Mar 16 2015

Homeschooling in the House of Chaos

homeschooling in the house of chaosWhat does homeschooling look like in the House of Chaos? Oh honey, pull up a chair, pour some wine, and prepare to feel better about yourself. I shall pick a random weekday, let’s say…Tuesday (or rather, a general compilation of a whole bunch of Tuesdays).

6:00 My alarm goes off. Fumble with the iPhone to make the soothing yet bloody annoying musical tinkles stop. Turn on the light, take the first of many thyroid meds. Do not, DO NOT, let my head touch the pillow again. Don’t even let my hair whisper at the pillowcase, because that pillowcase is magically enchanted to devour a solid half hour if any further contact is made. Haul ass out of bed. Pee. Turn on the shower so hot water is possible in a reasonable amount of time. Gather clothes and try to stretch 41 years of inactivity into another day of function. Shower, dress, makeup, dry hair.

6:30 Go poke Bear #2. J has 55 minutes to get up, shower, dress, eat, brush, and get out the door. J has not yet learned that pillowcases are enchanted little demons and has let his head hit the pillow. There is much whimpering and gnashing of teeth and generalized angst…and eventually I shut up and he crawls out of bed and begins, no joke, the longest shower a 10 year old could possibly take. I head to the kitchen to let out the dog, feed and medicate her, get breakfast going, and begin the six hour ritual of pouring Earl Grey tea down my throat until my brain comes online or I float away.

6:55 Knock on the bathroom door. Make hurry up noises.

6:57 Bang on the bathroom door. Make idle threats.

6:59 Throw self repeatedly on bathroom door in attempt to wake the now sodden ten year old who apparently fell asleep in the shower and make heartfelt threats of making him walk to school if he misses the damn bus.

6:59:30 Start pouring cup of tea #2 down throat.

7:05 School-bound child finally arrives in the kitchen, dressed but hair soaking wet. Send him back up to dry his hair so it doesn’t freeze solid and snap off, taking his skull with it.

7:07 School-bound child again arrives in the kitchen and proceeds with Meal Whining, Advanced Level. He is informed that he needs to shut it except to shovel it. Slowest eating on planet commences. I sigh and yet again pack his freaking school bag with lunch, water, snack, and sneakers.

7:13 Suddenly alert and functional school-bound child starts talking and forgets to eat.

7:19 School-bound child sees the clock, panics, has two more bites of breakfast, and begins the last minute dash of brushing his teeth, grabbing his coat, annoying the dog, talking at me. Cup #3 is brewing. Why does it not brew faster, for the love of Earl Grey?

7:26 Out the door for the bus, which picks up in front of the house. Cup #3 is happily making its way into my system.

7:30 My breakfast, clean the kitchen, plan my day.

8:00-12:00 Start beating the to-do list into submission. Write, emails, household minutiae. Lately a whole lotta unpacking and running flights of stairs. My legs hate me, my FitBit thinks it’s been kidnapped. Cup #4.

9:00 Start poking Bear #1. He is not a morning person. At.All. Cup #5 brews while I suck on the tea bag from cup #4.

9:08 Poke.

9:15 Poke.

9:30 Poke.

9:42 POKE.

9:51 POKE POKE POKE! Cup #5 can’t keep up.

10:00 JESUSROLLERBLADINGCHRIST, CHILD, GET UP.

10:06 Poke.

10:15 No, seriously. I’m getting ice water next. Or an airhorn. Kid, I know marching bands. I know a lot of marching bands. Don’t make me hire one. I will, dude. GET UP.

10:22 Soft sounds and general rousing from Bear #1’s room. There is a small sense of hope around my shoulders like an airy scarf.

10:23 Silence. Crap.

10:24 POKEPOKEPOKE.

10:30 Bear #1 stumbles out of his cave bedroom. He is directed to the shower, with stern reminders to remember soap and deodorant this time. Please. Cup #6 brews.

10:50 Bear #1 Mopes into the kitchen with his laptop. While he eats breakfast I go over his lessons for the day with him. He starts watching his history videos (Crash Course videos are the best overview of subjects I’ve found, and Andy – being the visual-spatial learner he is – loves them and is getting the big picture he needs before getting into the detailed nitty-gritty later) and I leave to go do homemaker stuff. Yes, homemaker, because that’s what the IRS thinks of me, and because I don’t really have a career. I am displeased with the homemaker designation, but that’s another rant for another day.

11:00 Andy does some work for his Online G3 literature class. I alternate homemaker stuff (grrrr…) with prepping for flute lessons, writing, answering emails, and general planning for the future. Andy alternates his literature work with chatting with friends, looking up interesting stuff online, math homework, reading, and programming.

12:00 Lunch for me. Andy joins me to talk my ear off about programming or history or why something in the world is the way it is or Minecraft or hey squirrel. I just want to eat in peace and beat my husband at Words With Friends. But that’s the way of homeschooling, and so we sit and discuss whatever comes up.

