That day they went nuts

Wanna play a fun game? It’s called, “spot the curriculum checkbox”.

I’m strongly of the go-with-the-flow homeschooling ilk, mainly because whenever I’ve tried to lead there’s been such an almighty blow-back that we all have to lie down with cold gins compresses for two hours afterwards and nothing gets done at all. See my other posts on teh stubborn.

Then, too, part of my reasoning is that my kids will have days like this:

CraftyFish decides to write a song about how rich she is. (Literacy)

It’s kind of going all over the place so we discuss beats, rhythm and syllables. Then, dredging up a forty-year-old memory, I talk her through the AB AB C AB structure. (Music theory)

We edit and rewrite. CraftyFish is so ecstatic at her own wit that she decides she must make a music video to go with the song.

She gets out paper, pencils, ruler, scissors, and starts making fake money. (Art, but also math because she’s measuring and dividing and ruling)

Then she searches up some logos which she prints to make herself some bling accessories. By now Mr Pixel has caught her enthusiasm and joins in. I don’t even try to keep up with their discussions on branding but I do chip in on wealth, performance of identity, costume, and ‘flexing’. (Social studies)

As they work CraftyFish describes the video to Mr Pixel (this is verbal storyboarding; art again I guess or maybe literacy?) One scene involves her minion walking ahead of her, strewing money out of a basket for her to walk on. But our box of foreign change (Geography, history; because yes, we discuss where coins are from and the switches from sterling to decimal; francs and marks to euros) is old and manky, so we start trying to clean it.

Toothpaste doesn’t work so we ask the internet and learn about salt and vinegar. Only the first recipe doesn’t work fast enough for CraftyFish, so she fiddles around with it. Mr Pixel comes in to see what we are doing. He wonders which way is better, mine or CraftyFish’s – so he decides to set up separate boxes with, you know, actual measurements, and compare the results after a set time. (Science!)

So many questions emerge from this: does it work differently on different currencies? (Yes! Because different metals) Why is that one black coin there fizzing like an alka-seltzer? (No idea!) What is that green stuff called? (Malachite, apparently.) Does leaving it in longer get it cleaner? (Only up to about ten minutes.) What is the chemical reaction that is occurring? (Umm…. let’s see. I grab pencil and paper. Salt is NaCl + vinegar which is CH3COOH gives sodium hydroxide NaOH and water H2O, but the copper’s clearly reacting too so… um… kids? Hello?)

Kids have taken my phone and are shooting gangsta-style “publicity shots”. (Photography. Also, we talk Goldie – no, child, you cannot have gold caps on your teeth) – and rap culture and ‘bling’, so more music history/pop culture studiels. Also: God help me.) They send some shots to a friend with a similar sense of humor. His mum messages back, suggesting that we get them together for an afternoon of filming. This sends my kids into a frenzy of coin-cleaning, costume-constructing, and cash-creating.

But it’s lunchtime and the sizzling energy in the air is in danger of leaving everyone scorched (and starving) if it burns out of control, so I order everyone to sit down for an hour’s quiet time and food. (Health studies)

Their friend arrives. He teaches them all he knows about iMovie and they spend the next five hours making movies, talking cars, chickens, Lego …

Do you see? Do you see how one idea can lead to an entire rabbit-warren of learning for these kids? Can you see how they ended up literally exhausted, by the end of it? Because let me tell you, we were all exhausted, that day.

Yes, I would dearly love more order and predictability. I would love love love to direct their learning. What I am coming to realise, though, is that my job is to make their learning possible: finding and creating opportunities, chase them out of ruts and habits, facilitate looking-up and getting in supplies. Anything else is just ,,, yeah. Throwing marshmallows at their heads.

Ready, set…

Map of New South Wales with sticker-dots marking trip destinations

30 days to go and we have a plan! (I love having a plan.) I had a plan two weeks ago, in fact, and everything was booked.

Then I found out that one of the places I’d considered and abandoned does get snow after all, and the Skeptic had booked two extra days’ leave, so … the obvious thing was to insert another leg right into the middle of the plan. Miraculously, all four of the hosts booked for after that leg agreed to move our reservations back two days, so I pulled it off. (I think. Ink’s not dry yet.)

