2011 began with Baby Steps, literally and figuratively. I had injured my foot a month earlier and was still recovering from a broken toe and accompanying puncture wounds- baby steps were literally all I could take. Our family also began a process of discovery- a process that would be the focus of the entire year and would involve many examinations, counseling sessions, and medical treatments. Our Visual-Spacial Learner was experiencing severe headaches, almost daily, as well as difficulty learning, and we were desperate to find answers.
In February, I began to read more about how to teach our VSL in hopes of finding ways to make school less stressful for him. These modifications helped in many ways, yet the headaches persisted as did high levels of perceived stress. When he wasn't melting down over everyday, commonplace situations, he was in the bathroom kneeling at the toilet, sick from yet another headache. I was one worried momma.
In March, we began to see the fruit of having introduced IEW into our homeschool a few months previously. Our VSL was taking to this curriculum like a duck to water, and he was writing again- something he had stopped doing about a year previously. This son, who had won a writing contest in 1st grade, had grown to hate writing so much that he would nearly drown himself in a pool of his own tears when asked to write a single sentence. I was so thankful that IEW had him writing again that I blogged all about it, and then shared the Exciting News that the IEW blog had done a short write-up about us and linked to Olive Plants and The Write Brothers. Enough progress was being made that I felt justified in sweeping the existing problems under the rug.
In April, we did what our VSL most likes to do- competed in a Science Fair. Then, due to my own carelessness, I suffered an Eye, Eye, Eye injury. I praised God for sparing me blindness, a possible result of a severe chemical burn to the eye, in the post The Eyes Have It. Looking back my injury seems like foreshadowing of events to come. I know it gave me increased empathy for my VSL and brought me to a breaking point- one in which I knew that if my son was suffering even a small fraction as much as I was, we had to find help for him. I put away the broom, and that's when testing for learning disabilities, autism, psychological disorders, and medical problems began. I was on my knees hourly pleading for answers, scared more than I wanted to admit that he might have something serious. Visions of brain tumors and surgery and chemotherapy plagued me. I guess that's why I had been so busy sweeping. But denial does not make problems go away.
I was happy to spend May Archiving School Plans. School was done for the year, and I so needed the break. Michael and I celebrated our 16th anniversary with some Seoul Food, a night that brought a needed break from the stress of parenting through health problems and waiting for test results.
By June, we had been told by our pediatrician that the headaches were solely migraines. There were no other symptoms for anything more serious, like the brain tumor that I just knew was there. We also received the results from a full academic and developmental evaluation. The psychologist had ruled out learning disabilities and autism. In fact, on VSL's academic testing, he scored higher than he should have for his IQ. He was diagnosed, however, with generalized anxiety disorder. In hopes of alleviating some of his school-related anxiety, I implemented the use of Circle the Date Planners and sought out curriculum that I hoped would continue to help me meet his learning needs. I revealed these plans in the Great Curriculum Reveal, co-hosted with my friend, Heather.
I received a huge surprise when I went to the mailbox one day in July. The cash inside an unmarked envelope was a Providential blessing, providing for a particular financial need while also providing a powerful reminder of how God always provides for all the needs of His children. And as I was going through a stage of parenting in which I had to examine every little aspect of our home, school, and life in order to find what was causing my VSL so much anxiety, I had to take a little time to laugh at myself and introduce the That's So Dawn segments- in the wrong order, of course.
School resumed in August, and VSL seemed to be making huge steps in learning to cope with anxiety. We started an art program together and recreated Van Gogh's masterpiece Starry Night. However, blogging took a back seat because I was having to maintain a very specific schedule to help keep anxiety at bay.
In September, I only wrote one post and even forgot to give it a title! It was a review of our first month of school, and things were going really well...
...until something major happened in October.
Orville turned 12, and Wilbur got braces. Those were both pretty major events, but aren't the really big event. One day, while trying to complete a science activity using a microscope, VSL pulled away from the view finder, blinked his eyes rapidly, and proclaimed with confidence (not anxiety), "This microscope is making my eyes hurt!"
This was a break-through moment, and I began to ask him a bunch of probing questions- something he would have responded to with a meltdown just a few weeks earlier. Instead of melting down, though, he began to describe in detail the vision problems he was experiencing. Problems that have been present for a long time but that he had been unable to explain. The poor vision made him feel so anxious that he didn't know exactly what he was feeling/experiencing or how to ask for help.
At that moment, the Lord brought to mind something a friend had told me about her daughter's vision problems, her vision therapy, and developmental optometrists, so I did a quick web search and found this checklist. As I read down the list, all I could say was "yes, yes, YES! That is my child." I also showed this webpage to VSL, and he said that one of the samples was exactly what he was experiencing. I wanted to jump up and down and dance in the streets. I believed with all my heart that the Lord had given us wisdom and was sending us to a place where my sweet VSL could finally get the help he needed. I immediately picked up the phone and called the nearest developmental optometrist. Three days later, he was examined and diagnosed with multiple visual disabilities. Vision therapy began that week.
During the last two months of this difficult year, we have had some good times: A Chatty Birthday, Leafing Out, a Merry Christmas, and a Whirlwind Trip to Memphis (our former hometown). Most important to all of us here at Olive Plants Academy, though, is that our dear VSL is finding relief. His vision is improving, school work is becoming more do-able, he has had a reduction in headaches- from one almost daily to one about once per month- and things that were very difficult for him to accomplish are becoming easier. He has a long way to go, but the baby steps that began this year are leading us to a better place as it ends.
Looking back on it all, I feel like Peter must have felt once the Lord led him back into the boat safely. He had stepped out upon Christ's call and was walking by faith on the water toward the Lord in the midst of a terrible storm. Doubt set in, and he began to sink. The storm could have overwhelmed him, pulled him under to a watery grave, but Jesus, with mercy and tenderness, took hold of Peter and kept him from perishing. Once in the boat, the Creator of the heavens and the earth demonstrated his power by calming the seas and stopping the winds. As the storm ended, He gently rebuked His servant- Why did you doubt? (Matt 14)
Many years ago, the Lord called me and I stepped out in faith onto the turbulent waters of parenting and homeschooling. This year the winds have certainly howled and the waves have crashed. At times I have felt myself sinking amidst them. It is easier to doubt than to trust.
The Lord has faithfully rebuked my doubt and made my weaknesses evident. It is not by my strength that I can parent or homeschool or do anything really.
However, when Christ called Peter, the storm was raging. He had instructed Peter and the others in the boat to "be of good cheer" and "to fear not for it is I."
As faithful as He has been to rebuke, he has also given His grace abundantly. Even in the midst of the storm, there is reason to be of good cheer, for it is not the ending of the storm that demonstrates God's faithfulness to us but His grace in the midst of it. Fear not, it is I has been the theme of 2011, and we will move forward into whatever the Lord has ordained for 2012 believing that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:38-39)
The storms will come, but God has said to those of us who are in Christ Jesus, Never will I leave you nor forsake you. (Heb 13:5)
Be of good cheer!