Why The "Gifted" Label Gets a Bad Rap and Why That's Important for Your Child

Many people associate the term “special needs” with kids who have developmental or learning challenges, however, “gifted” presents a special need as well.

For many of us, the word “gifted” brings to mind very specific assumptions. It’s an elite label that we put on highly achieving children for whom things come easily. We believe that success is pretty much guaranteed.

But not necessarily.

Many parents who seek my help have been told that their child is gifted. They’ve breathed a sigh of relief knowing that “he’ll figure it out, he’s smart.” At the same time, they may have received the news that their child has a learning challenge such as dyslexia or has an emotional problem. How can this be? Aren’t these contradictions? Too often, I find that the connection between these two is not defined. This can be detrimental to both the child’s learning and mental health.

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Giftedness means having a brain that is wired differently. While no two gifted people are the same, gifted individuals can have extreme sensitivities, intensities, creative and intellectual drives, and perfectionism. The inner world of the gifted child can be much larger than she knows how to express and sometimes learning how to be in the world can be difficult. While many people associate the term “special needs” with children who have developmental or learning challenges, it means only that a child has “special needs.” Gifted children are a special needs population.

The Columbus Group, a small group of individuals (parents, educators, and psychologists) who in the late 1980’s worked with highly to profoundly gifted children in Columbus, Ohio, sought to re-define giftedness in terms of the inner experience of the individual. They define giftedness as follows: “Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop optimally.” (The Columbus Group, 1991)

Asynchronous development means that the child is not following the developmental milestones that we expect from a typical child. He may say his first word at four months, but not read until age 10. She may hold a calculus book in one hand and a teddy bear in the other at age nine.

Before she even entered school, Clara (name has been changed) was a science enthusiast and lover of horses and all animals. When her mother attended her first parent-teacher meeting, the kindergarten teacher reported that she enjoyed the level at which Clara could communicate about most topics. Furthermore, she loved Clara’s participation in all class discussions. When a guest science expert came to class, he was taken aback by her higher level, in-depth knowledge on various science topics. However, the teacher also said, “The other children don’t like your daughter.” Clara despised coloring, worksheets, and any “busy” work that was assigned to her. She responded to these by often ripping the pages with her crayon out of frustration. She told her mom, “It’s just what the teachers give us when they have other work to do.”

By second grade, Clara was having a harder time with the worksheets and homework. During a math homework session with her dad, she yelled out of frustration, “If I already did the problem, why do I have to keep doing all of these!” referring to the many pages of math problems.

Meanwhile, her mother was becoming aware that Clara was being left out and bullied by other children on the school yard. When Clara’s mom discussed this with the school principal, she was met with defensiveness, and the events were often blamed on Clara. Clara’s mother decided to help out in the classroom in order to observe and better understand what was going on. She noticed that Clara had become very quiet during class discussions. The second grade teacher didn’t know that Clara had previously been an engaged, articulate student. Clara’s mother felt her daughter was a stream of contradictions.

Since Clara was slower to read and to do math than her peers, after some testing, it was decided that she would be pulled out of class for special education tutoring. (She was tested as “gifted” for verbal vocabulary, but very low in other areas.) Clara’s mother didn’t quite know why, but she knew that this tutoring would not work well for Clara. However, she wasn’t sure how else to help her.

Clara often complained about the “baby” books she was assigned to read at school. Once, when Clara’s mother happened to be watching Clara’s first grade teacher testing Clara’s comprehension skills, there was a misunderstanding about whether water ran “over” or “under” the ground. The teacher thought Clara didn’t understand the words “under” and “over” and said, “No, water runs ‘over’ the ground,” pointing to the very simple book with a picture of a river. Her mother tried to explain that Clara was probably referring to aquifers. She didn’t want to be seen as uncooperative, so she didn’t press the issue. Sure enough, the first few weeks of her special education tutoring, Clara was in trouble for running down the halls, away from her remedial tutoring sessions.

At this point, the school psychologist was suggesting that Clara was “defiant” and was going to reevaluate her. Clara’s mother was starting to worry that Clara was defiant; that there was something wrong with her child. Even her behavior after school was becoming more difficult to manage. Clara would have meltdowns that would last until bedtime. The Clara that used to be, the sweet, curious, engaged, loving, spontaneous, and joyful girl was disappearing before her eyes. Clara wasn’t even drawing pictures of horses as much as she used to. Sometimes on the weekends she would return to her old self, if the family spent a day in nature with a lot of physical activity and quiet time, or if she spent time with non-school friends, or if horses and other animals were involved. But she felt that Clara’s spark was slowly fading. She wasn’t sure if this was part of the normal struggles of growing up and fitting in, or something was going very wrong. She feared it was the latter, and didn’t know what to do.

This is when a friend suggested that Clara might be gifted. Clara’s mother thought this was a joke, because Clara was having problems in school. (Her high vocabulary didn’t seem relevant to what was happening.) But when she sought my help, read about it, and talked with other mothers who had gifted children, she was shocked to discover the similarities in their stories.

Even though Clara had been tested through the school system, I suggested that she be tested through a center that does in-depth, individual assessments. Clara was assessed to be in the highly-gifted category. Clara’s mother was given very specific information, such as the fact that Clara is an introvert (a surprise to her mother) and that she was a highly visual-spatial thinker. The report included information about Clara’s sensitivities, propensity for ADHD, and sensory issues. While this isn’t the case for every gifted child, since Clara was highly gifted, she would need special classes designed for gifted children that offer more depth, density, and opportunities for her to use her imagination while learning.

Clara’s mother discovered that the reason the math worksheets didn’t work for Clara was because she had already integrated the knowledge and found that repeating the “same thing over and over” was more than just tedious. In the words of Linda Silverman, an expert on gifted visual-spatial learners, doing repetitive work “is like being asked to remove the egg out of the cake batter once you’ve mixed it in.” Most gifted learners integrate knowledge as they learn and need to learn and to be tested on a higher level. The more gifted a child is, the more asynchronous she can be, and the more she will require early identification and support.

