Month: March 2011

Gifted programs and decisions

I have notes for three blog entries which I scribbled down over the weekend. I wrote notes for two more on Monday. It was delightful. I loved the fact that my brain was spontaneously percolating more than one blog entry at a time. That used to happen, but hasn’t for months. Then I stumbled across Tuesday. It wasn’t Tuesday’s fault really. Nothing inherent to the day was problematic. I just woke up with a sense of stress and sadness. Sometimes that happens. I tried to muddle through anyway. Then in the afternoon, Tuesday did provide new food for thought. I’ve been thinky with it ever since. Gleek was accepted to a gifted program which will require a two year commitment and a transfer to a different school.

I am a graduate of GATE (Gifted And Talented Education) a program that was run by my California school district in an effort to meet the needs of kids who learned things really quickly. Being one of the Honors kids put me with a group of peers who valued school and learning. I made great friends and had a good experience. Towards the end of high school I noticed that there were kids not in the Honors classes who were every bit as smart as I was. They just didn’t quite make the cut due to class size limitations. That was when I first questioned whether test-to-get-in gifted programs are a good thing.

I’m good at learning new things very quickly. My brain picks up information and stores it even when I’m not consciously trying to learn. Know what I’m not naturally good at? Following through. I’m happy to make a herculean effort for a project, but I frequently fail at do-a-little-every-day type tasks. In school, I was great at learning, but awful at studying. I’m told this is common to gifted people. Which is fine, so long as the word “gifted” is being used as a descriptor for a particular pattern of brain function. Instead it is often used to mean “special” “smarter” “better” and is held up like some golden prize that one must simply be born with. I think this reverence comes in part because those who think in careful steps are in awe of intuitive leaps. I am in awe of the people who know how to work steadily on a single thing until they get really good at it. That story about the tortoise and the hare is true and gifted people get to play the part of the hare.

This gifted program that Gleek may be entering, Kiki was in it six years ago. Now Kiki says it was really good for her and that she is glad she went. I have vivid memories of some very hard months. It was only after we emerged from the program that I read several articles which made clear to me the fact that whether or not a person is gifted or talented, the people who succeed are the ones who work hard. That was when I learned to praise and reward effort no matter whether the effort succeeded at what it set out to do. I’ve learned so much since Kiki was in the program. I am better prepared to handle it. Yes I do have to handle it. This is a program which expects parental support. It is a high-intensity program. For that reason I have reservations about committing to it. But then, Gleek is a high-intensity person. It is possible that this is exactly what she needs. I know for certain that the school she’s been attending isn’t right for her anymore.

In the article I linked yesterday there is a phrase “narrative in the public discussion.” One of the things I don’t like about gifted programs is the narratives which surround them. “These kids are special” is in the air. That is often followed by an admonishment to the kids that because they are gifted they have a responsibility to live up to their potential. The problem with that narrative is that it only sets a high bar without showing the kids how to reach it. If they don’t hit it on the first try, it feels hopeless to them. Instead these kids, the ones who learn by intuitive leap, need a narrative which talks about the value of work. They don’t need lofty goals, they need practice pacing themselves toward far goals. The program is structured in such way that kids can learn pacing there, but when Kiki was in it the narrative was off. Of course the only way for me to affect the public narrative on giftedness is to participate in the discussion. I can be the voice which says that we all have things to learn and it doesn’t matter how fast we learn them. Education is not a race. There is no prize for getting there first.

We will probably accept the placement for Gleek. We have a couple of weeks to decide and a few more factors to weigh, but early indicators point that way. This is yet another of those parenting decisions which I must make without knowing what all the repercussions will be.

Today, I Cooked Quiche

I made quiche for dinner today. It was not fantastic quiche, but indicates something about today. I had space in my brain to set out and cook a food because I felt like eating it, rather than scrambling to throw something foodish in front of the kids because they were complaining. I used my rolling pin. I got flour all over the counter. Then when I was done making a mess, I cleaned it all up. It is not that the day was luxuriously empty. I had a list of things to do that kept me busy most of the day. It is just that my mind was remarkably free of stress and anxiety about the busy things. I like that. Hopefully I’ll be able to have a pattern of days like this one. For now, I’m going to go eat the last piece of quiche.

My conversations with God

When I watch Fiddler on the Roof, Tevya’s conversation’s with God feel very familiar to me. I too speak with God on a daily basis. Sometimes that speaking is in formalized prayer. Other times it is merely me rolling my eyes heavenward and asking silently “Really? Why today?” There is no indication that Tevya ever gets answers to his prayers, in fact the opposite is implied. Tevya is left to create his own answers as he tries to balance tradition with a fast changing world. I do get answers. Not all the time, not always clearly, but over the years God and I have developed a rich communication. Mostly those answers come as knowledge/concepts which my mind then turns into words. They are subtle and in earlier years I often confused them with my own desires. I still do sometimes, particularly when seeking answers on an emotional issue. Most of the time I receive these inspirations in direct answer to my prayers or requests. Occasionally I’ll be struck with one when I’m not seeking answers. My usual response to out-of-the-blue inspiration is to answer with the eye roll “Really? Why now?”

