Teaching My Kiddo To Navigate The Balancing Act That Is Life

One of my favourite ways to excuse myself to eat an extra cookie or sit on the couch all day reading is my friend, balance. The cookie is fine because I had kale in my smoothie, and the couch day is justified because I’m a mom and I never get to sit down so I’m going to take advantage when I can. Stopping for ice cream on the way home from yoga? Balance.

I joke about it a lot but truthfully, balance is one of the things that I strive to teach my child. As a perfectionist, it can be hard to let things slide. But I have a little trick that I think helps.

I don’t expect one hundred percent.

What does that even mean? It means that I don’t expect my kid to get straight As. If he’s acing every assignment, he’s not learning. I’d much rather see him get high seventies and know that he’s working hard and has room to grow. I don’t expect him to be the best tennis player at lessons, I just expect him to be respectful to the teacher and his classmates. I don’t care if he has to repeat a level at swimming, as long as I know that he’s listening politely. He’s the one that will quickly figure out when it’s worthwhile to work harder and when it’s not.

I forgive my kiddo when he screws up. I don’t hold grudges. Yes, I guide him to live a healthy lifestyle, but in my opinion a healthy lifestyle involves fast food once in a blue moon and an afternoon of video games. I want my kiddo to know the importance of hard work, but the equal importance of doing things that make him happy.

And while I know that when my kid is grown he will hate me for all of these choices that his father and I are making in raising him, that’s life. We have shaped our parenting to actively help him understand when to use his perfectionism to his advantage and when to let it go. Even in my own life, I’m still learning that when I do things like meditate because “I’m supposed to” it’s far less enjoyable and beneficial than when I meditate because I enjoy how peaceful and grounded I feel afterwards. And that when I berate myself for skipping a day it’s much harder to get back into the routine than when I shrug my shoulders and get to it when I get to it.

And I don’t just model these things, I talk to my son about it and so does my husband. We make sure he knows that there are exceptions to every rule. That it’s okay to play hooky. It’s okay to have cake for breakfast. Yes, it’s important to do our best but we can’t do our best in every single thing we do every single day. Sometimes it’s enough to do our best at listening to our body and what it needs. And hopefully one day, these little things will help him navigate the bigger things in life.

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Why I Try to Talk About my Child’s Giftedness Online

I’ve unwittingly made my child the poster child for dropping out of kindergarten.

I feel like a terrible mom admitting that, like I’ve somehow sold off a piece of his soul to a crossroads devil, but it’s the truth. I try to refrain from sharing too many personal details, I only post snapshots of our life on social media, and in this day and age it seems like a laughable worry, sure. But I’m a mom. It’s my job to worry.

However, the truth of the matter is that if it weren’t for other moms putting themselves out there on the internet I would not have survived the early days of parenting, and I know for a fact my child would not be thriving. From bloggers like My Little Poppies and Raising Lifelong Learners and secret offshoots of Babycenter message boards, I wouldn’t have known how to handle those earliest hurdles or where to find resources.

It’s funny, not in a ha ha way but a shit that’s devastating when you think about it kind of way, that one of the things I heard repeatedly at doctor’s appointments in the early days was “early intervention.” Our Parent Link, a local resource centre for parents of children under six, even encouraged us to fill out milestone questionnaires and have them reviewed because it is so important to help young children and parents at the earliest sign of developmental differences. And yet, even though it was obvious that my child was different, even though I was struggling so profoundly because I thought I was a terrible mother, it was never mentioned that I might have a *gasp* gifted child except by a friend who luckily planted the seed in my head. Despite giftedness reaching special needs status across school boards in Canada, it’s often one that’s left off of developmental milestone lists. Or, when it is included, it’s to reassure parents that *pat pat* their precocious little booger eater is probably anything but that.

So where does that leave parents? It leaves those of us with resources and too much time on our hands to resort to google and mommy groups on the internet. It leaves us vulnerable to being laughed off, mocked to our faces. But maybe if we’re lucky a kind stranger will take pity on us and lead us into a world that we can only wish existed when we were kids. Because yes, many of us were gifted, are gifted, too. But even if we were identified, the word probably leaves a sour taste in our mouths because we were anything but “smart” like we were told.

