Keeping a Daughter; Gaining a Son

So, it has been forever since writing, and I hope to rededicate to my blog.  There is so much to report and as this doubles as my visual journal, I do need to catch back up.  I’ll do a little “back reporting” over the next some posts, and throwing a few current things here and there.

So, you know the adage, “you’re not losing a daughter, you’re gaining a son”?  Well, I wasn’t sure if that could really be true, but now that my only daughter has just gotten married, I can now tell you my side of things:  my new son-in-law is ABSOLUTELY my new son!  I love him dearly, as if he were my own.  AND, my relationship with my daughter is as amazing as ever.  Best thing yet:  my son-in-law admires our relationship and encourages my daughter to stay close to me.  Now, how many young men do you know with that type of maturity?  I’m so glad not to be viewed as a monster-in-law, but as a mother-in-law that he loves, as I love him.  Woohoo!

So, here’s the timeline from last I wrote:  In July, they went through some rocky times trying to figure out how to communicate with each other and learning to appreciate each other’s differences.  In August, Ben went on our beach trip with us to South Carolina for a week.

Also in August, Ben started working for me full-time so that he didn’t have to work nights anymore, which wasn’t good for him or their relationship.  Also, he is a natural with my boys that he works with!

At the end of August, Abbey chose to return to Brigham Young University for at least one semester, in order to sort out her feelings about everything that had happened so quickly.  I flew out with her as my oldest son, Eric, was going to consider living out there as well.  Within hours of arriving, and confirmed within days, Abbey decided everything had changed for her and that BYU didn’t hold the same pull as before.  She missed Ben.

On Labor Day weekend in September, Ben flew out and found out that Abbey had dropped all her classes and intended to return home with all of us.  On their first day together, they hiked the “Y” and Ben surprised Abbey back and proposed to her, ring and all.

In September, I was able to keep Abbey employed with me working with her brothers, so now they were seeing each other every day, all day.  The engagement process for two people who choose the “old-fashioned route” of not living together before marriage, not sleeping together before marriage, and courting up until marriage can actually be a difficult process mainly because they are making a huge decision based on faith and pure loyalty and commitment.  Divorce is not an option to be considered; so understanding that the choice is forever can be overwhelming.  Yet, the Lord sustains them in their love for each other and they learn they will stand beside each other and help each other through thick and thin.

In October, a “meet the parents” party was held at our house.  We like both Ben’s parents.  Later in the month, Abbey and Ben had their engagement pictures on our property.

In November, Abbey enjoyed two showers; one in North Carolina and one in Utah.  Her North Carolina shower featured Tupperware; her Utah shower featured the four seasons and her college friends.

And then came December.  Abbey was married to Ben on Saturday, December 18, 2010, at 11:00 a.m. in the Raleigh, North Carolina LDS temple.  It was a wonderful day!

I am truly blessed with my family and now I am blessed with the quality of people being added to my family.  And, I get to see both of them most every day!  How lucky am I?

When Love is Blessed

I don’t believe in coincidences.  If I notice what others consider coincidence, I recognize it as the hand of a loving Heavenly Father pouring out His blessings.  I  haven’t blogged since mid-April because my daughter, Abbey, returned from her year at college on April 22.  She is my only daughter and I adore her and our relationship, so I was reconnecting with her in person.  However, within a few weeks of her return, a love interest captured her attention, and thus I have been enjoying watching her journey unfold.

Ben and Abbey at his place

So, here are the evidences that Heavenly Father is blessing Ben and Abbey’s love:

The timing is perfect.  Abbey did not have much if any dating experience before going out to college.  She attended two semesters and a term and was able to date frequently, including a couple young men from whom she was able to learn a lot.  In the end, she had figured out what she was looking for in a relationship.

Ben converted to the church 2.5 years ago and has been searching for a love that is meaningful, fulfilling, and with eternal depth.  He switched housing last September which meant that he needed to attend the ward (building) that our family is in.  Initially, he thought about requesting staying where his friends and support were, but his bishop counseled him to go where he was meant to go, so he did.  Though he didn’t really make any friends, he came every week and faithfully served in his calling (assignment) to teach a Sunday School class.  His obedience and patience paid off when he met Abbey.

They both felt a strong initial attraction, physically and spiritually, when they first saw each other that first week.  Smitten at first sight really does exist!

Ben signed up to join the military a year or so ago, but a long story short, paperwork wasn’t completed to sign off on a particular situation, and basically he was not able to continue with it.  In fact, he is still working through completing the process of being discharged without incident because the fault was in the hands of the military administration.  So, if that had occurred, he would be stationed who knows where.

I had become really disenchanted this past winter, realizing now that I may be affected from time to time with seasonal changes.  It was a much colder winter here in North Carolina last winter, and it was wearing on me emotionally.  My hubby and I were very close to requesting a transfer ourselves into another church ward in order to “start over”.  Upon much prayer and consideration, we felt we needed to stay where we were.  Thus, Abbey and Ben were able to meet.

As another timing element, Ben’s commitment to his conversion of the gospel of 2.5 years through action has proven to Abbey his strength, his desire to change and grow, and the depth of his character.

As they contemplate marriage together, Abbey will most likely postpone college to work full-time and continue pursuing the writing and publishing of her books again.  It comes at a time when I am looking for full-time workers in my home that she has done before.  Further, there was a glitch over the past year wherein a family member in the home cannot work with her own siblings under 18.  She was grandfathered in for this year, but one of her brothers will become an adult in September, who will also increase in hours/need, and his worker is having a baby, so she can just roll into working with that brother.  Coincidence?  or blessing?

Ben and Abbey

I talked of the physical evidences of blessings received so that they would come together just at the right time in their lives to recognize a perfect match.  But it doesn’t even include the perspectives that line up such as Ben wanting to work with Abbey’s brothers who have autism (he didn’t even bat an eye at their differences, but was rather intrigued), or that he enjoys our family and likes to hang out with us (our bond is important) and they should be able to live near us since he’s a North Carolina boy and the career he’s pursuing is nursing (lots of opportunities nearby), or that he totally supports the idea of homeschooling because he admires so much how Abbey represents her upbringing (he finds her clever and talented), but that Ben also wants to learn and grow alongside Abbey and carve out a path they can create together in a mindful way (which lifelong learning is so important to Abbey as an unschooler and true follower of Christ).

