Tag Archives: parenting

An Honest Assessment

I shared over on Instagram that it’s Laurel’s assessment day. Meaning, she has to complete a series of tests highlighting her abilities as well as her disabilities.

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It’s pretty stressful.

It requires about four hours of sitting and doing.  For a homeschooled student who does not do standardized testing it’s a lot. A whole lot.

I spend the time in the waiting room. It’s not bad, really. They have wifi, I’ve caught up on writing and reading. I don’t hate it.

I also reflect on our road to saying ‘learning disability’ out loud. It took some time, for sure.

When my husband and I were dating I remember teasing him that perhaps he had dyslexia. We were in college and writing papers was tricky for him. He basically wrote eight pages of run on sentences. Punctuation, capitalization, spelling – none of it was there. What was there was content. He was a great writer, and still is, but something wasn’t right. It was as if he didn’t even see what was missing.

He shared one of his most memorable moments from school, which involved not being able to memorize his multiplication tables. His parents and teachers often told him that if he would only try harder his work would improve. It boggles my mind that no one every noticed how his intelligence didn’t match up with his level of work.

Lee was left with the notion that he was lazy, didn’t apply himself, and was probably a little stupid.

That is the story of so many adults who have undiagnosed learning disabilities.

I don’t understand the shame that surrounds learning differences. The first time I asked Lee’s mom if she thought he could be dyslexic she blasted me. She angrily told me that he had a very high IQ, that he had been tested by several people, that there was nothing ‘wrong’ with him.

I quietly replied that dyslexia has nothing to do with a person’s intelligence. We never broached the subject again, but the shame card had been laid on me.

When our first child showed signs of struggling to read the first person I called was Lee’s sister. She was a teacher, and I knew that teaching reading was a passion of hers.

Dyslexia is tricky, though, and many teachers are not trained to see its symptoms. Many times the symptoms are seen as stubbornness or an unwillingness to learn.  Lee’s sister suggested I call the local school and ask them. It was not a homeschool friendly area, though, so I opted to just figure it out on my own.

Man, was it rough.

I was so young and so new to homeschooling that I was overwhelmed by all of the choices. I tried to stick it out with a reading curriculum that came highly recommended. It was tear stained and tattered within the first three months of using it. Kiley and I both came to hate that book.

We were not like the homeschool families I read about or the ones who were highlighted in the news. I was not raising a future Scripps Spelling Bee Winner or someone who would be ready for college by 6th grade.

Which meant we were failing.


I don’t know why people do this, but when you homeschool friends and family think it’s fun to quiz your kids. Holidays and birthday parties became dreaded events because you never knew who was going to say, “What have you been learning?” or “Come read this book to me.”

Nobody likes that.

My oldest girls were in second grade and kindergarten, and both struggled mightily with reading and spelling. They went to stay with my husband’s family for a weekend.  After they’d been home for a couple of hours my oldest one told me they played school with a relative all weekend.

I felt the pit in my stomach and asked her to tell me more.

“We practiced spelling and writing,” Kiley said.

I smiled and asked if she had fun while inside I was fuming.

That’s the day I became an advocate for my children.

Perhaps there had been no malice behind the relative’s actions. When you homeschool there is often a feeling of suspicion behind questions about school, family or not. I’d way rather someone ask me, “How do you know what to teach your children?” than sneak them off and quiz them.

That incident taught me a valuable lesson, though. I learned that my children had no voice. They did not have the vocabulary to say to someone, “I have a learning disability.” or “I don’t want to do that.” “Mom makes me do that stuff every day. Please don’t you do it, too.” 

I became their first voice, teaching them to self-advocate.

Up until that point I’d been hesitant to share our struggles in traditional school. I felt like I was scamming people when  I said  my kids had dyslexia because I didn’t have an ‘official’ diagnosis from a psychologist. I also struggled with how hard to push them.  There were times when I allowed outside pressures (real or imagined) to influence our homeschool. I became the enforcer and said horrible things like, “If it’s hard we try harder.”  There was a lot of sitting at the table, and a lot of crying.

There were other times that I declared we would only read aloud and do art. I have tried to forgive myself for those early days when I was uncertain of what was going on. I was truly doing my best.

I see that shame had a huge role in my behavior. I was ashamed that I wasn’t a better teacher, that I didn’t homeschool hard enough.

I am so grateful I’m not in that place any more.

After that I decided to become an expert in dyslexia. I read as many books as I could find about dyslexia. Pro-tip: only read the most current material, otherwise you’ll end up even more confused. I told my kids they had dyslexia, and maybe some other issues that we would figure out.