1:00 I make lunch for Andy. When he eats it is up to him, I’m just not coming back to make it when he’s hungry. Then he continues with his list of lessons and I’m back to makin’ up a home.

2:00 Remind dear son that his online math class starts in a half hour and maybe eating would be a good idea.

2:15 Repeat reminder. I hear vague munching sounds and hope it’s not the dog eating the lunch.

2:17 MOM! I NEED YOUR COMPUTER GET OFF YOUR COMPUTER MY CLASS IS STARTING SOON AND I PROMISED MR. GELSTON I’D <mumbo jumbo I don’t understand> BEFORE WE STARTED! (Someday my beloved MacDreamy2 will be replaced and I’ll be able to keep working while he’s doing his math larnin’.)

2:30 More…stuff…while Andy is online taking his math class. I really need to do another time log for a week; I couldn’t begin to tell you what I’ve been doing. I just know I haven’t been farting around (pinky promise cross my heart I am not kidding) and yet I fall into bed every night wiped out with still 3/4 of my to-do list yet to be done. I’m starting to think my adult-onset, child-induced ADD might actually be real ADD, but that, too, is a post for another day. Squirrel.

2:45 School-bound child returns home. The day is basically over at this point. Time to oversee snack, snack whining, homework, homework whining, sibling whining, whining whining.

3:30 FREEDOM! I’m out the door to teach flute lessons for the afternoon. The boys remain at home to do homework, finish school lessons, and program/tinker/hack.

7:30 Wind band rehearsal. Me time.

10:30 Crash hard. Plan for the next day with a glass of something, anything, as long as it requires an ID to purchase.

 

While this is a “typical” Tuesday, nothing we do is typical. Notice the lack of me actually teaching my own child. Notice the two online classes. Notice the late sleeping, me dashing from the house for my own sanity, the so-relaxed-it’s-wearing-stained-yoga-pants schedule. Some things I like about it, some things I don’t; still figuring out which is which. Things will change up this summer, because summer, and again next fall, because Andy will be a high schooler (OH MY GOD MAH BAYBEEE WILL BE A HIGH SCHOOLER…makes my brain ouchie). So the “schedule” says unschooler, I say more structure than that is needed, and while it’s working, no it isn’t really. We have time to evaluate and fix and change as necessary.

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10518300_10153922939383475_401981961085257622_oToday’s “feel better about yourself now?” post is part of the March Gifted Homeschoolers Forum blog hop, on “A Day in the Life of the Gifted Homeschooler.” Join me in reading about other homeschooler’s ability to keep it together on a daily basis.

Mar 09 2015

I didn’t opt my son out of the PARCC tests

When you make a decision, it’s YES or NO in one form or another. When you don’t make a decision, or put it off so long that it’s made for you, you’re still making a decision, you’ve just decided to remove yourself from the process. This is why my ten year old son went off to start PARCC testing this morning.

I have severe decision fatigue right now. It usually hits after large events, when I just cannot make another damned decision. Picking clothes in the morning is pretty close to the limit of my capability lately, though that might be because I’m sick to death of my extreme winter wardrobe. After our wedding, lo those many years ago, I was nearly non-functional. We moved four weeks ago and were prepping to move six months before that, so all my decisions are exhausted. I ain’t got no mo’. You can only imagine what our meals have been like lately. Let’s go with creative.

It was to this emotionally drained mindset that PARCC testing crept. It snuck up on me, mainly because J’s new school wasn’t sending out hourly PARCC testing is coming! updates (the old school was crazy about testing and that’s all I would hear about for weeks before). I got one email about an assembly (Let’s Knock It Out Of The PARCC!!) and one “please remember to feed your child on test mornings” note from his teacher. Out of inbox, out of mind. Every so often I’d think “Hm, maybe I should opt him out of the testing,” and then I’d have to go deal with something else and forget. That went on for awhile and then suddenly it was this morning and as I was kissing him out the door I found myself giving him valuable and time-honored testing advice: Do your best, they’re not testing you but the school, and if it’s a multiple-choice question and you don’t know the answer after chewing on it for awhile put down C and move on (I passed many a final with that little tidbit).

I don’t agree with this test. I consider it a waste of time and resources, think it’s going to do more harm than good to a lot of kids, and I probably should have opted my kid out. But I didn’t. And to be honest, it wasn’t all decision fatigue that kept me from sending that letter. J is four weeks into a new school. A new school where no one knows his older brother or the mom who pulled him to homeschool when it all sent sideways. There is no baggage there. No baggage for him to shoulder, for the first time in his educational career, in his life. The school still likes me, or rather, doesn’t know me. This school does actual letter grades instead of the “exceeds/meets/approaching/below” bullshit method of grading that doesn’t do anything for motivating a kid to improve, and right now my kid is rocking some serious A’s. Do grades really matter that much? No, not really. But he’s stoked about it and suddenly wants to work hard to keep those. This is new and I am not about to discourage it. Even Andy piped up the other day, when report cards came home (yes, grades for four weeks, whatever), that hey, maybe he should go to school to get straight A’s. Uh-huh. Right. This is the kid who needs dynamite to get out of bed before 9:30; I don’t see traditional school in his near future. You want A’s, kid? Work your ass off. I’m your teacher, I’ll let you know when you’ve earned your A’s.