The trip is built around CSIRO’s radio telescope at Parkes, which is having an open day to mark the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. On the way we will visit the Artesian springs at Moree, visit Dubbo zoo and stargaze under Coonabarabran’s Dark Sky. On the way home, we’ll see the Jenolan Caves and the Australian Army’s Infantry Museum, go to a koala hospital, try our hand gold-panning, stay on a hobby farm, and stand on Australia’s most easterly point at Byron Bay. There are open-cut gold mines and fossil huts, plains, mountains, volcanic rainforest and beaches. And of course, the hope of snow, which the kids have never seen. I’m so excited!

Except right now I’m the early stress stage. Experience teaches that none of us likes sleeping all together, so the biggest part of a trip like this is finding accommodation. All eight venues must be spacious, aesthetically appealing (I know, but it’s essential for us), and budget-friendly; needless to say this part has been quite hard work. When not glued to the computer I’ve been buying cold-weather clothes, making lists, more lists, and sub-lists, racking my brains for what we will listen to on the road, trying to get the house and yard to a state acceptable for a house-sitter to live in without breaking a leg tripping on The Stuff.

Of course, CraftyFish will start having meltdowns in a couple of weeks’ time, as departure looms and she starts facing all the unknowns. She will cry her little heart out and beg to not go. Mr Pixel, meanwhile, remains unimpressed by my enthusiasm; he doesn’t want to learn to crack a whip or do the lamp-work bead-making class I found. He will complain about the caves (cold) and the museum (boring) and the Minecraft-deprivation (life-threatening, apparently). Everyone is wondering what we’ll listen to on the road. (Suggestions welcome.)

Harsh words will be uttered, more than once, probably, as keeping three introverts and one flaming extrovert, all over-endowed with opinions and determination, in each other’s close company for two weeks is plenty challenge, never mind introducing those same twitchy people to new beds every second night. They’ll all carry on like they’re being asked to sleep with tigers.

In a way, though, that – far more than the activities themselves – is where the learning is. We’ll be hundreds of kilometres outside our bubble, and that’s a good thing. Despite the anxiety, we all crave novelty, nature and beauty, which the second half of the trip at least offers in abundance. Everyone will be stretched in multiple ways; the experiences will resonate for years.

It’s going to be awesome.

Some days

I got nothing, today. I’ve got ideas that drift away before I can take their measure; I wrote a post that contradicted in the end what it started off saying – but that’s fine because I somehow deleted the whole thing before I published. So instead of a post, here’s a picture of CraftyFish, running out into a huge empty park at dusk, full of joy for being out with me, for the kookaburras we saw in the carpark, for running, for the park, for dusk. May you experience any fraction of her joy.

My Mum has dementia, and it sucks

As a reader, I thought I had a reasonable grasp of what dementia was like. Besides pretty much every magazine article I’ve ever come across, I’d read Pauline McLynn’s novel Missing You Already, Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant, and Sarah Leavitt’s Tangles: I had an idea, at least, of what was in store, when Mum was diagnosed.

Dealing with it is a whole other story.

For a start, obviously, it’s Mum. Fifty years of history. So much emotional baggage. Whatever your feelings are about a parent, if you’re there when they start needing help, it’s unspeakably hard to reverse those lifelong roles. If they don’t know – don’t believe (because they can no longer assimilate events) – they need help, it’s that much harder, and if they vaguely suspect that they might need it but don’t like what that implies – well, that’s just a minefield of misery for all concerned.

Multiply that by an order of magnitude in our case because everyone involved is emotionally over-excitable off the bloody scale, and then another because we’re all also empaths, our emotions chronically bound up with everyone else’s – add a measure of family dysfunction, because who doesn’t? – and I’m not sure the words exist to fully render this picture in all its knotted, technicolour heartache.

And yet it’s so simple, according to the doctors. We’ve had many, most of them phenomenally unhelpful. Some have been blunt or downright callous, one was arrogant beyond belief, one properly negligent, one cannot make eye contact and seems to be trying to get us out of her office in record time. Not one, in the eighteen months since diagnosis, has explained the process of caring for someone with dementia. The government agent who came in January said Mum wouldn’t qualify for the government’s care plan; the most recent doctor snorted and rolled his eyes. Then he spelled out, in terms precise as knives, who we had to call in what order, what our options are and all their consequences. None of it is pretty. None of it is what Mum would want.

