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.