When my oldest was tiny it was pretty clear to us and others that she was a bright child. She quickly picked up on the sign language signs I taught, bobbed with rapt attention at her Baby Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven videos, chatted incessantly, and was anxious to engage the world around her in meaningful ways (like staring people down until they made eye contact with her). As new parents, my husband I anxiously looked for signs that our little bit was the second coming of Einstein, purchasing flash cards to help bolster her language skills, reading to her frequently, and offering educational programming sure to stimulate her latent genius genes. She gave us a bone here and there, gave us hope that our first born would be the next great child whiz, but nothing too astounding.
Because this stay-at-home mama needed a break from Miss Crazy High Energy, High Demand, Blondie went first a friend’s house two days a week, then to mother’s day out (MDO) the following year, where she thoroughly stressed out one of the teachers in her two year old class. Why? Simply put: the child would not nap. No, no, she insisted on being up and about during nap time, bothering the other kids and continuing to explore. The other room teacher was happy to take my active toddler to the office to make copies or walk her around through the hallways if it kept her quiet. The other teacher, however, would have none of that. She was an older woman with a military background who had had her one son, her golden child, later in life. My fair-haired square peg refused to fit into the round hole this teacher expected her to. Much to the chagrin of said teacher, Blondie fell fast asleep the moment we walked in the house. She was a champion napper for me (praise be!)!
Her strong will and quick wit made feeding, potty training, and getting her out of her crib into a different bed a real challenge. Try as I might to get her to sit in a high chair to eat, she just wouldn’t have it. Until she was too heavy for it, I had to sit her in a doorway jumper and let her bounce and spin to her heart’s content in order to get food in her body.
I was certain she knew when she needed to use the toilet by the time she was two, maybe 2 and a half, but did that matter? No. The more frustrated I got, the more she dug her heels in. Finally, as I was heading into the third trimester of my second pregnancy, a therapist I was seeing at the time while trying to deal with my mom’s sudden death suggested I “ask” dear daughter if she “wants” to be potty trained. That was the most ridiculous thing I’d ever heard, but it worked, from that day forward, it worked. The only time we ever had another problem with toilet issues was right after baby number two showed up to usurp her place as “The Baby,” and even then her regression was short lived.
If only kicking her out of the crib so the new member of the household could have it would have been that simple! The “big girl bed” (a twin) and the new digs (big girl bedroom) did very little to persuade her to let go of her crib or the nursey. We finally broke down and bought the kid a toddler bed during the transition, storing the twin for awhile. Even then, it took much longer than expected for her to warm up to the change in space. It didn’t help that she was none to thrilled with the introduction of a baby sister into the family. Goodness, those were some difficult bed times.
In kindergarten, getting her moving and doing all that needed to be done, in order, every day, earlier than it had been done in MDO, became the big battle. The saving grace was that Mrs. Stewart, her teacher, was patient and loving, and Blondie adored her. When she could keep her hands and feet to herself, my little one shined, though she hated doing the Sight Words flash cards and phonics activities, which were her homework. She despised practicing what she already knew (or thought she knew “well enough”). End of story.
We moved to a new house, town, and school district just up the road during the summer between kinder and first grade. I knew little about the new district or our assigned school except that it was “better” than our “good” old district. A well-informed, well-connected neighbor steered me towards getting Blondie into one of the two special dual-aged classes her new school offered, a class where first and second graders worked side by side with each other. Perfect for a precocious kid! Or not.
At the first six-weeks’ parent-teacher conference, my Blondie was “Smart! Bright! Amazing!” but by Spring Break her teacher, who had tried everything her young, childless, recently married self could think of to keep my square peg in her seat and focused on work, not cutting up, yapping, or playing, was done. Now the report was, “If she keeps this up, she’ll fail out of elementary school.” Really? My crazy little squirrel was already being doomed to failure at the ripe old age of 7? Dear husband and I were not prepared to put our daughter on Ritalin at that moment, so instead we put her in Montessori.
