Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Homeschooling to Public School

When I first began researching the transition from homeschooling to public school, I found only a few resources; the vast majority of the resources out there are about the transition from public school to homeschooling. I was able to find one blog post and two books that were helpful. Once we had finalized our decision to transition from homeschooling to public school, I vowed to myself that I would write a few blog posts on our reasons why, factors in our decision making, and (hopefully) chronicle the transition over the coming months and years for those families in a similar spot as ours.

We have been homeschooling informally since 2014, and formally since 2021. I make that distinction because in Washington State kids are educationally free until they turn 8 years old ,and because of that I have only had to file a declaration of intent to homeschool the past two years. My husband attended private school for K-12, and I attended public school K-12. Neither of us necessarily had our hearts set on homeschooling until our oldest was due to enter kindergarten; we didn't feel ready to release him to the local public school for 6 to 7 hours a day, 5 days a week. Because I had been informally homeschooling him during the toddler and preschool years as a way to fill our morning time, making the transition to homeschooling for grade school was easy on everyone. 

To be clear: we have loved homeschooling. We have very little negative things to say about it. The longer we did it the more we experienced the benefits of it. We think that homeschooling is the far superior educational choice - if the parents are willing and able, and if it is proving beneficial to the child. We will greatly miss homeschooling and our homeschool community.

So then why are we making the move to public school?

There's just one, single reason: my health. In late 2017, I was diagnosed with a benign, vascular brain tumor that was actively bleeding. In Spring 2018, I had a craniotomy to remove the tumor. While the craniotomy was successful, I suffered a stroke during surgery that rendered me a left side hemiplegic. I also suffered 25% vision loss, and developed Central Nerve Pain following the surgery. To complicate things more, I was 5 months pregnant with our fourth child during the surgery. This significantly hindered any initial recovery attempts following the stroke. One month after the brain surgery I had an emergency appendectomy, which further delayed any recovery. In Fall 2018 I delivered a beautiful baby girl - which was honestly the easiest thing I did that year! In the following months, I experienced a rapid recovery period . By the following fall, I was walking with the assistance of only a cane, able to drive again, and taking care of the kids and our home without the help of a nanny or caregiver. I was doing so well, and our family had been through so much recently, that we decided homeschool was the best option for our incoming kindergartener and our family as a whole. It just felt right to stay close together at that time. Little did we know that later that school year the pandemic would make all families “homeschoolers”, and we were of course so thankful that we were already actually homeschooling at that time. 

That first year of the pandemic we fared okay, but the second year of the pandemic was rough for us - especially me. I was watching friends in neighboring states have their freedoms returned to them, while we were being told we couldn't gather with family for the holidays. I was watching friends in other parts of the country enjoy mask-free outings around their towns, while we were being told we still had to mask and social distance, and furthermore had to be vaccinated to do certain things. I was growing tired of disappointing our kids week after week. I was growing weary of navigating mask wearing while being disabled and only having one arm available to deal with my mask, my kids' masks, my cane, and anything else I needed my hand for out in public. I had also lost access to all of the therapies I had been doing for recovery, and had lost many of the freedoms outside my home I had just worked so hard to regain the previous year. I call this time period my "dark months", as it was marked by extreme insomnia, panic attacks, anger, anxiety, and depression. I knew I was being depleted, but I had no idea the long-term effect this would all have on my body. 

Finally, long after most other states, things started actually opening back up for us in a way that life outside the home was easy and accessible again for the kids and me. This most recent school year my oldest two kids and I joined a homeschool co-op, my third child took advantage of the newly opened private kindergarten at the kids' preschool, and my youngest was in preschool three days a week. While I was relieved at the return to freedom, my body was suffering the effects of the pandemic and my "dark months": rapid weight gain, night sweats, irregular cycle, skin changes, extreme fatigue, hair loss, and increase in trips and falls. After some brilliant lab work by my functional medicine doctor, it was determined that I am in Stage 3 Adrenal Fatigue and have entered premature menopause because of it. Weathering the pandemic was hard for everyone, but I didn't realize the toll it was taking on my newly inured brain and disabled body; I was carrying on with the energy and determination that I have possessed all my life, not realizing that I can no longer go at that level without suffering consequences. Fortunately, both of these new conditions are reversible by medication, supplements, and lifestyle changes. I've started both supplements and medications, and we’ve removed everything off my plate that we can, which sadly includes homeschooling. It's not the homeschooling that's fueling my adrenal fatigue, it's just the having them all home. My kids are now 10, 8, 6, and 4. They are...loud. Spirited, innovative, energized, demanding, funny, cheerful, and loud. They are all going a million miles an hour in all directions from morning to night. They have zero chill. And I love them for it! But my injured brain does not. And my disabled body cannot keep up with demands of homeschool life in this season. 

