All Dressed Up With Some Place To Go

With our senior set to graduate in 39 days, 17 hours, and 30 minutes (not that I’m counting), last night we attended our final Denver Academy Gala as parents of a current student. Because the last two gala events had to be held virtually, we were thrilled to learn this year’s event would be in person again, and at The Ritz-Carlton, nonetheless. I’ve missed this event because it is my yearly excuse to get dressed up and prove that I know which fork to use at a full place setting. I get to wear a lovely dress and heels and see my husband looking dapper in his suit. And raising funds so more students can attend this private school that teaches students with learning disabilities the way they learn best is a passion project now. Steve and I will likely continue to attend these events after Luke graduates because the school changed our sons’ educational trajectories so dramatically. Luke entered 7th grade at the school reading more than a year below grade level, but four years later at 17 he was reading at post graduate level. Joe, who struggled in nearly every subject in elementary school, now attends a competitive liberal arts college and has a 3.6 grade point average. You can’t argue with that success. This year the school celebrates fifty years changing lives for these neurodiverse kids. We were happy to dress up, show up, and donate from the deepest corner of our pockets.

It’s not hyperbole when I say Denver Academy saved our family. Once our sons started at this school, there were no more homework battles; in fact, we were rarely asked to help with homework at all. Parent/teacher conferences no longer made me cry. The boys started believing they were capable. Smart, even. This was new territory for them. They began getting involved in sports and clubs. For our part, we attended a seminar that simulated what it’s like to live with learning disabilities and gained a better understanding of our sons’ struggles. We showed up for every lecture and presentation DA held that we felt could help us do better for our kids. We bonded with other parents whose experiences with their children were eerily similar to ours. We no longer felt isolated in our situation with our children. We found a home, and nothing in our lives has been the same since.

Thank you, Denver Academy, for teaching our kids how to be successful in their skin and for teaching us that learning differences are something to appreciate, not fear.

Rubber Ducky, You’re The One

As we count down the days to our youngest’s high school graduation, the festivities are picking up speed. We’ve got plans for a small party for our son and his friends post graduation. There will be a tent campout soon for the future graduates on their school campus, which will be followed by the infamous and ever popular Senior Ditch Day. Prom is a couple weekends away. On May 6th, the school will have their annual Senior Signing Day, where the students share what they will be doing post graduation with their classmates and teachers. And then there is the annual senior Shakespeare production, which happens before the Senior Breakfast, graduation practice, and then the final hurrah at graduation. All of this is overwhelming and hard to keep track of as a parent, but Luke is so here for it. Senioritis is in full swing at our house.

This week, Luke and his classmates began with the senior pranks at school. Luke has been dreaming about this for years. YEARS. When Luke was a sophomore, he told us what prank he would like to oversee before graduation. As long as we’ve had Luke (going on 19 years now), he has been an aficionado of cute things. So it is very appropriate that Luke’s contribution to the senior pranks at his school would be cute. To that end, I give you Luke’s senior prank. A Deluge of Ducks.

A deluge of ducks

I’ll admit I was a little less than thrilled when Luke originally floated (from here on out there will be duck puns) the idea of amassing a plethora of rubber ducks to display in the office of the high school dean. He wanted 300 rubber ducks. I thought he was quacked, but I agreed to foot the bill. I mean, the kid is getting ready to fly the nest, so how could I make a flap about his wish? When the two large boxes of rubber ducks in various sizes arrived, I picked them up and waddled my way in with them and set them down. Luke didn’t want to put all his eggs in one basket, so he asked some friends to help purchase more ducks so he wouldn’t be in hot water with me. They took the ducks to school early Monday morning, gained surreptitious access to the dean’s office, and got busy. Thye were winging it and having a blast with the duck placement. Then Dean Wood arrived.

The reveal

There was quite a bit of nervous laughter as the kids tried to decide if they had ruffled the dean’s feathers, but it all went down just fine. No fowl response here. In the end, Dean Wood proved unflappable.

Sometimes it’s worth it to give into your kid’s whim when he presents an idea. Sometimes you just have to say, “What the duck” and give them some cash to help them fulfill their crazy dream. It might just become a fun memory for both of you.