A thing I didn’t expect to be excruciatingly difficult is writing about it. Logic dictates that I don’t need to protect Mum from internet exposure in the same way I do the kids, say. I can write about her freely because there’s no chance of it impacting on her, not least because she won’t be around for much longer. And writing is my therapy, which god knows you need when you’re dealing with this stuff, not to mention the chance that my humble post might one day be the very thing that helps someone else feel understood, or find their way through the maze. That’s all stuff I live for. You’d think I’d be blogging my arse off.

But no. I keep coming up to the topic and balking. I write and delete, write and delete. I can’t decide whether the block is the desire to protect Mum, so strongly induced by the look in her eye – the animal look of not understanding, knowing she doesn’t understand, pain that she’s not understanding, terror of not understanding, fear of being patronised – or whether it’s just plain bloody overwhelm. Every dimension – legal, medical, ethical, emotional – is complex, fraught with implication, riddled with second, third, and fourth guesses, overlaid with our short, intense histories.

So as much as I would love nothing more than to be able to write about this in the calm, practical terms I sometimes hear in my head, I just can’t. It’s a painful bloody mess, start to finish, and there’s no getting away from it. Dementia sucks.

Pause for a moment

This is a gratitude post, because the climate and Mum and the Federal election and the climate and Alabama and the climate and Murdoch and the climate and no sleep and oh, dear God, I cannot even bear to think about it. So.

1. Last night, my lovely sister took the kids out for dinner so the Skeptic and I could go celebrate our twentieth wedding anniversary. There have been many, many times in the past seven or eight years where I wasn’t sure our marriage would last another day, but fortunately we’d been together so long already that I was pretty confident it was just a phase. A long, crappy phase, to be sure, but a phase nonetheless, and I’m glad neither of us have quit trying to get back to how we were. That we both still want a future together. That is no small thing and it keeps me going.

2. I am grateful for the hours the Skeptic and I put in out back yesterday. Now that I’ve built the gate to keep the vandals out, he spent a couple of hours cleaning poop, feed and feathers off the patio and I could finally plant: kale, spinach, rocket, peas. Oat grass in portable beds for the girls. Dirt under the fingernails: best therapy there is.

3. I am grateful for the girls at the cafe where I write on a Sunday morning. They know my order; they always have a smile and a chat.

4. I am profoundly grateful for U2. Yes, I know: wankers. But they always, always make me feel better, especially when overwhelmed by global despair. I also appreciate, more than you can imagine, the technology allowing me to bluetooth music from my computer directly into my hearing aids while I work.

5. I am grateful for the homeschool group where my kids and I have absolutely found our tribe, the teachers and their kids being absolutely cut from the same crazy cloth. Wise, wry women and weird, wonderful children. It feels good knowing I’ll see them on Tuesday.

6. Last, but far from least, I have the best friends. I’ve rewritten this paragraph twice because the more I thought about it the more I had to appreciate: from Abbie letting me bounce bonkers business ideas off her (“So crazy it just might work!”) to Andrew lending me Factfulness (which promises to save me from the global despair) to Belinda volunteering so much for the Greens, to her son Sebastian doing so much painting, to Kirsty coming to help clean, to Sharon starting a group to make Boomerang Bags to Jo and Suz and the acceptance and encouragement they’ve offered with parenting, writing, homeschooling – my friends are everything you could possibly wish them to be and then more. Considerably more. They don’t just keep me going, they show me the way, and for that I am more grateful than words can ever say.

There. That helped.

How about you?

Progress

Oh, lord, it’s SO SLOW. When I’m lying awake at night (far more often than not) I sometimes feel like the changes occurring in my house could teach glaciers a thing or two about slowing down. The universe unfolds faster than the projects in my house.

This does not, of course, accurately reflect reality. It is just the horrible yawning mismatch between where I want to be and where I am; between what I want to do and what, realistically, I can do in any given 24-hour period. I feed the kids, I drive them around; I talk to Mum and get her, sometimes, to appointments; I feed the kids some more; I support their projects and their meltdowns and their social lives; I research and try to solve problems; I clean the cat litter and feed the chooks and oh, look – it’s time to feed the kids again and then begin the 47-hour circus that is bedtime so that I can lie awake chewing it all over. I get distracted, too, and spend an inordinate amount of time looking for my own stuff that I’ve put down and wandered away from sixty times a day.

