Planning is Optional

One of the bonuses of Summer Vacation, and my husband being self-employed is that sometimes we can just take off to the beach on a moment’s notice. That is what happened on Friday, instead of posting something at my scheduled time. I am only feeling a modicum of guilt. It was a beautiful day at La Jolla Shores. I got to witness a boy learning for the first time why it is a very bad idea to offer food to seagulls, it was like a scene out of a Hitchcock film. 

The waves were high enough to make amateur surfers happy, but not so high that young boogie-boarders like my daughter were discouraged. The last several beach trips were daddy-daughter only trips. This was trip that I learned my little girl isn’t so little anymore. As she went off with her boogie board, my husband got up. I thought he was going to follow to keep an eye on her since our location was not optimal for viewing her ocean activities. Instead, he said he was going for a walk along the shore in the opposite direction. I said, “So, you’re not going to watch her?”

“Nope,” he happily replied.

“Well, I can’t see her from here, aren’t you worried?”

“Nope,” he smiled.

“Okay, then!”

I glanced over at the group of swimmers and boogie-boarders. I couldn’t tell which one was her, but decided there were enough adults over there, and realized she is now a strong enough swimmer, that perhaps it was time to let go a little more. 

Sure, enough, about forty minutes later, she bounded happliy up to our little set-up of umbrella, chairs and towels, ready for a snack. When did my little girl get so independent?  It happened when I wasn’t watching.

What Will You Do Over Summer Vacation?

Only two more school days left as I type this. Now that my youngest is 12, and relatively self-sufficient, summer vacation doesn’t instill the dread it used to. While the new school year is still “The Most Wonderful Time Of the Year!” For a change, we have something extra planned for our daughter other than just the usual going to Arizona in July to visit grandma and grandpa. Yes. Arizona in July. Summertime fun? Well, they do have air-conditioning and a swimming pool, so there’s that. Plus, our daughter gets to visist with her cousins and we get to visit with family…which is great for the first couple of days.

This year, our daughter is going to music camp and taking her clarinet. Also, she recently began lessons with the tenor sax. Other than a weekend camping trip with my Bluebirds troop, I have never been to summer camp. My husband went to band camp, but that was specifically for his marching band group. 

For, me, the summer will consist of pretty much the same thing it does the rest of the year, minus getting my daughter to and from school. Now it will probably be to and from the local pool. I suppose trips to the beach may increase. I am hoping to get more reading done. Knitting and crochet may go on the back burner a bit due to the weather…then again maybe not. 

It’s really our daughter’s life that changes the most over the summer. She is still in middle school, so she doesn’t have any over the summer reading for AP classes yet. She is done with homework until 7th grade begins! Her only upcoming assignment is to bring some sort of topping for the popcorn party they are having on the last day –like M&Ms or Reeses Pieces. Really, that is my assignment, isn’t it? 

She will get to spend more time with her friends, many of whom will be on Minecraft with her.   There will be many more sleep-overs, especially during the week, now that every day is the weekend for her.

So, other than Music Camp and visiting relatives, we don’t have any solid summer plans. How about you?

Keeping One’s Head Above Water

In his most recent post, Tom Furman gave us the dictionary definition for “Resilience.” In my previous post, I broke it down to “Bouncing Back” and likened it to getting right back on a horse after being thrown.  In the end, I admitted that bouncing back can feel more like crawling back.

The theme for this month is “building resiliency.” How do I talk about building something when I’m not even sure if I’m equipped with an abundance of it myself? How do we build it in our children? I’ve heard various tidbits of advice on the subject:  Nurture them –make them feel safe –but not too safe, or they won’t learn to stand on their own.  Don’t coddle them so much that it sends them the message that you think they can’t handle things on their own;  on the other hand, make sure they have a safe place to fall (metaphorically) within the home.

I think of my older kids, now 22 years old and wonder about what kind of job I did to help build their resiliency.  It becomes an interesting challenge when you have twins with two very different personalities and two different sets of needs. A point I thought Dave and Kathy Mayer covered quite well in their post this month. My daughter would get straight A’s. She could do her homework in front of the TV and still get straight A’s, and when more reading was called for, she would voluntarily exile herself to her room so she could read in peace and quiet. If we happened to catch her in front of the TV after school, we didn’t feel the need to ask her if her homework was done. We knew she had it handled.  Her brother, on the other hand, was like most kids, and had to wait till homework was done before he could watch TV. To this day, he still doesn’t think that was fair. We didn’t think it was fair to punish his sister just because he didn’t have the same ability to concentrate when surrounded by distractions.

