Decision Time

The Twin Cities Marathon is less than a month away. New York Marathon is less than 2 months away. I’ve been (sort of) training all summer….more or less.  OK, less.

I had big plans back in May to have an incredible summer of training, and then life happened. Losing my father really took the wind out of me, and the spring out of my step.  In Joan Didion’s memoir “A Year of Magical Thinking” she writes that when a child loses a parent many times they re-evaluate their life.  This was definitely the case with me.  Anytime I did a high intensity workout I kept thinking, “Why am I doing this? What is the point?” Honestly.  Why am I getting up before the sun…in June and July…to run around in circles and get out of breath?  At one point one reason I did this was for the beauty of eating anything I want, and it was awesome.  But, after turning 40 I’ve noticed that no amount of exercise is going to allow me to eat 3/4 of a pizza at Pizzeria Lola’s along with 2 beers, some side dishes, and ice cream without some consequences in the region of my butt.  Which brings me back to…really, what is the point of a track workout?

Then my hamstring started to hurt.  It doesn’t hurt all the time, just when I would put speed in or sprint up a hill.  Although this is my deficit and area that I need the most help, I cut out track and hill workouts because they hurt. And they are hard.  And I generally hate them.  I added in more miles with friends and some slow long runs through the woods, because those fill my soul and felt good.  20 mile run?  No problem.  Want to meet the next day for 7 miles? See you then.  Track workout…no thank you.

According to my training schedule, which I’ve generally ignored all summer, this is my last hard week of training before the taper. Yet, I don’t feel like I’ve worked on my deficits enough (speed, strength) to even deserve a taper. And so I must make a decision, and soon. Will I race TCM or treat it like a training run for NYC? Will I race either? Perhaps this is the year I just enjoy the sights of both marathons and forget about the time. Will I be satisfied if I don’t push myself?  Maybe running two marathons in less than a month will already push me straight over the edge….

#1 started 8th grade this fall. Its his last year in middle school and soon we will need to make a decision about high school. He attends a small, charter school. It has been a fabulous experience for him thus far and he has the option to stay at the school through high school. Twin Cities Academy High School was just ranked #42 in the country by Newsweek magazine, and the top high school in Minnesota. He has gained confidence, will attempt to write again (something he wouldn’t do in 4th and 5th grade), and has improved his reading skills. The school pushes him in what is hard for him. Why do I falter?

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Because the school is small. Because I don’t know what he will do for advanced math at a small high school (next year he would be taking their most advanced class). Because there is no orchestra and he plays cello. Because there is no robotics club and his favorite thing to do at the state fair is to watch high school robotics competitions. Because there is no cross-country ski team, the sport he has poured himself into year round for the last couple of years. Because, perhaps he needs to spend high school exploring his gifts and his interests instead of grinding away at writing assignments, vocabulary workbooks and reading comprehension exercises.  Because I feel like I made a huge mistake when I moved him to a different school in 1st grade, which I thought would bring out his strengths….but a consequence was a total failure to teach him in his areas of weakness.  

I don’t want to make a bad school choice decision for #1 again.

At his small school there are no cracks for #1 to fall through. There is no place for him to hide. The school is structured to help students achieve in areas that are hard for them and they excel at this. But, what do I do with the kid that needs help, may not (who am I kidding….almost definitely will not) find help at a HUGE public high school, but he has the chance to shine in the areas he is most talented in? His English class in the public high school may be as big as his entire graduating class at his current school? A quiet, well-behaved child with a learning disability doesn’t stand a chance unless they receive A LOT of outside support.

If you need to choose, is it the most important to work on your gifts or your deficits in high school?

Ugh.

I have no idea.

We have until February/March to make our decision. Maybe I’ll string together some friends so I can go on some very, VERY long runs between now and then to process…..work with my gifts or mileage and verbal processing….and leave those hill, track workouts and tempo runs for another year.

Push Me Higher: Remembering My Father

I’ve written about grit on my blog.  Grit has gotten me through a lot.  Today I remember the person who has modeled grit to me my entire life.

 

I will miss my dad.  Forever.

1939-2014

 

When I was a young girl, the house where we lived had a huge Cottonwood tree in the backyard with a swing. I have memories of being filled with glee while getting pushed by my dad, my hair blowing in the breeze. “Higher, Daddy! Push me higher!” I would squeal. He always did. I held on tight during the wild ride, and sometimes he threw in an underdog which made the ride even more thrilling.

My dad worked hard as a computer programmer, salesman, and executive, modeling an incredible work ethic and the importance of treating others with respect. He programmed computers for the Apollo Space Program and worked at the Pentagon during the Vietnam War, although – to the end – he said the details were classified. He traveled the world with the International Sales Division of Univac. In his final occupation he built a successful computer consulting company where he was President, CEO and a mentor to many.

He would tell you he found success in many areas of life because he was, “handsome, debonair, rich, influential, and educated,” which was true. But it was also because he was whip-smart, honest, loyal, determined, helpful, mischievous, and optimistic. He was a character and always put a smile on people’s faces. When people asked him how he was, he would reply, “Bordering on excellent!” He also had a fierce optimism about others, always believing that if he helped out, if he pushed someone a little higher, great things were possible. My dad lived life abundantly and wanted to help others do the same.

One of his favorite places on earth was his and my mom’s cabin on Sand Lake. He remodeled much of the interior (in his signature knotty pine), built beautiful wooden furniture, could fix anything, and was a huge fan of starting blazing campfires with “Boy Scout Juice,” a mixture of old oil and gas. No project was ever too challenging. Most were begun with “Here we go now” and a pumped fist. Anything could be accomplished with hard work, a lot of thought, some tinkering, and the belief that in the end you’d be successful. He did all this to take care of his family and make sure we had a quiet retreat from an increasingly chaotic world. He was always protecting us and always working to give us a good life.

