Teacher Professor

January 24, 2012

Fighting Fog

Filed under: Bipolar,Gifted,Home Things,Medication issues,Tourette's Syndrome — Teacher Professor @ 12:14 am

This evening, holding my son- who has been quiet and subdued all evening.  

Me: What’s wrong, Ray?

silence.

Me: Anything you want to talk about?

silence- the silence gets to me.  It’s not a loaded silence.  Just a still.  

Ray: What do you want to talk about?

Me: Any words in your head?

Ray: No

Me: Any feelings in your head?

Ray: No

silence

Me: If you were a color, what color would you be?

Ray: Gray

Me: If you were a shape, what shape would you be?

Ray: A sphere

Me: If you were weather, what kind of weather would you be?

Ray: A cloud

Me: A stormy cloud, a gray cloud, or a big puffy cloud?

Ray: A rain cloud.

Silence. 

Me: What does the rain cloud want to do?  Feel better?  Get some sleep?  Feel happy?

Ray: You know.

***************

The problem is that I don’t know.  I’m never quite sure what son I’m going to have on a day-to-day basis: Do we get the angry, resistant, black mood Ray; the quiet, not-really-there Ray; the run-around and talk a mile-a-minute Ray; the anxious and wring his hands Ray, the focused scholar and look-how-smart-I-am Ray?  While all kids go through “moods”, his are intense.  Even when he’s gray.

Jess, from Diary of a Mom, talks about fighting “dragons with rubber swords”.  I feel like I’m fighting fog with pointed sticks.  We have the “stick” of medication, which nibbles around the edges of issues– creating other issues in the wake.   We have the pointed stick of therapy, in which he refuses to engage- or worse, pretends to be completely normal (a play therapist told us that it was our problem, not his when he was 4).  We have safety and structure in our house, which leads to agoraphobia.  We sortof have labels: Anxiety Disorder, mild Tourette’s, mild giftedness, not quite autism, not quite bipolar, not schizophrenia. In dark times, James and I have to remind each other- he has special needs.  And just because there’s no good label doesn’t mean that the needs aren’t there.

I’m grateful for many things: I’m grateful that he has never tried to hurt himself or anyone or anything.  I’m grateful that he has never talked about not wanting to be here.  I’m grateful that he’s smart and funny and that he can do academics well enough that everyone around him is frustrated that he’s underachieving- but not failing.  I’m grateful that he has a few good friends.  I’m grateful that I have enough background to have consistency, behavior charts, and metaphors to help him.

But I’m terrified.   I feel like I’m keeping him from falling off the edge through pure will- and he’s only 9.  I’m terrified of adolescence.  I’m terrified of his genetics.  I’m terrified of losing my child to alcoholism, to suicide, to a place where he won’t let us help him. I’m terrified to speak possibilities aloud for fear of them coming true.

And I don’t know what to do about the monsters in the fog that never quite reveal themselves enough to fight.  If you can’t see something well enough to fight, it can’t be vanquished.  It just shifts and morphs.

Into the gray.

Ray, I have no idea what to do.  But I’ll do anything to help you.

June 30, 2011

Expanding and Tethering

Filed under: Autism,Gifted,Home Things,Twice-exceptional — Teacher Professor @ 8:48 pm

Last night, for the first time ever, I put my little girl, my baby, my first-born, on a plane that took her across the ocean- far, far away from me. And for the first time, I understood what my mother felt when she hugged me goodbye as I took my first steps away from her. My daughter may be across the ocean, but I am tethered to her in a way I never quite understood before.

Back in January, I was looking for ways to celebrate James’ 50th birthday. “0″ birthdays are big deals in our family.  I was playing with the idea of using fabulous deals available on travelzoo.com, a site that is designed to torture me.  And then… the car died.  Big bills came due.  Money became tighter.  So- no family trip to Ireland or San Diego, or really even Disney, a relatively close 3 hours away.  At the same time, Vicki decided to go and visit her uncle who is a scientist at Cambridge… in England.. for a month.  And she invited all of us to go… All of us.  For a month.

Heck, YES!  An opportunity to stay in England for FREE?!  I was all over that- until I looked at airline prices.  For all of us.  Which, given our financial limitations, meant that there was enough money for… one.

I briefly considered going.  Running away from it all, leaving the children, leaving James to take care of them.  For a month.  Leaving autism and Tourette’s and tantrums and book due dates and deadlines and…. all of behind… for a month.  Far away- across the sea…. ahhhh.

And the responsible mommy, the one who adores her children, the one who knows that such a break would break too much had to decline. But I could give Elizabeth the opportunity.

For Elizabeth, you see, is a traveler.  She has been on planes since was 3 months old.  She adores the planning, the organization, the feeling of airplanes.  New places do not scare her.  I have distinct memories of her interpreting the symbols in Switzerland and navigating us through the maze of an international airport.  At the age of 3.  She can filter out noise and extraneous “stuff” and find the important details.  Similar to her abilities with hidden pictures and puzzles, she is able to visually locate and identify what she wants to find.  In so many ways, autism works for her now and highlights her abilities.

