The “Whack-A-Mole” of Parenting Three 2E Kids

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Parenting three 2E kids – especially during a pandemic – is flat-out exhausting, given that they never (okay, rarely) “just do their work”.

The most visceral analogy that comes to mind is playing whack-a-mole:  as soon as I start feeling good about the progress I’ve made with helping one of my three kiddos get more confident and independent with their schooling (“Yes! They’re doing it on their own, without prompting!”), a new or lingering challenge will inevitably pop up with another.

(I don’t mean to refer to my kids’ struggles as pest-like critters needing to be pummeled into submission; this is just how it sometimes feels for me energy-wise, as their mom.)

This past week, for instance, I’ve toggled between the following concerns:

  • Realizing that my 12-year-old daughter C. will receive failing grades in several of her classes next week unless or until I: 1) go through each of her class assignment sites with her, one by one, to see what’s missing; 2) reach out to her teachers for support and understanding (please, be understanding!) that C. wants to do well but is stymied by the challenges of navigating online learning while dealing with pandemic-related anxiety and overwhelm; 3) help C. determine a plan of action for either doing (or re-doing) each missing assignment, and then ensuring that the oh-so-important “Submit” button is actually pressed and her teacher is notified by email of the late submission;
  • Seeing my 10-year-old son D. refuse to turn his video on during orchestra class this morning, then logging out early before coming to inform me he left because: 1) he had his (virtual) hand up for the entire session and his teacher didn’t see or acknowledge him; 2) when he tried speaking out loud, no one listened to him; 3) he already knows how to hold his violin bow; and 4) he wanted to eat his breakfast;
  • Knowing that nothing whatsoever in my 7-year-old daughter I.’s Seesaw Assignments folder will get done until I go in to look through it all with her, one at a time; that each assignment – especially anything involving writing – will involve a negotiation of some kind and a request to do it later; and that there will inevitably be insistent questioning about when she’ll have “done enough Seesaw assignments” that she can get back to her Minecraft world creation.

Okay, so that’s the current slate of rotating challenges with each of my kids. But, here are a few positives – there are always positives! – to balance things out:

  • Seeing the glow of pride on C.’s face when she sees a one-word comment from her art teacher that the “Shadings” assignment she submitted is “beautiful”; hearing the gratitude, relief, and excitement in C.’s voice when I read her an email from a teacher who’s written back to say they’re happy to meet with her one-on-one; sitting down with C. as she slowly works her way through overdue assignments and we watch a fascinating CNN 10 news clip together about underwater habitats with wi-fi;
  • Meeting last week with D.’s awesome team of educators to outline an IEP plan to support him with his socio-emotional learning and communication goals at school; hearing D. logging on without prompting to all his (non-orchestra) Zoom meetings throughout the day; seeing D. sitting up in bed during class time rather than lying wrapped up in a blanket;
  • Hearing I. having fun connecting and laughing with her new classmates during live Zoom sessions; listening to I. practicing her division facts confidently with a classmate; hearing I. proclaim proudly to her teacher how much she LOVES reading.

Although I’m perennially exhausted, I’m also grateful that the Whack-a-Mole of parenting during a pandemic at least allows for breaks. I’ll tackle the next critter as soon as it emerges – but for now, since I’ve gotten my own critical work-work done, I’m going to lie down and listen to a book-on-tape while playing Candy Crush. Self-care is the top order of the day.

 

 

 

Book Reflections: “If This is a Gift, Can I Send it Back?” by Jen Merrill

As my second Book Reflection blog post, I thought I would comment on If This is a Gift, Can I Send it Back? Surviving in the Land of the Gifted and Twice Exceptional (2012) – a delightfully humorous and insightful book by Jen Merrill, author of the Laughing at Chaos blog and interviewee about parenting self-care on the Mind Matters Podcast.

On the back of her book, Merrill asks us:

When is life like a prize fight, a garden, and a quiz show, all hurtling down the road on an office chair, wrapped in song?

Her response:

When you’re living in the land of the gifted and twice exceptional.

The enduring theme throughout Merrill’s book is brutal honesty about how hard parenting a 2E kid (each one “more unique than snowflakes”) can be. Yes, of course it’s also rewarding, invigorating, and often fun – but more than anything, Merrill argues, you’ll need to roll with the challenges each day, allow yourself a glass of wine before conking at night, and accept that parenting doesn’t look anything like what you planned it to be.

Actually, prior to becoming a parent, I don’t recall holding many preconceptions – but I CERTAINLY didn’t anticipate how bone-crushingly exhausting it would be. There’s simply no way to know the truth of Parental Exhaustion until you enter into those shoes for yourself. And with 2E kids, Even More So.

With that as my brief introduction, here are my take-aways from Merrill’s book:

Chapter 1: Connecting the Dots 

Citing a commencement speech by Steve Jobs, Merrill notes that sometimes you can’t make sense of your child’s journey until you’re looking backwards and “connecting the dots” (p. 2). I love this framing of life as the narrative we create for and about ourselves: it empowers us to search for key points that may have seemed like insurmountable challenges, but turn into critical milestones in retrospect.

I also appreciate Merrill’s coining of “adult-onset, child-induced ADHD” – such a perfect description of what happens to even the brightest (perhaps especially the brightest?) of new parents. After admitting that she’s “been entirely unable to concentrate on one thing for longer than a few minutes” since her oldest (2E) son was born, she adds:

It’s just, well, I miss my brain. We used to go for long walks through thoughts together. Double-dated with new ideas. We used to dive into activities and barely take time to come up for air. Now my brain is crashed out on the mental couch, drooling a little, while I perch anxiously, waiting to spring into action, my Mom Radar spinning wildly 24/7 (p. 7).

This was exactly how I felt when my kids were younger, and I was desperately reaching out for daily support and assistance in as many ways as possible. Now that my kids are older, I’ve learned to tame my brain enough not to be on super high alert, given that quiet no longer means something challenging or dangerous is about to happen – it simply (ha!) means parental guilt that I’m leaving them to their own devices (literally).

Finally, Merrill offers a list of things she wishes “the world knew about parenting 2e kids”, including:

We are not making up this stuff (p. 8).

(This reminds me of how gifted kids can sometimes be “gaslit” into disbelieving their own uniquely intense reality, as described by Linda Silverman. Apparently the same is true for parents of 2E kids.)

Sometimes we appear over-protective, while sometimes we seem neglectful (p. 9).

(Every day, in every way, I need to continue to practice the art of – as my husband would put it – “not giving a f***” what other people think about my parenting decisions. As a former people-pleaser-extraordinaire, this has been a monumental challenge – one I’m still working on.)

Not every 2e kid has the same issues. Every single one of these kids presents differently, and they are not in parenting magazines or books, mainstream blogs, or general societal acceptance (p. 10).