Yes I am aware that these answers could be coming from my own mind. I could be creating a comforting fiction of God. Except without fail those answers are right. They are right in ways that are impossible for me to predict. They are right for reasons which sometimes don’t become apparent until years after I have followed the instructions. Yes again, I could be justifying decisions after the fact by simply gathering evidence in support of them. I choose to believe that these answers come from a loving God who is as present in my life as I am willing to let Him be. That last bit is key. I can shut Him out. I can do the spiritual equivalent of sticking my fingers in my ears and singing loudly so that I will not hear Him. It is very tempting, because all too often the answers and inspirations I receive are quite difficult to follow through upon. So I grow a little shell for my heart. I hold up all the good things I am doing as a shield. “See God? I am going to church and teaching my children. I am doing regular service and reading my scriptures. It’s all pretty hard, so I should just keep working at it for awhile, right?” I stay busy with the good things I am doing so that I won’t have to do any more, rather like dodging a phone call from a friend because I think she’ll want me to volunteer for a bake sale.

This is where church meetings come in. One of those good things I use as a shield is church attendance. Except if I really want to avoid conversation with God, the last place I should go is His house. So I go there. I listen. I sing. Then my hard shell cracks open and inspiration pours in. It is like finally talking to that friend and discovering that, yes she wants me to volunteer for a bake sale, but she’s also wondering if she can come help me clean my house, plant flowers in my garden, and maybe repaint a little. I’ll have to help with all of those things too, of course. It will be work, but in the end I will be the biggest beneficiary. When the messages are clear, I adjust my life to make space for the work.

Thus I find myself posting about inspiration on the internet, which is notorious for swooping down upon people in very unpleasant ways. I also find myself tinkering with my weekly schedule because apparently getting my essay book done is still important. While I’m tinkering with the schedule Family Dinner needs to go back on it. In addition, I should keep up that time partitioning plan, because it is a really good thing. So I roll up my sleeves and start in on the work, realizing once again that perhaps I should listen to this particular friend more often. Even while He is handing out assignments, He is also doling out large measures of hope and energy. When I add His things into my life, the impossible is accomplished.

When my life was crazy

Yesterday I sat at the kitchen table, black binder in front of me. It was a simple three-ring binder filled with printed pages and opened about halfway through. The pages to the left were covered in scribbled notes, stars, and arrows. Pages to the right were pristine, as yet untouched by my editing pen. This was my essay book, my work in progress. I called it Stepping Stones whenever I didn’t just call it My Book. Working with pen and paper was kind of old school, but I found that it better engaged the editing portions of my brain. I had just reached the portion of the story where it was time for me to tell about undertaking the XDM book project.

Four pages were unclipped from the binder. They represented four attempts to wrap events around story. Four times I had made different arrangements of words to tell what happened. They all lacked a connecting thread, the heart of the story which explained why all the events matter. I got up and walked away from the table yet again, hoping that a different location would help me find that thread.

Working on the XDM X-Treme Dungeon Mastery project was crazy. It really was. The quantity of work was impossible for the allotted time. The opportunity cost was horrendous, thought we didn’t know all of that until after the project was complete. For all the craziness of it, doing the project was exactly the right thing to do. Because it was right, we did the impossible. It was not the only factor to that crazy impossible spring. We were also in the midst of the Scrapyard of Insufferable Arrogance printing process and book release. We ordered slipcases to make boxed sets at the same time. Then we counted books and realized that the time had come for us to reprint Under New Management. To add even more craziness we also remodeled Howard’s office, did major book shipping events, and ran a booth at GenCon for the first time. All of that within 5 months.

I found the thread when I remembered the night when I lay curled in my bed all but broken. Putting a book together in only five weeks with no prior experience in textual layout was a real trial by fire. I came out changed, stronger. My emotional trial and triumph was the thread which linked all the facts. I scribbled notes until all the pieces were outlined. I would have to type them in detail later, but I’d caught the essence of what I intended to say.

I flipped the binder closed and got up from the table to go stand at the sink where warm air from a heating vent would blow across my feet. I could hear my younger two kids upstairs playing with a friend. My teenagers were downstairs, thoroughly involved with their screens. I could see my planner sitting on the counter, open to today’s list of tasks. Most of them were already checked off. My life as it currently stands is quite busy. My days are full, and I am frequently reluctant to list my things because I always get the same reactions of disbelief and/or admiration. Also frequently, I feel overwhelmed by my things. It is good for me to remember that what I deal with today is as nothing in comparison to the spring of 2009 when we did XDM. I have survived far worse, I can handle what is in front of me.

