This is what advocacy looks like

As parents, it’s our job to look out for our kids. Not so that life is easy for them, but so that it is just. So that they can get the things that they need to grow up and be happy, healthy, and successful. I don’t mean win a Nobel Prize or make six or seven figures a year, I mean normal-human-being-successful: being able to meet their basic needs and a few wants without killing themselves for it, and not hating themselves (and others) along the way.

I think it’s safe to say that most parents can relate to this. We speak up when our kids are struggling, we adjust plans when they aren’t working, and we shout with pride when they’re doing well. But when you’re raising a child who isn’t “average,” you find yourself on an intense journey. I didn’t know this at first, and couldn’t figure out why parenting was so difficult. But as I’ve learned and become more comfortable in my position as advocate, I’m learning that this is the norm for parents with kids like mine. Apparently, you can’t just read the baby books and keep your fingers crossed. You are constantly questioning yourself, trying to figure out what’s right and then fight for it. It’s like being back in college and the final is tomorrow AND it’s worth 100% of your grade. Talk about stressful.

Late nights.

I am almost always up later than I should be because I get wrapped up in panic at the end of the day. I feel guilty that I didn’t do as much as I could have, or a new question arises, and my brain won’t relax until I solve the problem. Although in most cases, the problem isn’t solvable. So then I sit for a bit and panic about that. On top of that, there isn’t much time during the day to sit and read academic papers, so it’s got to happen before bed.

So. Much. Reading.

I would be a professional student if it paid better. I enjoy learning and reading. But a lot of this stuff is boring AF. I am so lucky I took a bunch of psychology courses with the hopes of a double major (no, I don’t have one, I got lazy) so I at least have some understanding about what I’m reading. Unfortunately, what I did learn about IQ testing and giftedness was about a paragraph in one textbook so there is more that I don’t understand than I do. I sit and I highlight, and bookmark, and print out everything that I think I might need in the next few months. That seems small, but honestly I have no idea where we may be next week, let alone a few months from now. And I like to be prepared.

Reaching out for help.

I hate asking for help. Hate it with a passion. I grew up with “if you want it done right, you’ve got to do it yourself,” and I agree whole heartedly! The only problem is that it’s impossible to do everything on your own. I mean sure, technically I could go back to school and get a BSc in chem but OMG guys, I have zero desire for that. And I definitely don’t have the time or money. So I am learning to ask for help even when it makes me look like a psycho.

Which brings me to:

Looking like a crazy person.

No matter how deserving my kid is of the things I’m asking, it doesn’t mean that people automatically understand or believe me. I don’t know how many people smile and nod politely when my husband and I say our son can read, and then come back to us saying “he can read read!” Umm. Yeah. This isn’t CVC reading. This is put a college textbook in front of him and he’ll figure it out reading. For over a year now. I get it, it sounds crazy. But for once it would be sooo nice for someone to take our word for it and help him out.

Having to cheer quietly.

When my son was first born, I was totally the mom posting pictures of “look he held up his head!” and his first bite of banana. When he first started reading, I thought it was adorable, so I posted a few things, but they got sparser. Now, I find myself questioning which of the things my son does are appropriate to share, and try to use humour when I do. When people compliment him to my face, I freeze. I feel awkward. I’m terrified they’re going to launch into an attack on how there is no way he should be doing what he’s doing. I don’t know why, because we’ve had an enormous amount of support from our friends and family, but it’s just a feeling that’s there. Not to mention that a lot of times it makes other parents worried if my kid is doing something that theirs isn’t, and that is an awful feeling. I don’t want anyone to worry! But I do want to be able to brag about my son, just a little bit. Isn’t that a mom’s right??! And then there’s always the flip days where I’m all, it’s better to just be confident, and then I am pretty sure I come across as a complete douche. If this happens, I’m sorry! I’m still trying to find the right volume level.

The fear of failure.

Profoundly gifted children are at risk for dropping out of school. I don’t have a link for that because it has been drilled into my brain from every article I’ve ever read about them. Why on earth would they drop out when it comes so easily for them? Because it comes so easily for them! People thrive on an appropriate amount of challenge. Children are programmed for learning. There’s a misconception that if you leave these kids alone they’ll be just fine. Best case scenario: they do okay but never reach their own potential and struggle with that knowledge when they’re older, and the world misses out on whatever greatness they could have offered us and themselves. I don’t want that for my son. I want him to work hard for what he has, learn from his mistakes, and use what he’s been given to its greatest potential. How he uses his gifts is up to him. But I don’t want them stolen from him before he’s able to make a decision on how he wants to use them.

Tomorrow, my husband and I are heading to one final meeting with the school. We have an IQ test and achievement testing. I have a number of articles printed with relevant passages highlighted. But still, I know there is no way we are going to get what my son needs: the freedom to move through school at the rapid fire pace he needs. I have such high hopes for this meeting that I already purchased a math curriculum for January. My husband and I are pretty set on homeschooling at least until “grade 1,” whatever that looks like for our son, and this meeting is really just a Hail Mary.

I am so excited to start our new adventure, but I have one issue that I keep revisiting. Whenever you opt out of a system, you lose out on the opportunity to change it. And while I know my son will be taken care of, what about the kids who aren’t? The ones who get left behind because their giftedness doesn’t look like “gifted” or who don’t have parents who are capable of fighting for them or pulling them out altogether? I won’t let my son suffer, but I do hope that I can find a way to help them too.

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When parenting isn’t what you imagined

I think it’s safe to say that all parents hit a point where they realize they aren’t the cool, hip, fun parents they visualized themselves to be. Maybe it’s the first time we utter the words “because I said so!” or maybe it’s the first time we tell our kid they can’t have candy for breakfast. It’s difficult to pin point, but somewhere along the way we realize this parenting gig isn’t exactly what we thought it would be.