Though Ben’s and Abbey’s journeys start from almost opposite spectrums, they have come together at the right time on that journey with attributes, experiences, and perspectives that blesses one another.  What a blessed love they have!

Of course, Abbey says that his being tall, dark, and handsome, his smelling wonderful, and his being a great kisser doesn’t hurt!

Kissing at the pool

Natural Math Progression

I wrote a comment at Peter Gray’s “Psychology Today” in response to his blog post entitled, “When Less is More:  The Case for Teaching Less Math in Schools.” I thought it would be useful if I shared the journey my son, Eli, took for learning and loving math.

Eli is pursing both a computer science and mathematics degree at 19 today.  He showed from an early age that he would be gifted in the spatial arena.  He viewed everything spatially, and math was no exception.  In fact, I would have to surmise that those who are builder-types and view things spatially have a natural bent toward learning and loving mathematics.  I believe his spatial skill development truly started through his play choices.

It started with puzzles, like many preschoolers, except Eli noticed his older siblings’s alphabet puzzle at around 18 months old.  I remember my mother being impressed that he could do it (upside down at that time she watched him) when she came to visit when Eli’s new little brother was born (they are 18 months apart).  When putting it in upside-down, I wouldn’t be surprised if he were simply using the shape of the puzzle to find its match, showing early spatial ability.  He continued to love puzzles up to his early teen years.

Eli just before turning 4.

Eli at about 2.5 years old.

And continued into higher levels:

Eli at around 11 years.

Eli at about 9.5 years old with a 3-D puzzle.

At around the same age of 1.5 years old, Eli also took notice of his big brother’s die cast Thomas the Tank Engine train collection.  He would meticulously link them together and drive them around a large space in my kitchen.  He liked to get right down at the same level of the trains, with his face pressed into the floor, as he drove them around.  This showed early skill development of visualization of spatial concepts.

Eli at almost 2 years old.

Eli getting an up close and personal view

When Eli was almost 3 years old, he received his first Brio wooden train tracks for Christmas.  Oh, was he excited!  He began constructing train track configurations ever since, including any other style he found or was given.  I remember well this little corner in our living room was put to good use as Eli’s train corner.  Again, the visualization and spatial skills necessary to accomplish this is evident.

Eli with a motorized Tomy track.

Eli at almost 4.

I don’t know when I bought the Lincoln Logs to have in the house.  I think I may have done so when my two older children were younger, thinking it to be a classic toy, so I would bring that into the home.  I may have also done it on my “all wooden toy” kick.  Needless to say, when Eli discovered them, they were next on his agenda to conquer.  One day, I was to get a big surprise when I walked into his room.  I found that he had taken the Lincoln Log pieces and laid them out to represent all the single digit numbers.  He was about age 4.5 years.  I guess that would have been my first indication that he would naturally be drawn to math!  He would subsequently build with Lincoln Logs traditionally.

Eli created at around his 5th birthday.

Eli created a few months before 5 years old.

All types of building material was fair game for Eli to explore and develop his spatial skills.  I found a screw and nail building set in which Eli was challenged in new ways as well as using to enhance his train track creations.

Eli at a little over 6 years old.

Eli at about 4.5 years old.

Naturally, it was only a matter of time before Legos entered the scene.  He started dabbling in it around 4 years old, and went to around 14 years old before he traded it in for computer programming.  He started making stop-gap action movies with his Legos with Lego Studio around 11 years old.  Technics and Lego Mindstorms followed shortly after that.  He seemed to always want to build with the actual directions the first time, and then he would often build his own creations.

Eli with his own Lego creation around 6.5 years old.

Eli searching through a bucket of Legos around 5.5 years old.

It takes great visualization and spatial ability to create novel Lego designs.  Eli made a pyramid after talking about it in our homeschooling.  Inside this pyramid was just as intricate with mazes as the outside was able to depict its representation.  Further, Eli was making contraptions before they existed (or at least before we knew they did if they were in existence at the time).

Eli's contraption creation at 6.5 years old.

Eli creation at around 9.5 years old.

To conclude the building aspect to his math progression, there was a season when he would intersperse the diverse types of resources and create cities.

Eli and one of his cities around his 6th birthday.

Thus, beginning at 18 months with building his train cars to the age of 14 with his Legos, truly was the foundation of thinking mathematically for Eli, in my opinion, and extensively developing his visualization and spatial skills that would serve him well both for math and for computer programming.  He would spend time during this entire timeframe of at least 6-8 hours a day building.

It was between the ages of 4-5 years old that Eli started dabbling in areas recognized as math by society, though often not valued as much as it should be, especially in the early years for a right-brained builder type.  From 5-7, Eli discovered manipulative-based logic math experiences through pentominoes, tangrams, geoboards, pattern blocks, etc.  He would spend hours challenging himself through books and visual diagrams related to these resources.

Eli with a geometry puzzle book at 4.5 years old.

More resources used during this timeframe:
And still more, although this is actually not exhaustive, but highlights what Eli was attracted to:

Because he showed such a fascination from these types of resources, I could see that math intrigued him, so I started introducing both arithmetic as well as other spatial-oriented activities.  It was between 5-6 years old that I shared dot-to-dots with him, which he enjoyed.  I also went on-line and printed off some mazes that I thought he would like.  Further, at that same timeframe, I shared and gave access to how tracing paper works.  As I looked in his 6-year-old folder, I noticed he would trace the mazes I gave him.  This certainly sparked ideas in his mind!  Here are two samples of his original progression with skill development through mazes:

Eli's maze at 6 years old.

Eli’s hand-drawn original maze at 9 years old.

Also from 5-8, I exposed him to simple addition and subtraction.  Although he is a strong right-brained learner, he also has a few left-brained traits, mainly organization and orderliness, that he gets from living with autism. With that in mind, as well as the idea that the “puzzle challenge” to math was forefront in how he viewed it, he seemed to take to it quite easily.  As for reading, that was more traditionally along the right-brained timeframe of 8-10 years old.

Starting at 8 years old, Eli was ready to do more in-depth and even formal math, so I experimented with offering him the math series I had picked up through the recommendation of an admired unschooling friend.  The series is called “Real Math” that was sponsored by the National Science Foundation.  It highlights patterns in math and thinking skills through story problems and other strategies employed.  It takes you through pre-algebra, but is no longer available it would appear upon trying to locate it through the internet searches.  He continued with this series until 14 years old.  Other math programs that I have tried that I think would be as advantageous would be Singapore and Math U See.

