The World Becomes Introspective

Today, I find myself with a few moments and a mind full of thoughts that have been peculating over the past few weeks.

It’s been just over 3 weeks since I’ve stepped inside a store, a restaurant, an office…etc. Other than a gas station and the Emergency Room for D’s broken arm fiasco, I haven’t seen another human face in person other than the three boys I live with. And I’m okay with that. This post isn’t really about my own isolation but rather things that have begun to come into focus through it.

We all have choices to make. Every day, we make choices that impact our lives and even those around us. These choices can add joy, anxiety, freedom, constriction to our lives. How often do we consider the impact of our choices, though? What will it do to the “whole” of our lives? I don’t think I’ve truly thought about that in years. Life moves at such speed that I often feel I’m moving through the moments trying to get through each day without slipping up. Without forgetting something important in my disorganized world.

Because that’s a thing. I am not organized. I want to be organized. I want everything to live in a neat little space, but I don’t operate that way. I don’t think I ever have or truly ever will.

I thought maybe I’d get my shit together when I took a faculty position and could spend time home during the summers. But those kids! They want to go places, do things, EAT! And then came the community garden. All of a sudden my cherished summer space became similar to the rest of the year. Kids, appointments, gardens, paperwork, classes to prepare for…..it all gets so bundled and jumbled and…just…so…busy. Each day is a day to get through with sparse moments of pure enjoyment.

And now it’s not.

Yes. I’m busy. Seven online classes. Zoom sessions. New puppy. Kids that need things. Kids that need to learn. Kids that break their freaking arms! But you know what isn’t there? The places to be and the people to see. There is no wrestling practice, music lessons, or ninja classes. There is no office to go to. There is no grocery store trip. No dentists. No doctors. No birthday parties. No yoga. No….nothing.

And I love it.

Yes. I’m busy. But I wake up, drink some coffee, eat some breakfast, and start my day. There are moments for introspection.

Even with a world in disarray, so many unknowns, and different types of stressors, I am more relaxed than I’ve been in years. It literally feels like my shoulders have lost that tightness I carry almost daily. My eyes are scrunched in the middle less frequently. My brain feels less scattered and chaotic. I like being home. I like NOT having obligations.

We have a rare opportunity to assess things most important to us. I hope not to squander the moment. I hope to make the best of this situation because there should be some good that comes from it. There has to be some good. I am fortunate enough to have my job, have my family, be able to pay my bills, and be able to stay home. I am one of the lucky ones. The least I can do is NOT waste this time. So these are the things I’ve been pondering.

  1. I’m well-equipped for this.

    I love my people and I love spending time with my people. However, it usually comes with some kind of public interaction that leaves me uneasy if only for a few moments. If new people are involved, it means I have to make small talk or seem like the “snobby” friend or the “unfriendly” friend. I don’t like small talk. I’m not witty. I’m not funny. My comebacks or great responses usually come to me on the car ride HOME when I think, “damn it! Why didn’t I say THAT!” Or “damn it! Why DID I say that?”

    And I hate being “on” all the time. I don’t want to be “on.” When I’m with just my own people, I don’t have to be. If I want to take a walk, I don’t have to worry about people wondering if I’m okay. I’m fine. I just need a few moments to breath. To be alone. To regroup. To think. There are few people in my world that understand this about me. And there are few people in my world that I am truly comfortable saying whatever around. Being stuck at home relieves the pressure.

  2. I’m an observer and it’s exhausting.

    I have always watched the world. I pick up on nuances of people’s personalities. I think I developed this level of observation out of necessity, but nevertheless, it’s there. And it’s exhausting. It’s not that I’m intentionally sizing people up. I have a genuine interest in how people interact with each other. I’m a people watcher (not to be confused with stalker).

    These insights help me navigate the world in which I reside, and at times, they’ve protected me from danger.

    I can see the good in people when others may see them as off standish or selfish or mean or whatever other term you wanna come up with. I can see motivations for actions. And I defend these people.

    I can also see the not-so-good. The manipulation. The drama hogs. The insecurities. The lies. The holes no one else seems to recognize. And often, these people are necessary. They’re people I can’t necessarily call out…and I’d have a hard time doing it anyway because confrontation just isn’t my thing. (I can be confrontational, but generally, I retreat from it).

