Category Archives: mental health

Acronyms R Us

So way back when we pulled PK from school and did all the testing and assessments, we found out that he’s not just “gifted.” He’s “2e.” Welcome to the world of kids-with-acronyms. “2e” (“twice exceptional”) is a euphemistic way of saying “your kid is super smart but he has, um, “issues.” For some folks the “issue” is another acronym: ADHD, OCD, ODD. In our case it’s good old-fashioned anxiety and depression, which don’t have acronyms (though ADHD still needs to be “ruled out”, so we don’t *totally* know), and apparently some kind of “sensory hypostimulability” or something like that.

Which means, in plain English, that PK likes banging on stuff and making noise and sticking his head out car windows on the freeway and other exciting! things. Educationally speaking, he’s smart. But he’s not so great in the classroom, what with the fidgeting and loud voice and constant interruptions and so forth. Not to mention when the anxiety kicks in and he gets shouty and aggressive. It would be so much easier if he were the weepy, cowering kind of anxious kid, because people feel sympathetic to weepy cowering. But alas, shouty aggression is actually pretty common in anxious kids, though people tend to misconstrue it as a Discipline Issue and get even more demanding and rigid. Which isn’t terribly helpful, let’s just say.

So my job has become figuring out how to academically challenge him while at the same time not totally freaking him out (but you can’t just cater to his freakouts because if you let someone with anxiety avoid the things that make them anxious that just reinforces the anxiety) and also learning how to tolerate the jiggling and interruptions and him climbing on the back of the couch while I try to explain math to him, or whatever. And teaching him about the distinction between how he feels (feelings are okay!) and how he acts (shouting at people is not okay!), while being empathetic to the shouting and trying to avoid situations that will push him to that point (but again, not avoiding them too much).

Because of all this, I have to admit drives me batshit when people say things like “you know your kid best!” and “you’re totally qualified to homeschool your own kid!” and “of course you can do it!” and other shit that makes it sound like it should be easy. THOSE PEOPLE CAN STFU. If PK were an easy kid, he’d still be in school. If teaching him were easy, the credentialed teachers (who by and large were super at their jobs) would have taken care of it and we wouldn’t be homeschooling.

Luckily, though PK is not easy school-wise, and despite the anxiety and occasional meltdowns, he is easy in other respects. He’s hyperverbal, he’s got a great sense of humor, he is shockingly self-aware by any standard, let alone for a kid his age. We have learned (are learning) to talk stuff through. I’ve learned to keep myself calm when he loses his shit, the husband is learning not to become enraged when PK is difficult, PK is learning to manage his anxiety (square breathing).

I do often wonder when and why parenting became such a high-stakes activity. Though otoh, I’ve known plenty of smart, sensitive kids who ended up dead, or with serious drug habits, or never really finishing college. So it’s not as if smart kids with Issues is a new invention, even if the alphabet soup and medications and educational accommodations and all the bureaucratic language that boils down to “if you can put a diagnosis on it, your insurance will cover treatment and/or you can generate the paperwork to get a school to take it into account” is.

Things I’ve found extremely helpful:

The Brainology course developed by Carol Dweck (she’s the psychologist whose work showed us that telling a kid “you’re smart!” undermines their confidence; instead, you should praise them for having “worked hard”, which sends the message that their intelligence and achievement is actually something they have control over). Honestly, I cannot too highly recommend that course: I did have to do a little prep with PK by warning him that “the animations are kinda cheesy, but the point is the content, which is excellent and research-based”, and he does indeed make fun of the online cartoon lessons–but he thinks *really hard* about what they’re teaching him and it’s already making an enormous difference (we’re in part three of the program). I’ve recommended it to those of his former teachers I’m still in touch with and everyone else I talk to about school stuff these days.

My overdeveloped research skills. I have read dozens of books and hundreds of articles about anxiety, depression, ADHD, gifted kids, etc etc etc. It never ends.

SENG and GHF. God bless SENG for providing solid, research-based information about giftedness, parenting, and all the 2e stuff, and GHF for providing a support group of other parents who’ve been there, as well as more resources and links than you could possibly explore in a lifetime.

