Keep calm and close the basement door


You know, and I know, that when a gifted kid develops a passion in something, it is more all-encompassing than the norm. It’s not unlike Willy Wonka’s candy factory; it’s in every nook and cranny and in every detail of their lives. It becomes them.

So I should be grateful that my sons’ passions are not things like snakes or arachnids or making rocket fuel or international travel. I’m a little tweaked that their passions aren’t in the kitchen, but whatever.

Tech. Computers. Programming. Hacking. Building. Rebuilding. Tinkering.

This is my basement:


If, like me, you like things neat and tidy and “a place for everything and everything in its place,” then this picture probably has you rocking under your desk. This is a horrific mess.

And you know what? I don’t really care. For the most part it’s out of my sight (unless I’m on the treadmill, which you can’t see here), and it rarely oozes upstairs. The boys go downstairs and they work on computers. They tinker with aging servers that friends have given them. They program their Raspberry Pis. This is their maker space.

This is their Willy Wonka tech space. Their passion in every nook and cranny.

And I get to close the basement door.


Back to school for parents too


Well, we’ve been back to school for a month now and it is kicking me in the teeth. The boys are fine, both are rocking their individual educational setups (a homeschooling sophomore, a 7th grader at the local and awesome public middle school) better than I could have ever imagined. It’s me. So far this school year has been brutal.

When we think of gifted kids heading back to school, we tend to think of things like “will he be appropriately challenged?” and “hope she and her teacher are a good match” and “oh please oh please trust me when I say that he needs recess for his sanity and yours.” I think we forget about the parents sending them off.

I feel as though my many, many years of advocacy for my oldest son sets something off in me when school comes back ’round in the fall. Even though things couldn’t be smoother right now (lights a candle, says a prayer, turns around three times), I still get on edge. Add to that the early and fast-paced mornings and more students in my flute studio and the fact that I am the executive function for the entire household, back to school is mighty rough until about Halloween.

So all you other prematurely exhausted parents? Promise me that you’ll take it easy this school year. We can’t keep running a marathon at a sprinter’s pace. Care for your kids, but remember to care for yourself, too. That’s the best way for everyone to hopefully have a great year.


Back to School Pop Quiz


Welcome back to school, everyone! So good to see so many bright and shiny faces! I know we’re going to have a wonderful year, and I can’t wait to get to know all of you.

But first, please take out a Number 2 pencil, put your devices in the Bowl of Integrity on my desk (yes, just like at Trivia Night at the local watering hole), and strap on your thinking caps. It’s a Back to School Pop Quiz!

  1. I am excited to be back to school. T/F
  2. The one thing I am most looking forward to this year is:
    1. Learning all there is to know
    2. Discovering this year’s fundraiser
    3. The new cocktails I’ll concoct to survive the year
    4. Summer Break 2017
  3. The one thing I am most dreading this year is:
    1. Homework and the accompanying battles
    2. This year’s fundraiser
    3. The After-Schooling to feed my child’s insatiable brain-maw.
    4. The second and third jobs I’ll need for #2 and #3.
  4. If Wilson is traveling west on a scooter going 10 mph and Minerva is traveling south on a hovercraft going slightly faster than it takes for a watched pot to boil, what are the pink elephants drinking when they show up at the inevitable meeting we’re going to have about your child? Bonus points for naming the song playing on the ISS at the time, including artist and language.
  5. Please diagram this sentence: Your twice-exceptional child does not test well enough to meet the qualifications for the gifted program at this school; too bad, so sad.
  6. Fill in the blanks:
    This year, I hope my child ___________ and ______________, despite the _________ and the __________. I know the _____________ can be a real ____________, but it’s really in the best interests of the _____________. Ultimately, it’s the _________________’s responsibility that ________________ gets a fair and appropriate education, and _____________, _______________, and ________________ should do well to remember that. ___________ _____________ ____________ ______________ _____________ _______  _____________ _______________ ____ __ ____________ _______________ _________!!!
  7. Are you a robot? Please type what you see in the image below: __________________
  8. Thought experiment: Zombies have come and education as we know it is kaput. You still have a G2e kid. Please demonstrate “now what?” using either interpretive dance, modern art, or twelve-tone serialism a la Schoenberg.
  9. Your teacher is tired of making questions. So if you’ve made it this far choose #1 to get this one correct. Peace out.
    1. YASSSSSS!!!!
    2. Wait, what, really?
    3. That’s it?
    4. Can the whole freaking year BE THIS EASY?
  10. Let’s have a great year! Please write any concerns you may have in the space below:


I’ve decided I’m not so much a procrastinator as someone with entirely too much on her plate. Every day I work my way through the day’s tasks, and every day at least one thing gets shoved off to the next day. I put off working on things that need the most concentration until such a time that concentration is possible and suddenly it’s crunch time and duct taping the children to the roof is a viable option.