So I didn’t want to rock the boat. I’m tired of rocking the boat. The damned boat leaks and it’s hard to steer and I just want someone else to take the helm for awhile so I can rest. And if that means my kid has to go take a completely bullshit series of tests, fine. I won’t let them define him, and if it looks as though the tests will pigeonhole him into someplace inappropriate for him, then I have experience homeschooling and am pretty sure I can manage two at home. We’ve been repeating to ourselves for months that there are no more decisions and no changes to anything until summer. We need that time to settle and recover; my brain feels like a sponge full of hardened cement, so I need some serious recovery time. Perhaps come summer homeschooling will look right for J too. Perhaps not. I know a lot of parents are opting out, and I applaud them. Not me, not this year.

In the meantime, it’s BS testing and thrown together dinners and slowly chipping away at the hardened brain cement. Get a good night’s sleep, have a hearty breakfast, and remember the answer is nearly always C.

No decision needed there.

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Update: My son just got home from school and informed me that he didn’t take the tests today, that he sat and read instead. Why, you ask? Well, not because he refused to take it; I don’t think that would even occur to him. No, because the state still had him enrolled at his old school four weeks after starting at his new one. So until the district and state get that worked out he’s reading during testing time. I chortled with the deliciousness of it all.

Feb 16 2015

Those gifted code words

Those Gifted Code WordsSo how do you say gifted?

Once I know a person, or a situation, I say it with my talk hole. The one under my nose. I also eat with it, play flute with it, let loose the occasional whistle, test drive a new chapstick. I say gifted, I say twice-exceptional, I say it’s not achievement but wiring, I say it’s who a person is and not what they accomplish. I don’t stutter, I don’t use quotes (my god I hate seeing “gifted”), I say gifted without shame or embarrassment because I know it’s not anything resembling a gift most of the time. Or rather, if someone bought me a gift like this I’d have a hard time deciding if I should return it or shove it where the sun don’t shine.

But before I know a person, or if I’m new to a situation? Code words. Lots and lots of code words.

Challenging. Needed an educational situation other than the school could provide.
Very bright.
Deep thinker but doesn’t test well.
Easily overwhelmed by sensory input.
Makes unusual and profound connections.
Not like other kids.

If I’m talking to a parent, by then he/she has also used various code words, we both realize we’re talking to a kindred spirit, and we can drop the façade and go for wine. If I’m talking to a professional who is involved with my kid…well…that really depends on the professional. Some give off the “don’t talk to me about gifted” vibe, others are more open to the wide neuropsychological variety that is the human race. I read the other person as we talk and I choose my words based on the tone of the conversation.

And sometimes I just don’t give a damn and say whatever I like.

Gifted is a terrible word for these outlier kids and their outlier parents. It’s not a gift from the universe (and yes, I still have days when would send it back if I could). But it’s the only word we have, it’s the only word that’s recognized (however poorly) for this righthand side of the bell curve life, it’s an unfortunate word for what it describes. I think if more parents of gifted kids (not necessarily high-achieving kids) were open and honest about the struggles and complexities of raising gifted kids and flat-out owned that word…well, maybe there would be less stigma attached to it.

Probably not. So my talk hole will keep using the words gifted and twice-exceptional, loudly and proudly. Because it’s all we got and I refuse to be shamed out of using it. I’ll just keep my code words handy, you know, just in case.

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Today’s post is part of February’s Gifted Homeschoolers Forum Blog Hop. Please go read what other participants are saying this month!

Feb 13 2015

Never Say Never The Sequel

Stop. Freeze. Don’t move.

Somewhere on your body, maybe someplace you cannot easily reach, you have an itch.

NO! Don’t scratch it. You can’t. You won’t. Because you promised that you wouldn’t until sometime in the future and you don’t know exactly when that might be. Ignore it. Try. Move on with all the things you need to do and don’t think about it, even though it’s all you can think about and want to talk about because it’s the primo event impacting your life at the moment and it is driving you batshit crazy. Someday soon you’ll get to scratch that itch and when you do just imagine how delicious it will feel.

That has been my last six months. Today I finally get to scratch that itch.