Last fall I ran the Twin Cities Marathon. It was a drizzly day and I didn’t think my dad would be on the course because he had just been released from a short hospital stay. As I approached the highest elevation point on the marathon I saw my family and at the end of the line, my dad. He was there with a huge smile, the same twinkle in his eye, and his fist in the air. His determination had gotten him there to encourage me to challenge myself, to work hard, and to stay optimistic.

He always pushed me higher on that swing in our backyard, and in life. His body is gone, but his spirit will always be with me. I know he will always push me higher, always push me to live life abundantly, and he’ll throw in an underdog at the highest elevation point for an extra thrill.

 

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Not as planned

This year we went to Moab, UT for spring break.  Reservations were made at a great resort and two beautiful campgrounds.  Hikes were plotted out.  Ingredients for s’mores were purchased.  Zip off, quick dry pants were packed for those cool morning but glorious and sunny afternoons.  I even bought incredibly over-priced camp chairs at REI so we could sit next to the campfire and gaze at the awesome stars at Arches National Park.  Lists were made.  Meticulous packing was done.  We’ve been on quite a few epic minivan adventures by this point I was even able to pack all our equipment, clothing and food….AND we could still see out the back window.  After a long and particularly brutal Minnesota winter we were ready to soak in
75 and sunny in the dessert Southwest.

We made it to Golden, Colorado.  Look Mom, no jackets!  Everyone was happy.  We felt warm while outside for the first time since the middle of October.

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Look, Mom, No Jackets!!!!

And then the puking started.  Just #3 at first.  I convinced myself it was altitude sickness.  We ventured on.

As we headed over the mountains and down into the Moab region I checked the updated forecast.  Wind warning? High of 42? Low of 20? I told myself that forecasts change all the time and we weren’t camping for a couple more days.

We headed to our posh resort nestled in the red rocks of the Colorado River.

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We had a beautiful day hiking in the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park.  I even took off my ski hat! And I rolled up my pants!

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A balmy 50 degrees!

And then, as we were packing up to leave the resort and head into Arches for camping, #2 puked.

Perhaps this is not altitude sickness.

But, I had done all that planning.  I had meticulously packed.  I had done everything right!  This cannot be happening.  I thought we were going to be thwarted by the weather, not puke.  18 hours from home, freezing temps, puking kids and what do I do?
Go check in at the campground.
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At least one kid was feeling OK and excited to take on the adventure of camping.
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We are in Arches National Park!
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The others can hike while I comfort #2.

It was a nice thought.

The weather was HORRIBLE and we weren’t allowed to set up our tents until the wind went down, so  we head to the visitor center.  Might as well get junior ranger badges and watch the movie.  #2 was moaning and groaning throughout the movie so I sent him outside and asked #1 to go with him.  #1 took one step out onto the main patio of Arches National Park, during the very busy spring break season….and projectile vomited.  Everywhere.  It was actually impressive.
As we were driving up the winding road I hear a weak voice “stop.” Its #1.  He’s puking.  Again.  In the minivan.  That we still need to drive 18 hours home.
I scrubbed with all my might using the only cleaning products I had available….Purell hand sanitizer and paper towels….while #1 continued to empty his stomach, sitting on the back bumper.
Did I mention the windstorm and freezing temps?  It was amazing that this is what I thought was going to put me over the edge.  The weather, at this point, was a side issue.  There was nothing I could have done to prepare for this.  It was time to just muscle through it.
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At least one child was still pumped to be camping.
With the help of #3 and #4 who sat inside the tents while we set them up (so they wouldn’t blow over the cliff), we got them set up. #1 and #2 were delicately placed in a comfortable sandy area with #1’s head hanging slightly out of the tent.  I made dinner and tried to enjoy the beauty of nature.  #3 and #4 were actually delighted that they were the only two left standing.  So much attention!
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And then, in the middle of the night, while freezing in our tent, I hear that horrible sound.  The sound of a child throwing up, right next to you.  And then I realize something worse….I feel it.
Yup, #4.  Everywhere.  In the tent.  I pick her up, place my hand in front of her mouth to stop the next waves and somehow get the screen door open.  Dad runs to the car to get, you guessed it, Purell and paper towels.  Its still all we’ve got.
I’m in uncharted territory here.
And then it snowed.  Well, at least I know how to deal with snow, sleet and freezing temps.  I’ve had 6 months of this weather non-stop.
 IMG_0389In the morning we packed up as fast as we could and headed to town.  The children learned the valuable skill of how a laundromat works and the benefits of finding one next to a cafe.  And then we booked a Hummer tour on the petrified sand dunes.  “Might as well do something where puking is acceptable” was my reasoning.
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The puking was behind us, but not recovery time or freezing temps.  We camped one more night, which happened to be WAY colder than the first night of camping and then found a hotel before heading back to Denver.As I’ve been psychologically recovering from our non-vacation I have been thinking that this vacation is sometimes how I feel about raising children with learning disabilities.  I quit my career to stay at home with them.  I read parenting books.  I read to them every single day.  I kept them away from a lot of screen time.  We went to the children’s museum.  We went to ECFE.  I did everything I thought I was supposed to be doing.

And guess what.  They failed 1st grade.  Impressively and with gusto.  This is not what I had planned.

It’s heart wrenching to try and figure out what you could have done differently when you have a child that fails in school.  Did I read to them too much?  Too little?  Did I put them in the wrong school?  Should we have moved to the suburbs? Should I have kept working and put them in day care? Should I have drilled them in their letters when they were 2?  Should I have played with them more?

