Friday, April 20, 2012

The Latest

This is crazy-long.  I would suggest splitting this post into 3 chunks, stopping for meals in between.  Of course, it never matters what I'm doing- I always suggest stopping for meals in between.

So, anyway...  The day I once dreaded years ago as a young, new, homeschooling mom finally came to pass.  On Tuesday, March 6th, around 2:30- shortly before school ended for the day- there was a knock at my front door.  The lady standing on our porch was holding a clipboard so my first thought was, "Oh. Crap.  This is probably some voter's survey/political polling kind of thing.  I hope she's not hard to get rid of... And please God, don't let her be a Democrat.  The day's been too long already to deal with a Democrat." 

(I didn't really think that last part...  I just threw that in for the benefit of my Dem friends.)

Within two minutes, I was wishing she was just doing some voter's survey kind of thing. 

But, no.  She was a social worker with SRS (you might know them as DFS or CPS).  They had gotten a call from "someone" with "a few concerns" about our children.


I started to pee my pants.  And not in the good way. 

Concerns?  CONCERNS?  What concerns?  When I find out who did this, someone better be concerned about getting smacked with a bag of oranges, cuz that's what I'm fixin' to do.

I can't even tell you how shocked/confused/scared/brain dead I felt.  I honestly had to tell myself to close my mouth and try to think of what to say. 

I thought maybe someone had seen my kids at home on school days and, not knowing we teach them at home, called in the complaint.  So I told her we home school, thinking she'd say, "Oh!  Okay.  That explains it.  Sorry to have bothered you.  Have a lovely afternoon!" 

That's not what she said.  She said, "Yes.  The concern is that they are so far behind in school that it's affecting their day-to-day ability to function."

I was all like...

Then, I was kinda like...

In other words, I was still standing there with my mouth hanging open like an idiot, not knowing how to respond.  

Then?  She mentioned the specific charge was "emotional neglect." 

EMOTIONAL NEGLECT!  If that doesn't make your head spin...

Someone is accusing me of not taking care of my kids.  Someone who knows I home school is saying I'm doing a terrible job.  Who would do that?  They're calling me a lousy mom.  Who did this?  They're saying something's wrong with my kids.  With me.  Who did this?  Say something, Michelle.  Say something!

So I did.  I said, "Whaaat?"  Again.  And maybe, "Excuuuuse me?"

She thrust a pamphlet into my hand which had scary titles and captions on it, like: What to do if your children are removed from your home...

I began to focus on her teeth as she talked.  They were stained and mottled.  Brownish.  Icky.

Is this really happening?  Is there really a stranger with horrible dental hygiene standing on my porch judging me?  She can handle the responsibility of deciding whether or not to remove my kids, but she can't handle a tube of Crest?  What in the name of all that is holy and minty-fresh is going on here? 

Here's the thing...  I've been teaching my kids for 16 years now and I've never had something like this happen.  I totally forgot what I was supposed to do, which was to leave her on the porch, go get HSLDA on the phone while she was still there, and put her on the phone with the attorney.  I didn't do that.  I stood there.  I think I started repeating, "I can't imagine who would do this to us," and "I don't understand," "I don't understand," "I don't understand." 

I have no doubt she thought, "No wonder these poor kids are behind in school.  Look at the moron in charge of their educations."

She wanted to come in and talk to the children and get this "all sorted out."  Despite my cluelessness, I did summon enough sense to remember I was not supposed to let her in the house.  I told her we were members of HSLDA (and explained what that was, *as I did below, in case you don't know who they are), and I would need to call them to find out what I was supposed to do next.  I also said she'd need to call me to schedule a more convenient time to return, instead of coming during school hours (the irony of her expecting me to drop everything in the middle of a school day so she can tell me I'm not doing a good enough job educating my kids is really something special, is it not?).  I tried to make it clear that I was not refusing to speak with her- that I did want to cooperate and get the whole thing resolved- but I'd need to call HSLDA first. 