For months, she and Vicki have been planning this.  She was excited that she would miss the 4th of July- fireworks are not her thing.  They will go punting on the Thames.  They will take tea. They’ll go see Phantom of the Opera- live- in London.  They’re going to see “Much Ado About Nothing”- at the Globe Theater.  And then, Vicki found an opportunity to go to Paris.  As in, not Texas.  As in France.  Paris- the romance of it is just amazing.  I found Grace Potter’s song “Ooo la la” to become her anthem.    And they’re going over Bastille Day- which means that Elizabeth won’t miss the fireworks- they’ll just be in a French accent.  She’s been practicing French- badly, but learning that there are different ways to say “Hello”.  I am now “Maman”.

I have marveled watching her expand her horizons.  So many people have asked me “How could you let her go?” and my response has always been, “How could I not let her go?”  I trust Vicki a whole lot more than I would trust some sleep-away camp counselor.  Vicki understands her need to sleep, her need to reduce stimulation when she’s overwhelmed, her need to plan and have structure. And it’s LONDON!  And PARIS!!   It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  And I’ve been battling wild envy at the same time that I’m feeling so grateful that my daughter has come this far that she can do this- and that the opportunity came at a time when she is ready to learn about a bigger world.  I can’t allow my own fears to get in the way of her growing up.

I helped her pack, full of pride, full of joy, tinged with “Can I go, too?” and a small dribble of sadness at missing her.  So many people expressed that they would be afraid; that they would be lonely; that they couldn’t let their daughter go.

Somehow, I am strangely not anxious.  I realized why when I was hugging her goodbye, and I realized that I was acting like my mother- and I finally understand the mix of emotions.

**********

When I was 10 years old, I spent two weeks with my father, my step-mother, and my half-brother. I went off for the longest I had ever been away from home.  I was nervous, but it ended up being a lovely summer of learning how to play tennis, learning that you can drink tea with cream, the movies “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” and “Superman”, and staring in the mirror with my brother as we marveled over how similar our faces were.  I got letters from my mother almost every day- letters that were full of the small details of our home.  Stories about the cat, stories about the weather.  Stories that let me know that she loved me, she was thinking of me, and that I always had a place at home.  Even as I was exploring new places, I always had a place of my own.  That level of security grounded me.  It never occurred to me that my mother was very consciously letting me explore at my own pace.

****

As I followed Elizabeth and Vicki at the airport last night- close, but not hovering; there if she needed me, but far enough away to let her try it on her own, I realized I must be feeling what my mother felt.  It’s the same feeling I had when I let her climb the slide at 10 months old- surrounding her with my arms, but not touching.  Letting her know that I was there if she fell, but that she could stretch and explore at the same time.  I was alert; I was proud, but I was never really scared because I knew that she would be all right.  We are tethered together in such a way that mere distance- whether it’s inches from the almost-a-toddler as she crawls up a slide ladder, or across an ocean from the almost-a-teenager- cannot disconnect me from my baby, or my baby from her place.

All day today, I have been aware of her- not her absence, but her presence… elsewhere.  “Oh, now she’s landing.”  “They must be getting on the train now.” I can sense her tiredness, her clinginess to Vicki and her interest in everything she’s seeing.  I can sense her need to hold on to Bunny, her stuffed pink bunny, and Bear, her stuffed pink bear (names have never been her strength).  I have been sending her “Mama’s here.  Mama’s always here” feelings all day.  She’s tired; she’s inundated with the newness- but she’s not overwhelmed.  She’s with Vicki, and she’s with Bear- and I’m there for her when she needs to reach out to me.  We’re tethered, but not tied.

Instead of letters like my mother wrote, I send her emails.  Instead of phone calls, we Facetime.  Technology may change, but not the mother instinct – that remains constant.

So- to my mother- I get it now.  I get it that our job as a parent is to let them explore their world, while letting them know that we are always there for them.  To quote the old phrase, for giving me- and now her- “wings with which to fly and roots from which to grow”.  Thank you for giving me that- and giving me a role model to let my daughter explore the slide then- and Paris now.

But I have to admit, I do miss her. And I really, really wish I could experience Paris with her.  

*************

If you want to read about her adventures, she’s blogging them at http://allieinternational.wordpress.com.  I may be a proud, scared, slightly envious mommy, but I’m still a teacher!

February 23, 2011

Running Your Own Race

Filed under: Exceptionality issues,Gifted,Schools — Teacher Professor @ 5:29 pm

This past weekend we did the Bridge Run.  Or as it is more formally known, the Southeast Georgia Health System Bridge Run.  It was a 5K- up and over the bridge for 1.5 miles and back again- a 6% grade, or so I am told.  The steepest “hill” around- the highest point in the region, and the highest bridge in Georgia.  A little Run that had about 800 people two years ago, and swelled to 2500 people this year.  This year, we had Kenyans in the crowd who came here just to run it.  It’s turned serious.

Hoewver, more than that, it was the bridge that we spent New Year’s on top of- the bridge where at the midpoint of the midnight, we were hovering in that space and time between.  There was no way I wasn’t going to do the Run this year.

Truthfully, I should say James and I walked the Bridge Run, because as Jess from Diary of a Mom says, I only run if blood is involved.  James used to run, but let’s just say it’s been a while for him and leave it at that.  He and I walked.  Together.  Not hand-in-hand as an elderly couple were, but we kept pace with each other- him with his six-foot-tall-on-a-good-day pace,  and me trotting beside him.   We talked; we hugged at the top; we held each other’s necks when the other was gasping for air.

Elizabeth was coming off of an injury to her heel, and she alternated between running and walking.  And Ray… Ray was our little marathoner.  He ran more than the race, because he kept doubling back to run with Elizabeth until he outpaced her, when he would double back again.  We joked that he ran the race twice.