Last summer Tom and I looked around our house, looked at each other, ran some numbers, and jointly declared, “This just ain’t working.” The house we moved into in 2011 was far too small, needed far too many renovations for us to continue living there (including a full garage into living space renovation), and was far enough out of our financial comfort zone to be reasonable. If we’d made the necessary renovations we would have priced ourselves right on out of that house. Thanks, property taxes. When we moved there in 2011, we picked it for the school, in hopes it would be the right one for Andy, with his multitude of twice-exceptional issues. And we picked it because it was reasonably close to where Tom was working at the time. Inside of 10 months, however, I was homeschooling Andy and Tom was back working from home for a new company. Suddenly, a house that kinda worked for us was entirely too cramped, with no home office (Tom was in the corner of the den, I was in the corner of the living room), no space to spread out as homeschoolers, and nowhere to get away from anyone else. Yes. First World Problems. I’ll own that.

We weren’t just uncomfortable, we were painfully miserable. So much miserable. We liked the town, we did not like the house. It just wasn’t working for us, and we were tired of being miserable.

Last week we moved. After swearing up and down nearly four years ago that I would never, ever, EVER move again so help me every diety in the history of ever, we packed up everything we owned and moved. Not far, but to a nearby community with large, affordable homes and lowish property taxes and a good school system for J and easy access to nature. And for the first time in nearly four years, I’m calming the hell down (though my work in mindfulness is helping that process immensely). There’s room for us all. Tom has an office. The partial basement is now a maker space for the boys, and still has tons of storage for the flotsam and jetsam of modern life. The boys are no longer sharing a one-sink bathroom with us (and today had a lesson on How To Shower So As To Not Cause A Flood Down Through Two Levels And Into The Crawlspace, Flooding Your Father In The Process, Thank God The Plumber Thinks It Was A Random Occurrence And Boy, He’d Better Be Right Or I’ll Have His Balls In A Vice Because I’m Sick Of House Crap). I have an office in the loft; away from everyone and yet can still hear everything that needs to be heard. For the first time since moving back to Illinois, we have the space to have friends over. We’ve missed doing that.

So I’m not saying never again. That’s burned me too many times in the past. This time I’m saying that we would very much like to remain in this house until grandchildren are planning weddings. I just don’t want to deal with it again any time before general dementia takes over, please not for another 40 years or so. And then it’ll be the boys’ problem to deal with and I’m not likely to give a damn.

After this weekend, in which I will unpack every last thing so help me, I will get my feet back under me. I’ve missed that. I will write (because I miss doing that, and oh yeah, am under contract for another book), I will practice my flute (because I’m soloing with our wind ensemble this spring and I’m really not a fan of peeing down my leg on stage), and I will get my shit together. Mindfully.

My itch? Now blissfully scratched.

Jan 19 2015

{GHF Blog hop} Reel life this ain’t

Reel Life This Ain'tPeople have told me for years that our lives here would make a great sitcom. That’s all well and good, but no one would believe it. A gifted or twice-exceptional family doesn’t transition well to a screen, big or little. Hobbies and jokes that few would get. Too nuanced, too much angst, not enough laugh track.

And yet producers and screenwriters keep trying. They pump out movies and shows and instead of authenticity we get one-dimensional characters. The Math Genius. The Tortured Artist No One Understands. The Over-Achieving Girl Obsessed With Grades. The Precocious Nine Year Old.

Even worse? Reality shows that pit gifted kids against one another, in a sort of intellectual Hunger Games. They’re called scholarship competitions, but so is Miss America, and you know as well as I that people aren’t watching that to see who gets the money for college. They’re watching to see who has a wedgie in the swimsuit segment, if one of them throws a stiletto while wearing an evening gown, or if the flaming baton routine sets the theater on fire. And they’re watching young gifted kids to see if…no, when…the kid fails. “Oh, the kid is a genius? Well, let’s just see about that! Smartypants, too big for his britches. Cut that tall poppy down.” I have a hard time envisioning John Q. Public watching to see the kid get better and better, instead watching to see how high he can get before he falls. He plays Caesar and thumbs down it is.

Instead of real life we get reel life.

Where’s the twice-exceptional kid who is fully capable of higher level work but is refused gifted services because he doesn’t test well or produce enough high-achieving output? Where’s the gifted adult who struggles in a traditional job because she is bored and suffers from existential depression, terrified that this is it? Where’s the tween whiplashing between intellectual age (40), emotional age (4), empathetic age (80), and true physical age (8)? And where are the parents doing the heavy lifting of all of this?

I get it. It’s hard to put perfectionism and Dabrowski’s over-excitabilities and Impostor Syndrome and asynchrony into what is essentially an entertainment medium and not lose people because of the oftentimes heart wrenching moments they can’t relate. Long, drawn-out meltdowns because a kid has hit his limit is not entertainment. I wouldn’t want to watch it, and I’ve lived it. Those who don’t live it aren’t gonna get it and don’t wanna watch it. Can’t say I blame them.

