One Day at a Time

So homeschooling is turning out to be kind of like sobriety? Which started as a joke–and no, I am not an alcoholic or addict, except for being a former smoker, which does, actually, count–but on thinking about it, I wonder if there might, actually, be a more than casual relationship between addiction and “giftedness” that’s like the one between “giftedness” and depression. Or for that matter, addiction and mental illness. At least, in my experience of the latter, a big part of the problem is the gap between conception and reality. One sees problems globally and is overwhelmed by realizing that you can only chip away at them in tiny increments, or imagines a fabulous project or goal but is frozen with anxiety by not knowing how to start, or by perceiving the enormous gap between starting and actually achieving the thing.

I’m starting to think that this gap is a big problem for “gifted” kids–kids in particular, because their abilities are so limited simply by the circumstance of being a child. PK often complains, for example, that he can’t get research funding (!) or access to “real” scientific equipment. He has a chemistry set, but of course no lab, and was enormously disappointed in middle school when he realized that he wasn’t going to have access to a school lab until seventh grade. He frequently feels overwhelmed when he comes face to face with the gap between what he knows and what an adult knows, for instance when he realizes that something he’s thinking about has “already been invented” or proven. And yes, this kind of thing depresses him, and his anger and sense of despair over it remind me, a bit, of the addicts I know and have known. I have read a bit lately connecting these things–if I were better organized, I would provide some links, but my learning curve on this stuff is so steep right now that I’m not paying too much attention to mapping my path yet, just to trying to keep my footing.

One of the things I am figuring out, though, is that homeschooling a kid is more about “forcing yourself” to do the work “to focus, to pay attention, to offer dedicated support,” than it is about forcing the kid, as this really helpful and thought-provoking blogger points out; “by setting aside those blocks of time, you are making it more likely that [your kid] will be able to do the work she wants to do. You are helping her turn her ideas into reality.” This has always been a problem for me with PK, and I’ll bet I’m not the only parent with a bright kid who has it: if I followed every new whim or passion of his, I’d never have time for my own thoughts (and dammit, he gets his brains from me and the husband, and as a brainy person myself, I value time with my own thoughts!). It would be impossible to keep up, and prohibitively expensive to boot.

But I can, and am beginning to, not only provide him the space but also some carefully-researched and chosen materials. So, for instance, the Interactive Mathematics Program that albe recommended. Yes, I am having to “force” him to do it in the sense that he is not going and picking up the book on his own; but it’s not at all in the way that I used to have to “force” him to do his math homework. The way it works is that I say, “let’s do some math,” and maybe we negotiate a bit on whether to do it Right This Moment or In A Little While, and then we sit down and read the book and talk about and work through the problems together. (Which works great with this curriculum, by the way, since that’s how it’s designed to be done.) It’s challenging to me as well as to him–not least because, as the adult/teacher/parent, it’s on me to stay calm when he starts to get frustrated, and to subtly and indirectly keep him on task by staying curious and calmly saying, “I’m going to keep trying to figure this out” when he stomps off in a huff (which SO COMPLETELY WORKS by the way–literally less than a minute later he was back with a new idea, and eventually we worked through last night’s problem). And because math is, in fact, something that he wants to learn, that’s what he needs: the focused, supportive hand-holding to help him struggle with and through his fear and frustration when it gets hard and scary.

I’m not gonna lie: there are times when I completely fucking hate that I am having to take on the unpaid, uncredentialed job of being his dedicated teacher. And the limits in terms of money, time, and patience reinforce my belief that it would be far more effective and cost-efficient to provide this stuff collectively, through the public education system. As we’re in a historic moment of enormous educational inflexibility, though, and we’re too goddamn cheap *to* provide those resources in public schools (see above re. no lab for sixth-grade science just for starters), well, thank providence PK’s mother has the (credentialed!) research skills, connections, and years of therapy to be able to find the material and step up to the plate with the dedicated support, while his father has the income-earning potential, math/science background and motivation to back me up.

6 responses to “One Day at a Time

  • ladydianastarr

    So with you on the frustration of having to take this on and thanking my lucky stars to be qualified to do it and have a husband with the earning potential to do it. You are so right on.

    I’m so happy you have found your effective method to review the hard stuff. My little boys are the same way. DS6 took one look at double digit addition and screeched in frustration, wanting to run from the table. I was just trying to *introduce* the idea!! Later we climbed into my bed together and went through ten problems getting progressively harder and he was like Ooooh! Awwww! He actually LIKES math, but scary is SCARY and a little handholding goes a long way. Nice job, mama!!

  • km

    My experience of serious procrastination is that it is related to perfectionism, so, yeah, related to anxiety.

    It sounds like you’re in the midst of reading a lot about giftedness and gifted kids. I hope you’ll forgive me if you’ve already come across these resources, but I’ve found the following useful at one time or another: Aimee Yermish’s blog, TAGFAM listserv (in part because Aimee sometimes posts there and hardly ever blogs), Davidson gifted issues forum, Miraca Gross’ book “Exceptionally Gifted Children,” and Webb’s “Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults.” I don’t know if any of those will be any help with the procrastination problem.

  • tedra

    @km, thanks–some of that stuff I know about, some not. And reminders are always good, b/c as I said, there’s so much out there that I often bookmark stuff and then forget to go back and actually read it.

  • Karin

    I totally lost it yesterday when, in a matter of less than one minute, a hs’ing friend rapidly blew off a resource I was offering her based on what I had thought was my hearing her needs; 12-yo dd called a new learning tool that I had spent hours researching and money to purchase “the stupidest thing ever”; and my ego imploded at the end of a great marine biology field trip when I realized how I was “just a homeschooling mom who cleans the house” and not the trained environmental professional I once was. Sadly, it was my dd who had to hear the diatribe. I credit my meditation practice for helping me to see–about 5 minutes too late–the lack of skillfulness in each of our reactions. The reconciliation was utterly powerful, however, as I found myself voicing this truth: she and I know each other so, so well because we live our lives so intertwined. Blow ups, reconciliation, hilarity, boredom–they are all there for us, together. We are two GT people–three if you add in the hubbie who makes this trip possible through his paid work–with empathy, intensity, obsessions, and more just oozing from us. All this to say, the only way to go forth is one day at a time. Amen, but also hallelujah!

  • tedra

    @Karin: Meditation, yes. I also think (and have said as much to the husband) that one of the worst things about this “homeschooling mom” gig is that we’re operating in a cultural context that doesn’t value kids or women (and we’ve internalized, to some extent, that devaluation–e.g., thinking of ourselves as “just” homeschooling moms, which I totally do as well). Add in a work environment that’s not paid (i.e., has no value) and where one doesn’t get many (any?) peer affirmations that one’s doing a good job (in fact, as you point out, the kids are more likely than not to complain), and really, we have good reason to be cranky sometimes…

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