The holidays have a way of making me turn inward.
I find everything about them overstimulating and just…too much.
When I look back, I realize they’ve always had this effect on me, but since becoming a parent, the overstimulating factor is amplified.
While some people surge into high gear, I become slower and more methodic. I crave order and routine and develop this unquenchable urge to pair down my belongings and organize the remainder.
This year has been more that way, I think, because of all the learning challenges we’ve had with Piers and Wallace.
I’m still wrapping my head around the test results we got back on both boys along with the painful bill. We forked over more money than planned and I’m not feeling like we got much return on the investment.
Lots of maybes and let’s watch this and that and possibly do some further testing. Nothing is clear-cut and the parts that were conclusive amounted to a conference where I was told that Wallace’s scores weren’t bad enough for accommodations, but ‘how do you feel about medication?’
This is by no means a judgement on medication. I’ve been quite forthcoming on this blog about my own experiences with ADHD meds. They’ve helped me tremendously at times, but I’m not especially keen on medicating the boys at this point. I’d feel differently if some of the results were different or if they were exhibiting symptoms of severe depression or anxiety. Thankfully, they’re not, so I want to explore different avenues first.
All in all, I’m tired. Tired of an education system that doesn’t factor in developmental aspects of the students, though we’re more fortunate in this regard than many. Overall, my kids’ school is very good. A big plus is that the teachers are child centered and genuinely work to accommodate individual learning styles. Still, in a public school, they’re held accountable for test results, so regardless of how child-centered they are, the pressure put on them by a faulty system comes into play.
One of the more positive realizations from all of this, and definitely an aspect of my children that makes me proud and grateful, is how socially well-adjusted they are. Both of their teachers raved about their kindness and generosity and willingness to engage with and help their classmates.
The hard part, though, is that I recognize that we have focused on developing social skills and empathy over academic achievement. On one hand, I suppose this should make me feel better and somewhat validated. But, I now see — as their schoolwork becomes increasingly more difficult — that a large part of the world doesn’t give two flips about kindness and empathy.
Achievement, competitiveness and screaming out answers is revered, especially in boys. My kids, while socially well-adjusted, are on the introverted side. They’re comfortable with others, but are perfectly happy spending hours on their own projects and they don’t verbalize every thought in their heads.
The tests showed that their visual processing speed is slow — Wallace’s especially. My first inclination was to freak out — ‘oh my god he’s a slow processor!’ — but after mulling it over, I see that he’s thinking and examining information from multiple angles. There’s an element of perfectionism and a touch of anxiety, but it’s hard to tell exactly what that’s all about.
Wallace also tested very low in motivation, something the psychologist felt the need to repeatedly bring up during our meeting.
He also hammered that we should be reading more because of his vocabulary scores. “See here…he missed palm.”
I looked at a paper of maybe six tired-looking trees. Wallace had circled the pine tree — NOT the palm tree.
I couldn’t help but look at the tests and think who actually gives a rip about any of this. I mean, I love trees but on bland, gray copy paper, it all seemed pointless. I could see how his motivation for this system of testing was lacking.
Later that day the kids were playing in our back yard and I asked Wallace to name the trees. He ran to three different trees and enthusiastically labeled them all correctly — live oak, pine, and PALM.
Take that, dude. He’s an interactive learner. Maybe you need better pictures.
Pardon my defensiveness. Acknowledging the problem is the first step, right?
Wallace is exceptionally motivated when his interest is piqued, but he’s not especially excited about standard second grade learning outcomes. He also needs to see the point — WHY is learning this important? Additionally, he’s more cooperative than competitive. He’s not one who enjoys consuming and spitting out information. He appears to be a kid who seeks to truly understand. His spacial skills are excellent like his dad’s, and he can talk at length about the Titanic. He’s had a fascination with building and design for as long as I can remember. He loves going to work with Gil and working with building software, and he’s always game for walking a job site. He’s deeply interested in how things work and he has a mature appreciation for a building’s aesthetics. I love seeing the world through his eyes, and he regularly draws my attention to elements of buildings I would not have noticed otherwise. He’s very tactile and has always been drawn to recycled materials. As young as three, he was obsessed with the recyclables and I’d often find him sneaking old bottles to construct unique creations.