Everything was just ducky

The One Where Fun With Flags Pays Off

On Wednesday nights, our neighborhood coffee shop/bar/gathering space hosts DJ Trivia. We have gone a couple times with some of our awesome neighbors. This week, none of our neighbors were available to join the festivities. We thought about skipping out too but, with Joe home from college and Luke without homework before spring break, we decided we had enough of a team with just the four of us. The boys were so not thrilled that we were dragging them along that Luke decided the only appropriate team name was Two Willing Participants since they didn’t want to be there.

We got through the first round with all the possible points, but it’s the easy round. We clinched the bonus question because of my gift with lyrics. Who knew that my brain would pull Def Leppard’s Pour Some Sugar On Me out of its cobwebby recesses? I haven’t willingly listened to that song since, well, ever. Anyhoo, we struggled the second round and ended with 20 out of 40 points and didn’t even dare take a stab at the bonus question. We were sitting in 6th place out of 7 teams, and our confidence was flagging. Somehow, though, we rallied in the third round, scoring 60 out of 80. Luke knew the bonus question about the alloy of copper and tin (it’s bronze), and we were right back in it. Suddenly, we were sitting in third, which meant we were in prize territory.

The final round is fill-in-the-blank questions rather than multiple choice. We got the first two fairly easily, but missed the next two. We were somehow still in third place as we waded into the final bonus round, called the Do Or Die Dare round. We strategized how to play it and decided it was go big or go home. If we got the question right, we would double our entire score and could finish in a higher place, or at least hold on to third and win a prize. And then, as if the gods were on our side, the title of the bonus round question hit the screen. The title was Fun With Flags. We all looked at Joe. This was our Slumdog Millionaire moment. Joe has long been a fan of geography and flags. He’s a regular vexillologist. In his senior year, he had to give a 45-minute presentation on a topic of his choice. The title of the presentation he shared with his classmates? Fun With Flags. I shit you not.

Yeah…I know that flag

Steve pushed himself back from the table with a “this is it” flourish of glee. A flag appeared on the trivia screens. Joe looked at it for a nanosecond, leaned forward, and said quietly with the utmost confidence, “Uzbekistan.” I grabbed the paper and wrote it down. We handed it to the DJ judge in five seconds flat while the rest of the tables sat hemming and hawing and conjecturing. It appeared no one wanted to risk all their points with an answer. Finally, a representative from the Vandalay Industries team stood up and walked to submit their answer. We all knew Joe had provided the right answer. Not because any of us had a clue about the flag of Uzbekistan but because Joe. The DJ did all the tabulating and then announced that only two answers had been submitted for the Do or Die Dare and only one of those was right. The correct answer was Uzbekistan.

Yeah, baby!

The DJ read off the name of the third place winner. We smiled. Second place went to the team that often wins each week, Hot Fuzz. The room was dead silent. Someone had pulled off an upset. The DJ put our team name on the screen, and we high-fived all around while Hot Fuzz looked over at us like we’d just kicked their puppy. Two Willing Participants won largely due to the efforts of its two unwilling team participants, and the coveted $25 brewery gift card and bragging rights for the week were ours. It was positively glorious.

A member of Team Hot Fuzz, still flabbergasted by their unexpected loss, shouted over to Joe to inquire how he knew the answer to the flag question so quickly. To which Joe replied, “I have the flags of the world memorized. It’s a good party trick.” This twenty year old kid just ruined their evening, and I couldn’t have been any prouder. It made all the hours I’ve spent quizzing Joe on flags and listening to him prattle on about the poorly designed ones totally worth it.

Joe with his personal Uzbekistan flag at home after our win

I guess there are a few lessons to be learned from our trivia evening. First, never, ever assume something you are asked to do (like attend a trivia night with your parents) will be a waste of time because you never know what you might learn about yourself or others. Second, if you encourage your child’s obsessions, they might pay off. Third, if you’re going to trivia night, take Joe and Luke with you. Their arcane knowledge about flags or every letter of the Greek alphabet or the names of Roman emperors might be just what you need to humble Hot Fuzz. And finally, if your kid wants to collect flags, let him.