For those without the time and resources the picture is bleaker. If I had gone to work shortly after my son’s birth, you can bet I would have found his night-long screams and refusal to sleep more than frustrating. His quirks of knowing exactly what he wanted and screaming until he got it would have probably fractured our bond because I wouldn’t have had the time to say, “Hey, I’ll teach him baby sign language.” (True story.) He would have gone to school, got lost in the crowd, and either hid his intelligence and passions to fit in or lost all interest in trying because “why should I help you if you aren’t helping me.” It’s no coincidence that identified gifted children are predominantly white and wealthy— social injustice seeps down in so many ways it’s horrifying.

And while I don’t have the time to study giftedness intensively or become qualified to dole out proper advice to hungry parents because I am in the midst of raising my own hungry student, what I can do is give them the gift of an anecdote. I can give them hope that it’s all going to be okay, the reassurance that they aren’t alone, like so many moms have done for me. Not everyone has access to professionals, true gifted professionals are so rare, but everyone should have access to a pat on the back and warm cup of tea. And I hope, that at the very least, I can provide that.

So I hope that what they say is untrue. The internet is not forever. Any one of us who had a MySpace page can attest to that. One day my blogs may be gone but hopefully they will have helped a mom or two and their children. Hopefully by then parents will have access to real professionals who have studied giftedness, people who have experience working with these quirky, intelligent kiddos. I hope they won’t have to rely on hacks like me on the internet.

But at the end of the day, as angry as I am that it comes to this, no real help except comfort in bloggers blogging, I’m happy that in some way I’m not completely useless. That I am able to be there in some way for others on a similar path. Because as much as it’s my child’s story, it’s mine too.

Image Credit: @andrewtneel via unsplash

If you suspect you’re the parent of a gifted child, here are some excellent places to start:

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Asynchronous Development and Parenting Struggles

Asynchronous development is possibly the most difficult part of parenting a gifted child. For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, it basically means that a child’s development is uneven, causing them to be “many ages” at once and is sometimes considered to be one of the cornerstones of giftedness. (This article on NAGC’s website gives a good definition.) For me, asynchronous development is a bigger pain in my butt than:

  • finding appropriate activities and extracurricular classes
  • finding appropriate reading materials
  • staying awake in the morning after being kept up until midnight by a kiddo’s overactive brain that “can’t sleep” (and then dealing with my own!)

Yes, asynchronous development is behind at least two of these issues but it goes so much deeper than that. I’ve written about my struggles with asynchronous development as a parent before and I often joke about how unnecessary it is for me to have another child since I got a four-in-one deal, but I wanted to take a moment to revisit it. 

There’s a meme that makes the rounds every so often that I’m sure you’ve seen. It’s message can be summed up as saying that it doesn’t matter if you’re good at things, it matters more that you can control your emotions. And while I understand and agree with the sentiment behind it, I think it’s misguided. Many gifted children may struggle to control their emotions and in my experience, asynchronous development is at least partially to blame.

We as adults have expectations of the children in our lives, whether we realize it or not. And a lot of times gifted children fail to meet them. Whether it’s the three year old who uses ten dollar words not being able to share or a teenager who is doing advanced chem but lacking what seems like common sense, we tend to scold them with “You’re so smart. You know better!” While our frustration is understandable, it puts a lot of unneccesary pressure on them.

We’re the ones who need to understand that just because they are academically able to argue with adults doesn’t mean that they’re prepared (mentally or emotionally) to be treated like one. Every young person thinks that they have all the answers but sometimes adults get tricked into thinking that gifted kids actually do have them.  They very well might in some areas, but that should never extend to everything blindly. When in doubt, I personally err on the side of giving my child the patience, empathy, and understanding that would be granted to any other kid his age, and if he does know better, well we talk about that too but with the understanding that maybe there was more at play than knowledge alone.