While doing this, I would share “math tricks” like doubling numbers and adding/subtracting one, or using 10, etc.  He would get excited and created his own “Math Trick Book”, drawing out the concepts and creating his own “now you try it section”.  Certainly, there were always opportunities that would arise that would show Eli how his amazing spatial skills are involved in real life.  Here he is at a science museum putting together a cathedral:

At almost 8 years old, the "before".

At 9, I rented a piano to teach myself how to play.  As Eli observed me learning, he sat down and started teaching himself to play using his strong spatial ability.  Although he eventually learned the names of the notes (probably around 12-13 years old), he still plays spatially.  (In other words, he sees that a particular note found on the paper falls on the piano in a particular location.  He can do this with large groups of notes.)  Playing an instrument is simply an extension of a strong spatial awareness.

Eli practicing at 9.5 years old.

At around age 13, Eli wanted to learn to computer program.  We found some great books that kick started him, and from age 14-16, he spent about 6-8 hours a day programming.  At 14, he wanted to do a formal algebra program, tried Saxon math, hated it and asked me to “find me a program that gives it to me straight.”  So, he went to Math U See and loved it.  The reason he wanted it straight was because he naturally knows how to apply it.  In fact, many times, he was already using various aspects in his programming (like graphing).

Here are his first two resources for learning to computer program:

And the third and fourth ones:

At 17, he took trigonometry at the community college, working up and through calculus and differential equations, etc.  He literally gets 100% on his exams.  He has said that “when the instructor explains a concept, it’s as if I already knew it”. Math is “natural” to him.  In fact, I claim that math is his primary language; English his second language.

As outlined by my Collaborative Learning Process, I believe by honoring Eli’s natural progression toward math, through his creative outlets in the young years, and feeding this gift that revealed itself in the middle years, led to the explosion in computer programming that riddled his teen years and his subsequent choice to pursue it as a career.  He also intends to minor in math.

About Being Beautiful

I’ve been thinking about my daughter, Abbey, a lot lately as she traverses her time at college. We have an amazing relationship and she gifts me access to her journey. Recently on my Homeschooling Creatively list, a concern was shared about someone’s daughter and how she was socially different from the other girls. I believe this is one of the benefits of homeschooling. On the other hand, one has to have a strong foundation to stand unique among a sea of cultural conditioning on what beauty is and standing for who you are.

I feel I did two things to buoy up my children: Our learning environment is strengths-based and gift-centered, so they each have had an anchor of their specialness and knowledge of their gifts going into the teen years. And we did a lot of talking and discussing and exploring as anthropologists of sorts as to why young people do the things they do and believe the things they believe and adopt the things they adopt. Through this process, each of my children were able to mindfully choose what they believe, adopt, and do.  Because of this, each of my children seems to be able to embrace their differentness, allow it to shine out as they stand tall, even as they travel the road to finding their place in the world.  It seems to exemplify the idea of “being in the world, but not of it.”   Choosing to unschool requires it; having been unschooled naturally unfolds into it.

Anyway, I listen to music as I drive, and this song grabbed my attention as I thought of my daughter. I told her about it, and she immediately asked, Is it “Beautiful to Him”? She loves the song as much as I do. Here are two YouTube videos using the song from two different young women (whom I don’t know) in our worldwide church that I thought did a nice job.  Enjoy!

(Anyone want to share with me how to embed videos?)



Here are the lyrics:

“Beautiful to Him”
by Rachel Thibodeau

So much noise, so much peace destroyed,
I can hardly hear the voice, leading me through the void,
So much noise.
The world’s little lies,
Destruction in disguise, opportunities to compromise,
To make me beautiful in their eyes,
But I’m not gonna buy the world’s little lies.

‘Cuz I define myself and find my beauty in the light He gives.
I’m refined by His divine intentions every day I live.
It doesn’t matter what the world believes,
Or what they say that beauty means,
It comes from within,
I want to be beautiful to Him.

He’s given me His trust, so I’ll be strong enough,
To run from a dangerous touch, I don’t need that kind of love,
I don’t need that crutch, He’s given me his trust.

I define myself and find my beauty in the light He gives.
I’m refined by His divine intentions every day I live.
It doesn’t matter what the world believes,
Or what they say that beauty means,
It comes from within,
I want to be beautiful to Him.

I know how to shine, my life’s not really mine.
It’s not about a worldly climb, it’s all about His design.
So in His eyes, I want to shine.

‘Cuz I define myself and find my beauty in the light He gives.
I’m refined by His divine intentions every day I live.
It doesn’t matter what the world believes,
Or what they say that beauty means,
It comes from within,
I want to be beautiful to Him.

I want to live to have His peace,
And feel the holiness He seeks.
It comes from within.
I want to be beautiful… to Him.

Timeframes, Challenges, and Disabilities

We are on Round Three at my Homeschooling Creatively list about the perspective on “disabilities”, particularly as it pertains to the right-brained learner.  This post is my attempt at clarity on my position in viewing differing abilities among people.

•  Right-brained dominant and left-brained dominant learners process information differently; therefore, each has a different timeframe and focus to acquiring skills that optimally captures the individual strengths and gifts of that learning preference.

Our current institutions of school favor left-brained processes.  They are part to whole (versus global thinkers) as they take a whole subject, such as history, and break it down into segments and spread it across many grade levels before achieving the whole.  They are product-driven (versus process concepts) so that they can sort and classify based on right and wrong answers, completed tasks, and defineable measurements.  They are word and symbol focused (versus image generators) with early reading acquisition, math fact drilling, and handwriting practice.   Thus, schools created a scope and sequence that reflects the strengths and gifts of a left-brained dominant learner.

Because of the many generations toward this focus, our society has come to believe that this scope and sequence in favor of left-brained thinkers created for our schools is in actuality the Norm.  It appears that we as a people now believe that this is the Proper Order of Things in learning.  It is no longer a Preference; it is Truth in Learning.  However, this is False!  There is a preferred scope and sequence that favors the gifts of the left-brained learner, but there is another equally valid scope and sequence that favors the gifts of the right-brained learner.    This involves a difference in resources utilized and timeframes toward the development of the various subjects honored.