    This is exhausting. It’s hard to be “friends” with the person that can’t see their own value. They can’t see their own good. It’s hard to defend the people that seem to want to sabotage themselves. It’s hard to navigate the people with ulterior motives. It’s hard to process all the ins and outs. It’s hard to try to see every situation from all sides.

    Right now, I don’t have to navigate these waters. I talk to who I want. And that’s it. There are no people to watch. No observations to make (unless you count FB). No conflicts to smooth over between people. No explanations to give on behalf of others. No attempts to get people to see different points of view. I spend more time than any one person should on trying to make “peace” for those in my world. And I shouldn’t.

    That doesn’t mean I should never help. Never explain. Never discuss. It just means I should spend a little more time focused on observing my needs as opposed to others because when I spend all of my energy observing others and giving my energy to others, I do not give to myself. I do not take care of me.

    I need to take better care of me.

  3. I’m not where I want to be.

    My career is solid and I love it. I’m so thankful for the opportunities I have to impact the lives of students. Yes, it’s exhausting and sometimes falls under #2, but this is where I want to spend my energy in the workforce.

    From a health standpoint? I’m far from it. Since we’ve been home, we don’t eat out. We can’t grab a “quick bite.” In fact, as soon as I finish this, I’m going to whip up a smoothie to tide us over until dinner.

    Prior to “home,” I’d fallen into a bad habit. So busy, so rushed. No time for breakfast. Little time for lunch. I have eaten more fast food in the past 6 months than I would ever care to admit. I’ve had more drinks than I’d care to admit. I’ve pepped up with soda more than I’d care to admit. And each time, I would say, “I’m going to stop doing this. I’m going to make more time to work out. I’m going to eat healthy and bring food with me.” I didn’t. I was too tired. So tired. No time.

    Today I’m joining a yoga class. Tomorrow, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, I’m signed up for classes through Zoom. I had a home-cooked breakfast and a quick, but healthy lunch. I’m drinking a small cup of mushroom coffee to pep up now and will energize with a smoothie full of veggies, fruits, and protein-filled seeds.

    I have time to do this. I have TIME.

    I don’t know how to keep that moving forward, but I hope to use this time to re-establish good habits and remove bad habits. I’m working on it.

  4. Simplicity is a wonderful thing.

    I think this is the most important realization. Simplicity is beautiful. And I thrive in simplicity. Yes, my life is still messy. I hear a chair scraping the kitchen floor as I write, but all the outside clutter is gone. No, I can’t spring clean because where would I take all the stuff I want to rid myself of? Or maybe I just can’t do the “traditional” spring clean.

    Maybe I can spring clean my life.

    There’s an opportunity here. A real opportunity. A moment has been given where we can assess our outside lives. I am a relatively simple person. Maybe I need to focus on what each “outside” thing brings to me. Is it joy? Is it stress? Anxiety? Fear? Hope? Love? I know I can’t have all the positives all the time, but why can’t I have most of them most of the time? I can. I just need to simplify.

    Who do I want to see when this is over? What do I want to spend time doing when this is over? What things do I want to give energy to when this is over? And by giving to these things, what things do I lose at home? What do I pull away from myself and my family? And is it worth it?

    To achieve #2 and #3, I have to achieve #4. I have to simplify. I have to decide how I want to move forward.

I don’t have all the answers, but right now, I do have the time. What means the most? What can I live without? What do I need? What will help me better achieve the balance I seek in life between work, social, kids, home? These are the things I’m pondering.

Equity and the Details

Okay, while this post isn’t about the whole “autism” thing, I came across an interesting article and thought this quote really stands out for us:

“Normal giftedness can be easily confused with a diagnosable mental disorder. Gifted kids may talk a lot, have high levels of energy, and be impulsive or inattentive or distractible in some settings — similar to symptoms of ADHD. It’s not unusual for gifted kids to struggle socially, have meltdowns over minor issues, or have unusual all-consuming interests — all pointing to an inappropriate diagnosis of autism.

What results is that the gifted frequently feel alone and alien in a world that doesn’t fully understand them.” “The Misunderstood Face of Giftedness

All of that describes E. Is it any wonder I have to fight so hard?