The closest I’ve ever seen to a true gifted family is the 2004 Pixar movie The Incredibles. It’s one of my favorite movies, and not just because the mom isn’t pushing up the daisies. It’s a gifted family, forced to hide their gifts because society doesn’t know what to do with them. Sound familiar? More success in print. Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie Tolan not only brings a gifted family to light in perfect detail, but is written by a vocal gifted advocate and one of the original members of the Columbus Group.

I’d love to see a real gifted family on my screen. Movie, TV, not picky. There’s a new documentary coming out in the next few weeks about twice-exceptional kids and I’m really looking forward to seeing it. But a movie? Sitcom, drama, dramedy? I’d even go for a clever mockumentary. I can’t see it ever happening. It’s far too challenging for a producer to take on, and the easy money is on the stereotypes. Far more profitable to paint the gifted with a broad (and often inaccurate) brush.

Then again, J wants to be a filmmaker (also architect, vet, photographer, something with travel, something else with geography). Give my 2e second born a decade or two. We may see a real gifted family on our screens after all.

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Today’s post is part of the January Gifted Homeschoolers Forum Blog Hop, on media portrayals of the gifted. Please hop around and read some of our other contributors!

GHF January Blog Hop: Gifted in Reel Life

 

Jan 14 2015

Mindful of the year

Mindful of the yearIt’s a new year, time for a new word. But not just any word. My Word Of The Year (cue fireworks and inspirational music and dancers and please let’s not forget the hula-hooping llamas this year, m’kay?).

For the last several years I’ve chosen a word through which I’d focus my life. 2011 was a miserable horrible bitch of a year and strong got me through it. 2012 was about recovering from the previous twelve months and grateful helped an awful lot. In 2013 I decided enough was enough. For 2014 I was determined to make my story count. Some years the word worked better than others.

I started tinkering around with possible words back in October. For awhile I thought Be was going to be it. And then the universe took a swipe at life and they started rolling around trying to give each other wedgies and wet willies and my attention was otherwise occupied. Next thing I knew it was Christmas and not a clue as to 2015’s word. I figure in the last year words couldn’t get through the daily crap to be heard. Sure as hell has been the case with writing and blogging and thinking and imagining. Thankfully we had the most chill holiday in recent memory and my brain was finally allowed to play around with words; the universe and life had been sent to their rooms, grounded until further notice.

By then Be had lost its luster, and no other words were poking me in the brain. Intention tried but didn’t get very far. For a week or so fierce was a strong contender, but then I realized I was in a really growly mood and that probably wasn’t the best mindset for picking a word. I was urgently journaling (because I often don’t know what I think until I start writing) and Tom was popping the champagne on New Year’s Eve before I finally landed on my word. We’re not sure how well we’re going to get along this year, my word and I, but we’re together for the next dozen months and willing to give it a solid go.

Mindful.

Yeah, mindfulness is all the rage right now. It’s a matter of time before the mindfulness backlash articles join all the gluten free backlash articles and once again I’m mocked for my choices in life.

It’s just…it’s time.

I’ve been unhappy for years. There. I’ve said it. I went back and reread the old blog posts about my words, and nearly all of them mentioned how crappy the year was and how stressed and miserable I’d been and how I planned for the next year to be better. Several years of that shit. And here I am, nine years after starting a blog, still pouring my heart and soul into words on the internet, vowing to ease up on the stress and be content, still bloody miserable as hell. It’s one thing to just think you’ve been stressed and miserable for a long time, it’s another thing entirely to have it in front of you in black and white, in the very words that came from you. Like a time machine of vowels and consonants, poking you in the eye, taunting you with how you haven’t improved and you still suck and why haven’t you figured out how to fucking manage adulthood yet. Nearly J’s entire life. I’ve been struggling and sad and feeling out of control and stressed for nearly his entire life. That’s hard to admit. Has nothing to do with him, and everything to do with me.

I can’t and won’t continue like this. Something has to change. And not just change, but drastically change. So many things have changed over the past few years, things we thought would make everything all better: new job, new house near family, homeschooling, me working, me not working, plans and hopes and dreams and ideas, this and that and the other thing…but none of those made any difference in how I felt. The only constant in all of those changes was me and how stressed and miserable I was. Everywhere you go, there you are. The problem is me. All me. Just me.

So in trying to find a word I was stuck. I needed something that would encourage me to heal myself, to like myself again, to have something resembling inner calm again, so I can go do the stuff I desperately want and need to do. I’m starting to feel that if I center myself, start at ground zero so to say, start with a strong core of resilience, then I can have the wildly varied life I crave. It’s unpredictable and often makes me batshit crazy, but I crave it. I want to write AND teach and play flute AND homeschool AND rock as a parent AND have a strong marriage AND be a reliable and loving friend AND have a well-oiled household AND be prepared for the unexpected AND have time for myself. I just…I don’t have the energy to do it all. That can be chalked up to unchecked depression and anxiety, an unstable emotional core, and feeling like I have very little control over anything. Also, too often I’m just too tired or overwhelmed or depressed to cope, and things get pushed aside or the importance downplayed (if it’s not important then I don’t care and then I don’t have to hurt that it’s not getting done…oh, HI THERE PERFECTIONISM). I don’t want to live like that anymore. So I was trying to find a word that would help me get to the point of liking myself again, of knowing myself. I’m not this stressed and angry and bitter person I feel I’ve become in the last several years. I don’t want to be that person.