While homeschooling is an excellent option for the highly-gifted student, Clara’s mother found a school that is a good fit. The teachers have a deep understanding of giftedness and offer ways of learning that cater to her need for creativity and higher in-depth learning. The school values social-emotional learning as a top priority, and Clara has been able to process her high perfectionism, high sensitivities, and strong will. The school staff sees many children who have not had great experiences with authority figures and rather than label them as “defiant,” they help the students through this, recognizing that a strong will is a common gifted trait.

While Clara continued not to read, the school allowed her to dictate stories and to listen to books. This kept her engaged in storytelling while she found her own way. Her reading was supported in other ways that she enjoyed, such as a spelling game app and having to check her own dictation. A year and a half later, she was able to read high school level novels.

What Clara’s mother found interesting was how sensitive Clara was. As is more typical in boys, she often hid her sensitivities under anger or tantrums. Clara seemed to be going in both directions – both shutting down during class and running away and ripping up papers. With my help, Clara’s mother was able to side coach her about her strong will and her constant fight with authority figures in a way that acknowledged the need to disagree, but in a healthy way. This, of course, is a process, but good for Clara to experience before the teen years.

Clara is now in sixth grade and her mother reports that she is doing well. She is back to her talkative, intense, sensitive, and engaged self. Most importantly, she has good friends with whom she can relate, some who she met in school, and some from gifted groups outside of school. Her mother feels like she has her daughter back.

While it took some time and her parents continue to need support from time to time, they feel they are better equipped to raise her and better able to hold boundaries as they help her navigate her intensities, sensitivities, and intense drive to experience and learn. Her mother understands Clara’s deep need for “down time” and sees how important it is to allow her to process her ideas in her unusual, creative ways. Her father knows that running and playing “gymnastics stunts” is not only fun for his child, but also essential. As her mother has discovered, their entire family is gifted on some level, and she has sought my help in understanding their family dynamics as well as her own struggles as a gifted mother. Their knowledge of Clara’s differences and how to help her through difficult times is what I hope for every gifted child. What I strongly advocate is even earlier intervention when possible.

Why is it so difficult to identify and get help for the gifted child? By the time my own child was having difficulties in school, I had already received my Masters in Counseling Psychology and was a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Not once did giftedness enter into my education or training even though giftedness can influence a diagnosis. This is the case for most psychologists, therapists, and teachers, including school psychologists.

In retrospect, in my work in community mental health with children and families, I suspect that some of the children I worked with were gifted. Clearly there needs to be more awareness of giftedness in the fields of psychology and education. While we would expect that the school system would address our gifted children’s needs, at this time, that is not the case.

If you have a gifted child, or suspect that your child is gifted and seems to be struggling, I recommend further testing and support. Your understanding of your child will become deeper and clearer; your child’s understanding of himself can help guide him into adulthood.

All the Friends I Hadn't Met Yet

When my daughter was asleep, I googled words like ‘moving’, ‘friends’, and ‘loneliness’, and I discovered that my situation was hardly unique.

My iPhone buzzed. I looked down at the text message on the glowing blue screen. The words took a moment to sink in. It was like being back in primary school and discovering you hadn’t been invited to your friend’s sleepover, only worse.
‘Hi,’ the text began. ‘Just letting you know there’s no Pilates tonight. We’re all going to The Hub to C an indie music jam. SAT! C U next week ☺’
I put my phone down and stared numbly around my kitchen. Dirty dishes jammed the sink. My toddler’s banana was smeared all over the fridge door, but I couldn’t gather the energy to wipe it clean. The monotony of life as a stay-at-home mum was starting to get to me. And while I knew I was lucky to have everything I’d worked for – family, a new apartment, financial stability – I also knew that I had never felt so lonely.
‘C U next week.’
 