Now they are adults, or as I like to call it, “Junior Adults.” Our daughter moved out of state last summer and is working and going to school, and only occasionally asks to “borrow” $20.

Her twin brother moved out almost three months ago, and so far, we’ve helped him with his first month’s rent because he was still job-hunting, and we DO NOT WANT HIM TO MOVE BACK IN. The second month, we refused to help with rent, even though he still hadn’t found work. He managed to get help from his biological dad this time, but it will probably be the last time. He has been “nickel and diming” us for money for gas so he can go job hunting, or because they ran out of milk. We don’t feel comfortable just giving him money because we are concerned it will burn a hole in his pocket.

We don’t think he is a bad person, just young and inexperienced.  So, recently, when he called saying that his girlfriend (who he lives with in a house with a few other young adults) was anemic and hasn’t been able to get out of bed for two days because they’ve only been eating one meal a day, I went out and bought them a few hundred dollars’ worth of groceries.  That was over a month ago,  and though my son has finally found employment, he won’t be paid for another two weeks, and rent is coming up, and they ran out of food, and….When does it stop? Have we blown it? Have we made him too reliant on us rather than on himself? We’ve been trying to make it difficult for him to ask for money. This has the side effect of making him more skilled at the “convincing sob story.” And what if he is telling the truth? I could believe his girlfriend is anemic—she looks it. A gentle breeze could knock her over.

Now, we are worried about whether we should help him with rent again. He says he will pay us back as soon as he gets paid. I am pretty sure what we will hear is: “My paycheck isn’t here yet, I don’t know what the problem is,” or, “It wasn’t as much as I thought it was going to be and what was left, we had to pay for gas money to get to work.”  On the other hand, should we let him get kicked out just when he has finally found employment? Over a year ago, we kicked him out for several months, and during that time, he spent the night at various friends’ homes, was homeless for a while, and finally we let him back home when he was caught trying to cash a bad check that someone had given him as “payment” for doing yard work for him. See, this is why I am having a trouble writing an article that focuses on building resilience, because all I can do is wonder if a good portion of resilience is innate. Or wonder where we went wrong with one of our kids who was being raised at the exact same time as his twin sister, who seems to be doing just fine on her own.

Any thoughts?  I’ll be gone most of the weekend, but I look forward to reading comments, commiserations, and suggestions!

Bouncing Back From Set-Backs

I get knocked down, I get up again, you’re never gonna keep me down!

That Chumbawamba song is what came to mind when I began dwelling on the concept of bouncing back.

When I turned 12, my grandma paid for me to take horseback riding lessons. I was “horse crazy” at the time, reading all I could about horses, collecting model horses, –which was about as close as that suburbanite, tract home dwelling girl was going to get to owning a horse– drawing pictures of horses, etc.

As my mom drove me up to the ranch for my first lesson, I gazed lovingly at all the pretty horses. (For some reason, I feel compelled to interrupt my writing of this blog post to do an internet search on Cormac McCarthy and Matt Damon movies.) There was one horse in particular that caught my eye. He was white with black and brown patches. When I asked about him up at the stables, they told me his name was “Howdy Bars” and that I wouldn’t be riding him just yet. For my first few lessons, they gave me the calmer horses, whose names I don’t remember. Finally, by my third or fourth lesson, I was allowed to ride Howdy Bars!  He was so pretty. I could tell he was a bit more fiesty than the other horses. I mounted him and joined the other two riders who were there for the lesson.  As we gathered together, I’m not exactly sure how it happened. Perhaps one of the other horses thought it would be funny to nip Howdy Bars in the behind, perhaps one of the other horses dared Howdy Bars to just take off running for no apparent reason. We hadn’t quite gotten to galloping yet, but I was getting an impromptu lesson. I was glad I had taken Western style lessons which meant I used a saddle with a saddle horn instead of the English saddle with no horn –at least I had something to cling on to desperately as Howdy Bars raced around  the corral while the instructor tried to catch up to stop him.  As we made our second turn, I could feel myself slowly sliding off to one side. I tired to hang on to the saddle horn, I tired to hang on and readjust myself with my legs, but it wasn’t going to happen. Good thing the dirt was soft. As soon as I was off Howdy Bars, he stopped running and come back to me, or maybe the instructor brought him back. That part was a little hazy. I remember being asked by several people if I was “okay.” I replied with a gruff, “Yes” and then before anyone could stop me, I remounted Howdy Bars ready to continue the lesson.  The instructor asked if I was sure I still wanted to ride him and offered to switch to a calmer horse. I declined. I didn’t want to go back to kindergarten!

