Real Stories of a (Former) Mental Health Worker

Note: There is this gorgeous law (HIPAA) that prevents me from using real names in this post, and so I will use an asterisk when needed to indicate that names were changed. I will also not use the actual names of the facilities I worked at for similar reasons, because I’m not trying to get sued. I’m a blogger and stay at home mom, not a millionaire.

This month is Mental Health Awareness Month. This post is dedicated to my former co-workers (especially my Resource Team friends) and mental health professionals everywhere.

It’s a rough profession and deserves a lot more respect than it gets. It’s also very rewarding, which is one of the many reasons why I am glad that I chose psychology as my field of work.

A Few Definitions

I know not everyone understands these terms, so here are some definitions to help you out a bit:

Mental Health Technician/Mental Health Worker/Mental Health Associate: these are all pretty much the same, depending on where you work. I’ve been called all three.

1:1: a patient that requiring someone is with them at all times, whether they are asleep or not, sometimes both. This can get very tedious, and sometimes you have to stay within arms’ reach of the patient for safety reasons.

Code: this is not the code you see on TV. This code is for physical backup when things get out of hand, mainly when a patient is being aggressive, destructive or a combo. These are called for a variety of reasons, but these are the two most common ones.

Resource Team- an amazing team of people trained to work on every inpatient unit in a mental health facility. They are responsible for knowing everything about all the units, and they catch hell for messing up. It’s a great team to be a part of because they stick together and you never know what will happen next or where you will be. It’s also very stressful.

Checks/Rounds: ensuring patient safety by visualizing patients every 15 minutes.

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(I’ve seen C.Diff, and it’s ugly, especially in non-verbal kids. YIKES)

Let me set up the story for you…

In June 2007, Spalding University granted me a Bachelor of Arts in Clinical Psychology. Many don’t know this unless you ask, see it in my author bio or on my resume.

It took me five years, a change in major (my first major was in apparel design and merchandising- fancy wording for fashion design), school and two kids, but I finally graduated. I also completed a mandatory 100-hour practicum.

I was not prepared for my first job out of college. I had gotten a job as a Mental Health Technician at *Clear Lake Hospital and I was a bit nervous but ready to start my career.

I started the week after I finished classes. (I walked June 2, but still to finish my last class, which was sheer torture.) I did fine in orientation but was not happy when I found out that I was placed on the geriatric unit.

What? This facility didn’t let you pick what unit you went to, but I had hoped I wasn’t going to get put on a unit I didn’t like. I was not thrilled about being placed on this unit, known as the *Willow Tree Unit. I wanted to transfer immediately, but there was a policy preventing me from doing so for 6 months. I decided to wait it out.

Two months into that wait, I discovered that I was pregnant with Lily. My OB/GYN told me that I would be better off where I was because the pregnancy was not an easy one from the beginning.

A different unit would be a faster pace and could result in more issues with my pregnancy. I decided to stay put so that Lily would have a better chance of being okay. I ended up liking the *Willow Tree Unit.

The staff was nice- I was the youngest tech on first shift. Once word got around that I was pregnant, the nurses and other techs took care of me.

One afternoon, my shoes became untied and I couldn’t reach them because my belly was huge. I burst into tears and one of my fellow techs tied them for me. She understood the struggle- she’d been in my spot two years before.

I didn’t get to finish out the pregnancy on that unit- I went into preterm labor at 31 weeks (on Cameron’s 3rd birthday, of all days) and my OB/GYN told me that I would have to stop working or go on light duty, basically a desk job.

I chose the desk job because we needed the money. I went to medical records for all of five weeks or so. The ladies there were nice and began a betting pool on when Lily would show up. Lily shares a birthday with one of the ladies in the office, which everyone found hilarious.

Thanks to Kentucky state budget cuts, the *Willow Tree Unit was closed down while I was on light duty, and when I came back from maternity leave, I was sent to an acute care unit. I was better suited for that unit and stayed there until I left in June 2008 for a counseling position in Indiana.

The Real Fun Begins

In late 2010, I was ready for a new and closer to home position. I found another Mental Health Worker position at *MidRiver Regional Hospital. This time, I was able to pick where I wanted to go, because it was in the application. I would be on the Resource Team. It sounded very interesting and kind of fun.