Some of the most authentic and soul-baring writing I’ve done in years, right there.

So the word for 2015 is mindful. It’s not one I came to easily. That word…it’s an arranged marriage. I’m sure by December we’ll have grown to respect and maybe even love each other, but right now we’re just strangers in it for the long haul, sneaking sidelong glances when we think the other isn’t looking. The universe shoved us together saying, “Trust me for once for crissakes,” and so I shall. I don’t know what mindful will look like in my life this year. I’m sure there will be meditation (another thing I’ve been told for the last 20 years to explore), and I’m equally certain there will be no small measure of frustration. Beyond that, not a clue. I do know the last two weeks I’ve had not a single anxiety attack and have moved through my days with calmness and ease. No small accomplishment, given all the chaos here right now.

Mindful.

Alrighty then.

Jan 12 2015

Blog drift

Blog DriftMy friend Pamela has a phrase that so perfectly sums up what and how I’m feeling right now it’s as though she lives in my head.

It’s…

Hold that thought. Everyone should have a friend like Pamela. Though we live a thousand miles apart and only met in person last summer when we were roommates at the SENG conference, she is one of the best people in my life. She’s not only a “hide the body” kind of friend (and I am so blessed to have a couple of those on speed dial), but a “talk me off the ledge” and “here, have some wine” kind of friend as well (I can only hope I’m as supportive of her). There are a few others in this category as well, they also live only in my computer, but she’s the one to first introduce me to

…blog drift.

I can’t decide if that sounds fluffy like a snowdrift in December or menacing like a snowdrift in February.

Blog drift is kinda like a combo of blog depression and anxiety with a healthy dose of writers block and more than a touch of “have I written all I could say on this?,” over-salted with burnout and maybe a little bit of boredom and a whole lotta “do I even want to continue.” It tastes like flat seltzer water. I’m sure a correction will be forthcoming if I don’t have that quite right.

I’m feeling a whole lot of blog drift lately. Surely that’s obvious, as I think the posts here have tapered off to just a few a month and I couldn’t even get my poop in a group long enough to write on parenting over-excitabilities for the most recent GHF blog hop.

When I first started blogging, nine years ago this past week, I did it on a lark. I’d been reading blogs for a year and finally decided to just do it already. Before I picked up a flute (at age nine) I was going to be a writer. I knew that, I took writing classes, I wrote stories for fun, I loved it. And then I picked up a flute and that became my creative outlet and writing fell off. Until nine years ago. For ages I’d write stuff in my head and it’d evaporate; now I had a place to park it and people read it and enjoyed it. I’d share the granola fight the boys had in J’s crib (there was still granola in the edges of the carpet when we moved several years later), ruminate on current events, write about my love of the library. Anything and everything. Because I was writing about my kids, I started writing about gifted issues, because it was part of our lives. That gradually became more of the focus, and sometimes I’m grateful for that and sometimes I’m not. And sometimes I wish I were still very anonymous (which is how I started out) and could rant and rave and scream at the skies like I could before my name was out there. Over the years blogging became a marketing tool, and I am notoriously bad at marketing myself. (For example, I wrote a book. No, seriously. And people seem to really like it. And I am horrible at marketing it, much to the chagrin of my publisher and editor. Did you know I am writing a second one? Yeah, hard to talk about that one too. Could someone please wave a magic wand and help me get over this? Or teach me how to market myself without deep embarrassment or feeling like I’m bragging?) I don’t see blogging returning to what it was before marketing took over, and I don’t like that. Gah, now I sound and feel old. Get off my lawn.

And so I sit here, nine years later, and make faces at my blog drift. I’m at the stage now where I really should figure out exactly what I want and need to do with my site. Do I take it more seriously and branch out from there? How, and in what direction? Do I make it a landing site for a new career I’ll build (advocacy? parent coaching? writing? something I haven’t thought of yet? all of the above??) or do I tone it down and make it a fluff site for my brain droppings and focus on building my real-life flute studio? It’s getting harder and harder to write about my sons; they deserve privacy as they navigate adolescence, even if some things are epic blog gold and it kills me to not share them. While I contemplate what do I write if I don’t write about gifted kids, in reality I’m struggling with who am I if I’m not a mom? Because if we write what we know, what do I know other than that? Who am I really? And what do I write?

I’ll figure it out. Somehow. Surfing down this blog drift I’ll figure it out.