I've started a treatment regimen and I'm already seeing slow but clear improvement in the adrenal fatigue, and I'm hopeful that the premature menopause will follow soon. My goal is to stay out of a wheelchair before I turn 50; I'm so thankful for wheelchairs and the mobility they provide, but our home and lives are not set up for that. Me in a wheelchair will disrupt our lives in a way that we would like to prevent for as long as possible.

It goes against every fiber of my mother's heart to make a decision for my children that benefits me the most, but my husband reassures me that sustaining me benefits them the most. And I'm choosing to believe him. 

Before landing on public school we prayed for months about our options, did research, cried, and prayed some more. And then cried some more. Like I said above, we love homeschooling - and aside from my health, would have no intention of stopping anytime soon. Private school is not financially viable for us. Homeschool co-ops can not provide the relent in home life intensity I am needing. As a conservative Christian family, we obviously have our concerns about public school (which I will address below). Yet, over the weeks and months of praying, researching, and talking together, it became clear to my husband and I that our best option for the kids right now is public school. So now we've cried our tears, outlined our concerns, and we are ready as a family to look for the good!

Our primary concerns are:

{ quality of education } 
Transitioning from one-on-one private teaching at home to a classroom full of children with one teacher is going to be a big educational adjustment for our kids. Also, not being able to advance or move slower in subjects as needed is a benefit of homeschool we will miss greatly.

{ worldview }
Our biggest concern entering the public school system is navigating the clash of worldviews. As a Christian family, our worldview comes from the Bible. That is often at odds with the worldview used in public schools. Unlike our faith-based homeschool co-op, public school does not guarantee friendships with kids and families that share our worldview. Being able to understand and respect other people's worldviews without abandoning your own is something we're already teaching our children - but this will be put to the test as they enter public school. Further, we don't want our kids to be bullied or ostracized for their Biblical worldview. We will likely spend the majority of our energy helping our kids navigate this aspect of public schooling.

{ time}
Time and affirmation equals influence, and we are concerned about the amount of time our kids will spend with adults that aren't us and children that aren't their siblings. This would be a concern even if we were doing private school. I'm also disappointed at how many days of the year the kids are required to be in school, and will greatly miss the freedoms that homeschooling provided our family.

Ok, phew. So now: here is us looking for the good! This does not mean we are ignoring our concerns or trying to convince ourselves that this is somehow our first choice for education when it's obviously not. But - what good is it to us if we sit around and focus on what we are losing, when instead we can put that energy into focusing on what we are gaining in this change.
 We are looking forward to:

{ richer family time } 
Not spending all day everyday together will make the time we do spend together more rich. I will be downright eager to reunite with the kids after them being away all day school! 

{ friendships }
I love that my kids have each other as their best friends, but I am also excited to see them develop friendships outside of our family. Especially knowing that many of these friends they will have throughout high school and beyond! I am still close with some of my friends from elementary school, and I'm happy my kids may get the same experience.

{ community involvement }
While we were involved in our local homeschool community, I am excited to branch out of that and be involved in the local public school community. I've already met so many wonderful people, and reconnected with many people from my own public school childhood.

{ my health}  
My health is going to improve by making this change, and I am so ready to put the existing energy and good health that I do have toward joining the kids in this transition and supporting them in their public school experience. 

Lastly, my husband and I sat down and clarified for ourselves what we believe going into this change. 

We believe:

-God is good and in control, even in the public schools.

-The homeschooling world often vilifies public schools, but communities benefit when children are educated. I no longer take part in conversations where the public schools are being bashed for their mere existence. Criticism where change is needed, absolutely. But denouncing their entire existence,  no. Public schools serve a necessary function for families that want and need them, and again: communities benefit when children are educated - whether that be through homeschooling, private schooling or public schooling.

-Homeschooling is the far superior educational choice - if you are willing and able to do it, and if the child is benefiting from it. We will always support our local homeschool community, and we may even return to homeschooling each child for the middle school years if my health can handle it when the time comes.

-We are not going into the public schools to change everything that is "wrong" with them, or to make them more Christian friendly.  Those are both valiant fights, but they aren't our fights. Our fight is for our own children, focusing our energy on what we can control and supporting them as best we can. To that end, we will not be outraged over every little thing. Frankly, I don't have the adrenals for that right now! Nor is that a good use of our time and energy. We'll use our time and energy to stay informed, be involved, and walk alongside our kids in this journey. Also, we are not sending our kids to be "lights in the darkness" - that's our job as adults, not theirs as kids. If that happens naturally, great! But that's not our goal right now.