I was so struck while I was trudging up and down the Bridge at how many different ways people were going about this.  There was one woman who clearly had some form of physical disability that impacted her gait.  She wasn’t in the best of shape.  We walked around her easily when we were behind her.  However, we stopped fairly often on the road back- to catch our breath, to ask someone to take our picture on the summit, to tie a shoe… and in all cases, we found ourselves again behind the woman who kept putting one foot in front of the other.

There were the serious runners- the ones who were here for the race aspect and who were competing.  There were the serious runners who just love to run.  There were the firemen- and one firewoman!- who were running as part of their training.  There were the old couples who were out for a nice walk.  There were the people who were there to go over the bridge.  There were the political-statement makers who walked carrying banners.

The beauty of the Bridge Run was that everyone was allowed to run their own race.  There was an order of things so that people didn’t get in each other’s ways- the serious runners went first, the team runners went second, the team walkers went next and the out-for-a-good-time walkers went last.  Everyone got to play.  Everyone got to feel the joy of being up on top of the world.  Everyone got to enjoy the music and the free doughnuts afterwards.  Some finished earlier; some took a while.  Everyone did the same distance.

Some got medals.  Some got a personal best.  Everyone got an experience they won’t soon forget.  Everyone got to run their own race.

**************

If only schools allowed children to run their own race.  If we are to hold children to the same standard, then we have to make adjustments to other parts of the educational experience- the time we teach them or the pace at which they go.  I’m certainly not the only one who feels this way.  The National Center on Time and Learning has noted how we are expecting so much more of schools these days- challenging standards, anyone?- yet, the actual time given to learning is so much smaller than the time given to schooling in other countries.

This issue of time affects gifted children and children with disabilities equally.  When gifted children are constrained because they are not provided challenge at a pace that they need, their energy level and love of learning drops.  When children with learning disorders face demands that are unreasonable, they also become frustrated and their love of learning drops.  When we assign children to a lock-step program of time and content being held constant, then there is a need for special education and gifted education to deal with those children who aren’t running the race that everyone is running .

One of the things that has always appealed to me about the Montessori philosophy is their mantra of “follow the child“.  While children of similar age ranges are grouped together, and while they are in school for the same amount of time- when a child is ready for the next “step” of a curriculum, they are provided that step, whether others of their age are working on that level or not.  The children go through the curriculum at their own pace, socializing with their age peers, learning from their friends, teaching those who are starting in their content they just mastered- but facing their own personal challenges. There is no need for gifted education or special education in a Montessori classroom….

**********

And so we were not pursuing a medal.  We each had our own goals.  And Elizabeth and Ray and James and I stood on top of that soaring expanse and felt our spirits soar- not because we were in a race with anyone else, but because we had run our own race.

Heading up!

Music at the Top

We're on the Top of the World

3.1 miles later! Goal met!

February 21, 2011

Perils of Being a Professor’s Child

Filed under: College information,Gifted — Teacher Professor @ 3:44 pm

Being a professor’s child means that anytime I have to show my teachers-in-training an example, I volunteer my own children.  They have been assessed for my assessment class; they have done “developmentally appropriate tasks” in Piaget Day, they have had their pictures and their work displayed as examples of exceptionality/ gifted/ typical development- depending on what I was teaching.  They are the subjects of my book.  In short, they are guinea pigs. 

Note: I have not -yet- gone to the extremes that Skinner or Piaget did, which is devise entire educational philosophies off of their own children. 

Today is Presidents’ Day, which means that they are off from school, and I am not.  Which means that James is not off, either, since we both work at the College.  Which means that we play the “Sooo- what do we do with the children?” game.  We have no family here; and my babysitters are, well, in class with the Middle Grades group (I don’t use my own Elementary program students for babysitters- so, the middle grades professor and I trade off ).  So, this morning , I took them with me to my class and this afternoon, James took them home where he worked on the computer there.

 I sold the children on the experience that they had an opportunity to help my students become teachers by being real live children, and that my students would be nervous.  I tried to sell this as an opportunity, and not just a “I don’t know what else to do with you because I can’t stay home because I’m a teacher.”  Elizabeth bought it as an opportunity to help and an opportunity to stand in front of an audience, while Ray went for bribery- $5 each for playing along and working with the students.  Fame and money are motivators for my children. 

I sold my students on the experience that they would get an opportunity to “practice” asking Higher Order Thinking  Skills (HOTS) on real live children!  I tried to sell this as an opportunity and not just a “I didn’t know what else to do with the children and I couldn’t stay home with them because I’m the teacher“.  They bought it as an opportunity to practice- and an opportunity to humor their professor.  No bribery involved for my students.

I reminded my students of three models of asking questions they had seen before (Fat/Skinny, Bloom’s Taxonomy, and Paul’s Wheel of Reasoning) that require children to think- and then gave them 5 minutes to draft 2-3 questions.  Then, my children stood in front of 28 adults and prepared to answer questions that might cover any content area, any grade level.  I knew that they were nervous- but I was so proud that they were willing to do it. 

Student A- What do you know about the 1970’s?

  • Elizabeth: They had one-room school houses? Taking the lead, because she’s older- and bossier.
  • Ray: If you were born then, you’re really old.

Lots of laughter- and several groans.  Hmmm- must tell them more about the 1970’s.