But on to the post I planned. Every night, E and I watch these videos about the Periodic Table. When the metal or element is safe enough to use in an experiment, they do. He eats these things up and could probably watch all of them in one sitting. We watch one a night. Last night, we watched Beryllium, which is apparently the lightest metal out there. At one point, E said, “That’s the first time I’ve seen a girl in one of these videos.” He’s really into the whole girl/boy thing right now. I paused our video and asked if he could think of why that is. No. He couldn’t. I explained the sciences are predominately male and there is a stereotype about women in the sciences. I explained that women often choose other paths because sciences are not encouraged and they may be ridiculed a lot in the field. He absorbed that for a few seconds before sitting up with a scrunched up face and saying, “That’s not fair! We’re all equal!”

I was proud. Equality means something to him right now. Whether it be humans, animals or even the trees, he’s very concerned with the rights of each and is ready to go to battle for what he believes in.

We continued our video, but it was hard. He kept coming back to equality in the sciences between males and females. He was upset about the disparity and was trying to come up with ways to resolve the issue. I don’t always know how to handle these things, but I do my best. I asked him if he has any girls in his science class. He has one. He doesn’t talk to her, but he’s always nice and has never been mean to her. AND. He’s decided that if he sees anyone being mean, he’s going to tell them about it.

We continued our bedtime routine by reading a short, watered-down history of Marie Curie. It’s meant for kids, so I expected it to gloss over her career. The thing that stood out to him was that she graduated at the top of her class when she was 15, but she couldn’t go to college to continue learning about math and science because…she was a woman and they were not allowed to go. Again, he was bothered.

Over the past several months, I have seen E become very concerned with justice and equality. He understands the rules and expects adults to follow them as well. When they don’t, he states it and asks, “How do you expect me to follow the rules if you don’t even follow them?”

He has also become very concerned and sensitive to how people react to him. If he feels a reaction is undeserved, it will result in him hiding under the blankets, refusing to come out. I see him trying very hard to do “good” things. I am enjoying this phase and the conversations we have. I am enjoying the glimpses he’s giving me into the kind of man he may become. And I am trying to be more mindful about the discussions we have in front of him. After all, when I asked where he picked up the word “distressed,” he said, “From you. Remember, Mom, I hear everything you say even when you don’t think I’m listening. You used it the other day.”

I have no idea what conversation that went along with….

That Other Child

So Little bit is not my only child. I have another little boy. He’s two. He’s so different and so alike. I’m still trying to figure out what I want to call him. He’s my little bit, but they both are. And how confusing would it be if I referred to both of them by the same name? Maybe I’ll just call him D.

So D. You know what they say; it’s not uncommon to have two gifted children in the same family, but it doesn’t always shake out that way. Is he? I don’t know. He’s two. He doesn’t know ALL of his letters. I know he can count to 20. I don’t know much else. You see, D is not showy. He doesn’t like to show you what he knows. Sometimes, I’ll trick him before he catches on and I’ll get a glimpse, but it doesn’t happen often. He’s a quick thinker and will normally give me this, “I know what you’re up to” smile before giving me the wrong answer and smiling bigger. So I don’t know. And I really don’t care. He’s two. It doesn’t matter. Yes, my eyes are open to the possibility, but I’m not going to walk around quizzing the kid trying to figure out where is is intellectually.

Here’s what I do know about D. He’s my observer. He’s always been my observer. If you’ve ever seen Fringe, you know there are these people that appear and they simply watch. They’re observers. And that’s where we got the term. He’s been watching with intent since he was born. Always very alert, always keenly interested. Always thinking it through. You could see his little mind taking it all in and processing it.

He’s very in tune to things around him. He’s always (since he was a baby) had a knack for reading emotion. He’ll tell you when music is happy or sad or just plain wrong. He’ll ask what’s wrong when your tone of voice changes. He’s a mood barometer. For real. He tells you when he’s sad or happy or mad. He understands facial expressions and what they mean. He reads a person like a book. He’s really good at it.

His child care person has asked me if I have suggestions for teaching him. Or including him. She says he makes connections the others don’t and she wants to be able to meet his needs, but she’s not trained in gifted teaching. I asked, “Are you saying you think he’s smart?” “Oh yes,” she says. So I don’t know.