I was absolutely right. Orientation was a bit boring- but that’s where I met Josh (Jake’s older brother) so I call that a win. I had to shadow for a couple of weeks on each unit- a couple of days with another worker, and then I was unleashed.

The very first day was a day that is forever etched in my mind- I was on *2West, a unit that was then used for kids from 12-18 with autism and other developmental disabilities. It was super loud, wild and some of the kids were way bigger than me.

What did I sign up for?

I took a huge deep breath, looked at my assignment sheet and kept going.

I spent two years on the Resource Team. It was a lot of fun- full of laughs, friends, and a few mishaps. I’ve run after people that eloped, including one that I chased across a busy street along with another worker. The kid ran off at a hospital and we did catch her. I’ve been punched in the head. I even caught a stereo cord to the face.

I was with a 1:1 and the patient was very upset about her Justin Beiber CD was repeatedly skipping. I told her that maybe it was time to try a different activity, and tried to unplug the stereo. She picked it up, then dropped it, and when I went to pick it up, she hit me in the face with the cord.

A code was immediately called and I was taken off the floor. I was taken to the main nursing office to get my face looked at.

I called Matthew to get me from work, and he took me to a nearby hospital- I ended up with three liquid stitches. You can barely see the scar today. I took the next day off because my eye was so swollen that I had a hard time seeing out of it, and let me tell you, tetanus shots are not fun.

As for the patient, she was so upset when she found out what happened to me, she became hysterical. I was one of her favorite staff members. She had to be medicated to calm down. She apologized the next time she saw me.

While I was working at this facility, things were not that great at home. Julian wasn’t diagnosed until late 2011. I was struggling a lot internally with both anxiety and depression. You can read about those events in A Letter to my Anxiety and Depression and Looking At the Bright Side

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I was able to lose myself in my work. I loved being able to help others and work with great people. We had a lot of fun on the good days and on the not so good days, pull together and make things work. That, to me, is the definition of teamwork.

In March 2013, I had a mini-stroke. My neurologist suggested afterward that I needed to start looking for ways to lessen or eliminate stress in my life. By this point, I was ready to leave the Resource Team- it was getting too stressful for me. Some people leave after months, some people stay the entire time they are at the facility.

I started thinking about which unit would be a good fit. I was pretty much done with adults- that was where the bulk of my work had been, and I needed something different. I had realized that I really enjoyed the kids on *2West and the staff was great.

I’d volunteer to go there when other people didn’t want to go- it was a rough unit. I didn’t really enjoy cleaning poop off walls (who does? I can’t make this up, it really happens) but it had become my favorite unit.

It took a few months of waiting, but a position opened up. By then, I had met Jake, and that was his home unit. I applied, interviewed and got the full-time Mental Health Associate position. My Resource Team friends were sad to see me go (my friend Scott begged me not to go), but they were not surprised to hear where I was going.

It turns out that going to *2West was the best career move I’ve ever made. I loved it. Those kids were not always the easiest to work with- I’ve been kicked in the eye, had my hair pulled out in clumps, broken my big left toe twice and in the same way. It still doesn’t bend correctly. I’ve seen all kinds of naked kids. I’ve left work scratched and bruised from multiple holds. I’ve gotten sick from these kids- strep throat can go through 20 kids fast.

I also learned a lot- how to sign (some), how to learn about a kid even when they are non-verbal. I learned that some families are worse than you can imagine and even the ones that look great are horrible.

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Autism is not seen as often in girls, but when it is, it tends to be severe. One of my favorite kids was a tall, thin girl named *Michelle. She was a runner and I got lots of exercise running after her in the halls. She was also non-verbal but showed her feelings by squeezing your hands.

She squeezed my hands every day to say “hello” and “goodbye” but if she was angry, she would pull on your arms while squeezing your hands. She was so much fun to work with. When she left, she bent down to hug me goodbye, and both *Claire (her behavior analyst) and I cried. That’s a very unusual thing.

Taylor Swift sing-a-longs were a regular thing and so were movie days on the weekends. We tried to make things as fun as we could for the kids. We took them outside and let them play as much as they were able to on the playground. We got the kids out of bed, fed them, got them through their days and back into bed- for some of them, we were more of a family to them than their own.