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I’d joined the Pilates group shortly after we’d moved to the Gold Coast in an effort to meet new people. At first, I felt I’d fit in. The five or six other women who attended were a bit younger than me, but we shared an interest in organic markets, the beach, and environmental protection.
The one thing we didn’t have in common, however, was kids.
I looked out the window at the busy world outside. Cars and trams passing by. People striding down the bustling street. What was wrong with me? After living in a city of more than half a million people for the past six months, I still hadn’t made any friends. At least, not close ones. Not like the friends I’d left behind in Melbourne. The pre-marriage friends. The pre-baby friends.
Sure, I was ‘connected’ on social media. But every time I checked my Facebook account to read a pithy update from a high school friend I hadn’t spoken to in over a decade or to see a selfie from a university acquaintance holidaying in some exotic location, I came away feeling surprisingly empty.
As I mashed some pumpkin and peas and settled my daughter in her highchair for lunch, I realized I didn’t have a single real friend in the entire state.
A week went by.
The house became messier. The dirty laundry pile expanded. And when I didn’t go to my Pilates class, nobody texted. I knew I had to do something.
In a precious patch of time, when my daughter was asleep, I picked up my iPhone and googled words like ‘moving’, ‘friends’, and ‘loneliness’, and I discovered that my situation was hardly unique.
“Life is transitional,” says relationships counselor and psychotherapist Charmaine Roth. “We change and mature as we navigate different stages of our lives. And the people that we are in relationships with also change. Friendship fulfills needs. So as our needs change, so do our friendships.”
But I didn’t have any local friends. What was I supposed to do? I made myself a cup of tea and googled further.
“My mantra is ‘get out there’,” says clinical psychologist and director of CPConsulting Dr. Simon Kinsella. “If you do something you are interested in, then you will meet like-minded people. If you don’t know what you would like, try lots of things. And if you are moving to a new city, get involved in lots of things quickly, and meet lots of people. Then you can reduce the amount of activity and focus on doing the things you love the most, with people you really connect with.”
On a sunny autumn morning, I did just that. I filled a plastic container with warm porridge, another with sliced strawberries, plonked my daughter into her pram, and left the apartment, heading for the beach.
At first, having breakfast on the esplanade was a disaster. With no “Peppa Pig” playing on the TV in the background, I had a riot on my hands. I had to deal with spat-out food, porridge all over our clothes, screaming (her), and red faces (both of us).
The next day, I was sorely tempted to remain in the safety of our apartment, but I forced myself to pack my daughter’s breakfast, put her in the pram, and set out again. That day was even worse – broken apple sauce jar, punctured pram tire. But I persisted.
In the days that followed, things gradually got easier.
We got to know the locals – café owners, dog walkers, council workers – many of whom started smiling and waving at us as we passed. Then other mums pushing prams began to stop and say hello. After months of reading parenting blogs online, I was happy to swap stories with other mothers face-to-face. Every sleepless night, tantrum, and nappy disaster: We were open to venting about anything.
Several weeks in, one of the mums mentioned that a group of mothers with toddlers met every Wednesday in the park. Did I want to join them?
Did I?!
The lawn was spread with tartan picnic blankets, the play area teeming with squealing toddlers. Parking the pram in the shade of a tree, I hung back for a second. Did they really want me there? For all I knew, the other mum was just being polite. A knot formed in my stomach. I felt like going home.
But after a moment, I took my daughter from the pram, and we walked over and joined them. A circle of smiling faces squinted up at us. Introducing myself, I placed the container of oatmeal cookies I’d made down amongst the apple slices, juice boxes, and little packets of raisins that had been brought out for morning tea.
Over the next hour, we all talked and laughed. We swapped phone numbers. We fed our children and played on the swings and slides. Finally, when the grizzles started, we split up with plans to meet again the same time the next Wednesday.
As I headed home, I thought of my old friends, and it occurred to me that even though they were less available to me during this stage of my life, it didn’t mean that I had lost them forever.
Last week marked a year since I’ve been going to the park. What began as a mother’s group has evolved into a bunch of local friends. Getting out taught me that new friendships can form in any life stage. It also opened my eyes to what was sitting there right in front of me.
“Your daughter has a lovely name,” a mum of twin boys said to me on that first morning in the park. “Amity. What does it mean?”
I looked down at my daughter. She’d twisted around in my lap at the sound of her name. I brushed the curls from her forehead and she giggled, burying her face in my yellow dress.
“It’s Latin,” I said. “It means friendship.”
This piece was originally published on Essentialbaby.com.

It's the End of the School Year and I'm out of Sh*ts to Give

“MOMMY!!” The screeching of my six-year-old wakes me from the kind of sleep that I assume, not without a pang of jealousy, is what being dead feels like. The kind of sleep where I haven’t moved in hours and the shape of the pillow has left a crease in my face that will linger for hours because I’m old and collagen is no longer my friend.

I roll over and force myself to open my eyes.

“I have no pants,” she says, inches from my face. “AGAIN.”

I fight the urge to roll back over and close my eyes as the realization settles over me that yes, I forgot to do the laundry. Again.

Normally I’m better at this. Normally I fancy myself a bit of a warrior, a working mama with four children under 12 who miraculously has been able thus far to keep everyone clothed and fed while also not (yet) being fired. But now we’ve reached the point in the school year where there are only a few weeks left and here’s the thing: I no longer give any shits.

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This didn’t happen all at once. It has been a gradual decline from our idealistic beginning last September of “This is the year we organize, accomplish, and clean all of the things!” to the October reality of “Wow this is really hard” to January’s “Well, maybe we can catch up on the weekends” to the present reality of “HOLY SHIT.”

But I am done with that mess now. See also: the signing of reading logs, the reading of important papers, the forcing my children to take showers, and the packing of nutritious lunches. DONE. As in checked out. The end is finally in sight, and I have blissfully, with a manic grin on my face, taken my foot off of the gas pedal. I’m coasting through, just hoping we stay alive through the next few weeks.

With the way the kids are acting, even that is going to be a challenge.

When I was growing up, there were all these dogs who lived on my street. Every warm evening, one would start howling and then it was like some dog-signal went out and all of the dogs in the neighborhood were howling at once and it was loud and weird and a little funny and a little scary all at the same time. I am reminded of that now when we pull in the driveway after school, and my kids let out squeals and warrior whoops and try to jump out of the still-moving vehicle. The other kids in the neighborhood run alongside the car, all of them seemingly drawn by some deep instinctive need to discard coats and shoes and backpacks and lunch boxes in their wake and hoot and holler and roll around in the mud, chasing each other with weapons fashioned out of popsicles sticks and half-done homework.

Which in and of itself would be enough. Except that suddenly, it’s baseball time because our lives have become one long little league game that apparently goes on and on, every day of every week, for the rest of eternity. There are only small breaks thrown in to fill up on nitrates and red dye from the concession stand and then we come home to track that red baseball dirt around the house and onto the sheets and then everyone is tucked into their beds and finally falls asleep.

HA! Kidding! No one falls asleep ever. They sneak out of their rooms to get in some last minute Popsicles and sibling-beatings, and are selfishly unconcerned with the fact that we live in an old house where the floor creaks under every step. My last nerve spontaneously combusts and I forget it’s open window season while I yell GO TO BED REALLY I MEAN IN BED BED BED BED NOW because it’s almost summer and full sentences are for September.

“Wear something of your sister’s,” I tell the six-year-old.

“Too big,” she says.

“Your brother’s then.”

“Too little.”

“Just. Wear. Something,” I say, and this is how we get her to school in last year’s too-small Elsa Halloween costume. I contemplate sending in a note of explanation to her teacher but that would involve opening her backpack, which I have sworn off of. Besides, if there is anyone more done this time of year than moms it’s teachers. I doubt the teacher will even notice the Elsa dress in her I-have-been-doing-this-for-ten-months-for-the-love-of-god-let-it-end-soon haze, and if she does I hope it’s with a nod of solidarity and understanding. Because June.