So maybe he’s not doing all the things I look for and I find myself asking, “that’s normal, right” more often than most because my perception of normal development isn’t quite right, but he’s got his own set of something special. He’s got his own set of strengths that little bit doesn’t have. He’s unique and beautiful and precious and I adore him.

Overexcitabilities, Spirited Children, and the Concept of “More.”

If you’ve spent any time researching giftedness, you’ve probably come across Dabrowski’s overexcitabilities. My understanding is that not all gifted kids have them, but most have at least one.

From early on, I have described little bit as “more.” He’s simply more of everything. More compassion, more kisses, more hugs, more speech, more thought. And more talking, more questions, more tantrums, more emotions, more energy. The only thing he seems to be “less” on is sleep! I have had more people than I care to admit suggest little bit has ADHD. In fact, a family member discussed it as though it were simply a fact that we must already know. And comments have been made about it on facebook posts. How that’s just the “ADHD running in the family.”

I know they mean nothing negative by it. I do know they mean well. But they aren’t psychologists. They don’t have any type of education or degree that would lead me to believe they can diagnose a child based on their experiences with him over one weekend a year. But I digress.

If you have a child that is simply “more” of everything, chances are you’ve also come across Raising Your Spirited Child. Add spirited with a psychomotor overexcitability, and you may very well find it difficult to keep up with the “more” in your life.

That’s where we are. I have now had three, yes three, psychologists tell me little bit does not have ADHD. He has anxiety, which can manifest in so many different ways within a six-year-old child, but ADHD is not something that gets added to his “more” list. I’m constantly forced to reiterate that fact and quite frankly, I get tired of it. People are so quick to jump to conclusions. But again, I digress.

So here’s a little description of little bit:

  • He’s intense, persistent, sensitive, and perceptive
  • His level of energy is beyond what’s typical for even a boy. He can function on less that 7 hours of sleep (we avoid this at all costs, but there are nights when he simply can’t/won’t go to sleep. He’s too busy).
  • He does not manage change well. While he resists routine, changes and transitions can be a recipe for disaster.
  • He jumps head first into things. Not literally. I mean, he doesn’t know a stranger and new places, even though they’re change, don’t have him hiding behind your leg. He just maybe doesn’t “listen” very well in those moments.
  • He’s deeply curious, loves learning about things he doesn’t already know, hates learning things he already knows, is a great problem solver, thinks abstractly and can concentrate when he wants to.
  • He’s funny and likes funny things. He smiles and laughs most of the time.
  • He is extreme in his emotions. He has anxiety to changes in his environment and feeling loss of control. He recognizes differences in himself and others and hides part of himself to “fit” in. He has suffered minor panic attacks and needs reassurance.
  • He talks constantly, is impulsive, loves competition (but not sports), is always moving and has trouble sleeping.
  • He is hard to resist. He’s charismatic and most people who get the opportunity to know him fall in love with him. He has such a caring heart and such an energetic energy that you want to smile when you’re around him. Unless he’s having a meltdown or being overly persistent or any number of the things listed above, this kid will melt your heart and bring you so much joy and laughter.

Most of those things seem negative. But they’re not. Little bit is complex, and his complexity brings about challenges, joys, and cherishable moments. The real trick is in learning how to help him manage some of the overexcitable tendencies and spirited traits. Many of them will serve him well as he enters into adulthood, but our job as parents is to teach him and guide him in learning the best ways to harness these traits and build them into greatness. I’m sure that sounds silly.

Loneliness and Exhilaration When Someone “Gets” It.

To paraphrase, someone once said it’s okay for parents to “brag” about a child’s athleticism. They scored three runs in a baseball game. Shout it from the rooftops. They made several baskets in a basketball game. Tell everyone. And those people will all be happy and excited and pat you on the back. They have an intrinsic drive to learn everything about the body and how it works or start planning their career as a “heart doctor” on Mars when its colonized. Don’t tell a soul. Be leaps and bounds ahead of the class in math or reading. Say not a word. Because when you do, well, it’s at that point that the parent becomes a “bragger.” Boasting about or sharing academic achievements is seen in a different light. It’s unfair.

Little bit comes up with the craziest ideas. He wants to travel through space and time and he plans to develop a way to reach the closest habitable planet in a reasonable amount of time. He wants to know how to travel faster than the speed of light. His favorite person is Albert Einstein and he’s a self-proclaimed scientist, arguing that he doesn’t need to be an adult to be a scientist. He speaks in hypotheses rather than “I think I know why that happens.”