Can I Get A Drum Roll, Please?

Well, it’s a done deal. After flying to three different states, touring five schools, revisiting two of the schools, and receiving four acceptance letters, Luke has chosen his college. It was a tough decision for him. He got a sizable merit scholarship from St. Olaf in Northfield, Minnesota, but ultimately decided he didn’t want to be Minnesota-level cold. He received a similar scholarship from the University of Denver, but decided he couldn’t go to college two miles from his high school because that wasn’t enough of a stretch. That left Reed College in Portland, Oregon, and Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, pulling his attention.

Luke chose Reed College for himself his freshman year. He glommed onto it as a good fit for him right away. It’s a self-described college for eggheads, the kind of place kids go because they love to learn and not because they have a lovely campus, amazing dorms, or good football team. In fact, Reed has no sports and no Greek life. There is nothing to get in the way of learning for learning’s sake. It’s that kind of place. Reed is ranked sixth in the country for producing candidates who go on to doctorate degrees. The campus is amazing. Luke loves their adopted motto: “Communism, Atheism, and Free Love.” It is a funny motto, especially considering the school took it on as a tongue-in-cheek nod to the reputation they had earned as being a little bit more liberal than most places. I was a little nervous about the exceedingly rigorous educational practices at Reed, but once we toured it the second time (which was actually my third time as I also toured it with my oldest) I felt better. It’s impressive, and I definitely could see Luke there.

Luke’s brother chose Whitman College. Joe ended up at Whitman because his savvy mother found it for him and thought he should see it. Whitman, while being somewhat isolated in a small town in rural, southeastern Washington, is a great school with a solid reputation. It’s academically challenging but it values work/life balance, so there’s no busywork for the sake of looking impressive. Whitman aims to create well-rounded adults. There are tons of opportunities to get outdoors and to volunteer in the community, and charming downtown Walla Walla with its boutiques, wineries, and restaurants, is just a five-minute walk away. While Joe was a little apprehensive about going to school in such a small town, Whitman has been everything we expected it to be for him…challenging but fun. He is happy there. Having a brother going to Whitman could be a blessing or a curse for Luke. We wondered if that would enter into his decision.

In the end, Luke had two wonderful finalists and a tough decision. Did he want to push his academic limits at Reed, knowing its reputation for cranking out future post-grads? Did he want to attend the same college his brother chose? When he weighed his life goals against the pluses and minuses of each school, he felt he had a clear choice. He chose:

The two boys will both be at the same college next year, which works because it just does. This is the most Joe and Luke thing since Joe and Luke became brothers. The motto of Whitman College, which I loved so much for Joe, also is apt for Luke. Per ardua surgo roughly translates to “Through adversity, I rise,” which certainly fits both these kids who started their school careers struggling with their learning disabilities and yet worked hard and thus landed at a highly respected liberal arts college anyway.

Here’s hoping their next adventures together won’t involve Lego gunships broken into hundreds of pieces or empty deals made to persuade the other to do something they don’t want to do. If war breaks out between the two of them this time around, they won’t have their mother to appeal to for mediation.

The Lost Boys And Girls

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

I have over the years written here about our sons and their struggles and triumphs with education. Joe was diagnosed with ADHD at 8, and then we discovered he also had some dyslexia-adjacent issues with math (dyscalculia) and writing (dysgraphia). When our youngest was 9, we learned he had severe dyslexia and needed immediate, intensive tutoring or placement at a specialized school to remediate these issues. It was hard to take in all this information as a parent. It was harder still to recognize and accept that our sons were atypical. They struggled to thrive in a traditional school setting. Whether we liked it or were comfortable with it or not, our sons needed something else.

To that end, we placed them in a special school for kids with learning disabilities. They started when they were in 4th and 6th grades, respectively, and they improved so much in this new paradigm that we moved them to a high school that allowed them to continue along this same pathway. Our recognizing and accepting our children as they were and where they were changed their trajectory entirely. We knew they needed help. We also knew we had no clue how to help them. So we found people who could.