Family therapy. PK hates talk therapy and won’t go (the last time I took him he freaked out), but me and the husband go anyway, and talking about parenting stuff and getting advice has helped enormously.

Health insurance and the husband’s well-paying job, without which all this therapy and the coursework would be out of our financial reach. Thank god for Obamacare: I hope it means that more families with kids who need support can get the help we’ve been lucky enough to have access to.

 

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Un/Schooling

This post is part of

Speaking of Unschooling: A gifted homeschool blogger's hop

Speaking of Unschooling: A gifted homeschool blogger’s hop

Click for the whole list, or see individual links at the bottom of the post.

A major part of the last fifteen months with PK at home has been about me observing how he acts and what he does when he’s learning something new. When he is trying to do something that’s a bit of a stretch, he gets anxious. If the anxiety is minor, he can handle it by being jumpy and physical: he’ll get up and pace around, or crawl on the back of the couch and look over my shoulder while I show him how to work a problem or something. If the anxiety is major–or if he isn’t allowed to do the wiggling, like if I say “come back here and sit down!” rather than *very gently* saying, “sweetie, I need you to look at this, come back” and then letting him crawl on the back of the sofa rather than pacing around the room–then he starts arguing and trying to physically get away, and it looks like refusal. (Though interestingly, sometimes after refusing and leaving he’ll come back a few minutes later to say “I figured it out in my head.”)

Needless to say, this is a BIG FUCKING CLUE as to why middle school–where he was finally starting to have to push himself *and* where, unlike his hippie (public) elementary school, they weren’t even going to consider letting him move around the room for a bit–totally, totally didn’t work for him, and why the math teacher in particular thought it all boiled down to a battle of the wills. He says that he mostly didn’t even try to move around, because it was so clear that that was not how things were done, and in elementary school we had done a LOT of work on teaching him not to shout or act out when he was frustrated, so I imagine that his attempts to restrain himself sent him fairly quickly into the refusal mode and would just shut down (and feel anxious, which is pretty much the recipe for causing depression). His first grade classroom was also a “traditional” school, and one that was very proud of its “good test scores” and mostly attended by the children of the kind of affluent (or hoping to become so) parents who “value education” in the sense of wanting their kids to go to the “good” school, so there, too, he was pushed to sit still and complete his work, which led to nightly crying jags and homework avoidance. Which is why I put him into the hippie school.

I’ve also come to recognize that when he’s doing something new that’s physical? He deals with that discomfort–including the excitement of the new–by talking. Which his PE teacher loathed (“stop talking to me and go run laps”) and which honestly drives me nuts b/c whenever he’s got a new video game, same thing: he has to tell me all about it at top speed any time he takes a break.

There’s some of that with new learning of ideas, too. He stops video lectures like seventeen times every half hour to comment on them, and when he was in elementary school I used to try SO HARD to get him to just write down questions/comments instead of interrupting. Most of his 2-5 teachers did a good job of setting up some kind of “hold on, ask/tell me later” signal with him, bless them. The first grade teacher and most of the middle school teachers, though, just tried to shut him down. Result? Frustration, anger, anxiety.

Which has led me to a broader realization or, at least, a hypothesis. It seems to me that everything about and around education, in the U.S. right now, is under enormous pressure. I used to be firmly of the “send your kid to public school, it’ll be fine” school in part because I saw people of my socioeconomic class worrying about whether public schools were “dangerous” or “good enough” as unnecessary anxiety, and I still do, where that anxiety is focused on whether kids will be exposed to “gang violence” or whether the standards of public schools are up to snuff. Which I still think are concerns that are motivated (consciously or no) out of racism, primarily. But what I didn’t realize is how much public schools themselves have become the focus of those pressures. In fact, it seems to me that homeschooling, too, is affected by the broader social pressure and anxiety around the entire category of “education” these days.