While gifted children often possess the logic of a much older person, it’s impossible for them to have the life experience. They may seem immature in programs compared to their peers simply because they haven’t had as much exposure to classroom settings. They may have difficulty coping with life events that while they understand mentally, they don’t yet have the coping skills for emotionally. And while they logically may be able to make good decisions, they don’t have enough experience with their own feelings in order to make the right ones for them all of the time. All of those things come with practice, but because gifted children hardly seem to need practice, they sometimes don’t get the extra assistance that they need. 

Asynchronous development is something that I struggle with every day as a parent. Is his tantrum an age appropriate reaction that I need to help him through, or is he acting out for the sake of it? Is he taking ten hours to put on his shoes because he’s six and my priorities aren’t his priorities, or am I lowering my expectations too far? How do I teach him that sarcasm may not be the best approach for making friends until he’s a lot older? As of now, my husband and I are taking it on a case by case basis, asking ourselves which of our four children we’re dealing with at that moment and trying to act accordingly. It’s a balancing act. We don’t always get it right, but no parent does. 

So for now I try to soothe my whiplash by reassuring myself that it’s all just part of parenting a gifted child. I remind myself that this is why I put little stock into milestones personally. And I try to make sure that I’m giving my child all of the things that all of his different ages need in a day: a bit of silliness, a bit of mental stimulation, a bit of independence, and a lot of love. 

I think that’s probably a good recipe for any child.

I am not a teacher, psychologist, or expert in giftedness. Just the mom of a gifted child and a former gifted child myself, sharing my experiences. This post is a part of GHF Learners’ October theme, asynchronous development. You can find out more about GHF Learners here.

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Travelling with gifted kids

Travelling with a gifted kid may seem like something only someone intent on punishing themself would do. Between overexcitabilities and the fact they these kids never seem to turn off, it’s difficult to just make it through the day. When would you even have the time to plan a vacation when you’re parenting a gifted kiddo?!

But what if I told you that travel can be an amazing experience for a family of overexcitable, never stop thinking, over-wired brains? You just need to approach it differently.

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Admiring the Louvre’s collections

 

Prepare Expectations

We are a family of overthinkers. We mull over the littlest things for hours. So after all of that thinking, sometimes plans don’t meet the expectations of overzealous imaginations. (Prime example: my 4 year old ordered “honeycomb” gelato and was severely disappointed that it was not a Winnie-the-Pooh style ice cream in an actual honeycomb.) It can be a big letdown. Or, on the flip side, we get stressed about the details. This is why it’s a good idea for everyone to be involved with planning. I’ve involved my son with the planning of vacations since his first plane ride at 3 months. Yup, I sat and rambled to a 3 month old all about airplanes and planning and itineraries. At first it was mostly because I was bored and needed someone to talk to. But you know what? It works. Now I make sure I tell my son as much as I can about what we’re planning so he has an idea of what to expect. We look at pictures, watch videos, and get books from the library about the places we’ll be visiting. We even watch ride videos before trips to Disney, and no, it doesn’t ruin the magic. What ruins the magic is a 3 year old refusing to go on any more rides because of that scary thing they didn’t know was going to pop out at them.

Know when to walk away, and when to stick it out

I know, you paid all that money and came all this way. But sometimes, that thing you thought would be oh so fun is really just too overstimulating and loud and crowded. Sometimes, all of the preparations in the world can’t overcome those overexcitabilities. If at all possible, leave and come back. Get some air, let little ears readjust, and take a deep breath. Take a minute to talk it out logically. “I know, my ears feel a little buzzy and it makes my head spin when there are so many people and sounds too! But I really wanted to see that exhibit, maybe if we focus on that one display, it won’t seem so loud.” “Yikes, that dragon sure is scary, but you know, it’s just pretend. It actually took a whole team of scientists and engineers to make it! Maybe if we go in, instead of being scared, we can try to figure out how they did it?” Then, try again. But if it still doesn’t work, and it’s causing a meltdown, walk away. It’s not worth it.