Piers’ skills translate a bit better to traditional school, but we saw a lot of the same results as we did with Wallace. Piers is older for his class which make his challenges less glaring. He’s an older third grader, while Wallace is on the younger side for second. I’ve discovered that this makes a huge difference — hence the trend of redshirting, keeping children back a year so they’ll perform better. Piers is more active and learns through movement. His musical abilities and interests have taken off in the past year and he’s learning the guitar and piano.
In hindsight, I’m not sure I would have chosen this particular place to do the testing. I went with the recommendation of our pediatrician’s office. This was one of two choices but I can’t help feeling that perhaps the other place would have been a better fit. The main doctor we saw seemed out of touch with children and a lot of his comments seemed counter to my parenting style. Gil pegged him as a “numbers/data guy” which I thought was generous. I think “pompous ass” is more fitting. He looked dismissively at Gil as he calmly explained his challenges with language growing up. Ultimately it boils down to the fact that I have different goals and expectations than he does and that’s okay.
This whole experience has been difficult for Gil and me. We’re trying our best to help our kids, while feeling all the things we felt regularly growing up.
I was unprepared for how triggering parenting elementary aged children could be. When I’m talking to my children’s teachers and all these learning specialists, it’s like I’m viscerally back there myself — small and misunderstood — struggling to learn and retain vital information. At the same time, it makes me more determined than ever to help my children and work tirelessly to instill in them that they are smart and capable and worthy.
My goal is not getting my kids on the fast track to the Ivy League. When I remind myself of this I’m better able to look at this whole testing experience as a source of information rather than a definitive polarizing diagnosis.
Wallace needs more one-on-one assistance. I can’t leave him to do his homework and then follow back up fifteen minutes later. I’ve always been able to do that with Piers, and I naively assumed I could do the same with Wallace. Nope. He needs me right there with him.
We are a musical, creative family. We read a lot, and we interact with our kids, but we’ve never ‘taught’ them traditional school stuff. In my soul I still feel that this is best, yet when I see them having trouble in school my first instinct is to second guess myself. ‘I should have had Piers memorize his multiplication tables over the summer.’ ‘Wallace needs to memorize more sight words and math facts.’
But really, just no. NO. Perhaps we’re now at a stage of incorporating more traditional learning methods, and it may be that we look into some extra tutoring next summer, but I feel strongly that the early years of childhood are for learning through play and engaging with the natural world.
Now that I’ve had a week or so to process everything, I can see the big picture better. (I think!)
Ultimately I want to foster a love of learning. I want to raise thinkers, not simply rote memorizers who spit out information.
I spent several days wondering if Gil and I made them dyslexic and inattentive. I’ve wondered if their lack of motivation and conventionality is due to their environment. We’re not the most traditional bunch, and neither Gil nor I get especially jazzed about sight words and math facts. Still, I DO want them to do well in school, and I don’t want them to think they’re not smart because they learn differently.
Well, this got long and I still haven’t gotten to the clutter update. I’ll have to continue in a future post.
A big take-away from the kids’ testing was the importance of setting up a home environment conducive to learning. (See how I tried to tie it all together?) Gil and I are going to have to step up our game if we want to keep our kids in public school — and for now that’s the case.
We’ve worked hard to simplify our lives in the last year, but we need to do better with systems and paper clutter and pairing down the stuff that comes into our home.
Additionally, and this is something I hope to write about further, is getting off what I call the busy train. Our neighbors and the kids’ classmates are constantly on the go. This is something I was unprepared for, since prior to moving our new locale appeared to be a chill coastal enclave.
Is that just modern American life? If so, I wouldn’t mind moving elsewhere. I often find myself in the company of women who speak of this non-stop, no-rest-for-the-weary lifestyle with pride, like it’s some badge of honor while looking like they’re about to drop. Additionally, I see a lot of tired kids. I definitely fell into the habit of letting my kids try out different activities early on, but we’ve taken a step back since moving. At times it feels lonely, but I’d rather feel lonely than overbooked.
At one point last year I was working three part-time jobs. I’ve scaled that back to only one now, which feels like progress. Still I find myself feeling antsy when asked what I do. I like to feel productive.
But again, scaling back, downsizing, turning inward — both personally and within my family — feels right. More aligned with my true self, if that makes sense.
So, I’ll continue working towards this aligning throughout the holiday season. And now…back to the paper clutter. I hope to post an update on all that soon.
What is December like for you?