Both my mom and my instructor praised me for getting right back on the horse. My mom even seemed a little surprised that I would get right back on after that. I was surprised that she didn’t seem to know, what I thought everyone knew, that when you fall off a horse, you have to get right back on, otherwise, it’s going to be so much harder to feel confident enough to get on a horse again if you wait till later. It wasn’t until later, that I found out this could be used as a metphor for bouncing back from life’s setbacks.

In life, though, sometimes, “bouncing back” can feel more like “crawling back.” I plan on talking more about this “crawling back” in a future post.

Finding a Kindred Spirit

It isn’t easy for me to make friends. I can be friendly with any number of people, and I can be “friends” with a wide variety of personality types. What I have a hard time with, is finding someone who actually “gets” me. I have theorized that perhaps some of the reason why I  have found it somewhat difficult to find that “kindred spirit” might have something to do with the places I have lived. Though I have always lived in or near Southern California, which is considered a “blue” state, I tend to end up living in “red” towns.  I haven’t done any research on this. My theories are based only on anecdotal evidence, so perhaps just a tad biased?

I have noticed that the friends I have the most in common with, tend to also live in “blue” states. They tend to be more socially liberal. They tend to have more well thought out responses to political posts, rather than having emotional outbursts. They tend to have a stronger appreciation for the science fiction genre than others. They usually know what I’m talking about when I mention The Doctor (and wouldn’t dream of writing “the dr.”) and realize that the only proper response to, “No more rhyming, now, I mean it!” is, “Does anybody want a peanut?”  Honestly, the other day I saw a license plate that said, “2 BLAVE” and I almost ran them off the road to see if they would please be friends with me! I realized that might not be the best way to begin things, so reluctantly, I allowed them to drive on.

Of course I have plenty of friends who don’t know what I’m talking about when I mention The TARDIS or Cylons, or say “Make it so, Number One.” That would actually describe the majority of people I’m friends with in real life. If I limited myself to only those I considered kindred spirits I would have zero to  perhaps one or two, in-person friends. Being somewhat of an introvert, there are many times when this would be just fine and dandy with me! However, somewhere in the back of my mind, I realize I may need more of a human support system than one or two. And while for me, being alone for very, very long stretches of time is what recharges my batteries, I still need human contact so I don’t start talking to myself out loud. In public. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Contact with my friends can be supportive and nurturing, but nothing compares to having someone who truly “gets” me with all my weirdness and contradictory quirks.

Am I Nurturing Myself?

Or am I finding more ways to aggravate the stress? I don’t really have a solid plan anymore. It’s just kind of this vague, fuzzy glob of thoughts. My oldest two kids have moved out. One of them almost a thousand miles away, the other less than fifteen minutes away. I still have my twelve-year-old at home, but let’s face it, she’s pretty much self-service these days. I don’t exist unless she needs for something like providing some type of food that she can’t (read too lazy to) fix herself, to drive her places she can’t (or is too lazy to) walk to, or buy things she can’t afford –which is pretty much everything since she is unemployed. I’m a stay-at-home mom. In the old days, I was busy with getting kids to school, making sure they had their lunch money, homework done, do laundry, grocery shopping and any housework that wasn’t already covered by their chores. Now that allergies and aggravated back and knee issues have greatly reduced the amount of housework I do, in many ways, the vast majority of my day seems to be spent “nurturing” myself.

I read, novels, non-fiction, articles on the internet that I found when doing a search for something else. I write. Lately, the only writing I’ve been doing is right here. I haven’t posted anything on my own blog, and I’ve been neglecting my fiction writing. I’m supposed to be doing Camp NaNoWriMo this month, which is a scaled down version of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), but so far, every day, something has come up to eat into my writing time, from the cat losing a battle with a razor left in the bathtub, to spending over two hours at the pharmacy because of computer mix ups, combined with a new computer system that is apparently complicated to learn. I knit and crochet. That is fantastic for nurturing my soul. If only I could read or write and knit or crochet at the same time! I like to multi-task whenever possible. I feel less guilty. I tend to feel guiltier when reading or watching TV or a movie than I do when writing or doing needle work. I guess in the latter cases, I feel like I’m at least “producing” something, even if it’s only for one person. The phrase, “A productive member of society” comes to mind. I feel guilty not being as productive around the house as I think I should be, so I rationalize that if I am at least involved in productive activities, then I’m not a complete parasite. So I guess in my case, any activity that lessens the constant cloud of guilt hanging over my head is nurturing.