It can feel so lonely to be the parent of a kid like little bit. Even my closest friends don’t get it. I can’t talk about it because, after all, he’s so smart, so what do I have to worry about? A lot, actually. I worry near daily about little bit. He is a high-energy, spirited child that clashes with authority unless he understands the “why” in what he’s doing. He’s easily bored and is not the kid that will entertain himself or sit quietly. He doesn’t do anything quietly. He’s all over the place and back again. Unless he’s engaged. But getting there? Getting to that level of engagement he needs? Oh boy. That’s a challenge. He comes wrapped up in anxiety and is beginning to focus more and more on what’s just and fair. What people should and shouldn’t do. He describes karma without even knowing what karma is. He worries over animals and has begun chastising my husband for hunting. He’s in near tears at those Sarah McLachlan animal commercials. He stops whatever he’s doing when they come on. He struggles when he can’t finish his thought. He gets physically pent up inside.

He’s also so compassionate. He’ll always get his brother something, even if it means he gets less. He’s caring and loving and wants to share his world with you. He’s amazing. And sometimes I feel guilty because I don’t know what to do with him. I don’t know how best to parent him. I don’t know how best to be what he needs. I want to make the meanness of the world dissipate just for him. I want him to be understood and accepted. I want him to be allowed to grow. It’s a lonely place, this parenting thing. I can’t tell you how many times someone has asked me if I think he’s on the spectrum or if he has ADHD. He isn’t and he doesn’t. He’s just not like everyone else and has no desire to conform.

So when I come across something that makes me say “yes,” I hang on to it. I store it away as a reminder. This morning I read an article about verbally gifted kids and the risk for underachievement. School is all about showing what you know. Reiterating what you’ve learned. Repeating what you’ve learned. But here’s the thing. Verbally gifted kids don’t always learn the way other kids and other gifted kids learn. They “tend to be holistic or global learners.” They search out the big picture first and then come back for the details. They don’t like memorization and they’re often unwilling to cooperate unless they “understand why the facts or necessary.” The normal rewards such as stickers, don’t work. They tend to be impulsive and disregard details. Emotionally, they struggle with anxiety and search out challenges.

All of these things fall in line with what I see in little bit. So maybe it’s not a person, but this article made me feel just a little less lonely.

http://giftedkids.about.com/od/Underachievement-Motivation/a/Underachievement-Of-Verbally-Gifted-Children.htm

How It All Began…

Before we get into the whole “kindergarten” fiasco, I thought I’d begin with, well, the beginning. Once upon a time, there was a tiny little baby that made his Momma wait a whole 41 weeks before his appearance in our world was forced upon him. Little bit was not the easiest of babies. He had to be held 24/7. Awake or asleep. He hated all confining things, including swaddling blankets, bassinets, cribs, slings, carriers, car seats and swings.

He was an alert child and hit his milestones early. I clearly remember the day he learned to roll from back to tummy. He laid on the floor for a good hour, practicing over and over and over some more. Until, eventually, he figured it out. He pulled up and cruised in the same day. He walked just at 10 months old.

About the only thing little bit didn’t do early was make consonant sounds. No goo-goo, ga-ga, or da-da. Not until he passed his first birthday. By 18 months, he knew most of the sounds of his letters and could identify them out of sequence. He spoke in full sentences before he was two. By the time he was three, we moved him to a preschool. He far surpassed other kids his age and was quickly moved to the four and five year old room. The three-year-old teacher asked my husband one day if we knew how smart he was. “Yes,” he said, “He’s pretty smart.” She continued to emphasize that it was more than smart and with little bit’s personality, we needed to take it seriously. If we didn’t get ahead of him, he would get in trouble. And it would get worse throughout his life.

She was a retired Montessori teacher with two degrees in child development. I listened.

Knowing a co-worker currently setting out on the struggles of public school and gifted education, and knowing the daily “trouble” reports little bit was getting in his new class, I wanted to begin arming myself with the right knowledge to move forward and advocate for this uniquely complex little boy with so much going on in his tiny mind. So we tested him just a few days beyond his fourth birthday.

