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Posts tagged ‘Parenting’

Au Naturel | Secrets About Faith and Truth

I took longer than usual about my morning ablutions, enjoying every moment from the thyme-scented bath to the flawless foundation (well, flawless for me) to the popping red lips. I painted my nails and tried to look at my – let’s call them curves – as if I could love them. A little bit. I checked that my hair had just the right balance between bouncy curls and sleek smoothness that it needed for the evening’s activities (eight hours later), before pinning it all up again to protect it from our humid climate.

By the time I was ready for the day, mundane as my morning plans may have been, I was bubbly with a little inner champagne of joy and a serious case of the ‘I’m-all-that’s.

I headed outside to hang out the laundry (see? I told you. Mundane.) It was the perfect day for it: hot and bright, with a soft little breeze to ease the oppression of too much humidity.

I’d just taught Goldilocks about the meditative power of doing chores, and I decided to sink into mine with a soulful relish.

The breeze dance through my just-styled hair, displacing some of the morning’s artistry. Usually, I’d have railed inside at the frustration. I’d have willed my hair to stay in place – maybe even pinned it down. I’d have been frustrated by my inability to impose my will on the sun, the wind, my hair, the humidity content of the air, the recalcitrantly damp laundry and the pervading heat.

But not today.

Today I let the wind have its way with me. I immersed my self in its cool touch and felt connected to the earth on which I stood, the greenery surrounding me. These all were my mother, my sisters. Soul mates. Friends.

I heard – no, wait – felt the breath of that breeze whisper ancient truths into my waiting mind.

“Your children’s destiny is not your responsibility. It is no reflection on you. What they become is their affair. What they believe is their choice. You cannot make them believe anything. Not ever. You can teach them what you believe, and you can tell them why. You can model your truth, living it with honest and integrity, and without hypocrisy or ulterior motives. And you should. You can give them the tools they need to think, to learn, to discern, and to grow. You can open the door. You can show them the way. You may even walk part of it with them. But it is their way. And you cannot change it. Only they can do that.

Live joyfully with your children. Relish them fervently. Be present with them every moment that you share. Because those moments grow fewer. And those moments, finally, are all that you can truly give them. Make sure they are enough. Waste none.”

A friend is filled with dogma and fear for her children’s souls. If she cannot make them share her faith, they have no hope.

But she cannot make them share her faith though now, perhaps, for a time, they day. Tomorrow is tomorrow, and what will be will be.

I pray for my children’s souls, but I do not fear. I cannot make them believe anything, but I can teach them to live their truth by bravely living mine.

They are wise and they are strong and they will make right choices for themselves. They will make wrong choices for themselves. They will suffer. And they will rejoice. And in between the suffering and the rejoices, in the myriad tiny and tremendous choices they will make each day from this day until their last days, they will live.

And they will live well.

Secrets about faith and living your parenting

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Two Days Later …

Goldilocks couldn’t wash a dish, and my compassion failure hurt her. Deeply.

I realised my mistake almost immediately.

The next day, I explained what I had done wrong. I suggested a do-over, and gave her a chance to master a mundane but necessary skill. I explained that her “problem” (if it can be called that) is not lack of intelligence of basic common sense. It’s simply that her mind operates at such a high level, all the time, that these sorts of entry-level tasks barely crack a nod on its interest radar.

I further explained that washing dishes is meditation. It’s an opportunity to think, to breathe, to plan, to be – all while keeping one’s hands busy with something that really is very important. Not to mention simple to execute. You can do it on autopilot with enough practice (and “enough” is not a lot at all). This leaves your brain free to wander the cosmos while your body is engaged in an activity that perpetuates life, if you think about it. Clean dishes mean healthy humans.

washing-dishes

 

An added bonus is the sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that accompanies the end of the task (not to mention the obvious relief :)).

The same is true of all chores. The more mundane, the more meditative.

She considered my words. Then she went and washed the dishes. All of them. She finished the chore in a better mood than the one in which she’d started – and she’d started in a very good mood indeed.

#ParentingWin #YouLoseSomeButThenYouWinSome!

Wordsicles

“Actually, I can’t have this conversation right now.”

My words drilled little shards of ice into my baby girl’s heart. She left quietly, heading outdoors to find solace in the still of the late afternoon garden.

Even as I said them – even before I said them, really – I knew the pain they’d inflict.

I also knew the devastation I’d wreak if I said what was bubbling through my boiling veins. I chose the lesser of two evils.

Goldilocks is fourteen. This incredible young woman is designing a civilisation from first principles, mapping out the relative migrations of tribes, and the natural development of their invented languages. Her study takes place on a made-up land that has two suns and a desert in the middle. She’s studying what she feels would be the natural results of such phenomena.