Student B: How are addition and multiplication similar?

  • Elizabeth: Multiplication is repeated addition
  • Ray: You just keep adding the same number that many times.
  • Elizabeth: Like 3×5 is 3 plus 3 plus 3 plus 3 plus 3 and you get 15.
  • Ray (looking directly at his sister): What about 35×21?  Do that one!

Lots of laughter- and several groans.  And looks of respect.  And amused looks at how even under pressure, Ray is able to summon up sibling rivalry opportunities.

Student C: Why is studying history important?

  • Elizabeth: So that we can understand our past.
  • Ray: So that we can understand our future.
  • Me: Ray, can you explain what you mean?  Students- you need to ask “fat” questions to really get at a student’s thinking sometimes.
  • Ray: Because if you can see what you’ve been doing, you can predict what you’ll be doing again and again. 

Lots of looks of respect- especially from me.  Sometimes, my children truly blow me away. 

Then- because really, how do you follow that up?- we all clapped, and the children stepped off the stage and went back to my office to play A-mazing Hamsters on Webkinz.  They were guinea pigs; they were Real, Live Children– and they earned $5.  I think everyone gained something from this morning, including me as a mommy.

February 8, 2011

A Cascade of Accolades

Filed under: Gifted — Teacher Professor @ 6:50 am

We are definitely in the Awards Season.

No, not the Oscars or the Grammys.

The School Awards.

In the last month, Elizabeth, because of her strong math skills, has been nominated as the only fourth grade girl from her school to attend GA Tech’s Creative STEM program held in her county where they held a Robotics competition.  Her team- 1 boy and girl each from 4th and 5th grades- won 2nd place in the district and Most Creative overall.  I was thrilled that she was a girl in this oh-so-male-dominated activity, and represented oh so well!

Then, she is one of 5 from the state of Georgia to have a winning theme go to the National PTA Reflections contest.  Her theme “I’m Proud to Be…” was one of five picked throughout the state to represent Georgia.  If it wins National, children around the country will be reflecting on her theme in 2012-2013.

Not to be outdone, Ray’s photography entry into this year’s PTA Reflections contest focused on the theme “Together We Can…” won Glynn County’s contest for all 3-5th graders and is headed for the state competition.  He entered a picture of our family visiting Yiayia that said something like “… remember the past and touch the future.”  The great irony is that he had changed his mind and wanted the one of him playing soccer with something about “… find common goals”- but we ran out of photo paper!  As the PTA President told us, “The Reflections contest has been a very good thing for your children!”

Finally, Ray’s chess team won the regional championship and is headed for state.  This is particularly sweet since it’s a group effort.  He’s not the star, but he added to the total to get them there.

I tend to focus on the children’s areas of challenge because of my worries, because of our struggles, because of our tears. I know they’re smart and I know they’re wonderful, but I worry about what will impede them from becoming the best that they can be. I don’t want to brag- but I do think it’s as important to acknowledge the good times as well as the challenging moments.

Every now and then, it’s so nice to be reminded that- sometimes- they are who they are and that tears can be for joy as well.

January 13, 2011

Tiger/Panda Mothering

Filed under: Exceptionality issues,Gifted — Teacher Professor @ 1:40 pm

Let the new Mommy Wars begin.  There’s a new Mother out there who is also a Professor- and she’s got me thinking…

A quick background: Amy Chua, a Yale law professor, writes about her version of “Chinese mothering” with an overwhelming focus on excellence and performance- that produces results.  Her book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother“, has raised all kinds of conflicting issues with me.  Issues that tug and pull at my own beliefs, my own hopes, my own dreams for my children- and tug and pull at what I want to teach teachers.

In a recent essay from her book that was published in the Wall Street Journal, she states, quite clearly, with no apologies for Western cultural sensitivities:

Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:

  • attend a sleepover
  • have a playdate
  • be in a school play
  • complain about not being in a school play
  • watch TV or play computer games
  • choose their own extracurricular activities
  • get any grade less than an A
  • not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
  • play any instrument other than the piano or violin
  • not play the piano or violin

This list continues and is expounded upon- even to extremes that she acknowledges might seem almost (her phrase) “legally actionable”, but are justified by the results- as she claims in her title “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior“.  A wee bit arrogant, that title.

Culturally, I was horrified to read this.  As a mother of children with differences, I was angered.  As someone with degrees in special education, I was appalled.  As someone with bright, talented children and someone with degrees in gifted education, I… can see some of her points.  It makes for a very schizophrenic conversation filled with lots of “yes, but’s” in my own head.  I wish that the response could be clear-cut, but it just can’t be- for me, for our educational system, and even for our culture.

Part of me is horrified.  All children can’t be #1- it’s statistically impossible, much less reasonable.  Even children who are #347, or who are #2, 435 in a school of 2,435 have value.  EVERYONE has value as a human being- and to demand accolades and awards to prove their value is demeaning to everyone. 

In addition, her dictates fly in the face of what I call “a happy child/a balanced child/a mentally healthy child”.  Limiting social interaction?  Providing no choices?  How on earth can you expect an adult who is socialy adept and a critical thinker if they have not been taught how to interact with others or to make choices for themselves?  How can you find a child’s talents and interests and develop those if you dictate to a child what they are to do with every minute of their day?  How can they become their own person? 

