~a month in the life of a lifelong learner~ raven on the riverbank

ridiculously verbose! you have been warned!

~covering 11-23-18 to 12-23-18~

i only had quinn for one week plus a partial weekend of this time period, because of trade negotiations over winter break. the next month, i would have him for 3 out of 4 weeks. i ended up having a lot of things to say about this month despite seeing him so little. it’s a reminder that i’m parenting all the time, even when he is not with me, and the parenting i do while he is away can be some of the most challenging parenting of all.

not enough quinn pictures, so lisa is filling in.

his grades fluctuated wildly this month. quinn is frolicking on the river bank, oblivious to test retakes and missing assignments floating past him on the river of time. he has not gotten the hang of checking on his own grades and assignments, and is still having a hard time remembering to write anything in his planner; paying attention to what it says is another matter entirely. he has not grasped the utility of writing what assignments will be due, and is not putting it together on his own that classwork he doesn’t finish in class becomes homework. he needs many promptings to initiate communication with teachers concerning make-up work, and doesn’t always internalize their instructions or expectations for assignments, classwork documentation, or note-taking.

he can legitimately believe he has no homework, but then when i talk him through each specific class he had that day, it can trigger him to remember what the class work was, whether he was going to have more class time, and in the cases where he wasn’t, realize that those assignments now shift to homework…. this is a thought process that is not automatic for him that he needs help both initiating, and seeing through to completion. he can and will build these skills, but rome wasn’t built in a day.

the only way to eat this executive functioning elephant, it seems to me, is one bite at a time.

coparenting, cognitive dissonance, choice

there was some coparenting strain this month, and it does relate to lifelong learning. i’m often torn how much to include of these behind-the-scenes moments because they may not be enchanting to quinn if he reads them in the future, yet they are probably very relatable to many parents. i think even parents who like each other will sometimes be at odds when trying to understand a new set of challenges their child is facing, and historically for us, times of high challenge for quinn have coincided with the absolute worst coparenting struggles. i foresaw that the transition to middle school may be analagous to quinn’s kindergarten transition, which i’ve been revisiting in my off-blog writing, a time in our lives that i have to partake of reading in small doses because it brings a tremble to my mama heart.

on the topic of quinn staying on top of homework, my job of parenting my child at his other house was impossible to carry out, because my coparent did not believe me when i brought up assignments i knew had not been done (via online grade book), because coparent did not trust me about quinn’s need for support in identifying or remembering what homework he did have, and accepted quinn’s  daily “i don’t have any” at face value, instead of realizing that meant “i haven’t thought of any yet,” and then, because coparent would ask me to back off if i tried to involve myself in helping quinn stay up to date. coparent just kept telling me “he is caught up” and “he is keeping me informed of assignments” and then quinn would arrive under a big pile of unfinished work each time he came home to me.

he held tag status up as threat to quinn, saying if his grades don’t get better he may lose it, but also is encouraging quinn to not put much effort in, just learn to “do the system.” then providing such misinformation as his belief that high school grades are not important once you’ve gotten community college grades. there is a lot of work in undoing such erroneous messaging.

coparent told me quinn had been pulled off a bells part on a song for the band concert, and it had happened last minute. he said he wanted to give the teacher a piece of his mind about it; i said i had a feeling there was more to the story that we didn’t know, and suggested he could ask her about it if he was concerned.

at the concert coparent told me, “he is all caught up” and said quinn was telling him he didn’t have homework to do besides math. quinn did do some of the math at coparent’s house, but when we got to transition time after the short 2 day stint during which i cracked the whip over quinn’s 3 incomplete assignments outside of math, coparent said he was starting to feel like quinn wasn’t being honest with him. i didn’t engage that, but said, “he’s almost caught up now,” and filled in more details such as the schedule for his upcoming math test. he restated, “i think quinn is lying to me,” and sort of exasperatedly ranted in front of quinn, “if it’s not a learning disability or something, i mean do other parents deal with this?”

