Friday, December 30, 2016

Library play date

This week a friend of mine with a son who's gifted decided to have a playdate with my kids and I at the library. Yeah, not the greatest idea. As soon as our kids saw BOOKS it was all over in terms of actual human interaction, and they just read the whole time. So I sat with her on a couch in the children's area, her son squirrelled away in the adult stacks, my son sitting on the floor in front of the bookcase where he found a Lego minifigure encyclopedia, and my 6 year old daughter reading to my 3 year old and another preschooler. Although I complain about my son's lack of interaction with his friend I wasn't much better, sitting next to this other mom, talking a bit but mostly crocheting.

When we did talk it was mostly about crochet (which we were both learning, and I was hating), or parenting gifted kids. We talked about the similarities between her kid and mine, the differences, the difficulties and funny anecdotes.

After a while a friend of hers happened to come into the library and sat down to chat with her. And I noticed a little change in her. Maybe it was my imagination, but she seemed to gloss over what her kid was reading (and he was a fourth grader reading J.R.R. Tolkien, for fuck's sake), and the intensity he had in playing the board game he got for Christmas. My preschooler was starting to get restless and whiny, so I knew I had to be off quickly, so maybe if I had stayed longer those things would have come up. But I kind of wondered if her experiences are like mine, and with certain people she finds herself omitting, side-stepping, dredging up one anecdote about absent-mindedness for every story about her kid being bright. I wondered if that's why she's so eager to find other gifted kids and their parents...not because it's exclusionary or because she only wants her kid associating with bright kids, but because it's just easier not to have to monitor what you say.

I wonder how many parents have to do this. The parents of artists? The parents of athletes? Are we all sweeping the best of our kids' achievements under the rug? It seems like I hear a lot about my friends' kids' athletic achievements, but maybe I don't hear as much as they'd like to say.

I understanding not wanting to brag, but it's tiring to censor.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Pushing It

I live on the edge of a rather large neighborhood in my city, with its own culture, identity, and Facebook neighborhood group. My husband is a member, and recently he told me about a discussion they were having about neighborhood schools. They were talking about how the schools were improving and how they were even attracting students away from the city's gifted and talented magnet school, students who were tired of the "high pressure environment" there.

I sighed uneasily when he told me. "It doesn't seem high-pressure," I said. "P hasn't felt any pressure at all. It's actually been the best school experience he's had in a long time.

"Maybe there's more pressure in the upper grades," my husband replied.

"Maybe," I replied. I still felt uneasy.

It kept rattling around in the back of my mind all weekend. This morning, though, I finally put my finger on what was bugging me. Maybe it isn't that the G&T school is that pushy...maybe it's that adults can't look at a group of high-achieving kids without assuming that their teachers and parents are cracking the whip behind them.

I'm not sure if Jen from Laughing at Chaos coined the phrase, "I'm not pushing, he's pulling," but her blog was the first place I ran across it. This is the first entry I read after P's rather dramatic entry into the world of gifted students, and the phrase really stuck with me. In the past I didn't really get that line too much with P...he would learn about topics of interest with such single-minded passion that nobody could assume I was pushing him. It also helped that I knew nothing about what he was chasing. Geology? Dinosaurs? Army vehicles? I got nothing. I had no hand in this. Within ten seconds of warming up to someone enough to speak with them, he'd start to spout off on his topic of choice while I shrugged helplessly.

However, now P is a little more socially aware, and some people wonder if the well-spoken little kid is the result of intentional cultivation. Still, where I'm getting that more and more is with my daughter, E. E is just as smart as P, but ten times as competitive and socially smart. At school she's popular with the kids (but lonely - that's another entry) and a joy to the adults. Instead of pursuing different interests and dropping them after six months like P does, she's made it her mission for the last two years to study animals in hopes of becoming a field biologist. She is the one that I've started to get remarks on..."You must really push her at home." "You must work with her all the time." "You have to remember to let her be a kid."

It's getting harder to shrug off. And as I parent my three wonderful, outside-the-box kids, I doubt myself. They're really not that different. I should make them act more normal. They have to act normal, don't they? They have to learn to get along with other people to be happy. They have to fit in. But then I realize that any pushing I do is not pushing them to achieve higher, it's pushing them to be typical.

I am pushing them sometimes. And I really should stop.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Weekends

On Friday night I stood in the basement, cheerfully sorting dirty laundry into piles. I was deeply content, nearly humming in my good mood. It's going to be a good weekend, I thought to myself. The nerdiest weekend ever.

Every weekend is the nerdiest weekend ever. Every weekend we have something going on...trips to museums. Trips to the nature center. Library visits. Spending time huddled around the computer watching videos about Boston Dynamics' robots. The kids eat it up. This weekend, in between a visit to my in-laws and chores like grocery shopping, we were planning on a museum visit and an afternoon spent geocaching with another family. This is our type of fun.

Sometimes our weekends lead us to meet kindred spirits...on Friday after work P and I went to American Science & Surplus, a store that is every bit as eccentric and awesome as the catalog makes it look. We bought geodes and tiny plastic animals for geocaching prizes, and instead of the cashier telling us that we were crazy for planning on going hiking on the coldest day of the season, she said, "Oh, that's awesome! Bundle up!"