Now, we were in the fortunate position to be able to afford a specialized education for them, and I recognize not everyone has the means we had to make a difference for them. Before we had them in private school, we used our insurance plan to get them occupational and speech therapy. After that, we tried private tutoring, but the overwhelm for them of trying to keep up in traditional school plus spend hours a week with a tutor was untenable. They were exhausted and frustrated with being “different.” So we looked for schools that would use school time for the catch-up help they needed. And, again, we were in the fortunate position to find not one, but two, such schools in our metropolitan area. These schools, with their student bodies comprised entirely of kids just like our boys, helped them see their own potential and proved to them that they weren’t anomalies. This made them feel capable and it taught them how they learned and how they could advocate for themselves to get what they needed in other settings as well.

I have been thinking a lot lately about how parents of younger children handled working at home and having their kids do school from home during the pandemic. I believe a lot of families have spent the past two years struggling with their children as they tried to learn and complete work at home rather than in the school settings they were accustomed to. I found a perspective piece in the Washington Post that seems to suggest as much. I assume some parents, when witnessing firsthand their students learning at home, may have realized for the first time that their child or children have difficulties learning that they were unaware of. While it is hard to determine the exact number of atypical learners because not everyone who struggles has been properly diagnosed, the statistics run somewhere between 10-20% of all individuals. Not every child is cut out for traditional education. Some need something different or, at the minimum, some extra attention. And not every child will go on to higher education. Some children will excel at trade schools or art schools or in local, associates degree programs. There are many paths through this life, but every child should be getting the help they need to get through their formative educational years. No child should be struggling because they have brain differences that make learning in the traditional paradigm less than optimal.

Our schools are struggling. I read just today that an estimated half of teachers are looking for an off-ramp from their teaching careers. Not only do we need to attract more people to the teaching profession and increase pay to retain the quality teachers we have today, we also need to bring in professionals to help the kids who are getting lost, be it due to learning disabilities, poverty issues, or social issues. We are failing our children. Every day I am grateful our sons were to be born into a family where they were able to get all the extra help they needed to grow, thrive, and move forward with their dreams. I wish other children had the same access to the type of schooling our sons received. We have so many issues in our country right now, but the children who have lost time in their education due to Covid, who might also be battling other issues outside their control, will still need to launch into their futures someday. I hope we find solutions for them or this latest generation might come to be known as the lost generation.

Bucket List Item #4: Take A Welding Class

Luke and the elephant table

When we learned that our sons’ small, specialized high school had a welding shop and a ceramics studio, we were excited. I had long wanted to learn how to weld. I figured that until I could get my hands on a MIG welder, maybe the boys could take classes and learn. And they did. They took welding in summer sessions and made some really awesome items that are now our treasures. One summer, Luke fabricated this cool, elephant table for our outdoor space.

When we went to our gala fundraiser at Denver Academy and they auctioned off a four-hour welding class with the school’s material arts teacher, we knew we would have to bid on and win that item some time in the six years we would be at the school. After several years of being severely outbid, in 2019 we finally did it. We won a lesson. Life got in the way, however, and our gift certificate (with a one year expiration) did not get used. Thanks, Covid-19. This year, out of curiosity, I messaged the teacher and inquired if he might still be willing to let us have our lesson. He enthusiastically replied that he would love to do it. We were thrilled. So, yesterday morning we had our class.

Never looked better

We arrived at 9 a.m. with a huge Americano for our teacher because an apple will only get you so far at that time on a Saturday morning. He geared us up with safety goggles, ear plugs, gloves, and welding jackets, and we started with the plasma cutter. Loved that. I’m not sure there is anything more satisfying than watching the sparks fly as you rip through metal like it’s butter. After we’d liberated some small shapes with the plasma cutter, he taught us about the MIG welder and we worked on our welding skills. It was difficult for me to get the right speed, but I did eventually figure it out. We practiced welding random, found-pieces of metal from his shop. Then we went on to learn how to use the angle grinder to polish our metal pieces. That was pretty damn satisfying. Not gonna lie.