But, as with camping with puking children…..I just didn’t see it coming.  And, there is no way to know how to react in the situation until you are actually in it.  Eventhough it’s my third time through 1st grade with a child who hasn’t learned to read I am still caught off guard when I look around his classroom and see all the wonderful growth that his peers have made, and I realize my child has made none.

So, I muscle through.  And to think I spent years thinking that the hesitant personalities of #1 and #2 and the boisterous personality of #3 would be my biggest issues.  They are side issues so much of the time, but certainly make the situation more difficult….just as the weather made everything more difficult on our spring break “experience.”  But I can say with confidence, as a young parent, I never saw reading problems coming.

I continue to read out loud books my children enjoy.  I encourage hard work, yet look for places they can excel with ease.  I realize its OK to grieve the loss I feel when they can’t read and how hard the road ahead with be, but smile about all the things they are great at.

In other words, I book the Hummer tour and try to enjoy the place we are at.  I realize I didn’t do anything to bring the stomach flu with us to Utah, but I can buy new camping mats and Lysol.

Then, as we were stuck in a traffic jam in the middle of Iowa farm country because of an overturned semi….from the backseat of the minivan comes “Mommy, I just pooped!  EVERYWHERE!!!!!”  It was time to just break into uncontrollable giggles and call a professional to help with cleanup in the morning.

True story.

Dear School District……I have a rebuttal.

On Feb 11, 2014, at 3:57 PM, SAINT PAUL PUBLIC SCHOOLS wrote:

Dear Saint Paul Public Schools Families,

Saint Paul Public Schools and the leadership of the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers – the union that represents teaching staff in your child’s school – have been negotiating the terms of our teachers’ next employment contract since May of last year. That contract outlines wages, benefits, and other work-related issues. The purpose of this letter is to inform you that the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers has scheduled – on Monday, February 24, 2014 – a vote asking its 3,200 teacher members to decide whether or not to authorize a strike.

We want you to know that if the teachers union votes to strike:

  • Your child’s PreK-12 classes will be canceled at all Saint Paul Public Schools for the duration of the strike. This might be one day, one week, or longer.
  • Before and after-school childcare, Discovery Club, Early Childhood Family Education and Community Education programs will not be held.
  • Your summer plans could be impacted. Classes for K-12 students could extend into summer to make up for lost instructional time. Summer school (S-Term) dates would need to be rescheduled.
  • The district would be unable to provide any food service for your child.
  • If a strike lasts more than a few days, it will likely have an impact on Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs) scheduled for April 2014.
  • All teachers, school staff and district staff will be affected. Many staff members, including teachers, will not be paid during the strike.

And…my response:

Dear Ms. Silva,

     This e-mail was very insulting to me.  I have e-mailed you in the past with my concerns about St. Paul Public Schools and I have never received a response from you.  One e-mail was just last week when my child was denied an assessment for special education even though he is behind 1st grade benchmarks, is labeled gifted and talented, has been formally diagnosed with dyslexia and dysgraphia, and I put my formal request in writing.
     I support the teachers in this conflict.  There are NO RESOURCES to help my child learn to read.  NONE.  My child’s 1st grade teacher has a large classroom with a huge range of cognitive and emotional needs.  She is an amazing teacher.  She cares deeply about each student in her classroom and wants to meet all of their individual needs.  To help my dyslexic child learn to read she was handed a curriculum she has never seen before and told to individually teach him.  This is wrong and unfeasible but there is no other option.  How can she teach all the children if so much is demanded of her to teach one.  Other children’s needs are just as important as my child’s, but there just aren’t enough teachers to help.  There are no reading specialists at my child’s school…..and the district denied my written request for a special education assessment, leaving the classroom teacher as the only option.  If his classroom was smaller, much smaller, it may be possible for the classroom teacher to teach him individually with the type of intense intervention he needs.  But, the classroom isn’t small.  Because of your policies, it’s large.  My life, the life of my 1st grader, and the career of his teacher is effected every single day because of this reality…..but I should worry that his Community Ed. class is cancelled?
     Because of your policies my child and his amazing teacher have been set up to fail, but you are telling me my concern should be that he can’t take a standardized test…which would only show me that my child is failing to learn and no one in your district is able to help him.  Parents are stressed, teachers are stressed, children are stressed….but I need to worry that his unhealthy breakfast in a plastic bag won’t be available to him.
     I want nothing more than for St. Paul to have strong schools for ALL children.  This is why I’m siding with the teachers.  I am willing to have my life disrupted for however long it takes for the school board and you to sit down with the negotiating team and work out your differences.  During my 12 1/2 years with a child in this district (I started with ECFE in 2001) I have only seen the situation for students and teachers get worse and worse.  I worry on a DAILY BASIS about how my children are going to read and write.  DAILY…and many times at 3:00 AM.  Administration has never been of any help.  I have been shut down time and time again.  My life has been disrupted enormously because of failed policies in your district.  I have homeschooled.  I have changed schools.  I have tutored my children.  I have had heart wrenching meetings.  I have had to look at test results that show them in the bottom percentages of the district.  I have put my oldest children in charter schools.  I constantly worry about their future.  And because teachers want to make the educational environment better for children you send me an e-mail telling me to worry about after school programs.  When are you going to worry about my children not learning how to read and write?  When are you going to worry about their crushed self-esteem?  When are you going to worry about my feeling of helplessness?
     Don’t tell me I need to worry about breakfast, lunch, and vacations.  Thanks, but I can handle those things.  Easily.  Actually, feeding my child is my job.  Figuring out summer vacation is my job.  Teaching my children how to read and write….that is your job.  And, so far with my children you are 0/3 on fulfilling your responsibility of teaching them the basics.
     I want to thank Mary Doran, chair of the school board, for reaching out to me last week to share her personal story.  I appreciated her taking the time to listen, really listen, to my concerns.  I do have hope that things will change in St. Paul Public Schools.  The conversation I had with her was heartwarming and I felt listened to.  This was the first time in many years I felt listened to in St. Paul Public Schools by anyone except a teacher.
     The e-mail that the district sent, however, took away much of that good feeling.  Again, the district is not listening to what parents are saying, just proving talking points.
     I speak for many when I say the parents are sick of the talking points.  It’s time to really listen.  Listen to parents.  Listen to teachers.  Listen to the children.  Don’t assume you know what is best.