An ongoing struggle that I have is trying to balance feeding the kids' interests with making them normal. About a year ago I stopped making them do things simply because they were age appropriate, like read certain books or watch certain TV shows. Sometimes I wonder if it's the right choice...maybe I should push them harder into sports or something more mainstream. But over and over again I decide that the world will do a good enough job of telling them that they don't fit in...maybe my job is to provide a home where they're celebrated and they always fit in.

This morning dawned with the usual responsibilities...work, baby-sitters, and plans to call a mechanic on my lunch break because our car died last night. I'm already looking forward to the weekend, when we can pull away from the real world and geek out amongst ourselves for a while.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Bus stops

Today I called the kids' school district, and with a little bit of wheedling I got them to give me the kids' tentative bus pickup times. We've always lived within the walk zone of my kids' old school, so the world of busses was new to us.

In retrospect, I shouldn't have been surprised about what I learned. My kids will be taking two different busses, from two different bus companies...leaving from two different stops. I had imagined standing on the corner near our house, waiting for one bus and then another while holding hands with my preschooler. I didn't imagine hustling my daughter out of the house before 6:30, and then taking my son and preschooler to another stop three blocks away, 20 minutes later.

So many times this summer I've said, "Now it feels real." When I got my first auto-dialer call from my son's new school. When I found out who my daughter's teacher was. When we bought school supplies and my kids both picked the same pencil pouch, and my daughter told my son, "This way we can still be alike even though we're in different schools."

I'm running out of anger about this, which is probably good. The reality is setting in...my kids, especially my son really are that different. Too different for their neighborhood school. Too different to navigate through the system smoothly. At this point all I can hope is that it's worth it and the new schools will help and appreciate them.

Monday, August 8, 2016

A Kind Word

Recently P attended Camp Invention. It was a half-day camp that focused on inventions, basic engineering, and problem-solving. He didn't say much about it, but he has the unfortunate habit of wearing his heart on his sleeve and showing all his emotions, while keeping many of his thoughts to himself. Last year I took P and his sister, E, to Chicago for a day. He seemed to really enjoy it, but didn't say much about it after the trip. I was shocked a few weeks later when I had parent-teacher conferences and many of the writing and journal assignments were about Chicago. Apparently it had made a bigger impression than I had thought, and it just goes to show that it's hard to tell what's going on in that mind of his.

Anyway, back to Camp Invention. He seemed to enjoy it, even though he got frustrated at times, and he was proud of his final project. I sent an email to the teacher who coordinated it, thanking her for putting it all together and also thanking her for being so patient and supportive of P.

I was shocked at the email I got back. She said so many nice things...she liked having him there. She appreciated what he brought to the table. He worked with the other kids. He really loved the material they taught. His moments of frustration were infrequent and brief. He was pleasant and engaged and his excitement was wonderful! When I was finished reading it I realized my jaw was hanging open and tears were pricking my eyes.

It made me realize how long it's been since I've heard something nice about him from school. And although this wasn't school - it was definitely geared toward fun - it was put on by P's school district and involved one of the Gifted & Talented support teachers. I'm glad they got to see him in a good light, and I'm kind of hopeful that he'll be more successful at his new school. Maybe they'll "get" him.

Anyway, I'm taking it as a win today. And I'm definitely keeping the email.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Wait and See

The first day of school is a little less than a month away, but I've already started having nightmares. Last night I dreamt that I was at my kids' old school, and my daughter came running up to me, absolutely hysterical and with her dress torn. She said a teacher tried to attack her and tore her dress. Immediately my son's old teacher, the school psychologist, and a couple other teachers came up to me and started telling me that the teacher she was accusing was new, but very trustworthy, and that he'd never do anything wrong. I alternated between trying to calm her and insisting that someone investigate, and they alternated between being patronizing, cajoling, and dismissive. I just kept looking at my daughter, sobbing and insisting that he was trying to hurt her, and looking at them, smiling and saying there wasn't a problem.

I don't always believe in dream interpretation, but other times my subconscious is anything but subtle.

I feel like I'm right where I was in August of 2015, and August of 2014. No matter how much we learn about our kids, about what works and what doesn't, about their strengths and weaknesses, no matter how much work we do or what other professionals we involve, every summer brings the same thing. Waiting and seeing what the school wants to do, and what the teachers feel is appropriate. Waiting on their goodwill and seeing how it will play out.

I HATE not being in control. "Wait and see" is not my favorite.


Friday, July 29, 2016

Sensory Processing

Sometimes I think of some of my more veteran colleagues and wonder about the paths they've taken to get where they are. They have areas of expertise, or schools they've been at for decades, and I wonder if they can trace back to an event that tipped their interest in that area. One woman I work closely with is an expert on autism and visual supports. I wonder if she can go back and remember a school assignment or a student who triggered her interest...the first step down a path that would lead her to become who she is today.

I suppose the path we take in life isn't really a path, is it? Right now my career seems like a series of doors. You pick one, and it leads to a new room with more doors. And right now, my career is much more influenced by my experience as a parent than it is influenced by any professional endeavor. I'm not proud of that...although it leads me to learning about new conditions (twice exceptionality has been a whole new world to me) and gives me new insight into how to work with families, I fear that it makes me less objective. But, it is what it is.

As I parent, I've been walking through a lot of unfamiliar doors the past two years, ones my friends don't pass through. Some doors I just open and peek through, like the door labeled Your Child Was Diagnosed With Autism. I saw a glimpse of that world when I was traveling down the hallway labeled Your Child Was Referred For An IEP Evaluation. But instead of entering and making a home there, I scooted out the door for parents whose kids don't have a disability after all. I've been spending more time in the Your Child Is Gifted room, but the You Have A Really Quirky Kid is usually what I give as my address.

