It's been a week since our CPS visit. Fortunately for us, the system is working uneventfully, as it should: the case worker told me that CPS would be closing out our file. I suppose there was no danger that they would ever do otherwise; my brother, who works in Triage at an ER, says that the things that he, and CPS sees, every day are bad enough that a nice family with an escapee 2.5 year old is refreshingly simple. And from the CPS side, I'm sure he's right. Our case worker, as I've said, was extremely kind and solicitous, at great pains to put us at as much ease as we could be in.
At the moment of the investigation, unfortunately, that wasn't much ease. I had been fighting a rising lump of panic ever since I opened the door to the lady, and at the moment she said that she'd need to question all the children in the house, the moment that I internalized that unlike the police, she couldn't just dismiss the whole thing and walk away, I judged it permissible to let myself cry. I supposed I realized that we were not in great danger and that I had the leeway to be a bit emotional. If the situation had seemed desperate, I would have choked everything down at all costs. Probably I would have been right to do that in any case; once I started crying, I couldn't stop, and that probably frightened the kids more than anything.
Someone asked me this week how CPS could question a 2 year old, and what happened if kids talked about being spanked. My 6 and 7 year olds both said, in response to the question about how you were punished if you got in trouble, that sometimes they were spanked and sometimes they were put in time out. (My 6 year old said that sometimes she had to stand in a corner, which is a charming answer but inexplicable to me, as I'm trying to remember the last time I ever made anyone stand in a corner.) Those answers seemed entirely unobjectionable, as did any mention of homeschooling. I very much got the impression that CPS could only legally ask about and notice certain prescribed topics. I'm sure that's not everyone's experience, but that's how it went with us.
As to the 2 year old: William was never asked any questions. He's a great chats these days, but he talks about what's on his mind, and it's hard to direct his conversation. For the sake of experiment, I decided to put some questions to him this morning. Here's the results, with the caveat that he loves to repeat himself and cycle back, so just imagine him rolling his phrases around several times just for the fun of saying them.
(Scene: Mom's bed.)
MrsDarwin: William, what happens when you get in trouble? How are you punished?
William: Guess what? The other bird came out the other bird! (a reference to an Animaniacs episode he saw yesterday)
MrsD: But William, how are you punished when you get in trouble?
W: Guess what? I got my shoes on, and went outside and (here I expected a memory of someone bringing him to the door) it started SNOWING!
MrsD: (repeats the question)
W: No, I go get my shoes on now. Bye.
MrsD: No, Billy, take your sandals and not your socks and shoes.
W: All right.
MrsD: Wait, Bills, where are you going?
W: Get my shoes on.
MrsD: No! Get your sandals instead. And where are you going?
W: Downstairs. Bye!
(Scene: the kitchen)
MrsD: (tries the question again)
W: (eyeing a jug of water on the counter) This is water, okay? That's for kitties. You don't want it. (This answer thrills him, and he tries out variations of it for a while.)
MrsD: (to all) You just can't get a straight answer out of him.
Jack (7): I can! Let me try. (He gets down at William's level) Willie, did Obi-Wan and Yoda like each other?
J: Did the Navy and the Confederates like each other?
MrsD: (trying a new approach) William, do you know where your private parts are?
W: (stares at me, baffled) Eleanor's hat is in the living room. (conspiratorially) Eleanor has your phone and laptop. And Julia! And you! (cackles) Hey! That was a good one.
(Exit William, congratulating himself)
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: absurdism.
Right now William is standing in the hall, pretending to throw up, because yesterday he threw up all morning and there were big reactions each time. On Friday he poured Julia's green ink all over his new clothes. Two weeks ago he spilled vinegar on my laptop and fried the keyboard so that every time the cursor is in a typing field it scrolls right brackets. None of these things are done with the slightest malice, with but a madcap indomitable cheerfulness. He is too legit to quit.
I am tired.
We did something new this week: testing.
I don't have a principled stand against testing. We've just never gotten around to it, partly because we can submit a portfolio and get a teacher's assessment for our homeschooling notification, and partly because of the vague fear I have as a parent educator that I'll find out that I'm failing my kids and that they don't actually know anything.
Some of that fear was realized. The scores followed age level. The oldest did quite well in everything, the next down was right at age level, and it got worse from there. There was a moment when the tester was explaining the scores of the youngest one tested, where I started to feel that lump of panic rising in my throat again, just as I had a few days before during the CPS visit. Then I thought, "No. I'm not doing this twice in a week," and tamped it down, and I was okay. But it's clear that the younger ones haven't been well served academically, in a way that reflects no credit on me as the parent of many.
Darwin, at home, put things in perspective. We were supposed to test right at the end of the school year, but due to conflicts on both sides, the tests were moved back to almost August. That's a hard time to pick up the academic knowledge one laid aside in May. One child who tested poorly on decoding phonemes sat later and read a me a vocabulary-rich story with nary a stumble. And interestingly enough, even the worst test-takers for spelling and reading scored years above age level on things like history, social studies, and science -- subjects we've barely even studied formally. These things are imbibed with our family culture, apparently.
When you have to face your fears, you have an opportunity to make changes. Already we'd been making plans to restructure our schooling so that the oldest ones will be more self-sufficient, giving me the time and energy to spend on shoring up the three Rs with the younger ones. Now I have some guidance on what particularly to focus on. For those who have an interest in boxed curriculum, we're going with the Catholic Heritage Curriculum this year -- partly because eventually you just have to pick something and go with it, and partly because it seemed more flexible in allowing me to focus just on the core subjects without having to include tons of extras that I either feel are less important or that I want to cover in some other way. (No, I don't need to buy your Gregorian Chant for Children course.) And if it doesn't work for us, next year we'll do something else.
We've made one other change. The oldest was going to take Freshman chorus at the high school this year, the class which started at 7:25 am. But we've found other local opportunities now for singing and for theater -- which will not include shifting the family to getting up at dark o'clock -- and we have some travel opportunities which we couldn't take if we were tied down to getting to school every day. Also, the oldest never seemed all that enthused about the idea. When we offered her the possibility of withdrawing from school, she jumped at it, especially as that means she can go visit her uncle in New Jersey and maybe get to see a show on Broadway. School, Broadway -- not that hard of a choice, right?
I keep reminding myself that this is just a season in my life. I keep trying to obey St. Paul's injunction to judge no one, not even yourself. Nor am I actually having all that hard a time. Day to day, life is mostly easy: I just finished a book that's been hanging over my head for two years; Darwin has replaced the toilet that cracked and overflowed through the living room ceiling; friends from Texas spent a fun, if sweaty, weekend at our house. The youngest man is not always destructive; the big girls are very helpful. We took a walk downtown last night and kept running into people we knew, neighbors and friends from church and new theater friends. The heat has broken. And next weekend we're headed for a big lodge in the Shenandoahs to spend a week with my dad and all my siblings and their families.
Here's to an easier week for everyone.
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