Then I studied how they learned. I paid attention to what gave my girls a spark, what caused them to dive deeper, what made them ask questions. Then I did more of all of those things. Gradually we all began to relax about school.* When number three got to school age I didn’t panic when he began to show the same symptoms.

Also, there was never anymore ‘playing school’ while they were with relatives. If well meaning friends asked if they would read to them I gently informed them that reading wasn’t their thing, that it required a lot of work for them and that they just wanted to relax and have fun.

The only thing that exploded was my shame. It was gone the minute I said ‘dyslexia’  out loud to the first person outside of our family. It gave me permission to ask Sunday school teachers and co-op teachers to skip over my children when reading out lout in class. 

The amazing thing that happened was that people began telling me about their children’s struggle with learning, or there own struggles. Me sharing my stuff invited others to share theirs, which led to more exploding shame.

Hooray for exploding shame!!


I am still sitting in the waiting room, which means Laurel is still working. One of the things I hate about the assessment is the feedback. That’s when we sit down with the psychologist and review the test results.

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I’m not going to lie. The first time we did this I sat in the car and cried for a good thirty minutes, and that was after crying in the psychologist’s office. It’s one thing to know your child’s struggle. It’s another to see it written down in black and white, to see numbers attached to your child, numbers that cause that shame thing to rise back up.

I will push it down, though, because I have the secret.

I know that my children are more than numbers. I know that those tests cannot calculate their potential, cannot know that they were each handmade for a life only they can live.

Those tests cannot tell us what they were created for.

I know those things, but I also know my girl will be hurting this evening when she reflects on the parts that were especially difficult. I think I’ve heard it compared to asking a person confined to a wheel chair to show someone how hard it is to get up a flight of stairs. Alone. With no help.

These assessments, while necessary for now, are not the whole truth.

I will be content with paper telling us part truth, but my heart will know the whole.

 

My heart will give the honest assessment to anyone who will listen until my children can.

 

Be brave, misfits. Be a voice for anyone in your life who needs it.

 

 

*Mostly. I think when you have a learning disability ‘school’ automatically conjures up all kinds of weird, uncomfortable feelings. We can talk more later about anxiety and how kids with learning disabilities are more likely to deal with it.

Disaster Preparedness

My husband and I are completely different.

I mean, I know that goes without saying. There’s the whole male/female thing. What I’m saying is that we operate in COMPLETELY different ways.

He operates under the ‘everything is great’ premise, while I operate under the ‘at any minute we could face disaster’ premise.

A couple of years ago we took the kids to the beach. It had been a long time since we’d been to the ocean so I prepped them on the drive down.

Thank goodness we had twelve hours.

We went over drowning protocols, jellyfish scenarios and practiced CPR. It made time go so much faster.

When we got to our house on Dauphin Island it was dark but Lee wanted to take the kids to the ocean. You know, to say hello. So we climbed up a sand dune and followed the sound of the ocean. We got lost in some brush and had a family argument. I’m sure everyone on the island heard it. Some kids were crying and one lost a flip flop.

We made it there, though, and could almost see the ocean. I think Lee felt vindicated that the kids were as happy as the were to be near the ocean.

In daylight we could see that we had chosen the wrong path, the one that led to the crappy part of the beach. I didn’t gloat, though.

I was satisfied with a look of superiority.

Our beach, as we called it, was perfect. It had shallows where clusters of hermit crabs were gathered, ripe for us to examine. There was a long stretch of sand we could walk out on and there was a deeper part perfect for body surfing. I found a spot on the beach to sit and watch.

Thirty minutes later Lee came up to sit with me, smiling, covered in sand, and slightly out of breath.

“You having fun watching the kids?” he asked.

“No. I’m looking for sharks. I heard on the radio that one was spotted this morning by a fishing boat. Also, a local man drowned last week while fishing so we need to keep an eye out for undercurrents,” I answered.

No sharks. Yet.

Lee was looking at me like I was nuts.

“Is that what goes on in your head?” he questioned.

“I packed some snacks if you’re hungry,” I deflected. He smiled and started rifling through the bag, “I didn’t want anyone getting low blood sugar or dehydrating.”

He huffed and headed back to the water.

It works out pretty well in his favor, though, that I plan for disasters. Because when things do go wrong I’m there with an amazing plan.

Unless I’m overly tired. Then I’m not so great with a plan.

A few weeks ago we were driving back from an ultimate frisbee tournament in Ohio. The hotel was nice but someone in our group snores. I’m not naming any names, but it’s not me or any of the kids. Well, I do snore but  not that night. What I’m saying is that I had no sleep for two nights.

There’s only so much coffee can do that for that situation.

We were driving home by way of Cincinnati when a strange beeping started. At first I thought it was my phone, but no, that wasn’t it.