One room I've been spending more and more time in is Your Child Has Sensory Processing Problems. It was a door I opened recently when I joined a Facebook group for parents of kids with sensory issues. I was directed there from another group - I can't remember what information I was looking for that made someone recommend it - and I remained subscribed to it because I figured I could pick up some tips for working with my students. I never thought it would really be for me. Recently, though, P had his annual check-up and I asked his pediatrician if I could have a print-out of his OT report, in case his new school needs a medical excuse to allow P to type on a computer instead of hand-writing things. She gave me P's OT evaluation, which I had never seen. There, in black and white, was his list of problems, and right at the end was SENSORY PROCESSING.

I felt the door to that room slam behind me. This was my home now. I guess I hadn't really taken it seriously, but really, how many other kids chew the necks of their t-shirts to pieces? Or require new chewy necklaces as a part of their back-to-school shopping? Or still cover their ears when they hear sirens? Recently P said to me, "It's just kind of hard when you're really really observant and sensitive like I am." I guess, as usual, he knows more than I do about how he works.

It feels weird to have it be official. It also feels weird to eye up the Your Child Is Twice Exceptional door. I don't know if he's "officially" 2E - usually I see that designation used for gifted kids with anxiety, autism, ADHD, learning disabilities, dysgraphia, or dyslexia - but someone recently told me that if I was using multiple therapists for my child, that was pretty 2E. P is currently enrolled in OT, and as of Monday he'll be on the waiting list for our local university's Speech & Hearing clinic. I'm also thinking about finding a therapist to work on emotional regulation...and then there's the sensory issue. It looks like the Parent of a Twice Exceptional Child room might be added to my suite.

But even as I walk along my path, I know how lucky I am. I know people who are pacing through rooms that are much harder to navigate. I have the parenting equivalent of first-world problems, I'm aware. I don't feel sorry for myself. I just feel overwhelmed sometimes because I wonder how many more doors I'll have to open.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

At the park

This morning I rounded up the kids and, in anticipation of staying indoors because of a rainy afternoon, I told them we were walking to the park. Our toddler, C, was going FULL BORE FOR PARK EXCITEMENT and the 5 year old, E, was somewhat amenable to a park trip. But P wasn't feeling it. It wasn't until I reminded him that the park had a net he could practice climbing that he started to perk up. I think his hours in OT are paying off because he seems stronger and more coordinated this summer, and he's able to really enjoy more of the park equipment.

Once we got to the park I settled myself with my knitting and kept and eye on the kids. P somehow wound up playing with two other boys...it was some kind of "giant spider versus insects with lightsabers" kind of game. I watched in amazement as he played appropriately, chasing, being chased, adding to the narrative. He wasn't 100% typical - his current obsession is Pokemon and he talked a bit about summoning different creatures to attack - but it was close enough to play for about half an hour with the kids. I have never, ever seen him in a situation where he jumped in and interacted with the other kids. I was on the edge of my metaphorical seat, ready to jump up and redirect him when the time came...but it never did. I left when C became fussy, partially because I wanted to leave while the interaction was still positive, but it gave me some hope. Maybe he's starting to come around. Call it maturity, learning skills, not having the baggage of having been identified as being "the weird kid" of the class, or just luck in finding two kids who don't mind playing with a kid who's pretending to be a giant spider, it made my morning.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Science Night

When I backed out of my driveway to go to Science Night at our local science supply store, E was clutching her giant plush Lyme Disease microbe and P was enthusiastically singing "Why Does The Sun Shine" by They Might Be Giants. They were in a very science-y mood, and I figured it would be a good night. And, for the most part, it was...E had a bit of a tantrum as we left because P had more opportunities to participate than she did, but overall, it was a great time. We were there for an hour and a half watching experiments, making things, and meandering around the store. It was really nice.

When we were driving there I was actually concerned. Indulging the kids' interests is basically the same as encouraging them to be weird. Well, actually, that's kind of harsh...but I can't figure out a way to integrate their interests with behavior that's considered socially acceptable by kids their chronological age. I wondered if I should encourage more typical interests instead. But when I pulled into the parking lot and found another family exiting their minivan with kids who had decided to cosplay for Science Night, I figured that if I'm making a mistake at least I'm not alone.

Sometimes I watch my sister or my friends with their kids, and I marvel at how the kids do what they're supposed to do. It's not automatic - it's with a lot of hard work on their parents' part - but they send their kids to school and the kids learn ABC's, have playdates, earn Little League trophies, and meet milestones. Others have difficulties, and things come more slowly or develop differently. There are IEPs and medical procedures, and milestones are met long after they were expected. I feel like I'm on a different path with my kids, flailing away in the tall grass trying to cut a passage for us, wondering why this all seems so hard.

Last night I had a vivid dream where I was walking out of a school with someone I used to work with. We were catching up and she asked me how the kids were, and I blurted out everything...all of my fears and worries, about how we were "counseled out" of another year at their elementary school, my fear that they wouldn't be accepted at their new schools either. She gently stopped me and said, "Don't worry. Just do this." Then she wrote me out a step-by-step process to ensure that the kids would be okay. Before I could read it, though, she gently took me by the shoulder and guided me to a low wall where we sat and she hugged me. In real life I'm not really into getting hugged by acquaintances, but apparently my dream self is much more amenable to affection because I just leaned on her and let myself be comforted. I woke up frustrated that I hadn't been able to read the paper, as if it would have actually been useful.