And how on earth can they handle failure- because with life comes failure- if they take it terribly, terribly personally?  In fact, she herself says that “‘The solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child“.  I can see why suicide is the highest in this country among Asian-American women aged 15-24.  Who among us hasn’t disappointed our parents in some respect- and felt bad about it?  I could not live with the knowledge that I had shamed my children, literally, to death.  

And by those values, I reflect my Western definition of “happiness” and my Western “Panda” mothering style that values my children’s desires.  My Western cultural values are clear that children have a voice in their own upbringing and education.  Clearly, Chinese cultural values are supremely self-confident in their parenting decisions- and arrogance (loaded cultural word choice) appears to be a means of achieving what you want.  You say “focused and confident”, I say “arrogant”.

But… buried in all of the diatribe and cultural differences, she does make some very solid points.  The reality is that Singapore and China are far ahead of us in math and science scores– and in some measures, even written English.  The cultural emphasis on hard work in academic subjects has direct economic consequences for our country- we are floundering in a system where the middle class is shrinking, the rate of poverty is increasing, and the few who are rich are getting richer.  Companies- global enterprises-are often getting richer by shipping jobs to… China.  Their economy has grown.  Ours has grown… but on whose backs?  I don’t know about your community, but we remained mired in 10% unemployment, tremendous state deficits and budget cuts.  People with money may be spending it, but China is reaping those benefits. 

A friend of mine is in the Ministry of Education in Singapore, and she says that they take very seriously the concept that minds are their best- and only- national resource.  Singapore is a city-country that sits on an island.  They must pour as much effort as they can into their schooling, because the creation of mind-power is their only option. 

And they do this through lots and lots of hard work.  Their students go to school six days a week.  Teachers are revered, and are given 1/2 days of teaching duties, and 1/2 days to plan and to educate themselves further in the subject matter they are teaching.  Parents are respected and there is no concept of the “well-rounded” child.  Their idea of “happiness” comes from achievement- from getting to the next level.  Happiness =  growth- and if you beat someone else, well, that makes it sweeter.  But my friend says that the greatest competitor is themselves- and they are happiest when they have beaten their own records. 

All of this is particularly relevant to me today.  Today, my daughter came home with a score of 100 on her math benchmark.  This means that she has learned everything there is to learn in 4th grade.

There are two facts that are problematic about this:

  1. First, the fact that I am nervous about telling anyone because I don’t want to be seen as a “show off”.  I don’t want to be faced with the label of “pushy mom” or “bragging”.  I can expect people to say “You think THAT’S a problem?!  You should see MY problems!”  But the reality is that this is a problem. 
  2. Because the second fact is that the school district- and now my daughter- are very happy to let her coast until September, where she can begin again.  Sure, they might throw her an “advanced” problem every now and then, but she met the benchmark- their job is done.  From now until September, 9 months from now, she will not receive what comes next in her learning.  I will be considered “pushy” if I ask for what she needs in order to continue to grow.  Her need for learning will not be considered an educational “need” because she’s met the minimum. 

And what does she learn?  She learns that school is easy- and will be unprepared for life when it is not.  She will learn that when you have done what is expected, you can stop- rather than continuing to work to the next level.  And life… life does not stop for you because you have met a minimum.  And more dishearteningly, she will learn to work less than children with disabilities with whom I work with who are working their tails off to complete their work.  The greatest irony is that she already works so hard to function through her language challenges with autism- she analyzes those incomprehensible 4th grade social interactions, and math is her “easy” comfort area.  I want her to continue to play with what comes next- not stop and wait. 

We know this in sports- a very American cultural value.  You can see children, who are not practicing reading, practicing their hoop shots.  They practice throwing the football.  We seem to understand that in order to achieve excellence with the body, you have to provide the body experiences.  We call it “playing” football, or basketball or baseball.  But the mind…?  Here in America, we’re less comfortable with exercise of the mind.  Parents who take their children to enrichment activities are “pushing” their child.  Parents who ask for “more” (which isn’t more, but is the same amount of struggle we’re asking of other students), are perceived as “pushy”.  Asking for more math is “work”, not “play”.   Tigers push- Panda… well, pandas enjoy.

There is a cost for both Tiger and Panda mothering; costs that are defined in terms of economics, personal satisfaction, achievement, and even lives.  Interestingly enough, both tigers and pandas are endangered animals: tigers, in part, because of the size of their ambition and hunting ranges that are being restricted, and pandas, in part, because of their desire for bamboo- and only the comforts of bamboo- for nutrition.  One’s desires are too large- and the other’s too small. 

The solution, of course- if there is one-  is balance, but is balance possible?  We have to teach our children that excellence requires hard work- a lot of hard work.  And that you can enjoy the process of work- and that enjoyment is a goal as well.  I want to teach children- and the grownups teaching them- that one person’s success does not take away from another’s; that the best win is the one in which you beat yourself- that happiness comes from growth.   I am also  Western enough to believe in self-determinism- that it’s important that children learn to control their own lives.  I only hope that there will be rewarding, well-paying jobs for my individualistic, self-determined children.

So, here is my list for my children:

Here are some things my children, Elizabeth and Ray, are sometimes allowed to do:

  • attend a sleepover
  • have a playdate
  • be in a school play
  • complain about not being in a school play
  • watch TV or play computer games
  • choose their own extracurricular activities
  • get any grade less than an A
  • not be the No. 1 student in every subject
  • play any instrument other than the piano or violin
  • ….
  • fail
  • dust themselves off, get back up and try it again.

