Friday, January 17, 2014

Unschooling Through Terminal Illness

Well I was going to do an art spree post with tons of photos that my daughter has been so busy drawing!  She has been on a roll and drawing almost daily, BUT blogger is being stubborn and I am having some issues with it.

So, then I thought well you know, everyone that follows any of my blogs, knows that I was really sick for 2013. But I have never really talked about how we got through the year as unschoolers and little things we did, to ensure even if learning slowed down due to me disengaging it still would continue. I am not sure if I would even call it disengaging, after all I was knocked off my feet and incapacitated. I stayed connected and engaged when and where I could but it was vastly different than when an unschool family is in top health. I am sharing here in hopes that it may be helpful to others out there, not that they necessarily will be terminally ill but also for those that perhaps suffer chronic illnesses. So here are my thoughts and a few hurdles we needed to overcome.

  • GUILT and Depression-  This was my first and largest hurdle and something I did not come out and openly talk about. Ironically I never really got depressed at all over my Stage IV Breast Cancer diagnosis, I pretty much saw that one coming and even came to terms with my possible death before my children turned 18. But when it came to our homeschooling, our unschooling lifestyle, I withdrew, quit blogging about it, quit writing articles and screamed and cried inside over the guilt, feeling like I had failed my family. I lost all trust and faith and questioned if unschooling was right for us, if it had ever been right and if I was doing a great disservice to my babies. Their care and learning experiences after all have always primarily fell on my shoulders. At any rate being involved and actively engaged, coming up with ideas, projects, games, places to visit, where to go, has always been my department. After a couple months of being very withdrawn, I realized that even if I died in 2013, that I did not fail my kids, nor did I set them up for failure, that indeed their learning would continue, just as mine has, for life.  I started connecting with homeschool and unschool groups again, reading and commented and renewed my faith in the path, and put my trust in it again. It would not look the same as an unschooling family in perfect health and that was okay. It would be unique to the new needs of our household and yet remain beautiful and organic, the way learning should be. I embraced it again, as I embraced LIFE and decided to give both, my all. Talking with others who have major health issues or chronic illnesses, I have realized when one discovers this for themselves, the guilt and depression related to their family in an unschooling lifestyle is not only quite common but a natural step one must go through in order to move forward. While this may not make it easier, just know it is a natural process and perfectly okay to go through. Those that told me to just put the kids into public school were typically those who did not agree with homeschooling in the first place. From time to time, when the doubts were strong, I did actually consider it. In the end I decided to trust our journey and take it one day at a time to see where each moment brought us.

  • Providing Enough Tools- We spent money to ensure the kids would have access to learning whether or not I could be involved. Now granted being 12 and 15 helped where they did not need me for every little thing! We already had a laptop computer and a regular computer, along with 1 television and Xbox gaming system. We purchased a Kindle Fire and was Gifted another Television with a DVD player.  We then bought a game-cube for that television set. This allowed for everyone having access to something when we were all home. The gifted TV with DVD and game cube went in me and hubby's bedroom. This way on bad days, ( which all in all were way to many days for the first half of the year!) that I could watch a movie in bed or play harvest moon. This also meant the kids would come in and cuddle with me while we watched something together and just be together. Those were some nice and tender moments that I have fond memories of. The kindle Fire provided a way for me to go to the hospital and communicate with the kids with. It also provided a way to download learning apps and books that I felt due to the audio features may help  our dyslexic daughter with reading. This also gave me something to do on days I was good enough to come out and curl up on the couch, which I spent many days on my  hubby's man chair with ottoman or couch too!  Besides electronics, we did make sure we had new books available to them as well as art and craft supplies for our daughter.   Board games and cards were increased as well.  While our budget may be small as a low income family, I found what I could used, on sale, or a small amount set aside from our tax refund for certain educational tools.