My next assumption was that the car was getting ready to explode and that we needed to immediately pull over. This caused some of the children to begin panicking.

Well, just Liam. Kiley and her beau were laughing, like it was a joke.

As if there were no way that the car could blow up.

Anyway, we have an AED that we take with us. That’s not part of my planning for natural disasters. Three of the kids and I have Long QT Syndrome so the AED is a precaution, like an epi-pen.

Kiley applied her logic and deduced that it was the AED, which  had been tilted on its side for a little longer than it was apparently happy with. We uprighted it and the beeping stopped.

I took a nap.

Before I fell asleep, though, I remembered when I had a job at a video store when I was in college. I’d been watching The Godfather before I closed the store for the night. It was about ten o’clock at night, so I was sleepy.  When I got into my car I heard ticking and assumed someone had planted a car bomb.

I wish I was making this up.

I called Dad and begged him to come and investigate. I think I was crying. I’m glad I didn’t call 911. It seems I had forgotten  that I had an old fashioned alarm clock in the glove box. I liked to take naps in my car in between classes and needed the alarm to wake me. (It was before cell phones, and my watch beeping would not wake me).

Poor me.

Dad rolled his eyes and went home.

One day my husband and the rest of the people who just enjoy life as though nothing bad could ever happen will be thankful that they have people like me.

They will rue the day that they laughed at me! Then I won’t be a ‘worry wart’ or ‘nervous Nellie’! No! Then I will be their hero, the one that they look to in times of trouble.

If only they didn’t count on me for meal planning.

 

I think zombie apocalypses are my specialty. 

 

 

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Shame and Parenting

“I’m sorry I’m such a bad kid,” one of mine said to me a few years ago.

I was perplexed, didn’t know where that was coming from. This wasn’t the ‘I’m trying to make you feel bad for not letting me do something’ ploy my kids are good at (they do know how to push my guilt button), this was a real apology. I dug around a little to get a look at what might be going on in that tender heart.

“I just don’t do things right. I leave stuff on the floor, I cause trouble. Everyone’s always yelling at me – I’m just not a good kid.”

That would not not do. I wrapped my arms around my child and held on for a while. I breathed in the smell of their hair, and tried to let my love just permeate through all those bad feelings that were churning around. After a quick prayer I knew what to say.

“You’re right. You are messy. You do leave things on the floor. Sometimes you do things that do make more trouble for me, but THIS is what I signed up for. This is what I expect. Kids are supposed to mess up because they’re learning.”

“Really?” my child asked, surprised that any one would want someone to muck up their life.

“Yes, really. I love being a mom. I love the mess, and more importantly I love you all. I mess up all the time, too, you know. I don’t do everything right, either.” Then I pointed out all the things I can do wrong, and soon we got silly and laughed and moved on from that teary moment.

 I came back around to it later, though, because I am not okay with my kids feeling shame because of who they are or what they’ve done.

That was about the time in my life that I walked away from nagging (although I still battle that), blaming, yelling, and completely blowing my lid because my kids were acting like kids. I walked away from expecting things to go like my favorite family sitcoms and began looking forward to the chaos that kids bring into your life*.

I had to get intentional about the way that I talked to my kids. Phrases like, “What were you thinking?” and “Why would you do that?” were nixed and replaced with, “How could you do this differently?” and “Well, what did you learn from this?” Sometimes I search for a list like this and print it off so that I can pull from there when I’m stretched too thin.

Now listen, we’re all human here on this planet, so sometimes even the best intentions go to waste.

That’s why I’m thankful for grace.

As a parent it is guaranteed that you will lose it every now and then. Even the best laid plans can get blown to heck when jobs, bills, medical issues, or flat tires enter into the picture. What I think is more important is what you do from there, where you go after the losing-it occurs. 

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I have known some parents don’t think that they should ever apologize to their kids, maybe because by apologizing they feel that they’re showing weakness. Apologizing to your kids is not wrong – it’s essential. I think it’s the most profound thing my parents ever did for me, and I have seen it change my relationship with my kids. A sincere acknowledgment of regretful behavior is a great start to ensuring that your kid doesn’t walk under a cloud of shame.

The difference between shame and guilt is this: shame convinces a kid of their wrongness as a human and leaves them defeated. Shame makes a kid feel like they’re carrying around a dirty secret;  leaving laundry on the floor, eating all the cookies, not doing their chores, and fighting with siblings are not dirty secrets. It’s not a secret at all because it’s developmentally appropriate behavior. 

I actually don’t believe in dirty secrets, but we can talk about that later.