“Unschooling,” maybe, can be seen as an attempt to open up the pressure valve and let some of that build up out of everything associated with education. I’m not comfortable with the term for reasons that I think led me (and lead a lot of other people) to misunderstand it as *anti*-schooling (and indeed, there is some anti-schooling prejudice in both un- and homeschool circles, as well as among people who send their kids to private school; and I think that all of that has  roots in historic racism, but that’s a different topic). When people start making blanket statements about schools as “factories” or how they “oppress children,” it gets my back up. And I continue to not understand how people who care about education enough to actually decide not to just follow the beaten path with regard to their own children’s education can be hostile to free, public schools as a fundamental institution in a modern society.

But that said, I am starting to understand where people are coming from when they talk about actually experiencing school as oppressive or inimical to education, because I am starting to see exactly how the amount of pressure in the system right now does function to undermine one of the most basic requirements for learning and teaching, which is the ability to be patient, and to listen.

I got this off FB and can't read the copyright--if anyone knows where it's from, please let me know so I can credit it properly.

I got this off FB and can’t read the copyright–if anyone knows where it’s from, please let me know so I can credit it properly.

People under pressure don’t listen well, and they tend to be a lot less patient than they otherwise would; and psychological stress tends to be “catching.” (Which might also suggest, by the way, why mass shooters sometimes attack schools even if their grudge isn’t “against” the school or they have no association with it? As well as why school shootings, more than any other kind of mass shooting, push all of our buttons. Yes, obviously the fact that school shootings affect kids is a big part of that last one, and it’s certainly a sufficient explanation in itself; but might there also be something going on with shootings that happen in an arena about which we all already feel enormous pressure and anxiety just ratcheting it up that much further?)

Or, as this school principal puts it,

Teachers are engaged in practices like these because they are pressured and afraid, not because they think the assessments are educationally sound. Their principals are pressured and nervous about their own scores and the school’s scores. Guaranteed, every child in the class feels that pressure and trepidation as well.

Surely, this is not a good atmosphere for learning, or working, or teaching, or collaboration of any kind.

One of the things they say about unschooling is that if your kid has been in school, there’s a “deschooling” period of about a year–during which the kid (and the parents) need to “unlearn” the entire mindset of school: that work is opposed to play, that learning is something grownups have to make kids do, that what kids want to do on their own is almost certainly neither educational nor healthy. That certainly proved true in our case (it took a little longer than a year). What we’re doing is not quite unschooling, I don’t think–we have a formal math curriculum (which I love), we have a formal series of history lectures (which are in accordance with the historical period his grade peers are doing in this state–and which he loves), I am “making” him learn to type (which initially he had a panic about but is growing to really enjoy), I “make” him get some kind of exercise, which we call P.E., every day. For language arts stuff I rely on my own expertise to be able to determine how his skills in exposition, persuasion, marshaling evidence, forming theses, etc. are coming along simply via our talks about things (he’s very good at this stuff), since writing is still a sore spot for him. I am arranging occupational therapy for him at the suggestion of a psychologist, and in the hopes that it will help him with the writing (which is also what the typing is for, obviously).

However, this “curriculum” of ours has taken shape very, very slowly, and only within the last couple of weeks has it really started to be an everyday thing. For the most part, we’ve been “deschooling”–giving PK time to get past the anxiety (with the help of medication) that is probably his birthright, but which I think was also made much worse by the current atmosphere in public education.

And while I’m pretty happy with how we seem to be doing for now, I can’t stop thinking of all the kids and teachers who are still swimming in that pool. I’m glad to know that lots of folks are starting to resist, challenge, and organize against those who want education to mean pressure, stress, distrust. I wish for public education that it be an institution where we don’t need to “un”school kids in order for them to enjoy learning.

And for all the kids and teachers, I wish them a nice long period of un”schooling” from the way we currently think “school” is supposed to be. Because that shit isn’t healthy for anyone.

More unschooling posts:

Red White and Grew: Reflections on Unschooling

Building Wingspan: I’m Not an Unschooler … But …

Thea Sullivan: How Unschooling Saved Us, Sort of

Cedar Life Academy: Everyone Deserves A Childhood

Wenda Sheard: A True Story: Unschooling and the Superintendants

Life with Intensity: We Unschool (Well, Sorta), What’s Your Superpower?