After learning the tools, we had about two hours to figure out what we wanted to build to take home. We had to design it, cut the metal, weld it, polish it, and determine how to hang in our limited time frame. Kris, the teacher, had a metal frame in his shop that someone had already created. He told us we were welcome to use it if we wanted. We decided to design a mountain scene that we could put inside the open frame. We did some planning drawings and got right to work. Steve cut the pieces with the plasma cutter while I used the angle grinder to polish the pieces he cut. With his job finished, Steve started welding our mountains to the frame. About that time, our son, Luke, showed up and he helped me speed up the grinding process. I had a lot of pieces to work on.

In the end, Kris helped us put a couple rubber stops on the back of the frame so the art piece would not cause damage to any surface it is mounted on. I have to say the whole process was a blast. It’s important to keep trying new things, to keep creating and taking risks, and to keep reaching for things you think might be your thing. And it’s best to do these things with people you love and work well with, so you can end up with something like this:

Not too bad for first time metal fabricators – Moonrise Over Mountains

Ever so grateful to Denver Academy and Kris Fritzsche for everything!

Like Howard Beale, I Literally Cannot Anymore

Photo by Christopher Ott on Unsplash

Today I feel like the world’s biggest phony. I try to blog about situations that might resonate with others or that might be inspiring or hopeful. I know I don’t always succeed at this. Sometimes I can tell, based on the replies I am getting, that people can see right through me. They know I am writing all this bullshit as a means to make myself feel better or to inspire myself to make difficult changes while inside I am crumbling like a saltine squeezed in someone’s palm. Some of you know I’m faking positivity (fake it til you make it?) and others of you, based upon which posts you might have read, may feel I’m living a pretty damn good life, devoid of acrimony.

The truth is that I am lost. Thanks to tons of therapy, I am no longer lost about where I came from or why I am the way I am. I long ago got the sobering answers to those questions, and I work daily to slay those demons and move on. And, honestly, I feel pretty good about that. I no longer hate myself. I no longer see only my bad qualities. I know they are still there and I acknowledge them; it’s just that I see the other side too now. I see why I am worth my carbon matter, and I accept that as reality even when others don’t seem to see the good in me.

But I am struggling. A lot. I enjoyed my peaceful weekend, came home filled with optimism about my plans and ideas for writing and my plans and ideas for getting better sleep and more exercise and eating better, and the minute I walked back into the door of my home I was right back into my struggles because nothing at home has been addressed. All the things I want to achieve or do for myself can only happen if there are changes at home, and there have been none. So today I am feeling deflated and hopeless. Today I want to sell something, take the money, get in my car, and run away. Except that I don’t really want to do that because I would miss my people. What I want is to snap my fingers and have all the negativity in my life evaporate so I can pick up from there and move forward. That isn’t going to happen.

Hard conversations need to be had and hard work needs to be done, but no one wants to talk or work. We’re going along in this bubble where we’re pretending everything is fine and everyone’s needs are being met, but that isn’t true in either case.

I come from a family of defensive fighters. We explode. When there was tension in my family of origin, it was resolved with a blowup. The tension would build, someone would need to release steam, and then there would be nasty, no-holds-barred, critical exchanges where all participants were hurling hurtful and unnecessary blows in an attempt to win an argument or make a point that could be neither won or made. There was often door slamming and item chucking as well. None of this was very healthy. Then, I married into a family of stuffers. In my new family, nothing negative or difficult is discussed. Everything is stuffed deep down or swept under the rug. This means that conversations that need to be had to set boundaries, resolve disagreements in viewpoint, and determine appropriate paths forward are simply not conducted. The result is that everyone is anxious. Everyone is talking, which is great, but nothing of importance or consequence is being said because everyone is afraid. It’s verboten, not part of the family dynamic. This is untenable as well. And as a result of my family affiliations, I am now adept at being both a venter and a stuffer. Oh boy.