Unfortunately, because the majority of mankind has been schooled, our society has adopted left-brained thinking as the measuring stick of intelligence.  The current scope and sequence declares that reading, for example, can be accomplished through phonics by age 6-7 years old.  Parents clamber around this timeframe with baited breath in order to discover if their child is declared “smart”.  If you read before the expected age timeframe of 6-7 years old, you are “smart as a whip” or “gifted”.  If you come to reading at the expected time, you are “average”.  However, look out if you read after that timeframe!  You are either “lazy”, “not living up to your potential”, or “stupid”.   But, no one wants to think any of these things about their child, so schools came up with a great reason to excuse this difference in intellectual ability and performance:  learning disabilities.

Why is it that behind every learning disability label (ADD/HD, dyslexia, learning disabled, dysgraphia, twice exceptional, dyscalculia, etc.) is a right-brained learner?  Where are the left-brained learning disabled children?  Why is it that I have never heard that a school has said that the learning environment is not a good match?  Can the learning environment found in school be 100% successful?  Why is it that the child is always declared “broken”, but not the environment or the expected timeframes?

These are serious questions that need legitimate answers.  The good news is that these children are not learning disabled; they learn differently.  Right-brained children learn on a different timeframe that is healthy and advantageous to their gifts and strengths.  There would be little to no “dyslexia” if the path to reading for the right-brained child was honored.  That does not mean following the current left-brained scope and sequence, and just waiting a little longer.  It means it looks totally different.  The resources the right-brained child would learn to read with will be different from what you see in school.  The skill development focus the right-brained child would learn to read from will be different from what you see in school.  And the timeframe the right-brained child would learn to read by will be different from what you see in school.  If all of that is honored, you will have right-brained children coming to reading, and other various subjects (such as writing, spelling, arithmetic, handwriting, and more), in as joyful and painless a manner as their left-brained counterparts.

Currently, we “fix” right-brained learners.  We medicate their behaviors (i.e., ritalin for ADD), we remediate when they do not meet left-brained expectations (i.e. dyslexia programs), and we even “jump start” natural biological occurrences through exercises (i.e., vision tracking).   I find many things happen as a result of this type of treatment:  some self-medicate through alcohol or drugs to ease the pain of not being good enough, some decide they are “stupid” and take that into adulthood, some decide that they “just don’t care” and “do the minimal” so it can appear that they are choosing to not live up to the left-brained expectation, and some will get a “learning disability label” and use that as their “excuse” for avoiding things while believing this means they are deficient in some way.   Though most will become productive members of society, how many wounded spirits still exist?  How many glass ceilings were created within their own minds that limit what they have to offer the world?  Maria Montessori has said, “Free the child’s potential, and you will transform him into the world.”  One important way to do this is to honor the path that naturally develops the strengths and gifts of the right-brained child.

•  Every person has strengths and weaknesses.  Strengths are meant to flourish in order to bless the world through us; weaknesses are meant to challenge us for our own personal learning and growing.

I just had an extended epiphany of my thinking on strengths and weaknesses by writing the above statement.  As humans, we like to belong and have value.  It is usually through our strengths that we recognize that we have something worthy to contribute to the human race (the belonging part).  As we share our gifts, we receive feelings of value from others as they appreciate what we have to offer.  Our gifts are also usually the source of pleasure.  We enjoy doing what we are good at.  It feeds our spirit as we discover more of what we are capable of as we explore our strengths to a deeper and more committed level.  Joy emanates from within as we unveil the full measure of our creation through our gifts and talents.  It is easier to allow our strengths to shine for the world to see and enjoy and benefit.

On the other hand, weaknesses and challenges are personal.  It touches our inner questions in understanding who we are, what is our purpose, and why we believe what we do.  It is the other half of experience in living life.  One is not bad and the other good; each provides information, learning, growth and understanding.  Strengths tend to emit outward; weakness gravitates inward.  I find when I have a challenge, I quietly seek out others who may have similar experiences.  This is a safe way for me to sort out what will be required of me in order to “get to the other side”.  Plus, by seeking out like-minded experiences, it “normalizes” the challenge and gives hope for living it.

I wrote a blog post here about how I view weaknesses through unschooling with my children.  I believe every person has weaknesses as it pertains to learning in some area.   I talked in my post that each child either had a subject that “they just weren’t that interested in”; therefore, it often didn’t come easily, OR they had a subject that “just didn’t come easily to them.”   These are weaknesses.  Each child needed to challenge themselves in order to improve in these areas, or learn a skill set enough to be able to do better.  My daughter’s lack of proficiency in math didn’t mean she was “disabled by math”.  She could learn enough to move forward with her gift in writing without it interfering.  She would not be choosing a career in math.  The same is true for my son and writing.  Over time, he was able to become proficient enough to not impede his progress with his talents in math and computers.

The strength/weakness paradigm in our unschooling learning environment supported the idea that these weaknesses would be viewed as such.  If my children had been in school, measured against the left-brained timeframe found there, there would have been labels.  At the time between 8-10 years old, my son, Eli, really could not figure out reading; he couldn’t hear vowels, he couldn’t decode phonetically, and he couldn’t even recognize similarities in symbols yet.  Yet, at 10 years old, everything came together and he became a reader painlessly.

Due to autism, what about Eli’s difficulty with language, thus, his inevitable struggle with spelling, writing, vocabulary, and comprehension?  We recognized the source of the challenge:  autism and language, but we did not then call it a disability.  A weakness in language will translate to a weakness in these areas of language subjects.  While continuing to honor the typical right-brained timeframe for the development of these subjects starting at 11-13 years of age, we simply took on the challenge of applying good skills and strategies in order to become proficient enough to not hinder his strengths.  This had nothing to do with the scope and sequence found at school.  It had to do with what he would actually need to know how to do in the strength-based career he had delineated as his goal.  We could adopt and modify a variety of tools and resources that would be most helpful on his learning journey.

Being blind is a challenge.  But developing other senses and skills minimizes the difficulty and may even create other areas of strength that could promote a new gift or talent unknown to the person originally.  If I had not had children with autism, I would never have known that I had a natural ability with structured behavioral interventions.  In fact, upon developing this gift, I was able to take other aspects of my strengths and experience and combine it to create something new.  For instance, I was implementing “errorless teaching” before it was “discovered” as well as relation-based motivation.