Laughing at Chaos, Between Homeschooling and Unschooling

Chasing Hollyfeld: I am Not a Teacher

Sui Generis: Unschooling and the Benefits of Unstructured Time

A Voracious Mind: Unschooling 101


Happy New Year

December was a tough month for me, mama-wise. The husband was gone at the beginning for a business trip and then took a couple of weeks off over the holidays (he goes back to work next week). It’s been fabulous having him home, but one effect has been a vacation-like atmosphere for us, with lots of sleeping late and little “school” stuff happening. L and I dropped the medieval history lectures we’ve been enjoying, we haven’t done any math, we’ve had no social engagements other than my mom and her brother coming over for Xmas.

All of which sounds (and has been) very nice. But it’s worried me, too, because as those who’ve been following this blog know, this is our first year of home schooling and we’re still in the process of finding out what works for us, content- and schedule-wise. So it hasn’t been clear to me if we’ve been “taking a vacation” or “backsliding.” Add in the fact that PK started Lexapro recently too and the horrible shootings in Newton CT and there’s been plenty for me to worry and chew over: is L’s video game habit “bad” for him–too much screen time!–or is it “good” on the grounds that he in fact thinks a lot about how game narratives are constructed, how games are designed, and uses Minecraft to build and design stuff? Is his gaming a symptom of ongoing depression or a sign that he’s enthusiastically pursuing real interests? Am I contributing to a “culture of violence” by getting him a nerf gun for Xmas or am I “following his lead” in providing him with toys that appeal to him in order to get him outside? Am I “enabling bad habits” by letting him stay up past midnight and sleep so late or am I being supportive by not forcing daily fights over his “natural” sleep schedule?

You get the idea.

But today was PK’s third appointment with his psychiatrist, and his first after reaching what the shrink said he thought would be the full dose of PK’s medication. PK reported that his mood has been great and his anxiety negligible, though I interrupted (PK hasn’t yet gotten to the point where he’s comfortable talking to the psychiatrist without me in the room) to mention a couple of recent anxiety problems that I’d suggested PK tell the psychiatrist about only to have him tell me that I should be the one to report them for some reason.

Anyway, so we then had a brief conversation about the difficulty of knowing how to distinguish between “anxiety” and “manipulation” (PK’s word!)–

PK: I don’t remember that. I think I just didn’t want to eat at that restaurant.ME, to PSYCH: Which is another problem. It can be really difficult to distinguish between what’s an anxiety attack and what’s just an argument.
PSYCH: Yes. It’s clear that PK is highly intelligent, and kids with high IQs like him can be very good at arguing with or outsmarting people…
PK, cutting to the chase: I can be very manipulative.
PSYCH, smiling: Right, that.

–which led me to my broader concern, i.e., what are we going to do about PK’s education.

“Basically,” I said to the shrink, “I’d like your input on the timeline here. Because at some point I’d like PK to go back to school in some form, whether within the district or simply by taking classes somewhere, maybe at the community college. Because as he enters high school, I really don’t think I have the ability to teach him the stuff he’s going to want and need to know to prepare him for college.” The psychiatrist knows that PK wants to be a scientist–and while that may change, of course, it’s certainly and obviously not a possibility I want foreclosed by homeschooling. (Probably more to the point is what I said above about my concerns with establishing a routine; obviously there are scientists who were homeschooled, but PK hasn’t been showing any interest in “doing” or reading science this year, though it used to be his preferred way to spend all his free time. Plus the difficulties with math.)

PK immediately started getting argumentative about the idea of taking classes or returning to school, which of course let me exchange glances with the psychiatrist–“see?” “yes, I see”–but the psychiatrist reassured both of us by saying, “keep in mind that we’re just starting to see PK recover from his illness, his depression. And he is clearly improving. I’d like to see you in a couple more months to see how he’s continuing with this medication; I expect to see continued improvement. Obviously long-term he’ll surely want to go back to school in some capacity–you do want to go to college, right PK?”–he does–“but I wouldn’t worry too much about that just yet.”

I asked for, and got, confirmation of what I’d just heard: don’t worry too much at this point about PK’s education. Keep in mind that he is recovering from an illness. Yes, a regular schedule is probably a good thing to strive for, and yes it’s good to work on getting him outside for exercise and doing some “school”ish stuff with him to the extent that he can handle it. But things are going well.