What about those times when you just know in your heart that your kid will love it and just needs a little encouragement? Try to find a way to encourage them to stick it out! Draw their attention to a single detail so they can take one thing in at a time instead of being overwhelmed and finding it all to be too much. Sometimes, all it takes is for them to see mom and dad being confident for them to gain a bit of bravery too!

Don’t make promises

Just don’t do it. Promises have never helped a parent ever. It could rain. A ride could shut down. An exhibit could be closed. Prepare them that the unexpected could happen. And try to model appropriate behaviour when things go wrong. Taking a wrong turn or getting on the wrong train isn’t the end of the world. Laugh it off. It’s an adventure.

Pick something just for them

You can’t expect any kid to just go along and do everything mom and dad want to do all day every day for a week. Make sure the whole family is taking turns and gets to do a “must-do”. Maybe your kiddo loves trains, or science, or art, or literature. Find something unique that you think they’ll love.

Enough with the hard, why travelling with gifted kids is the best!

I think in some ways, I may have it easier travelling with my kid than most parents do with similarly aged kiddos. For one, his reasoning skills are high for his age in most cases. I can usually explain to him why he needs to stay with mommy, or why we can’t do something that we hoped. He was an early reader, which meant I didn’t really have to entertain him while travelling after he was 2. I just give him headphones and a book and bam! Mama can nap. He loves to learn, so bringing him to art galleries and museums is always a winning activity. And if there’s an audio guide, ha! We’re laughing. Always get the audio guide, even if it’s just a scavenger hunt for your kids to find the numbers and press them! On our last vacation I had a chance to observe kids who were and weren’t given audio guides, and my unofficial statistic is that kids with audioguides are more engaged.

My son needs the perfect balance of physical activity and mental stimulation which is always difficult to get at home. But when we’re travelling, he’s walking and learning and guess what… he actually sleeps like a log! Plus, vacation is the one time that I don’t mind that he doesn’t sleep as long as his age mates. It means I don’t have to worry about getting back to the hotel for nap time or an early bed time, and we have more time for sight seeing. Who knew that lack of sleep could have a benefit somewhere? Plus, there’s no laundry or cleaning or cooking to take care of, so we can focus on just being together as a family. And that is priceless.

This blog is a part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Blog Hop: Travelling with the Gifted/Intense. Please click here or on the image below to follow along!


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What is gifted anyway?

There I was, sitting across from the private school’s principal, conscious of the fact that I look more like a sixteen year old than a parent. I tried to keep a smile on my face, calm and cool and collected; not letting my crazy spill onto the desk in front of me. I had told her my son’s backstory, or as much as I felt was necessary to share with a complete stranger. Yet I felt myself jolted by her words when she said, laughing, “What is gifted anyway?”

I get it. Gifted kids are seen at best as anti-social nerds, and at worst, more for their overbearing parents than anything they’ve ever earned themselves. They are seen as “special” and “elite”: dirty words in this day and age. Everything in life will be so easy for them. And yet these parents have the gall to ask for more for them?

And here was an educator repeating my worst thoughts back at me. Even with test scores in my hands I suddenly felt like an imposter. Like a special snowflake mom wanting to take services from struggling children in order to give them to my child who already has “so much.” To be fair, she meant it in the way that their program adapts to the child, but don’t all kids deserve to come home having learned something that day?

So what is gifted? Gifted is sitting down with your child’s Junior Kindergarten teachers and being told that your 4 year old is welcome to stay in the program, but that they just can’t accommodate his advanced learning. That they’ll try to prevent his downward spiral, but it’s inevitable if he stays there. It’s visiting private schools (that you could never afford) who refuse to accelerate because their programs go a bit beyond public school curriculum. It’s calling every school board in your province and wanting to cry every time they say they offer a gifted program with “depth and breadth” but eventually admit there’s no real acceleration. It’s deciding to homeschool because your smiling, carefree, child is riddled with anxiety and suddenly refuses to read because “other kids don’t read.”