Besides, the six-year-old is mostly thrilled with being at school in a costume. “When do I have to go back to wearing pants?” she asks me.

“September,” I say. “We’ll try again in September.”

Eh, at least it’s warm out.

5 Reasons Kids Shouldn't Hold You Back From Traveling

It’s unfortunate so many parents and parents-to-be feel that once they have children, their traveling days are over. It could be just the beginning.

When I became pregnant with my first child, I heard over and over again how my wanderlust ways would have to come to an end. I knew that my love for travel would not subside once my daughter was born and I would find a way to continue traveling with her in tow, and I did!

It’s unfortunate that so many parents and parents-to-be feel that once they have children, their traveling days are over. I promise that they don’t have to end and there are great things that come along with traveling with kids.

Here are some reasons I travel with my kids and some good changes I’ve experienced since doing so.

You are forced to slow down and notice the small things

The biggest change I noticed on my first trip with my oldest daughter was that I wasn’t moving as fast as I usually did. At first, I was a little annoyed. I wanted to get out and see as much as possible; I had a checklist and needed to cross everything off. I soon realized a lot of my travel was exactly that, just checking things off my list but not really taking it in.

Because I couldn’t move as fast with my daughter I started traveling deeper. Furthermore, because of her vantage point, she sees things I don’t and is always pointing them out to me. An example was when we were on the beach in Phuket, my youngest was crawling in the sand and noticed some baby crabs walking along the shoreline. We would have totally missed this had she not pointed it out. My oldest and I definitely enjoyed watching them go in and out of their shells.

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You learn more

“What is that?” “What are they doing?” “Why?” Those are just a few of my daughter’s favorite questions. I don’t know about your kids, but mine will not take “I don’t know” for an answer. I’ve learned to love this, as I learn more since I am forced to find the answers to their questions.

You meet more people

Children are natural icebreakers. I’ve engaged in conversations with so many more people than I normally would have because of my girls. Sometimes the conversation starts just by someone giving them a compliment or because my oldest says “Hi” to everyone. Once this happens, the floodgates open and the conversation continues. This has often led to us finding out about a cool place or nice restaurant in the city we’re visiting that we otherwise would not have known about.

Your children will easily adapt to different situations

No car, we have to take a tuk-tuk? No forks, we must use chopsticks? No traditional bed, we have to sleep on the floor? No problem!

My girls know about different modes of transportation, different foods (my oldest is not a picky eater), and know things won’t always be as they are at home. They also know that’s okay. I know travel is making a positive impact on their personalities, outlook on the world, and even their behavior.

Your children will learn so much

I am a firm believer that most things learned are taught outside of the classroom, and that travel is a great teacher. Even at two years old, my oldest has learned that there are many different types of people in the world who all look very different. She knows and understands there are different languages spoken and different foods served based on where you live. She doesn’t have negative preconceived notions about people who are different from her. In fact, she has plenty of examples of many different types of people who have been kind to her.

If you haven’t taken a trip with your kids yet, go for it, the memories you create will last a lifetime!

This article was originally published on Ebony.com.

Survival Tips for the Garage Sale Novice

When it comes to garage sales, know what you’re in for and prepare as best you can.

Hosting a garage sale is eerily like having a baby. It’s painful, painful as all hell. You swear to all the Gods you can possibly conjure up that you will never, ever in a million years do this again.

It’s too much work.

It’s exhausting.

It damn near killed you.

A few years roll on by and then you think to yourself, “You know what? I think I’m ready to do it again!”

Babies and garage sales, two of the most taxing things a woman can do. The key is to know what you’re in for and prepare as best you can. Let me help you. Heaven knows we can all learn a little something from my many blunders and missteps.

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Give yourself time to prepare

I figured that two days of prep time would suffice. I am clearly stupid. Give yourself a week at least! I worked around the clock, in the heat, with the kids at my heels, dragging bed frames, toys, furniture, and tubs of clothing up from the basement and I still barely got it all done. After huffing and puffing (and grunting and swearing), I finally got the garage filled with my goods. 

Then I realized I still had to sort items, lay clothing out in some order, and price out everything. This was when I began to question my mental stability. Why in the hell did I ever think that hosting a garage sale was a good (or even sane) idea? Do I hate myself? Clearly I must because garage sale preparation is the most un-fun thing ever.

Arm yourself with singles

Think ‘Lil Jon at a strip club. Get ready to make it rain singles for two straight days. You need that many singles and a few rolls of quarters to last you the 48 hours. Do not underestimate this component of mastering the garage sale. Without fail, a lovely elderly lady will purchase a candlestick for a quarter and hand you a fifty-dollar bill, and she will not be the only one. I thought I had this garage sale component locked down with my 10 singles, a few fives, and a handful of quarters. I was wrong. By noon I had to race upstairs and raid my daughter’s piggy bank for singles and coins.

Line up childcare

At some point you will consider spending a lovely day selling your crap to your neighbors while your little ones play happily in the driveway and front yard. Please allow me to burst your bubble. This is the worst idea you’ve ever had. Abandon it and call grandma to watch the kids. 

Toddlers and preschoolers are the worst garage sale assistants known to mankind. They will dump out all of the old puzzles, rip clothes off of tables and hangers, scramble sets of toys, and scream and sob when someone tries to buy them. They will run amok from eight until four and your garage sale will look like a scene from “Lord of The Flies.” Running the garage sale with small kids will suck, I don’t care how angelic your children are. Garage sales will turn them into hungry, whiny, half-nude, pee-pee trolls. After watching my twin toddlers “help” with garage sale set-up (aka pee in the yard and destroy all items set in their path), my fingers couldn’t dial Granny’s number fast enough.

Gather your garage sale badass essentials

The first day of garage sale hosting is hardcore. My girlfriend came over the day before to drop tables off and she warned me that customers would be lined up and waiting by eight am. Nah!  I thought to myself. Again, I’m an idiot.