i feel like i have perspective on that, and attempted to explain. my sense is that it is not exactly the same as what other parents deal with, and while i don’t think it’s a learning disability per se, i do think quinn struggles in his own ways that other kids do not, and he has strengths other kids don’t have. i think he’s his own situation and he is still working out the skills to connect dots like “classwork not completed in class is homework” that other kids may not struggle with picking up on the fly. i said we should extend him the benefit of the doubt he is doing his best and being honest, if he said he would get it done in class on friday i imagine he did not intend to deceive, he may have thought he could do it, but it turns out that it is difficult for him to accomplish much classwork during class time right now, so he will need to be doing that work at home as long as he is having that difficulty. coparent cut me off to state that he does give quinn the benefit of the doubt, so that was productive.

talking to rich about it later helped me realize why it bothered me and why i stood up for quinn. i remember how messed up it always felt to be accused of lying. it was good to take a moment and remind myself that what he was doing to quinn is called gaslighting, lashing out to blame anyone else for dishonesty so he can deflect the focus from his own. to benefit quinn, a much more constructive conversation could have been had, if we had focused on how to scaffold executive functioning skills in a coordinated two-household manner instead.

days later, coparent wanted to talk about the bomb threat called in to our local high school. i did my best to dampen hysteria, though school attacks make the list of my own misgivings about public schooling. i have found coparent’s aversions to public schooling hard to tolerate in light of his historic insistence that quinn attend it when i historically sought alternatives to meeting quinn’s educational needs. my feeling is, if we’re choosing this, we need to fully embrace our choice. he kept pressing for my input about whether to send him the next day, which of course i knew he would disregard or hold against me. i stated simply that my goal is to teach quinn to make decisions not based on fear.

he kept quinn home.

i admit that it is disconcerting to me that there was no discussion of the bomb threat among parents. parents discuss parenting things all the time; the confusing letter from our pediatrician about their relocation to a new office, what’s going on at school, the dance, fundraisers, the recent concert. we all got a robo call and a text from school saying a bomb threat was received, high school was evacuated to middle school, everyone is safe, and authorities have cleared both schools. where are the parents discussing “are you sending joey? i’m not sure if i should send molly” or even just “thank goodness it was handled, thankful they are all safe, sobering to think of threats when this is all so very real.” i think everyone must become paralyzed by these things.

i had just been browsing back over the passages i highlighted in charles eisenstein’s book the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible. he talks about this, through the lens of sandy hook.

 

the absurdity of war has never escaped the most perceptive among us, but in general we have narratives that obscure or normalize that absurdity, and thus protect the Story of the World from disruption.

occasionally, something happens that is so absurd, so awful, or so manifestly unjust that it penetrates these defenses and causes people to question much of what they’d taken for granted. such events present a cultural crisis. typically, though, the dominant mythology soon recovers, incorporating the event back into its own narratives. the ethiopian famine became about helping those poor black children unfortunate enough to live in a country that still hasn’t “developed” as we have. the rwandan genocide became about african savagery and the need for humanitarian intervention. the nazi holocaust became about evil taking over, and the necessity to stop it. all of these interpretations contribute, in various ways, to the old Story of the People: we are developing, civilization is on the right track, goodness comes through control. none hold up to scrutiny; they obscure, in the former two examples, the colonial and economic causes of the famine and genocide, which are still ongoing. in the case of the holocaust, the explanation of evil obscures the mass participation of ordinary people – people like you and me. underneath the narratives a disquiet persists, the feeling that something is terribly wrong with the world. 

the year 2012 ended with a small but potent story-piercing event: the sandy hook massacre. by the numbers, it was a small tragedy: far more, and equally innocent, children died in u.s. drone strikes that year, or by hunger that week, than died at sandy hook. but sandy hook penetrated the defense mechanisms we use to maintain the fiction that the world is basically okay. no narrative could contain its utter senselessness and quell the realization of a deep and awful wrongness. 

we couldn’t help but map those murdered innocents onto the young faces we know, and the anguish of their parents onto ourselves. for a moment, i imagine, we all felt the exact same thing. we were in touch with the simplicity of love and grief, a truth outside of story.

following that moment, people hurried to make sense of the event, subsuming it within a narrative about gun control, mental health, or the security of school buildings. no one believes deep down that these responses touch on the heart of the matter. sandy hook is an anomalous data point that unravels the entire narrative – the world no longer makes sense. we struggle to explain what it means, but no explanation suffices. we may go on pretending that normal is still normal, but this is one of a series of “end time” events that is dismantling our culture’s mythology.”