Gifted is being faced with the fact that your child will never be normal. Sure, normal is overrated, but they may never get to do that school pageant, or maybe even go to prom. It’s watching them try to engage their friends in a discussion of their favourite thing in the world and seeing it dawn on them that they’re different. It’s every milestone being met with panic instead of pride, because you’re not supposed to be able to do that yet.

It’s lonely. As a parent, you’ll be accused of hothousing when the reality is you’re so exhausted by the never ending questions that come at all hours of the day and night, that you prop your kid in bed beside you with Cosmos or Periodic Videos on the TV because it’s the only thing he’ll watch long enough for you to get a 20 minute nap. It’s asking, begging, pleading, for help and getting laughed at. Being told to just let your kid be a kid. And beating yourself up because you’re the one who offers to play dress up, but your child would rather you help them with their latest math equation. And what kind of a parent tells their kid to stop reading anyway? Even if you are already a half hour late.

Gifted is your child’s educational needs not being met because of handwriting. Or age appropriate behaviour. It’s being told school is just for socialization anyway, yet how much socialization is happening at a desk for 8 hours a day? It’s having your child’s special needs completely disregarded because he’s somehow perceived as “better,” even though you would never pit two children against each other in such a ridiculous way. Gifted isn’t a fast track to success. It isn’t always classic book smart and it isn’t an angel child who is always perfectly behaved. Oftentimes, it’s the opposite.

But gifted is something else, too. It’s seeing the joy in the simple pleasure of a book. It’s finding the magic of science and math. It’s marvelling at questions from a preschooler that most adults wouldn’t think to ask. It’s people coming out of the woodwork where you least expect it to lend a hand. It’s treasuring the people that get it without you having to explain it. For all of the hard, the gift is being touched when you find the good.

But you probably didn’t want to hear about all of that. So how about this: gifted is a neurological difference characterized by advanced cognitive ability. It is considered a special need. So how about we stop denying these children the basic services that any other child with special needs deserves and ensure they get it too. It isn’t either or. Shouldn’t it be all?

 

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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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Why my 4yo has a mentor

Earlier this year my husband and I had an important milestone as parents: we reached a moment where we couldn’t teach our son anymore. Only in chemistry mind you, but considering he was only 3 at the time, it was a big deal. He was reading adult level books, flipping through text books, and watching university lectures on youtube for fun. Not only that, but he had an obsessive need to talk to someone about his new interests, and it wasn’t enough for him to talk at us- he wanted someone to be able to offer insight to him too. I remember feeling awful for him. Imagine your favourite thing in the world. Now imagine having no one to talk to about it. Now imagine being 3. How isolating is that?

I’m very fortunate in the way that I am a SAHM with time to spare on worrying about my kid and access to the internet. I was able to find other moms of gifted children, read their blogs, and join forums that are for parents of gifted children. I was fortunate that I even knew to look at giftedness. There have been many times throughout the past 2 years or so that I’ve reached out to the knowledgeable parents on these forums, but this was my most urgent.

SOS. I’m out.

On not one, but two, of these forums, it was mentioned to me to look into a mentorship. It’s basically tutoring, but it doesn’t sound quite as crazy. And there isn’t really an endgame in sight- it’s not about earning an A on the next term paper. It’s just about getting together and learning about science. Sure, it sounded a little extreme for a preschooler, but we were out of options.

Even then, I knew I was so fortunate that I even knew where to look for help. I was so fortunate that people took me seriously enough to make that suggestion. I was even luckier that our local university took me seriously enough to put me in contact with a student to fill the position of mentor to my son.

It’s been 8 months now, and it was the best thing that ever happened for my son. I remember seeing a total change in him after 2 meetings with his mentor. He was happier, he wasn’t quite as obsessive with the periodic table. He chilled out a little bit in a very positive way. Sure, 3 year olds change so often that any number of things could have had that effect, but after this long it’s still the highlight of my son’s week.

