Finding a voice

You_are_here_galaxyI read. I read books and blogs and articles and I am pulled into the miasma of it all, overwhelmed, adrift in the sea of words and caught up in the ebb and flow of …everything.  It’s amazing. I love it and yet it makes me doubt myself even more. My self-doubt of why my voice matters in the maelstrom of amazing voices makes me balk at writing anything.

Even the marginal books I read I can appreciate (usually) and I wonder why in the vast ocean of words my voice would make a difference. There are so many amazing stories and writers that all my if’s add to the downward pull of what if my story isn’t compelling enough, what if I can’t come up with the right words to deliver the message?

Writing a blog for me is fear. It’s more than just an Imposter Syndrome thing, but it could be involved. It could include higher anxiety as well. Either way, it’s an ugly monster that washes me in, caught in the under tow, pulled away from the assured safety of the shore line voyeurism of just reading, my safe haven of reading.

Then I recall the advice given to me by a powerful lobbyist when I asked about what they do when they have a politician who is just completely against them. (This was a person who lobbies nationally for developmental disabilities) “I just add what I can. I think of it like a water glass. Some politicians already know about the needs of others and how to help. Their glass is already full, but we still want to give them what we can so they have extra. Others have an empty glass and I try to just add a few drops here or there if they are strongly opposed to it because you never know. One day they may have a niece or nephew who has an extra chromosome or a close encounter with a learning disability that makes all of my attempts come flooding back and fills his glass quickly, or it just may be that a few drops as often as possible will eventually start filling that glass.”

When I started advocating for gifted and learning disabilities, I focused more on the learning disabilities because I saw more of the short end of the stick on the side that didn’t allow their intelligence to be recognized and appreciated. As I’ve moved on, I see more and more that it’s the same struggle. It’s inappropriate education and a lack of understanding and my voice is more than just my stories.

Now I just need to keep my courage up to write. I’m so much better at presenting than writing. I get caught up in the moment and flow happens. Writing can occasionally be a flow experience for me, but more often than not, is a long hard slog.

Resilience vs Inner Drive

Resilience [ri-zil-yuh ns, ri-zil-ee-uh ns]

  1. the power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed or stretched; elasticity.
  2. ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyancy.
  3. what I wish I had all of the time I don’t and just want to curl up and take a nap until I no longer feel the fear, doubt, and believe the self-defeating verbiage in my head.

I can tell the stories of being strong and fighting through adversity, and it always comes off sounding more valiant than it feels. I am not valiant; I’m simply trying to do what I’m supposed to do in life.

Recently I graduated Partners in Policymaking  (Class 30) and I’ve been really pushing for the Stock Epinephrine bill to allow schools to keep a spare auto injector on hand in case somebody has an anaphylactic reaction while at school. This is not for the peanut allergic kid who you may feel is forcing you to come up with an alternative snack for your small one. This bill was for the child who did not know they had an allergy. It’s for when a child is stung by a bee for the first time and has an anaphylactic reaction. It’s for the family that has to still pick up their child in the emergency room (that’s where you go even if you feel fine after having a shot of epinephrine), but gets to leave with their child – in good health – just an hour or 2 later.

The bill went to House and Senate in Minnesota. I spoke with my Representative personally, made a number of calls and sent emails. My Senator sent me a nice email back assuring me he understood the importance. On the Senate side, it was passed off to a sub-committee and died a horribly anonymous death. Fortunately on the House side it was strong enough that it was rolled into an omnibus** education bill.

I continued to make calls and send emails to various government decision makers and most often simply left my information in their voicemail or hoped the email would see eyes. The summer recess was approaching, but since Stock Epinephrine was in the omnibus education bill on the House side I knew it would be addressed before they adjourned.  Last Friday I was in St. Paul and met a person who introduced me to Senator Hoffman. The Senator emailed and asked me to call his assistant to have him pulled off the Senate floor when I arrived. I was VERY casually dressed, but he listened intently, treated me very well, and then pulled in Senator Dahle (a conferee* for the omnibus education bill).


I got to speak to a conferee just 8 hours before the House and Senate decided to include the Stock Epinephrine in the final writing of the bill. I know I was not the only person fighting for this bill, but it was a big success.

What I don’t include in this story are the number of emails I sent (over 100), or how many calls (I didn’t keep track), or the difficulties I had in seeing Senators and Representatives along the way. I had my own stories about why it was important, but  it can be challenging to feel comfortable speaking to legislators, especially when they have other things on their mind and don’t seem to want to talk to you so much.

So am I resilient? Only when I don’t and just want to curl up and take a nap until I no longer feel the fear, doubt, and believe the self-defeating verbiage in my head. Oh that darn self-talk. I think I’ll have to save that for another post.