Montessori helped my kiddo love learning and doing again, and I loved the philosophy, but by the beginning of third grade we were really wondering if the kid would be “more likely to succeed” with meds. Work was just not getting completed; and while the teachers weren’t worried, we were. So, we went through an extensive testing process with her to find out that three of the four components used to measure I.Q placed her in the “high average” category, but her verbal component, the “I cannot process anything in my head, so that’s why it all comes out my mouth” part of the test was up in the 130’s. That number alone explained so much. Nevertheless, the therapist said no to ADH/D meds (they might help, but would likely make a few of her ever present tics much worse), pronounced her on the Gifted and Talented spectrum, and wished us good luck! I’m still unsure whether or not Montessori was the best money ever spent, as it seemed to reinforced a few of her less-than-helpful-for-school personality traits, such as a propensity to procrastinate, but at least she got to spend two years enjoying quirky kids like herself, making true friends, some of whom she is still in contact with eight years later, and doing real hands-on learning in areas and manners far different from public school.
Had we stayed in the area, we would probably have kept her in Montessori, but instead we moved to a suburb of Nashville, TN for her fourth grade year, then to Houston for fifth and beyond. She went back to public school in Nashville and stayed there through middle school. Blondie had wonderful teachers for the remainder of elementary, but the struggles with focus, drive, and attitude towards drudge work continued. I assured her teachers I was “on her,” not to worry. Her dear, sweet, sainted, fourth-grade teacher, even cried over a letter I penned confirming that I understood she was trying her best with my intelligent, but strong-willed and often complacent learner, and that I didn’t blame her for Blondie’s issues, like failing to turn in work. The poor woman was so used to getting letters from parents blaming her for their child’s failings, she hardly knew what to do with my note of encouragement and commiseration.
At various times I have been given predictions about the future of Blondie’s educational attainment that
echoed that of her flustered first grade teacher, and her dad and I have wondered endlessly about her ourselves. She loves to learn what she wants to learn, but grade or no grade, if she doesn’t burn to learn it, good luck getting the work done or getting her to take an interest. As much as I appreciate passion and know that grades aren’t everything, it has been hard for dear husband and I to watch a child fully capable of make straight A’s opt for less because a subject or a paper just wasn’t as important as watching You Tube How-To videos on Anime that particular week. Trying and falling short is one thing, but a zero, or rather lots of zeros, show nothing but a lack of effort.
Yet, just as she did as a baby, she has impressed us and others in many different areas. She began piano lessons at six, but tried to trump her teacher by memorizing her pieces by ear. Getting the child to learn to read music was torture— to all involved. She really had no patience for etudes, theory, and the traditional way of learning. Once we moved to Houston, I gave up on piano. Her abilities were evident, but her desire was nil. Thus, when she asked to take cello in fifth grade, I declined her request. However, she renewed her fervor for cello the following year in middle school, so hubby and I relented. Private lessons began in seventh grade; and in eighth, she got a cello for Christmas. Oddly, once the cello was acquired, her practice habits went kaput. Her desire to play was there, but it was not enough to override the attention she preferred to give other things. Plus, the kid had an issue with performing, or rather competing. She was good, very good, but as her middle school orchestra teacher noted, “It’s easy to be a big fish in a small pond.” It didn’t help that being the big fish filled her with no small amount of pride, and I don’t mean of the positive sort. It was the kindergarten flash cards all over again!
Going into high school, my oldest decided it was time to join her younger sister in the ranks of the homeschooled. Although, she is hardly homeschooled; it’s more like she’s chauffeured. Blondie, who is going into her junior year now, liked the idea of deciding for herself the trajectory of her high school years. It would have been very easy (on me) if she had opted to do some on-line classes like those offered through places like Keystone Academy, K-12, or Freedom Project. Alas, Blondie, as anti-social as she can be, thrives on discussion and classroom interaction with teachers and students. In other words, you have finally bought into my argument against government schooling and you want to homeschool, but you won’t do it at home? Wonderful (twitch, twitch).