She is also teaching herself Japanese, piano, and guitar. By ear. And – despite technically being in Grade 8 – she’s averaging around 70 – 80% in all of her Grade 11 final exams.

She’s a genius.

But she can’t wash a dish.

Not even one.

Not even after instruction. From all of us. Over … and over … and over again.

Realising her inability to do what should (surely?) be a simple and obvious task, she was already on the verge of tears. She felt stupid. I, having well surpassed my capacity for doing all the things, all the time, had no patience or compassion left to give. I simply could not begin to fathom how this bright and capable young woman could so utterly fail to grasp the basics of domestic hygiene.

She was devastated.

And I could only add to it.

So I said the words least likely to cause lasting damage. As I washed the dishes myself (great teaching moment lost, mom), I felt awash with sympathy not for that beautiful and fragile thing I had crushed, but for myself. I would have given anything to head out to the cool of the late afternoon garden, sit under the tress, stare across the valley, and just  …

… be.

But no. I had dishes to wash.

Maybe when I am all grown up, I’ll figure this parenting thing out.

And maybe, until then, my children will survive the second-rate version I am able to offer them in the meantime.

The thing is, it really isn’t all about me. But sometimes it is, ya know? It turns out that, like Goldilocks and Red Riding Hood, I, too, am a work in progress.
parenting is a work in progress

Learning about learning

When I was growing up, and I saw some of my peers battle with learning disorders like dyslexia, I really did feel compassion for them. A bit.

But to be honest, I didn’t give it much thought.

As far as I could see, those poor souls had their own strengths, and those strengths simply didn’t rely very much on the ability to read at all. I reasoned that not everyone could be academically brilliant (and I now know that true academic genius potential afflicts less than 10% of the population, so I was right ;)). It seemed logical to me that some of us would be good at book learning, and others would be good at other stuff, and all of these unique giftednesses (see what I did there?) would work together to make a nicely balanced, rounded world (ha ha, there’s another).

And it’s true. Each of us is uniquely skilled and these differences are what make us better as a community.

Having said that, at the very same time as I was having those noble, accepting, inclusive thoughts about my peers, I was also developing a philosophy of learning of my own. And this philosophy was based on how I learn best, and the kind of teaching I would like to give my own children one day.

The very teaching, as it happens, that I am giving my children now.

Here’s how it goes:

My philosophy of education in a nutshell

Only three things matter:

  • A strong, grounded moral compass and the tools for survival in modern society;

  • A firm grasp of mathematical concepts;

  • The ability to read.

Once you’ve got those, you’re unstoppable.

Right?

The ability to read is the lynch pin. I saw it as a kind of clockwork key: you instil the ability to read (and the love of reading) in the child in much the same way as you’d wind up a clockwork car. Then you let them loose. All knowledge in their path would be voraciously devoured. They’d be unstoppable. There’d be no avenue of endeavour closed to the avid reader, as long as there were words explaining it all out there somewhere.

Easy, huh?

And that’s how I’ve been focusing my efforts at teaching my girls. As long as I could give them a firm grasp of maths and an abiding love of reading, the rest would come naturally (since naturally we’d model a strong moral compass and the tools for survival in everyday life. *Drips irony onto the napkin conveniently placed next to the large serving of humble pie*).

It never crossed my mind – not even once – that a child of mine would not read.

I know just how it sounds and how it seems from the outside, because I was there, outside. Vaguely glancing in as I bustled on by but, honestly, barely even noticing the window I was passing, let alone understanding all the it implied.

I was afraid of the pitfalls and preparing myself for the challenges. I was scared of having a sick child, a dying child. I was scared of losing a child. And I was ready. I gritted my teeth and crossed my fingers and turned my face towards the wind. I’d handle it.

But what of a bright, capable, incredible child with infinite curiosity and unplumbed potential, but without the simple tool to sate it? How can such a child learn? Especially when her teacher is such a closed-minded, one-track, and above-all distracted imparter of information like me? How will she progress? How will she make her way in the world when that way is barred by briars and tangles and weeds and thorns all shaped like letters of the alphabet and their cruel modifying punctuation marks?

Honestly, I don’t know the answer to that.

However, I am nothing if not determined. And fortunately the same is true of Goldilocks. Now that we have a better idea of what we’re up against, we can begin to hack a way through the thorny hedge and find the enchanted castle, filled with the magical wonder of knowledge lurking deep within.

We just have a dyslexic dragon to slay along the way. Wish us luck!

