’s the biggest sticking point for me when deciding to homeschool or not.

      Kids with Asperger’s need help in school from a specialist in order to leverage the presence of other kids to learn social skills. The specialist is very expensive.

      I have hired lawyers to get the specialist approved from the schcool. Then I have hired lawyers to enforce the agreement the school signed. I have heard from other parents that this is totally standard and one must devote a huge huge amount of time and money to getting a kid what they need from the school.

      I am sick of fighting. I think my resources are better spent driving my kid to private social skills classes. So that’s what I’ll be doing. The net effect will be that I have to worry about social skills just as much as I did when I was fighting public school districts, but now I have more control over the treatment plan.


  9. justamouse
    justamouse says:

    Having homeschooled now for 9 years, and looking toward 12 more years, welcome to the club!

    It can be blissful, it can be infuriating, but it’s never boring.

  10. hmi
    hmi says:

    I taught for many years as a private tutor to the home-schooled, mostly teaching high school level courses that the parent didn’t feel competent to take on. Other times I’ve worked alongside parents.

    I have yet to run across anyone home schooled who I thought turned out badly due to home schooling. I’ve certainly seen at least a couple who needed to be, and were, rescued from standard classrooms. Most, I think, have turned out markedly better than they would have in most standard schools. And I watched 4 of my former pupils (including one with some learning difficulties) go on to Ivy League schools.

    The one thing I would say (especially in light of the Asperger issue with both mom and son) is that clear, consistent organization is vital. Like the Ceylons, you need a plan, some plans, some multi-year plans (that can, of course, be refined).

    And you should know going in that this will be a lot of work. Fortunately, there are some home schooling sites and organizations and blogs that can help—unlike 25 years ago when I got started.

  11. leftbrainfemale
    leftbrainfemale says:

    Penelope – where have you been all my online life? LOL – just had to say that. I just found your “Blueprint” article off Instapundit’s link. Excellent. But I had to write to you to tell you of our homeschool experience. I have two daughters who this year will be 17 and 15. I homeschooled for the first 8 years of their schooling – primarily because I instinctively understood that my older daughter was a different type of learner and was terrified she would slip through the cracks. Somehow, I was blessed with an intuition and ability to figure out just how to work with her. When she and her sister entered 8th and 7th grades, she was diagnosed with non-verbal learning disability which was so close to it that the school psych said he couldn’t be certain it wasn’t aspergers. After reading about the issues, I realized that I had prepared her all along – she is very capable of interacting with others even though she doesn’t always recognize their non-verbal cues – and she’s really got a great sense of humor and is very talented artistically. We’ve watched some of Temple Grandin’s lectures and she reminds me a lot of a younger Temple. And she struggles with math, just as Temple did. But otherwise, she would be an honor-roll student in every other class. She’s in normal public school classes, and I still go over lessons with her at home – partly to help insure she understands, partly to help her avoid indoctrination. Younger daughter skipped a grade and is taking all honors classes. Math for oldest is the largest frustration, and frankly, I think the IEP has gotten in the way as she has been put into three years of classes with other differently abled students and co-taught – and her math scores are worse than when she started school. I really believe that in a more challenging class with a better instructor, she might have found a way to rise to the challenge!

  12. Greg
    Greg says:

    You are so my hero! Thank you for taking the time to write about home schooling, and thank you for putting the time into answering trolls in your comments!

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