Enrichment in Middle School

I love my daughter’s middle school. I loved when her brother and sister attended the first year it opened a little over ten years ago. Since then, they have added a program called PRIDE.  A few minutes was taken out of each period so on Tuesdays through Fridays, the students can have the opportunity to spend 30 minutes per day taking a variety of creative classes. Some of the classes have been, Calligraphy, Sewing, Floral Water Color Art, Digital Photography, Archery, Mechanics, etc.  The hope is that students will be exposed to different activites, perhaps finding a passon for something new, maybe learn new skills, or just get to spend time at school doing something they love.

For students who were having trouble in their core classes, they can use this time  for tutoring or extra homework time.

On the school’s website, it explains the importance of having the PRIDE period:

Students who are connected to school, through activities and positive relationships with adults on campus, do better in school than those who are not. Also, students who are connected to school in this way develop more “protective factors”, which help them become more resilient in the face of adversity, and they more likely to avoid risky behaviors.

My daughter has enjoyed her classes. So far she has taken Digital Photography, Sewing, and currently she is using her PRIDE period to practice her clarinet. She is looking forward to perhaps taking Calligraphy, or Google+. She doesn’t know which class she will get until she returns from Spring Break in April.

I asked her if she was looking forward to taking archery next year because that class is only offered to 7th and 8th graders.  She told me they are discontinuing PRIDE next year. She explained that while most of the teachers at her school were in support of it, a “few” complained to the School District that the time used for the PRIDE period was cutting into their classroom teaching time. My daughter used the phrase, “Prep time,” but I’m not sure if that would be accurate. I’m not even entirely sure if it is accurate to say that PRIDE won’t be coming back next year.  I had already planned on writing about the school’s PRIDE program before I found out it was on the chopping block.  When I mentioned this topic to my husband, he revealed he had overheard one of the teachers saying something about how our daughter’s school was the last school in the district to still have the PRIDE program, and the district doesn’t like the PRIDE Program.  I guess they found out kids were having school-sponsered fun, and like Miss Hannigan from Annie, the felt compelled to put an end to it.

I emailed her principal to verify and to see if there was anthing that could be done to change the District’s mind, but I don’t expect to hear from him until after this is due to post.  Here’s hoping I won’t have to send her to school with a bucket and rags, singing, “It’s a Hard Knock Life.” Maybe the sun really will come out tomorrow. Sorry. No, not really. Making pop culture references is in my DNA.

Enrichment Programs for Gifted Kids in the early 1970’s

In my very first post here, I talked about how it felt to be labeled “gifted” as a child. I felt vindication when my second grade teacher called my mom and asked her if I wanted to be a part of the “Enrichment Program” (also called Mentally Gifted Minors -MGM). Once a week, we would leave our classroom about an hour before school was out. We learned some Spanish, learned about Mexico, did some cooking, and a variety of art projects. We did special activities having to do with what we were learning.

In later grades, we got to go on field trips –just us, the kids from the gifted programs. I remember one year, taking a long bus ride to Edwards Air Force Base to see the Space Shuttle Enterprise. 

The activities also changed a bit as we got older. We learned a lot about mythology. I think it helped me to appreciate many of the books and films with mythological themes, on a deeper level.

In my last year of elementary school, the facilitator for our gifted program, started going around and met with us at our schools, rather than have us take busses to one location. This was possible due to budget cuts, thanks to California Prop. 13, but also, many of us complained that we didn’t like missing so much of our regular school day, only to have to make up what we missed. We’d have to do our homework for our regular classes, plus, we often had homework from our gifted program. I don’t care how smart or gifted a person is, one thing seems to be universal: Nobody likes homework!

By junior high, the gifted program was relegated to an elective that you could take. I didn’t take it. I heard they played educational games and Dungeons as Dragons for most of the class period.

In high school, we could take “advanced” classes, though they weren’t the same as the AP classes that my oldest daughter took when she was in High school 2005 – 2009.

Were any of you in gifted programs while in school? What were your experiences?

Middle School Heartbreak Over Grades

The honor roll assembly was last week, and as has been the case every year since kindergarten, my daughter was on it. Every year, she was on the Gold Honor Roll for making straight “A’s.” Her last award for fifth grade, she was one of a few recipients for the Platinum Honor Roll. That’s if you make the Gold Honor Roll for the whole year.

This is her first year in middle school and this time, she received, the Silver Honor Roll. That’s what you get for making all A’s and one B. Most kids would be thrilled. Not our daughter. At first, we thought she was taking it quite well. We told her that making the honor roll at all was something to be proud of and not everyone makes the Silver Honor Roll. We used the gift certificate to Applebees that came with all the Silver Honor Roll awards (a gift certificate to Islands was what the Gold award winners received, and our daughter’s favorite.) Everything seemed fine. I was getting a little worried, because I was having a hard time coming up with a second post related to the topic for the month that hadn’t already been covered by my fellow bloggers, and was dangerously close to having to think about doing actual research.