The older I get, the more I think that what needs to be taught in preschools, kindergartens, grade schools, and high schools across this country (as well as in homes and churches) is communication. We need to teach kids early how to communicate their needs, how to listen to others, how to compromise, and how to support others while protecting the boundaries they need to feel safe. A large portion of this teaching needs to be done by having adults model these behaviors, but we can’t model something we don’t know how to do. This can be witnessed in our current political environment. We’ve become an entire nation of selfish toddlers, unwilling to discuss our feelings in a civil manner, grumpy that we aren’t getting our way, and cruel to others to make ourselves feel better about the shortfalls we perceive in fairness. I’m not saying communication is the only or most important thing that should be taught to our youth (and our grown ups), but it needs to be addressed one way or another because we are all struggling and no one wants to go to that dark, vulnerable place of admitting our fears and needs. No one wants to sit and listen. People want to point fingers, blame, name call, and live in their self-righteous bubble. This is ruining our families, our social groups, our churches, our schools, our government, and our society in general. We hide behind screens, spewing hate, and then go on about our lives because we’ve normalized cruelty and bullying and eliminated common courtesy, patience, and empathy. We live in unkind soundbites and talking points. And this has only been exacerbated by our isolation during this pandemic.

I know I have fallen short in all the good behaviors I’ve listed above. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be sitting in my house feeling misunderstood, ignored, taken for granted, and overwhelmed. I can’t live like this anymore. Like the Howard Beale character in the 1976 film, Network, I want to stand in my living room and yell, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.”

I’m finished stuffing my feelings and playing nice and pretending everything is great when I am losing my mind. I don’t want to revert to the patterns of my childhood and explode and say hateful things. The time to resolve things civilly is now. I am going to start by opening up in my own house. Maybe if we all decide to undertake some of the difficult conversations we’ve been avoiding having, perhaps we would open a release valve and vent some of the explosive gas currently expanding our national dissatisfaction. Maybe not. But I believe it’s worth a shot.

You Can Only Go Wrong In Life If You Sell Yourself Short

Our youngest has always been a big-picture, future-focused thinker. As a child, he would draw scenes on pages of printer paper and then tape them to the wall to create an epic battle scene or an entire city. At seven he famously told us that he was ready to “get a wife, have some kids, and just get on with his life.” So it didn’t really surprise me much today when he mentioned during an admitted students day at Reed College that he first learned about Reed in 8th grade. I did not know this. I first learned about Reed College when our oldest was entering his junior year and I found it listed among schools in the book Colleges That Change Lives. It was that book that prompted me to suggest a trip to tour four colleges in the Pacific northwest in one trip. As we toured Reed, both Joe and I knew immediately it was not the place for him. We both agreed, however, that it might be a great fit for Luke. As he headed into senior year, Luke told us that Reed was his top choice school.

As I learned more about Reed, I got a little nervous. Reed has a reputation for being a highly rigorous college. One article I found online claimed that Reed is among the top ten most challenging colleges in the US, along with Harvard, Columbia, the University of Chicago, and MIT. Among the social sciences and humanities, Reed produces the second most PhD candidates in the country. They produce the third most PhD candidates in the sciences and math. It’s a tough school. I began to wonder if it was the right choice for Luke. While he is intellectually curious and hard working, he also has anxiety. My concern kicked in. I told Luke these things, and I think it stressed him out too. So he switched his top choices to a couple other schools, including Whitman College where his brother is a sophomore.

Still, we encouraged him to apply to Reed anyway. Of the colleges he applied to, it had one of the lowest acceptance rates, so we called it a “reach” school. He applied Early Action and received his acceptance email in late December while we were on vacation. When we returned home, his official acceptance letter was waiting for him along with their welcome gift, a book, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. For our dyslexic son who has worked so hard to become a prolific reader, it seemed like a sign. So we came to Portland for an official tour so he has all the necessary information when May 1st rolls around and he needs to sign on the dotted line for the college of his choice.

As we sat through the presentations today and walked around campus on the tour, I could see Luke’s interest and excitement. I have to admit that I started to get excited about Reed too. It’s a different type of liberal arts college. For starters, while students receive letter grades for their work, they are not shown those grades. Instead, professors give qualitative feedback on papers. In their required freshman course, Humanities 110, students meet with their professor for a paper conference where their work is discussed with them one-on-one. It’s through this type of feedback that Reed is able to encourage student growth. There is no “teaching to the test” at this institution. There are no collegiate athletics and no Greek system. Students are required to complete some physical education credits, but these can be obtained through classes like bowling or archery. It’s a school for students who like to sit around and discuss who had better ideas, Socrates, Plato, or Aristotle. They have a yearly conference that lasts for a week where students teach hands-on classes on any topic they choose. In short, it’s a school for eggheads who enjoy learning for the sake of learning. And it’s safe to say Luke is that egghead.