(This is a sobering reminder of how isolating it can be to look at “mainstream” parenting sources and not see our own experiences and realities reflected – hence, the need for support groups, blogs, podcasts, and books specifically for parents of 2E kids.)

Chapter 2: One Heck of a Ride 

In her second chapter, Merrill responds with brutal honesty to the quip “Must be nice to have a gifted child” with her own “must be nice” rejoinders:

Must be nice to have a child whose racing brain doesn’t keep her awake into the wee hours (p. 13).

(My 12-year-old C has “insomnia issues”, just like me. In addition to endlessly racing minds, we each have our own laundry list of hacks and supports needed to help us fall and stay asleep. I’ll write more about insomnia in another post.)

Must be nice to not have to worry about your child making and keeping friends (p. 13).

(My number one wish for my 10-year-old neurodiverse son D. is that he’ll finally make a new and trusted friend this year – not exactly easy during a pandemic.)

Must be nice to take your kid somewhere new and not worry about having to leave early because of over-stimulation (p. 14).

(Heck, I’ve always just assumed we won’t stay long! We aim for an hour, and anything beyond that is bonus.)

Also included in this chapter is a hypothetical letter written by Merrill to her child’s teacher (“You have too many students, not enough time, and there’s just no money to do anything different… Trust that I wouldn’t tell you how he learns unless I thought it would help you help him.”), and Merrill imagining what her own Gifted and Talented Conference opening speech might sound like (“Parents, you need to remember to take care of you.”)

Chapter 3: Taking the Leap 

Here, Merrill talks about “taking the leap” to homeschooling her 2E son. In a hilarious passage, she compares a series of statements said by a teacher to “what’s actually meant” and “what is heard” by the parent on the receiving end:

What is said: Your child refuses to participate in any class activities and will not put down a single word, even when given the words to write.

What is meant: Your kid is the most passive-aggressive ODD child I’ve ever known and I haven’t the slightest clue how to motivate him…

What is heard: Your parenting skills are just below those of a psychotic hamster. (p. 31)

I resonate with Merrill’s insecurities. Like her, I was formerly a classroom teacher, and well remember what it was like to feel frustrated and exhausted by “out of the box” kids who, quite simply, made my job a lot harder. Now, as a parent, I’m constantly walking a fine line of wanting to empathize with teachers while also advocating for what my kids need – and hoping I come across as just-the-right-mixture of humble-but-proactive-and-informed parent.  It’s tricky.

Chapter 4: Our Grand Homeschooling Adventure 

When discussing her experiences with homeschooling (only chosen as an option when her designated gifted kid was denied services at his new local school due to his twice-exceptionality), Merrill shares:

I am not a patient woman. I know this about myself and barely accept it. I walk fast, I talk fast, and I want to scream when my computer isn’t as caffeinated as I am (p. 36).

Hear, hear. My nickname as a kid was Speedy (no joke), and it remains insanely challenging to slow down enough to roll with the ride of parenting and accept imperfection on a daily basis. I may know (hypothetically) all the things I “could” be doing with my kids to optimize their learning experiences, but constantly have to settle for the reality of how much I actually get done – because ultimately, self-care trumps even the illusion of “parenting perfection”; nothing is more important.

Chapter 5: Living My Walter Mitty Fantasy 

In her final chapter – after singing the praises of Pixar’s The Incredibles (2004) as the ultimate cinematic representation of a gifted family (love that movie!) – Merrill notes that back in her pre-kid days, as a professional flutist, she was actually living her “Walter Mitty fantasy” – that is, her daydream of a perfect alternative life. Now, as a parent of a 2E kid, she vacillates between loving and hating the work she has cut out for herself:

I love homeschooling my son… I don’t miss the fights over homework, the breathtaking anxiety about his psyche, or the conferences with teachers about everything he was doing wrong and nothing about what he was doing right.

I hate homeschooling my son. It’s all on me. (pp. 55-56)

Yes, exactly. I’m thrilled that during this learning-at-home pandemic time, it’s actually not “all on me”: I get to do a mix of both, with my kids’ teachers determining their curriculum (for better and for worse – but mostly for better), and it “simply” being up to me to supervise them and make sure it all gets done.

Back when I first attended a SENG parent support group, our facilitator reminded us repeatedly that there’s never a perfect solution to our kids’ schooling needs – there’s only compromise and striving for the “best possible”.

That’s certainly been my own experience, with plenty of highs and lows over the years. So much depends on the grace, understanding, and flexibility of our kids’ teachers – and, like Merrill, I “stand with teachers” (p. 38) while also standing with students and parents.

I appreciate Merrill’s closing reminder in her book:

“If you decide to confide in others, you’ll discover you’re not alone” (p. 58).

Speaking of that, last night I participated in a webinar and support group for parents of gifted kids (hosted by the Institute for Educational Advancement), and got multiple dopamine hits from having my experiences and challenges validated again and again – ping, ping, ping.

I was reminded that the more we come together and share honestly – as Merrill does in this book – the happier (and less alone) we’ll be.

 

Book Reflections: “Giftedness 101” by Linda Kreger Silverman

This is the first entry in what I hope will be an ongoing series of reflections on books related to giftedness and 2E learning.

After listening to a Mind Matters podcast interview with Linda Kreger Silverman – Episode 20, entitled “IQ Isn’t Everything: Reevaluating Evaluation” – I ordered and read Silverman’s Giftedness 101 (2013) by Springer Publishing.

This book is part of a series of “Psych 101” books, described on the back cover as “short, reader-friendly introductions to cutting-edge topics in psychology… for all students of psychology and anyone interested in the field”.

The chapter titles alone were enough to pull me in:

  1. Invisible Gifts
  2. What is Giftedness
  3. The Crusade to Vanquish Prejudice Against the Gifted
  4. Life at the Extremes
  5. The Psychology of Giftedness
  6. Comprehensive Assessment of Giftedness
  7. Optimal Development of the Gifted
  8. Where Do We Go From Here?

While I couldn’t help turning immediately to chapter 3 (what a tantalizing title!), I quickly realized I should start at the beginning and work my way through – which I did, in concentrated chunks over the last few days. I marked up pages like mad with my pencil, and will share a few of my thoughts – accompanied by quotes – from each chapter.

Chapter 1: Invisible Gifts

“Undetected ability is an immense loss to society; the pain borne by the individual is beyond measure” (p. 2).

Silverman’s poetic first chapter makes a case for the fact that giftedness is often hiding under the surface of the small percentage of individuals who stand out through their “eminence” – indeed, one of the most commonly used strategies to cope with giftedness is “invisibility”.

“Without being given the opportunity to soar, [gifted kids] disappear into daydreams. Thousands of extremely gifted children become so disillusioned that they drop out of school and insist on being homeschooled” (p. 6).