 

as a chronic overthinker, this is exactly what i observed; the dominant mythology instantly recovered, the event seamlessly incorporated back into its narratives, we pretended normal is still normal. i am grateful that charles eisenstein was able to articulate the cognitive dissonance that makes me feel.

last year i was in quinn’s fifth grade class volunteering during a lockdown drill. i hid behind the cupboard in the corner with the teacher and all 30 kids (they all knew to get down, be quiet, hide behind something solid where they cannot be seen from the window). i can’t help but think that this isn’t the type of experience i want to saturate quinn’s brain with, drill or not.

but we are doing public school. we are embracing it since this is what we’re doing right now; if we want to pursue other schooling options, i’m game to discuss them, based on information and observations of what would work well for quinn’s learning. but let me say it one more time so the people in the back can hear it: i do not want to teach him to make decisions based on fear.

in more positive discussions, coparent observed out loud recently that telling quinn that he is smart all the time can backfire and set him up to be looking for our approval rather than tuned in to his own compass. i recommended alfie kohn; the well-worn orange cover of unconditional parenting still spends more time on my end tables for frequent reference than on a shelf, though i first read it when quinn was toddling around in cloth diapers, reciting curious george books, chatting knowledgeably about garbage cans, and pretending to catch heffalumps and woozles. i have tried to make a practice of asking him what he thinks, giving him space to decide if the painting he has made is how he wants it to look, what he likes about it, what he meant it to represent, or what direction he might take it in next. weighing in on what i think of his work may teach him to look to me as the dispenser of approval and trains him to disproportionately seek external evaluation for his thoughts, actions, and work. when i do comment on my observations, i try to speak to specific things i noticed rather than overall stamping my approval or disapproval on what he has done, or my assessment of his smartness. instead of me saying the painting is good, i can hear from him about his color choices and creative ideas. we can talk details all day, delving deep into connection, without subjecting him to the approval process.

now that he has started asking me about when i was once a girl, i am seeing one of my anticipated payoffs materializing. he doesn’t see me as predominantly being a source of evaluative judgment on his thoughts and actions, instead he sees me as a sounding board and source of guidance and information. that’s been one of the long-term goals i’ve had my sights set on, and i think it all ties together. thanks, alfie.

 

he read aloud from eragon of “paring roots” and when i asked if he’d help pare roots (rutabaga, to be specific) he was glad to do so.

oddments

there is a recent trend that he will eat three meals and have a bath during the course of his first evening home.

i left a wicked spanish phrases book in his room after sorting through a box of books. he started reading and got to the phrase “yours is the prettiest piglet, but it has sh@t in my lap!” he giggled like crazy, and pulled off the phrase with impeccable accent.

one saturday quinn spent the entire day in his room watching yu-gi-oh, and i didn’t really try to change that. he was content. rich and i discussed how at some point i’ll miss his clingy barnacle ways, but right now it feels kind of nice to not always have him neeeeeeding me.

tangential tag topics

i have mentioned at other times that i am still trying to get comfortable with the chip that is giftedness resting persistently on my shoulder, because as much as i have tried to shrug it off, it remains. it seems to be a no-brainer to all parties involved that quinn belongs in the tag program, though he hasn’t been formally tested, other than achievement testing. we can talk all day about how that type of identification misses a whole bunch of gifted kids, who have legitimate special needs related to giftedness but who won’t receive services because they are not high achievers; gifted english learners are also especially overlooked. my high scoring test-taker happens to have blown the ceiling out of every star test he has taken, and with achievement conflated with giftedness, no one is disputing his placement in the tag program. however, he is now hearing, from the tag program teacher for one, that because he is in tag, he should have all A’s on his report cards. “i mean, you’re the smart kids. that’s why you’re here.” this goes hand in hand with the common misconception that gifted kids do not have special learning needs, that they are fine in the system as it currently functions and shouldn’t receive services. the commonly held belief that giftedness only bestows advantages is at the root of the struggles our family has been navigating all along. it is sobering to realize that is the stance of the actual guy assigned to teach the tag class right now.