Which is something I really needed to hear; my own mood is so much lighter since this afternoon. A happy new year indeed.


One Truth About “Mama Blogging”

I am putting this update up front because I think it’s so important. Please read this piece by Savannah Nicole Breakstone, who writes a mental health advocacy blog called Cracked Mirror in Shalott. Her piece is about what it is like to have been “one of the scary kids,” and while expressing great sympathy for parents who live with kids who have problems, she explains what it feels like to learn that one’s mother was afraid of one as a child.

Her piece has also been linked in this blog post written under the pseudonym Twitchy Woman, who explains why one should be very careful in writing about one’s kid’s problems in very clear, non-blaming language:

parents are not entitled to do things that harm their children in order to get that support. Unlike their children, parents of kids with disabilities are adults, and with that comes privileges and responsibilities their children do not yet have. Parents are far more powerful, both at home and in the public forum, than their minor children.

I think this is exactly right, and I stand corrected (though I would also say that all parents make mistakes, that parents under pressure are highly likely to do so, and that I think the most helpful thing onlookers can do in cases is to offer support rather than blame. And that support, properly understood, can and should include helping someone understand when they have made a mistake, as Twitchy Woman’s post does–s distinct from finger-pointing, which is almost never helpful.)

Those of you who read this blog know that I have talked about mental illness, mine and PK’s. This weekend, in the wake of the school shootings at Newtown, CT, another mama blogger who I had never read wrote her own post about her son’s mental illness, which was picked up by a local literary-type magazine and pretty soon by a lot of other places. Here is the magazine version. It was widely read. I shared it on my friends-only FB page, and also to the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum page that I belong to, because I thought and think that it speaks what folks in the “gifted community” call “twice exceptionality,” or “2e”: kids who are both “gifted” and have a learning disability or mental/emotional problems or are somewhere on the autism spectrum, etc. (We don’t know that much yet about the inner workings of the brain, obviously, but there seems to be some possibility that the “differentness” that leads to “giftedness,” aka a tendency to learn very quickly, might be linked to other “differences”–or it might just be that being “gifted” makes kids more prone to a feeling of “differentness” that can cause mental health problems.) In any case, it’s common enough that the last time I checked, the other GHF members were having positive, empathetic reactions to the post, as I was.

Not everyone did, though. One blogger, whose post also quickly made the rounds, went through the author’s blog and thought she saw a lot in there that was fucked-up, so she wrote her own post about it.

I hated that post. I have memories of people writing posts like that about me, when I wrote another blog, and frankly it really sucked even though the conclusions posts like that drew about me were always wrong. I wanted to comment about it, but comments seemed to have been closed on that post, or I couldn’t see the comment button. So instead I wrote the author an email, which I also posted on my FB page (which, again, is friends-only; I’m very locked-down on FB precisely because of this kind of thing).

People liked my letter, and one person asked me to post it somewhere public so she could link to it. It also occurs to me that it serves as a decent statement about why I write about this kind of stuff on this very blog. So here it is, edited slightly to remove the name of my old blog because I prefer to have this one (where I am not pseudonymous) separate from that one in the world of google, and also to clean up a couple of typos. But other than that, it’s exactly as written, including a few redundancies I wish I’d prettied up before hitting send.

Sarah,

You don’t know me. I used to write an academic blog. I now write, very occasionally, for Crooked Timber.

I’m writing to you because I’m really bothered by your post about Liza Long’s article and I am hoping that maybe I can explain why I think she wrote what she wrote.

As it happens, I suffer from depression, and my son suffers from anxiety and had a brief depressive period about a year ago. Like Liza Long, I have written quite a bit over the years, in various blogs, about my family, including about our mental health issues. I do so deliberately and I have thought it through pretty carefully. My own doctorate is in English Lit, and I believe strongly that one of the most important things women who write can do is write honestly about motherhood and parenting. I think writing honestly about private life is a feminist act, and I have chosen to do so in years partly because of this.