Given the WPPSI, the testers decided it’d be best to try the SB5. He was giving “silly” answers on the WPPSI and they didn’t feel this was an accurate assessment. The SB5 yielded gifted results with sub scores hitting the 99th percentile in quantitative and fluid reasoning areas.

At four, little bit knew more about the heart and body than most adults. He was bored. He hated the worksheets presented day after day in preschool. We looked into alternatives. We looked at a Montessori school, but his class would be focused on the “concrete,” and little bit was always thinking in the “abstract.” We moved him to a school that believed in learning through play. And that’s when things really went downhill (and uphill).

You see, like so many gifted kids, little bit struggles with transitions and change. He has mapped out his environment and when it deviates, he doesn’t know what to do. He also listens. So when his favorite teacher moved, he had a day where you’d think he’d become a wild animal. We’re talking screaming, hitting, biting, kicking, spitting uncontrollable mess. I was called to come get him. His teacher told me she’s not allowed to restrain him, so during his next outburst, he ran for the door. He knew they couldn’t actually touch him. He head-butted the “new” teacher. He spit in the director’s face. He lost control. He was moved to another classroom with two teachers he knew and got along with. Two teachers who understood something about gifted kids and could calm him when needed. His remaining time in preschool wasn’t without issue, but it was so much better and I truly felt they loved and cared about my little guy. They did “side” science experiments to feed his little mind. They allowed him to grow.

Enter kindergarten prep. They suggested we enroll him in a pre-kindergarten class offered during the summer with the hopes that it would allow him to transition more smoothly. I met with the principal and counselor of the school. I expressed the concerns and gave examples of what can happen when he experiences huge change. They failed to inform the teacher and on day two, I picked my child up in the principal’s office being lightly restrained. I met with a shocked teacher that had no idea this was possible. I listened to my child tell me he couldn’t breathe and watched his tiny body shaking. And my heart broke for him.

We were met with kindergarten testing and a new principal during sign up for K. They were amazed at how well he did on the testing and said, “he’s ready.” I explained the concerns again and reminded the counselor of the summer fiasco. We met with the teacher he was assigned to and she allowed little bit to come in a week before school started, so he could see the room, spend some time with her, and tour the school.

We have had no major outbursts during this first year of kindergarten. But that hardly means we have not experienced trials. We most certainly have. I was so hopeful we could work together and that the school would work with little bit’s capabilities. I am losing faith and have found myself disheartened by the process. I am learning that advocating for him will take me beyond my comfort zone and that every conversation I have must be thought out fully to avoid being “that” parent. I am learning that I am the only one (along with my husband) that will truly advocate for what he NEEDS. I am learning so much and know so little.

Introduction

I used to write. I’ve had a blog before. Following in the steps of so many before me, I began a “mom” blog to document my first child’s life. His achievements, his milestones, his laughs, cries, and illnesses. My life as a new mother. The challenges, the fears, the excitement, and the triumphs. I documented it all. And while I haven’t been nearly (that’s an understatement) as diligent with my second child, I am thankful for all the posts, pictures, and videos documenting the beginning months and years of E’s life. I can now look back through those moments and see the pattern.

I knew, even then, that E was “smart.” He was determined and strong-willed. He was independent, yet so very dependent. He was “challenging.” He was simply “more” of everything. He still is. But it wasn’t until he was three and we had switched preschools that reality began to set in. We weren’t dealing with your average “bright” child. We were dealing with “more.”

We began running into problems when he was moved into a higher class because he was so smart, but he wasn’t socially or emotionally mature enough to be with four and five year olds. He was merely three, after all. The negative reports kept coming home and I began to feel lost. I began to feel like a failure.

Eventually, we chose to test him. And he was gifted. So began the beginning of advocating for this uniquely complex little guy that will drive you mad, overwhelm your patience, and make you question everything you ever thought you knew about parenting and teaching. And all the traits that bring about these feelings also make you want to hug him and kiss him and talk to him for hours. He is the most loving child I have ever known. His thirst for knowledge amazes me and his conclusions, rationalizations, and view on the world and the universe make me question my own views and ideals on a near daily basis. To know E is to know what it means to truly love. He is more than just a kid. He’s mine. And I will advocate for him with every breath I have. His younger brother, D, while only two appears to be following in some of those footsteps.

This is the story of our journey through gifted education.