Monthly Archives: February 2010

Identity

Way back when I was in high school, I did this program through West Virginia 4-H called the Charting Program.  During that year, we 15-year-olds participated in activities designed to promote self-discovery, goal-setting, decision-making, critical-thinking, and communication.  We discussed values and ideals and worldviews.  I learned a lot during my year in the Charting Program, but I learned even more when I was 19 and was trained to teach Charting Classes at 4-H camps.

I remember one particular activity we did in our training program.  We partnered up and took turns asking each other, “Who Are You?”  “Where Have You Been?”  and “Where Are You Going?”  The first time we asked each other these questions, the answers were basic and surface-y.  Then we asked the same questions again.  And again.  And again.  Each time, the answers got a little deeper, a little more revealing, a little more raw.  This activity forced us to think about our identities, what had made us who we were, and where we were going in life.

Every now and then, I think about that activity.  Those are good questions to ask.  I should probably be asking myself those questions at least once a year.

Instead, I get caught up in life.  Carried away by its current.

Who Am I? What is my identity?  Because I am the stay-at-home mom of six children, it is very easy to allow that to completely define my identity.  Somebody recently told me that I talk about my children all the time.  So I looked over my Facebook status updates.  Wow!  I do talk about my kids a lot.  Well, I love them and they are my full-time job, so I suppose that’s normal.

But that got me to thinking — is my identity too wrapped up in being a mother?  Have I forgotten or lost some of myself, the me I was before I had children and the me I will be after they are gone?  See, that’s the thing.  The years are flying by; and, before I know it, my kids will be grown and gone.  I don’t want to be lost once they are gone.  I don’t want to look in the mirror and wonder, “Who am I now?”

At the same time, I don’t want to be selfish.  I am raising children, helping form and develop real, actual, living people.  And I won’t get any do-overs.  I don’t take this job lightly.  And I want to do it the best I can.

Of course, I don’t get any do-overs with my own life either.  And there is certainly much more to me than being a mother.  There are more answers to that question “Who are you?” than “A mother.”

So, how do we balance it all out?  What is my identity?  How do I nurture and develop the elements of my identity apart from “mother” while still being the very best mother to six children?  And how am I supposed to talk about anything else when, for now, raising these six people is consuming so much of my time?

Who am I? —-  Where have I been? —-   and Where am I going?

These are the questions on my mind today.

How about you?

Who are you?

Where have you been?

Where are you going?

Am I the only mother who struggles with how much of my identity should be wrapped up in being a mother?

It’s your turn.

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Do I Agree With This Quote Or Not?

So I’ve seen this quote floating around Facebook lately.  It sounds so inspirational, so motivational, as if it needs its own crescendo of background music.  But then I start thinking about it, and I can’t decide if I agree with it or not.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma- which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

First, the English major/grammar snob in me MUST point out that it should read, “And most importantLY, have the courage . . . ”

Phew, now that that’s out of the way, I can get back to the gist of the quote.

Ok, I agree with the part about time being limited & the idea that we shouldn’t waste our lives.  I think it’s good to follow our own dreams and be ourselves.  I want to be true to myself, genuine, and not feel like I need to live out somebody else’s dreams and expectations.

I had to read that part about being trapped by dogma a few times.  I guess we shouldn’t be too concerned with other people’s thinking.  But what about listening to wise counsel?  If every wise, respectable, godly person in my life advises me against something, should I still listen to my inner voice?  I know my inner voice and sometimes it’s pretty self-absorbed and short-sighted.

Which brings me to that last idea about following my heart and intuition.  Sometimes my heart and intuition will be on the right track.  But sometimes my heart, my emotions, don’t lead me very well.  Sometimes my heart really, really, really wants something that’s probably not best for me.  OK, something that is definitely not best for me.

The Bible says in Jeremiah that the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. So should I follow that?

See, sometimes my heart and my intuition pull me in one direction that is not the same direction the Lord is leading me.  Sometimes my heart and intuition push me to give up when what I feel called to is too difficult.  So I’m not always sure I can trust my heart and intuition because they may know what I truly want to become, but do they know what my Father has planned for me?

What do you think?  Do you agree with this quote?  Do I think too much?  What background music played in your mind when you read it?

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So That’s What Learning Differences Are!

Some people have strong opinions about the terms learning difference and learning disability. I can certainly understand why some parents and students prefer one term over the other.  I also understand that disabilities get IEPs and school funding and that this particular label can often bring the hope of finally getting some much-needed help.  But often those students who are learning disabled can learn and do learn all sorts of things when they operate under a learning system or style different than the ones commonly used in schools.

I spent a great deal of time last year trying to figure out my son Caleb’s brain.  He was not succeeding in school.  He was struggling to read, struggling to spell, struggling even in math -which he was naturally gifted in!  It was obvious, though, that Caleb was very smart.  Nobody doubted that.  So it seemed that he was not giving school his best effort.