Partitioning my days

I’ve made a discovery. It is the same discovery I’ve made at least three times in the past four years, which does dampen my excitement a bit. However, I will still apply it in my life. Again. Perhaps this time it will stick.
I am going to start better partitioning my time.

Two days ago I wrote about child induced task limbo. After the fact, I recognize that the limbo was only half caused by the expectation of interruption. It was also created by the fact that all of my days have turned into a mish-mash of everything. I constantly task swap between business, household, and parenting. This leaves no time which feels free for relaxation. It was also not leaving time for anything but the barest bones blog writing. And then there were the household things which were forever incomplete because no time was set aside for them.

So I’m making new rules for myself. Or rather, I dug out my old rules and realized I should still be following them.

From getting up in the morning until dropping the kids off to school my time belongs to the kids and the house. I am not allowed to get on a computer nor to check the internet using my phone.

From dropping the kids at school until noon or 1 pm, my time belongs to the business. This is when I will do accounting, email, shipping, book layout, etc.

From noon or 1 pm until picking up the kids from school is my writing time and/or relaxation time. It is the space in the day reserved for my things.

From picking up kids from school until dinner I am primarily taking care of kids and house. However there is likely to be some business and/or writing mixed in if the kids are occupied. It is not focused project time and I am not allowed to bury myself in my office for hours. Gardening is a good thing to put here.

Dinner to kid bedtime belongs to the Children.

Kid bedtime to my bedtime I can do final rounds of internet checking, writing, reading, etc.

It feels like a good and sensible schedule. I suspect it will be less than a week before I’m blurring the lines again. I’ll probably have a good reason, like the last rush to get EPD off to the printer. All it takes is for a kid to get sick to land parenting stuff in my business hours. Then it feels fair that business spill into family hours because Stuff Must Get Done. In short order I expect it all to be mish-moshed together again, but it is a lovely schedule and I shall endeavor to make it real.

Email and Me

The email box lurks
red flags pointed at my eyes
Click. I am elsewhere.

I have a mixed relationship with email these days. I love it and it exhausts me. The problem is not spam. Google is quite good at filtering out the complete garbage. Most of the emails I actually see are ones full of useful and/or interesting things. The problem is that there are so many emails and the polite thing to do is to answer all of them. Which I really want to do. I want to give every single email a full, complete, considered answer. This is why so many of them sit in my mailbox for weeks on end. I keep trying to find a space to craft the right answer. Alternately, the emails sit because they have tasks attached. The email to say “here is your contract” is quite simple to write, but it requires me to first have created a contract, which is quite complex and thinky. “I’d love to do lunch” is easy to say, but then requires me to consult our schedules to see when such an event could actually happen. So the emails sit. They sit because they matter to me and I want to get them right. Of course they also generate waves of guilt. The more messages I have waiting the more guilt I feel. I don’t like to have people waiting on me. Logically I know these people are not sitting at their mailboxes feeling disappointed that I have not replied yet, but it feels that way.

My email box has filters. Messages are automatically shunted into folders based on where they came from. This system became critically necessary as Facebook, Twitter, and my blog all email me to tell me things. Usually they are happy things “Someone followed you!” “You have a comment!” Other times they are annoying things “Did you know that this friend of yours is also friends with this other friend of yours and they played the same game today?” Facebook is a little bit like that kid who doesn’t have a full deck of social clues, but who is dying for attention. And yet sometimes Facebook tells me things I need to know. “Book signing next week for that cool person you like!” Quarantining each message source lets me address them when I’m ready to instead of constantly being bombarded in my inbox. It helps.

I also filter according to roles. All of the Schlock mail goes through me first and it has its own folder. I answer the basic stuff and pass along to Howard the happy stuff and the complicated stuff. Conventions also get their own folder. This is particularly critical when I’m helping coordinate multiple convention appearances simultaneously. It is rather embarrassing to email the wrong guest liaison with a question that doesn’t apply. Right now I’m helping coordinate eight different convention appearances, six of which will take place between now and August. Tags and folders help me keep it all straight. Then of course, there are the emails relating to book printing. In order to answer emails about book printing I have to think like an accountant and scheduler. In order to answer convention emails I have to think like a scheduler and talent wrangler. In order to answer the Schlock emails I have to think like a business manager, a customer support rep, and an archival expert. Switching gears makes my head spin a bit.