*Mason was a kid who saw us exactly like that. I met him while doing checks and he was in the shower singing “Baby Got Back”. He was hilarious, and once beatboxed to me about needing toothpaste.

However, he came from a family that didn’t treat him well, which contributed to some of the reasons he came to the facility. Once, I was planning an outing with another associate, and he asked us to take him and the other patients to a strip club. That did not happen, but we laughed hysterically after he left the room.

These kids were so funny, smart in their own way. I couldn’t have asked for better co-workers. Some days entirely sucked, but it was still a fun adventure. My last day there was September 2, 2015. I left after being told about Jake’s death, and I came back two days later to get my things and leave my nurse manager a note telling her I wouldn’t be back.

I couldn’t write this post without mentioning Jake, Austin, Scott (not the one mentioned earlier), Cisco or Colleen. I lost these co-workers while working with them or after and each loss was a bad one. They left behind families that loved them and patients that they touched. They worked hard (Cisco got electrocuted trying to keep a patient safe) and had a lot of love for their patients.

I’m retired from this line of work- thanks to my RA diagnosis. My rheumatologist would go ballistic. I am left with so many memories and friends. That’s what work and life are all about.

All pics are my personal pics except for one pin on my Pinterest board. Pinterest

Broken Wings Part 5: What I Wish My Spouse Knew

What I Wish My Spouse Knew About Our Child With Special Needs

This series was inspired by a Facebook post I read six weeks ago. A member posted this question “Does having a special needs child affect your marriage?” Post after post, people shared examples of how their marriage was tested. Some made it, others did not. I always wanted to create a platform where people could talk and share their experiences, the good and the bad. I cannot thank my collaborator Wrae Meredith Sanders enough for her open and honest contributions. Whatever your decision is, I hope you know you’re not alone and you will make it.

This is the last part of this series. Please feel free to like, comment, and share.

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There are many things that I can look back on now and wish that I could change. I’m unable to change the damage that was done to our marriage- both of us did things that we regret but we have been able to move forward together.

If I’d known that we would disagree so much and loudly, I would have shut the door a little more. I would have stopped and asked for a break–this would have helped more than we realized at the time. I would have asked why we had to be right all the time instead of coming up with a compromise.

Julian Needed Us to Come Together, Not Fall Apart

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If I’d known then that I’d spend many nights crying myself to sleep for so many reasons, I would hit the rewind button. I would figure out each separate reason instead of letting it all become a big ball of depression.

I thought I was doing the right thing–fighting you for Julian’s needs. This turned out to be two evaluations, a diagnosis of ADHD (combined), traits of Asperger’s (later amended to High Functioning Autism) and medications. He also needed group therapy.

Moms are supposed to do what it takes for their kids, right? The only thing is, I did it alone. I didn’t listen to you. You didn’t want any of these things to happen because you were in denial. If I had known what to say and not be confrontational, I would have done it. But I didn’t. That’s where I went wrong.

I tried explaining, even in a way you could understand but that didn’t do it. In your family, disabilities aren’t real unless you see it. Julian has the kind you can’t see. You couldn’t see it, so it didn’t exist. This even applied when Julian almost broke my nose and I had to get X-Rays.

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I sought out ways to deal with the loneliness. When your husband is in denial and emotionally bashes you daily, you have to find a way to cope. I drank. That was not productive at all.

I went out a lot with people who turned out to not be good for me, you even tried to tell me, but I didn’t trust you enough to care. I worked out in the gym obsessively and lost 60 lbs. Even my doctor was concerned. I barely ate for days on end. This didn’t help my decision making.

What I Know Now

We worked hard to put this family back together. I still have problems opening up to you this day. I finished therapy two months ago. You were there from day one to the last and cheered me on the whole time.

During that time, Julian has grown, and he has done well. He finished group therapy and dealt well with a change in providers. He is going into the seventh grade after a few bumps adjusting to middle school.

You’ve become so supportive of Julian and I. When he has a bad day, I know I can tell you about it. You’re happy when he does well. Raising kids isn’t easy and we have three. Having a kid with special needs makes things a bit more interesting and sometimes difficult. I’m glad that both of us decided to make this work.