She remained friendly... ish.  She did make one creepy, thinly-veiled threat when she said, "This really would go much easier for you if you'd just let me in."

Not by the hairs of my chinny-chin-chin, honey.

Then she left and I went nuts.  My hands were visibly shaking as I rummaged around for my phone.  I got the attorney on the phone and found out I had messed up.  He needed to speak to her and I waited until she left to call.  Cripes.  He got a little pissy

I called her back right away, but she wasn't back in her office yet.  An hour or so later, I called again.  I left two voicemails saying I was ready to set an appointment for her to come back. 

That night, I was a nervous wreck.  We prayed that God would help us resolve this thing quickly and easily, but still...  I worried.  We're far from the perfect homeschooling family, you know?  I was thinking of plenty of reasons to worry.  Heck, we're not even close to "normal," let alone perfect.  In fact, on any given evening, it would be reasonable for you to assume my family is reenacting scenes from a very special episode of Roseanne.  

And now we'll have to open up our home, our family, our lives for the SRS to pick apart?  We have to prove our innocence and ourselves to people who don't even know us?  And what does my accuser have to prove?  NOTHING!  What if my school records aren't clear or thorough enough?  What if they decide my kids really aren't smart enough?  Of course, there are plenty of public-schooled morons kids their ages who can't string two sentences together or know how much change they should get back from a dollar after buying a pack of gum, but that won't matter.  Will I have to let them interview my kids?  Look through my house?  What's going to happen? 

I realized there were all sorts of questions I should have asked... to both the social worker and the attorney.  I would have felt (and slept) better if I would have asked more questions and felt prepared for whatever was to come.  I'm not one of those people who gets a rush of excitement when faced with the unknown.  I'm a control-freak.  The unknown scares me silly.  

Oh, God, what is going to happen?

Instead of sleeping, I recalled every scary case I'd ever heard about home school families who'd lost their children- watched them being taken away by police and social workers- simply because they didn't want their kids interviewed or their homes searched for no good reason (Yes, it has happened.  Really).  Was that getting ready to happen to me? 

I should mention at this point that one of my children has some learning issues/disabilities.   I never talk about it here because she is self-conscious about it (which is something we're working on).  Her struggles are a constant source of frustration for her, and I would never want to embarrass her.  I only tell you this now so you can fully understand my fear.  By this time the whole family had a pretty strong hunch who had called SRS, but I was also wondering if someone who doesn't know us well enough to know about my daughter's "issues" saw her around town or heard her speak and got the wrong impression about her education (or lack thereof).  To someone on the outside looking in, she would appear to be "behind"  (I do not view her that way.  I'm trying to teach her not to view herself that way.  If you're doing the very best you can with the abilities God has given you, working at your own level and improving at your own pace, then how can you be behind?  You can only be considered ahead or behind when measured against the achievements of others- which is a goofy thing to do to a child, as opposed to teaching them to strive for their own personal best, but that's what public school is all about).   I spent that first sleepless night worrying about what would happen as soon as the SRS discovered my "behind" kid.  Would she be the living proof they need to say I'm not doing my job?

The next morning, I left a third message for the social worker.  She never called back.  After showing up and scaring the crap out of me, she couldn't even have the decency to call back.  After 3 voice mails, the attorney advised me to stop calling (actually, it was more like, "STOP CALLING!!!").  He said I'd kept my word and done my part.  Why keep pestering her if she's in no hurry to come back?  Maybe she'd just leave us alone (although, he made it clear he didn't actually believe she would).

Weeks passed.