This is why my last post here on An Intense Life is not only a day late, but a few hours shy of the blog’s new direction. Not what I had planned, but what happened. I had wanted to write on parental expectations, instead am typing with my thumbs on a iPhone about procrastination and how I’m not really a procrastinator, I just have procrastination thrust upon me. Or something like that. Blended with perfectionism and topped with chaos a la mode, we have a tasty smoothie of why I often have a hard time getting things done.

Regardless, I wanted to take the time to thank Christine for the opportunity to write for An Intense Life. It has been a joy and a privilege to be a contributing writer this last year or so. To work with someone whose work I appreciate and enjoy has been delightful, and I look forward to seeing how this site grows in the future.

So while my post here was pushed off until nearly the last minute, it was finished. Someday I’ll teach my sons how to determine what can be procrastinated postponed and what can’t, but as that would push something else off today’s list, I guess it’ll just have to wait.

Back to school already?

This month marks a significant milestone in my parenting life. It ranks right up there in the top five, where things like potty training and out of a carseat live. And it has caught me by surprise.

For the first time in…carry the one…nine years, I’m not dying for my sons to go back to school. Ever since A was a preschooler and off to the World’s Best Preschool, I’ve counted the days and hours until Back to School. Heck, when A started kindergarten I practically poured margaritas in the parking lot, no I’m not kidding. There was much rejoicing that day.

Summers were long and painful…before this one. They were full of bickering and loooong afternoons and praying I got through another day without leaving them out in the woods to be raised by wolves losing my mind. I never hated summer until I had high-intensity kids. There was one year where I was ready to send them back an hour after they started summer break.

I can’t tell you exactly what was different about this summer. I made some plans with the boys, but not nearly as much as I would have liked to have planned. I know things are different for us as a family, and that probably had a lot to do with it. Three years ago we were all hurting as my husband struggled through a difficult job situation, on top of us trying to manage an incredibly intense kid. Two years ago we moved cross-country and dear god I will never move again with children living under my roof. Last year we were all still reeling from my husband’s job change on top of being new homeschoolers. This year? No major life changes.  That plus sheer maturity (what little of it there has been) on the part of our sons and we had a very relaxed-ish summer. Not perfect, by any stretch, but I’m not quite ready to let it go.

So Back to School came up on me a little suddenly this year. Our school-going son has his school supplies and class assignment and everything ready to go. Our homeschooled son…well, I haven’t planned a whole heckuva lot and we start on Wednesday too. Thankfully what little is ready can be started immediately and the rest added as I figure it out.

Summer passed in a blink this year, and not once did I pine for the first day of school. This is a first, and I’m a little sad that it only took nine years to get to this point.

My own worst enemy

I really am my own worst enemy. I’ve kinda known that for a long time, but it’s really hitting home for me lately. For the longest time I thought I just couldn’t say no to other people when they requested something of me, mainly my time and effort. Turns out that wasn’t exactly true. I do say no to others, and it gets easier every time I do. I just can’t say no to myself.

Maybe can’t isn’t appropriate, especially since I’m locked in a death match with that word. I don’t. I don’t say no to myself, or rather, I say yes to far more than I have time and energy for. This is how I find myself with a multi-level to-do list and the feeling that life is just passing me by as I desperately check things off in an attempt to control my surroundings.

My husband and I attended the SENG conference in Orlando this past weekend. I went last year and it was good. I learned a lot, met so many people, had a great time. This year, with my husband also in attendance, it was life-changing. While I have notes upon notes to review and digest, one line from the very last session I attended has been ringing in my ears ever since.

Is what I’m about to do going to get me to where I say I want to go?

The part that shouts the loudest to me is the “I say” tidbit. Remove those two words and reread the sentence: Is what I’m about to do going to get me to where I want to go? It has a different flavor, doesn’t it? The “I say” intimates a goal has been set, people have been told, something is on the line.

I say a lot of things. I say I want to exercise (I currently do not, and feel it with every staircase I face), I say I want to write more (right now writing is something that gets pushed to the end of my daily life because I feel selfish when I do), I say I want to dive in and enjoy summer (or what is passing for summer in Chicago this year; slippers and sweaters in July is WRONG) I say I want to read The Hobbit with my boys (see earlier line on the varying degrees of my to-do list, imagine the time involved with that, guess if we’ve been reading). I say I want to do a lot of things, very few of which get done because I say I want to do a lot of things. There’s a heartbreaking irony right there.