Thanks. I know Julian wouldn’t say it but I’m sure he likes his mom and dad being together.

Love always…

Wrae

What I Wish My Husband Knew About Being A Special Needs Mom

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Dear Husband,

Never at the age of forty did I dream I would marry, then become pregnant a few months later. It took us both by surprise yet we agreed to go on this wild journey called parenting. I had a little more experience with raising a child as my daughter was fourteen when we tied the knot.

I was fat, tired, and cranky–everything a pregnant woman is and probably will be as long as little humans continue to beautifully invade our personal space. There were precautions because of my age and health, but I was sure I would go full term.

But I didn’t. He came nearly three months early. After a long stay at the hospitals, oxygen tanks, and therapy, our baby boy could live a normal life.

There’s Something About Keith

We both noticed how energetic he was, how once he started talking he couldn’t stop, and how sleep evaded him. No worries though, I sleep trained him. Plus, kids are naturally talkative and hyper, right?

But he never slowed down. After being kicked out of two daycares, we had him evaluated. I already knew, but I wanted to hear the doctor say it. He had ADHD.

Now here’s where the story starts to fall apart

I ran straight towards the ADHD armed with books, natural medicine because our pediatrician refused to help him, and age-appropriate behavioral techniques. You ran in the other direction, straight to the door of denial.

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Days grew into weeks, months, and even years. Six years isn’t much time to some, but when a person feels like they’re carrying the load alone, it can seem like a millennium.

The feeling is familiar because I went through the same thing raising my daughter alone. I felt overwhelmed all the time. I feel that way now.

As the primary caregiver, I stay on top of his meds, homeschool him, and take him to the doctor’s appointments.

I know you can argue that since I don’t have a nine to five, I should be doing this anyway. I remember carrying the same load as a full-time working mom too.

And when you did participate…

Yes, you went to the doctor with us sometimes. You ‘yessed’ your way through the appointments, but the heavy part of the load rests on my shoulders.

When he’s having a bad day, I try to redirect. You punish him by sending him to bed.

If he talks back, I remind him that his behavior is inappropriate, you yell at him and say things he will repeat later when he’s frustrated.

Even when you excuse yourself from spending time with him, he loves you anyway.

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If I thought you would really listen to what I have to say, I’d tell you that you are creating an insecure man who will be afraid to share his feelings, think he isn’t good enough and may do inappropriate things to get attention.

But I’m not brave enough. What I am is strong. I’m strong enough to walk away and do it on my own.

I don’t want to, but his well being comes first. The only reason I haven’t walked away now is that much like a little girl, I have hope.

You’re not a bad person. That’s why I haven’t left yet.

Until then, I pray we can fix these broken wings.

Love,

Bonnie

Comments? Leave them below.

Thank you so much for reading this series! We appreciate your support during this month. If you missed any of the previous parts, you can catch up here:

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

Broken Wings Part 3: What Your Child Thinks About Your Divorce

by Wrae Meredith Sanders and Bonnie Harris Price

We all know the hard truth; divorces affect kids. Even when they say they’re okay, you must know something in them breaks when a couple decides to call it quits. Kids may withdraw, eat or sleep too much.

They may even get fed up and tell you how much they hate you.

However, your special needs children may be unable to put it into words, but they know their lives have changed. Children with special needs feel loss, sadness, and pain just like the rest of us.

Most parents don’t split into friendly terms. Even when you try your best to keep it civil, kids feel the tension between you. Sooner or later, the signs of their stress begin to show.

Verbal and non-verbal cues

Anxiety and Fear

Kids can become very anxious about not knowing what is coming next, where they will be living, going to school, etc. They may fear to lose the other parent, friends, and the home if they have to move, and more. This may lead to problems sleeping, eating and withdrawing from friends. This can also cause issues with concentrating in school, which may be picked up on by teachers.

Sadness and Depression

Kids can feel as if they are losing their family. This can leave kids very sad, which is normal. They may feel sad at having to move, missing the other parent not being in the home daily, the changes in daily life, seeing their parent sad, etc. If the sadness is not addressed, or if it is under an extreme situation, this can become depression and the child may need to see a professional.