As the quotes selected above indicate, the consequences of not acknowledging and supporting gifted kids can be dire – both societally and individually.  Although my own giftedness was recognized at a fairly early age (through elementary school testing) – and I was placed in a weekly pull-out program – I didn’t receive counseling or other emotional support. I ended up developing a life-threatening eating disorder at the age of 12, and dropping out of school in the first semester of 7th grade. I only made it through morning classes in 9th and 10th grade before formally dropping out of K-12 schooling for good.

I insisted on being homeschooled – actually, on being an autodidact – and became obsessed with forming my own curricular path based on my unique passions and interests. This included several part-time jobs out in the “real world”, where I deeply appreciated the chance to interact with adults rather than teenagers. (My best friend was 20 years older than me.) I made it through my teenage years, just barely – but I sure wish I’d had more support earlier on.

Chapter 2: What is Giftedness? 

“Giftedness is a political football” (p. 20)

In this chapter, Silverman discusses the fascinating history of how we’ve chosen to define giftedness over the decades – and the ramifications this has had on both identification and services. While she notes that emphasis was previously placed on “eminence” (that is, gifted kids who “achieve their potential” in society), she points out how problematic this is on so many fronts.

Silverman prefers viewing giftedness as “asynchronous development”, with a focus on training “therapists and counselors who understand [gifted kids’] inner worlds and the role that giftedness plays in their identity development” (p. 49). She points out that while giftedness studies originated in psychology, they’ve drifted away towards the education realm (i.e., talent development) – and she posits that psychologists have a moral imperative to step back into the fray.

The quote I selected from this chapter stood out to me given my own professional journey in education, and how I’ve been forced to “take sides” one way or another given the political tides at play. I’m hopeful that once Marc Smolowitz’s documentary “The G Word” can finally be released, it will provoke a much-needed and overdue societal discussion about how to best meet diverse gifted kids’ needs.

Chapter 3: The Crusade to Vanquish Prejudice Against the Giftedness 

“Stereotyping the gifted is commonly accepted and, in the past, has mushroomed into scapegoating… and persecution” (p. 67).

In Chapter 3, Silverman provides additional historical context for giftedness – including wading into the decidedly unpleasant waters of Sir Francis Galton’s founding of eugenics (boooooooo!) while also covering the trajectory of work by Alfred Binet, Lewis Terman, and Leta Hollingworth (who coined the challenge of “the woman problem” in giftedness – i.e., being responsibility for child-bearing and caring while also nurturing one’s own gifts).

Silverman debunks numerous myths and stereotypes about gifted individuals – both old and new. Older myths include “Early ripe, early rot” and “giftedness is akin to madness”. Newer myths – still ever-present – include “all children are gifted”, “giftedness is just a manifestation of helicopter parenting”, “acceleration is socially harmful”, “gifted programs are elitist”, and “gifted kids can make it on their own”. A recent interview with my own parents reveals that they hold several of these beliefs, and that I would not have received any special services for my giftedness unless my school had provided them.

Chapter 4: Life at the Extremes

“The higher the individual’s IQ, the more intense the struggle for identity, meaning, and connection” (p. 87).

In this chapter, Silverman compares and contrasts the atypical developmental needs of kids at both ends of the intellectual spectrum. She argues that just like intellectual disability, giftedness should be seen as an “organizing principle” that would allow behaviors to be “perceived within the context of those with similar abilities, rather than viewing them as ‘aberrant’ in relation to those in the average range” (p. 93). She names such challenges of extreme giftedness as advanced vocabulary (which “hinders communication”), depression, loneliness, so-called “mania” (i.e., intense focus and enthusiasm), and “perfectionism” (actually a common character trait of giftedness, rather than a defect to be overcome).

Silverman discusses the various levels of giftedness, noting that “gifted educators have been so focused on the development of talented children (approximately 120 IQ and above) that they have not taken seriously the needs of children in the higher extremes of ability” (p. 101) – many of whom are “hidden” due to being homeschooled.

Finally, in this chapter Silverman discusses giftedness throughout the lifespan, beginning with the earliest potential indicators in infancy (including the high value of early identification – especially for kids who may not otherwise be given services to nurture their gifts), and giftedness in adults – which I’ve written about quite a bit already on this blog. (Naturally, much of this portion of the chapter is heavily underlined… )

Chapter 5: The Psychology of Giftedness

“It is time for a psychology of giftedness – time to recognize the developmental differences, personality traits, lifespan development, particular issues and struggles of the gifted, as well as the consequences of not being acceptable” (p. 121).

Silverman covers quite a few topics in chapter 5, including: feeling different (and what this means for “stages of friendship”); gifted kids’ quintessential adaptability (“Who would you like me to be today?”); the inner experience of being gifted; Dabrowski’s “theory of positive disintegration”; perfectionism (both healthy and unhealthy); and introversion.

So many ideas in this chapter resonated with me – perhaps most especially the idea that gifted kids “quickly learn what is expected of them and how to elicit the responses they desire from adults” (p. 129). This was enough the Story of My Childhood that I’ll devote a specific blog post to it later on, since it played a pivotal role in my eventual disintegration into an eating disorder and “failure to thrive”.  Briefly, I spent so many years being who others thought I was – or wanted me to be – or needed me to be – that I was unable to make it safely across the bridge of adolescence without crashing and burning numerous times.

In Silverman’s discussion about the “inner experience of giftedness”, countless ideas stood out; here are just a few, rat-a-tat:

“Excitement with new insights is dampened when there’s no one with whom to share them. Social exchange becomes a minefield when one is attuned to a symphony of nuance” (p. 131).

“It isn’t fun or funny to be laughed at for who you are. The dread of being ‘abnormal’ impels the gifted to lead a double life. They feign normalcy attempting to mask their vulnerability” (p. 132).

“Anti-intellectualism, under the guise of egalitarianism, is pervasive worldwide” (p. 132).

“The tall poppies syndrome is a social phenomenon of attacking those with exceptional ability” (p. 133).

“Benign neglect of the gifted is customary, with the rationale that they can take care of themselves and other students are in more need” (p. 133).

Yikes – and, yes!

Silverman undeniably has her pulse on the inner worlds of gifted kids – and how many challenges they face that most would consider insignificant. It’s tiring “feigning normalcy”, feeling unheard, trying not to “stand out”, and knowing that your needs are considered much less important than others’.

However, I really stood up and took notice during the next portion of this section, in which Silverman discusses various “personality characteristics” associated with gifted kids – and I saw my own challenging history in each one:

First:

“The gifted are gullible. Their first inclination is to be truthful, so they tend to believe nearly anything anyone tells them… Early humiliations leave deep scars…” (p. 134).

I was relentlessly bullied (by my so-called friends) in second grade, and will write about that in a separate post – but yes, the scars ran deep.

Second:

“When gifted individuals cannot find anyone who understands their reality, they begin to doubt their sanity” (p. 134).

Because others “do not observe, apprehend, feel, experience, or intuit in the same manner” as gifted kids, they may tend to feel “gaslit”.  So interesting. I hadn’t made that connection before, but it rings very true.