Connect

“OMG.  Sorry for the verbal vomit for approximately 6.5 miles. I feel better now.  Thanks for listening and caring.”

Above is a text I send all too often to my running partner at 6:45 AM after a therapeutic run.  It’s amazing how much better I feel after getting it all out and leaving it behind on the pavement (or 4 inches or snow and ice).  My running partner doesn’t normally attempt to solve my problems, but she does show up at my house before dawn, listens and then gets me laughing by the end of the run.  In other words….she is there for me physically, emotionally and at many times….to remind me of logic.  I no longer feel alone in my struggle and sometimes that makes all the difference.

Last week I went to a workshop at Grove’s Academy about helping your child with anxiety.  I was quietly hoping there would be a cash bar in the back of the auditorium to help all of us parents dealing with an anxious child.  No cash bar, but there was good information, thoughtful philosophical parenting ideas, and Cheetos.

There is so much to go into concerning anxiety.  I will only touch the tip of the iceberg and talk about 2 takeaway ideas from the workshop.  I also don’t want to simplify something that is so difficult for people.  I know so many people are hurting because they or someone they love suffers from severe anxiety and have tried these simple steps a million times.  The social worker who spoke at the conference was very insistent that these examples will work when the child is suffering from stress, not an anxiety disorder, which needs professional help.

The first was a stress scale.  A stress scale looks basically like a pain rating scale

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This is used as a communication tool with your child.  When you see them becoming stressed about something, this can be a tool to help the child communicate and understand how to deal with the problem.

0-2: Push through the feeling.  Get the job done.

4-6: Child gets to choose if they push through the feeling or calm themselves down.

8-10: Get control and calm down.  This is not a time to solve the problem.

If your child is at an 8-10, do not try to solve the problem!  Wow.  This was incredible and eye opening to me.  How many times have I said, “Ok, time to do your homework (or practice violin, or read out loud, or set the table……).” and I was met with a tantrum.  Screaming.  Pulling hair.  Stomping.  A regular chorus is, “I hate violin!  I’m horrible!!!!!”

What do I normally do? Basically my insides churn, my adrenaline kicks in and my internal monologue goes, “There is NO WAY I’m letting you win just because you are having a temper tantrum.  NO WAY.  You can’t complain and get out of something….or else you will complain about EVERYTHING in hopes of getting out of it.”

And then I flip out.

Really awesome parenting happens when you are screaming “YOU CAN’T SCREAM ABOUT THINGS ALL THE TIME IN THIS HOUSE!!!!!!”

Instead of 1 anxious person, we now have 2.  You can determine who was the first anxious person.

You job as the parent is to help your child understand how they feel on the inside and act on the outside to coincide with the different numbers.  With a stress scale, your child determines if they are going to solve the problem or take a break and get calm.  When there is too much stress, problems do not get solved.

The second takeaway was the vital importance of a solid and well-connected relationship with your child.  This is true for any child, of course, but becomes more challenging with an anxious child.  When you child begins to push (see above) don’t push back.  When your child screams “I can’t do my math!!!” do NOT ask a “why” question.  Why questions, or any question your child can answer beginning with the word “because” only gets your child more stuck.  The because is endless…..

because its hard.

because I don’t understand it.

because I hate math.

because I’m horrible at everything.

because my teacher doesn’t like me.

because I forgot it.

The only thing this is accomplishing is the parent getting more frustrated, the child spiraling further into stress and the homework is not getting done.  The child continues to beat himself up, when he already felt like a failure to begin with.  An angry parent only makes it worse. (this is the point in the presentation where I really needed that drink!)  Here was a core belief the presenter shared, and one that I also believe in:

Children want to please their parents.

If the child is struggling in school and the parent gets upset, its a double whammy.  In their mind they are failing at school and failing at home.  This is not the recipe for a healthy self-esteem and endurance to try hard when faced with difficulty.

A child who struggles in school already feels bad about the subjects that are hard for him/her.  I see this on a daily basis with #2.  He doesn’t need me to remind him that things are hard by asking a “why” question….he is reminded by how hard school is constantly throughout the day.

A better question when #2 screams “I can’t do my math!” would be, “Can you tell me what you don’t like about it?”

I’m not solving the problem.  Quite the opposite actually, I’m validating.  I’m letting him know its OK that something is hard.  I’m here to listen.  I’m here to care.  The homework will come later, after he has calmed down (that will happen, right?).  But first step, let him know his feelings are OK, it,s safe to let his ugly emotions out, and I will be at his side the entire time.

As I’ve written about before, one of the most important things when parenting a dyslexic child is to listen.

I are their strongest support in a world where they don’t fit into all the time.  School is hard enough. Its my goal to make home a place where they do fit in, a place they feel connected and understood.

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Quirks, tantrums and all.

Just please don’t as me to listen at 5:15 in the morning, I’ll be out on a run.