Having a memory difference is a challenge.  Maybe a child cannot for the life of him memorize his math facts with flashcards.  His memory will just not accommodate that goal using that strategy.  However, this same child is shown to have a musical inclination, and by creating math fact songs, he is able to reach his goal.  He has a different kind of memory that works for him.  At 10, Eli wanted to memorize some scripture verses at church, but was unable to through standard memorization strategies.  These same scripture verses were available through music and he was able to accomplish this goal.  At 14, Eli had another opportunity to memorize scriptures, and at that stage, he was able to use his strong visualization skills to memorize the verses in a seemingly more typical fashion.  Does he have a disability with his memory?  Apparently not.  But if he had been in school, would there have been labels to justify his lack of ability at the time?

It is only a disability if it is disabling.

When I received the first diagnosis of autism, I was knocked right off my feet.  The world stopped instantly in my mind.  My next reaction was “I’m going to fix this.”  With this resolve, those first couple months were a flurry of frenetic emotion.  I even experienced a week-long paralysis of moving forward due to creating my own debilitation due to guilt I heaped upon myself from everyone and nowhere as only a mother can do.  One day two months in, I received the shocking news that my dear friend and neighbor had tragically died in a car accident.  The world stopped again as I mourned deeply.  A 1-year-old girl was left in the world without a mother!  What was I thinking?  I still had my beautiful children.  The only thing that had changed about them was my perception.  My prayers changed that day from “help me fix this” to “let me help them reach their potential.”

I find it was my own insecurities that had me hanging onto the label “autism”.  I wrote about that time here.  The journey I traveled in releasing my need for that label took me to a deep and mindful place of self-discovery and self-disclosure, and that set me on a new level of confidence, peace, and mindful living.  I could then gift that to my children from the beginning.

Eli lives with autism.  He is not disabled by autism.  He is challenged by autism at times.  However, his view on himself is not through the label “autism”, but instead, he has always viewed his life through the lens of strengths and weaknesses/challenges.  He thrives and flourishes with his strengths.  He has chosen a career path based on these gifts.  He meets challenges head on.  He identifies what he is needing to accomplish and determines how he can best accomplish it.  As challenges arise to the goal, he figures out how to go around it, through it, under it, or simply switch gears.  If there are choices, there is life worth living joyfully.

Adam lives with autism.  He cannot live financially independently.  By all definitions, he is disabled.  However, from his perspective and cognitive understanding, he is not disabled.  He enjoys a full life that maximizes his abilities.  He is independent in determining his quality of life day-to-day.  I have learned enormous amounts of knowledge and growth through him.  His life has value.

Those with bipolar have made great contributions to our society through their strengths.  I see bipolar as a challenge, not a disability.  Those with Asperger’s have made great contributions to our society through their strengths.  I see Asperger’s as a challenge, not a disability.  Those who are deaf have made great contributions to our society through their strengths.  I see deafness as a challenge, not a disability.  Those with muscular dystrophy have made great contributions to our society through their strengths.  I see muscular dystrophy as a challenge, not a disability.  Aimee Mullins would agree with my perspective as she shares her story here.

All of this said, I understand that our society requires the label “disability” in order to obtain services or accommodations.  Adam will need to be declared “disabled” in order for us to get guardianship, or for him to receive some kind of monetary opportunity.  A person who figures out they live with bipolar may need to declare themselves “disabled”  during the worst part as they take the time to figure out a successful treatment plan.  Eli was required to have a “disability plan” in order to have “permission” to take another type of reading placement test at the community college.  I always say that I don’t talk about this topic “in a bubble”.  This means that although I recognize its existence, and accept that some people need “more” in order to function in the world, overall I view differences as just that, through a weakness/strength paradigm, and as people who can contribute to the world just the way they are.  I am careful to remember that in our quest to normalize, we may erase the very distinction that will evolve into greatness.  So, I remain ever mindful of my perspective and perception of different as I live my role of facilitator.

•  I view a child as a whole entity, with a preferred way to process information, with strengths and weaknesses unique to their creation, and a path individually created for their own growth and learning.

In order to support this premise, I:

•  support effective communication in any form (2-4 years);

•  encourage strengths, gifts, and talents as the foundation (5-10 years);

•  build emotional, social, sensorial, and behavioral needs (5-10 years);

•  mentor goal setting strategies (11-16 years);

•  collaborate holistic skill sets to increase weaknesses (11-19 years); and

•  counsel a balanced adult lifestyle (17-19 years).

In conclusion, I feel most school-inspired labels (at least 75%) would not exist at all if not measured against an inappropriate and inaccurate timeframe measuring stick as found in schools.  One cannot be deficient if the expectation is not there.  Because of premature and traumatic birth experiences prevalent in a technologically advanced society, chemically-altered and pollution-based changes in our environment, and traditional sickness-based incidents, there will be some children who have more challenges.   No matter the etiology, I prefer to view these challenges as personal opportunities to grow and learn through weakness.  It’s a personal journey each travels in reaching their own individually unique goals based on one’s strengths and gifts.  Finally, although disability certainly exists, I prefer to believe in the power of our divine natures and individual worth.  As Aimee Mullins stated, “You only need one person to show you the epiphany of your own life.”

Book Review – The Up and Down Life

After reading any of my books about any topic, I want to write down my immediate feedback about the book.  I am into researching bipolar in order to help my oldest son, Eric, learn how to manage the condition.  This is the first one I read aloud to him so that we can learn together, since I am his support person.  It’s called, “The Up and Down Life:  The Truth about Bipolar Disorder – the Good, the Bad, and the Funny”, by Paul E. Jones.

This is an account of Jones’ own story about coming to terms with the knowledge that he lives with bipolar disorder.  Because he had classic manic ups, he is probably diagnosed with Bipolar I.  Jones is a comedian by trade, and he also dabbled in music.  He now advocates for fighting the stigma of a mental health disorder, and bipolar in particular, “a mind at a time”.

There are two main things I liked personally about this book.  Because it is coming from someone who is living it, Eric seemed to take his advice much more seriously.  Each time there was a section on something a person with bipolar needs to do in order to manage the illness effectively, Eric wanted to create a goal about it.  That is a good thing.

The second thing I liked about it is that Jones believes in getting the topic of bipolar out in the open.  He believes in disclosure and being a strong advocate so that the negative stigma of this disorder can be minimized through positive education and knowledge.  So many don’t seek help because they don’t want to be considered “nuts”.  Yet, drug and alcohol abuse are prolific among those who do not seek effective treatment.  There is anywhere from a 20-30% suicide rate among those diagnosed with bipolar as well.  It’s a tough illness!  I’ve always been one to believe in talking about the tough issues.  Luckily, upon discussing this with Eric, he feels the same way and has given me permission to blog about it.