I have also done so, as an academic and a feminist, for much the same reasons that I blogged about such unpleasant things as the academic job market, some of the stresses of being on the tenure track (I left because of my depression and am no longer teaching), the decision to leave a t-t job, and so forth: because I know that I am not the only person who has dealt with these things, and I think it is helpful to read things about struggles one experiences in my own life. My blog’s popularity in its heyday, and the many, many friends I have made via the internet over the years, have confirmed my belief that this is true. I have had many graduate students, junior faculty, mothers, and folks from other walks of life tell me that the things I have written have “made me feel like I’m not alone” or “given me hope” and so forth. I think it is good for writing to do those things.

I would be lying if I did not say that I have also found support for some of my own difficulties with my writing, and that some of the things I have written were cathartic and, in many people’s estimations, a form of oversharing. It is difficult to write about private life without occasionally doing that, but I hope that what I have already said explains to some extent why I think it is a risk worth taking.

Of course, you don’t know me from adam. I could be a terrible parent; I could be lying myself. I can only ask you to believe me when I tell you that those things aren’t true. I have been married for over twenty years, my husband and I love each other, my son is bright and happy (now, on medication), we live a very Ozzie and Harriet-looking life in many ways.

Nonetheless, it would be very very easy for someone to comb through my blog and find “evidence” that these things aren’t true. When I was writing it, people sometimes did so, and wrote blog posts like yours. I can only tell you that most of what they concluded was wrong, and highly shaped by confirmation bias to fit prejudices that they already had: that educated women with children were bad mothers, that people with depression are self-involved, that my husband and I would be divorced within a year, that I was surely warping my son and should have him taken away from me. Again, none of those things were true; we are a very happy family. We have been through some hard times, and I have written about them–often with jocular (or not so jocular) exasperation, including statements like the ones you found in Liza’s blog.

It is very, very easy to pass judgment on what people write about their lives. It is very, very easy to pass judgment on parents, and especially mothers, in this culture. When one is a mother, that kind of judgment is ever-present. It makes parenting in public, let alone writing about it, difficult at times–especially when one is under stress, or when something in one’s life doesn’t fit the Ozzie and Harriet mold. Everyone has an opinion about mothering; everyone has an opinion about mental illness.

You’re an anthropologist; I appeal to your professional training. Surely you know that there are many, many ways to raise children in this world.

I have read your blog post, but I see nothing in it that does not sound like something many, many mothers would say about their kids. I do not think that in saying such things we damage our children or violate their privacy. My sense from reading Liza’s writing (I, too, have had a look at her blog) and the post you wrote isn’t that she’s lying; it’s that she is in a stressful situation, that she uses humor and hyperbole to talk about that stress, and that up until now she hasn’t written a lot about her son’s mental health–but that the shootings in Newtown prompted her to do so because they evoked a fear of hers that is very real. And that she decided to write the piece she wrote in order to tell the truth about what carrying that fear is like–precisely because so few people speak honestly about that kind of thing, precisely because speaking honestly about it opens people up to the kind of judgment that your blog post and tweets are passing on her. Judgement that, as I said, only makes it more difficult, only adds to the sense of isolation and pressure.

Even if you disagree, it seems to me that it is even more damaging to Liza’s children’s privacy for you to have written the blog post that you wrote. Surely you, who know nothing about her struggles, have far less reason to violate her children’s privacy than she might, and surely, as you don’t know her children, you are in a far weaker position to judge whether or not what she writes is actually damaging to them. But even if we assume that you are right–that she is a liar and a bad mother–how is your writing a blog post saying so in any way helpful? How does that not just shine a brighter spotlight on her family and children?

For what it’s worth, and as someone who has been in Liza’s shoes, I wish you would take your post down.

Sincerely,

Tedra

For the record, Sarah Kendzior did reply to me. I won’t post her email because I didn’t ask for permission, but the essence of it was a briefer version of this post from her blog. She and Liza also both posted this “joint statement”–I’m linking to Sarah’s post because my interaction with Liza’s was via a magazine article rather than her personal blog, and because I don’t think that she intended or invited the surveillance her blog has been getting.

Also for the record, I think it is enormously classy of Liza to have corresponded with Sarah and to sign on to that joint statement. I think that Sarah’s “brief response” on her blog, and to me via email, are less so.