Resilience to me is not something to build or grow as much as the opposite is something to avoid. I don’t admit defeat easily. When I played tennis I loved the phrase, “You can’t hit a ball I can’t chase.” I don’t know if it’s tenacity, stubbornness, a part of the brain that refuses to quit, or something else. If I quit though, I would do nothing – or the least stuff possible, and to me, that’s no life at all.

I think I do more because I have passions, inner drives to make things better and keep my mind entertained with …everything. What are your thoughts on resilience? Is it resilience or an inner drive or some combination?

*Conferees are the negotiator committee members between the House and Senate. The Senate and House may modify wording, but they are independent and can end up with many discrepancies between one another. The Stock Epinephrine portion was in the House’s version of the omnibus education bill, but not in the Senate.  Each side passes their own version, then the conferees negotiate the bill to read identically on each side, it’s voted on again, and if it passes both sides (with the same wording), it moves to the Governor’s desk – that’s your social studies lesson for the day.

**An omnibus bill is when legislation wants to vote on a group of bills rather than so many independent ones.  It can be used in good or bad ways depending upon which portion of any particular omnibus bill you feel strongly for/against.

As a follow-up: Governor Dayton signed the bill into law shortly after I published this post.  The section starts at 3.23 of the full omnibus education bill 

How the heck do I nurture my soul??

Ye_Olde_Knight_and_Dragon_by_JoJo83Not long ago at a seminar I attended, I did an exercise that asked everyone to draw what they wanted to be as a child. We shared our drawings with the group I was in. Some drew cowboys, others superheroes, and I drew a knight slaying a dragon. At first I wondered the relevance of my thought, but I quickly realized how accurate it was. I fight for the just causes, even when they may be against great odds. This is what nurtures me. I have trained to be an advocate for disabilities, how to meet with Senators and Representatives and tell my stories in a persuasive manor, and how to bring a community together to spotlight social injustice. This is what nurtures my soul. Unfortunately, this is not what brings in a paycheck.

I would go broke fighting against social injustice. Oh wait, I already have! I’d fight against discrimination even if it cost me grades in college. It did. I would fight for fair treatment of others even if it caused lost friendship. Were they really worth my friendship if they didn’t have an open mind of acceptance? I don’t believe so.

When I was in the Navy, there was a guy named Hill. He was from Tennessee. Before joining the Navy I drove through Tennessee and a cashier had difficulty making change when I bought gas, so in my mind, Tennessee was not a state of great minds. I met Hill in Boot Camp and as a Company (unit), we had to carry him through. He could barley get himself dressed at times. (Honest to goodness, dress inspection day, he had his t-shirt on backwards).  Mind-bogglingly we were both entering the nuclear program. In A-school we all took a math test and somehow Hill scored a 4.0 (he passed) on day one. I forced myself to sit down with Hill and have a conversation with him.  He had a slow drawl and pronounced nuclear as well as former president G. W. Bush, and it was painful to have a conversation with him, but soon I realized how brilliant he really was. It was my prejudice that had kept me from seeing such a great mind.

Since that time in the military 25 years ago, I’ve met some other brilliant people who are trapped inside disabled bodies, and still discriminated against. I’ve met students who are thought to be stupid because they have a learning disability, but are also gifted. I know people who are believed by some to have less value because they have any number of disabilities. I will fight for them until my last breath. Some of it maybe for them, but really, this is what nurtures my soul, so I really fight for them because I want to be that knight, even when the societal dragon breathes fire and leaves me banged up pretty bad at times. That’s how I nurture my soul.

I realize I took the topic to a personal level rather than with the broad “gifted” class in mind, but I feel each of us has an internal rhythm that pulses in a magical way when we find ourselves moving closer toward our entelechy, and THAT is what nurtures our soul.

And just to let you know, the image at the top was NOT the one I drew.  My drawing ability pretty much peaks about where stick-figures begin.

What does creativity look like?

164236_10200972033486386_2048216904_nWow, creativity. The thought of forced creativity is scary for me because it’s like saying, “You’re a funny guy. Say something funny.” I have a hard time being creative on the spot. My daughters have no reservation when it comes to being creative though. And now that we are homeschooling, I get to see creativity in motion.

My Wife is really the instigator of the lessons and she lays out the objective and the limited “junk” (straws, spoons, tinfoil, cups, tape, etc..). The girls have a blast creating their own designs and seeing how they work.  There have been some failures along the way, but that’s part of creation. I love watching them come up with a new way of thinking and then seeing if it works in the real world.

The creativity they are allowed at home is boundless. We don’t care if they shoot a marshmallow (or 12) from the dining room into the living room or dog dish. It is just part of the fun.

