Whew! We made it. When Bean paddled into the harbor just before noon today, her two-day stand up paddleboard (SUP) class ended. A full summer's worth of eight weeks of classes ended as she paddled under the bridge that signals the border between the calm waters of the north harbor and the choppier waters near the entrance to the bay. Dr. Yap and I looked at each other. She did it! She went at least as far as the busy lower harbor, and maybe out into the open waters of the Pacific Ocean.
When I left her this morning, after zipping her into the now well-broken-in wetsuit, she wasn't entirely sure she would be willing to brave the swell outside the harbor. Yesterday, when she and I went out together, she went half way under the harbor bridge and decided that was far enough. Last week, during kayak camp at the same facility, Bean adamantly refused to participate on the day her class headed into the bay in tandem sit-on top kayaks. She was not convinced her instructors would fully prepared her class of 8-12 year olds to handle the waves, since they spent the first day entirely in the safety of the harbor. Besides, after all the warnings that sit-on top kayaks were less stable than their spray-skirted brethren, she wasn't about to get in one with an unpredictable almost-stranger, let alone navigate it to the ocean.
Honestly, Dr. Yap are weren't sure Bean would make it through her full summer of classes at all. The first week, a modern dance camp with her regular instructor but in an unfamiliar facility was every bit as intense as it was billed. The four day camp was situated on the banks of a river, surrounded by sycamores, the one tree to which Bean is allergic, and took place the week after a strenuous trip to Chicago. She started out tired on day one and after five hours of social interaction and dancing, she was exhausted. On day three, I got the call I often expect, but rarely get. Bean stood up in the middle of the afternoon session and insisted that she had to go home right now. Fortunately, she and the instructor worked out a way for her to stay and participate before I even got Boo to the car. After the second call, telling me they would see me at the end of the day, I stood in the kitchen, knowing exactly what had happened: Bean wasn't feeling her best, the afternoon session was not her favorite dance style, and suddenly she just couldn't take it anymore. In her Asperger's mind, she wasn't allowed to excuse herself or take a break on the side, she couldn't see a way out and couldn't break the rules, so she exploded.
The next class was a Boogie Board class, one Sunday afternoon at one of our favorite local beaches, with instructors who taught a bevy of native California kids how to read the waves for signs of rip current, then sent them into the surf under their watchful eyes. It sounds like a fun, light-hearted class that could be a formality for kids growing up in sight of the Pacific. But for a kid who has been swimming confidently for less than a year, it was fraught with anxiety. The morning was filled with growls and feet stomping directed towards Dr. Yap and I, who were guilty of being far too willing to shell out money for these classes and of giving her the responsibility of deciding which classes she was ready for. Clearly, if we had been less able to pay the park district fees and more restrictive with her choices, her life would have been easier.
Our life would be easier too, if we had to decided to keep the activities to a minimum and let the summer unfold without schedules or planning. Once upon a time, in the early days of homeschooling, we did that. Our first summer, we continued to homeschool as I continually tried to figure out what, how, and when we should work on what. But sometime during the foggy mornings of July, I followed Dr. Yap's suggestion and looked online to see what summer offerings were still available at a local private school known for their excellent summer program. Circus Yoga! If ever a week-long class had Bean's name written all over it, that did. Once she made sure it would only last a few hours each day, she was willing. It turned out to be a great experience. The class size was smallish, the people friendly, the school way more organized than any local private school we'd encountered. Maybe one more week? Mask Making with a former staffer at Jim Henson's studio? Yes!
The next year, we knew to look at the course schedule as soon as it was posted in March and Bean picked four weeks of half day classes that would break up the summer of continued homeschooling. After the first week, which did not go off without a hitch when her original class was cancelled due to low enrollment and she suddenly found herself in a Nature Art class, the classes at the private school were once again a hit. It was a way for her to be at a school, without actually going to school; a chance for her to socialize with other kids, without expecting her to be around them for a whole day; an opportunity for her work with new adults each week in science, cooking, and animation classes.
If last year's summer classes offered a nice diversion, this year's slate was a stretch. Besides dance camp, and all the ocean sports, Bean took three Lego robotics classes, a Lego architecture class, cooking, and a web design class at the private school. For five weeks, she had to be somewhere every day, renewing friendships from previous years, navigating the playground and lunchtime when she stayed full days, and admitting that she hated being the only 9 year old girl in a robotics class full of 12 year old boys with enough time for me to switch her to a different session instead of refusing to attend or exploding in an unexpected temper tantrum. It wasn't always easy, but she did it. We made it. She stretched herself way beyond her previous boundaries, taking on far more activities and challenges than she normally does during the school year. She learned a lot of things she was excited about, but not always in the exact way she would have liked.
Will this translate into smoother homeschool days? I don't know. But I do know that we're paying for two extra dance classes this fall and that I'll be spending three afternoons driving across town to the dance studio. And I've bookmarked the full-week circus day camp on the other side of town for next summer. We never know what we're capable until summer comes, we get a break from our normal routine, the days get longer, and we stretch outside of our usual pace and schedule.
Yesterday, I asked Bean what her favorite activities were. The answer, a particular Lego robotics class with a great group of kids and stand up paddling. When Dr. Yap and I met her on the dock, we learned that she had made it into the open ocean, out of safe harbor, saw a sea otter snacking on a crab, and never planned on doing that again. But she didn't refuse to try it, as two of the kids did, and she didn't exclaim to us that she hated it and was made to do it, as two other kids did to their waiting moms. She did it willingly, skillfully, and bravely, if fearfully.