Leading PK to Water

I really like this blog post on structure, because I think that in a lot of ways structure is a very, very useful way of treating and controlling anxiety. (This is very much an off-the-top-of-my-head post of things I would like to find out more about, btw, so feel free to share links.)

I know that for me, having some kind of structure for the day–even as loose as “get out of the house early” or “the husband will be home from work around 6:30”–is very useful in ensuring that I don’t spend the entire day websurfing. And from the stuff I’ve been reading/talking to therapists about in re. PK’s anger/attitude/anxiety, I think it is fair to say that one of the things we* have not done particularly well as parents is provide him with a good structure: one loose enough that he doesn’t feel constrained, i.e., much looser than the conventional school structure, but regular enough to ensure that not every. single. thing. he does involves weighing and assessing desires/needs/consequences. He actually has learned to say to me things like “you make the decision here” at junctures when he feels paralyzed by options.

Last week and this weekend kind of gave me a glimpse of how to do this with him. I’ve been wanting him to break up his days more, and Saturday evening he came to me and said things that sounded like he was getting ready to stop being so single-mindedly focused on video games; so yesterday mid-morning I told him that I wanted him to read a chapter of the history book I have for him before he opened his laptop.

HUGE. SCREAMING. PROTEST. One of the key issues for him was that I was somehow using something he likes–his laptop–as a carrot/stick for getting him to do something I wanted him to do. This is a recurring issue for him. I’m not at all sure what it’s about, but I know it’s there.

So, some back and forth. He read a few pages, then the yelling started again. I was insistent, of course, because you-are-not-going-to-get-what-you-want-by-yelling. At some point he said something to the effect of, it would be different if you just suggested I read the book, or that I look through the book, rather than having this hard-and-fast one-chapter-before-computer role. So I said, would that help, if I said you could just have a look at the book for now?

Agreement, so I said, okay, you can just look through it for a bit instead.

And lo and behold, he sat down and within about 30 seconds was reading about ancient South American civilizations and explaining to me where tamales come from (always with the food, this kid). Later that day we talked about making tamales this week, and he was pretty into the idea.

It’s funny, because I do get where he’s coming from on this, sort of. I, too, tend to get incredibly anxious when I feel like I “have” to do something–which is why any structure I impose on myself has to be very, very loose. I was reading something a while back, about “gifted” kids, that said that this is a fairly common problem for highly creative people, which makes sense, I suppose (though I’m always a bit wary of things that “make sense”, i.e., “explain”–without actual evidence or documentation–stuff that “feels” true: this is how astrology works, and confirmation bias, and god knows that labeling oneself or one’s kid as “gifted” or “creative” as a way of “explaining” behavior or feelings that create problems seems ripe for self-serving rationalization–though at the same time, if it works to help mitigate those problems I’m willing to take it on. But I want to distinguish between verifiable truths and useful explanations, and when it comes to what’s written about and around “gifted” kids I find it very, very difficult to tell if anyone actually recognizes that those are different things).

In any case. It doesn’t really matter if this is a “gifted/creative” thing, or a “mistakes I have made as a parent” thing or “genetic predispositions towards anxiety I have passed on” or a “crappy behavior patterns I have modeled.” It’s just something that I need to keep in mind: for PK, for now, “try this for a bit” is a much more reassuring way of presenting new stuff than “I want you to do this now.” Though he does need to be steered towards trying things, because otherwise, I think, he really just does not know what to do with himself.

*I’m definitely the leans-away-from-structure person.


One Week In: Thoughts & Thanks

First, the thanks–to all the new readers (and old ones I never knew!) that have offered suggestions, links, and ideas. You women have been more helpful than I could have imagined, and I am immensely grateful. I hope that over time I’ll be able to be as helpful to some of you. For what it’s worth, I’m collecting a lot of interesting links over on my pinterest home schooling board; maybe some of those will be interesting to some of you. (They skew towards science, and towards older rather than younger kids, just fyi.) I’m also hoping to update my blogroll, which is currently useless.