  • I'm Bored! -  Even with all the tools we made sure they had, I was told almost daily from my daughter at some point how bored she was no matter how much she had done that day. It was a huge adjustment for her to being staying home far more than normal as I was spending much of our free time being taken by hubby to all my doctor appointments, emergency room visits, testing and scans, and dentists. Not only that but my daughter was use to a very high energy mother that had spent her days all day, every day doing projects , activities and fun things with them. Even though my energy had been depleted in 2012, I was still functioning and was not until my diagnosis in January of 2013 that I became bedridden almost over night. This was a huge change for my daughter and it was hard on her, really hard! At any rate I have never met a child who has NEVER complained about being bored from time to time! You know what though? by the end of the year, it seems like she has renewed her unschooling lifestyle too. She now actively seeks out doing things on her own without requiring someone to always be there doing it with her. She finds things to do on her own, by herself and that is a good thing to be able to figure out things to do when feeling bored, something her Dad in his adult years does not know how to do! In the end she learned and grew from the experience and no longer required me to be the idea man, she was able to think of ideas for herself and creativity blossomed.

  • Ways I Found and Embraced to Connect-  Our World was flipped upside down over night and I had to find new ways of being involved and trusting the process of an unschooled lifestyle. The kids certainly had to step up and help out some, by doing dishes, vacuuming and helping keep the yard mowed, usually this was done on a rotating schedule between the two. While we have never ever had required chores for them, it became an necessity for all to pull together as a team. When they would ask for me to do something that I could not do, I would let them know the things I could do, which granted was not much, but it let them know what was possible to do together. On days I could not get out of bed, we would either cuddle watching a movie or if that was too much, while drifting in and out of sleep I was available to my daughter who would be on the computer near me to ask how to spell things. Or she would spell something off to me for me to let her know what a difficult word was she was having a hard time reading was.  Some days I was so bad, my son would wake me up on a regular basis to have a cold bottle of water for me, knowing dehydration was a large concern. During these days, they made sure to be very quiet and do everything electronic or run off and play at the neighbors.  They were invited to go with us on a few occasions to chemo sessions or blood work days in order to ask questions they may have and to understand my treatments better along with meeting my wonderful team who was eager to meet our children. On a really good day we would go for a small walk or play a board or card game of some sort. Some days I laid in bed playing Harvest Moon while one of them would sit on the bed and read a book next to me or just talk.  Some days they would want to cook dinner since standing and cooking were difficult for me to do for a long time, I found if I sat in a chair in the kitchen I could guide and help them being present, but not physically involved and we found it to be highly enjoyable to do in that fashion.  I embraced these small to many but huge achievements to me and allowed myself to be amazed by the many small ways we still found to let life unfold in amazing ways and learning so organically. I would read books to my daughter while we sat together on the couch, at lunch time we almost always watched Documentaries together. On really good days we would take them to the movie theater or out for Ice Cream and later to the beach for swimming. I found that by embracing the small moments throughout each day of the things I could do, rather than worry about all what I could not do, allowed a beautiful flow and I did what I could to help them when they needed help, and connect. While we perhaps also may not have gone out all that much, we had far more company visiting than normal which helped too.

  • Where we are at Now- With a terminal illness it can go either way, you can either get better, even if for awhile or you can take a turn for the worst. I am happy to say for us, they have certainly expanded my life and I am in a much better place than I was this time last year. I most likely will never be 100% of the woman I use to be, I have had to say good bye to that work a holic, always busy, physically strong woman.  But I am back to being able to function as a woman, wife and mother again and have shown my kids humor and grace through out this whole year. I am excited that while things crawled along for 2012 and 2013, that this year will bring back more activity, growth and learning with my renewed energy and healing.  Our motto has certainly become more of a Life is Amazing LIVE IN THE MOMENT type of living but I can tell you it feels great to be excited at what we may be able to achieve this year. After all my health could have certainly gone in a different direction and I would not even be here to type this post. When you have terminal illness though, you cant put the energies into what ifs, should haves, and can'ts.  Embrace each day for what it is, the one thing I do know is that if I had it to do all over again, I would not change a thing. We still would be unschoolers that allow the natural learning coupled with peaceful parenting. My kids had a lot to deal with for 2013 and they themselves had their own internal battles to fight knowing their mother could die. They certainly went through some depressions and emotional roller coasters themselves. In the end though we are stronger than ever as a team, as a family unit and they have both blossomed into amazing kids. This year will bring us to having 2 teens in the house, 13 years and 16 years and so far it has been a wonderful journey with them.
In closing, I just want to say, I am glad we did not give up, learning still continued and I would not have changed a thing.


    1. Thank you for sharing your struggle and your solutions, So helpful and hopeful!

      1. Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment, I am glad to hear you enjoyed it!