In Houston, we are extremely blessed to be in an area that is home to such a broad variety of homeschool (HS) opportunities. Among the offerings available to assist the HS community, are several co-ops. They function similarly to a private school, but are typically based on a college model, allowing parents and kids to pick from an array of classes and pay for them individually each month. A child may do one class at such a facility, and every thing else at home, or vice versa. We have two such places within thirty minutes of our home, and were preparing to set up a schedule of classes for her at both, when, near the end of Blondie’s eighth grade year, I found out that Houston Baptist University (HBU) had begun an encapsulated dual-credit high school program based on the Great Books and utilizing the Socratic method of teaching. And joy of joys, they would be offering two classes at EE, the co-op closest to us. Blondie was over the moon.
Because of two simple classes, HBU opened up an entirely new pathway for my oldest: doing college instead of high school. We expected she would do some college work during high school, probably in her junior and senior years, but thanks to HBU’s Academy program, dear daughter’s college started at fourteen. In order to progress further, Blondie changed campuses for her HBU classes this past year. Instead of a twenty-minute drive each way for classes twice a week, we now load up, drive fifty minutes out to the main campus, then closer to two hours back, due to rush hour traffic. Last summer, she also began taking dual credit classes from our local junior college, and this summer she’s added on-line classes from BYU. Her college transcript will look like a patchwork quilt, but two years after coming “home,” my under-achieving over-achiever has nearly thirty-five college hours under her belt. By the time she is eighteen, Blondie will have her Associate of Arts and then some, or in other words, seventy plus hours.
It has by no means been an easy path for either of us. My poor car has driven many miles; I’ve sat and waited many hours; and not being as big a wiz at math or science as Blondie is at history and English has required her to get tutored by a friend’s son for high school math, which means one more place for me to drive for classes. Because of this weakness (which is shared by both me and her father), dear daughter will have her electives and Humanities-type college credits out of the way far ahead of those (accursed) STEM areas. Nevertheless, she’s figuring out what college is as a high schooler, learning to communicate with professors (including the oddballs, the jerks, and the non-communicative ones), and understanding what kind of work is expected. There is still some continued teeth pulling on my behalf, particularly for those “Why do I have to take these?” core classes she dislikes, but she’s making A’s and B’s and is excited to launch up to BYU-Idaho in a couple of years to pursue a degree in Illustration. Not too bad for a kid who almost flunked first grade.
Having my oldest “home” has been both wonderful and utterly exhausting. In the course of our crazy driving schedule (which will get SO much better for me after she gets her license this summer. Fingers crossed!), some things have inevitably fallen through the cracks. The most important for me was the time I had to spend in person (and awake) with my youngest. Her fifth grade year, Blondie’s freshman year, was almost a wash. To remedy this she began on-line classes with Freedom Project last fall. But the second most important thing that got lost in the shuffle was cello.
I’m terribly sad about this. I love the cello; so does my daughter. I adore most classical music, as does my daughter. Unlike my daughter, though, I have zero musical talent, unless you count appreciating fine music. She had a truly terrific cello teacher who was so excellent with her, and whom she enjoyed. But… just like back in elementary and middle school, you can try and fail, but you can’t fail to try. And unfortunately, that’s exactly where she’d gotten to with her practicing. So, this past week, the three of us, Blondie, her teacher, and I, put an end to two years of frustration sprinkled with fleeting moments of brilliance. Cello lessons are no more. Sigh. There was no doubt this was coming. In fact, it was already clear to me that next school year, which will be every bit as jammed up with classes in various places as this past one had been, was going to be incompatible with the schedule of practice (one whole hour a day!) he expected in order to see improvements, let alone finding a three-hour block for her lesson, including drive time. We were prepared to wrap things up with him, but he beat us to the punch on Friday, sending us packing in a rather unceremonious fashion, asking that I contact him to confirm that Blondie was or was not going to get her crap together to continue lessons with him, at least through the summer.