I suppose I just need to stick with the friends I've made who are out in the tall grass too...maybe not on my same path, but still flailing away, trying to find some direction for their kids who don't fit in.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Little smarty

Today was my first day home with the kids, and it was pretty good. Not sunshine-and-roses awesome (if anything my middle child, E, was more headstrong and smart-mouthed than usual), but it was nice. This afternoon we went to the dollar store to get supplies for building habitat dioramas (as you do the first day of summer break) and the library. We were taking a longer route back home that would take us through the park and around the duck pond. As we walked along, my backpack full of construction paper and markers, and the tote bag on my shoulder full of books, my toddler, C, started singing to herself. Arms flung wide she sang, "This little smarty of mine, I'm gonna let it shine. This little smarty of mine, I'm gonna let it shine." Over and over she sang in her happy little girl voice.

I was really surprised because I never taught her that song, let alone these amended lyrics. But was we walked along, it felt so appropriate. I didn't realize what a strain school was until it was gone. Now I can just let my kids do their own thing, and shine in their own way.

It's going to be a good summer.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Last Day

Monday marked my kids' last day at their school...not just for the school year, but forever. Next year they'll be off on new adventures that don't take place at their neighborhood school. The one within walking distance. The one my son started four-year-old kindergarten in. The one that made us buy this house we're living in now, just because it was in that school's attendance area.

I'm still dealing with some bitterness.

On Monday I kept an eye on the clock and smiled when it hit 2:30, because my kids were done with class, and breathed a sigh of relief at 4:10 because I knew my husband had picked them up from the after-school program. They had walked out of that school and wouldn't be back.

On the way home I rolled the windows down and cranked up my car stereo. It took three rounds of screaming along to a full-volume rendition of "Factory Girls" by Flogging Molly to shout out my anger, frustration, disappointment, and hurt. Today it took one play each of the Foo Fighters' "My Hero" and "Monkey Wrench." So that's progress towards acceptance, right? 

I'm making progress, but I'm still so mad.

I'm mad that I sat in that principal's office talking about a special ed referral and believed her when she said, "We don't want a label, we want information. We aren't doing right by him and we need to know more about him."

I'm mad that they discounted the resulting information when it didn't provide an autism label.

I'm mad that this year they took every opportunity to show me the ways he was average, or not measuring up.

I'm mad that the school psychologist offered her help, but after I signed consent for her to work with him, she didn't see him. Not a single time.

I'm mad that the "educational plan" that was supposed to serve as his gifted education plan consisted of remedial writing goals, and was never really implemented or revisited.

I'm mad that his teacher thought he was lazy, and not that he had a fine motor impairment. I'm mad that she attributes his improved handwriting to improved effort, and not to the hours he's spent in occupational therapy.

I'm mad that my husband and I are the only ones in my son's corner. The teachers, the principal, the other staff...at the end of the day, the only people who are fighting purely for my son's best interests are my husband and me.

And most of all, I'm mad that I'm going to move on after all this frustration and hurt, that my son is going to move on after feeling like a fish out of water all year, and the school won't feel an ounce of it. Not one iota. They're just happy he's gone, and they don't feel that they're in the wrong at all.

I'm trying to let it go. Maybe on my commute home tomorrow I'll have one more screaming song, and then I'll move on with summer. Museums and library trips and exploring and sunny days in the backyard and loving my kids unconditionally for who they are and where they're at right now.

Friday, June 10, 2016

It takes a village

This week while at occupational therapy, P seemed to be attending to everything but the task at hand, looking all around per usual. After several failed attempts at a task, his OT looked at me and said, "Can he see?"

"Of course he can see," I replied, taken aback.

"Have you had his eyes checked?" she asked.

"Well...kind of..." I said, doubt creeping in. "They check at the doctor. But he can always see the smallest line on the eye chart."

"Let me see," the OT replied. She led him to a quiet treatment room and asked him to follow her finger with his eyes as she moved it in a big circle. He tracked her finger around, his eye movements surprisingly choppy. But when her finger moved around to his left eye he stopped following it and just looked around for it. She tried it again, same result. Next she moved her finger back and forth in front of his face, and he lost the finger around the same place.

I felt confused. How could he not see? And he was trying to track it...gritted teeth, hands gripping the seat of the chair, he tried to move his eyes to follow it. He just couldn't.

So this has kicked off a whole new slew of issues. After my initial freak-out (Is it seizures? Did he have a mini-stroke? What causes motor delay, general weakness, and visual tracking issues?) I found that visual tracking issues can be caused by one of the infant reflexes if it fails to integrate...and P's has. I guess ATNR integration failure is just the gift that keeps on giving. However, it's not a terrible thing and it's definitely treatable. Treatable to the tune of $5000 that isn't covered by insurance, but still treatable.

However...P is down to going to OT only once a month. I had started to consider adding in another therapy. Vision might be a possibility, depending on what his pediatrician and ophthalmologist think. But if not vision, it would either be speech therapy - it's time to face up to the fact that those r sounds are just not going to come in without help - or some kind of counseling to help with his emotional regulation. Adding in the possibility of vision therapy made me ask, once again, how many professionals is it going to take for me to raise my child? How much professional help will it take for me to do what every other parent on this planet does by themselves?