Is what I’m about to do going to get me to where I say I want to go?

Because there are so many things I say I want to do, few of them have any urgency or importance. I run into this with my sons and their piles of treasures; if every single thing is the most important thing ever, then nothing has any importance. Pick and choose, dude. Pick and choose, Jen.

In less than two months I have a birthday that ends with a zero. By the time that date rolls around I no longer want to be my own worst enemy. I want to pick and choose the most important things to me and focus only on those. I want to have time to think and play and enjoy my life guilt-free.

It’s time to say no to myself a little more often, and yes to a more satisfying life.


For such a tiny word, it sure packs a wallop.

Half a gazillion years ago I had a dear flute student. For her Sweet 16, her mom put together a scrapbook of sorts, full of pictures and memorabilia and letters of advice from favorite teachers. She asked me to contribute a letter, and I was honored to do so. Now, this was long before I did any writing, probably six or seven years before I fired up my blog, so I really struggled to get out what I wanted to say. What could I possibly say to a 16 year old, when I was maybe only a dozen years older? It’s not as though I had a whole lot of life experience to pass along.

I finally settled on the theme of What If. Together those are two of the most powerful powerful words in the English language. They are full of possibility and hope and adventure. Those two little words inspire, encourage, and push us to greater heights. I really wish I had kept a copy of the letter I wrote, but this was some fifteen-odd years and at least four computers ago, so it’s lost to the ages.

What If we build the schnafoodle to connect to the whoozit, program it to gafliddlyfoink, and set it to work while we’re sleeping? What If we say yes to the things we usually say no to, and vice versa? What If we provide appropriate academic interventions for gifted students, because fair is everyone getting what they need?

The yang to What If‘s yin is If Only. If Only. Is there a word pairing more frustrating than If Only? I can easily berate myself into a pulp with those two words. If Only I knew what was going on with my son I could fix it and we could all finally live in something resembling familial harmony. If Only I had another six hours in a day I could finally get everything done and relax. If Only I hadn’t given up my career, or had any kind of career now, then maybe I would worry less about the future. If Only I hadn’t made the decisions I did back in the day, maybe then things would be different (and better) now.

If Only, If Only, If Only… Dangerous words, those. They’re full of despair and frustration and anger, the very opposite of What If. And yet they’re the words that hold me hostage to myself. They grab me around the neck and squeeze, usually late at night as I’m trying to sleep. If Only is the invasive plant of the soul, choking out any hope of What If setting down roots to grow.

What If. If Only. Two two-word phrases that can lift us to great heights or drown us in our dark thoughts. Opposite sides of the coin we all carry in our mental pockets, one defined by possibility, the other by despair. What If we made the conscious decision to set the positive roots, and let the invasive If Only die off?

What If?

Summer for my soul

I’ve realized something since moving back to the Chicago area from Colorado two years ago. I love summer. I mean, I really love summer. It’s not like we didn’t get summer in Denver, for we certainly did (and my poor friends are suffering through a brutal heat wave right now), but it was different. It wasn’t uncommon for the temps to tickle the upper 60s or even the lower 70s in the middle of winter. Granted, the snowiest months were March and April, but the occasional warm and sunny day in hellish February got me through many a miserable week.

It just seems that summer was less of an event there, because it wasn’t as cold or as grey or as bloody miserable for as long as it is here in Chicago. Here, it’s Summer, capitalized with decorative scrolls. Summer Has Arrived. There are few happy surprises of warm days mid-winter, so when warm weather finally does arrive we all appreciate the heck out of it.

Does this mean I spend my days outdoors, frolicking to and fro in the summer breeze? Oh hells no. I wilt above 84 degrees, humidity levels here start at a gazillion percent and go up from there, and years of band camps and college marching band have killed my love of being outdoors in inclement weather of any kind.

It’s just that I love the bright golden sun, the long days with peaceful twilights, lighting bugs (something we didn’t have in Colorado), margaritas on the porch, the green lushness from a well-soaked Chicago spring, and the calm relief that I survived another cold and grey season. I know many people who prefer winter, if for no other reason than if you’re cold you can add layers, but when you’re hot there’s a legal limit to clothing removal. I can appreciate their reasoning, but no matter how many layers I put on I’m still cold, and no matter how many full-spectrum lights I sit under for hours on end it’s still grey and miserable outside. And when I’m cold and stressed and suffering from SAD everything clenches and does very bad things to my body. Amazing how my jaw is healing now that I’m not shivering every blasted day. Oh, and lowering stress levels yadayadayada.