At one point today, I found myself thinking about what advice I wanted to give Luke about his tough choice ahead. How does he decide which school will be the right one? Does he go with a still challenging but safer bet or does he push his boundaries and see where his drive will take him (even if it brings him more stress in the short-term)? While thinking about it, I became teary eyed. When I was choosing a college for myself, I went with the safe bet. I chose the closest school with the best academics where I had a chance of being accepted. I sold myself short. I got bogged down by the cost of college and the introvert terror of being somewhere new and not knowing a single soul. I let fear make my choice, and I’ve spent the rest of my life wishing I’d been brave enough to take a chance on myself. So, I told Luke tonight over fries at Red Robin that he can’t go wrong with any of the schools he applied to. They are all wonderful institutions with many positives to offer. Then I told him to believe in himself and pick a place where his big-picture, future-focused mind will be challenged to reach the heights he dreams of. You can always choose an easier path if the harder one you start down becomes unbearable, but it’s difficult to convince yourself to reach for something bigger when you’ve already made yourself believe you aren’t capable of more. You can go with your gut or with your imagination. Your imagination will always take you further.

Books for the required Humanities 110 at Reed College

A Missing Letter Can Change Everything

All consonants are important, even if they’re voiceless.

Tonight Thing One sent me a paper to edit. He does this on occasion. One of the only benefits of having a mom who writes is that she might be willing to do some editing for you in a pinch. The paper tonight was for his history class and covered the Reformation. As I was reading through it and checking the grammar and spelling, I noticed that my darling son’s dyslexia reared its head. He had “peasant” written as “pheasant.” This took me back to a post I wrote almost 10 years ago when I was proofreading a 4th grade book report for him.

Joe had written a book report on Danny, Champion of the World by Roald Dahl. As I was reading his paper, I was having a hard time understanding what he was saying because he kept referring to the main characters “poaching peasants.” The story involves a father and son who put sleeping pills in raisins and use them to poach pheasants off a neighbor’s land. But in the book report, Joe kept referring to the pheasants as “peasants.” Imagine my consternation when I’m reading along and thinking my 4th grade son is reading a book about a father and son who kill people and eat them.

I know that at 20 Joe knows the difference between a peasant and a pheasant. He actually knew the difference 10 years ago too. It’s just that his brain doesn’t always make the spelling distinction. As a person for whom English and writing came a bit more easily, I admit I used to judge potential boyfriends on their ability to spell and use correct grammar. It was snobby, but it was a pet peeve of mine when a person wrote “your so cool” rather than “you’re so cool.” Then, the universe gave me sons with dyslexia and ADHD, which forced me to see that poor grammar and spelling aren’t always due to ignorance or a lack of intelligence or education. Sometimes poor grammar and spelling are the result of a learning disability. So, I’ve learned to relax a little bit when I see “your” instead of “you’re” or “pheasant” instead of “peasant.” Or at least I’ve learned not to judge the grammar over what is being said.

I hate to think that someone might not be able to see beyond our sons’ dyslexic spelling errors. I prefer to think that anyone who talked to them would understand they were intelligent people with grammar and spelling issues on occasion. Maybe those people will come to learn what I have. You might have to put up with some spelling confusion when dealing with a person who has dyslexia, but you might get some funny stories out of it too.

Turns Out Dr. Spock Was Right

“Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.” ~Dr. Benjamin Spock

Two little bears and one mama bear

Today I was thinking about the times in my twenty years as a parent when I was brave enough to follow my gut, to speak up for my children, to make the right choices for them in the face of opposition from medical professionals, family members, friends, and even random strangers who couldn’t keep from speaking up about something they knew nothing about and that was none of their business. Sometimes I made these bold moves with my voice shaking. Sometimes I made them unconsciously, simply changing a behavior without considering why I had. No matter how I managed to summon the courage in those situations, though, I trusted myself. And, as it turns out, I intuitively knew a lot more than I thought I did.