Small Steps

This is my second winter attempting to skate ski.  Each time I head out to the trails I filled with anticipation, excitement and an ample amount of dread.  Last weekend I was out on a local golf coarse skate skiing with #1.  For awhile he was behind me and I would randomly hear (I’m sure there was some reason for it….but to me it was random) commands such as:

“Mommy, V1!”

“V2!”

“I said V2!”

“V2 Alternate!!!! Mommy….are you listening?  V2 Alternate!”

Quickly #1 became frustrated with me and I heard him coming up to my side.  He looked at me and mutters, “Do you realize that you are supposed to put your poles down at a specific time and not just randomly?”  He then takes off fast enough to insure I do not catch up to him.  Mothers are already really embarrassing when you are a 7th grader…they are infinitely more embarrassing when your mother is clueless and flailing on skis…in public…with other people around…that you know.

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#1 showing some speed around a curve.

When I’m out on my skate skis I’m literally just trying to continue some sort of forward momentum, making sure my poles don’t actually hit my skis, praying I don’t have a heart attack, and wondering what crazy person invented a sport where you are supposed to glide up a hill on long slippery sticks.  Trying to figure out what my poles are supposed to do based on the terrain and speed completely overwhelms me.  I have enough things in my life that frustrate and challenge me, why am I taking on a sport that is so frustrating and challenging?

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This is me….struggling up a teeny-tiny slope, I can’t even call it a hill.  
(It’s OK if you laugh at the horrible form.  It’s truly awful.)

This week Gabrielle Giffords had an inspiring editorial in the New York Times, “The Lessons of Physical Therapy.”

In it she write, “It’s gritty, painful, frustrating work, every day. Rehab is endlessly repetitive. And it’s never easy, because once you’ve mastered some movement or action or word, no matter how small, you move on to the next. You never rest.”

This is how I feel so often raising three children with dyslexia.  The moment I feel like one child is on the right track I turn my head and realize that another child needs more support.  When I spend time advocating at one school, I realize I haven’t talked to the teachers at another school enough.  If they aren’t struggling on a writing assignment, there is a large history project, or a science fair project, or a book report, or a spelling list….   When I feel like I’ve made some progress with advocating for #3, I realize just how much more I have to overcome in order to get him the help he deserves. When one small thing is mastered by one child, I don’t get a break, I move on to the next challenge without a pause.

It’s overwhelming.  It’s daunting. It makes me want to crawl back into bed.

However, Gabbie Giffords goes on to talk about how her resolve to achieve great things with her physical therapy are a bit like her resolve to achieve great things with gun control.  She writes:

“Our fight is a lot more like my rehab. Every day, we must wake up resolved and determined. We’ll pay attention to the details; look for opportunities for progress, even when the pace is slow. Some progress may seem small, and we might wonder if the impact is enough, when the need is so urgent.

But every day we will recruit a few more allies, talk to a few more elected officials, convince a few more voters. Some days the steps will come easily; we’ll feel the wind at our backs. Other times our knees will buckle. We’ll tire of the burden. I know this feeling. But we’ll persist.”

Do a little more each day.  Wake up determined.  I love this.  It can be applied to so many challenges we face in life.

When raising children with dyslexia it’s very easy to get bogged down and overwhelmed by the big picture.  There are so many roadblocks to success.  Schools don’t help.  Teachers aren’t trained.  Administrators are overwhelmed with other problems.  There is no funding. Blah, blah, blah.

I can’t solve all the problems surrounding educating dyslexic children in one day.  But I can do something each day to make a difference in the lives of my children and hopefully make the path easier for others in the process.  In 2014 I’m resolving to do 1 thing each day to learn more, advocate, or help someone effected by dyslexia.  Before I know it, if I continue to work hard, and continue to gain allies, there will be enough change that it has made a difference in the lives of children with dyslexia.

And in the meantime, I’ll focus on being able to skate ski without my knees knocking together.  The poles…and all that V-something stuff…will need to wait.

Listen

The morning of the marathon my running partner dropped her husband (running dude) and me off near the starting line.  She was not running this year because of an injury and we found ourselves alone without our caretaker and guide.

“Time to get our watches on I suppose” said running dude.

With a panicked look in my eye I turned to him and said, “I forgot mine.”

“YOU FORGOT IT?!?!” says running dude in a squeak, his eyes flashing a feeling of panic that he trying to hide.

This was bad.  I had trained all summer to run a certain speed.  I’m a slightly erratic runner and pace is a little bit of a problem.  Also, running like I was shot out of a cannon or like a racehorse is sometimes my style, and this is not the way to start a marathon.  I knew exactly what pace I was supposed to run to qualify for the Boston Marathon, but now I would have no idea if I was going to fast (and running the risk of crashing around mile 22) or going too slow for the cutoff.

After awhile of rising blood pressure, and a moment of “what would my running partner do?” I said, “You know, I think it will be fine.  I no longer will have something on my wrist pressuring me to go faster or slower.  I won’t be looking at it every minute and feeling bad that I’m not going the right speed.  I won’t get into my head with negative thoughts and panic.  I can just go out there, listen to the music, listen to my body and run.”

Before we had to line up we said our good-byes, wished each other luck and took a deep breath together….hoping the next time we saw each other we’d both be happy at the finish line and not in a first aid station along the way.

As I stood in my coral waiting to start people started turning on their pace watches and waiting for the satellite signals to kick in.  Panic started rising in me again as I wondered how I was going to have any idea if I was going the correct speed. Right before my coral started, and I started at the open streets of Minneapolis, I silently meditated:

Listen.

Run to the beat.

Listen.

Your running partner will guide you with the music.

Listen.

Your body will carry you.

Listen.