It had been far too many years in-between sales to remember this detail. They were there waiting, just as my girl had said they would be. This was a great big conundrum considering I still had to get the big girls to school in the midst of the grand opening. Lucky for me the gym teacher lives a few doors down and kindly took them for me.

Man oh man, did they come. Parades of professional salers raided my garage and the crowds did not let up one bit. After a few hours, I was starving, needed to pee, and in dire need of caffeine. Again, thank the good Lord for grannies because had she not watched the sale for 30 seconds so that I could relieve myself and eat, I would’ve perished right there in my own garage surrounded by old baby clothes. 

Other goods you’ll want to stock up on other than food and coffee are plastic bags (yes, people will treat you like a Costco employee), hangers, tape, a permanent marker, and sticky notes to write on. I know, I know, you did all the prep prior to the big day. Sticky notes don’t care. By the second day of the garage sale, at least half of them will be missing.

Don’t be a garage sale wuss

Is there anything more uncomfortable than haggling over a few dollars with someone old enough to be your grandmother? 

Fine! You want to say. Take the damn comforter for four bucks! Just stop making me feel like the worst person ever for suggesting you pay one hundredth of what it’s worth!

I had a man ask me if I would accept 10 dollars for two crib frames and two nearly-new crib mattresses. In my head I was screaming, “Hell no!” The problem was that I am such a garage sale wuss that I agreed to the price merely to avoid a few minutes of awkwardness with a random stranger. 

If you’re going to do this garage sale thing then you need to prepare yourself for the bargaining. Practice in the mirror if you must. You need to channel your inner badass or you will get taken to the cleaners by garage-sale savvy experts who’ve been in the game longer than you’ve been alive.

In the end, it will be all okay. I promise. It’s not going to be easy, but you can survive garage sale weekend too. Just whatever you do, do not underestimate this community event. It is not for the weak-hearted.

8 Simple Rules for Play-Dating

There are a few guidelines that make the whole process of play-dates more enjoyable for everyone.

After years of tentatively eyeing other mothers on the playground, I finally worked up the courage to enter the realm of play-dating. I drew upon my prior romantic dating life to identify pitfalls. (Don’t call 12 times a day; don’t make summer travel plans together if you’ve only hung out once; don’t post photos of you together on Instagram and send it to your exes with #WhatYoureMissing.)

Now that I’m a bit more comfortable inviting people over for our kids to play (and for us to vent), I have a few guidelines of my own that make the whole process more enjoyable for everyone:

1 | Don’t worry about illnesses

Unless it’s a super-contagious thing (I’m looking at you, mono), bring your kid over. If I waited until my kids’ noses weren’t runny to have a playdate, we’d never leave the house.

But if her eyes are looking a smidge, dare I say, pink, or his scalp is unusually itchy, or her back is covered in the Pox, we can always reschedule for eight to 10 weeks from now.

2 | You don’t need to go crazy with the clean-up

I know you want to set a good example for your children, and if your kid spilled every single Lego onto the floor, by all means, you guys can help scoop them up. But there is no need to rinse dishes, wipe down counters, and run a vacuum. I can put everything away in less time than it takes you to stack those three blocks in the wrong bin.

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3 | You don’t have to bring food

It’s really thoughtful that you prepared a giant array of snacks and juice boxes. However, as the hostess, so did I. I always feel badly that you brought tortilla chips and my kid hates them, or no one touches the cheese crackers you so artfully arranged. Unless your kid is picky with snacks or has an allergy that I can’t shop for in advance, leave the hospitality to me.

4 | You can hang out with me…or not

There’s a dramatic shift during the mid-elementary school years when parents go from actively participating in the playdate, to a drop-and-dash. I’m cool with either, just let me know in advance so I can avoid being the mom sitting alone drinking Chardonnay while the kids play dress-up (or even worse, the mom without any Chardonnay for when you stay to hang out).

5 | You don’t need to apologize for your kids

I have small children. I know they’re prone to tantrums, can get handsy, and sometimes say the wrong thing. I’m more likely to hear “Mine!” and “Don’t wanna leave!” than “Please” and “Thank you.” You don’t need to reassure me that “they never act like this at home,” when we both know that toddlers are unpredictable time bombs that can go from complacent to psychopathic within a nanosecond. I’d hate to think that my home was the only place that brought out the cranky.

6 | You don’t have to over-discipline

Sometimes in the presence of another mom, we’re desperate to come across as a “good parent” and so jump on our kid for any infraction. “I’ve never heard him use that word before!” “I swear he used to eat celery.” “Gabby, pick up that ball of lint you knocked to the ground.”

You have nothing to prove. Unless your three-year-old stole my wallet or took my car out for a joyride, there’s no need to come down hard.

7 | Let’s set a clear start time and end time

The old adage “How can I miss you if you won’t go away?” has never rung truer than during an interminable playdate. Even non-busy kids have schedules, and it becomes complicated when I go to run a bath or start singing bedtime songs, and the aforementioned Gabby is still lingering in our backyard.

8 | Please, please, please don’t judge me

I know the carpets aren’t the cleanest, my couch smells like curdled milk, and I don’t own any video game consoles. I forgot to water down the apple juice first, I let my kids wear shoes in the house, and sometimes refer to the hours from four pm to  seven pm as “Screen Time.”

But my daughter really likes your daughter. And when I say “Let’s do this again soon!” I mean it.

As soon as your child’s coxsackie clears up.

5 Documentaries That Will Change the Way You Think About the World

In a media world saturated with alternative facts and fake news, well-researched documentaries have been our compass in understanding what we believe.

We’ve been on a documentary kick lately. When Netflix-o’clock rolls around, we can be found camped out on the couch attempting to educate ourselves. We’ve really learned about some fascinating topics from healthy living to conspiracy theories. In a media world saturated with alternative facts and fake news, well-researched documentaries have been our compass in understanding what we believe.