And yes, I realize that taking him for therapy isn't a failing on my part. It's actually a good thing. It's helping him be the best kid he can be. OT has been wonderful for him and I'm so happy he can have access to this help.

But knowing that and feeling it are two different things.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Uneven

"BOOSH!" I said, laughing, imitating the sound of the explosion I had just watched on the screen. My son, P, and daughter, E, jockeyed for position on the couch, each trying to get the best view of my iPad mini, which was currently playing a video featuring people dropping alkali metals into water. It had started with watching The Periodic Table Song, which led P's request to Google the element Technicium. After reading the Wikipedia article, which I understood roughly 5% of, I reverted to watching YouTube videos of elements that explode when exposed to water.

I loved the look of wonder and awe on the kids' faces. They wanted not only to enjoy the explosions, but to understand the why and the how behind them. Today it seems that half of my Facebook friends have children, grandchildren, or nephews in Little League, and they're all sitting at games. Athletic ability is definitely not something that's spread evenly among the population, and my kids are evidence of the fact that some kids just aren't blessed that way. We are not a sports family, and I doubt that we ever will be.

"Want to see what happens when you drop molten aluminum in a swimming pool?" I ask, and my kids giggle in anticipation.

But I wouldn't trade these experiences. Traditional sports may never be in our future, but this is not such a bad exchange.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Anniversary

When I made dinner plans with my friend Robin for last night, I didn't realize that it would be an anniversary of sorts. All I knew was that I had a brand-new spinning wheel* that could benefit from the attention of a yarn expert, and it had been a while since our sons had had a chance to play together. As I sat chatting with her while our kids played dinosaurs, I felt like I was a million years from where I was on May 27th, 2015, the day my son P was evaluated for autism and found to be gifted. On that day I felt like I had been handed the worlds biggest gift while standing on the edge of the world's biggest chasm. The news about his intellectual ability was amazing! But on that day I felt like we were still no closer to finding out why he was so emotional and quirky, and why he just couldn't make friends. I still felt so far from any real help for him.

Little did I know that his giftedness was the source both of his problems and his abilities. It made his life richer and more difficult. And last year if you would have told me that one year later he'd be happily playing downstairs with a friend just as smart and quirky as him, that we'd have the support of professionals who really get him (his pediatrician and OT are amazing), that we'd meet families who struggle with the same things we struggle with, that he'd be accepted to the district's gifted magnet school, that by embracing and encouraging his quirky interests we'd have a child who was all-around happier and more balanced...well, I wouldn't have believed you.

It's glorious to be wrong sometimes. 

Life isn't perfect by any stretch but on that late-spring night it was pretty great. 


* Yeah, a spinning wheel. I'm a bigger nerd than you thought, aren't I? 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

One year later

When I was in college I kept a journal. It was just a floppy disk with Corel WordPerfect files...arranged in folders named with the year, containing folders named with the months, containing files named with the date. I liked looking back at what I was doing on that date one year ago, and two years ago, mulling over what had changed in those 365 or 730 days, and wondering what I would be doing in another year.

Now that I've owned my phone for over one year I'm able to flip back in my phone's calendar and see what I was doing 365 days ago. On Wednesday I did just that as I was sitting in a rickety metal folding chair in a school gymnasium. On that date in 2015 I apparently didn't do much of anything of note...I had a meeting, and my husband had an evening shift at work. But even though I wasn't doing much I can tell you exactly what I was thinking...that I was sixteen days away from the school evaluation meeting that would determine whether my son had autism. That was all I ever thought about in May 2015, dreading the possibility that my kid may get chewed up by my district's special education system, and holding out hope that his IQ testing would yield good enough results to keep him in regular education despite any label he might acquire.

I had no idea that one trip around the sun later I would be sitting in that rickety chair, my son in the chair next to me, leaning on my shoulder, kicking his feet, waiting for orientation to start at my district's magnet school for gifted and talented students.

The orientation brought a mix of emotions. The kids at that school are impressive. Really impressive. I kind of wonder if my spacey, quirky kid will fit in. I worry about whether he'll be too frustrated when work finally challenges him. I cringe at the idea of paying the huge school fees this school requires and still not having find a peer group or make friends.

But I guess one thing this year has taught me is that on May 2017 I may be doing any number of things, but I won't be able to predict any of them. All I can do is hang on for the ride.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Finally Friendly

This evening I was texting with another mom that I'm friendly with, talking about knitting injuries and our sons. We've had a number of play dates with our sons, who are one year apart and both gifted, trying to get them to be friends. Despite months of getting them together deliberately, it's just been recently that the boys started connecting spontaneously during after-school camp. Now they're both involved in digging up a corner of the schoolyard, hunting for fossils. They let my daughter play too, even though she's two years younger than my son and three years younger than the other boy. It's wonderful for all three of them, and I'm so happy that this may...just may...be a summer with friends. I would absolutely love it if my kids could spend their summer with other kids. When I hear about my friends' kids running around with neighborhood kids, or arranging their own playdates it makes me yearn for that experience for my own children. I'm planning on getting together once a week with another friend of mine and her three kids, and if I can also have a day a week or a couple days a month with this family it would be so great for my kids.

Of course, I'm a little bit bitter that this is happening when we have exactly 30 school days left this year. Really, P? You had four years at this school and you're making a friend now?