So what tortures me in the small hours is the Great Undone. If you ask, I’ll tell you: I’ve dropped all my balls and then some. It’s not the stuff I didn’t cross off the list today, it’s the stuff that didn’t even make it on to the list. And then there are the dreams… Aw, hell. All of that, and more.

So this is a reality-check post. Evidence, to me, that progress is, in fact, being made, however infinitesimally.

Exhibit A: Mr Pixel’s room. Not yet liveable; right now, though, let’s focus on what’s different from the last snap. The walls have been painted, the tall bookshelf bought and assembled, the small shelves painted. The bed, oh the bed! Or as I’m trying to remember to call it, the Lego Station. Completely sanded, painted (two different colours). Shelves built on the left-hand side (barely visible in this picture). Right-hand shelves trimmed and new legs built to accommodate feet on the ladder end. Backboard shelves built and attached, corkboard bought and attached. Quite a bit of paint spatter has been scraped off the floor, an ENORMOUS amount of outgrown-treasures have been redistributed, more than a few childish artworks have been recycled. (For us, with all the emotions, this is probably the biggest step; it represents not just project progress but personal growth as well). Options for lights over the workspace have been researched. Most of his Important Treasures have been found homes on the shelves or in the cupboard. Still quite a bit to do, but progress. Yes, definitely progress.

Exhibit B: back yard

In the back yard, these two veggie beds have been built and painted. The pond (white blob in the back corner) has been filled and fish introduced; they haven’t died yet. Progress here is slower, less visible, as the vandals chooks still have the run of the place. Optimistically I bought plants to go around the pond, but they’ve all been dug up. Repeatedly.

In the front yard, the fence has been mostly constructed and painted; I still have to get someone in to build the front gate; there is still fence-levelling to do and a few pieces that need to be added on the side yard.

We have a plan for the road trip; most of the accommodation has been identified, so as soon as I find some sit-down energy I will start booking. I guess it doesn’t sound like a lot; for me, balancing destinations (far apart) against driving tolerances (short) and budget against comfort (specifically, not putting us all in one room too often, as it just makes the introverts cranky) – that took a lot of brain power and a lot of time.

In this period, too, we’ve got through both kids’ birthdays and both their parties; we bought a wood-burning kit that the three of us are learning to use; we set up CraftyFish’s fish tank (so easy to say! so hard to get right!); we have been letter-boxing for the local candidate in the upcoming federal election. It is not like I’ve been sitting on my arse, no matter how it feels at three in the morning. I just needed to remind myself of that.

Teh stubborn

I known, I know. You’re not supposed to use that word, with all its negative connotations. Positive parents are supposed to frame it as “persistence”, a far more admirable trait.

But I’m going with stubborn. In part, this is because my kids own it; I’ve heard “because I’m a pig-headed little butthead” more times than I can count in recent weeks. And in part because it’s genetic. I know precisely where they get it from and this is one I cannot even begin to blame on the Sceptic. The Stubborn is all my family. It’s Mum and both my sisters and my brother and dear god, my niece and nephew, love ’em.

But mainly I’m going with ‘stubborn’ this week to focus on the bottom line. When they are little, conventional parenting wisdom is that you must show children who is boss. Whatever it takes – losing privileges, time-out, the occasional spanking “to get their attention”, you keep upping the ante until you get compliance. They learn through “consequences” to do what you say.

In our family, though, there is … something. Something that gets in the way of that process. My sister and I call it the “nose-cutting gene”: most of us would rather cut off our own noses than do something your way or (god forbid) ask for help.

So Mum, for example, has refused for thirty years to drink the glass of red wine a night her doctor said would help with her cholesterol. She took herself off any number of medications, continued seeing negligent doctors, ate foods that landed her repeatedly in hospital. She won’t use a walker. Recently, when she was completely crippled with back pain and I had to call an ambulance to take her to hospital, I joked, “No more soccer for you, Mum”, as she lay on the stretcher, just to see the look on the paramedics’ faces when she said, “I can if I want.”

My kids inherited that. Oh, they’re not stupid: they were never compelled to touch a hot thing, or pull free to run in traffic. When it comes to a battle of wills, however, there is no backing down. They will do it their way, not mine, even if it hurts them. If I call their bluff, they up the ante. As a gamer friend put it, if they have to suffer damage 3 to cause me damage 6, it’s worth it. The more I invest in my demand, the more they refuse.