Here are some things my children, Elizabeth and Ray, are always required to do:

  • Try more than they think they can
  • Do more than they want to
  • Understand that there is enough succcess for everyone

And so I will tap my inner Tiger Mother, and I am going to go down to the school to ask for more advanced work and I am going to check out the EPGY online math program- and I’m going to do so for my inner Panda mother because I want  my child to learn the value-and the enjoyment- of working with what comes next. 

I know you’ve heard it a thousand times before. But it’s true — hard work pays off. If you want to be good, you have to practice, practice, practice. If you don’t love something, then don’t do it.
Ray Bradbury

Happy Blog-iversary to Me!

Filed under: Autism,Book- Parent's Guide,Gifted,Twice-exceptional — Teacher Professor @ 8:46 am

Today, the 13th of January is my one-year anniversary of my blog.  When I “jumped into the water” of blogging, I had no idea what awaited me- how many, many wonderful fellow bloggers I would meet and what an amazing community there is “out here”.

I learned about blogging when Mom-Not Otherwise Specified was a blog that I found and loved- I depended on- I listened to.  In the times of dark days, I read her blog, her words of wisdom and her feelings about what was happening to her and her son.  She wasn’t speaking to “me“, but her words spoke “to” me.  I read her blog for several years as part of my regular morning routine.  I certainly never posted- that would be breaking that “barrier” I had imposed.  After all, I could learn from her, but there wasn’t much she could learn from me.  Heck, I couldn’t even find my own words- we were too lost in the mists of identification, coping, struggling, finding a “new normal”.  Her words were a lifeline that I was not alone.  But I had no time for joining the conversation.

I learned more from Kristina Chew and Vicki Forman– writers who seemed to value- like me- a balanced, scientific view of autism; who wanted to know more.  Their words presented a strong counterpoint to so much of the hysteria that I read- hysteria that I was keeping at bay in my own life.

I started the blog for two reasons:

  1. to respond to questions that some folks had had about my book– I wanted to give the “rest of the story” as well as have a chance to elaborate on some pieces of the book that may not be interesting/pertinent to the broad readership, and
  2. to reach out to those who had been struggling like I had- to be that voice of integrated scholarship and mothering that I can provide.  I had discovered my “voice” when writing the book- and I wanted to keep talking; I wanted to keep listening- I wanted to keep the dialogue going. About education.  About parenting About twice-exceptional children.  About autism.  About giftedness.  About the intersection of all of those things.

But since I’ve been blogging, I’ve learned that I’m not just reaching out to those whom I wanted to help- people like me who were drowning in the Space Between, but that I’ve made new bloggie friends.  People whose blogs I read, who comment on mine and whose I comment on (See the list to the right).  Blogs that are compilations of some of my favorite posters.  There are even edited blogs.  I’ve learned that although I am a very small speck in a very large blogosphere-  there are corners where you can find each other, you can find friends. 

There is an incredibly rich blogging community out here- a community that I observed when I was on the sidelines, a community that, as a professor, I had no idea existed.  It is a community that is largely ignored by the professional world, but that impacts lives immediately.  When one person posts, others respond. When an issue arises, there are numerous perspectives on it.  I’ve added my blog as part of my professional curriculum vitae-it’s become that important to me. 

There are those who say that blogs are dying– being replaced by Twitter and Facebook.  However, I think that blogs are an in-between… in between the in-depth monologue of the book (even the e-book), and the quick, light, surface dialogue of Facebook and Twitter.  Blogs provide an opportunity for asynchronous conversation that can be thoughtful, funny and in-depth.  Not as in-depth and insightful, perhaps, as wine and a face-t0-face conversation, but those require being in the same space and time- not resources always available to everyone who want to join in the conversation. 

And, at the very least, after a year of blogging, my mother and friends have a better idea of what’s happening in our lives.  And what I’m thinking about- which is probably the most personal part of all.

So, after one year.. I like this place!  I look forward to new friends- reading new blogs, meeting new readers.  I hope to contribute to the blogosphere in my own way- that I have some insights that others might find interesting.  I want to learn more from others.  Heck, I even want to meet up for wine and some conversations with some of the folks I’ve met here.

I like this pool…  Thanks for having me!

January 5, 2011

She Didn’t Stand a Chance

Filed under: Autism,Gifted,Twice-exceptional — Teacher Professor @ 10:01 pm

In the dark days of Elizabeth’s identification, when I was searching the internet and Googling, Googling, Googling; when I was scaring myself with what her future might look like- I remember coming across some interesting characteristics- Aspects of myself.  Aspects of my husband.  Aspects of my family.

In the dark days of Elizabeth’s identification, when I was looking for a reason for… this whateveritiscalledcuz’autismdoesn’t soundquiterightanddoesn’tcaptureitall; when I was Googling, Googling, Googling, and scaring myself with the dangers of the world around me, I remember realizing some interesting things about genetics.  About myself.  About my husband.  About my family.

One day, when I was heaping guilt upon myself- was it the immunizations?  The tuna I ate?  The water I drank?  The food I warmed up in plastic containers? The  yogurt I didn’t drink that didn’t build up the right bacteria in her gut?- my mother, in her very gentle way, placed her hand on my shoulder, and said, very lovingly- “Honey, she didn’t stand a chance.  Between you and James and your families… this is what happens.  You now get to deal with it.”