I guess it's better late than never. And it gives me hope that he'll make friends at his new school too. I just want him to feel like he belongs. And getting to know interesting parents who share the same struggles you do is a great bonus.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

An analogy

Last week I facilitated a parent group session for parents of gifted children. It was a really nice experience, both for me and for them, and as a thanks the organization that sponsored the event gave each of the facilitators a  $50 gift card.

I would have done it for free, but I'm a poor educator, and if someone wants to give me fifty bucks I'm not going to turn that down.

I spent my gift card on Amazon today, and one of the things I bought was a backpack. I had been meaning to pick one up because I wanted something that would hold my wallet and phone, but also some sunscreen, water, granola bars, and maybe the kids' sketchbooks. It won't be big enough for a day-trip to Chicago - something I'd like to do more of - but it will be perfect for running around the city this summer.

Here's a segue that's related in my mind, and you'll see the relationship in a minute. I read an article recently about a researcher's theory that no child is born gifted, they're only born with the potential to be gifted, and if the environment is favorable to allow the child to maximize their cognitive potential, the child will become intelligent. There was an outcry in the comments section that the article was promoting "hot-housing" - a term that describes how come people keep plants in artificially summer-like buildings to force them to bloom when they usually wouldn't, or how parents keep kids under intense pressure to reach the same goal. Sometimes my friends tease me about how much time I spend in museums with my kids, and I wonder if they think I'm hot-housing too.

I've decided to approach the kids' desire to learn the way other families approach sports. As long as the kids demonstrate interest we'll keep going as intensely as the kids desire. People think it's cute, or even admirable for a child to spend weekends at games, a couple of weeknights at practice, and to spend the time in between watching games on TV or learning about their favorite players. If you nurture an athletic gift that way, why wouldn't you nurture a cognitive gift that way? We aren't even putting that much of a financial investment into it - we spend about $300 a year on passes to the museum, the children's technology museum, and the zoo. We mostly spend time - and we do it together. Summer and weekend outings to these places are family time.

Actually...screw it. I'm not going to rationalize it. I'm going to follow my judgment about what my kids need and we're going to spend the summer feeding their minds as much as they want.

And I'm going to do it wearing an awesome backpack.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Another type of different

When I was in college I got a very brief history of my family's mental health as my mom was hurriedly preparing to drive my sister to the hospital for yet another inpatient stay. "It runs in our family," she said as she rifled through her purse. "Grandma, Great-grandma...even Grandpa on Dad's side. They think he was alcoholic because he was depressed."

"Oh," I said. I didn't know what else to say.

"It's just...something that happens," she said. She looked almost apologetic, as if she felt personally responsible for my genetic inheritance.

I nodded silently. She gave me an awkward hug...she wouldn't hug me again until my wedding years later, and then not again until my grandparents died.

After I got married I got pregnant within a year, a side-effect of Catholicism. I had mixed feelings about having biological children after watching what my genes did to my sister, but my husband's desire for biological kids and a surprise pregnancy erased any possibility of building a family through adoption. Many times when I was pregnant with my son, and later with my daughters, I would run a hand over my belly and think, I can deal with just about anything. But please, please don't let it be mental illness.

So when I was standing in the grocery store watching my daughter sob because she wasn't sure that she was allowed to buy the pickles, because she was so afraid she was somehow doing something incorrectly, I felt a gulf open up in my stomach. Is this a phase? Or is this the beginning?

While my sister is definitely the generational winner for mental illness severity, I didn't come through untouched. A doctor could flip my medical chart open and see the diagnosis of anxiety disorder. I did about four years of medication and therapy and now I'm coping on my own. However, I do remember one thing that I talked about repeatedly with my therapist was whether anxiety was part of my personality or not. He insisted that it wasn't, and I remember shaking my head and saying, "No, no, this is who I am. It's part of me. I'm just an anxious person." I didn't understand how he could possibly think that it wasn't.

I didn't understand, that is, until I watched my happy, confident, intelligent girl sobbing because she was certain she bought something that wasn't really for sale in the grocery store, even though I explained again and again that everything in the grocery store is for sale. Or lying awake, unable to sleep because she kept thinking about "all the mistakes" she had made.

Today, a few weeks after that incident, we were at Starbucks. I told her to pick out a bottle of juice to drink. Out of the corner of my eye I saw her reach out for a bottle of purple juice, pull back hesitantly, and then reach out and grab it again. As we walked out to the car she told me, "I bought this juice. I'm not afraid of it anymore. Even though I didn't see anyone else buying this juice, I know it's okay for me to get. I'm not afraid of that."

"That's right! I'm so glad!" I said. Maybe being prone to anxiety doesn't mean that you'll be consumed by it. Maybe that was just a phase. But as she gets older and moves out into the world, I'm going to make sure my daughter knows that she can do whatever she wants and be whatever she wants despite how her unfortunate genes may make her feel.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

It's Okay

Recently I made a quick graphic to hang on my cubicle at work. I took a photo to share here, but then I realized the background I used was an image off of Google Images, and I couldn't provide attribution, and what if there are copyright issues, and...ugh. So here's another one, with a background created by me. It'll give you the same idea.


You guys. Some kids are weird. Some kids are antsy. Some kids are offbeat. Some kids don't talk to other kids. And some kids need help or therapy to live the best, most fulfilling lives possible. But some kids don't. Some kids are just quirky.

And that's okay.