i disagree with the view of tag as a status and a privilege rather than a recognition of a learning difference and an attempt to provide desperately needed enrichment. i think TAG should be entirely disentangled from grades. the more i understand how his wiring diverges from the neurotypical, the more i see it as a special set of learning needs, not incompatible with the presence of other neurodivergences (learning disabilities, processing speed disorders, executive function delays, ADHD, ASD) that may mask/be masked by the presence of giftedness, may have their own sets of learning needs, or at the very least, combine to form a confusing mix of traits; a brilliant, intense kid with his shirt on backwards and an occasional D in social studies.

the chip on my shoulder tells me nobody wants to hear mamas talk about their kids’ giftedness and the unique challenges of parenting such a kid. it’s a popular parenting meme topic all across social media, and a common vibe in parenting forums: we don’t want you to talk about your kid’s giftedness, so i come by the chip on my shoulder honestly. but i also believe the memes come from a place of misunderstanding and assumption of what the g word means, not truth or knowledge, and that this closed-mindedness would dissolve into the wider basin of understanding if some of us continue to expand it by stubbornly sharing what we have to say, at the risk of being seen as chronic humble-braggers.

i want it to stop being heard as though i’m saying my child is “better than” when i say he is “gifted.” gifted is a different set of wiring. i appreciate the tilt parenting podcast founder’s use of “differently wired” and her inclusion of giftedness under that umbrella, and i appreciate the community of parents who refer to these kids as poppies (named for the hostile-to-gifted educational practice of “cutting down the tall poppies”), because these are closer to the reality of our experience. “every child is gifted” is only as true as the statement “every child has dyslexia.” fill in the blank with any other neurological difference and you will see why that statement is absurd. see also the myth, “gifted kids are the easy ones.” only if by easy you mean prone to intensity, existential depression, sensory issues, executive function challenges, crippling perfectionism, and asynchronous development.

it has taken me years to realize that the approach taken by quinn’s teacher at our living school also missed the mark. her idea was that every child benefits from the interventions beneficial to gifted kids, such as individualized, constructivist, emergent curriculum, and saw no benefit in singling him out. however, in retrospect, i believe she was uninformed about what goes along with giftedness besides the intellectual intensity; the emotional and sensory intensity, social skill and executive function lags, and asynchrony. i think if she had been more aware, she may have come to a different conclusion about quinn when she reached for asperger’s as an explanation for his collection of quirks. this is not a blame statement; our evaluating neuropsychologist lacked this awareness and missed it, too. while all involved could recognize the utility in identifying asperger’s had it been present, nobody felt it was useful to identify giftedness. i’ve had to do that through my own research, finding out what it does and does not mean, the other neuro-differences that can look similar and in what ways they differ, and how to support the child in front of me.

this is all it has ever been. giftedness is all it has ever been, and it’s not nothing, and it’s not what all kids are, and it’s not better than other kids, and he’s not an “easy one,” and it is a big deal, a big fat hairy deal at certain extra-pronounced stages of asynchrony, and the g word has seldom served to help raise awareness, help quinn receive what he needs, or help convey to adults around the boy who it is they have in front of them. but having no language at all to convey isn’t better than having one inadequately understood term.

not all kids benefit from some of the things that can benefit gifted kids. gifted kids often need grade or subject acceleration to avoid stagnation and boredom with their learning. to preemptively provide a rebuttal to, “some boredom is good for kids to learn how to deal with,” we’re talking about chronic 24/7 boredom that dims the lights of learning, not occasional healthy experiences of learning how to self-entertain. high achieving, hardworking smart kids who are not gifted often thrive in regular classes and continue to achieve well, whereas in accelerated settings, they eventually fall behind. those are the easy kids, if there is such a unicorn: focused, on task, on grade level, synchronized across social, emotional and academic aspects of themselves. gifted kids can paradoxically fall behind in regular classes, making it hard to convince anyone they need to move up. gifted kids are not always inclined to work hard, in fact they may not even start if they can’t see how to finish perfectly, or if they don’t see the point. they already know the material before you teach it to them; but try to get them to show their “work”. they grasp the accelerated material and it still isn’t moving fast enough for their brain. they can be frustrating and impossible and they neglect to turn in their assignments. they maybe don’t ride a bike or remember to use the bathroom, just to add another dimension of flavor to their particular spice blend.