So: public school starts up in 2 weeks, and we are as ready as we can be! My oldest Drew (10, summer birthday) will be in 4th grade, Mary (8, summer birthday) will be in 2nd grade, Evan (6, winter birthday) will be in 1st grade, and Ruthie (4, fall birthday) will be in pre-K at our beloved private preschool at a church just up the street. I decided to do Drew and Mary old for their grades for a variety of reasons, so we'll see how that goes!

Drew is nervous, Mary is pumped, Evan is indifferent, and Ruthie can't wait to get back to preschool to see her little friends! 

The Lord gives, the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Five Years After Brain Surgery

This past year of recovery had some really neat highs and some tough lows. I was able to achieve some fun and hardfought recovery moments: dance fitness class, riding a bike (tricycle), walking 2 miles on the beach in Cannon Beach, jumping, and hiking in Palm Springs. I also experienced an ever so slight improvement in my vision field on my annual vision testing last May - that was an exhilarating moment! Unfortunately, my vision improvement was short lived: in December I was sick with the flu, and the accompanying high fever led to retina damage in my right eye. After a few weeks of testing I was diagnosed with Acute Macular Neuroretinopathy in my right eye. This is completely unrelated to any of my existing vision issues, and just really unfortunate - and rare: 1 in one million cases a year are reported.The damage caused a new spot of missing vision in my right eye’s vision field; while the retina damage continues to resolve, the missing vision spot does not and is likely permanent. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord!

This past year also bought 2 more diagnoses: premature menopause and stage 3 adrenal fatigue (which triggered the premature menopause). Turns out, brain injury brains cannot handle stress like pre-brain injury brains: Learning how to be disabled, mothering four (spirited + lively) children, and a pandemic pushed my adrenals past what they could handle with my new injured brain and semi-broken body. I’m getting treatment for both conditions, and we are making changes in our family life to make increased room for preserving mom. My goal is to stay out of a wheelchair before my 50th birthday! I’m getting to bed before midnight most nights now, I’m back at the YMCA several days a week, and 3 of the 4 kids are headed to public school in the fall (more on that in a later blog post).
Lastly, this past year also brought 4 separate injuries to my left foot and ankle, and 1 injury to my right leg - I’ve got it on my to-do list to establish care with a podiatrist and see what we can do to preserve and protect my left lower limb, while I also work at getting stronger to better prevent falls, bruises, and breaks. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord!

To end on a positive note, I think we may have finally found some relief for my constant central nerve pain. In keeping with my “I’ll try anything once approach”, I’ve found a medication that moderately decreases the pain on high pain days, does not make me drowsy, and does not need to be taken consistently.. I dont love taking a medication, but I do love being able to function for my family! The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord!

This 5 year mark feels like a good time to stop doing annual updates. I no longer feel that I’m “recovering” as much as just learning the ins-and-outs of disabled/brain injury life for the rest of my days. God has answered every one of my prayers these past 5 years: He doesn’t always give the answer I want, but He does answer...and for that, God is good!

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Health update: vision

It feels a bit excessive to devote a blog post to this health update, but this post is a nice place for me to compile all the info I have  and answer as many questions for my mom as possible in one place (love you mom!). This update isn't nearly as life altering as the last time I did this, but the implication are made more severe because of the existing vision loss from my brain surgery. In short, this past December I developed a blurry/blind spot in my vision following a high fever from the flu, and was ultimately diagnosed with a rare condition called Acute Macular Neuroretinopathy in my right eye. This is non-life threatening, but there is no treatment and the associated vision loss is likely permeant. God is good, and in control!

{ Acute Macular Neuroretinopathy }
Acute: localized to one spot, not widespread
Macular: location of the eye
Neuroretinopathy: any disease that affects the retina and the optic nerve

Acute macular neuroretinopathy (AMN) is a rare condition in which you suddenly develop blurry or small blind spots in one or both eyes. For me, this condition is only affecting my right eye (more on that below). The blurry/blind spots are caused by lesions in the deep layers of your eye that can only be seen using imaging technology. My recent scans and images confirmed my diagnosis of this condition.

My lesion circled in red

The condition was first described in 1975; the medical community is still unsure exactly what causes these lesions to appear or how to treat them. AMN affects less than 1 in 1 million people, according to recorded cases. 

The most common symptom of AMN is blurry or blind spots in your eye – known in the medical community as paracentral scotomas – that are just off the center of your direct line of vision. Some people also report flashes that appear and quickly disappear and/or floaters, both of which I had on the days I first noticed the change in my vision. Some people develop the paracentral scotoma(s) a day or two after having flu-like symptoms – this was my exact experience.