And with that, I was off to run the marathon.  The first song on my playlist started and it was “Easy on Sunday Morning” by Lionel Richie.  Hilarious.  I started at a nice easy pace, looked down at the pavement, and eased into the run while people were flying by me at a sprint.  Instead of joining in, I listened…..

And so it goes with raising children. Throughout my parenting journey I have discovered that listening to my children is many times the most important thing I can do.  I had to listen to #1 and #2 struggle to know it was time to figure out what was going on with their learning.  I had to listen to #2’s signals which told me his elementary school was failing him.  While I was homeschooling him I had to listen very closely to his signals.  I didn’t have any test scores telling me if he was progressing, I had to listen to his progress.  Sometimes I think test scores are like a pace watch.  We don’t listen to students, we simply wait for the score and adjust.  This feedback is helpful and necessary at times, but harmful when its the only thing you rely on.  I had also listened to his signals and decided he was ready to try going to a more traditional school again.

When #1 was having a very difficult time at his elementary school I had a series of meetings with teachers and administrators.  Every time I met with them they would have a stack of papers containing various test scores.  They would throw out numbers and tell me everything was fine. Because I am his mother, and I was listening to his signals I knew things weren’t fine.  Finally I said, “Has anyone in this room ever listened to him read? Just sat down and listened?” I received blank stares.  I was furious.  In the room was his classroom teacher of almost 2 years and his reading specialist of almost 2 years.  I had been raising concerns for 5 years about his reading progress and NO ONE had ever simply listened to him read a paragraph.  Everything they were telling me was based on a number that was spit out of a computer. They had never listened to what I was telling them or what #1 was telling them.

Ridiculous.

I replied, “I think if you listened to him read this would be a different conversation.  There are 6 adults here, perhaps someone could find 5 minutes to listen to him and then we can meet again in a week.”

Later that week the classroom teacher did listen to him, and she was shocked…..he couldn’t read anywhere near grade level. She said she had no idea.  However, it was nearing the end of 5th grade and the said there wasn’t much they could do that year.  They suggested lots of tutoring and summer school so he could improve over the summer and hopefully 6th grade would be better, but offered no help from the school.  I listened for solutions and signals that things would change, and there were none.  I took this as my exit sign.  Through listening, I heard it was time to get out.

I told them I was officially done with the school and they had failed two of my children.  Because they had refused to listen, they had failed.

Sometimes steps can be hard and painful, such as leaving your community and friends, but sometimes the best thing you can do is listen to what your environment is telling you.

And so it went with the marathon.

There I was, going around the lakes in Minneapolis.  I had no idea what my pace was and I was caught in the middle of the pack.  I definitely knew I wasn’t going too fast, that was for sure.  But, I was enjoying the run and not worried about my time because I had no clue what it was!  After some slow songs the tempo started to pick up.  When “Girl on Fire” came on, I knew this was the signal from my running partner that it was OK for me to go for it.  A couple miles later along the Mississippi River I heard “Have You Got It In You?” My answer was yes, as I started passing more and more people.  As I entered my home turf of St. Paul for the homestretch down Summit Ave. where I would see many friends and family the song “Don’t Stop Believin'” was playing.  Suddenly a good friend from from my running group I call Team Varsity ran out and screamed “You’ve got this! Oh my god!  Just go!”  Around mile 24, during “The Rockafeller Skank” my beloved running partner was at the side of the road jumping up and down and screaming “You’ve got this baby!”  I couldn’t believe my body was telling me to go faster.  I still had no idea my time, and every step seemed to be taking increasing energy, but my body was telling me I had enough in me to get to the end, especially if I got there quickly.

mile 25

A friend took of picture of me running up the last hill of the coarse at mile 25.  I think the smile was gratefulness that I knew I wouldn’t have to climb another hill and I could sit down soon.

And then I was across the finish line.  I still had no idea my time, or what pace I had run, but it was over.  Soon I got a call from my running partner who said, “You did it! That was pretty amazing.”  Hearing her excitement was music to my ears.

Later that day my official results were in.  I had run an average pace of 8:30, the exact speed I planned to run, with negative splits through the marathon.  My time was 3:42:40, Boston Qualifying by a hair.

I had listened to my body.  Listened to the music.  Listened to my friends.  Proof that amazing things can happen when you listen to the signals around you.

Questioning Summer

It’s July.  Summer is in full swing.  In July is when my marathon training really kicks in for the Twin Cities Marathon.  Soon I will be breathing a sigh of relief when I “only” run 15 miles early on a Saturday morning.  This is the third summer I have trained for the TCM.  I have yet to make it through an entire summer without some sort of major injury that sidelines me for months.  So far this summer, I am still feeling good.  The past 9 months I ran 3-4 times a week pretty consistently and found two new sports that I love and wish I had more time to pursue, yoga and skate skiing.  Because of yoga and skiing, my body is stronger than its ever been which has helped me a lot so far this marathon season, yet I remain anxious about an injury.

When I am running alone my brain doesn’t stop thinking, “Is that an injury? Or that? What about that?” THE ENTIRE TIME.  When I’m not obsessing about every little tweak I feel turning into a major injury I’m thinking, “Can I actually run a marathon again? Can I run it faster? Perhaps I should not worry about the time.  Maybe I shouldn’t run the marathon.  If I think this 14 mile run is tough what am I going to do when its 26.2? Why am I doing this to myself? Who do I think I am? When did I decide I was a runner? Am I lying to myself?”  No wonder I get exhausted.