raven

with all that was going through my mind concerning quinn and school and learning, it was fitting to choose the raven “intuition guides the way” card from my trusty card deck around this time. the cards always seem to make sense and involve inexplicable synchronicities. i was simultaneously writing about quinn’s age 3 lifelong learning circa 2010, which it turns out is when the cards were printed; and i found a journal entry while delving into those memories. in a dream quinn told me about, a raven told him, “i’ll take care of you if you are ever in danger.” raven, the messenger, seems to show up when there is some time we need to spend peering into our shadows and paying attention to what lurks in the darkness. ravens are more solitary than crows, so maybe it makes sense it shows up in times when i feel like i’m on the edge of society, perceiving myself as an outlier to the mainstream. raven seems to me to be associated with going inward and pondering big dark mysteries. in the dark, things can seem more fearful than they are; but bringing them out and letting light shine upon them can transform and heal what we are working through.

language

quinn’s language arts work has been fun and engaging all year, and i have to hand it to his teacher for assigning great material to encourage meaning-making and providing practice for quinn’s most reluctant area: writing. in addition to the writing practice, there have been thought-provoking assignments for inspiration. i particularly enjoyed the art box assignment and the six word memoir from this month. his six-word memoir was:

i wander but i’m not alone

 

his art box:

he also has some really cool blackout poetry going in the dragonsong book.

 

music

first band concert! we listened to the choir first, then the beginning band, and then quinn’s band performed last (intermediate band).

i am glad quinn got to listen to the beginning band and hear how spectacularly awful they sound; as it should be, and i applaud the teacher for letting them play their awful songs, 4 measures of whole notes, with such earnestness. she spoke highly of their effort and progress and how she doesn’t usually give a full length piece so early in the year, but they begged her and they learned it in two days. i know quinn likes her as a teacher, and i can see why, with the positive regard she has for students.

quinn played the smaller parts in his band (he was on tambourine for one song, jingle bells for two, and bass drum for one), but he was really into it (his head bopping is my favorite) and he still played twice as much music as anyone in the beginning band. i think it would have been fine for him in beginning band, if not for the math conflict. but being part of something that actually sounds musical, though they are still rather new to this stuff, is a happy thing for quinn.

the teacher expressed appreciation for the intermediate band students as well, praising that they cheer one another on when they get something right they’ve been working hard on, and that they coax one another along when something is difficult. supporting and celebrating with each other, kindness. nice kids. it was good to hear they are that way, and nice to hear that she supports that culture in her room. he wouldn’t be the first kid in the world to find a place of solace in a band room, though, would he?

quinn played a lot on the bells that weekend, perhaps feeling inspired after the concert. he played his harry potter song, and a bunch of stuff from his practice book. i asked him if he had played the hp song for his teacher and he said no, but he had played it among his fellow percussion mates. i asked if any of them know it, too. he said only one other kid does, and the other kid just moved to this school two days before the concert. quinn told me his name and grade and what they talked about and that he had introduced him to aragorn (who is in beginning band on clarinet) the night of the concert. i told him i was happy to hear he had been friendly and welcoming to a new kid, because it had to be a big deal to change schools, especially in the middle of a school year. i mused that it must have been hard for the new guy to learn all the songs at the last minute. quinn said yes but that the teacher gave him parts he could do easily, and also that he is pretty good so she also gave him parts others were struggling with. she had switched quinn off the bells on the one song, because she needed a part for the new kid to play. i asked how he felt about it. “i was fine with it!”

more to the story indeed.

accessing encrypted files

i had quinn from a friday after school until a sunday at 3. in order to head off his “where is my trigonometry book” (which was to be under the christmas tree), i checked out the next 2 books in the warriors series for him and they were waiting in the car. he got in after school and opened up a book and didn’t talk all the way home.

i fed him all the dinners, sent him to the bathtub, and let him read and watch yu-gi-oh and just chill. he wanted to play a warriors game with me, made out of legos. we didn’t actually play the game, but we did get it set up, which involved building our cats, and naming them. mine were in the “ocean clan” and had names like wavestar and rainbow eye. quinn’s were in forest clan and he had leafstar and white streak. i haven’t read any of these books, so i had to keep reminding him that he’d need to give me some background info about how to choose a clan and how the naming works, and he was happy to oblige.