Third:

Gifted kids tend to have a “logical imperative”, leading to “imposter syndrome” because they:

“… compare their knowledge with all there is to be known about a subject” and “soon become aware that they’ve barely scratched the surface… The gifted often feel like they’ve just fooled everybody into thinking that they are smart, and at any moment they will be found out” (p. 135).

Ummm… Yes. Exactly. And, making things even worse:

“The gifted hate hypocrisy and they have uncanny perception, which often puts them at odds with bosses, co-workers, teachers, and parents who sport inauthentic facades” (p. 135).

I can’t stand in-authenticity!!!!  I’ve had to intellectualize and compartmentalize its social necessity in order to function. (FWIW, studying sociology and evolutionary psychology has been a godsend for this.)

Furthermore, Silverman notes:

“[Gifted kids] are paradoxical: self-assured and insecure, bold and timid, idealistic and practical, compassionate to others and unkind to themselves, mature and immature” (p. 135).

How is it that so many contradictions mutually co-exist? And yet, they do.

Moving on, Dabrowski’s work deserves its own blog post, especially given how much controversy there is in the “gifted world” around his concept of “overexcitabilities” or OEs. Perfectionism and introversion are also blog-worthy entries in their own right, so I’ll also pause on those for now.

Chapter 6: Comprehensive Assessment of Giftedness 

“IQ scores are never an end in themselves; they are simply tools to be used wisely in the hands of professionals who understand giftedness” (p. 190).

As someone completely unversed in psychometrics, I learned the most from – and feel most humbled by – this chapter. There is a LOT that goes into accurately assessing giftedness, and I finished this chapter with more questions than answers. This is clearly a growth area for me; in the meantime; I’m grateful for all the individuals who dedicate their lives to doing this important work, and doing it well.

Chapter 7: Optimal Development of the Gifted 

Silverman begins her penultimate chapter by emphasizing the need to stop “bashing” parents of gifted kids, instead focusing on the critical role they play in their children’s development – and pointing out that they need support (yes!).

She discusses how to foster an optimal home environment (primarily by being responsive to kids’ needs and interests) and the fact that giftedness tends to “run in families”. (Unfortunately, she seems to take genetic relatedness among all members for granted, which is far from always the case; or, if I’m misreading her, the importance of environmental influences rather than or in addition to heritability should be called out more explicitly.)

She also briefly covers elements of an “optimal school environment”, which among other things boils down to listening to what kids want and need – and then listening some more.

Chapter 8: Where Do We Go From Here? 

Silverman’s short closing chapter is a “call to work” for fledgling psychology students to join the fray of the giftedness sphere – which she acknowledges has “no truce in sight”. She reminds the reader:

“If the gifted and twice exceptional should become your passion… you will be paid in appreciation. Your work will be a wellspring of creativity. You’ll be outside the box avnyway, eyed suspiciously by the system, so you might as well enjoy the freedom to access your creativity” (p. 232).

I appreciate that Silverman doesn’t sugarcoat the realistic challenges of working with and for gifted individuals. I’m writing this blog anonymously (for now) for a reason. I need more time to make peace with my passion for giftedness – which has always been there, but wasn’t allowed to blossom until I finally had kids of my own and needed to find ways to help them.

In closing, I recommend Giftedness 101 for anybody just stepping into this world, who wants a concise yet compassionate overview of where we’ve been, where we’re at, and where we should head.

As Silverman notes, there’s plenty of work left to do.

Neurodiversity: Embracing Cognitive Differences

Image retrieved from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Neurodiversity_Crowd_1.png

Neurodiversity is a term not yet widely used by society.

Broadly defined, it’s a stance providing “a viewpoint that brain differences are normal, rather than deficits” – but it tends to be used most often when referring to individuals on the autism spectrum, like my 10-year-old son D.

While not nearly as loaded, in some ways neurodiversity is just as iffy and tenuous a term as giftedness. Just as “we’re all gifted in our own way”, surely we all “view the world in a different way” – isn’t that the very nature of epistemology and subjectivity?

But the terms gifted and neurodiverse become much more useful when you consider that kids with these diagnoses, especially in combination, really do need extra, different support in order to be successful in school. An assignment that could appear straightforward and meaningful to 95% of the class, for instance, might legitimately strike the other 5% (i.e., the one twice-exceptional, neurodiverse kid out of 20) as nonsensical or pointless.

To that end, my gifted, neurodiverse son was asked to complete a poem called “Where I’m From” last week, as a creative way to express his origins and let his new 5th grade teacher get to know him a little better. Here is part of the template:

“I am from [specific ordinary item]

From [product name] and [product name]

I am from the [home description]

[adjective], [adjective], [sensory detail]”

etc.

I remember writing this type of poem about myself back in one of the first teacher education courses I took in college, and finding it a profoundly rewarding and insightful experience. I loved getting to think back viscerally to my upbringing,  sharing some of the unique sights and sounds and smells that infused my first-generation Norwegian-American household.

For my neurodiverse son, however, this assignment was perceived as painful and intrusive. He didn’t understand the point of simply filling in the blanks of “specific ordinary item” or “description of family tendency”. It could be that he’s too young to engage with this kind of metaphorical literary activity (I’m curious what his classmates came up with), but it’s more likely he was simply befuddled by the point of it all.

I should add that my son – as I pointed out in my last entryloves language and words. He wants to know the origin of phrases, adores puns, and notices things about words (in terms of roots and spelling) that others might easily miss. He admires and enjoys the silly poetry of Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky.

So, how could I help D. make sense of the “Where I’m From” poetry assignment?

Or, perhaps more appropriately – how could I help his new teacher understand why this kind of activity is so challenging for him?

In a blog post for Scientific American entitled “Clearing Up Some Misconceptions About Neurodiversity” (2019), Aiyana Bailin reminds us that:

Autism and other neurological variations (learning disabilities, ADHD, etc.) may be disabilities, but they are not flaws. People with neurological differences are not broken or incomplete versions of normal people… Neurological variations are a vital part of humanity, as much as variations in size, shape, skin color and personality.

She adds:

When we talk about “not pathologizing autism,” we don’t mean “pretending autistic people don’t have impairments.” But we also don’t assume that neurological and behavioral differences are always problems. For example, there’s nothing inherently wrong with disliking social activities. Not wanting to socialize is different from wanting to participate and being unable to. Both are possibilities for autistic people. One requires acceptance, the other requires assistance.

So – does my son need assistance with writing a poem like “Where I’m From”, or acceptance from his teacher that this simply isn’t something that makes sense to him?

And can I – should I – teach him how to self-advocate on behalf of submitting work that meets the requirements in a different way? 

We got through that particular assignment by doing it together – or rather, I basically fed him ideas for each blank and “we” submitted it.

But – that’s not sustainable or appropriate. And when he was asked the next day to complete another writing assignment about his personal experiences in school (specifically related to online learning during the shutdown in spring), he flat-out refused.

