Written by Shannon Bradbury, Compass parent
My ex-husband and I had originally planned on homeschooling our older child, Ash, as he moved closer to school age, but at the last minute I chickened out, fearing that I couldn’t teach him to read. In his first experience with conventional schooling, the teacher used him to help other children learn because he was so much better behaved and advanced than they were. His own learning was compromised as a result. After that, he went to a school for gifted children where they pushed him so hard – and had us pushing him at home, so that he had no refuge from it- that he developed lasting is- sues, including a tic of which he’s worked hard to rid himself. When we moved back home to Ottawa in 2007, we decided that homeschool- ing, no matter our lack of “qualifications”, had to be better for our family.
We went through a “deschooling” phase where I worried about how to engage him and he worried that he wasn’t learning “the right things”. Slowly we both relaxed and learned what did and did not work for Ash. Maybe even more slowly, I learned to let go of my ideas on what constituted “learning,” “home- school,” “worthwhile,” and other such hot- topic words.
My mother is a teacher and had a lot of fears about Ash and his brother being home- schooled. Fear, being contagious, nibbled at the edges of my consciousness every once in a while. One day, a Child Assistive Services (CAS) worker visited our home because of a call about our youngest being outside alone. The worker had lengthy talks with both kids indi- vidually, in which my husband and I were not allowed to be present. I nearly had apoplexy, worrying that they would give us a harder time because we not only homeschooled, but unschooled. When the woman from CAS was done talking to the children she came down and the only negative thing she had to say was: “Don’t let your youngest out alone until he’s older.” That was it. She marveled at how intelligent, happy, and well-adjusted Ash and his brother were. When an organization that you view in a ‘Big Brother’ sort of light tells you that you’re doing just fine by your chil- dren, a huge weight that you don’t fully realize is sitting on you seems to lift.
We carried on in this manner until a few years ago, when Ash had to go through the demise of his parents’ marriage, a personal identity crisis, having his house for sale, his father living in another country, and then having to move in with a family member he didn’t like. His life crashed down around his ears. I watched my happy, social, goofy child wrap himself up into a tight cocoon, allowing no visitors and no glimpses of what was going on inside. I didn’t see him again for a year and a half, metaphori- cally speaking.
During that time he realized that he was transgender, telling me one day in the car. He started out by telling me he wanted to change his name. When that didn’t elicit a cataclysmic response, he told me that he thought he was a boy. I believe my response was something along the lines of: “Ok.” He’d been clearly geared up for a big defense of his position and didn’t know how to go forward from that response so he started telling me about all the things he’d been researching: statis- tics and numbers and studies about being transgen- der. That was the first crack in the cocoon, but it took another year or so before I could really say I had him back.
He began seeing a counsellor who has had a lot of experience with GLBTQ+ kids. While his counselor was worried at the slow progress, I kept telling him that it was ok; I was seeing changes and if we waited things would be ok. Ash needed time to process, to feel things out, and to be really, really sure that it was safe to keep taking the next step. It was tough, watch- ing his pain, confusion, anger, and sometimes despair. He’d always been so exuberant and such an optimist; now I was living with a stranger who was intensely pessimistic and that was tough for everyone to deal with. Eventually Ash started to come out enough that he could start to remember how much nicer it feels to be happy. Around this time a friend told me about Compass and at first I didn’t think it would work, financially, time and distance-wise, and social requirements-wise, but Ash and I talked about it and he wanted to give it a try.
I was so worried about how Ash would be perceived and treated but Abby and Andre immediately put my mind at ease. When we went in for our initial meet- ing, Ash was intensely nervous and uncertain, curl- ing up on the couch and barely speaking. I’m sure that Andre and Abby were worried that maybe this wouldn’t be such a good fit.
I was embarrassed to talk to Abby about our financial situation but Ash is definitely worth some discom- fort so I e-mailed her. I cried when she told me that Compass has a policy to never turn a child away due to financial concerns. They worked with me to figure out what I was able to give and on what kind of a schedule.
Every day that Ash went to Compass he came home exhausted and bubbling over with ex- citement. Sometimes the exhaustion won and he passed out in the car; other days he was a babbling brook. Over the past ten months that he’s been involved with Compass, he has changed so drastically. He has gained so much self-confidence and happiness – so much optimism! He was clearly always a strong person to have come through everything whole and happy, but I cannot possibly express how much it means to me that he’s had Compass there to provide what I could not: to give him a safe space to explore his thoughts and feelings and to start to explore the person he’s grow- ing into. I have watched my son go through the stages of grief: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and Technicolor. Most people think the final stage is acceptance, but they clearly haven’t met my oldest son.