What I didn’t like about the book is the same reason I liked it:  because it is a personal account, and Jones’ bipolar is not the same as Eric’s bipolar.  First of all, Eric is Bipolar II, which means he more experiences what they call hypomanias.  That means his ups are more “productive” in that he tends to go into creative projects or will spend money in order to entertain himself (though luckily he keeps this within limits).  He spends more time, like 80% of the time, in a depressive mode.  Though this is the “better” form of bipolar, it is also the harder one to treat because of the depression aspect.  There are more effective treatments for classic manias.  That said, so much of what made Jones’ life difficult as it pertains to bipolar were his manias, and the opposite is true for Eric.  So, we weren’t able to pick up a lot of good information about managing that side of things.

We both liked Jones’ “tell it like it is” attitude and humor he uses in telling his story.  The one thing that is the same for most people with bipolar are management tools needed for sleep patterns, eating habits, and exercise.  Being aware of what triggers are part of what makes things better or worse is also universal, as well as keeping track of moods in comparison to these things.  Jones talks about all these things in this book.

For me, it is not the type of book I like to begin with because it doesn’t necessarily give you a good grasp of what bipolar is and how it is treated medically.  Jones steers away from this because he understands the importance of a competent medical professional being involved with effective treatment.  But, it is a great book from a personal experience with bipolar and living with it well.  It offers hope to those of us wondering what the future holds.  And I like his open attitude about not hiding it, yet being smart about how you portray it in your life and to whom.

I asked Eric what his view on the book was.  His answer:  it was comforting and amusing.  It made having bipolar feel like less of a curse.  The negative for him was that when Jones brought up the management tools aspect of what he needed to do, it wasn’t specific enough.  For instance, it is brought up that having an appropriate and healthy sleep schedule is important, but it didn’t really share how to do that.  Same with eating or exercise.

Overall, it appears we had a similar reaction to the book.

Inspiration to Dictating Stories

I was given a link to Patricia’s blog about children dictating stories.  It got me thinking about my 10-year-old, William, who is very imaginative, but has difficulty creating stories, unlike most right-brained children.  This is because he has difficulty with language as a whole.  I also have a child with autism, Alex, who loved to hear his brothers and sister tell him stories, but had trouble telling his own stories.  Both of these children are less capable in writing and drawing.  Here are a couple ways we inspired stories from them:

William wanted to get “real pictures” of knights and fighting, his favorite topic.  So, thanks to my favorite writing resource as a base and the on-line world of google images, we found plenty and I printed them off.  He then meticulously cut them out, glued them in his story, and dictated his creation.  He just loved it.  He has done one about Indians as well.

I hope you can see these alright.   I need to invest in a nice camera!  Anyway, my daughter created a comic book for my son with autism about his favorite item, ceiling fans.  So, she took pictures of his ceiling fans and cut them out.  She then cleverly took pictures of various “Mii’s”, which is part of the Wii system, and used those as the characters.  Though Abbey could draw these characters, she knew it would add another cool element for her brother.  It would also inspire him that he could make his own using this as his “drawing device”.

I thought it might inspire other young creators out there, or not so young, but less artistically inclined, to figure out new ways to tell their stories.

UWWG and Sickness

I had heard about the Unschoolers Winter Waterpark Gathering for the past few years and since they were bringing in John Taylor Gatto as the featured speaker, I thought I would give it a try since my hubby can typically come with us these days on vacation time.  Since I was going, I decided to offer to give my right-brained learner workshop that is so popular.  Because of this commitment, it was difficult to decide to back out even though there were snow storms raging all around us.  We were blessed in that when we drove up on Sunday, there were clear roads all the way.  We also stayed an extra day, until Thursday, in order to get the same clear roads on the way home after it snowed all day on Tuesday and Wednesday.

I also decided to ask someone if they wanted to share the room I reserved (a Combo suite with two bedroom areas).  Kalista and her son, Bryan, stayed in the king-sized separate bedroom, while Weston, myself, William and Joseph stayed in the two queen beds in another separate bedroom area.  Alex slept on the sofa sleeper in the kitchen/living room area.  Bryan, William and Joseph got along famously.  Kalista and I had several late night discussions about right-brained learning, and bipolar.  One was beneficial to me; the other to her.  Win-win.  It isn’t something I ever do, but as she and I agreed, it was a God thing that brought us together.  It was also a God thing that made me stay another night as I was able to have a looonng conversation with a lady named Kathy (5:30 a.m.!) who has similar thinking as me and has a lot of contacts that could help encourage me to finish my right-brained book.  Coincidentally, she is also a member of the church, and she had been in the mental health workshop with a son with bipolar as well!  I look forward to seeing how these relationships bless my life.

Weston, Joseph, and William spent a lot of time at the indoor waterpark.  I joined them one time to go down some of the group rides with them.  It was a lot of fun.  For booking the room early, we also received 100 tokens for the arcade which the boys enjoyed using  up.  Good thing it was “free”, because I wouldn’t waste money on that stuff!  We also got free passes for the putt-putt, so they were able to play twice.  Finally, we got a $20 gift card for booking early that the boys each picked a little present.  This conference has only one speaker going at a time for the adults, which is nice not to have to “compete” with anyone else.  I was able to use the overhead screen through my laptop, which worked really nicely for my presentation.  Luckily, Weston was there to help it get plugged in correctly.

The two events that were pretty cool at this gathering was the carnival, which is the only thing they have to earn some money back for the cost of the gathering.  Volunteers agree to man booths of a really cool variety of games.  You buy tickets, and earn tickets at the booths.  You trade in the tickets for prizes that were donated by event goers and other non-profits.  The boys were pretty excited.  William bought four small stuffed toys, and Joseph got a brand-new WWF monkey.  The other cool event was the marketplace, where they invite any young people to peddle their wares of any type.  William got lucky and found someone selling their old knight toys, so he was able to buy five for $10.  It was just a neat energy to the activity.

I guess it should have been an early indicator, but Joseph threw up the last night we were there.  In fact, he ended up throwing up each night of Tuesday night, Wednesday night, and Thursday nights.  My guess was the affects of the chlorine he probably swallowed, because he was fine throughout the day.  However, the flu epidemic began with me on Saturday, and hit William, Joseph, Eric, Alex, and Adam, all in line.  Weston and Eli are still awaiting their fate.  This after having a healthy winter thus far.  It would make sense, however, when faced with 400 families at an indoor waterpark in the middle of winter (with lots of snow) that it would breed sickness.