I left him to do the work, and came back to see that he had written something along the lines of, “These questions are too personal. I don’t want to answer them. This is three sentences.” And that was it. (He had been asked to respond to five different sets of prompts, in 3-4 sentences each.)  

I tried engaging with him to see if I could figure out what was bothering him; I reminded him that his teacher was simply trying to learn more about him to help him have a better time with online schooling this year.

He wouldn’t budge.

He finally said to me, with a touch of emotion in his voice, “Mommy, you’re just asking me the same question in different ways. Those questions on the slides are too personal, and I don’t feel safe answering them.”

At that point, something in me shifted. He was right: I was asking him the same question again and again, in an attempt to help him build empathy for his teacher’s perspective. But D.’s perspective was important, too.

Neurodiverse kids can sometimes be perceived as “unemotional”, given how linear and factual they come across. However, this is far from true. My son feels very strong emotions – ones that sometimes bubble to the surface at surprising moments, demonstrating how he truly does see the world in unique, multi-faceted, and deeply felt ways.

Yesterday, for instance, while at my parents’ house, we were playing the game Apples to Apples, sitting at the edge of their garage to social-distance and trying to stay shaded in the fresh air.

(Apples to Apples, for those who haven’t played it, is a card game where players try to select a word-card from their hand that MOST matches a descriptor provided by the person who’s “on” for that round.)

The word at the center of the table during one particular round was hurt, and my son chose to put forth the card “deer hunting”. He then explained to me, “It HURTS the deer who’s being shot – but it also HURTS the person who’s doing the shooting.”

Yes, indeed. It often does. 

Another recent example:

Last night I was reading aloud to D. from our newest night-time novelHoles (1996) by Louis Sachar. A central feature of this complex, back-and-forth narrative (primarily taking place in current times at a juvenile detention facility) involves a white female schoolteacher in the 1880s falling in love with a black male onion seller, who is then nearly lynched (and does die) for the “crime” of kissing her. As I read this part aloud to D., he said with exasperation and frustration:

Racism… slavery! Fighting… war!

Then he contemplated what he’d just said (which is common for D. – he often provides an instant meta-commentary on his own speech). He said:

I just put one word and then a more extreme but related word after it. I’m not sure why…

I helped him understand that he was making analogies, and that they were entirely apt: one of the worst, most extreme outcomes of racism is slavery; one of the worst, most extreme outcomes of fighting is war.

He doesn’t understand the “point” of any of these existing, by the way. Why in the world do we fight? Why do we go to war? Why is stupid racism even a thing – at all? And how in the world could slavery have ever taken place?

The fact that neurodiverse individuals may be more inclined to voice such views openly and without hesitation is, in my opinion, ultimately a gift – but not one without problems. D. is very blunt, and doesn’t always understand when it’s “appropriate” to voice his opinion (or not). Sometimes he’s convinced he knows the “truth”, and is not able to see beyond his own definition.

Regarding complex issues such as systemic racism and violence, he’ll need to learn about the many factors that play into the existence of these realities – to help combat them, rather than simply dismissing them as ridiculously wrong.

With that said, I sense D. will bring an invaluable, pragmatic approach to the table. He is sensitive, caring, intelligent, and insightful – and if he can’t express those qualities in the “traditional” format of his assignments, we’ll have to work with him to find alternative means of expression.

Because he does have a lot to say, and many important contributions to make to the world. He just needs plenty of support in doing it well.

Anxiety, Stress, and Perfectionism – Oh My…

School has started and we’re very slowly getting into a new rhythm and routine around here.

Thankfully, my kids’ school district is prioritizing socio-emotional well-being and community building during these first few weeks of school, in addition to helping kids and their guardians become more familiarized with the online learning systems we’ll be using for the foreseeable future.

So far, I’m already seeing wonderful evidence of resilience, rigor, compassion, and flexibility on the part of everyone. (Thank you, teachers and administrators!)

… None of which takes away from the fact that we’re all a little bit more stressed these days here in our household. Our recent weeks of “uncamping” – that is, living life at a slower pace, exploring our interests, and (for me) getting this new blog started – have ended, though we’re still holding on to as much as we can.

Yesterday I had a lovely half-hour, one-on-one (online) conference with my 7-year-old’s teacher. We talked about I.’s strengths, challenges, sensitivities, dislike of online learning, passion for art, and much more. She listened, validated, took plenty of notes, and helped me feel like my daughter’s well-being really is one of her priorities amidst everything else going on.

In terms of academic content, I shared that I. may need some additional support in math, given that she’s shifting from an exclusively first-grade math curriculum (her first grade teacher didn’t differentiate for kids capable of more advanced content) to a fully third-grade math curriculum in her new accelerated-learning 2nd grade placement.

I.’s teacher mentioned (very non-judgmentally) that if we wanted to, we could work with I. on basic math facts and operations to help her feel more confident – which makes perfect sense, but put me into a mild panic nonetheless.

Her suggestion is not an un-doable feat by any means. I’m a former elementary school teacher and math coach, for goodness sake! I have a ton of resources available in our house to help my kids with whatever content areas they need support in, as well as access to a wealth of activities and games on the internet – not to mention our school district making math curriculum content from all grade levels available online to any student with a district ID.

So, why hadn’t I done anything all summer long to help I. get comfortable with the 2nd grade math she would be hopping over this year? This seems like such a no-brainer parenting checklist item, and yet… It ended up being a “no-brainer” of a different kind for me on terms of NOT ENTERING MY BRAIN ONCE I DISMISSED IT.

Memories of our relaxed summer suddenly rushed past me in backwards fast-motion as I reflected on the “controlled chaos” of spring quarter during COVID-19, when our kids were at home with us all the time, teachers everywhere were scrambling to adjust, and the entire world was reeling with stress over a global pandemic we were both terrified by and didn’t understand enough about. I was trying to oversee my three kids’ schoolwork while also doing my own teaching, and taking a daily Norwegian class I’d (foolishly?) signed up for.

As was the case for most parents, I’m sure, each day was differently exhausting – especially given that none of my kids were able to simply “sit and do their work” on their own. They all needed scaffolding of some kind – whether that related to making sense of rapidly shifting expectations, accessing online portals, learning how to set deadlines for themselves, or dealing with emotional meltdowns as they inevitably got kicked off of Zoom meetings, couldn’t be seen by their teachers, couldn’t use the chat box, couldn’t talk or communicate while their entire class was muted, etc., etc., etc.

When I thought back specifically to doing math work with I., I recalled how utterly tedious it was to sit with her and try to figure out whether her reluctance to do her worksheets was because she was unclear on what to do, didn’t feel like doing it at that particular moment in time, couldn’t figure out the solutions, and/or was “gaming” me in some way.

(Plus, I couldn’t personally relate to any of this. I was a “good” little worksheet-completer as a kid – I loved blasting through them!)