My oldest doesn’t seem to like numbers. She likes the math concepts and figures out patterns really well, but not the hard numbers. I get that. I was/am horrible at long division and multiplication, but I excel in more challenging math concepts. Drilling for her is punishment in her eyes. So we have dice. We can roll dice and can change the “game” depending on who’s playing. We can use 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 20, or 30 sided dice and use these to add, subtract, or multiply the numbers shown (division gets complicated at times). This is our creative way of making math more fun. We adapted the idea from a game called Sum Swamp.

Regardless of what the way you use creativity though, I find letting my girls be creative is what really helps them right now. They find new ways to use all sorts of objects. I was told that the average person could only come up with about 30 uses for a clothes hanger. I could come up with 200 pretty well, but I think my girls are getting better than me, and that’s fun. They learn new ways to tackle challenges and that’s what I think we’ll need more of in the future. Just as I agree with Sir Ken Robins in saying that we can kill creativity , I think we can nurture it as well.

I’d like to think that this creativity would be helpful in my children’s future. I know it’s been a blessing at times for me, but a curse others. Maybe if I keep up with the “respect others” lessons it will make things easier on them than I made it on myself.

How do you think creativity will be implemented in the future and should we “teach” creativity?

New Beginnings and Jumping in with Both Feet

jumpI didn’t post in January, but I really wanted to.  I just couldn’t announce publicly that we were pulling our kids out of school and starting our homeschooling process. It’s been a really hard decision for my wife and I because we both believe so highly in education. Our 2 in school were facing very different issues, but we felt homeschooling was just too necessary for us at this time.

One is testing 2-3 grade levels above and would very consistently complain, “School is boring.” Our older one has food anaphylaxis to a number of foods. We worked very hard to communicate with her teachers all through her schooling and things were not going well.

We had a teacher say they would keep all unnecessary food out of the classroom unless we could check the ingredients, but one morning my wife stopped by the room and discovered an assortment of goodies that contained foods my daughter is anaphylactic to. My daughter never wants to stand out as a “problem” and would try to not make a scene ever. She has always tried to “fit in” as best she could, she currently only tests slightly above her peers. Again, not standing out.

We look at homeschooling as a great new adventure where they can let their minds go and learn as much as they desire in a worry-free zone. We know they love learning still and I love that my wife’s creativity can have them “playing” for a day with Junk Box Wars and toward evening the kids will ask, “What about school?” They still have a desire to open a book and/or complete worksheets, so we accommodate.

The first day we had them home I asked the girls, “What is learning?” and my oldest sat up straight with her hands in her lap giving me her complete attention waiting for me to fill her head with knowledge. The younger one was not so student-like, but still had a belief that it involved worksheets and textbooks. As we continue our journey, I see them learning differently. They learn faster hands on and I see them being creative in ways that I find wonderful. Our daughter we just pulled from 1st grade showed my wife her paper: number

and asked, “What number is this?” number2

My wife said, “Eleven.”

Daughter, “No it’s not, it’s forty-four!!” :)

To be fair, my daughter does sometimes write her numbers backwards. School days used to be long. My wife and I shopped long and hard to find the best school for our girls in the beginning and the best started at 8:30 and ended at 4:00. The girls would come home exhausted from either containing themselves or from mentally trying to stay safe and not fall into anxiety mode. They would often come home and just melt down.

Over Christmas break, we saw our girls being “our girls” again and knew homeschooling was in our future. You also should probably understand that we had tried to work with the school a lot as well. We had our 1st grade teacher sending home extra homework (that was a few extra worksheets once each week or so that were either 2nd or 3rd grade level) and my daughter would jump up and do them immediately.  15 minutes later, she’s done and wanting more, but still exhausted from being at school all day.

For our older one, we went through an Individual Health Plan (IHP) and it lacked teeth for infractions, so we went for a 504. We received a LOT of pushback and I showed the school the legality of 504 for students with anaphylaxis and still had a lot of resistance. We were ready to fight all the way until we experienced Christmas Break. Our girls are so much better off learning without school for now. We’ll see how they develop.

My wife resigned as president of the Parent Advisory Committee, but I’m still on the School Board. I still believe school is right for the majority of kids, but I also believe it needs to be appropriate for more. Maybe I’m a bit delusional in thinking that school used to work best for about 98% of the kids, but today I see that number shrinking. Our area has an incredibly strong homeschooling community despite the fact that our area is much higher than the state average, which is consistently in the top 10 in the U.S. Why would such a strong school district have such a strong homeschooling community unless more and more schools were missing the mark? I have to wonder if it’s time for schools to change? I believe so, but I think 40 years ago I was not among the 98% who school was right for, and I know our kids are doing great already with homeschooling, so I may be a wee bit biased.

Love Rollercoaster

I let my wife know I was struggling with this month’s blog post and she had my back.  She had written something a while back and when I told her I was having a hard time with this blog, she shared it with me.  She said that even though it might not fit in with the topic “Joy,” I was welcome to share it.   Jodi has the patience of a saint, which is necessary being married to me. She is my greatest Joy as well, so I think it fits in nicely with this month’s topic. 