Jan 06 2015

Let me tell you about…meeting your child where he is

Let me tell you about...meeting your child where he isThe most vulnerable place for a woman is flat on her back, wrapped in an ill-fitting paper gown, feet in stirrups, butt waving in the air. Oh sure, childbirth is maybe a BIT higher on the vulnerability chart, especially with the revolving crowd of health attendants, but there’s more going on there. An action scene, so to say. You’re not just lying there trying to make small talk with a near stranger as a room temperature piece of chrome gets wedged into your hoohah and you have the urge to stick out your cervix and say ahhhhhhhh.

Those were the thoughts making me giggle as I sat and waited for a recent appointment. Hey, I was alone in the waiting room, no one was there to give me the side eye for laughing at apparently nothing. The Smithsonian Magazine article I was reading on King Tut’s tomb wasn’t that amusing. (Aside: that magazine was practically untouched, the weekly rags were battered.) The soundtrack to my mental amusement was canned music and some sort of all-medical news channel. OBGYN TV 24/7. But heavy on the OB, because no one wants to watch GYN news. Actually, heavy on the post-OB, because no one wants What To Fear And Loathe When You’re Expecting TV. Hard to get advertising for that.

I managed to block out the canned elevator music (years of practice), but eventually the TV stories wormed into my consciousness.

“…so you come to your child the first time and make sure he is dry and warm and fed. The next time come in and just pat his back to soothe him. The next time come into the room and soothe him with just your voice. The next time just from the doorway. It may take four or five hours, but eventually he will self-soothe and fall asleep. He needs to learn how to self-soothe in order to fall asleep.”

By the time the disembodied voice got to “four or five hours” I had turned completely around and was disintegrating the TV with the lasers shooting from my eyes. I wanted to tell the young pregnant mama who had walked in to ignore the idiot on the television because morons should not be dispensing parenting advice. (Especially male morons. This is why I see a female doctor; I want the person who is saying “this will be uncomfortable” during an exam actually know that it will be uncomfortable because she has also endured the breeze up the backside fun. Seeing a male OBGYN is akin to a vegan dispensing steer butchering advice.)

So let me tell you about letting your child self-soothe cry it out. The child has not read the books nor heard the “experts” and does not give a flying fuck what they say he should do and how soon. Some kids NEED more hands-on comforting than others. That’s just how they are wired, and no amount of shushing from the doorway while you choke back your exhausted sobs is going to put that kid to sleep. Ask me how I know this, I dare you. Also, four to five hours in the middle of the night is the longest eternity in the history of the universe; I am regularly schooled on universal timelines by a kid who loves quantum physics and yet I stand by that statement. I am nearly 14 years past “sleep training” an infant but dear lord I am not past the trauma that brought to our home, and frankly am a little astonished that piece of shit advice is still being dispensed. A first time mom with a high-intensity infant, I was desperate for sleep. Andy would not sleep longer than a two hour stretch at any given time. He’d wake at night hungry and feed for 45 minutes to an hour. Every two hours. For months. He didn’t sleep a 4-5 hour stretch until he was nearly six months old, and we didn’t have family nearby to help. And when he was awake, he was AWAKE and ALERT and holy god THE COLIC (This is why I take great joy in waking him in the mornings, and will until he has children of his own. I’m an evil mama. Mwahahahahahahha…..) Then at six months the ear infections started and…<cut to Jen sitting under her desk right now, shaking and rocking and breathing deeply>

I refuse to say “this too shall pass,” however true that may be, because in the thick of it you’re convinced you’re never going to sleep again and this tiny tyrant screaming his head off will be the first human in history to never ever sleep, and woe to the kindly old lady at the grocery store who says to cherish every day because they go so fast. Yes, they do, and some days just cannot go fast enough. I miss my tiny babies, miss those sweet smelling heads and nomming on little toes. Teen and tween boys do not have sweet smelling heads and dear lord I’m going nowhere near those toes. I sure as hell don’t miss lack of sleep, endless crying, trying to live around the hope of naps, diaper bags, and cracked nipples. So while there is plenty I do not miss, I do have a few regrets. No, I take that back. Just one.

I regret that I didn’t listen to and respond to my child, instead of the one morons dispensing advice seem to think exists. My oldest son needed more touch, more comforting, more me, more everything (for years) and because I thought I could mold him into the child society said could be created, I missed out on parenting my infant. My kid needed me, just as sometimes I desperately need to be held for a long time and loved; if I were shushed from across the room instead of being comforted with patient love, bet your ass I’d keep screaming too, even now. Or I’d withdraw into myself, convinced I was on my own. (I did do better with J, thank god. Hate to think I totally borked up both boys…much.) There was one night…ONE…when I took him into the living room and was so overwhelmed and exhausted I crawled onto the futon and Andy slept on my chest. First decent night of sleep either of us had had in ages. Why I didn’t continue to do that I’ll never know, short of me being slow to learn and a slobberingly exhausted piece of mess. Oh, and because everyone knew a child had to learn to sleep on his own by a certain month.