The Right to Read

I’ve written before about Goldilocks’ reluctance to read. Until very recently, it absolutely baffled me. Honestly, I anticipated that all my children would be voracious readers. They’re my children, after all. And Papa Bear reads even more than I do.

While I anticipated a number of potential obstacles and challenges along this parenting journey, reluctance to read was never one for which I prepared myself.

Which just goes to show.

But Goldilocks is a reluctant reader, and whether I was prepared for it or not makes no difference. It is what it is.

I confess that I’ve even gone so far as to convince my kids that reading LESS than an hour a day is a sure-fire way to get Alzheimer’s in later life, and the only way to ensure good mental health is by reading at every possible opportunity. Now, I don’t doubt that there may well be some study out there vaguely alluding to something along those lines, but I really don’t think the study I read could be stretched that far.

What has been puzzling me, though, is that she likes a lot of literary pursuits. She LOVES stories, and would happily listen to me reading to her for hours on end. She loves audio books even more. She adores literature in as much as she loves to be told the old, classic tales that make English such a rich cultural experience. And it’s not limited to English, either. She loves ancient Greek and Egyptian mythology at least as much as ancient Celtic tales, if not more so. She’s fascinated my Norse mythology, too.

Moreover, Goldilocks loves the rich depth of language. She loves to unravel the meanings and origins of words. She loves to delve into the proper use of grammar, and takes almost as much delight in correcting poor grammar as I did at that age (which, believe me, is saying something).

She can read pages and pages of data on the NASA space school site, and she’s read every single comic book in the house many times over.

So what’s the problem with books? I know it’s not something I’ve done to put her off. First of all, the body of evidence tends to suggest that stories and concentration and even broad vocabularies are not the problem. (She even understands King James Bible verses!).

Very slowly, like peeling week-old goo out of a Barbie Doll’s hair, the obvious answer began to dawn on me.

Goldilocks is dyslexic.

I think the biggest part of why I didn’t put two and two together before now is that we’ve actually had Goldilocks tested for dyslexia in the past. The educational psychologist ruled it out, and referred us to an opthalmic specialist to investigate vision-related reading disorders. Of which there were none.

However.

Mama knows best, as the brilliantly sung Tangled tune asserts. And Mama surely does.

As always, my default reaction to any new thought or suspicion is to turn to Old Faithful: I Googled it. I found a number of symptom lists, detailed explanations, and incredibly useful online assessments. In every single case, Goldilocks scored 100% for dyslexia symptoms. She has them all. Every. Single. One.

So finally I turned to the Goldilocks expert herself, and asked Miss G what it feels like to read, and why she avoids it. She explained to me that the words seem to dance around a little bit while her eyes are trying to nail them down. They swim in and out of focus and even seem to change size. It’s like they don’t want her to know their secrets, and eventually nailing them down is just too much of a challenge. So she gives up. Comic books typically have larger type, and less of it, with supportive pictures to carry the story forward when the reading gets too much.

Frankly, I’m a little ashamed of myself for not picking up on it sooner. For some reason I just thought she was being obstreperous because reading well meant so much to me.

Now I know better, and it’s time to work out a way to help her.

All suggestions are welcome!

Parenting the Gifted Child

When I was eleven my parents were told the good news. I was gifted. I got a letter inviting me to a “Special School” that would develop my talents. I remember the day very clearly. My dad and I had just had a huge fight, because I got a B average on my school report and he was convinced I’d never amount to anything. (He was wrong, and he knows that now ;)).

No one was surprised, and when my sister got her letter, we just assumed it was in the genes. A bit like a free pass to Hogwarts, but without the cool stuff.

Being me, I paid close attention to every aspect of “being gifted”, so that when my gifted children arrived (as they undoubtedly would), I ‘d be ready.

When they did arrive, I was ready. What I didn’t know, was that gifted has many faces. And the girls’ version of it looks very little like mine. (In fact, now that I know them I rather suspect someone bribed the guy who marked my assessment).

Here are my tips for parenting a gifted learner:

  1. Take it slow

    Just because your son or daughter has a superior capacity for learning than the so-called average learner, that doesn’t mean they’ll use it. In fact, the pressure might be too much and they could just give up under the weight of expectations. In fact, the more pressure you apply to a sensitive, gifted learner, the worse it could be. Take it slow, and let them unfold.

  2. Giftedness often manifests in very specific focuses

    For many gifted individuals, being gifted manifests in an intense interest in a very specific field. Your gifted child might be an expert on World War II, but know (and care) not at all about rugby (or vice versa). Just because the potential for taking data on board is massive, don’t assume a gifted child will want to take it all on board.