At any rate, we would sit on her floor and color math facts worksheets together (“Ooh, fun! A color-by-number worksheet!”), and I remember wondering why she was being so deliberate and slow rather than just getting the work done so she could get back to whatever else she wanted to do. She cared a lot more about color choices than the math. She also cared more about sitting and doing something “fun” with me than the math.

But her facility with the actual math facts? Well, that was trickier. Whenever I tried doing quick drills, she would instantly get overwhelmed and stressed. (“Mom! I don’t want to do this right now!”)

I tried tapping into her love of manipulating numbers in creative ways to show her how easy it is to, for instance, quickly calculate 13 minus 5. (“Well, if you take 3 away from 13, you have 10, and then you only have 2 more to take away, and that gets you down to 8.”) This made complete sense to her, and she definitely understood it – yet she still froze up at the idea of spitting out the answers, especially when timed.

“I can’t do it! I’m getting them wrong!”

I.’s anxiety and perfectionism seemed to be preventing her from practicing and learning from mistakes. Her older sister, who also deals with anxiety, was the same way at her age (and continues to struggle with that while doing higher-level math). Their brother – not so much. He’s a “facts geek” and takes great delight in spewing off answers. They’re all different (who knew?).

(As an anecdotal aside, my husband – a software engineer with a major in electrical engineering and an informal minor in economics – has told me he was the absolute LAST person in his third grade class to memorize his times tables. So strange – AND useful to my understanding of, and compassion for, I.) 

Back to last night and her teacher’s suggestion – I talked it all over with my husband (normally I leave him out of schooling issues – that’s a topic for another blog post), then decided to see what would happen if I did a quick review with I. of some core 2nd grade math ideas, just to see where she was at after the summer months.

The first question I asked her – “How many ones are there in 78?” – got a silly response:

“500!”.

“No, for real. How many ones are there in 78?”

“78!”

Umm…. Okay. Yes.

That’s actually true. There are 78 individual “ones” in 78.

I quickly reminded her about place value (“What’s place value? Oh, right, okay.”), messing up briefly myself as I explained there were 70 tens in 78.

(“Seven, not seventy!” my husband chimed in. “Whoops – yes, 7.”).

Then I revisited a similar question with I.: “How many ones are there in 68?”

No problem – there are 8 ones.

How many tens are there in 68?

“Sixty!”

Grin. This was the mistake I’d made, so she made it too.

“No really – how many?”

“Six.”

“Now, if I add a 5 here to the left, in the hundreds column, how many hundreds are there in 568?”

“Five.”

Etc. We kept going, and she seemed to have no problem going with the flow, up through a million.

“How about a billion?!?!?!?!” she asked at that point – so, we went that far.

Great. Fun. Place value seemed to be fine. I told her we would be doing more work the next day to review second grade math, and she seemed relieved to simply escape back to her room.

Meanwhile, in our bedroom (which is right next door to I.’s), my husband and I continued talking about core second grade math concepts, and what we needed to do to help I. quickly catch up. We may have sounded a little agitated, since we were in problem-solving mode – and like I said, I don’t normally involve my husband in detailed conversations around schooling (we both agree that’s my bailiwick), so I was treading in slightly uncomfortable water.

All of a sudden, in the midst of our “heated” conversation, I heard a troubling and loud thump next door.

I dropped the paper I was holding (a print out of core ideas from second grade math) and ran into her room to see what had happened. I. was lying on the floor on her back, with her eyes closed.

“I FELL OFF MY BUNK BED!” she screamed.

I quickly checked to make sure she seemed physically okay – which she was – but that was certainly an unpleasant surprise and jolt for her.

In the year+ she’s owned a bunk bed – always sleeping on the top – she has NEVER fallen off. Ever. Despite repeated warnings and concerns from us, and plenty of athletic gymnastics skirting close to and over the edge, she’s stayed focused and safe.

But last night, her equilibrium was apparently off – and it’s impossible not to associate this with the discussion she was hearing (and probably really distressed by) right next door.

To bring this story full circle, I reassured I. that everything was okay, that she could have some extra online gaming time that evening to get back into her virtual world and self-regulate (no, I didn’t explicitly use that term with her), and that she was going to be just fine with math during second grade. No worries.

For my part, I was reminded that kids ALWAYS pick up on our “panic” and concerns – or at least, mine do. I may think I’m hiding it, but I’m not. If I worry, they worry. If I’m stressed, they’re stressed.

I deliberately chose for us to have an “uncamping” summer because I wanted to maximize joy and peaceful vibes throughout the house.  My goal now is to gradually bring “formal schooling” back in without upsetting everyone’s  well-being.

Naturally, I’ll be reporting back.

 

“Overthinking” Parenting

Parenting is an interesting craft.

Like all hands-on skill-sets,  you can only read so much about it before you need to jump in and do it – at which point you instantly realize how ill-prepared you are.*

I wrote in my last blog post about how incredibly challenging it was on a sensory level to become a new parent. The physical discomfort of months of pregnancy – combined with the pain of childbirth, chronic sleep-deprivation, and an infant who constantly  threw up all her food – had me despairing over how little of this I’d actually read about or understood ahead of time.

It was supposed to all be relatively intuitive, but it didn’t feel that way. I knew that my over-active (read = “overly intellectualizing”) brain wasn’t helping me – but ragging on myself for this was equally unhelpful. As Paula Prober (2019) writes:

“Thinking has gotten a bad rap. If you do a lot of it, which you know you do, you’re called an overthinker, and that’s something you’re told you’re supposed to avoid” (p. 57).

Yep. Prober goes on to write:

“Too much thinking can become a problem… [but] it’s how your brain works… [For] you, it’s not overthinking. It’s just thinking. Or being. It’s curiosity. Analysis. Wondering. Creating… It’s you being you…” (p. 58).

I’m incredibly grateful for this vote of confidence, and hope all “over-thinking” RFM parents will read Prober’s words and stop guilt-tripping. (And I will now officially stop censuring myself for purchasing a sociology textbook on child-rearing practices around the world when my oldest daughter was only a few days old, as part of my desperate search for reassurance that it’s “normal” to want and need help during those challenging first weeks.)  

With all that said, it’s been interesting over the past 12+ years to reflect on how doing parenting intersects with reading and learning about parenting. As with so many aspects of life, they’re deeply intertwined: parenting doesn’t stop while you’re taking a “break” to talk to a friend or family member about a challenge you’re having with one of your kids, or while you’re reading a book on how to help siblings get along, or while you’re attending a class on using “love and logic” as a disciplinary approach.

When my kids were super-little, I recall reading a number of books and website articles on developmental stages. However, I was so overwhelmed by work and parenting my (eventually) three kids under five – even with plenty of support from my husband and mom and babysitters and preschool teachers – that I didn’t write down a lot of my kids’ milestones; I just checked to verify they were basically on track.