Every time we watch, I think, “Other people have to know about this! This is fascinating. I’m so motivated.”

So, in an effort to relieve my husband of my recurring chatter about these important issues, I thought I’d share.

1 | “Before the Flood”

From producers Fisher Stevens and Leonardo DiCaprio, this National Geographic film presents inarguable scientific facts about climate change. The cameras follow Leonardo DiCaprio as he visits five continents and the arctic to speak with thought-leaders about the impact our lifestyles have on Earth’s delicate ecosystem.

Fact: in the past five years, the rate of ice volume loss has doubled in Greenland and tripled in West Antarctica. (Read more important facts.)

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2 | “Catching the Sun”

British filmmaker, Shalini Kantayya, illuminates (pun intended) the subject of transitioning to solar energy and the race to get there in the U.S. and China. Her film follows an entrepreneurial project in Richmond, California, that employs low-income workers installing solar panels. It also addresses the common misconceptions that solar energy is only affordable for the wealthy and those that live in a sunny climate. The entire documentary project’s goal is to influence government officials and transition our planet to 100 percent renewable energy sources.

Fact: the amount of solar power that strikes the earth in an hour is enough to supply the world with power for more than a year. (Enlighten yourself with more solar power info.)

3 | “That Sugar Film”

Mix equal parts education of human anatomy with the quirkiness of Bill Nye, and blend with shocking facts, humor, and a not-so-funny glimpse into the country’s food industry.

In this film, Australian Damon Gameau demonstrates the effects food marketed as “natural” or “low-fat” has on a healthy body. Through clever humor, animated trips into the human body, and a dive into hidden agendas of giant corporations, this film is a potential game-changer for the conventional American family diet.

Fact: Americans consume enough sugar in a lifetime to fill an industrial-sized dumpster. (Satisfy your information craving.)

4 | “Minimalism

If you haven’t heard of Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus yet, I bet you’ll be hearing more about them very soon. These two millennial dudes set out to teach everyday people about living abundantly simple lives. The film takes a deep dive into American consumerism, how we’ve been on a marketing-driven economic ride, and how to rethink priorities. This film can be a catalyst for an entirely new way of thinking about how much stuff we actually need.

Through their blog, public speaking engagements, and the documentary, “The Minimalists,” Millburn and Nicodemus spread kindness and the gift of really listening to people. Their film explains minimalism as a way of life (not simply the act of decluttering) and that it will look different for different families.

Fact: a UCLA study found that 3.1 percent of the world’s children live in America, but they own 40 percent of the toys consumed globally. (Intrigued? Less is more.)

5 | “The Gorilla Who Talks

The beautiful love story behind this title is as simple as the title itself. Sweet, gentle Koko was the gorilla raised by Penny Patterson, a Stanford grad student at the time she began work at the San Francisco Zoo in 1971. The scientist embarked on a communication experiment with Koko by teaching the ape sign language. The gorilla’s ability to learn, understand, master hundreds of signs, and express herself through ASL astonished everyone. Penny and Koko still live together as though they are mother and daughter. The film really brings out all the warm, fuzzy feelings. It’s an encouraging tale of how humans and gorillas really aren’t that different.

Fact: a study in 2012 on captive populations revealed that female western lowland gorillas use a type of baby talk to communicate with their babies.

These films have really shifted the way my family thinks about ourselves, our interactions with each other, and the world around us. I hope they’ll do the same for you.

The Secret to Coaching Little Kids

Because the one thing they’ll remember is if they had fun.

I am in the throes of my third stint as baseball coach for the little town of Lincoln, Vermont. My third and youngest son is eight. I’ve coached all three of my kids through the little league system. My youngest is finally out of Tee-ball, but not quite ready for the kind of baseball where the kids pitch to other kids. We call this the Farm League, sort of the minors division of minors.

This is the age when the coaches pitch the ball to their own players. When you need to explain that the reason first base is called first base is because that is the first base you run to when you hit the ball. This is the age when, if a catch is made in the field, any catch, parents from both teams cheer and yell encouragement. The age when the kids come running off the field after the game and say, “Did we win?”

In other words, there is way more cute than there is skill going on out on the field, and I love it. This is the age when a coach who is not paying attention can really ruin the sport for a child. It pisses me off and so I’m doing something about it. This is my strongly worded letter to all little league coaches and parents of young ball players – don’t forget: baseball is supposed to be fun!

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There are plenty of great coaches out there who do a great job and volunteer their time and expertise to help train the next generation of players. This is not tirade against what is going right. I have seen enough ugliness in my teeny-tiny corner of the sports world, however, to know that there is a problem, and I want to try to address it.

My dad tells me of a time when he was growing up, in the 40s and 50s, when all the kids in the neighborhood would gather in the sandlot – no benches, no bleachers, no backstop, and no adults – and they would play baseball. Fast pitch hardball. If you were little, you watched, learned, chased foul balls, and waited for the time when one of the older kids said, “Get your mitt.” The fathers were all working and pretty much stayed out of it. There was a natural pecking order and you learned the game by just showing up, watching, and taking your lumps.

Those days are long gone and have been replaced by turf fields, grandstands and lighted sports complexes, scheduling committees, and select leagues. Rule books and umpires and parents yelling at coaches are the everyday features of the game. How has this happened?

Well, it’s because we love our kids. Those sandlot days were rough and tumble. Kids got hurt. They got bullied. The facilities were… well, there were no facilities. I don’t want to get all nostalgic for ye-olde-days-of-yore because I don’t think it was necessarily better. The biggest difference I see is that baseball isn’t something kids really do on their own anymore. It is an activity that is organized and run by adults. The problem with adults is that they forget what it was like to be a kid.

I played little league for one year when I was 11. The coaches I had were amazing. They made us all feel special, they gave us each nicknames – mine was Zimbob. They took us to pizza parties and the beach. I don’t remember anything about the baseball except the uniforms were yellow and the hats were maroon with a big C on them because we were sponsored by Crown Toyota. I remember getting stung by a bee out in center field, and I remember one time I got out by trying to stretch a single into a double.