It took me over a decade to finally say fuck it to conventional wisdom and parent the sons I have, and even now I struggle with that every single day. How dare they have their own strong personalities and opinions and wills! Once I finally accepted that they’re just wired the ways they are and that nothing I do will change that, we were able to work together and get them to where they needed to be faster and with less stress. If I’d figured that out from the beginning, things would have been easier on all of us. At least I figured it out before the teen years hit. Kinda.

So mamas of all ages, kick the guilt to the curb. Listen to the experts with a grain of salt or two. You are the expert on your kids, and if your kid needs more snuggly attention to sleep, or to pace and bounce while concentrating, or homeschooling to effectively learn, ignore the disembodied voices of the experts and meet your child where he is. You’ll all sleep better for it.

Jan 02 2015

I can haz summer now?

i can haz summer now?

 

It’s January 2nd.

I can haz summer now? Please? The holidays are over, we’ve had our chance at a white Christmas, we’ve toasted the new year and critiqued the Rose Parade marching bands. The usefulness of winter is over. There really is no further need for cold temperatures and the threat of snow. And don’t tell me we have winter so we appreciate summer that much more. I believed that last year. After the Polar Vortex Winter of Hell and Frozen Damnation, I was going to appreciate the hell out of summer and bask in the heat and sun and even the humidity.

It was a short and cool summer. I was robbed.

It’s Chicago, it’s the start of real winter now. Three months of cold and snow and gloomy skies (OMG the gloom). Temperatures are tolerable right now, but next week we have subzero highs staring us in the face, eerily reminiscent of last year’s early January Polar Vortex. I’m just hoping school isn’t canceled again, but if it’s really a high of -3 on Wednesday we can probably assume a day here at home watching science videos and me not teaching flute lessons. Gah. No bueno.

It’s time for summer, or at the very least, an early spring. Very early. Starting now.

Dec 31 2014

About that twice-exceptional radio interview

about that twice-exceptional radio interviewSometimes I sits and thinks and sometimes I just sits. And sometimes I quits a job and sits wondering if I did the right thing and the universe responds with a big YES by throwing something in my lap so very unexpected and delightful that I can’t help but sit up and pay attention. Yes, this really happened.

Last month, on what was very likely the very worst day of 2014 (and I say that because there are not many hours left of this year and it’s sunny out and no premonitions of doom indicating that day in November will come in second), I had a bit of a nervous breakdown and quit my job. Many reasons, but one of them was that I could no longer balance my life in a healthy way. There were no open hours for emergencies or problems and something had to give. It was not an easy decision, but it had been coming for some time. Still, I berated myself for not being able to make it work, for not being superhuman enough to make it work. So I quit and went to bed. There’s a lesson here in self-care, I’m still learning it.

The next morning I woke to an email from a woman I met recently who is a fellow flutist and the producer of an online radio health show. She wanted to see if I were interested in playing trios and quartets with some of her students, and if I might also be interested in being interviewed for a episode on twice-exceptional children. Well. Hm. Let me see. Yes, and holy cow are you serious really of course YES!

The afternoon of flute music was something I hadn’t done since college and didn’t realize just how much I missed it.

The interview on the Radio Health Journal came out last week (the link goes to iTunes podcasts; the interview is dated 12/21/14, you may need to scroll down to find it). I was one of three participants, the other two being Dr. James Webb (founder of SENG) and Dr. Megan Foley Nicpon (of the Belin-Blank Center at the University of Iowa). I provided the parent perspective of twice-exceptional kids (and also that of a GHF Ambassador), and I’m still amazed my voice, my opinion, was the one shared, of all the parents of 2e kids out there. While I wish more of my comments about homeschooling made the cut, my bit about parents and the misconception that they’re bragging about their kids when talking to others is in there and makes me very happy. I was pleased with how the radio show came out. There’s always the chance that comments are misconstrued or a different tack is taken, but this was a great introduction to 2e kids from people who are living and breathing it. For the record, 2e in this house smells a lot like a kid who needs to shut up and get in the shower already before I have to fumigate the house. There’s only so much you can blame on the dog, dear sons.

Neither of these awesome opportunities would have been possible had I still been working. Door slammed, window flew open. And for a change, I was paying attention. I’m now looking around at some other windows to see if I can pry those open as well. I still want and need to work, but I’ve finally decided that I must be my own boss, or at the very least work on my own terms from my own house. Like a five year old who states in all seriousness that he’s going to be a fireman/doctor/veterinarian/superhero, I’m going to be a flutist/teacher/homeschooler/writer/something-to-do-with-gifted-kids-something-or-other. I think I have a better shot at it than that kid; at least I know you can’t have a cape while fighting fires.

So I’ll just sits and thinks here for a little bit and figure out how to get those windows open. There’s good stuff there on the other side.

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