  3. Giftedness is not the same as common sense

    Just because a child is really bright, don’t expect them to remember that the stove being on means a potential for being burnt. Or to remember what it was they got up to do. Sometimes, it just doesn’t go that way. (I rather suspect that we all get the same amount of smart. If all of yours is used up in IQ, there’s not much left for, you know, brushing your hair).
    same amount of smart

  4. Gifted doesn’t always mean smart

    This may seem illogical, or it may seem like I’m repeating the above. It’s neither. Being smart is about EQ: your emotional quotient. It’s about navigating the social minefield we call life. Some people, especially the severely gifted, simply don’t have that.

  5. No two gifted children are alike

    My sister and I received the same assessment: gifted. Yet we’re really n very much alike. Our brother, who is also (supposedly) gifted, may as well be from a different planet, I sometimes think. He truly is unique. My parents got it right when they parented us: they knew hat worked for one would not necessarily work for all. That’s not being unfair. That’s being wise. And it’s vital to your family’s success. You need to identify each child’s unique temperament and needs, bearing in mind that these WILL change with time. It’s not as hard as it sounds, and it will make you all a lot happier. Just be transparent about the process, and be very careful not to turn a character trait into a crutch – an excuse to justify poor behaviour.

  6. Patience is the key

    When we see the potential in our gifted learners, we tend to expect a lot. Often, they will exceed our expectations and astound us with their wisdom, logic and insights. To be fair, they fuel our expectations by their sheer brilliance. But these expectations set us up for disappointment. It’s much healthier, and infinitely more exciting, to allow them to unfold, to live in a state of expectancy. Just wait and see.

  7. Boundaries – you need them

    Just because your child is a genius, that doesn’t give them license to do whatever they want, or get whatever they desire. These boundaries are as important for your child as they are for you, since clear, strong structures create a sense of security – perfect for the learning requirements of your gifted child.

Have you got a gifted child? What are your experiences like? Do you agree with what I’ve said, or do you have a different perspective? I’d love to hear it.

Opening the windows: getting intentional about quality time

five thoughtful minutesIf you’ve ever studied or assessed Love Languages (as we have), you’ll know that one of the five ways people show and feel love is quality time: intentional moments spent focused on the people we love and care about. Long before the girls were born, I remember listening to a Focus on the Family talk on parenting. The speaker (whose name I can’t remember, sadly), explained that moments of connection with a child’s soul are precious and rare gifts to parents. These moments need to be anticipated and watched for. They become more rare the less frequently they’re actualised, and more prolific the more they’re engaged.

He described how a parent might be doing something completely arbitrary, such as making supper or washing the dishes. Your child wombles in, seemingly aimlessly, and strikes up a light conversation. All of a sudden, like a chink of sunlight through stormy, brooding clouds, the child reveals a sliver of his treasured soul – if you’re watching for it. Before you know it, the clouds have closed again. The dusk is back, the moment has passed. You’ve missed it.

But if you’re watching, always attentive to these windows into the innocence and depth within your darling, you have the most incredible opportunity presented to you. You have the inestimable privilege of connecting with another human being, of moulding a life. Of having an impact.

Wow.

That talk really spoke to me, and I determined that, if I ever had children, I would always be on the look-out for these moments.

Since then, I have gotten this wrong so very many times, and parents reading this can no doubt attest to the same in their lives. For one thing, until three years ago I worked outside the home, and hardly saw them at all. Now, I know that a lot of working parents, with kids in school, see their kids as much as possible and have a rich and interactive relationship with them. I am a workaholic and missed many opportunities this way. Even now, I work full time and am not as available to them as I’d like.

But I am available. That’s what counts.

I know that more time with my darling daughters would be wonderful for all of us. But I also know that the time we have together counts. I watch keenly for those brief glimpses they allow me into the deeper recesses of themselves. I sometimes miss valuable treasure, but I have the privilege of being able to drop everything when I see an opportunity, and focus those few minutes on the child who needs me.

It’s a blessing!

So if you need to work full time, and you’re contemplating home education, and you can’t work out how to give everyone the time they need, perhaps this is the solution for you as well. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Don’t get hung up on watching the clock, measuring the physical minutes you allocate each role you play.

Rather, focus on the task at hand, but keep your radar tuned in to pick up those brief and startling rays of light from the magical  places inside your child. When you see the shimmer, don’t miss it. Figure out the best way to approach your child (and give yourself time to get this right), then patiently and kindly peek in through the window. Take a look at the precious gift of a growing person so generously, trustingly displayed to you. Admire it. Adore it. And gently, carefully, prayerfully, mould it just a little towards the wondrous potential you see lying within.

You’ll find that five thoughtful minutes can be worth a dayful of thoughtless hours. Enjoy them!

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