Hopefully, we will all recover by the end of this week.  It starts with a fever, achy joints, headache, and nausea.  Then it warps into a cough/cold.  The fever lasts about 24 hours, and the cold/cough lasts about a week.  Ugh.

High School – Learning versus Credits

Recently on my Homeschooling Creatively list, there was a discussion about what kind of learning counts for high school credit.  Although I know what is being referred to since I attended high school, this vocabulary doesn’t really show up on my radar based on how we home educate our children.  Frankly, even when I was in high school, I was completely unaware of the whole credit thing, so maybe I’m ahead of the game that way.  It wasn’t for good reasons as apparently my high school counselor didn’t consider me college material enough to mention anything to me, and neither of my parents have a higher education (one only has a tenth grade education) to tap into it through them.

I remember some time when my oldest son was in the 11-13 year timeframe, or maybe it was from Loretta Heuer during a Growing Without Schooling conference, but it was mentioned that I should “keep track of” the things my children do that would be high school transcript noteworthy.  And, when my oldest was 14-15 years old, I did do that for a while.  And then life happened.  And learning.  Besides, I found myself getting tediously involved in defining the nitty gritty trying to get it to line up with what I saw other high school students doing.  But why should I do that?  I am not replicating high school in my home.  We are a strength-based life learning home environment.  When my children decided what they wanted to do, college or something else, we would figure out what to do in order to have them achieve that goal.  And so life continued.

So what did we do for high school if not thinking about credits?  I describe it in my Collaborative Learning Process.  My children continued to strengthen their gifts (60%), and I provided support in helping each person improve any weaknesses from where they were in order to take it to the next level based on how it affects where they want to go (30%).  There were never any conversations about, “okay, so you want to go to college for computer programming, so what are you going to do for high school credit to show that.”  My son loved to computer program, so he did so, because he loved it, and was intrigued by it, and wanted to know as much as he could figure out.  My job was to keep feeding in the resources so that the interest would grow to its fullest capacity.  My daughter spent her last few years writing fantasy novels.  She learned by doing.  A few adult friends shared their favorite writing resources with her that got her looking for additional resources that would help her along her learning curve.  Interestingly, she knew when she was ready for more information and knowledge, and when she just needed time to sweat it out herself.  All of this could be translated into “credits” later; yet, it never entered my mind to think that way either in the moment.

Then there is the category of either “not that interested in it” or “difficulties learning or understanding it” subjects.  Each child had subjects they never gravitated to in some way by the 11-13 year old stage.  It was during this first stage of formality that I would introduce these topics to them in a way that could work for them, just so that they had some kind of positive interaction with it at least once.  For my oldest, it was math, and some formal grammar.  For my daughter, it was history and math.  For my third child, it was science and grammar.  These fell into the category of “just not that interested in it”.  It wasn’t that they couldn’t do it; it just didn’t have much meaning for them to pursue.  Yet, each I thought would benefit from a short-term exposure.  So, I found a resource that would match how they like to learn, and each felt positive about learning it to the level they took it.  Again, I didn’t think, “alright, you need a well-rounded education and in order to get credit for high school, you have to do x, y, and z.”  Now, take my daughter’s math as an example; she decided to learn up to algebra, and then decided it was sufficient.  In her transcript for college, I gave her “high school credit” for pre-algebra, geometry (since what we used incorporated it throughout), and algebra I (since she had to do a serious study of it for her ACT test, which she scored solid on).  She is an English/writing focus, so math was not relevant to her getting accepted into the university for which she applied.  Her ACT score “proved” that she had the “competency” for which I recorded.  But again, the reason we did what we did had nothing to do with high school credit or a transcript to get into college.  It was able to be worked out as we needed it.

I think there are two types as it pertains to the “difficulties learning or understanding it” arena.  There is the difficulty with a subject that is important to the child’s strength goals.  My daughter is a writer, and spelling and vocabulary didn’t come naturally to her.  This would be important to her, so we came up with resources and strategies that would help her improve these areas.  We didn’t create a “course” for her to receive high school credit for if she “passed”.  We took her from where she was, found resources that matched how she learns, and helped her improve step by step over a period of a few years.  We collaborated to identify these areas for each child so that their strengths could continue to flourish.

I have children who have a hard time learning certain subjects because of a biological difference.  This is different from not learning it well because there just isn’t an interest or natural inclination toward it.  The two that I asked to do math later don’t take to it easily.  But I don’t think everyone is meant to be good at everything.  I think a person has strengths and weaknesses.  And the weaknesses don’t have to mean “difficulty learning based on a deficiency”.  I’m not that keen on history and would have to work hard to do well in it in a school setting.  I don’t have a natural inclination toward it.  I’m not talking about “school created labels”, either.  Those typically are all about a different learning timeframe and learning resources, and if those are valued, it can either eventually be learned easily or if not, usually be put in the previous category of “difficulty with subject because of lack of natural inclination”.

My sons with autism are who fall into this category to which I am referring to as “biological differences to learning”.  My third child struggled with learning language as a child.  So, it would make sense that reading comprehension, vocabulary, spelling, and writing not only didn’t come naturally to him, he had to learn it in a way that takes a different way of focusing and learning.  Strategies may need to be employed based on their particular biological difference.  Or, he’s simply just going to have to think about it a lot more, and put a lot more time into it, because of it’s “unnaturalness” to his nature.  So, again, he and I would sit down and I would come up with some resources that I thought might help him, or some strategies that I thought might be useful, and let him know that if he wanted to improve in this area, he would need to put the work into it.  We discussed the ways not having these skills could interfere with his life plans, and to what level he might need to take it to circumvent that.  We used hands-on supports, resource supports, mentor support, and modeling supports in order to help him achieve his goals.  You notice we didn’t “remediate”.  He had a positive view on these areas because he was never labeled negatively as it pertains to them.  And, as has been said throughout this post, high school credit had nothing to do with what we were doing.  We were collaborating on goals and learning.  That was the focus.  It still is the focus as we navigate the high school years with each of our children.

For us, there is no “high school”.  There is simply a continuing learning process, based on stages of growth.