The thoughts:

  • At least for now, PK needs, I think, a little prodding to do things other than video games. He responds surprisingly well to this, though, and is also surprisingly positive about homeschooling so far (admittedly I am starting slow!), so yay. I will do a little prodding.
  • My husband has been more helpful than I expected (given his work schedule)–and, because he’s more the direct instruction type, that mixes things up for PK a bit. So far this week he’s done some math with PK and some history.
  • What we’ve done this week:
  1. Science: club soda v. tonic water taste test (was primarily about methodology and writing down observations–a good start on that front); video about possible uses of the Large Hadron Collider (which led to some discussion and explanation–from him to me–of the ideas in it); online games about natural selection, radioactive dating, and the chemicals behind neural stimulation. (The video and online games are available via the pinterest link above, if anyone is interested; I am too lazy to do individual links.)
  2. Language Arts: writing down the club soda/tonic water stuff; literary archetypes and formalism (generic plot conventions of fairy tales and adventure stories and character tropes in Western movies); started reading Alice in Wonderland; practiced with his computer’s dictation software (which is going to need a lot more experimenting before we can really make it work effectively to write!); daily essayistic explanations of various scientific/video game/literary topics.
  3. Math: 3d graphing, a word problem in zombie algebra (also on pinterest page). He keeps putting off looking at this math book I want him to consider adopting; will have him sit down and spend 10 minutes looking it over this weekend.
  4. Social Studies: movie–“Coliseum: A Gladiator’s Story”; history lecture on civil war battleships (interdisciplinary with science) from the husband.
  5. Arts & Crafts: amusingly, PK identified this one himself, as he was building cannons during his PE play time in order to fire at the pawn statue in our front yard.
  6. Independent Learning: along with the Arts & Crafts thing above, PK also explained how Minecraft has helped him learn about spatial relationships, direction and navigation, strategy, planning, design, and problem solving.
  7. PE: We still need to work on getting some serious movement going, but he has been good about taking breaks from the computer and going outside every day, so that’s a start.
  8. Field Trip: Wide Sky Days Conference in San Diego.
  • For next week, I think I’ll step it up a bit by having him start reading some history (specifically, The Mental Floss History of the World, which is right up PK’s alley, tone-wise) and spend some time every day with at least one of the links from my pinterest page (his choice). I also want to get us both out of the house for a long walk or hike at least once this week.
  • The biggest challenge, I suspect, is my own mental health issues. I’ve been struggling this week with my energy level, as the days get shorter; Thursday we both did nothing but hold the couch down, I’m afraid. I have an appointment with my psychiatrist this week to adjust the goddamn meds, but one of the down sides of homeschooling is that when I was having problems with depression and he was in school, I could better mask it by napping while he was gone; but now that he’s home all the time, my inactivity engenders his. The up side, I guess, is that homeschooling, if it’s going to succeed, is going to force me to be more aggressive in treating my own depression. (One never sees issues of mental health discussed w/r/t homeschooling, which I think is weird, so I’m going to be making a point of talking about this because I can’t be the only hs mom who has to deal with this.)
  • On a similar topic, I need to follow up on my request for a psychiatric referral from the Summit Center (which did the assessments for PK last spring). He adamantly does not want to do any more talk therapy right now, but his anxiety (separation anxiety? GAD?) is a bit of an obstacle, and I want to find someone who can help me decide whether or not medication might be something to consider. That said, he is getting much less reactive whenever he recalls his middle school experience, and is much less hostile in general than he has been, both of which are very reassuring. Needless to say, the shrinks that our insurance covers have zero overlap with shrinks who deal specifically with gifted kids, and neither group has any overlap with shrinks who are in our actual city. Sigh.
  • Another big homeschool advantage: it is going to be WAY easier to schedule appointments now that I don’t have to work around school hours or document every goddamn thing for the school district.
  • The week after next is a week-long field trip to San Diego–which will be fun, both because PK really likes San Diego and because it will get us out of the house and help with the inactivity problem as a consequence. PK wants to take me to the Ulysses S. Grant Hotel so that I can have the mock turtle soup; I want to take him to Balboa Park and visit some museums. Extra bonus: travel always means we do more reading and less internetting, and I have a stack of books from our summer vacation up to Seattle that I need to dive into.