And I’ve learned a lot about him in the process too. For one, it gives me insight into just how amazing his big ol’ brain is. That the things he says to me throughout the week aren’t actually gibberish, they’re science. It also reminds me how little he still is- seeing him fidget in the ginormous chairs, getting excited over the colours of the crayons. He is still my baby! And it also reminds me how preposterous our situation must look when a student or professor walks by to see this little boy sitting and learning Avogadro’s number. But I don’t think anyone who sees him doubts that he wants to be there. Unless it’s the last fifteen minutes of the hour, you can see that he is totally engrossed.

I still feel trepidation talking to people about his science lessons though. I’m worried that they’ll think I’m a pushy mom, or say something negative about it and spoil it in my son’s mind. He looks up to his mentor like a big brother. For a whole hour he has someone’s undivided attention that is capable of challenging him in a subject that he loves. And that’s priceless.

I’m so happy I didn’t dismiss mentorship as something that would only be beneficial for when he’s older. I’m so happy that I didn’t limit him by his age. And I am so thankful for the people who have helped us along the way. Not only the people on the message boards, the university, and his mentor, but others too. Friends that have given him textbooks and science equipment. Librarians that have suggested books and reassured me during times of crisis. Even his teachers at school, that while their hands are tied by the school system, have recognized his abilities and tried to understand him. And let’s be honest, for anyone who thinks I’m crazy but has kept it to themselves! This is what is working for us. And that’s all we can do as parents.

We can only find something that works and stick with it until it doesn’t anymore. And then, we find something else.

So why does my son have a mentor?

Because we couldn’t teach him anymore.

Because it was the only thing we could do for him. Programs wouldn’t take him. 

Because he wanted one. And not only that, he needed one. 

The first time he met with his mentor, it was like he had been born in a land where no one spoke the same language as him, and finally, for the first time, he met someone he understood. And understood him. A lightbulb went off. Bells dinged. And eventually, it satisfied his need to learn about chemistry enough that he was finally able to let other things into his life. Yes, he still loves to build periodic tables and write out the elements, but he’s perfectly happy to pursue other interests as well. To me, it’s much healthier to give him an appropriate outlet for his interests so that he has time to pursue other ones than to force him to spend all of his time working it out on his own. But that’s just me.

Yes, our situation is an extreme one, but I think that’s what’s great about the internet. Those of us in extreme situations are able to find our people. We can take solace in the fact that there are other crazy people out there. And in addition to that, we get to learn about those who are different and understand why they do the crazy things they do. This is just one of the many crazy things we do, and we’re not the only ones. But sometimes, I don’t have time to explain it all. Or, I feel awkward explaining it all. So here it all is, out in the open.

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When everyone’s an expert but you

Like every other excited  mom-to-be since the 80s, one of the first things I did when I found out I was pregnant was buy What to Expect When You’re Expecting. And then I promptly vomited. (Metaphorically.) And when that was done, I did what every modern mom-to-be does, and signed up for Babycenter. Because you are failing at motherhood if you can’t match the appropriately sized fruit to your unborn fetus. It’s a miracle any child survived before we figured this out.

It was all fun and games until my kid was born. “WHY ISN’T THIS WORKING??!” I would ask my husband frantically. “I DON’T KNOW,” he’d yell back, “IT’S WHAT YOU READ IN THAT STUPID BOOK!”

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There. Fixed that.

This carried on for a solid year and a half. We’d consult the baby books only to have everything blow up in our faces. Milestones were usually wrong. Calming strategies were always wrong. And tips that were meant to save sanity? Well, who had time for those? We were just trying to survive.

I’ll never forget the Scientist’s 6 week checkup. He was in his infant car seat on the floor, the cover pulled off, and my husband and I were sitting in the chairs trying to look like good parents who had everything under control and had definitely slept for more than 60 consecutive minutes in the past three weeks. I thought we were doing pretty good until the doctor stood back while staring at the baby, moved her head back and forth a bit and asked, “Is he always like this? So alert?”

“Yes!” We cried, finally feeling validated. Something was wrong with him. She was going to give us the magical cure that took this super alert baby and turned him into one that slept like, well, a baby.

“Wow. Is he usually happy like this?”

“Well, yeah,” we admitted. “He just likes to watch.”