Anger and Aggression

Some kids are angry about their parents splitting up and may become aggressive towards them, siblings or other family members. They may become aggressive towards others. This may be a big change in a usually non-aggressive child or may not be in a child that has had issues with aggression in the past. Some kids have issues with saying what they feel and this is their way of saying that they are angry with their lives. Either way, this should be addressed immediately to prevent further issues.

In non-verbal children, aggressive behavior can become a big issue. They can also regress any recently learned behaviors and need extra help and reinforcements to get back on track with positive behaviors. They may also need help with expressing their feelings in positive ways- art and music therapies can be helpful.

How to Help When Divorces Affect Kids

Help your child through this trying time

Just as your divorce wasn’t easy, the road to building emotionally healthy children isn’t either. If all it took was love, you’d already be there. However, to make sure that your children adjust, take a look at some of these suggestions.

Acknowledge your child’s feelings

This is important for all children. Let them express themselves, and for non-verbal kids, this can be difficult. They can draw, write or try other ways to express their feelings. Some kids cry, yell or scream. Some kids withdraw and become quiet, and that may become a cause for concern. Let them ask questions– it’s normal and they do need to know what will be happening. It’s also okay for them to be angry. It’s a big change, and many children are not happy that their parents are divorcing.

Give age-appropriate responses to conflict

Younger kids need fewer details because they may not be able to grasp as much about the situation, but older kids may want to know more.

Parental conflict can damage kids, so try not to fight in front of the kids if possible. Also, try not to make them feel like they have to choose between their parents or criticize the other parent in front of them.

Provide as much structure as possible throughout the separation and divorce. This gives kids a sense of stability. One day, they may seem to “get it” and one day, be a bit unsure. Remain patient– it’s a big change.

Be consistent with the other parent

Try your best to work out a way to “co-parent” with your ex. Parenting peacefully is easier for everyone involved.

Take care of yourself. This means physically and emotionally. If you need therapy to deal with the split, see someone. Furthermore, keep yourself physically healthy so that you are able to deal with the strain of a divorce.

Incidentally, allow the kids to give input on visitation, but remind them you and your ex-partner remain responsible for the final decision.

Conclusion

Going through a divorce is like going through the grieving process. After everyone deals with the shock and denial, then here come the emotions. Anger, sadness, and depression will be a part of your special needs child processing.

In an ideal situation, both parents should work together to help kids through the transition. On the contrary, if you find yourself dealing with it on your own, by all means, please seek help. There are free and paid resources to help you make it through.

Comments?

What about you? Are you or did you go through a tough divorce? How did your child seem during the transition? Please share your stories with us below.

This five-part series will continue for the month of June if you haven’t already we invite you to read parts one and two. Please share with friends or family that may be going through this difficult time. We want them to know they’re not alone.

Broken Wings Part

Broken Wings Part 2

Broken Wings Part 2: Divorce Preparations

Broken Wings, Part 2: Divorce Preparations for Your Special Needs Family

by Bonnie Harris Price & Wrae Meredith Sanders

Special needs and divorce; these two words shouldn’t be in the same sentence. Yet more and more families split up because the demands are overwhelming.

Counseling didn’t work. The long vacation meant to help your family reset didn’t work either. It may even seem like your prayers to reconcile went unanswered too.

Then, the inevitable happens. You and your significant other decide to divorce.

Ending your marriage is hard particularly if you have children. Yet when your child has special needs, the task is even more difficult.

The transition to a single parent household won’t be easy. There will be feelings of anger, doubt, fear, frustration, and even betrayal. After all, the two of you took vows to work things out.

But sometimes things don’t work out

It’s important that you know it’s not your fault. And your child’s disability isn’t to blame either. As Iyanla Vanzant says, it’s time to do the work to get your lives on track.

Going through a divorce is like going to war. You don’t want to show up for battle without your protective gear. Don’t confuse this post for a lesson to destroy your soon to be ex, instead, treat this as a blueprint to prepare you for the tough days ahead.

Divorce Action Plan

How much child support should you ask for? What if your child requires special care beyond the age of eighteen? Am I doing the right thing?

These are legitimate questions and at the same time, they don’t even scratch the surface of what’s involved in a special needs divorce case.