Example of size and location of a paracentral scotoma caused by AMN.
This is almost exactly representative of mine.

Examples of how paracentral scotomas can present in the vision.
Mine alternates between the bottom two pictures.

Doctors are unsure what causes the lesions and paracentral scotomas of AMN, but up to half of people with AMN were reported to have had flu-like illnesses before their diagnosis. That's me! I had the flu leading up to my new missing vision spot culminating with a 106 degree fever the day directly before the vision loss occurred. Currently researchers believe that the body's response to some viruses may trigger issues with your circulatory (vascular) system and blood flow. This results in less blood supply to some parts of your body, including the eye and retina.

AMN has most often been reported in white women who are young to middle-aged, particularly those in their 30s. That’s me! Unfortunately, doctors don't know of any medicines or treatments to help with the condition. In some cases, the paracentral scotomas improve on their own over several months but full resolution of a scotoma from this condition has never been reported.

{ implications }
For most people, because the scotomas do not cause major vision loss. Unfortunately, I'm coming into this condition with two pre-existing visual complications that make the impact of AMN more pronounced for me.

1) I have a 25% loss of my total vision field from my brain surgery/stroke. That vision loss is located in my bottom left vision quadrant in both eyes.
My vision field loss from brain surgery is shown in black. 

2) My right eye is my main seeing eye. I was born with a cataract in my left eye, had it removed during my childhood, and then had an intraocular lens (IOL) put in during my 20s. Prior to the IOL surgery my left eye had 20/400 vision and my brain all but ignored anything the left eye "saw" because it was so different from what my right eye was seeing. The IOL surgery in my left eye placed a silicon lens into the left eye to prevent it from going lazy from non-use, and improved the vision in that eye to 20/200. My brain continues to use what my right eye sees as my main vision, with peripheral vision assist from my left eye. Because of my already compromised vision, having new missing vision in my right eye affects me more than someone with 20/20 in both eyes and full vision field in tact.

I can still drive, because all off the cumulative vision loss is located below my horizontal vision axis. I choose not to drive at night and/or in the rain because I want to err on the side of caution. I can still read. The paracentral scotoma still flashes whenever I blink, so it's distracting to me. I assume my brain will eventually get used to that and I'll notice it less over time.

{ timeline }

December 13, 2022: I was sick with a bad case of the flu, and this day my fever reached 106 degrees before we were able to successfully get it under control. 

December 14, 2022: I noticed a new bright spot in my vision, similar to a camera flash effect. The spot was about the size of a pencil eraser head, located SE of my central vision access. This is an area of my vision field that has not been compromised by my cavernoma/brain surgery/stroke. 

December 15, 2022: the bright spot remained the same size, but changed to squiggly black lines. in the following days the lines went away and were replaced with a smudge/blur blocking my vision within the spot. At this point, I decided to wait to see my eye doctor until after Christmas because 1) we were still recovering from the flu, and 2) if I was going to get bad news I just wanted to wait until after Christmas and enjoy the holidays with my family.

December 28, 2022: I went to see my eye doctor. This is the same doctor that helped with my prior cavernoma diagnosis. He was nervous for what we might find this time, given my previous history with vision loss led to the discovery of a vascular brain tumor. Thankfully the field vision test revealed the missing spot in my vision this time was limited to my right eye, which means this was almost certainly nothing to do with my brain. Further examination of my eyes revealed physical evidence of damage to my right eye retina. At this point, he gave me a temporary diagnoses of Posterior Vitreous Detachment and referred me to a retina specialist for further examination. 

January 10, 2023: Met with a retina specialist/optometrist at a clinic that is familiar to me due to my left eye cataract history. After scans and tests, the optometrist presented me with a different diagnosis: Acute Macular Neuroretinopathy (AMN). 

February 7, 2023: Follow-up appointment to confirm diagnosis, and check for improvement. Diagnosis was confirmed: I am the poster child for this rare, uncommon retina condition (this condition is apparently so rare that my optometrist intends to present it at an upcoming conference...lucky me?). While my retina damage showed improvement at this visit, unfortunately the paracentral scotoma in my vision field remains the same. I will continue with periodic follow-ups to track the healing of the retina and report on the paracentral scotoma, but we are not expecting much improve with my new missing vision spot. 

Retina damage improvement: top was early January, bottom was early February.

{ summary }
I had the flu, and my high fever caused very rare damage to the retina of my good eye, further complicating my overall vision. There is no treatment, and little-to-no evidence that the new missing vision will resolve even as the retina heals. Life will go on for me as normal, with a little less vision and a lot more belief that the Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!