Well, it took me about five minutes in the car with her for us to both decide it just was time to cut bait. He’d understandably lost faith in her, and I was tired of driving all the way to BFE for her to flounder and falter and fake her way through a lesson for which she was unprepared. Listening to that was painful on many levels! Seriously, it was time to “tap out,” and that was the exact memo line designation I gave my email to Mr. Cello. I thanked him for his time, energy, effort, and patience, but it was evident her passions had turned to other things. Add a new job in to the mix of drawing, writing, academics, and breathing, and the kid just doesn’t have anything left for cello. “You have been wonderful, but we’re done.”
The response I got back was hot, to say the least. “I hope she gets her behavioral pattern ducks in a row because when she gets to college, professors will either gleefully flunk her or (more likely) dismiss her entirely. I am out of energy carrying the whole load for her lessons and if by some odd chance she comes back, I will have no more patience in regards to her practice discipline or cavalier attitude with appointment times.” Whew! I agree, however…..
Yes, getting her out the door to a lesson forty-five minutes away is a pain, as getting her out the door has always been. Yes, sometimes, that is me that makes us two or four or six whole minutes late. Sometimes there is traffic or a wreck or a slow-moving vehicle or some other unforeseen issue we can do nothing about, and we never have an hour an a half cushion in the schedule to override these problems or ensure we are there early. No, Blondie doesn’t emote anymore, so when you gripe at her or ream her for something, she is more likely to shut-down than speak up for herself, unless it is me reaming her. She is almost the exact opposite of crazy, high-strung nut ball who I had to chase down the aisles as church as a toddler. Some where, somehow, for some reason only she knows, my dear daughter has trained herself to disconnect from her emotions to the point it is hard to read what is going on in her head half the time— even for me! Unless she’s happy, that is. We are a laughing family, and she does that with gusto, but she’s uncomfortable expressing deeper, more complex emotions. As her mom, and an emotional red-head at that, it makes me a bit crazy at times, too, but I don’t dismiss her as ‘cavalier.’ Yes, if by chance she comes back [to cello], it won’t be to you. And that’s O.K. with us.
His note gave me great pause for thought this past weekend. His angry, flustered missive contained a nugget of truth about my child, but it also sought to sum up much more about her than anyone who doesn’t live with her twenty four-seven could ever know. She is ‘in college’ and doing quite well, thank you very much! She does appear (and is) dismissive and without discipline in regards to practicing her cello, which is, of course, what we paid you to teach her, but you should see her drawings! The child is amazing, better and more dedicated to honing her craft than I ever was. You should hear her discuss Aristotle or Dante or pontificate on the coolness of Euclid (math without numbers, she CAN do!). You should hear her teach a lesson or give a talk at church. That kid has a natural talent and a love for teaching that is evident to all. Yes, I’ve had to ride her about some course work, there are things this forty-four year old mom with a college degree knows about college that a newly minted sixteen-year old doesn’t. Yes, she procrastinates, which she comes by naturally. Yes, she is still working on becoming the human being God means for her to be. Aren’t we all?! Yes, she is still trying to figure out exactly what she want to do and be. Yes, she is a bit of a punk at times, but she’s a faithful kid, a bright kid, an intelligent, sensitive, pain in the butt! But she’s MY pain in the butt!
So, yes, Mr. Cello, my kid failed to meet your exacting standards (and wasted a lot of my gas and my money in the process); yes, she has interests beyond cello, and she can be terribly pig-headed and lazy about learning difficult things, but thank heavens there is more to my kid than cello! Thank heavens! we didn’t listen to her first grade teacher, but instead sought out something that was a better fit for her. Thank heavens!I didn’t put her in military school the semester she blew off turning in half her math papers in seventh grade. Thank heavens! I can see her more for the totality of who she is and appreciate that she is a beautiful, intricate work in progress trying to find her way through a complex puzzle of classes she chose for herself. I love this kid, and I don’t expect you to see the greater proportion of what makes Blondie ‘Blondie,’ Mr. Cello. There are days when even I can’t see it. But, for now, just know others before you have made dire predictions about my daughter’s future and been wrong, too! You are not alone, and she will be just fine.