Unconditional


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It’s an easy, alluring trap to fall into, and I do it more often than I’d like to.

It starts so simply; one or another of them will come up to me, waving a piece of paper or a Lego monstrosity or a frog made out of craft foam, and more often than not, it’s pretty amazing. E cornered me the other day and insisted on taking me on a tour of her Minecraft island; inside her mansion is a lava-powered hot tub, a vending machine that dispenses cooked chickens, and – in the back yard – a roller coaster. She’s wiring up half the island for zombie/creeper detection with pressure plates and redstone (whatever that is; I’ve gleaned from conversation that it’s a form of crude electrical wiring) and wants me to see every square inch of her defensive perimeter.

It’s pretty amazing. And I told her so, and off she went, beaming with pride.

Did you see it happen there? It was pretty subtle. What happened is this: I unbalanced the praise equation, tilting it away from gifted-is-wiring, and toward gifted-is-output. In so doing, I created an obligation for myself to get her in a random, decidedly nonproductive moment, and tell her she’s an awesome kid, to counterbalance this moment.  That’s the way of emotional intensity. They’ve already soared to a personal emotional ‘high’ based on what they’ve created. Seeking out my approval, or Kathy’s, just takes them that much higher. Trouble is, I don’t want them to think that they have to do something to merit praise and attention – because there will be days they don’t feel like ‘producing,’ and I need each of them to know that those days are good days, too. They’re good kids on those days.

There’s nothing wrong with praising output; in this house, there’s lots of output, and I really am impressed with all of it. Output is great. But so is non-output. They’re amazing kids when they’re wiring their Minecraft islands and when they’re asleep and when they’re brushing their teeth and when they’re writing and when they’re not writing and when they are laughing and when asynchrony makes them act nine and nineteen and twenty-nine. Teaching them that gifted is wiring, not output, requires an endless rebalancing of this equation. It’s made that much harder, I’ve noticed, when they’re in their en fuego output phases, when my desk piles up with H’s cartoon cards and the floor of A’s room is awash in Legos, part of his never-ending quest to build a convincing Pelican (from Halo) and E is working out the finer points of a Minecraft dirigible.

I have to work harder to catch them in their sleepy moments, their regular-kid moments, running around the yard and shooting Nerf guns at each other and singing about the Batmobile losing a wheel. Some weeks, I don’t ever find those moments; they run at full-blast from the time they get up until the last joule of energy dissipates and dreams overtake them, and I’m left to whisper their awesomeness into sleeping ears before pulling a blanket up and kissing them goodnight. But I know at those moments that there is work to be done. Leave the equation unbalanced too long, and that toxic message would begin to seep into them, the errant concept that I love them for what they do instead of who they are.

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Dave Mayer posts regularly with his wife, Kathy, on Chasing Hollyfeld.

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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.

Point of Departure


Sometimes, familiar actions – the ones we’ve repeated over and over for what seems like forever – carry extra weight. In this case, it’s the school dropoff, an act we’ve been performing daily since the girls were three. At some schools, the dropoff involves a circle (“Parents, please remember to enter COUNTERCLOCKWISE!”). At others, it involves a parking lot. On occasion, it’s even involved a hug and a kiss at a bus stop. But each time, regardless of the setting, there’s a conscious awareness of ceding, entrusting, handing over. Here, we’re saying. Teach.

Next time around, that responsibility will fall to us in its entirety. As it stands now, we’re in the final months of dropping off. If everything holds to form, the fall of 2013 will see all three of our kids home, doing our ‘mindful education’ brand of unschooling on a full-time basis. The very concept of a dropoff will cease to exist, as so many day-to-day activities will. We’ll never be freezing lunch-box inserts again, or queuing up with all the other parents to check off school-supplies lists in the heat of August. So we’re on a sort of farewell tour of bitter – are they going to want to go to Skate City with their friends ever again? – and the sweet (I really won’t mind not seeing fundraising catalogs stuffed with unwanted, overpriced crap every fall).

The Goodbye Tour also carries with it a greater sense of responsibility to be aware during these last few months. In pursuing a hybrid-homeschooling strategy with H and E, we have, in a sense, had the best of both worlds for some time. We’ve been able to see into the workings of a fifth-grade GT classroom, borrowing and adapting ideas that could be expanded into a homeschool setting. Dropping off means picking up, both literally and metaphorically; they’ve been able to pick up concepts and ideas from both the homeschool setting and the traditional-school setting, and by and large, I think we’ve benefited from extra visibility into the traditional education process. But I have no doubt that it’s been a double-edged sword: in seeing what they’re ‘supposed to be doing,’ I wonder if we’ve limited them at times, too. We’ll find out next fall.