Here are some suggestions of what to do when preparing for divorce.

Special Needs Divorce Checklist

  • Find a divorce mediator
  • Find a special needs attorney or an attorney who specializes in family law
  • Bring your child’s records
  • Prepare an after divorce budget
  • Custody arrangements
  • Living arrangements
  • After the divorce

Mediator

In the heat of the moment you might want to run straight to an attorney, but first, try a mediator. A mediator can help you arrange an acceptable divorce agreement. A mediator should be experienced and willing to let an attorney sit in without any hassle.

Your mediator should remain neutral and help keep the peace. Mediators aren’t free but some will offer a free consultation. Check Yelp reviews or get a recommendation from a friend who’s been through a divorce.

Special needs attorney

Next, you want to find a divorce attorney who specializes in this area. Custody, insurance, medical and counseling appointments are areas that must be addressed as soon as possible. Efforts to continue your child’s care takes priority over who gets the house.

The goal is to prevent dumping the burden on one person. Lack of support probably plays a huge role in breakups. To make sure you don’t get overwhelmed after the divorce, address this issue first.

Records

If you haven’t already been doing it, document everything about your child including the relationship with the other parent. Family court is also known as the mother’s court, but fathers have rights too.

You want to record all interactions, including the not so good days. Again, this is not to make the other person look bad, but this is to show the court what the child needs. Documentation is especially helpful in abuse cases.

Budget

Your income will definitely change. Income for divorced women is a not so surprising fifty percent. Another ugly statistic shows men tend to get richer after divorce.

Either way, you must prepare your after our divorce budget now. You need to figure out what your expenses will be if you’re going to have any kind of future.

Some things to consider are:

Can you afford to keep the house once the divorce is final?

How much money will I have to make in case I don’t get the child support I need?

What services can my child do without if I need to make ends meet?

Custody and Visitation

Other than the divorce itself, this is the most painful process. What happens to the kids? In Texas and Tennessee, one parent gets custody and the other gets visitation.

If you’re lucky, the two of you can agree to co-parent. Sometimes this is just isn’t case. Worst-case scenario one parent ends up abandoned despite a court order for regular visits.

Understand the court will decide what’s in the best interest of the child. Mothers tend to have more rights than dads, but if you find yourself on the wrong side of the decision be prepared to fight. If you know in your heart you’re the better parent, don’t give up.

Living Arrangements

Once you have decided who and where please make sure the place is suitable for your child’s needs. New divorcees are plagued with the task of finding somewhere affordable, but it has to be right.

New homes should reasonably accommodate the child. If your child has physical limitations, the other parent should move to a place that is handicap accessible. You should also know if the neighborhood is child-friendly.

Another thing you want to consider is to make sure in your divorce decree that you have permission to move. For example, if there is a doctor or facility two hours away that would be beneficial for your child and you wanted to move closer, your ex could stop you if it isn’t in the paperwork.

You want to put that card on the table because as Dr. Phil said, the person you married is different from the person you divorce. For your child’s sake be prepared.

When It’s Over

The ink is dry. Maybe it was an amicable split. A new chapter for you and your child begins.

Ideally, it would be great if you could seek counseling during this trying time. Most people I know don’t seek counseling until years later. Don’t wait years, get help as soon as it’s over.

Don’t be under the impression that life is going to be grand because the pain is in the past. The pain doesn’t heal until you deal with it. It didn’t work out and you’re left to pick up the pieces.

But Guess What?

You got this. Your child is going to need you more than ever. Despite your child’s emotional and/or physical challenges, they are resilient.

And so are you. Thomas Edison failed over two-thousand times when he tried to invent the light bulb. When asked, he said he didn’t fail, he found over two thousand ways it wouldn’t work.

You will get through this. I have faith in you as a parent.

Comments

What’s your story? Are you going through a divorce and have special needs children? Leave a comment below.

bonnie@adhdhomeschooled.com

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Introducing Broken Wings

IT’S HERE!

Please see this link for the first in my series with the awesome Bonnie Price. Our series is about marriage with special needs kids. Both of us are married with a special needs child- our sons have ADHD and Julian also has autism. Bonnie homeschools her son, and I give her a lot of respect for that.

Apologies for the one day delay.

Part 1