Can I confess something though? I think I do a pretty damn good job of being a cool mom. I have it on good authority that I am #momgoals (although I think saying that revokes all privileges associated with that?). I plan fun outings. I do just the right amount of Pinterest activities (not so much that I stress myself out or ignore my kid to set them up, but enough that we usually have something fun to do on a rainy day). I sew dream Halloween costumes and custom bed tents. I don’t even make my kid wear pants at home!

But here’s the thing: parenting isn’t how I imagined it was going to be. Yeah, yeah, I was filled with unicorn dreams of writing a novel and solving world peace while on my baby vacation (aka what ignorant people call maternity leave). I got my cruel dose of reality, and then some.

Once I realized my son was a little ahead of the game, okay, quite a bit ahead of the game, I suddenly embarked on a new quest. I had to figure out why the parenting advice wasn’t working. I had to pin point whether or not I needed to be worried. Was it Hyperlexia that made my son able to read at a young age? Was it a sensory problem that kept him from sleeping?

Then came his advanced interests. Instead of using my nights to relax, drink wine and you know, sleep; I used them to drink wine and panic about, I mean,  research what the hell he was talking about all day. I’m sorry, I didn’t know who Mandeleev or Glen T Seaborg were. I didn’t know what a transactinide was. Yet my son had this knowledge pouring out of him and wanted- no, needed- to share it with someone else.

So I became his teacher. His student. But I could never bring much to the table other than showing him a new video or activity that I had found the night before. I still can’t when it comes to chemistry.

I entered a new phase of parenting, one that I’m certain every parent has to take on at some point, but maybe not to a chorus of eye rolls. I had to become an advocate for a 3 year old. Imagine a mom emailing you asking if her toddler could join a school aged science program? Or asking for help finding her preschooler a mentor? Yeah, I see your point. It sounds crazy! And I think it’s worth noting that I’m an introvert who would rather freeze to death than ask a stranger to turn up the heat. But for my kid, I don’t mind looking crazy.

This is the role I’ve had to take on. Seeking a mentor, activities, testing, and school accommodations all while knowing the people on the receiving end are rolling their eyes. Relax lady, he’s 3. Let him be a kid! But this is the only way I know how to let my kid be a kid. Science is magic to him. Math is play. He doesn’t want to be confined to doing this stuff with boring mom, he wants to do it with other kids. But there just aren’t that many kids his age that want to talk about Avogadro’s number, and no one will let him into a science program so far.

So I spend my free time reading everything I can about giftedness. I am trying to understand educational policy and learn the lingo so that I can speak to educators on his behalf. I’m trying to understand the emotional side to giftedness, including trying to learn how to help a 4 year old cope with anxiety. Anxiety! I shouldn’t have to have anxiety over my baby having anxiety! I read about different educational methodologies and the Ontario Curriculum is one of my bookmarks. I get asked if I’m a teacher! Being a mom is a full time job, and now I’m adding advocate.

And not only that. I am also his personal assistant. From lining up programs, finding curriculum and learning opportunities that are both age appropriate and challenging, to emailing schools, teachers, program coordinators and his mentor I feel like I should have a separate phone. When people get a little too awestruck by him and his abilities, I have to usher him away and act like a celebrity’s body guard “Sorry, we have a nap at 3 folks, gotta break it up.” (Ha! Nap. Silly.)

Because sometimes, the way people look at him makes me uncomfortable. Like he’s some prize, or some whiz kid who belongs on national television. I get that it comes from a great, kind, excited place; but my 4 year old’s well-being is of the highest regard for me. It’s not healthy for him to get used to people being in awe of him. Especially once he’s older and his abilities aren’t as in-your-face obvious and that attention fades, he’s going to struggle. So I try to shield him from it but at the same time I’m dying to say “ISN’T HE FREAKING AMAZING?!”

The thing I want to stress to people is that I just want him to be a kid. I am not forcing him to do these wonderful, amazing things. Yet he’s prevented from accessing the types of activities that he needs because of his age. And while I understand some points, yes he’s a bit more sensitive than the older kids for one, and a bit more literal; the most common phrase I get is “he needs to learn to be with all different types of people!” I agree, but why does that only include dealing with all different types of people from the same birth year? It’s not like we get jobs and only work with people who graduated the same year we did- that would be ridiculous!

Yes, okay, kids are developing unlike adults. But numerous studies prove that acceleration and access to ability-appropriate programs are benificial to gifted students and yet everyone except for gifted advocates ignore this advice! So basically, I can fight all I want but if people won’t listen to empirical evidence then what’s a mom to do?

Keep fighting.

But some days, it’s exhausting. I’m trying to figure out the right words, the right metophors to drill my point home so that people truly understand and don’t look at me with crazy in their minds. So that my kid can get what he needs. But I just want to be a mom! I want to play with my kid. I want to see him in his first Christmas pageant at school. I want to see him find his people! But what I want isn’t what matters right now, it’s what he needs.

And I’m okay with that. On days when I feel bitter and disillusioned, something usually happens to remind me of how grateful I should be. My son does something ridiculously sweet and wise beyond his years, or something completely awful but clever. I read something that reminds me there are others out there just like him. Or if I’m really lucky, and because I apparently thrive on external praise, someone reassures me that I’m doing okay. That I’m still that cool mom that I want to be.

This may not be the parenting journey that I expected to be on, but every day I’m thankful it’s the one I’ve been forced on. Take away my so called problems, and you’d take the things that make my son who he is. He’s pretty perfect just the way he is.

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