He was not cooperating.  He was a bit lazy.  He needed more discipline.  He didn’t listen well.  He didn’t follow instructions.  He acted silly to get the other students to laugh.  He just hadn’t been taught phonics well enough when he was 5 and 6, so he needed more review of phonics and that would surely solve all the problems. –These are the things we were told about Caleb.

But I knew that it was not as simple as giving more strict discipline and punishment.  I knew we could review phonics the way we had done it before and it wouldn’t make any difference.  I knew he wanted to follow instructions, but there was just some sort of block there.  I knew that even when he listened, he didn’t always get what was being said.  And, even more, I knew that every bit of his self-confidence was peeling away and he was beginning to think he was stupid, a horrible student, unable to learn, and not made for school.  This smart, curious, imaginative boy actually asked if he could just drop out of school and never have to learn to read — because he thought he would never be able to learn to read.

I was calling and emailing friends, Googling facts about learning differences and learning disabilities, reading books and articles, and calling neurologists and educational psychologists and developmental specialists and the local public school department of student assessment.

After a couple visits with a behavioral and developmental specialist whose solution was to label him ADHD and OCD and medicate him, I finally found an educational psychologist who wanted to help us figure out how Caleb learns so we could help him succeed.  He spent several hours in her office on several different days talking to her and doing written assessments and oral assessments. At the end of the process, she mailed me a 12-page summary of Caleb’s assessment results, her observations, and her suggestions for ways to help.

Armed with that information, I spent more time researching and studying and learning ways to help my son succeed in school.  Woven throughout all of this was the information I was learning about strengths development.  And so with my arsenal of ideas and information, Caleb and I began homeschooling last August.

Caleb’s weakest learning style, or I should say the learning style least effective for Caleb, is auditory learning.  He struggles to process auditorily.  He cannot easily break words down into individual sounds.  He just doesn’t hear those individual sounds like I do (and probably like you do).  So all that time we spent instructing him to sound out the words meant absolutely nothing to him.  That’s why spelling is so difficult for him.  If I speak to him a list of three or four things to do, Caleb will have a horrible time remembering everything I said to do.  If you present information to him verbally without including some other senses, chances are he is not learning it.  He is also not a natural visual learner.  He does better with this than he does with verbal instruction, but it is still not a great strength for Caleb.

Most teachers naturally present information verbally and visually.  If a child, like Caleb, struggles to process information verbally and visually, he is at a disadvantage in the classroom.  You could even say he is disabled in a classroom where the standard teaching styles are auditory and visual.

But Caleb’s learning strength is kinesthetic learning.  He is also relatively strong in interpersonal and social learning.  So if Caleb can learn by doing or somehow involve bodily movements in his learning, he will learn far better than if he simply hears a lesson or reviews information aloud or in written form.  If he understands how the information he is learning applies to him and is meaningful to his life, he will learn better.  And if he can work with someone else, as part of a team, he will have a greater chance of success.

I have tried to keep this in mind as I’ve taught Caleb this year (or as we’ve learned together).  We have formed spelling words out of beans and clay.  We’ve done jumping jacks while reciting math facts.  We’ve used LEGOS to practice multiplication and division.  We’ve tossed a ball while answering questions and reviewing facts.  He’s built book reports and fashioned his own graphs and charts for social studies and science.  He’s making a bug book and a chart of the Olympic medal count.  And he has learned some basic spelling guidelines that he understands will help him type a word closely enough to the correct spelling so that SpellCheck can figure it out.

I stopped trying to break words down into individual sounds and started teaching him general principles.  This particular sound is made by these combinations of letters; and if you have to guess one, guess this one. I’ve chosen books that interest him, and he has learned to enjoy reading.  As you would imagine, his reading skills have skyrocketed.  I haven’t done an official grade-level assessment in a long time, but from what I hear when the other third and fourth graders read in his Sunday School (which I am teaching), he seems to be right on-track.

As Caleb began to experience little successes in schoolwork, his confidence began to grow.  As his confidence grew, he experienced more success.  He does not cry at the thought of a book report any more.  I don’t remember the last time I heard him say he was not cut out for school or that he wants to quit.  And the first time he typed an English assignment on the computer and was able to print it with no spelling errors, I thought the boy would burst with pride.

This child wants to learn.  It was my responsibility to figure out how he learns.  Now that we’ve found the key, the world of education is unlocked for Caleb.  It’s not always easy.  He still has to work very hard at some things.  But where he was disabled, he has now become enabled.  All we had to do was figure out his strengths and focus on those rather than spending all our time trying to fix his weaknesses.