The details are all lost in the haze of youth. More than anything, though, I remember that I had fun. The next year my mom “forgot” the day for registration and I missed out on playing. Years later I learned that she would rather have had a tooth pulled sans novocaine than to sit and watch 12-year-olds play baseball. I guess I can’t blame her, but my chances at making the major leagues were seriously inhibited by my non-participation in little league.

Which brings me to the next salient point for all you dads out there wanting to see your sons step up to the plate at Yankee Stadium. It’s great that you envision a bright future for your kid, but please understand that 99.99 percent of the kids out there are never going to play professionally and most are just trying to learn the game and have fun. You don’t have to make everyone around you, including your son, miserable by arguing that the umpire missed a call.

The stakes have gotten too high. There’s too much pressure and not enough fun. No wonder youth sports, especially baseball, are on the decline.

So here’s some advice from a guy who’s been coaching youth baseball for over ten years to make sure your kids have fun:

1 | Get out of the way

Let the coaches coach, let the umps ump, let the kids hit and run and catch and learn and make mistakes without you trying to control the situation from the stands. If you want to get out there and coach, or volunteer in some way, great, do it. But please, it’s not helpful or pleasant for anyone if you share your opinion loudly from the stands on what the people on the field are doing. It’s confusing for the kids when they see adults bringing their adult perspectives to bear on their activities.

2 | Emphasize learning

Baseball is a really complex sport. There are tons of weird rules and situational learning that needs to happen in order to even play a game. There are layers and layers of understanding that go into knowing what to do, when to do it, and how to do it well. If you emphasize winning over learning then you create a situation fraught with stress and aggressive competition. At some point, say the point when boys start seriously thinking about baseball as a job, that this may be appropriate, but at the early stages it does nothing but make the game a drag.

Let me share a story from my coaching guru, a man named Chuck, who was my eldest son’s first little league coach. Chuck never yelled. He was always calm and kind to every kid who ever put on a glove. He emphasized safety first and fun second, and everything else was somewhere down the list. One game after the kids ran in off the field and were getting ready to chant the ubiquitous “2-4-6-8…” cheer for the other team, my son asked him, “Hey coach, did we win?” and he said, “Well, you guys came in second.”

All the seven- and eight-year-old kids were psyched. “Yeah, second place! High five!” Second place was good enough for them, and it was off to the store for an ice cream and to enjoy the rest of the sunny spring day. Chuck knew that it was enough for them to have played and have fun at that age. In the grand scheme of their lives, the final outcome of that particular contest was less important than their participation.

Keeping the proper perspective is the key.

3 | The final score is not important

Skills. Youth baseball should be about learning skills. How to catch. How to throw. How to hit, run, slide, tag, steal, etc. The games give the skills context. The score is a device we use to create tension and drama – a little artificial significance to a moment – but let’s not lose sight of its actual meaning. Put into the larger context of life, these moments – even sports at the major league levels – are spectacles.

They are constructs. We agree on a context and a certain set of rules and we agree to wear certain colors and cheer for a “team.” These are all parts of an artificial container for the real goings-on. The human exchange and interaction that we experience with sport is unique and wonderful. Striving to condition one’s body and mind to be fit and strong is noble. Learning how to win and how to lose are important life skills. This is the meta text for youth sports.

Never forget that, first and foremost, we are humans in relationships with one another. The quality of those relationships should be what we strive to perfect, and there are not very many more powerful influences on a young person than that of a coach or a teacher. If you play your part right, you can make a huge impact on a child’s life, like my coaches did for me. Someday, those kids will grow up and perhaps coach their own kids, or your children’s children. It’s a big responsibility. It can also be a whole bunch of fun.

The Cost of Membership in the SAHM'S Club

When I didn’t race from the yard to get to work the circle of sisterhood (almost exclusively women) began to open up and accept me as one of their own.

I walked my kids to school, as nervous as if it was my own first day at a new job. I suppose it technically was since my husband and I decided that I could take a leave of absence from work for a year to stay at home with our kids and bring some sanity to our chaotic lives.
I looked around the schoolyard, excited and anxious, wondering if I would find a friend in this new environment. What I found was an unspoken bond that links mothers together.
When I didn’t race from the yard to get to work – or simply slow the car down near the school so the kids could jump and roll out – the circle of sisterhood (almost exclusively women) began to open up and accept me as one of their own.
I had officially become a member of SAHM’s Club, no membership fee required.
 