“Cool.”

She sat down to type a note in the computer and told us when we were due back for a regular checkup. No miracle solution. No “keep an eye out for…” Just “enjoy not sleeping!”

And yes, I’m wise enough to know that no parent gets sleep. Sleep is a four letter word in the parenting world. It’s a known fact that if a mother doesn’t throw a chair at your head when you ask “how’s the baby sleeping?” it’s because she’s too exhausted and physically weak to even finish fantasizing about it, let alone see it through. But this felt abnormal. We had a bed time routine. We prioritized sleep. We got blackout curtains. Used white noise. Blah blah blah blah blah. In short, we did everything the experts said to do. They were liars. And I wanted blood.

Unfortunately for my vengeance, one day it dawned on us. It wasn’t the experts, it was our kid. He wasn’t a regularly developing infant. In a day and age where the worst thing you can be is a parent who acts like your kid is a “special snowflake” we had missed all the signs. And they were big, huge neon ones that everyone saw but us. It was more than a party trick that our one year old could flip through a baby sign language board book and teach himself new signs. It was more than a little abnormal for him to recognize words like “zoo” and “hop” and “hat” and “dog” when he was still learning to say those words. When he started sounding out words around his 2nd Birthday and reading PD Eastman and Dr Seuss beginner books, we realized our kid was umm, a little snowflakey.

But still, experts say not to teach your kid too much. It’s all about play based learning. So we’d cave and let him pick out the educational toy at the store, but then we’d balance it with a healthy dose of picking boogers and brainwashing in front of the TV. Because you want your kid to be normal.

But see, he never asked for toys. He wanted flash cards. Math workbooks meant for kindergarteners and first graders. Anything that had numbers on it. That was his fun! So eventually, we stopped listening to the experts. If he thought it was fun to spell all day, seeing that he was eating and getting outside and exercising, what did it matter?

We started to encourage his interests a little more. Getting him to do addition with toy cars was a win win. Play and learning. The librarian would find out about his latest obsession and point out some great books for him to borrow. He became obsessed with space, so I took him to a local stargazing night. That lead to him learning about these things called elements and the periodic table. And then our life spiralled out of control (in a really amazing, unbelievable kind of way).

I’ve had to find a new kind of expert. An expert that can explain my kid’s intense emotions and behaviours. One that can explain why learning is the same thing as breathing to him. I’ve finally realized that sometimes our kids are different. Heck, mostly kids ARE different. And most importantly, that you have to weigh all of that expert advice with your gut.

So tonight, out of some morbid curiousity, I signed into my Babycenter account. What kind of fruit should he be the size of this week? (I’m kidding. Everyone knows you can’t compare 3 year olds with fruit. You use storm classifications.) Anyways, after talking about how it’s the perfect time to introduce my kid to what letter his name starts with, (which is age appropriate for sure, just not something we’ve talked about since before his first birthday.) I was greeted with this:

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The thing is, we’re having our kid tested soon. We’ve reached the point where he’s so far outside of the norm that we really do need an expert’s advice. If he wasn’t in school, we wouldn’t have a need. But he is. He started JK in September and while he has kind teachers and his school has an outdoor classroom that I was thrilled about, we’re realizing it may not be the best fit. While he’s gaining independence, he doesn’t want to read much anymore because “kids just look at books!” His grammar is starting to slide. And to be honest, while they make the phonics lessons fun, is it really in his best interest to force him to sit through lessons he already knows at 3? If he’s not learning something new, shouldn’t he be playing? Look! Babycenter says he needs new experiences after all. What’s first grade going to be like when he’s chained to a desk and learning things that he knew before his second birthday? My guess is, not good. But do we pull him out of school without knowing the whole story?

Sometimes as a parent, you have to eschew  the status quo. You need to ask yourself what’s best for my child? You have to stop being afraid of looking like an idiot for the sake of getting them what they need. You need to pick and choose your experts. But you shouldn’t have to be prepared for people to judge you. We’ve all been places we didn’t think we’d end up. And sometimes, you are the only expert you need.

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