We’re conscious of the need to be aware of their emotional states during these final months, too. It’s the last time we may have a look at them in a ‘regular’ setting for some time. It falls to us to remember who they were during their time at school. Did structure motivate or repress them? Did the daily noise and drama of an elementary school classroom invigorate or exhaust them? We know these things only by contrast – so we’ll find out next fall, assuming we can hold this image of our schoolday kids in our minds through a summer of pool noodles and cookouts. Sometimes I’m tempted to keep a video camera running full-time, so that we can compare our full-time homeschooled kids to their hybrid predecessors – like scientists releasing zoo-born animals into the wild, I have an urge to tag and track them through these next few years.

Finally, we’re aware that this is a new beginning for us as a family. Kathy and I joke from time to time that if we are truly going to unschool everyone, we could probably do it on a catamaran at sea. It’s said in fun, but it’s also a mindset that we know merits consideration. We’re leaving – probably for good. What mindsets and beliefs, what tenets and touchstones should we pack into our ship for its departure? What will be leave behind that we will miss? And what might we pack along that we would later regret bringing from our ‘life on land?’

For the moment, though, it’s enough to let each event on the Goodbye Tour have its moment in the sun. Some, as I mentioned, we may miss down the road. Others I’m confident we won’t. But every one has moved us, some subtly, some more aggressively, toward the point of departure that awaits us in August.

And we can’t wait to go.

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Dave Mayer posts regularly with his wife, Kathy, on Chasing Hollyfeld.

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.

On Being Thankful: A guest post from Mona Chicks


Happy Monday everyone! I hope my friends in the US survived the long holiday weekend filled with food, family, shopping and fun., Today I am pleased to host a guest post by Rev. Mona Chicks. Mona is an ordained American Baptist pastor (retired), who supervises the home-based learning of her profoundly gifted and twice-exceptional son. She enjoys reading, writing, movies, sports (playing and watching), and is a big fan of the Seattle Sounders FC (soccer) and Linfield College Wildcats (football). Mona writes about raising a PG/2e child on her blog, Life With Intensity. Mona and her family live in the state of Washington. 

Today, Mona is talking about the art of gratitude. Take it away, Mona: 

There seems to be this common thread that is sewing together the scraps of reading that I’ve been doing lately. It is a thread that frequently gets lost in the fabric of life. My fabric is highly colored and patterned, with darks and lights playing against each other in a yin and yang that dances through the pinks, greens, reds, and blues. Some parts of my fabric are highly textured, and some are smooth. But this thread weaves its way throughout, quietly bringing the themes of my fabric together to a unified wholeness.

The thread is thankfulness.

It’s easy to be thankful when you are experiencing the bright pinks and reds and yellows of life. When your fabric is smooth and silky, it is easy to recognize the blessings that have created a beautiful pattern in its weave.

But when the world is dark blues, purples, or even black – it is often hard to distinguish the pattern, to see how the colors gently weave in and out of one another to paint a picture. When the fabric seems rough to the touch, or scratchy, finding that thread becomes vital. How frequently we lose that thread in our fabric because we close down our ability to see it. It’s so easy to stare at the blackness with eyes that are unfocused. We don’t see the pattern, the subtle changes in shade or depth, or feel how the scratchy surface covers an ultra-soft down underneath. We blindly sit with our fabric tossed to the side, hoping that by ignoring the pain, it will go away.

When I can begin to look closely at those dark areas of my fabric is when I can begin to see the beauty in the pattern, and I can find that thread of thankfulness. I might enjoy the brightly-patterned portions of my fabric more, but the subtlety and depth that comes alive in the darkness engages me in a new pattern altogether.

I look for that thread and sense that, if I were to pull it out, the whole fabric would lose its integrity. And so I begin a process of studying my patterns. I look for opportunities to be thankful, even when my heart is sad. And in my receiving and responding, I find that I can see the pattern in my fabric as it becomes richer and grows in beauty.

Thank you Mona – I loved that. Mona offers more of her beautiful wisdom in my upcoming book, The Girl Guide.