On top of that, it didn’t take me long to learn that this likely to cause them to freak the fuck out, because if damage 3 is scary (and it is), being at war with Mummah is ten thousand times scarier. There’s nothing cold or calculated about it; if they lose the plot it is not about ‘making’ me do/give them what they wanted (ie, a tantrum), it’s because they don’t know how to back down and they are terrified of the consequences. So one of my biggest parenting challenges is to regularly model backing down.

Hold your knickers, there! I do not mean that I model “giving in”. They do not get it all their own way. But if I take the heat out of it – if I say, “Oh, you’re not ready to do that, yet? Well, could you do it later? (After food, or rest, or a tickle?) Or could you do this, instead?” then I am teaching them that their needs matter, that they can say what they need, and that we can both get our needs met. If I lower the bar, I take anxiety out of the equation and we are all free to move.

It’s hard, lemme tell ya. I’ve got the same bloody gene. I see a problem, I assess, I come up with The Best Solution, I have a plan, we’re gonna have this sucker fixed by Tuesday. That’s how I got through my whole life, pre-kids, and it worked. But post-kids, doing things that way has meant arguments, all day, every day, about everysinglebloodything, with meltdowns galore to boot. I tried it, okay? I flogged the You Will Go To School horse for five solid years, and all it did was make Mr Pixel hate school. And cause literally thousands of fights.

And I know that in a few years, backing down is going to be my kids’ biggest challenge (especially my son’s). They need to be able to tell the difference between doing what they want because it’s what they genuinely want, and doing what they want to prove me wrong, hurting themselves in the process. We need to be able to negotiate in a way that will not have an angry young person hurling him- or her-self out the door into a car, or into a bad relationship, or an addiction, or a shitty career, because all I’ve taught them over the years is to dig their heels in.

So this week, my big win was putting sums for CraftyFish on the glass door, and asking Mr Pixel to help with painting the bed. He’d watched his sister scribbling on glass with dry-wipe markers; he’d heard us work through several low levels of sum that weren’t too hard. And to my astonishment, he said he’d rather do that than paint the bed. So, okay! Quickly scrawled some sums for him. Which he took five hours to work up to doing, and then made lots of basic mistakes, which we laughed all the way through.

True, I didn’t get help with the painting. Irrelevant. No, insignificant. Mr Pixel negotiated, a crucial life skill that many adults lack. He voluntarily did something he usually pathologically avoids, and which I deliberately didn’t ask him to do, because I didn’t give him a chance to dig his refusenik heels in. He did it and not only was it not painful, he actually enjoyed himself, and building that experience around something he’s paralytically anxious about – and sharing a laugh with Mummah, to boot – that is priceless.

It won’t work twice, I know that. I know we haven’t ‘solved’ his math anxiety. I will have to find other ways around that and yes, it’s hard fucking work. But that’s okay, because we are both learning, and learning is good. I am proud of both of us.

Ugh

Well, we’re deep in the “getting worse” phase, before all my crazy planning starts to make things better. So deep.

We got veggie boxes built and I filled them; while I was doing that the chooks got in and tore up both the gardens were already producing veg. Man, those girls can throw dirt a long way. They literally excavated 20cms of soil into an area twice the size of the original beds. On top of the hoeing we’ve been doing to prepare the side yard for turfing. Then Mother Nature got in on the act and dumped something like 15cms of rain on us in one weekend – and kept going. So, the yard looks a bit like Flanders Fields, before the poppies.

The patio, cleaned and cleared for the IWD event last week, is now lavishly strewn with the new parts from Mr Pixel’s bed that we’re painting. Twelve large shelves and 20 bed slats, plus brackets for the new shelves… and a liberal coating of chicken poop, because the girls are still on the loose, rain having prevented me from finishing fencing the side yard.

Mr Pixel’s worksite

Meanwhile, indoors, we got busy sanding. We’re converting his loft bed into a fully functioning Lego work-station and repainting it from bright little-kid colours to something more mature. It’s going to be magnificent. But it’s a lot of fiddly sanding. Heat gun shavings just fall to the floor, but neither sander’s bag works particularly well so thick, pale greenish dust coats the entire room, tracked out into the playroom. Where his stuff is.