Last weekend I was out on a country road alone and wanted to get my long run over with because my brain wouldn’t turn off (see above), even when I started singing Beatles songs to myself.  I slipped into a long stride which allows me to run pretty fast with many less steps.  It only took about 5 minutes before I felt the scar tissue in my upper hamstring remind me that this stride doesn’t work for my body.  My brain immediately flooded back to September, 2011 and I could picture a particularly painful 10 mile run that good friends dragged me along on (at my request!) before I decided the marathon just wasn’t going to happen for me that year because of the severe pain. The memory of that injury is always looming and I can feel myself hold back because of the fear of re-injury.  When I’m alone, I can never truly run free and enjoy the meditation of running….I have too much fear of what is to come that continually cycles through my inner-monologue.

This sort of anxious-anticipation-while-doing-something-you-love must be how summer break feels for a profoundly dyslexic child.

All of my children are completely immersed in summer.  Sports, camps, swimming lessons, afternoons with friends, trips to the cabin, planning our summer vacation to Yellowstone, lazy days flipping through the Guinness Book of World Records for the one billionth time, playing Monopoly with your siblings and flipping the board across the room when you land on Boardwalk (and you don’t own it, but your big brother does, with hotel)…..  #1, #2 and #3 all worked very hard in school this year to overcome their many challenges and made great strides.  I thought I would do more academic work with them this summer, but I quickly discovered we all needed a break from phonics, handwriting, writing assignments, spelling and splitting words into syllables.

We have all been enjoying the break from syllable division and flashcards.

It’s possible to almos relax and forget how hard academic work is September-May….almost.  Dyslexia pops up nearly every day, sometimes when we least expect it.  The library reading program now requires children to write a book review, not just the name of the book.  Great idea, but not for my boys.  It takes them almost as long to write a short paragraph as it does for them to read the entire book.  None of us wanted to deal with the tears of forced writing assignments in the summer.  A camp counselor called to discuss #2’s journalling project during a week of nature/science camp.  #1 receives e-mails from friends and has a hard time responding without his mother to help with spelling.  #3 is asked to read and write something at his piano lesson.  Although dyslexia is not at the forefront of our lives in the summer and things are going pretty smooth, the anxiety and frustration are still there and I can see the anticipation on their faces when they are entering a new situation.

I’m continually wondering if I’m doing too much, or too little, or not the right approach, or the right approach but not enough of it, or too many camps, or too few, or the wrong camps, or enforcing reading too much, or perhaps not enough, and what about writing, and should we be doing math worksheets?  Exhausting.

Yesterday I stumbled across this article, Summer Fun, by Kyle Redford on the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity site.  He writes:

“Balance is important to all children, but one could argue that it is particularly important when a child feels that his life has been hijacked by a learning disability.  The amount of time, energy and thought aimed at coping with dyslexia is significant. Since dyslexics spend nine months out of the year grappling with difficult school tasks that frequently lead to despair, summer is a relished opportunity to refuel and recharge.  Summer vacation is also an important time for a child to pursue activities that are fun and fulfilling, not frustrating.”

The article also has great tips about inspiring reading in your children during the summer that I was really happy to see we already do.  Listen to audiobooks! Listen to NPR!  Listen to RadioLab!!!!  We have been doing plenty of science this summer since #2 and I started a vegetable garden at the end of May and everyone has been pitching in to help.  #3 found milkweed in our yard this week and has been anxiously waiting for Monarch Butterflies to visit.  But the article also brought out my anxiety again.  Tutors? Special camps for dyslexic students? Academic remediation? Should I be focusing more on those flashcards and syllables this summer? Oh the doubt.  Where is that crystal ball I wish I could look in to see 10 years down the road and know if I’m doing the right thing.

Perhaps the summer is like the off-season of my running and the school year is the training.  Summer is the time to keep up with your skills without exhausting yourself.  Summer is the time to figure out new things you can do and feel good about.  Summer is the time to enjoy what you are good at, not to reinforce the things that are hard.

So, they will continue to work in the vegetable garden,

Megan in vegetable garden

see how far they can jump off a diving board,

Eddie jumping in pool

build their dreams,

Leonardo's Basement Rocket

experiment in the kitchen,

Leonardo's Basement Test Kitchen

and fish with their grandparents.

Fishing at Sand Lake

Near the end of the article it states, “Educating a child with dyslexia is a marathon, not a sprint.”

At least I’ve picked the right sport to carry me through this journey.

 One less thing to question.

A Balanced Approach

#2 and I have been working a lot on his Russian history project that I talked about in a preview post.  He has been enjoying learning about czars, communism, the Cold War and practicing writing verbs in the past tense with the -ed suffix.  It’s amazing how quickly he can understand the big picture of history and political systems, and how slowly he remembers that even though he hears a /t/ sound on a verb, the suffix is -ed. (Will it ever cement in his brain?)

Tonight an interesting editorial was posted in the New York Times, Defining My Dyslexia.  The author talks about his own experience as a person with dyslexia, beginning with the labels that other children gave to him.  #1 and #2 have experience with being teased and labeled by classmates and peers as stupid, idiot, retarded, etc.

Currently there is a lot of discussion in the “dyslexia world” about defining dyslexia as a gift.  Books, conferences, and websites are devoted to discussing the upside of dyslexia….as though the negative doesn’t exist or is a side note.  I find this approach slightly nauseating when I am sitting for the thousandth hour correcting the direction of a “b” for #2,watching #1 struggle with writing a paragraph or seeing #3 unable to sound out the word cat.  Yes, I believe dyslexia is a gift for my children at times, but sometimes I want to mark the gift “return to sender” and shove it out the window.  I know that  reframing it has its time and place, but maybe a balanced approach is best.