The system I’ve got works more or less. Every so often I have to add new filters or create new tags/folders. When the box fills up and threatens to overwhelm me with guilt, I somehow muster the energy to plow through dozens of different emails in a single morning. This morning needs to be that morning, which is naturally why I just spent thirty minutes writing a post about answering email instead. Avoidance and I are familiar friends though we don’t like to admit it. Time to go answer email.

Child induced task limbo

I spend a lot of time in a sort of mental limbo. There are projects I’m excited about, that I want to accomplish, but I don’t dare start them because something else is likely to interrupt. The kids are playing and all is quiet. In theory I should snatch the moment for writing. I don’t because I know that in three minutes or fifteen minutes–when I’m mid sentence–a crisis will erupt. I’ll have to feed someone, or mediate video game turns, or find the bandaids. The interruption is not half so troublesome as the irritation. Crafting words is a complex process and there is a moment when I have them arranged in my mind, but I’ve not yet committed them to paper or pixels. That is invariably when the shouts of “Mom!” begin. They shatter my words and I can almost feel the thoughts dissolve into nothing. It is very hard indeed not to turn upon the small person whose plea interrupted my thoughts.

I learned long ago that life is better for everyone when I arrange my activities to match the needs of the family. Housework chores mesh very nicely with the high-needs hours of after school and homework time. Focused work is best done when the kids are at school or settled in long-lasting quiet activities. But some hours are hard to define. Sometimes the three kid Lego game will last for hours of happy play. Other times it will require repeated intervention and a mandatory game end within a mere 20 minutes. If I knew at the beginning of the game which would be the case, then I could plan. Instead I pace through the house, not starting housework, not starting focused work. I want to do the focused project work, but I don’t quite dare start. If I begin housework then I am admitting to myself that focused work is not going to happen. I can linger in that limbo for quite extended (and frustratingly useless) periods of time.

And then there are the times when I start thinking about limbo and end up writing a blog post about it. At least something got done.

This is not a parents-only problem. I find the same limbo when I need to leave for an appointment, or I’m expecting a delivery, or listening for a phone call. Then I end up in endless rounds of clicking on the internet, because I feel like I don’t have enough time to really get into a project. I need to remember my new mother skills. When I had an infant slicing my free time into tiny slivers, I was really good at using five or ten minutes productively. I had to. It was all I had in one span. Now days I find myself thinking that any amount of time less than an hour is not enough to really get things done. Silly. I should just stop worrying about the clock and snatch the time available.

2010 One Cobble Book

This is my happy thing for the day. It is my 2010 One Cobble book containing all the entries from last year. I picked the cover photo because of this post. It seemed an appropriate visual metaphor for a year that was over full of good things. The cover is not what I am most pleased about. My heart is made glad by the pages. They are full of my words arranged on the pages with pretty flowers. I did every bit of the work except designing the flowers.

Now I need to get back to work writing words I can sell.

A letter to my daughter on the day mean things were said at school

Dear Child,

Today a boy at school called you some very mean names. You answered right back with names just as mean. I saw them on your lips right before you turned to come to the car. I saw your hurt in the way you walked and the quiver of the lips which you pressed so tightly together. I had less than a minute to decide what words I would first speak to you so that I could learn what happened. I wondered if I would have to coax and pry in order to convince you to let me help you with the drama you had experienced. I also felt the weight of my responsibility to teach you how to handle the cruelty of others without being vicious yourself. It is such a hard thing to do. I know.

Your story spilled forth and it was clear that while you were not completely at fault, neither were you totally innocent in the confrontation. I admire the way that you stand up for yourself, completely unafraid of these boys that are older than you. You and I both know you could beat them in a physical altercation despite the fact that they are larger, but you did not hit or kick. You held back. You matched words with words only. This represents a level of restraint in you that I my heart applauds even while seeking the right words to suggest that perhaps the higher course is to answer hard words with softer ones.

It became clear as we talked that your biggest fear was other children would believe the words this boy said to you. You want to have others think well of you. I wish for your sake that reputation was entirely in your control, but it is not. However it is possible to watch others and learn how to shift so that they do not have power over you any more. You are strong enough and smart enough to make his words irrelevant. This is not the same as pretending to ignore them, though the actions look the same. We talked about this for quite a long time, but I know you don’t quite get it yet.

My heart hurts for you. I don’t want you to have to deal with hard words. Part of me wants to swoop into the school and demand that you be kept safe. If this proves to be a pattern instead of an incident, I will do that. I’ll do it half for his sake, because if you go to war against this poor kid, you’ll win. I don’t want you to experience such a bitter and angry victory. I would much rather you learned lessons of personal strength and inner peace. I wish I knew the exact words to teach them to you, but I suspect these things can only be grown, not taught.

Tomorrow will be another day and hopefully it will all have blown over as so many of these childhood altercations do. But if it hasn’t, know that I love you and I’ll be here, no matter what.