(I mention this because it turns out with twice-exceptional kids, it’s pretty important to know a lot of “when” moments with your little ones. A bunch of the paperwork you fill out for evaluations asks you when, for instance, they said their first word… or took their first step… You know, reasonable things parents should probably remember and keep track of. Whoops.) 

One book I do remember reading and really enjoying about their early years was Alison Gopnick’s The Philosophical Baby (2010).

But most of the books I’ve read on parenting have come later in their still-young lives (ages 12, 10, and 7), especially as I’ve explored what I now understand to be their twice-exceptionalism. It turns out they all have rainforest minds AND they live with anxiety, ADHD (inattentive type), and/or neurodiversity.

To that end, attending a SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted) parent support group and reading the core text for this organization – A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children (2007) – was life-changing in terms of providing a space where I finally (FINALLY!) felt like I could safely open up not only about my kids, but my own experiences as a gifted child.

After this group ended, I got my three children formally evaluated by a neuropsychiatrist and continued looking for books and websites to support my learning-as-a-parent. Debbie Reber’s Tilt Parenting podcast was a godsend in terms of collating expertise from dozens of specialists in one convenient space, and I spent a full summer working my way through nearly all of her prior episodes. My shelves and Kindle library are now loaded with books on anxiety, ADHD, giftedness, neurodiversity, sensory processing disorder, and so much more. I haven’t read them all (yet) but just knowing they’re there makes a difference.

Given that one of my many goals with this blog is to eventually offer thoughts on various books related to parenting and/or giftedness, perhaps this will be my excuse to embrace my “overthinking” mind and geek out as I head over to my bookshelf…

Stay tuned.

* My experience with teaching went much the same way: I studied a ton, took many classes, did student-teaching, got certified, and yet – there was still nothing to compare with actually standing in front of my own classroom of 28 kids for the first time, with no other adults around. Who said I was qualified to do this, again? 

References:

  • Gopnick, A. (2010). The philosophical  baby: What children’s minds tell us about truth, love, and the meaning of life. Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
  • Prober, P. (2019). Journey into your rainforest mind: A field guide for gifted adults and teens, book lovers, overthinkers, geeks, sensitives, brainiacs, intuitives, procrastinators, and perfectionists. Luminare Press.
  • Webb, J.T., & Gore, J. (2007). A parent’s guide to gifted children. Great Potential Press, Inc.

 

 

Sensory Savvy: Bodily Sensitivity as a 2E Parent

The very first chapter of Paula Prober’s (2016) Your Rainforest Mind is entitled “Too Much: Intensity, Sensitivity, Empathy”.

There are a ton of important ideas here to explore, but for now I’ll focus on the issue of heightened bodily sensitivity, and connect it back to what it’s been like learning to parent for the last 12+ years.

First, an explanation. As Prober writes of Rain Forest Minds  (RFMs):

“… your perception, awareness, and sensitivities are turned up high. This can apply to sounds, textures, smells, chemicals, tastes, colors, images, and air quality. You may hear sounds that others miss or not be able to wear particular clothes due to their texture” (p. 18).

In her follow-up “field guild” for RFMs, Prober (2019) adds:

“Your sensitivities may be criticized or pathologized by family members, teachers, and therapists. Not knowing that a finely tuned nervous system and a body-mind that perceives more on multiple levels is part of your rainforest mind might lead you to believe that something is seriously wrong with you” (p. 36).

Yes, exactly, Paula. That’s what happened.

I had read Elaine Aron’s (1997) The Highly Sensitive Person years earlier, so fortunately already knew about this concept – but it was nice to see it reiterated so boldly in Prober’s book.

Okay – where to begin?

In hindsight, life was definitely too much (sensorily speaking) for me as a kid, though I didn’t realize this at the time. I wasn’t shy or socially anxious, yet I struggled with feeling the “too muchness” of being with people for too long. I remember needing to sneak away to read a book on my own during sleep-overs with friends; escaping into the bathroom during play-dates to decompress; and occasionally choosing to simply stay at home rather than go out to social and/or high sensory events.

I cried “too much” in elementary school, to the point where I was chastised by two of my less-tolerant teachers and made to feel ashamed of myself for this tendency. I slept with a stuffie (an old Norwegian “teddy duck” I called bamse) for years.

I (secretly, only at home) sucked my thumb until I was 12 – but this deeply entrenched habit suddenly went away when it was no longer soothing, and I turned instead to the lure of dieting, which provided temporarily bodily control but very quickly spiraled into an eating disorder I dealt with for my entire teenage-hood. (That topic merits additional blog posts, and was FILLED with sensory challenges of its own.) 

Suffice it to say I simply didn’t feel okay in my body as a child or teen, unless I was escaping into my mind or engaged in very carefully selected exercise. (For instance, I loved bicycling out on city streets in the fresh air early in the morning – like, at 5:30 a.m., before many people were out.)

I didn’t realize until I became a parent and started reading about Sensory Processing Disorder (actually, listening to a podcast about it on Debbie Reber’s awesome Tilt Parenting site) that I realized I may be able to retroactively diagnose myself in this way, too.

When I became pregnant with my first child at the age of 33, I experienced heightened sensory sensitivity – primarily persistent nausea (I ended up taking medication for this) and deep exhaustion. I resisted getting an epidural while giving birth, which led to a physical experience more painful than anything I’d ever dealt with before in my life.

(I say this not to state the obvious, but rather to say that I’ll bet highly-sensitive people have a harder time with childbirth in general. Many moms I’ve spoken with acknowledge how painful it is – yes, of course – but don’t seem to have experienced the physical pain as acutely or in the same way as I did.)

Having a newborn – as miraculous as this was! – brought with it an entirely new set of sensory challenges, ones I couldn’t really share openly given the taboo of complaining about being lucky enough to have a child.

With that said, the biggest challenges I faced were the following:

1) Suddenly being denied anything close to consistent sleep (WTF??!!);

2) Becoming overly vigilant (naturally enough) to the potential sound of a baby crying or fussing; and

3) Feeling every second of milk filling up my breasts. (I eventually got mastitis, which became perhaps the second-most painful thing I could imagine at that time.) 

Meanwhile, my oldest child C suffered the most out of all three of my kids as an infant: she was diagnosed with GERD within a couple of weeks of being born (she threw up everything she ate until we got her medication), and was very clearly physically uncomfortable a lot of the time, no matter how much comfort we tried to give her. That didn’t make life easier for any of us, poor thing.

I ended up stopping breastfeeding far sooner than I anticipated or wanted, simply to stop “feeling so much” in my body and get some sleep. My husband and I decided this was more important to our collective sanity than the potential benefits of breast-milk. Thankfully, C absolutely loved being fed from a bottle; she took to it as naturally as you could hope. (You could say she was gifted at it – ha.) 