Yesterday, she decided to go online and look up her grades. I guess seeing it in writing, seeing where she was getting lower points made it hit home and she burst into tears of frustration. “You know,” I tried to remind her, “Silver honor roll is a good thing!” “Not for me, it isn’t!” she said. Secretly, I was relieved. At least she wasn’t going to give up. We looked over her assignments and it appeared that for the most part, she had gotten some lower test scores, and a couple of homework assignments had been scored lower. She claimed to not understand why.

I suggested that maybe if she took a break from doing homework in front of the TV, for a change, her grades might go up again, and that maybe if she spent more time studying instead of playing Minecraft most of the night, she might be able to bump those B’s back up to A’s.  Even harder sobbing ensued, accusations about my lack of ability to understand were tossed around. Declarations of her inability to do homework unless the TV is on because it drowns out other distractions such as “creepy noises” were made. I persisted in my endeavors, suggesting she do her homework in my room next to me on my bed while I just read quietly. That all but proved my insanity as she exclaimed, “I can’t do my homework in here!” Apparently, this was such an obvious fact, no explanation was required as to why she couldn’t do her homework in my room. We basically left things like that for the time being. She was not in a condition to be open to suggestions that might involve making any changes. We’ll try later this weekend. It’ll help that we have two extra days.

The Heart Wants What the Heart Wants

“He has no heart.” “She’s all heart.” “My heart just isn’t in this.” But the heart is a muscle that pumps our blood and oxygen through our bodies. That is all. When we make statements like the ones above, we are really talking about brain function.  Somewhere along the line,  probably long before humans knew about how the brain functioned, we began attributing emotions to the heart, even describing it as our seat of motivation. I guess the “gifted” side of me (pedantic?) is needing to clarify that when I am talking about a person’s heart in this post, I am speaking metaphorically. For some reason, I feel the need to point out that everything, is in fact, run by the brain.

Every time I look at the blank screen on my computer, a screen that is asking me to fill it with words, and words are not immediately forthcoming, my first thought is generally something like, how my heart must not be in this anymore. I just don’t know what to write. If I’m given something to write about, at first I’m fine. “Oh sure! I can write about this! Easy peasy!” Then the blank screen is before me and I have to check Facebook, then look at a movie trailer, then read an article about a different upcoming movie, then I notice that my body hair is thicker on one side of my body than the other,  and I must research this immediately or I won’t be able to concentrate on what I am supposed to be writing. This leads me to reading articles and looking up images of a variety of hairstyles with funny names. Now an hour has elapsed and I haven’t written a word. So I begin to wonder, is my heart really in this? And then, my BRAIN shoots back with, “Yes! You’re just being lazy! Stop it!”

smaller clipart heart 4Suddenly, my medulla oblongata sends a swift kick to jumpstart my heart and away I go! I am feeling motivated!

I am realizing a reason I am having a hard time with this topic is because, like many adults, I have learned to keep my heart protected. From the viewpoint of someone who grew up with the “gifted” label I felt the need to build walls around my heart. Much was expected of me from others. I also expected a lot from myself. When I lived up to those expectations, everything was great, of course. When I didn’t, no one was more disappointed than me. The tests said I could have done great things with my life. While I am content with my life as it is, I still haven’t fulfilled any of the dreams I had when I was younger. I was going to be an actor. An award winning actor. Or at least, be able to earn a comfortable living as an actor. You know, not necessarily hounded by paparazzi, but every once in a while, someone would come up to me and say, “Hey, aren’t you that woman who played that other woman’s friend in that show?” When I became pregnant with my twins, I pretty much gave up on that idea. You have to already be a successful actor to get away with having twins and still continue acting. Come to think of it, my twins are all grown up now. I still have an 11-year old at home, but I’m not a single parent anymore like I was for the first five years of my twins’ lives. Maybe I’ll see how much acting classes cost in my area. See what happens when my heart kicks in?

I wanted to be a writer –well, I am writing right now, aren’t I? I thought I’d start with magazine articles (this was way before blogs), then short stories, then finally, become a novelist. This one, I haven’t given up on quite yet. I need to find a way to discipline my highly distractable brain and keep myself focused.  Focused on writing. And fragmented sentences. I just need to keep writing. Except for right now because I am finished writing this post.

You will eventually be able to read more of my writing at: I haven’t updated since a couple of weeks before NaNoWriMo. I plan to update….soon.