I’ve been reading Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection over and over for the past few months. Brown is a shame researcher and what she has to say on the subject has seriously changed the course of my life. Her research uncovered the truth that sharing the thing that shames us is the only way to break the cycle.

“Shame needs three things to grow out of control in our lives: secrecy, silence, and judgement. When shaming happens and we keep it locked up, it festers and grows. It consumes us. We need to share our experience. Shame happens between people, and it heals between people. If we can find someone who has earned the right to hear our story, we need to tell it. Shame loses power when spoken. In this way, we need to cultivate our story to let go of shame, and we need to develop shame resilience in order to cultivate our story.”  ~ Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

She doesn’t mean on the internet, but with close trusted people. Your tribe. Your person. Whoever will say, “Man, that is the worst feeling. I’m so sorry that’s happened.”

That’s who I want to be to my kids. I want my husband and I to be the people they can share their shame with and have us say, “I’m so sorry you’re feeling that. I totally get it.”

I want to be that person even when- especially when – I have accidentally caused that shame.

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It’s easy to start throwing perfectionism onto our children, especially if that’s something you do to yourself. Simply recognizing that tendency is a great first step in changing that. Maybe as you read this, you find yourself nodding, recognizing your own tendencies. Don’t get stuck there.

I know first hand how debilitating it can be to wake up to the fact that you’re doing something as a parent that you know is wrong, something contrary to what you believe is best for your kids. If that’s the case you need to find your person and break the shame-hold on you, because ain’t nobody got time for that.

Nobody.

Find someone to share your story with. I suggest you start with Jesus, who loves you more than anyone, and go from there. 

Now go be brave, misfits.

 

 

P.S.

Go get the book The Gifts of Imperfection. GAME CHANGER.

 

*Some of those issues have muscle memory and deep roots. I often have to work on not slipping back into that pattern because…human. If you can figure out the why of what you do you can change the how. If you have questions about that I’m happy to share a little more privately.

 

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Raised by wolves

When my oldest three were little I held dance parties in the living room as way for them, and me,  to blow off steam. I would turn the music up loud and we’d dance and shout until we were panting for air. Sometimes we’d have freeze dance parties if we were bored with the regular kind. I would turn the volume down on the radio and the kids would have to hold whatever position for however long I kept the volume down.

We had all the fun.

My youngest guy, Liam,  is 6 and I still want to do those fun things with him. I want him to have all the things my older ones did. I don’t want him to miss out on anything. Today I asked my 15 (almost 16, MOM!) year old daughter and 12 year old son to help me have a dance party. That may have been a mistake. It may have also been a mistake to hold this dance party in my bed. The thing is I’m older and more tired than when the first three were little. I wanted to have a dance party on my behind. In my bed. With a cup of coffee.

Now that I write this I realize that may have been my mistake.

Any time I invite Laurel and Spencer to do anything I’m inviting a certain level of chaos. These two love  to take things to the next level.

Things went well at first. We were doing the funky arm moves, getting some decent air time even though I’ve significantly restricted the jump zone. Then Liam moved with lightening speed to the end of the bed and launched a perfect belly flop in the center. I gave him a little leeway because he’s six and they need that. The other two, though, took my clapping and leeway-giving as their chance to up the ante. Spencer, who has not yet come to terms with the fact that he’s an adult-sized person, also catapulted himself across the bed. His bounce yielded several smaller bounces for Laurel and I. Just as I saved myself from toppling over the edge I heard Liam shout, “Cannonball!” and could only watch in silent amazement as he tried to drag his sister down.

I had entered the next level without signing up for it.

The next few minutes involved me boomeranging between please-this-is-not-how-dance-parties- are-supposed-to-go and laughing til I cried.

Thoughts happen really fast, you know? During the madness taking place in my bed I had time to think about the fact that my youngest child never got to love Elmo madly. Instead he chose Batman. It wasn’t Barney that he wanted played on repeat, it was Lord of the Rings. My littlest guy doesn’t know any words to The Wiggles songs but by golly he knew the words to The Phantom of the Opera by the time he was four. Sometimes I feel badly that he doesn’t have siblings his age to play with, or that I don’t do circle time in the mornings anymore , or that when he is indignant he shouts, “What the crap?”  (a very teenagery thing to say, you must admit).

 

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It’s like he’s been raised by wolves.

I snap out of my 7 second contemplation because phrases like ‘frank and beans’ and ‘I can’t breathe’ were being shouted by my children. What I see is that they are having a blast, the music is still going strong, and Liam doesn’t know any different.

His three older siblings are way better than Elmo, hands down.

They are nice wolves, after all, fixing him peanut butter jellies and giving him snuggles when necessary.

Today I conceded that things are the way that they are.

Then I did what needed to be done:  I pants-ed one of my kids.