That Word…I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means


“He’s kind of a perfectionist,” A’s first-grade teacher told us around this time last year. We were a month into the school year, just about time for the first substantive teacher feedback to start trickling in, and sure enough, the tears were getting a label: the dreaded, misunderstood, p-word.  “If he doesn’t get it right the first time, there’s a lot of crying and frustration,” she added.

I’m sure I did the same eyebrow knitting I do when words like decimate get misused, and A’s teacher might have mistaken that for perfectionism concern. In reality, I’m more concerned about balancing the very necessary rewards for first efforts – because all first efforts are good – with the awareness that our first efforts aren’t always correct or complete. And I’m concerned that the term perfectionism is starting to linguistically ‘leak,‘ just as ‘decimate’ has – it’s taking on water as this alternate, first-efforts-are-final-efforts concept begins to hijack it.

It’s important, though, that my kids understand what perfectionism is, and what it’s not, and being one month into the school year now – and seeing the p-word resurface again in some conversations – I’m working to plug some of those linguistic ‘leaks.’ Perfectionism is not expecting your first efforts to be perfect. Perfectionism is working away at something, sometimes far past the point of relevance or real return (at least from a third-party perspective) in an effort to make it perfect. Perfectionists don’t expect their first drafts or their initial pen-and-ink study or their first run at a new recipe or their first try at a martial arts kata to be perfect; in fact, most can scarcely stand their first-effort results, and immediately want to try again. And again. And again. Perfectionists are dragged away from their nth efforts kicking and screaming.

There are two associated problems for gifted kids.  Either they often become perfectionists – real perfectionists, of the kicking-and-screaming variety – before they’re emotionally ready to handle it, or their capabilities outrun their age-specific need for first-effort finality and they become jaded by gobs of that’s-great-honey. What’s to be done about either? The issue of handling perfectionism at an early age has been handled elegantly elsewhere, so I’ll focus on the second issue in this post.

Balancing first-effort praise and second-(third-fourth-nth-)effort encouragement is a challenge for gifted kids, whose abilities often vastly outstrip their emotional intelligence in dealing with the concept of staged improvement in a skill. As I said above, all first efforts are good, because they represent interest put into action with a purpose in mind. And, for years with little kiddos, what we encourage is not the end product, but the process that led to it. I have a vast bin of artwork in the unfinished area of our basement, and whenever the occasion has arisen to look through it – usually while cleaning up/cleaning out – I’ll be damned if I can tell what even half of them are. One’s an obvious piggyback ride; another is some animal drinking water in a field. This one’s clearly our house. But most are just stick figures in some sort of landscape, doing something. And they always make me smile. I know, for certain, what I said to each one as I received it: some variant of ‘that’s beautiful!’ Most have hung on our Artists in Residence clip hanger in our kitchen at one point or another, regardless of whatever objective, jury-reviewed artistic merit they displayed; they were done in the all-first-efforts-are-good era of my kids’ lives.

But there’s a point, isn’t there, where we begin to transition from first-efforts-as-final-efforts to first-efforts-as-exploration. I don’t bring a new, never-tested dish to the table and proudly announce that the family should stand back, lest they be overwhelmed by its culinary awesomeness; in general, I usually find it a teaspoon’s-worth too salty, or just a bit too dry, or potentially improved by a smidge more fresh basil. I approach my first drafts of books and professional work with a gimlet eye, looking for areas that can be improved, and thus it is with everything: from golf swings to guitar fretting, just about everything in our lives can be made 5% better or so, and most of us are looking to improve on things here and there. Not everything; but most of us do find that our passion areas merit more ongoing scrutiny of action than our day-to-day activities do.

Now, take those two points – ‘that’s beautiful!’ at one end and the endless self-critique we all undertake as adults at the other – as endpoints on a continuum and consider, for a moment, when we began to transition from one to the other. Then consider that there is a real possibility, for your gifted children, that their intellectual capacity is ahead of their emotional maturity. In other words, their work may be ready for second-effort encouragement before they’re emotionally able to process the fact that not all first efforts are final efforts. Which end of the continuum do you default to? Leaving first-as-final in place too long stunts growth in academics, athletics, and the arts; starting first-as-beginning too early can easily crush too-tender sensibilities and cut off avenues of potential exploration.