When most kids their age were starting first grade, I thought it wise to keep both our boys back a year and give them a second kindergarten experience. I simply didn’t feel they were ready. I just kept thinking that an extra year to be a child, to build basic skills, could never be a bad thing. It was odd watching boys they knew from playgroup jump ahead of them in school. It was odder still when boys who were younger than they were suddenly were in the same grade. In the end, both boys ended up being diagnosed with learning disabilities, and the extra year allowed them to fit in with their fellow students until we figured out what they needed. If they had gone to school “on time” with other children their age, they would not have been able to keep up. They weren’t ready then. Neither boy has suffered for the extra time we suggested they take to get to where they needed to be.

When Joe was 7 and finishing first grade, I remember him crying and telling me he didn’t want to go to second grade. He hated school. He actually said to me, “I’m the dumbest person in my class” (that story here). That broke my heart because 1) I knew he was not dumb at all and 2) how do you fix the shattered self-esteem of a 7 year old? So, I went out on a limb and took him to Children’s Hospital in Denver to be evaluated for ADD after Joe’s occupational therapist suggested it. It took less than an hour spent with two child psychologists and one child psychiatrist before they took me aside and told me they were positive Joe had ADHD. They suggested trying him on a low dosage of Concerta, the slow-release version of Ritalin. Joe and I agreed he should try it. Several friends thought I was crazy. How could I put my young son on a Schedule II drug? Three days after he started on it, Joe, then 8, told me he finally felt like himself. That medication changed the trajectory of his life. It allowed him to focus at school, to trust himself, to make good decisions, to grow his self-esteem. It allowed him to graduate high school with a 3.8 GPA and gave him the opportunity to be accepted at a well-respected, private liberal arts college. He and I have zero regrets about this decision.

When I told Joe’s pediatrician at his next appointment about his new prescription, he read me the riot act for not consulting him first. Didn’t I know that he could have evaluated Joe? Why wouldn’t I consult him first? He was his doctor, after all. I looked that doctor square in the face and, with a voice rising from somewhere in my gut I did not know I had, told him, “Yes. You are his doctor. You should have diagnosed this already based on all your visits with him and all the forms we filled out for you and the tests you yourself gave him in your office.” He huffed out of the room. Joe was horrified. I told him everything would be fine, and we would be finding another doctor. Ten minutes later, to his credit, the doctor returned with Joe’s chart and admitted he should have caught it. We found another pediatrician anyway.

The next pediatrician came recommended to us by a couple friends as well as Luke’s dyslexia tutor who knew him personally. The boys were at that office for six years. During that time, they became teenagers. When the doctor conducted his physical exams of the boys, I stayed in the room. I never allowed them to be alone with the doctor during the physical exam when they were undressed, even though they might have felt it invaded their privacy. To combat that, I would turn to face the wall when the doctor checked their genitalia. My main reason for remaining in the room was that the boys were not great at sharing information, and I didn’t want to miss out on what the doctor was saying or finding. My secondary reason was that when I would ask the boys on the way into the office if they wanted me to stay in the room, they always did. I knew it made me seem like a meddling, overprotective, helicopter parent. I did not care. As it turned out, that doctor was one day no longer at the practice. He was being investigated regarding claims made by other parents of inappropriate sexual touching during exams. We dodged a bullet because I stuck with my gut.

If you are a new parent, a soon-to-be parent, or a parent who is constantly questioning your decisions about your children in the present moment, I’m here to tell you that what Dr. Spock said is true. Trust yourself. Trust your intuition. No one knows your child as well as you do. Listen to them. Listen to your heart. Meet them where they are and not where you hoped or wanted them to be. And then do whatever the damn hell you want to raise your child(ren) the way that makes the most sense for your family. Ignore the naysayers, the comment makers, and the nosey Bakers. You know more than you think you do, even when you aren’t aware of it.

My pride and joy…both of them