Meanwhile, I began struggling with insomnia challenges that persist to this day. (I was lucky enough not to deal with this as a child, so I know it’s a remnant of parenting.) With the birth of each new child, I became more familiarized with the physical sensations, but it never became less exhausting.

(Again, I have many parent-friends who simply didn’t feel the same way when caring for newborns, so I’m comfortable attributing this perception to my hyper-sensitivity. They were all “new-mom tired”, of course – but not bone-achingly exhausted and unable to get to sleep the way I was.) 

Now that I’m parenting three kids who also have strong “sensory needs” (both avoidant and seeking), I’m able to look back at my own childhood, teenage, and parenting experiences from a new lens of compassion. As Prober (2019) recommends in her field guild for RFMS:

“If you have lived for years thinking something was wrong with you because of your sensitivities and intensities, it may take time for a new, positive identity to sink in and take hold” (p. 34).

That’s definitely been the case for me – but I’m happy to say I’m slowly making peace, finding acceptance, and learning effective ways to cope.

References:

  • Aron, E. (1997). The highly sensitive person: How to thrive when the world overwhelms you. Random House.
  • Prober, P. (2016). Your rainforest mind: A guide to the well-being of gifted adults and youth. Luminare Press.
  • Prober, P. (2019). Journey into your rainforest mind: A field guide for gifted adults and teens, book lovers, overthinkers, geeks, sensitives, brainiacs, intuitives, procrastinators, and perfectionists. Luminare Press.

A Day’s Reading in Our Household

During these weird, semi-structured COVID-19 summer days, without summer camps to fill the time, my kids are expected to read for 20-30 minutes a day (depending on their age) during DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) time.

Yes, I wish the amount of reading they did each day was more. And yes, it’s hard for me as a book-loving adult (and a voracious former kid-reader) to understand why this amount is even negotiated or questioned to begin with.

(Then again, when I was a kid during long summer days in the 1980s, I didn’t have a personal tablet or computer to distract me. I’m willing to bet a significant amount of money that I would be equally distracted by such amazing devices. )

So… What does this daily “required reading” look like for my 2E kiddos? I’ll share a bit below about the challenges and strengths for each of them, with the emergent theme that “gifted” does NOT necessarily translate into a kid quietly sitting and reading by herself for hours on end. (Well, that was me… but not my kids.)

  • C (my ~12 y.o. daughter) chooses to read weekly graphic novel serials on a site called Webtoons. She found this site herself, and loves it. The upside is she can get completely absorbed and read for hours (far beyond the minimum required daily reading time). The downside is that these stories aren’t vetted by anyone other than the website. The other day she stumbled on a new series that intrigued her while also scaring her. (Let’s just say… it involved death and killing in an unpleasant way.) She had a rough evening. BUT – we used it as an opportunity to talk about how there is a lot (a LOT) of deeply unpleasant stuff out there on the internet, and she will have to learn for herself when to turn away. This is an important life lesson, one I’m guessing most parents (including myself) would prefer to put off as long as possible, but… for us, it’s here.
  • D (my 10 y.o. son) is a neurodiverse kiddo and tends to prefer either factual books or series with a predictable format. For the past number of months, he has chosen the 39 Clues series as his go-to favorite. This is a perfectly fine choice, but I suddenly realized a few weeks ago that only being mid-way through the 6th book in the series, when he started the first one back in January meant… Wait, how much is this kid actually reading (or not) during his reading time? He loves timers, and I know he was actually setting one each day, but without me doing any kind of progress monitoring, there was – shall we say – a disconnect. A happy solution is that I recently talked with him about a schedule for getting through one book a week. We agreed he would split each book up into chapters, divided by 7, and he would commit to reading that many chapters each day. Lo and behold, he’s suddenly on track and reading what feels like a semi-reasonable amount! I still don’t know what kind of a shift this triggered in his head, but it worked and he’s happy, so – win/win.
  • My 7 y.o. daughter can read chapter books but has regressed (I know that’s a loaded term; I’m using it intentionally) to reading primarily pictures books and easy-to-read books during COVID. She adores Mo Willem’s awesome Elephant and Piggie series, and otherwise lately has been re-reading the same easy-to-read chapter book – Diary of a Pug: Pug Blasts Off (2019) – multiple times a day, many days in a row. As a kid, I myself obsessively read about a book a day, eagerly looking forward to how many new books I could check off my mental list. I considered an unread book an exciting mystery to be explored, with re-reading happening occasionally – but only for my most beloved books, and never as a default. But honestly – who am I to judge my daughter’s reading choices? I need to check that tendency. [UPDATE: I bought her the two sequels! She’s similarly obsessed.]

The other sustained reading in our household occurs at night, when my husband and I each read either to our son or our two girls (youngest, then oldest) every other night. Being read to before bedtime is a cherished memory from my own childhood, and is also a beloved ritual from my elementary school teaching days, when I would rarely let anything get in the way of reading a chapter or two to my students as they sat (mostly) rapt at the rug, listening and quiet (ah, quiet).

Read-aloud time at night with my own kids is a chance not only to engage in literary worlds with them, but to expose them to slightly more demanding or complex books they otherwise wouldn’t necessarily choose for themselves. My husband and I can talk them through challenging sections, and use the stories as a bridge for other topics that come up throughout the days and weeks and months.

Here’s what I’ve been up to during read-aloud time with my kids recently:

  • I just finished reading Beverly Cleary’s beloved Ramona Quimby series to my 7 y.o., who was instantly engaged and could relate to so much of what Ramona goes through, both struggles and triumphs, as she ages naturally throughout the books.
  • My 10 y.o. son and I just finished (finally! they’re long!) the fourth book in Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time quartet, called Many Waters (1986). It goes in some unexpectedly adult directions, and I had to read carefully and cautiously between the lines at times – but he insisted on sticking with it, and it allowed us to continue our ongoing discussions of space, time, and existence, all as creatively conceived by L’Engle.
  • With my 12 y.o. daughter, we recently read The War That Saved My Life (2016) and The War I Finally Won (2019) (its sequel) by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. These were significant not only for allowing her to discuss the brutal realities of World War II (war and violence have been a major trigger for her anxiety in years past), but to be able to compare a life of restriction for kids in WWII-era England with life now in COVID. We are obviously so much better off now, but she doesn’t know that from her own lived experience – and I sense it helped her to hear about other kids dealing with less-than-ideal (to put it mildly) life circumstances. These books also gave me an opportunity to talk with her about Hitler, genocide, and Resistance movements, including the fact that her own grandfather was a small boy on a farm in Nazi-occupied Norway when his dad was hiding Resistance fighters in the forest behind their house. She took in this information carefully and seems to be considering how it all relates to the fictional stories we just completed.

So, that’s a snapshot of reading in our house. All told, with DEAR and read-aloud time combined, each kid gets about an hour of “book reading” in each day.

It may not be as much as I’d prefer, but we’re making it work for our unique household – and as I put it into writing, I realize it’s more than it seems.