on saturday we went and chose our christmas tree. when i had told quinn that rich and i might get the christmas tree while he was at his dad’s he was devastated, so i had taken a day off from farmer’s market to fit it in on this one and only possible day, on the weekend of rich’s play. it was fun to walk around commenting on the trees with my guys. after it was cut, quinn grabbed the trunk to help rich carry it down the hill to the truck. seeing him be all teenager sized, and helping without being asked: quull. we set up the tree, and quinn helped me hang the “bird family” ornaments.

i spent the afternoon nudging quinn through his science assignment. at first, all he could tell me about the assignment was that he had to draw a box of crayons. he had spent the class time looking up a tutorial for drawing a crayon box, but he hadn’t gotten it done. he did a very painstaking drawing of the crayon box, spending an inordinate amount of time dividing the rectangle of space in 7. he eventually “remembered” what the rest of the assignment was; to name the colors, using alliteration, incorporating the climate terms from the unit they are studying. he knew he wanted to make “land breeze light blue”. he had the hardest time recalling whether it was supposed to be colored in. as he went, he seemed to recall details of the instructions, and ended up coloring, writing “convection crayons” and a slogan, “100% recycled, 100% recyclable” before he finished. in addition to the painfully slow start, he got stuck another time; there wasn’t a term in his list starting with y, but he needed a yellow crayon, because the tutorial had one, so he couldn’t get past that without help. i suggested putting ‘yearly’ in front of a term and call it done.

through talking with him, it’s apparent he doesn’t use class time efficiently, and gets sucked into the internet of ideas (he did this for spanish too, looking up food words for his food rainbow assignment, but applying none of them to the sheet of paper). he also doesn’t seem to observe what other students are doing (i asked if the kids colored theirs in, and he had no idea). then just when it seemed as though he hadn’t heard the instructions at all, it was as though he had stored them in some type of encrypted manner and incremental details started being revealed only as they were needed.

i said it was fine to bring work home, if he just couldn’t do it at school, and also tried to offer support to find solutions to using the class time, like blocking out noise (put in earbuds) or finding out missing instructions (ask teacher) or obtaining missing materials/ruler/computer paper (same) and encouraged him to make a point to go past those obstacles, not stay stuck behind them.

executive function skills as applied to yu-gi-oh cards are all in order.

theatre and literacy

that night we went to rich’s play! quinn seemed to enjoy it. i heard him giggle when one of the animals rich pulled out of a paper bag, “salmon,” was a spatula. bear was made out of a berry bucket, a cup for the snout, and some buttons. quinn immediately memorized the line, “i wonder what would happen if grandmother found out i put holes into her berry bucket.” when housman asked for some tea and rick went out to get tea but instead came back with a big log that someone must have left, housman said, “i wish to once again register my complaint that this (gesturing at log) is not tea!” another line quinn insta-memorized.

at the very end as the authors all walked out and rick was peeking into the stacks after them, housman came back and said, “more of them are coming! i can see edgar allen poe… and elinor wylie …. and oh god, it’s tolstoy!” rick responded, “tolstoy!” and burst out laughing. on sunday as i was telling rich about quinn loving the “tolstoy!” line, i was having a hard time remembering what book he wrote, and quinn chimed in from the kitchen, “war and peace!” that kid. my bff suggested a new segment on the blog called, “how do you know that???”

his answer: “charlie brown.”

there was also a line in the play to the effect of, “if you want to get to know somebody, just go to the library and ask for their checkout list!” on the way home quinn and i discussed that line, and talked about going to the library and saying, “show us every  book quinn has checked out.” he listed percy jackson, kane chronicles, magnus chase books, guardians of ga’hoole, diary of a wimpy kid, wings of fire, spirit animals, lemony snicket, etc. i said, “if this play had been about quinn, it would have been 3 of your favorite authors who came out of the stacks to talk to you.” and he said, “yeah, rick riordan, tui sutherland, and kathryn lasky, probably!”

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