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On that inaugural day, after dropping off the kids, my first stop was the drug store, where I met a mom with a stroller, squirming in her post-maternity jeans. She looked at me from the line and growled, “Goddamn hemorrhoids.” Now that I was in “the club,” I felt invited to pass on an unconventional, homeopathic remedy, which may have rattled her slightly:
“Excuse me, but what you want to do is cut up small pieces of garlic and use one each night as a suppository for three nights. Works every time.”
She looked at me nervously, like I’d just looked that up in my Wiccan spell book. In what other context could you tell a complete stranger to stick a piece of garlic up her ass and think it would be helpful? It seems disgusting, but let’s face it, so is being a mom sometimes. Despite my perceived helpfulness, I made a mental note to begin filtering my advice unless invited.
The next day, the woman in front of me at the coffee shop collected the largest cup of coffee I have ever seen, the size of a tennis ball can, a mucho, mucho, grande culo (big ass) cuppa java. We nodded politely to each other, exchanging sympathetic looks as I glanced at the double stroller in front of her, occupied by a single traveler. She looked weary, a look with which any parent empathizes.
“I just wish they would all sleep through the night once,” she said, perhaps to me.
“How many do you have?” I asked, always ready to collect the Exasperation Medal for having three kids compared to the average Canadian family with 1.6.
“Eight,” she replied.
Gulp.
“Wow, eight!” is all I could muster, as I took the mommy medal from around my neck and handed it over.
“You?” she asked.
“Only three.” I don’t think I’ve ever said only three.
“Three is hard. I had trouble with three. After that, it gets easier.”
Or you’ve lost so much sleep that you just think eight kids are easy because you’re delusional or catatonic, or hopefully smoking something so fricken awesome that it makes you forget you have eight in the first place.
She went on to tell me her survival technique, which boiled down to five words: Don’t sweat the small stuff.
And then she was gone. She’d had her quick fix of connecting with another person who wasn’t asking for food or school supplies, and away she went. I watched her in awe as she slowly shuffled down the street. My new sister. Don’t sweat the small stuff? No kidding.
In my SAHM’s Club, there were many moms like these, walking around in their baby comas. But it would be some time before they would recover enough to carry on a conversation, let alone hit a yoga class.
The moms who eventually adopted me into their busy lives were more like me, having graduated to a place where they could string sentences together with minimal support because their kids were older or even at school.
A little part of me thought they felt sorry for me, or that they belonged a secret society and were luring me in, fattening me up with wine and cheese, waiting for the day when they needed to make a human sacrifice. But they were nothing but genuine and inclusive and certainly not the type to throw a body into an active volcano.
In fact, the more I learned about these new friends, the more I realized how lucky I was to have fallen into their far-reaching web of kindness, intelligence, and resourcefulness. I absorbed so much from them, including what it was to be self-aware and comfortable in my low-heeled mommy shoes. I needed to connect with women who already knew who they were and what their purpose was – at least at that point in their lives.
They didn’t apologize for their choice to stay at home, nor did they flaunt its importance or attempt to justify it to those who questioned it. They just did it, and all without pay raises or bonuses or recognition of any kind, except from the clients who mattered most – the runny-nosed, scraped-kneed, skirt-clinging, ride-needing, hungry, full, hot, cold, tired, wired, dirty, tie-my-skates-now clients, who offered hugs, kisses, and snuggles as compensation.
In mommy currency, we are richer beyond belief, despite the snot-smeared shirts and unkempt hair.
Three years have passed, and I’m still at home. In order to make this situation financially feasible, our home is no longer in the city, but in small-town Ontario. I will miss the friends I made.
Ironically, I think their instinctive, nurturing, and supportive natures helped me grow and gave me the confidence and courage to leave them – not unlike the way they’re preparing their children for adulthood. The measure that you’ve done your job well is that your children are happy, healthy, and gone.
By those standards, my friends have raised me well.

When Should a Parent Confront a Coach?

When a parent believes a coach is doing something legally or morally wrong, that’s when they need to step in.

I am one of those people who believes that the coach is the coach, and what he or she says, goes.
There is no role for parents to intervene. No parent should be complaining about the amount of time their child is or isn’t playing, or what position they play on the team, what place they have in the lineup order, or if they were selected for the All-Star team or not. The vast majority of coaches are volunteers who are sacrificing sometimes enormous amounts of time to provide an enjoyable and rewarding athletic experience for your son or daughter. No parent should be second-guessing the coach.
I say this as the parent of two sons, each of whom played a variety of competitive sports up through high school, and I say this as someone who himself has, at times, been a coach or assistant coach.
There are exceptions, however. Primarily, when a parent believes a coach is doing something legally or morally wrong. That’s when you step in.  
 
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Here is an example:  
My older son is 30 now, but when he was in grade school he started playing soccer in a town league. I knew nothing about soccer. I didn’t even know how many players are supposed to be on the field.  
One year, when he was probably only age nine or ten, he had a coach who seemed to know a lot about the game and was clearly very much into it. I’d bring my son to practice and then sit in the stands reading the paper, until one day this man yelled over to me, “Can you give us a hand?”  I nodded yes, put down the paper and walked onto the field. He handed me a team hat. I realized I had just inadvertently become an assistant coach.
The rest of that season I roamed the sidelines with this man and a few other assistants, pretending that I actually knew something. The games went fine, but there were definitely moments when I thought this man was taking things too seriously. I never said anything, but things boiled over in the second-to-last game of the season when we had a teenage referee officiating our game. 
Our coach berated him from the sidelines throughout the game, and near the end actually ran out onto the field to scream at him for what he thought was a missed call. I may not have known much about soccer, but I knew this was way out of bounds. I believed that this man was clearly taking advantage of the referee’s youth and inexperience to try and intimidate him. He was, in short, being a bully.
The game ended, we lost, and at first I wasn’t sure what to do. I decided to go up to him, away from our players, and said in a quiet voice, “If you behave that way again, I am pulling my son from this team.”
He grumbled some kind of dismissive response, we both walked away, and that was that. Or so I thought. A few minutes later he approached me in the parking lot and, with my son and other boys present, started “chest bumping” me, challenging me. I just put my hands in the air and walked away.
I saw him the following week for our last game, and we avoided each other. A year later I found out he was permanently banned from the league for some other egregious act, which offered me some sense of satisfaction and validation.
I had broken my cardinal rule of letting a coach coach and not second-guessing him or her, but given similar circumstances, I’d do it again, and I encourage other parents to do the same. Coaches can sometimes take things too far, and if they drift into belittling or bullying players, opponents, referees, whomever, then I do believe a parent has not only the right but the obligation to step in and say something. It may mean directly confronting the person, as I did. It may mean contacting the league commissioner, if there is one, alerting this person that a coach’s behavior is out of control. It may mean both.
Taking action like this will help to maintain the integrity of the game. If coaches are allowed to get away with such behavior, it usually continues on an increasingly negative trajectory, with the risk that it will spread to others as the norm. Just as important, intervening maintains your integrity, particularly in the eyes of your child. 20 years has passed since that incident, and I know my, now-adult, son remembers it.
He saw me stand up for what was right. There were many other parents there that day. None of them intervened. I believe I modeled for him something important that day – bullies are to be confronted.
Even when the bully is a coach.