Case in point: when E was in third grade, she was regularly writing work that would be graded well at the eighth-grade or even ninth-grade level. But giving E a ‘4’ – the highest grade possible – did nothing for her; if anything, it may have hindered her progress as a writer. Telling her she achieved perfection within the context of a third-grade classroom isn’t motivating her to use any more of her skill set than she already has; what would she have gotten as a grade if she had? A nonexistent ‘5’? What E needed was a ‘3’ at the ninth-grade level – a clear message of where her work arrived at the point of needing additional effort to be considered ‘good.’ She’s getting those grades now as a part-time high-school freshman at Northwestern CTD, and finding out just what it feels like – in a good way – to want to exert additional effort in the pursuit of mastering more complex skills. That doesn’t mean that those learning moments aren’t painful to watch sometimes; she’s not used to effort at this level, and sometimes, even her best efforts don’t merit a top grade anymore. She knows it, and she can increasingly shrug off tough algebra tests and challenging writing assignments, because she knows she put her best efforts into them.

Yet regardless of what they’re doing, or what stage of a project they’re in, I’ve found that all of their efforts merit praise, as all effort should, and this has led to my new philosophy: encourage all effort. First effort. Second effort. Third effort. Nth effort. Encourage more. Encourage rich and deep and exploratory. This lasagna was great! I wonder what it would taste like if we made it as a dessert with mascarpone instead of ricotta. Or in a cone. Or on the grill. Your story was really interesting; I found myself wondering what happened next and would love to read more and learn more about this character or that. If there’s passion behind the first effort, encouragement will bring out more. If there wasn’t…well, we don’t care that everything in our lives to be perfect; at least, I don’t.  I realize that the amount of effort necessary to make perfect coffee every morning, for example, or do a perfectly energy-efficient lunchtime walk, would far exceed the reward. Perhaps what I want to teach them is to save perfectionism for their passions – and to make sure they find a place in their lives for their passions to occupy. Because, in the end, there can be joy in perfectionism – for all the negative freight the word has taken on – and while I don’t push perfectionism in our home, who am I to deny them the undeniably giddy, satisfied sensation of perfecting something, if that is their goal?

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Dave and Kathy Mayer blog at Chasing Hollyfeld.

Surviving Middle School…So Far…


In preparation for this post, I asked my newly minted 6th grade daughter if she had any tips for surviving Middle School. She said, “Watch Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide.” I gave her the facial equivalent of “dash, underline, dash,” or: -_- and then said, “I can’t just tell people to go watch a kids’ show on Nickelodeon.” She said, “No, really! It gives good advice! Okay, sometimes it’s really weird and random, but it also gives good advice!” I asked her to give me some examples. She sent me the video of the Top Ten Tips that I included the link to at the end of this post and wrote, “ i like all of these except for the getting pants-ed part… some of them are more tips than survival but I hope you can use them…”

Here are some highlights from the list:

10) Surviving Mondays: Take out Summer break and school holidays and there’s only 35 Mondays to survive!  Wear your favorite outfit on Mondays. Make Monday your Favorite Lunch Day!

8) Surviving Embarrassment: Keep extra clothes in your backpack, just in case. At my daughter’s school, they don’t have student lockers except for gym, so she’d have to keep a spare outfit in her backpack. She has done this on occasion, especially when wearing new shoes that haven’t been worn in yet. She ended up changing back to her old comfy shoes before the day was out.

5) Surviving Failing: Don’t let one “F” ruin your life. While failing is a sign you’re doing something wrong, it also tells you it’s time to try something different! Talk to you guidance counselor. It’s their job to help stop you from failing. Failing is a part of life, but it’s a part you can fix.

1) Best Friends: They always look out for each other, always stand together and have each other’s backs…But it’s normal for friendships to have ups and downs. Talk it out when you hit some bumps.

So far, my daughter seems to be surviving her first year of middle school fairly well. She has been keeping her grades up, and turning in her homework on time. She did forget to bring in a photo of herself one day for a class assignment, but then so did most of the rest of the class. She also forgot to have a booklet filled out with seven to ten addresses of family and friends for a fundraiser so she could earn prizes. Seven minutes before it was time to leave, she rushed in saying I needed to hurry and fill it out. At first I was going to, until I realized the time and explained there was no way we’d get it done before she had to leave. She knew she should have done it earlier when she had the chance, but she forgot. So, no prizes for that part of the fundraiser for her. She survived.

Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide Top Ten Tips