CraftyFish’s worksite

Well, his stuff, and CraftyFish’s stuff, because she couldn’t bear that I’m putting in so much time next door while her room looks like someone put Big W’s entire inventory through a shredder and then dumped it on the floor. So she got in on the act. She excavated four loads of laundry from the floor (FOUR!); she’s thrown out more stuff this week than previously in her entire life; she’s moved stuff to the playroom, donated to charity, piled outgrown treasures into a box for storing. She’s sorted some stuff, too, labelled boxes, dragged all four sets of shelves out into the hallway for cleaning. And then she had a costume birthday party to go to (anxiety! costume! anxiety! gift! anxiety!) so it’s all just been left. She can’t even sleep in there right now, there’s so much stuff piled on the bed and floor.

And none of that is as simple as it sounds on the page, is it? ‘Sanding’ required an emergency dash to buy more sheets, jerry-rigging an old-sock bag for the one that broke, and finding protection for hyper-sensitive ears; I worked until past dark yesterday reconstructing one of the excavated garden beds; we’ve driven all over town collecting manure, paint, plant pots, costume, mulch, Mr Pixel’s new bed, donating to charity; I keep having to stop what I’m doing to feed people, sort playdates, and field meltdowns.

I’ve dropped the exercise ball, I’ll be honest. I’m not sleeping well, either. In the face of that much mess, it can be hard to see any progress at all, and I’m pretty sure the Sceptic is considering moving out until I’ve finished everything and put away the broom. I know it’s just stress and that if I breathe deep, hold tight to that vision, reassure everyone that we’re making progress, and keep chipping away, it will eventually get better.

So that’s what I’m going home to do, in yet another day of <30C heat and <70% humidity and not being able to take two steps without standing on or tripping over something. Because in our house, this is what gifted looks like.

Crazy busy planning

Oh, my goodness, my brain is so busy these days!

On Friday I hosted an IWD event at home, just 14 women, to connect my strong awesome friends with each other. That in itself was a big deal for us; I can’t remember the last time we had more than one family over for dinner, and it required a heap of cleaning and tidying.

But when, on Friday afternoon, I had an hour to sit quietly while CraftyFish did her piano lesson, I took a notebook and spilled out all the other ideas that are crowding my brain these days:

I want a big bash for my 50th in September. LOTS of people. Started working on the guest list and, god help me, food ideas.

There’s no room in the house for that, but that’s okay, I’ve started a major garden makeover. It’ll be in three four five parts: the front patio, the side yard where the chooks live, the back yard, the back walkway connecting the side and back yards, and the back patio. I’ll do most of the work myself and it’s going to be absolutely freaking ENORMOUS. That’s okay; I’ve got enormous energy for it because I’m so excited by the lush vision I have in my head. So my 50th will be a garden party.

Two weeks before the party, I’m going to run the 10k Bridge2Brisbane. Right now, I can walk barely 2kms – and that’s after a couple of months of physio and exercise physiology unfucking my back and hips. I’ve got a long way to go but I’ve got my war-face on: a little bit, almost every day, working through the stiffness and the pain. Plus, you know, I bloody hate exercise. I’m just starting to hate being unfit more. I want a good old age and exercise is key.

My reward for that is going to be a tattoo, because I’m 49 going on 18.

And I spent yesterday planning a two-week road-trip the Sceptic and I will take with the kids in July. The only thing locked in so far is to be in Parkes for the 50th Moon Landing anniversary celebrations at the CSIRO radio telescope (The Dish). On our way through we’ll visit the Siding Springs Observatory (visitor centre only, alas) and another observatory there in Coonabarabran where you can actually do some observing (squeee!). Oh, and I suppose we’ll do some things for the kids.

And before that, I’ve set myself the task of completely revamping Mr Pixel’s room in time for his twelfth birthday, in mid-April. Painting, new furniture, sorting out a basquillion Lego pieces. With his blessing, if not cooperation.

You might be thinking, whoa, that’s a lot to cram into six months.

You might be thinking, hang on, isn’t she also writing a book?

You might be thinking, isn’t she also also home-schooling those supposedly gifted kids of hers?

I know. I know, I know, I know.