So instead of trying to cram those kids into a category and label all the ways they're different from us, or think that the best possible thing they could be is typical, let's let them shine in the ways they were meant to and support them in their struggles. If we put as much energy into feeding their gifts and interests as we did into quelling their quirks, I wonder what would happen.

I intend to find out.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Exclusion

This week P was admitted to our district's gifted and talented magnet school. I'm excited, but still a little worried that it won't be a good fit. I suspect that he won't fit perfectly anywhere, so I'm trying not to get my hopes up, but I think it will be better than anything else available to us.

The school can be described as "exclusive," and I don't really mean in a complimentary way...I mean it in the most literal sense. As in, it's a school that excludes kids. I was told that each year roughly 400 kids apply for 100 spots. So, about 75% of kids will have to find another school for the fall. Working in the district means that I hear things about schools, and not everything I hear about the magnet school is complimentary. There are some people that complain that the premise of having an exclusive school is a bad one, and that in a public system all opportunities should be open to all students. Or that it's easy for the magnet school to do cool programs and have high achievement when they skim the brightest kids from the other schools.

Some people think it's unfair to have exclusive schools.

I would like to point out, though, that in its own way, my son's neighborhood school is exclusive.

Even after I found out that P was bright I didn't want to send him to the magnet school. I wanted him to be at his neighborhood school with his sisters and the kids in his Cub Scout troop and the other kids who live around here. I wanted him to finish 8th grade in the same building he started Kindergarten. But every time I've sat down to have a meeting with the school's staff this year they've pointed out that the neighborhood school is a poor fit. That other schools have openings. That I could move him. They weren't doing it in a kind-hearted way, either...they just didn't want to deal with him.

So yes, I'm sending my son to an exclusive school. But that's only because he was excluded first.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Connection

When P was diagnosed as being gifted I talked with a woman who had two kids who were older and gifted. This was back when I thought that being gifted was all high-fives and fist bumps because you're brilliant. She painted a much different picture.

"Read about it," she said. "You'll cry because you'll see your son in those books. Get a therapist for him. You'll need it sooner rather than later. Get him into the gifted magnet school. It won't be perfect because nothing will be perfect, but it will be closer than anything else. And find things to do together. Eventually he'll know more than you and think about completely different things than you can understand, and you won't be able to talk anymore. He won't connect with people from that level, even you." I walked away from that conversation thinking, Well, that's depressing. She's wrong, though. Just because it happened that way for her kids doesn't mean it will happen that way for mine.

Now I think she may have been psychic. I've read a lot about giftedness and my emotions have run the gamut from scared, to ecstatic at finding others in the same boat as me, to depressed. Right now P is in OT, but I think the next stop may be a mental health therapist to help him get a handle on his emotions and social skills. And already he talks on and on and on and on about topics I just don't know anything about. Right now he's happy if I nod and ask questions, but at some point he'll want a reciprocal conversation rather than just an audience.

I love my sweet son, the little boy who stays up late so he can snuggle up to me and talk. I don't want to lose my connection with him.

Today I was helping P sift through the toys in his room to find one particular Transformer. I was pawing through the layers of stuff on his desk - does he REALLY need the Halloween coloring sheet and the random tree branches he found last fall? - and I found two notes I'd written him. Twice this year he decided to take a cold lunch and I put a little note in his lunchbox...just a quick, "I love you, have a great day!" He kept both of them.

Maybe he wants that connection as much as I do.

So I'll keep searching for ways to get through to my little guy. And maybe when he gets older he'll still want me to be his audience, just for the sake of talking with me.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Not like my daughter

My husband recently got a new job, which is really great. However, it's a big change for a family that was structured around keeping one parent home at all times. That's why for years my husband had no job, or a nights and weekends job, while I worked days. But now the kids are older and an opportunity popped up, and now for the first time in seven years my husband and I will both have a day job. There's been a lot of scrambling over the past week and a half to find a new car (when someone's always home, it's easy enough to share one vehicle), get pre-employment stuff completed, and work out all the details of a new job. But the biggest deal by far was finding daycare for our toddler and after-school care for our older kids.

Last week I was at my kids' school signing them up for after-school camp. I gave the camp director my registration form and she looked at it and said, "Oh, you're signing up P and E! You know, E is SO GOOD! SO different from P!"

My stomach dropped. My daughter E is a very compliant child at school, that's true. She loves her teacher. Actually, no...P loved that teacher back when he had her. E would crawl across a desert of broken glass for that teacher. And when you love a teacher that much, you want nothing more than to make her proud, which means being very good, even when the camp director is subbing for your teacher.

P has trouble controlling his emotions. He has outbursts. He doesn't hit, or kick, or even call names. But it's not normal for a seven-year-old to wail and dissolve into a puddle of tears when he can't find his lunch bag in the cafeteria, or when he gets an extra worksheet packet in class. In his school, where so many kids are so very much alike, he sticks out like a sore thumb.

I blinked at the camp director and then said, "Wow, burn," with an uncomfortable laugh. Did she realize what she'd just said? I wanted to give her some space to backpedal.

"Oh, I sub in the classrooms sometimes. I've known them since they were..." She held her hand about three feet off the ground. "And E is always very good."

"Huh," I said. I could feel tears prick the backs of my eyes.

"But today...P was good too. I was subbing in his class and he was very good. No crying, no fussing. I even said to him, 'P...you're so good today.'"

I was torn. I wanted nothing more than to verbally assault her. Truss her up in her own statements and squeeze her. Trap her and badger her until she admitted that maybe the problem was, at least in part, her own perceptions of my son.