I didn’t fully believe her until we had Ray… and Ray’s issues.  Now, I look at sweet, cooing, cuddly babies who go to sleep when they’re supposed to, and who cry for short periods of time and who can play games with you, and I marvel.  The running joke in our family is that I loved being pregnant- loved it.  I was one of those Madonna figures- glowing, full of health and aware of the miracle unfolding inside of me. (What did you do today, dear?  Oh, I grew a pair of ears today.  How about you?) I would probably have been a perfect surrogate mother- pregnancy and even birth were relatively uneventful things- as uneventful as a miracle can be.  But the babies.. oh, the babies.

James and I do not make happy babies together.  He and I made two very unhappy, fussy, sensitive babies who slept in short bursts only to wake up unhappy.  Ray would not allow me to put him down, while Elizabeth- very content with being put down on her back- would have hysterics if she were put down on her stomach.  It was a constant guessing game for their first three years- and one that we still play for chunks of time- are they cold?  Tired? Hungry? Has a cloud moved across the sun? Did someone move too fast? Change in transition? Is the dryer/vacuum cleaner/ radio on?  Pearl Jam is good/ Phish is bad?

Conversely, we also made two intensely curious children.  Even without the language to ask “why”, they have always wanted to know “why”.  I was explaining to Elizabeth at 10 months old that the bubbles she was so afraid of were created by soap lying on top of water- and she could calm down.  I would explain the concept of volume and the Doppler effect to my 3-year old son who was freaking out about the change in song, and he would calm down.  We explain about social interactions being a formula- not with numbers but with words (the answer to “How are you?” + a small smile – real eye contact = is “Good, how are you”, and not how you really feel)- and they understand how math relates to behavior.  We talk about analyzing what others are saying and how the teenagers might not like to hear a 7-year old call them “obstreperous” and to keep that word for other contexts- and they get it.  The intense “why” is as hard-wired as the fear and the emotional dysregulation.

And I can’t blame James- for this is what my mother dealt with when I was a baby.  I had heard stories, but it wasn’t until it was the fourth month in a row of no sleep, and colicky babies for two years in a row… that I understood.  When I was a baby, I rarely slept; I cried hysterically;  I hated having my hair brushed.  When I was a child, I read obsessively, pulled out the tags from my clothes, and cried frequently.  I’m an only child… and I think I can guess why.

According to James’ mother, he was a perfect child (of course he was!).  But I see pictures of a quiet, withdrawn little boy who was very, very thin, rarely ate, and rarely had expression on his face.

I look at our two families, with their laundry lists of labels… and I realize… my children didn’t stand a chance.

*******

This was all triggered today, when Diary of a Mom had a beautifully-written, hysterical, touching post– and it drove me crazy, because there are only 11 items on the list.  That lack of symmetry is something I immediately noticed.  I love her post- but I could never have never written it because I would have stopped at 10- or kept on going to 12.

I recognize that my daughter’s tantrums when things are out of order… comes naturally.

I recognize that my daughter’s lining things up according to her own pattern… comes naturally.

I recognize that my son’s intense hatred of getting his picture taken… comes naturally (When I’m prepared, I’m a bit of a ham, but I hate the surprise element- and there is that same brooding look in my husband’s childhood photos).

I recognize that my son’s intense relationship with music… comes naturally.

I realize that my children’s desperate need to know what comes next and to plan for it… comes naturally.

**********

I’m not saying that my husband and I have autism.  We’re  both bright people… with quirks.  Quirks that might have needed attention 40-45 years ago, but by the grace of God, a couple of amazing mothers, and the right contexts, became… manageable.  Quirks that we’ve learned to work with; to work around; to ignore.  Quirks that got strengthened when our genetic material got combined.  Quirks that got focused.  Some quirks that are just… us, and some quirks that became a problem.

Quirks, that when combined with language problems and blood chemistry issues and triggered by whatever is in our modern world, became autism and Tourette’s and giftedness and twice-exceptionality and all of those wonderful labels that define what services and doctors our children see, but do not quite define them.  Genetics plus environmental triggers- pretty much explains most of human development. The apples do not fall far from the trees, but they do form their own shapes.

I asked her, and Elizabeth can’t make a list of 11 things either….

November 16, 2010

Renewal

Filed under: Exceptionality issues,Gifted — Teacher Professor @ 4:53 pm

I just returned from attending the National Association of Gifted Children’s annual conference, where I saw old friends, started new projects, and just feel filled up with renewal- oh… and I’m tired.  Like really, really tired.  It’s an odd feeling.

I have been attending the conference since 1994 in Salt Lake, and over the years, I have laughed with, cried with, and touched base with some very special people.  Gifted education is a very positive field- we look for strengths in kids and we try to build those strengths.  We even see challenges as strengths- and try to find contexts that are helpful.  Rather than fixing the child, gifted education struggles to fix the curriculum, the context, the school- all so that the child can grow without being constrained.  So many of us are alone in our schools- whether we’re the department of one in a college or the single gifted education teacher in a school, we’re all used to operating independently and with little support.  So, it’s always nice when you get us together- we tend to greet each other like the long-lost friends we are. 

Some of my graduate school cohort comes regularly, and we have a standing dinner date the first night of the conference.  We have known each other for 15+ years from when we were  the students hanging together- to now, when we’re the “old ones”.  We’ve known each other since before marriage, before divorce, before children, before jobs, and through moves.  I have gotten used to everyone looking at my name tag and saying “Where are you, now?” 