I’ll leave you with another quote from Jenifer Fox’s book Your Child’s Strengths

The label disability has as much to do with the setting and the requirements of the setting as it does with the person.  The setting most responsible for the proliferation of the term learning disability is the traditional school. . . . Therefore, schools most willing to depart from the traditional methods used to teach and assess performance will do the greatest service in addressing the issue of learning disabilities.

How do you learn best?  Was your learning style in sync with your teacher’s teaching styles?  What about your children?  Do you have children who do not best learn visually or verbally?  How are they doing in school?  What do you think about this quote from Jenifer Fox?  How much time should be spent on “fixing weaknesses” and how much time should be spent on “nurturing strengths”?  And how does all of this play out at home or in a classroom?

It’s your turn.  I’ve typed enough.

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Strengths

Many months ago, my sister-in-law suggested I buy a book called Strengthsfinder 2.0.  So I did.  I bought the book; I took the online strengths assessment; and thus began my fascination with identifying and nurturing strengths in myself and in my children.

A few weeks ago, I bought a book by Jenifer Fox called Your Child’s Strengths.  I’m reading it slowly, highlighting and stopping to think along the way.  I also find myself talking about strengths to anybody who will listen.

I was reading this book in the back of the theater at my daughter’s play rehearsal last week.  A man, the musical director with wild gray hair, was walking around chatting with different parents.  He approached me and asked what I was reading, so I showed him the cover of the book.  “Oh!” he said, “That sounds like a thinking book.  Why are you reading it?  What’s it about?”

After a couple of minutes, I’m sure he regretted asking.  I told him the general idea of the book, and I was enthusiastically explaining the idea of identifying and developing strengths in our children when I saw him begin to rock from one foot to the other and look around the auditorium with a “How can I get away from this lady?” look on his face.  So I finished off with a quick, “It’s a really good book.”  And I let him escape to a person who can make normal small-talk with strangers.

So rather than holding complete strangers captive to discuss this book, I’d love to talk with y’all about it over the next few days.  I can sip my coffee and type some thoughts here, and you can grab a cup of coffee or hot cocoa and read and comment.  And if you want to buy the book and read along and discuss, that’d be even better!

Ok, for today, I’ll just leave you with a quote from the book —

In some respects, what we label as weakness in children is not a weakness at all — it is simply that the child doesn’t come into the classroom sharing the talent, passion, and learning style of the teacher.  The teacher’s job is certainly made easier if the student comes in already loving the subject and is able to learn it as easily as the teacher did.  This, however, does not make a great teacher.  . . . True teaching talent reveals itself when the teacher struggles to engage students in the process, not giving up until he finds a way to bring about understanding and competence in the student.  I think everyone should read that last sentence a few times.  It says every child can and wants to learn and that it is the teacher’s and the parents’ responsibility to discover how to make that happen.”

What do you think about that?  Do you have a child who has been labeled with a weakness?  How can we discover the key to helping our children learn?

I have some ideas, but I’d love to hear what y’all think.  And I’ll devote another post to the story of my experience with my boys.

Ok, now it’s your turn — comment. 🙂


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Long-Lost Blogger

Hey, look.  The long-lost blogger has returned.  And she might even be noticed by all two or three of you who still read this blog occasionally.

I haven’t really done any writing at all for a while now.  I’ve had plenty of ideas and thoughts swirling around in my head, but I just didn’t have the energy, the discipline, the desire to form those thoughts into complete sentences and send them through my fingers to the keyboard of my computer.

Lately, though, I’ve been wanting to write again.  Needing to write again.  And so, here I am.  Back to this little blog.

At various times, I’ve thought about revamping the whole blog – going with a new name, a new site, a more focused theme.  I know that all the most successful blogs sort of have one overarching theme or sense of direction, a focus.  I suppose I won’t ever have a successful blog because I can’t choose just one theme.  I am too random.

So I’ll still be writing about mothering and about mothering children with differences.  I’ll write about the funny things my children do and the disgusting messes they make.  I’ll write about God and my relationship with Him, my steps forward and my steps back.  I’ll write about serious, thoughtful things, and I’ll write about stuff that doesn’t really matter, like the TV show LOST or my favorite tall black boots.  I’ll write about the weird people I see in Wal-Mart and about learning to love Florida and missing the mountains of West Virginia and Virginia.  I’ll write about belonging and longing to belong (though I won’t try to say that sentence ten times very quickly).  I’ll write about cooking and about trying to keep an apartmentful of children organized.  I’ll write about my life — the good, the bad, the ugly.

And in between all my writing, I want to read what you have to say.  Comment.  Agree.  Disagree.  Share your funny stories.  One-up my kids’ disgusting messes.  Share your recipes and organizational tips.  Make me laugh. Make me cry.  Interact with me, with the other couple of people who read these posts.

Ok, let’s start this long-lost blog back up again.

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