Any given day, hour, minute.

What is it like to be married to an ADHD/LD/Gifted person?  For me it’s a well-balanced roller coaster ride.   This ride has many ups and downs.  On any given day, any given hour, any given minute I feel:

Like a Queen – There are times I feel like I’m the only person around and he’s giving me any and all of his attention.  He kisses me any time he’s near me.  He holds my hand wherever we are – in the car, at the table, on the couch, wherever.  He asks me out on dates and really wants to be with me.

Alone – I can sit in the same room with my husband and feel like I’m not even noticed.   I can’t compete with the excitement and business of the computer.   It hurts to try to talk to him and feel like I’m being ignored for a computer game or facebook or email or game statistics, etc.

Special – He does things for me that I love, often times when he clearly doest not want to be doing them (i.e. rubbing my feet).

Dumb –I don’t have the extensive vocabulary he has – he’s a fantastic, eloquent, wonderful writer.   I don’t feel like I can have conversations with him that are even close to stimulating enough.  I don’t feel like I’m interesting enough for him.

Amazed – I am constantly amazed at how smart my husband is.  He is so smart.  He knows things about things – random things – that I had no clue he knows.  And I am constantly amazed at how good he is with our kids.

Left Out – I don’t know the things he goes through.  He has connections with other G/LD (2E) people that I will never have with him.  I try to ask questions, which sometimes are answered and sometimes are not.

Helped – He will help with anything I ask him to.  It has taken some time for me to come to grips with the fact that it probably won’t happen on my time line.  But it will get done.

Frustrated – It frustrates me to have to ask him for things I want.  I want him to be able to read me.  To think of nice things to do for me – without me having to ask for them.  I want him to help out around the house without me having to ask.  Even though logically I know he’s not purposefully ignoring household tasks, it’s hard, sometimes, to not feel like he’s just not doing them because they’re boring (let’s face it – chores are boring – I don’t like them either).

Impressed – I am very impressed at how he can charm the pants off of anyone.  He’s fun to talk to, he’s charismatic, he helps people when he can.  I love being out with him and others and watching the interactions that happen.  People are drawn to him.  They love talking to him.  And I get to say he’s mine!

Stressed – There are times I feel like I’m walking on egg-shells and fear asking him anything.  I watch him and our middle child butt heads and I want so desperately to go in and rescue her.  I’m not sure what is the right thing to do in those situations.

Loved – I know he loves me.  He hugs me.  He kisses me.  He holds my hand.  He listens when I REALLY need him to.  He can comfort me.  He knows what words to use to make me feel better.  He puts his arm around me in the movie theater.  He loves me.  I love him.

For those who are not aware of the title song, or the newer version.

A Need for Selfish Gratitude

“When a person doesn’t have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity. A person can almost be defined by his or her attitude toward gratitude.”

― Elie Wiesel

I didn’t grow up knowing I was gifted. I didn’t grow up knowing I was learning disabled. I grew up scrapping for any bit of knowledge I could find, but never being satisfied, and certainly not being satisfied with any grade I received in school. I had a very academically talented older brother who seemed rather motivated by grades. I was not only unable to compete, but lacked any motivation to play the silly game.

I was never satisfied with my performance. I could have always done it better, faster, more complete. I challenged myself to be better at anything I did, not realizing the perfectionism was eroding away at my soul. With every inner dialogue pushing me, challenging me, getting me to improve, it reinforced a lack of gratitude for what I had done or accomplished, and I think it’s not uncommon to feel that way growing up struggling whether you’re diagnosed or not.

Gratitude is still a struggle for me. I can be grateful for so many things outside of my locus of control, such as I’m grateful for the men and women in the military serving our country, I’m grateful for being a part of such a wonderful set of bloggers, and I’m grateful for my professor who explained to me that having a learning disability had nothing to do with intelligence.

When it comes to myself and my own endeavors, I have a much more difficult time with gratitude. Even when I voice them, I feel boastful or conceited, and that’s not something I am comfortable with at this time.  It may have to do with confidence or growing up in an area that praised modesty and didn’t encourage such bravado.

I know it’s an issue I struggle with, and I doubt I’m alone, especially in a group of such gifted individuals who have that ugly inner dialogue nagging at them. It ties in with the imposter syndrome certainly, and my be linked to many other challenges we face, but it’s not all bad, for I quote Elie Wiesel again, “No one is as capable of gratitude as one who has emerged from the kingdom of night.”

So maybe it’s time to put aside that inner voice, and realize what we have. I am grateful for being me, for who would I be otherwise? Be grateful for who you are and know that I’m grateful for you as well. Thank you everyone for making this blog and my life so much better.