It’s summer here in Chicago…finally. It is hot and muggy and sunny with awesome thunderstorms and the perfect balm to my soul. I plan to soak up every last drip of it and store it away to get me through another long and tiresome Chicago winter.

Not the summers of my youth

Summer break has arrived at the House of Chaos, though you wouldn’t know it by the weather. Chicago is having an extended spring. A very wet, cold, miserable, going straight from winter to blazing summer kind of spring. It has been less than pleasant. Last week I wore jeans, a long sleeved T-shirt, a sweater normally reserved for the bowels of November, socks, and slippers. And still I shivered. Go home Mother Nature, you’re drunk.

Yet J is out of school for the next few months and A has completed his assignments for 6th grade (um…you’ve been promoted to 7th grade, consider this your report card), so summer must be here. Also the dog stinks seven ways from Sunday…and all the other days of the week…so yeah, must be summertime. Ish.

We have a week of break under our collective belts and all I can think is how different summer breaks were for me at that age. For starters, computers. When I was 12, know what I had for a computer? Yeah, me neither, but it was my dad’s and used only for writing papers to be printed with the dot matrix printer. Maybe Zork on the weekends (my geek cred just skyrocketed). So no computer for hours of gaming, or programming, or farting around while vaguely hearing mom nag about getting off the computer. I read books, took classes at the library, played in the middle school summer band. I played outside, mainly chase that damn ball tennis or riding bikes (sans helmet, natch). I don’t recall ever whining about being bored, probably because I was deep into a book.

Let’s compare that to summers of today. The boys joined the library’s summer reading program (as have I), yet I’m mean for insisting on afternoon quiet time with a book. On most of the previous days an old desktop computer has been in pieces on my living room floor, only to be reassembled in perfect working order (how does he do that?). A  hacked his Raspberry Pi to stream media from my iTunes. The boys are filming a stop motion animation movie on something, I know not what. There are wires everywhere, code is spoken here, and dear god what is that smell? Summer camp has begun (though not without bumps), the bikes are ready to go at a moment’s notice, and popsicles are a food group.

Actually, with the exception of technology, it looks a lot like the summers of my youth. May they have as many fond memories of this summer as I do of mine at that age.

There are times when I am grateful I have sons. This is one of those times.

Over the last decade or so of raising dear god what is that smell boys, one thing I’ve heard over and over is that boys are hard when they’re young and get easier as they get older. I’ve also been told girls are the opposite. I’m holding the world to that semi-promise, as I think I’ve pretty much done my time with the oh holy hell-ness that comes with raising The Most Complex Child on the Planet™, and could really use an easier adolescence. Quit laughing.

But being a flute teacher, I have a lot of young girls in my studio. Over the years I’ve taught girls as young as five (never again) up through high school, with the majority of them middle school age. The stories I’ve heard, the dramas and traumas I’ve seen, the pain and awkwardness and angst and hell of middle school…it’s more than most parents realize, I think. I believe every kid needs at least one non-parent adult in his/her life, and I’ve been that adult for many kids for a long time.  A non-judgmental sounding board, if you will. One of my favorite flute students just graduated from college (see also: I’m old); I started her on the instrument when she was seven (see related: get off my lawn). There was a time in her middle school years when there was very little flute playing and a whole lot of listening and helping her cope with middle school. She’ll be a band director this fall. I’m proud of her.

She had an inner resiliency that got her through those middle school years, but so many girls don’t. I learned this morning that girls at a local middle school, sixth graders no less (my son’s age…sigh), are cutting themselves. The pressure they feel in all areas of their lives is overwhelming them. I know we live in a high-expectation area, but I had no idea it was that bad. We’ve probably escaped that knowledge by the fact that our sixth grade son is homeschooled and isn’t exposed to the drama/trauma of middle school, and I’m grateful for that. I’m really appreciating our little ignorant bubble right now.

I don’t know how to build resiliency in kids, I just know how to listen and support and refuse the lie of “I can’t.” My heart breaks for these girls and their confused and terrified parents. I recommended Christine’s new book The Girl Guide to the women I spoke to this morning, and hope that helps. I don’t remember middle school (and even elementary school…learned about 3rd grade girls bullying this morning too!) being this intense and frightening.

Anyone else feel like this parenting gig just keeps getting harder and harder?