It’s odd/nice/interesting having a once-a-year relationship with close friends.  “How ARE you?” is loaded with expectation for more than the traditional “Oh, fine” that culturally is what one says.  We know that we can tell of deaths in the family, divorces, disease, new marriages, books written, promotions and so many other major events.  Call it the “Christmas Letter” approach to friendship.  Incredible depth, but very little breadth.  I shared hopes and dreams that many of my pals here have not asked about, with once-a-year friends as we met each other in the hallways between sessions and talked for the five minutes we had until our next appointment, our next meeting, our next presentation.  We either talk between moments- or at the bar until 2:00am like the young adults we haven’t been in quite some time.  Intensity is a hallmark of gifted education- and gifted kids.

For ultimately, NAGC is about the work.  Those of us who keep attending,  year after year- we keep fighting the same fight- how our culture, our schools, and our fellow teachers must learn how critically important it is to recognize the strengths in our children.  How we all live through our strengths and that the role of schools is to help children and their parents become empowered to ask for what they need- when what they need is no more nor no less than what any child needs- the right to be respected, the right to grow, and the right to be who they are. 

I am the new Chair-Elect of the Special Populations Network, which absolutely thrills me because I can help the organization and schools recognize that children can be more than one thing- they can have autism and still have strengths; they can be from poverty and still have talents; they can be gay and still be worthy of educating and protecting.  Schools and our society need to know that abilities and talents come wrapped in so many different packages.

But perhaps the real reason I keep going- year after year- is my belief that when we cut gifted education in the public schools, we are practicing the most blatant racism/classism/ and abilitism that is possible.  When my children- who chose their parents fairly well- are denied services in public schools, we will make sure that they get what they need because we are educated and we will make the financial sacrifices as best as we can to help them- and even then, there are limits.  But other children- who were born into poverty, or whose parents are so busy trying to learn a new language, or who are ignored because of their skin color- these other children depend on the public schools for whatever talent development they are going to get.  If the cure for cancer,  or the next lightbulb that doesn’t use mercury, or the next amazing book, is going to be happen, it might get produced by that poor Hispanic child with a learning disability who was given a chance to grow.  But to create a system where only children whose parents can pay for challenging outside-of-school activities will have the opportunity to go on … that is just wrong.  Wrong.  Wrong.  From the bottom of my soul and the reason I went into education- wrong.

And so I am renewed with the reason I went into education- to help make a difference in children’s lives; I am renewed by seeing and touching souls with people I care deeply about- but see once a year; and I am renewed with new work- new projects and new coalition-building and new ways to chip away at old fights. 

And I’m tired.  Such intensity of living and passion and working takes its toll- and the laundry and the grading and bedtimes and autism and Tourette’s- the day to day battles pile up next to the long-term dreams. 

Thank you to my husband who dealt with the dragons of autism and Tourette’s while I was gone- who helps me renew on a daily basis- and to my friends and colleagues at NAGC, who remind me that I am not alone- and thank you to my children who remind me daily of why I stay in education.

October 26, 2010

Recognition of the Bubble Prize

Filed under: Autism,Gifted — Teacher Professor @ 11:04 am

Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal. Albert Camus

So, there I am- prepping a lecture and an activity for my seniors- the ones taking Classroom Management- easily THE MOST IMPORTANT CLASS they’ll ever take.  If they can’t control, manage, deal with a classroom full of children with different levels of ability and impulse controls, they can’t teach.  Period.

And there it is- a paragraph describing how important recognition is for internal motivation.  That when we provide external motivators for effort, we are not, in fact, taking away internal motivation- we are adding to it- if we recognize in the right balance.

Balance…

***********

We’ve been expending a tremendous amount of effort in appearing to be “normal” this past week… I had a friend visiting this weekend who looked at our weekly calendar and chuckled at how “typical” our calendar was for people with kids our age- a list of soccer practices, soccer games, gymnastics, volunteering at the school’s “Fall Fest” carnival… nothing “scary”, nothing that reflects the years and years of doctor appointments, therapies and medication trials that we’ve done.  There is nothing on the schedule that reflects the weeks we did nothing, knowing that our kids were too stimulated, too tense, too… everything to do anything else other than get through a day.   For this week, we have arrived at “normal”.

And even I know that “normal” is a myth- a state of being that very few people achieve, a state that most families of even “typical” children rarely achieve.  But what this week does for us is provide a baseline, a rememberance of how things “should” be, a memory of how things “could” be.

What will get forgotten in the memory of “normal” is the cost of achieving it- the medication balances, the lack of sleep in finishing everything, the knowledge that there is a boundary that will end this.   One of those boundaries, beyond illness or any unplanned event,  is “Merry Turkoween” or the craziness that the holidays bring.  The holidays that are starting on Saturday with the Georgia/Florida football game, followed by Halloween, followed by my annual conference, followed by Thanksgiving, followed by Christmas and its iron-clad traditions, followed by New Year’s.  We may look like serene ducks, but underneath it all, we’re paddling like hell.

But for this week, we are in the bubble- the bubble of what we call “normal” but is really and truly so far from typical, the bubble that is set to burst upon us, but the bubble that defines who and what we are as a family.

I want to honor our bubble… and recognize the effort it took for us to get here- and the effort it will take to get back here.

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