Socks – In Memorium

Our beloved Socks, the patriarch cat and oldest Gaddis pet, died last night at the age of 17 years, having lived in feline happiness from August 22, 1992 until December 9, 2009.  He was older than 4 of my 7 children, and lived with us longer than 3 of my 7 children.  He was our first official pet.  He was the only cat we actually bought, from a lady who discovered she was allergic to him.  He was 1.5 years old and we brought him home in March, 1992.  We were living in our first home in Gibsonia, PA:

I have a couple fond memories of Socks in our first home (from February, 1994-April, 1995).  The first was that I had him in Weston and I’s bedroom the first couple weeks as he acclimated to our home with four small children.  He had these little fuzzy balls that his previous owner said he really liked.  Well, one morning I awoke to something dropping on my hand.  When I opened my eyes and looked, it was one of those little fuzzy balls and Socks was staring at me . . . waiting.  Puzzled, I picked it up, pondered, then decided to throw it.  Off Socks shot, so I closed my eyes.  Seconds later, I feel a plop on my hand again, and there sat Socks, staring at me . . . like a dog!  What?!  It wasn’t long before his more human-like personality emerged.  Here is Socks shortly after getting him:

Further, Socks was to be an inside cat.  However, Socks did not like this idea whatsoever.  He had already endured 1.5 years of his life inside, sitting at the windows craving to be outside, and he took every opportunity to try to trick us when we came in or out of the house to try to escape.  In June of 1992, we heard a meow from our front bushes and out came a brown tabby male stray cat.  He began to take the next few weeks trying to get into our house, as Socks tried to get out.  Weeks later, I decided to give up and invited the stray, Bob, inside and released Socks to be free to come and go outside.  That began a beautiful relationship between the older and wiser Bob who would teach Socks how to hunt and be an outdoor cat.  Here they are:

Our family has wonderful memories of sitting on our back deck of this first house at around 6:00-7:00 p.m. and watching the “cat games” between the two cats.  Apparently, Socks was to try to sneak up behind Bob without him noticing.  Whenever Bob would turn and look, Socks would stop stalking and try again later.  One time, Socks was mid-flight towards pouncing on Bob when Bob turned to look, and Socks literally somehow did a flip in the middle of the air and landed beyond him as he had “lost” again.  The good news is that Socks became a good hunter and began his love of the outdoors.

Our first house was short-lived before it was time for our family to transfer to Kentucky.  Naturally, Socks and Bob came with us.  Here is our second home we owned:

We lived here from March, 1995 until May, 1998.  Since it was our first move with a pet, we wanted to be sure to acclimate our cats to the new home before allowing them outside.  However, they were eager to explore their outside environment, so about 2 weeks into it, we let them out.  And they disappeared.  It was days, and they were not the type to leave our yard, so we became concerned.  Now, a week into their disappearance, I began to accept the inevitable.  In fact, Weston saw a dead black and white cat up the road, and we feared it was him, though we could not tell.  I came home to find Abbey in her bedroom, praying, about the cats.  With all faith, she pleaded that Heavenly Father would bring them home.  I remember specifically thinking, “Oh, no, now her faith will be tested,” since I was sure they were gone.  I tried to talk to her, but Abbey matter-of-factly stated, “Oh, Socks and Bob will be coming home.”  As I stayed inside to comtemplate the hardship of it all, I heard her yell to me, “Mom!  Socks and Bob are home!”  And sure enough, as I ran downstairs, there they were.  In the end, it was my faith that was strengthened, from a child’s.  Though we lived near a busy road, our cats seemed smart enough to stay away from it and stick to the surrounding fields as their foray places.  Here are some pictures of Socks in Kentucky.  This is him hiding under Eli’s bed:

And him sitting in Alex’s high chair:

Then it was time to move again . . . to a log house in central PA:

We only lived in this backcountry home for a short six months in the year 1998 (June-December), but it was a time of healing and peace and tranquility . . . for most of us.  Socks, however, must have wondered where we dragged him as one evening, with the windows open as this place had no air conditioning with the natural coolness of the wooded lot and high mountaintop we were living upon, when we heard what appeared to be a cat scream . . . a BIG cat scream.  Stupid us grabbed a flashlight and went out on the porch and shined where we heard the noise.  On one side of a large tree was a cougar, and on the other side of that same tree, with wide-eyes, was Socks!  Apparently they bumped into each other, and when we came, the cougar slowly turned around and walked away.  Socks, however, zipped into the house.

Circumstances created the opportunity for us to move more “in town” to civilization here at the Lindy house:

We were at this house from December, 1998 until May 2000.  Initially, the cats stayed in the basement (we now had Belle and one of her kittens, Sunflash, but Bob had passed away in KY) because we had added a dog, though a few months into this house, we found a new home for him as it wasn’t fitting our lifestyle yet at the time.  However, Socks was one never to be kept up, so he dared to come around the house faster than the others, as well as outside.  Here he is on Abbey’s bed:

And here he is outside:

From here, it was moving to North Carolina into our Trinity home:

We were in this house the longest we had ever lived anywhere:   from June 2000 to December of 2007.  Weston began to do English gardening around the home and this is where Socks became our Ferdinand cat, sleeping under the rose bushes many hours of most days.  Here are the pictures from that home, all with the theme Outside!  Here he is with Sunny:

And near the front of the house:

Socks and I, and Socks and Eric had the closest relationship.  Socks slept in my bed for years at my feet.  Here he is with me on the back deck of this house:


He also starred in a movie made by Abbey for Alex found here:

continued here:

and concluded here (stay tuned after the “The End” for a surprise):

Finally, we ended up at our final (hopefully) home here in our log house in central North Carolina:

I was able to get some pictures of Socks sleeping under the bushes in our new house.  He had to wait a bit until Weston transferred some of our roses from the old house to the new one.  It was never quite the same as the old house, but it would do.   He also got really, really old . . . skinny and clumped fur from not grooming, but he was still so strong in spirit that I just couldn’t put him down.

The star quality of Socks continued as patrairch of the cat home and Abbey wrote a book about him in a series of books about all the cats for Alex for Christmas.  Here is his cover:

In highlighting the life of Socks, we also highlighted the travels of the Gaddis family.  He has been with us from the first house we purchased, to our last.  His spirit carried his body farther than it was meant to go, and we celebrate his strength and love he always shared.  Joseph Fielding Smith has said that the spirits of animals will be resurrected.  We believe that so strongly, and having shared the love of Socks, it could not be any other way.  We will see him again!  Until then, may he rest in peace until he can frolick in the gardens of Heaven.