But she's the camp director. And we need a place for our kids to go after school. And, at least for now, we can't afford an in-home nanny who could watch our toddler and pick the kids up after school. And we don't have family or friends nearby who could go get our kids at 2:30 and watch them.

And so I sighed. Partially because I couldn't fight for him. And partially because apparently my son is just "the bad kid." A conclusion so obvious and an assumption so widely held in that school that people assume that even his own mother would know it's true and not blink at having it pointed out.

My head says that might not be completely true. But my emotions aren't listening.

Tomorrow is the enrollment period for next year. We're going to enroll both of our older kids in a new school. Lately I had been wavering but this conversation made it a lot easier. Good-bye, neighborhood school. Sorry it didn't work out.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Magnesium

In my personal life I'm just my kids' mom. But in my professional life, I work in special education. A lot of times I work with staff members who really want to build good relationships with parents. But I'm ashamed to admit that there were times where one of my colleagues would sigh and say, "Jeez, that mom. Trying another quack remedy just because she read something on Facebook about someone using it.." And someone else would chime in, "Sad," and someone else would add, "Well, wouldn't you, if it was your kid? It would be hard to give up that hope." Since having kids of my own, I'm often voice #3. There are some practices* that I'll berate anyone for even suggesting, but most of the time I felt kind of sorry for the parents who were trying this therapy or that supplement. I figured they must simply be in denial and I pitied them. I cringe now, thinking about how condescending and superior we sometimes sounded.

I was thinking about this as I was reading an internet forum where parents were discussing anxiety in children, and a lot of people were giving their kids magnesium supplements. I did a quick Google search and couldn't find a whole lot of hard data on the effects of magnesium on anyone's mental health, let alone find guidelines for its use with kids. And yet, parent after parent was chiming in, talking about how great their child was doing with magnesium supplements. And I began to think to myself, Maybe I should try it. Maybe not the high-dosage supplements, but maybe some Epsom salts in the kids' baths. They say you can absorb magnesium through the skin if you do that. It might take the edge off for all three of them. 

I was surprised at my own willingness to consider it. It's exactly the type of thing my colleagues and I would rake a parent over the coals for. Her son is clearly disabled, and all she's doing is throwing Epsom salts in his bath? Seriously? Like that will make a difference. So why was I willing to grasp at this straw?

I think that a big part of it is that the advice was coming from a community that was welcoming to me and my son. In the schools all too often we come from the deficit angle. Your child is behind. His behavior is atypical. It's interfering with the other kids' learning. Our other students don't act that way. Do you really think he'll be able to go through life like this? We're so desperate for parents to see the need for help that we beat them over the head with it. The problem is, though, that when someone tells you that your kid isn't awesome it's easy to want to fight back, to show them exactly how great your child is.

These communities, on the other hand, take the opposite approach. Your child is fascinating! He has so many strengths! He reminds me so much of my daughter, except my daughter had terrible struggles with behavior...oh, your son too? Isn't it HARD? Well, this therapy helped and now she feels so much better. Maybe it would help your son too...  The high regard for your child, the care and concern, are hard to resist. Instead of tearing your kid down, they just want them to to be the best they can be.

It's a minor difference in approach but a major difference to a sensitive parent. As an educator I always have my students' best interest at heart. I always want them to be the best they can be, so they can share themselves with the world. But I think that I wasn't always the best at communicating that with families.

At this point I feel like I should say something like, "And by the same token, I should understand that when my son's school expresses concerns, it's coming from a better place than it sounds like"...but I can't. I just can't. If I have an entire conversation with you and you have nothing, nothing nice to say about my child I can't turn around and say nice things about you.

I think right now all I can do is pay it forward with the families I work with and hope that educational karma comes back to help my kids out sometime before high school graduation.


* Facilitated communication, I'm looking at you.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Motivation

In my spare time I like to sew. Quilting is my favorite. I have a sewing space set up in my basement, and covering up a set of shelves filled with holiday decorations and camping gear is a flannel-backed tablecloth...my design wall. I put up quilt blocks that are in progress so I can see how the quilt is shaping up. This is how it looks right now:


These weren't meant to be quilt blocks. I had taken one of my sewing machines to the local Maker Faire the past fall to demonstrate how to sew things using antique treadle sewing machines. I was making these blocks just out of scraps to show how the machines worked. However, they seemed so happy and colorful that I couldn't throw them away, so I'm going to make more and turn them into a quilt. It's wonky and haphazard, but it's also colorful and exuberant. The quilt will be a happy mess.

I have these up on my design wall because I'm in the middle of another, less-fun quilt for my nephew. I hate this quilt. It's boring to put together, boring to look at, exactly what my sister wants but nothing like what I usually do. It's work. But I put these up on the wall to remind myself that when I'm done with her quilt I can go back to creating my beautiful chaos. This design wall is motivation.

I'm doing the same thing with my kids' school year. We're at the halfway point. I remind myself we're in the downhill. And when I drop them off every day and feel a lump in my throat and the tightening of anxiety in my chest, I think about summer. I look at which museums we'll buy memberships for. I peruse the reciprocal museums that will let us in with a membership to our local museum, museums that are only a day-trip away. I think about the county and state parks we'll go to, the walks to the library with a stroll around the duck pond after. When we're done with the school year we can get to creating our happy mess of a summer.

This is my motivation.