We started thinking maybe she really was going to drop it.  We even got so comfortable, we began making fun of our family's supposed inability to function on a day-to-day basis.  For days I heard one smarty-pants comment after another:
  • "Mom?  Can you tell Sis to stop it?  She's affecting my ability to function!"
  • "I need to tie my shoe, but I've forgotten how. Help, I can't function!"
  • "What do I do with this thing by my plate?"  (It was a fork.  My kids are so funny.)
  • "Would you kids SHUT IT? I can't function!!" (Wait, that one was actually from me.  And I started saying it long before the SRS came to call...  So, that doesn't count, I guess).
Then, on Monday, April 9th, I was talking to my husband when I made a passing comment about the SRS lady.  My darling, my sweet pea, love of my life, my soul mate, the core of my being said, "Oh yeah, you know she did call you back."


"Yeah.  She called my phone looking for you.  Weeks ago.  She wanted to set up a time to come back out to the house."
I'm going to edit this particular portion of our conversation.  There's no need for you to know how I responded to my sweetheart, my dear one, the sunshine of my life.  Suffice it to say I was, uh, displeased that he could forget to tell me something that important.  Yes, displeased.  That's what I was.

I found out she had called him at least a week before he told me (oh-so-very-displeased). 

Well, crap.  I called her back that second and left another voicemail.  Then, I prayed like crazy that night.

"God, please just let this come to nothing.  Let there be no investigation.  I know you can get us through it and can handle whatever happens, but let it just go away."

The next day, the 10th, was Bri's birthday so I tried not to think about it, although the worry was eating a hole in my gut.  When the end of the business day came and SRS hadn't called me back I was disgusted with her all over again.

Then...  Wednesday, April 11th: We got a letter in the mail from SRS, postmarked the 10th.  It said the investigation is closed and the claims were found to be unsubstantiated.

I honestly don't know how or why our "case" was closed without an investigation...  But do I really care?  HECK NO!  I'm considering it an answer to prayer and counting my blessings.  That was exactly what I'd asked God to do, not really thinking He would- I guess- since I was shocked when He did. 

As for the person who called in the complaint about us in the first place?  Of course, we'll never know for sure.  Since the SRS functions under a system where you can anonymously accuse anyone of anything, we're not allowed to know who claimed we abused/neglected/whatever the h*ll we supposedly did to our kids.  That would be infringing on their right to privacy (*snort*- I'm so funny sometimes).  But!  We suspect a neighbor.  A nutty neighbor.  A true A*$hat.  I shall henceforth refer to him as Grand Poobah of A*$hattery.  His (poor) son and my son are friends and they live 2 houses down from us.  He works in public education and feels it is his personal responsibility to quiz my son on math facts and such.  We recently angered this man when his friend's dog bit our son and we had the nerve to ask if the dog was current on its shots. 

Yes, you read that right:
  1. Our kid got bit by a dog that wasn't even his. 
  2. We asked if the dog had its shots, after making it abundantly clear we had no intention of making a big "thing" of it.  Just kind of, you know, curious as to whether or not our son would be rabid anytime soon. 
  3. The neighbor got angry with us. 
Sure.  It makes sense.  In the Kingdom of A*$hattery.

The really ironic thing is that we have often thought this man is too hard on his own kids, but decided we wouldn't call SRS based on a hunch- we'd wait until we had some clear proof of abuse/neglect.  Can you imagine that?  Waiting until you are sure you have a reason to accuse someone of something before you just jump in all willy-nilly and do it?

(*HSLDA stands for Home School Legal Defense Association.  It's an excellent organization for home schoolers.  In a way, it's like legal insurance.  You pay an annual fee to be a member, then you are represented for free if you should have a homeschooling-related legal matter- like being contacted by a truant officer or the SRS.  HSLDA also intervenes in some non-homeschooling matters when parental rights are on the line.  They're awesome.)

P.S. to those of you who made it to the end: First of all?  Well done, thou good and faithful reader.  Also?  I had a broken tooth pulled the other day (more on that next time- what a story!) and I'm on major pain pills. Which means...  My words is stupid.  I ain't talk so good.  This post could be riddled with typos and errors of every sort.  I didn't check and I don't care.  It's your problem.  ;P