For years I listened to teachers and administrators talk exclusively about #1’s gifts, as though being in 4th-5th grade and barely able to read, write and spell is just a side note of little importance.  I was told he was of above-average intelligence (directly after they told me how intelligent and advanced in math he is) and so if he is reading slightly below average, that’s not really a big deal….it was my job to remember his gifts and forget about the things that are hard for him.  I was told not to worry about the areas he struggles in.  I was told he doesn’t have a disability because he is good at math.  Huh?

I was glad to find someone else that thinks only focusing on the gifts of dyslexia is short sighted.  The author wrote:

“Not a disability? My years of functional illiteracy suggest otherwise. Today’s educational environment exacerbates dyslexic weaknesses….Until these disadvantages are removed, “disability” most accurately describes what young dyslexics confront.”

I just wonder how many of the educators that told me not to worry have spent hours with their upper elementary children trying to help them write one paragraph….just one…only to have the parent and child end up in tears because the task is impossible.  Have they ever sat down to do a science project and realized their child can’t read the directions for the assignment, let alone read any books for the research portion of the project? How many of those educators have had to open envelopes with standardized test scores that show your child is not only below average, but at the bottom of the district and state for reading and no one in the school seems to care.

But, I was told not to worry each time I brought up my concerns.  “He just isn’t a kid that is going to read well because he likes math.”  This was a constant refrain and it made no sense to me.  “Remember all the things he is good at.  Your job is to focus on those things.” It’s terrifying to think what would have happened if I would have left him in a school that ignored his needs while his peers pointed out his weaknesses.

The article continues, “Those affected by unjust diagnoses — like those affected by unjust laws — should protest and help redefine them….I believe that scientific evidence and social observation will continue to show that defining dyslexia based solely on its weaknesses is inaccurate and unjust, and places too grim a burden on young people receiving the diagnosis. A more precise definition of dyslexia would clearly identify the disabilities that go along with it, while recognizing the associated abilities as well. If the dyslexic community could popularize such a definition, then newly diagnosed dyslexics would realize that they, like everyone else, will face their futures with a range of strengths and weaknesses.”

So true.  A balanced approach.  Fight for it.  Your child depends on it.

Reframing it

It is almost time to begin training for the Twin Cities Marathon in earnest.  I’ve been looking over Hal Higdon’s training guides and trying to decide which option would be best for this year.  I’ve been doing a lot of thinking: What is my goal?  Fast? Just get it done? No injury? Boston Qualifying? Run as fast as I possibly can?  Stick with my much more experienced (and smarter) running partner? All the above?

There will be times when I’m mad that I’m training for the marathon.  I will want to go out late on a Friday, but I know I have to run 18 miles the next morning.  The two don’t mix.  I will be running when its way too hot and humid to rationally run, but the training guide says I must and there is no end in sight for the heat wave.  I won’t want to get up at 4:55 AM.

But, I will remind myself the entire time….I get to do this.  I’m the lucky one.  My body let’s me do this.  My husband supports me doing this.  My lifestyle allows me to run.  I have wonderful friends to run with who encourage and challenge me.  I get to.

This is the rationale I’ve been turning to lately with raising children with dyslexia and especially homeschooling.  It’s May.  The weather is finally nice.  I feel like I’m on those last couple weeks of marathon training when your body is so tired and you are crossing your fingers you don’t get injured.  I have worked so hard for so long and I’d like to be done for awhile.  Homeschooling #2 is not easy for me.  It’s nothing I thought I’d ever do.  And just when I think we are getting somewhere….that there is light at the end of the tunnel….that some spelling is really sinking in and that -ed ending is cementing…I get the following text from #2 (sent from my mom’s phone):

text

Are you kidding me?!?!?  GUST? PAST? YORE?  Can someone tell me how this sentence passed autocorrect? Where is Siri when you need her?

OK, I’ll give him yore….at least he got the vowel-consonant-e concept we’ve worked so hard on.  And the g/j sound is really hard for him. He needs to learn it to 100% accuracy and obviously we need to review.  BUT PAST?!?! No -ed suffix? It’s what we’ve worked on for 6 weeks!

Forget it.  Running a marathon, no make that an ultra-marathon, up a mountain, in elevation, on a really skinny path, is easier than this.  I’m a total failure of a teacher and parent.

I believe this is what they call “hitting the wall” in marathon terms.

It was time to dig deep.

There are two types of perspectives you can take when thinking about dyslexia; the deficit perspective or the strength perspective.  I was stuck in the deficit perspective.  The end of the school year is approaching and I’m stuck thinking of all the things that are incredibly hard for #2.  Spelling, reading speed, reading comprehension, writing, slow processing speed, math facts, sports, coordination, physical strength, attention, musical note reading, holding that darn violin bow straight…..I could go on and on.  It was (and is) bogging me down and it must be bogging #2 down too.

It’s time for me to re-frame. For myself I need to remember that I get to homeschool.  My life life work and personal background has lead me to this.  I am strong.  I am capable.  I get to be my child’s teacher.  I get to.

For #2 I need to help him reframe his dyslexia.  (#1 and #3 are also dyslexic, but they have different strengths.)  He gets to be dyslexic.  He gets to have dynamic reasoning.  He gets to be an intuitive thinker.  He gets to have the same strengths as Albert Einstein and Wolfgang Mozart (both dyslexic).  He gets to have vision about a complex process.  He gets to be good at connecting the dots and spotting patterns.  His diffuse attention is building creativity. His creativity is especially valuable in situations that are changing or ambiguous.  A high percentage of his type of dyslexics are in the following careers: entrepreneur, chief executive, finance, geology, physics, business consulting, economics, medicine (immunology, rheumatology, endocrinology, oncology), farmer, and construction. (Information from The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain)

He gets to be profoundly dyslexic.

I get to be his teacher and parent. I get to  help unlock his wonderful brain. I get to.