I know I’ve probably bitten off more than I can likely chew. I don’t approach these things remotely pragmatically; it has certainly never occurred to me to start with, say, a budget and work out what can be done within that. I’ve never set a ‘SMART’ goal that worked out. I am no judge of what is realistic or achievable. I really don’t think like that. I’ve tried; I suck at it.

In fact it’s probably fair to say, I don’t think much at all. I just dream – huge, starry, vivid dreams – and then make it up as I go along. Believe it or not, that usually works. There’s a huge energy that comes from following that vision. And more importantly, working like that – 97 different projects simultaneously on the go, a budget of ‘as little as possible’, no real plan, just a picture in my head – that makes for a very happy Rebecca. A very, very happy Rebecca.

Because in our house, #thisiswhatgiftedlookslike.


It ain’t much but it’s all I got

Yesterday, in his strenuous efforts to avoid writing a story, Mr Pixel found and watched a video on wealth inequality in America.

Ten hours later he still knew all the figures: 15.1% living below the poverty line; 1% who hold 40% of America’s wealth; the vast disparity between what people think is happening and what is actually happening, let alone the ideal that 92% of respondents voted for. He’s outraged.

We are not American; we do not live in America.

There is no reason on God’s green earth why he should have watched that video; he did, he said, because he’s a curious bird. (Mo Willem’s phrase has much life in our house. Or to put it another way – Hello, intellectual over-excitability!)

There are, on the other hand, a stack of reasons why he should’ve been writing a story: he’d had a great time in class, collaborating with other, similarly-humored kids to come up with the four characters they were supposed to write about; a genre he’s more than familiar with; a teacher he adores who in turn adores him; the plan that she’d collect all their stories, type them and bind them, so each kid would see their work ‘in print’ and also see how others had explored the same basic idea. Since he ran out of puff and needed to leave before they’d begun writing, the teacher said she’d look forward to receiving his story by email, any time until late the next night. You really can’t ask for better support than that.

But none of it – not the class craic, the amazing teacher connection, the flexible deadline, the reward of a bound printout – is enough to motivate Mr Pixel over the hill of anxiety that stops him writing. Because that is what it is: he freezes like a rabbit in the spotlight of having to make a choice out of the multitude of possibilities and he just. Can. Not.

We talked about perfectionism and how there’s no wrong answer; we talked about the fact that he’s able, if he’d give it a go. (I’ve read about dysgraphia; I don’t think that’s it, but then last night someone on a forum said something that’s sent me back down that rabbit-hole, so watch this space.) Besides the anxiety, there’s a great deal of genetic stubborn here (which if you ask me, he owns far too proudly): for eight years now, he’s consistently maintained that he doesn’t do writing, and so far nobody’s been able to budge that for more than a sentence or two. Scribing, voice-to-text, story prompts: they’ve all been flat-out rejected. He knows what I’m up to and he’s not having a bar of it.

I can’t tell you how nuts this makes me. The point-blank refusal sends me nuclear. Every time I hear ‘no’, I’ll be honest, there’s a reflexive bit of me that wants to reach for my Momma badge, the one that says DAMMIT, I AM IN CHARGE. There are so many good reasons to try and make him do it. Not least, the insult is galling: I’m smart enough, you’d think I could fix this.

But I’ve learned that that is my problem. Making it a power play turns it into a fight, which means he’s not writing. And writing is the goal, is it not?

So we played a bit with Google docs. We wrote each other questions and answers; he wrote a couple of lines about a fat, dumb gamer who met a Ninja who helped him defeat someone who wanted to win a tournament. Needless to say none of that bore any relevance to the assignment and after about fifteen minutes he was over it and quit.

But you know what? I’m counting it as a win. I’m gonna go ahead and celebrate because in that short process he did plenty of rewriting and self-editing. I am shouting it to the skies because it’s the closest he’s ever come to writing a story and even in two sentences his sense of humour shone through and really, truly, that’s all I want: my kid to learn to overcome his anxiety and learn to express himself.

In fact, since he learned something about wealth inequality in America, too, I’m counting it as two wins. The class about statistics is another thing he wouldn’t do, but left to his own devices he stumbled onto it anyway and the conversations have begun. I’m reading up and ready to talk.

Because this is Mr Pixel’s wiring: anxious and stubborn and avoidant as all hell, and yet burning relentlessly away underneath all that is the insatiable need to know. In our house, this is what gifted looks like.