Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Where There's Smoke. . .

At several recent meetings of GT organizations, it's been asked, “Why don’t more people join? Why don’t they participate? Or pay?”

From my own experience I think the answer might be that if things are going well, other demands easily clamor more loudly for time and money (and with gifted children this may especially feel like the case; we are all stretched thin in many ways). Further, the value of investment in GT organizations may not have been strongly made. However, that is what it is—an investment:  in resources, in legislation, in infrastructure and continuity, in a community.

Having a fire detector, a fire extinguisher, or a local fire station might not seem important until someone has a fire. Likewise, when a GT crisis comes—personal, legislative, for one’s family, for one’s neighbor, for the school or for the state—if nobody has remembered to make that investment then sadly the resources may be unavailable to resolve the situation in as quick and positive a manner as expected or hoped. Or to resolve them at all. We hear "gifted kids can make it on their own". But would we want to face a major fire alone? Of course not. And especially not when we know we can prevent catastrophe, or that we might instead have support should there be difficulty.

Therefore, I would like to reframe the idea of investment in GT organizations:  If you know (or suspect) a child you care about is gifted, then “there’s smoke”, therefore investing in “fire safety” is proactive and responsible. Here are some things to consider:

Yes, a fire could happen to you.
My hope is that every child has a perfect childhood and that the adults in their lives find meeting parenting and educational needs to be a “piece of cake”. But meeting individual needs is terribly challenging regardless. And because gifted children are asynchronous with development and needs that often don’t match age or grade peer expectations or timing, that “cake” recipe is practically impossible to pull off. Family, educators and others can be caught off-guard, especially when twice-exceptionalities and overexcitabilities are thrown into the mix. The GT community is a wise investment.

Fire insurance cannot be purchased after the fire.
It’s nice to have a support network anyway, but if (when?) there’s a GT crisis in one’s life and one is kicking around the ashes of a schoolyear or parenting issue gone suddenly awry, it is of immense value to already have some resources in place. These children need unique support. So do the adults who love them and who work to meet their needs.

There’s a lot to learn about fire safety. Many—although certainly not all—GT crises can be avoided or scaled back by an investment in knowledge beforehand, such as that gained by reading, by attending GT seminars and conferences, by asking questions of those with experience and, of course, through anything that develops good relationships and communication. Learn as much as you can about these things—even if you don’t apply them firsthand, perhaps you can help someone else!

Fire is a “public safety” issue. Most GT organizations are non-profits, run by volunteers. None are making big money. Some school, local and state organizations disappear due to lack of funding and volunteers. Legislation and school funding also disappear. The only way to keep availability—not just for today but for future generations—is the ongoing support and involvement of the GT community. And then by teaching others without immediate need about the importance on ongoing vigilance. Gifted education has a huge longrange "trickle down" benefit for everyone in many ways.

One person or even a small group cannot make an effective fire brigade. Legislation efforts cannot be effectively organized spur-of-the-moment, yet sometimes immediate action is needed for best results. Other advocacy groups have long found power in sustained and organized numbers. Resources need to be kept supplied in order to be available when they are needed.

You don’t have to be a fire safety expert to make a difference. “Gifted” education conferences and resources are not for educators only. While some circumstances or "conflagrations" are best left to the experts, generally gifted education and parenting present situations where everyone benefits—especially the students—by having a more informed and responsible public working in collaboration with educators, counselors, legislators, students, etc. If there is a problem, we all need to work together to solve it and the more prepared everyone is, the better.

Model fire prevention early. If you become involved in GT advocacy and legislation, and teach students positive and appropriate self-advocacy, you share a powerful life skill. The state affiliate’s Legislative Day is a good example of effective use of resources.

Fire safety is excellent resource management. The things you learn, the time you give and even the money you spend will all come back to you in resources preserved (good parenting, good education information, limiting potential frustration), in the short term and big picture (not just your GT student now, but also hopefully many GT students being able to becoming fulfilled adults and contributing to the world).

Start somewhere. This “preparedness announcement” isn’t intended to be guilt trip, rather a change of perspective: GT education and involvement as an investment. No, you can’t build a fire station by yourself. But you can check the batteries in the fire detectors in your home, join the Neighborhood Watch, and perhaps check out that CPR class (see if some friends will join you!). There’s a wonderful and caring community of other volunteer and expert firefighters who would be delighted to have your support!

Remember, only YOU can prevent—or at least ease—GT fires. . . .

The US Forest Service has a catchy phrase there.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

When Worlds Collide (Or Diverge): An Inaugural Blog

NAGC (National Association for Gifted Children) sent out a poll and included in the questions was one asking about subscriptions to parenting magazines.  While I no longer subscribe to any, the question provoked an apt launching point for this blog. 

My two parenting magazine subscriptions:  
  • Family Fun:  Arch-typical Disney fantasy all they way.  Amazingly cute and user-friendly crafts, costumes, snacks, vacation articles, recipes, health articles, etc.  Nicely presented and packaged.  Pleasantville in magazine form.  A real “porch” read.  I confess that I stilI love thumbing through it –the beautiful modern, if commercial, idylls written on those glossy pages–and it inspired some lovely birthday parties.
  • LifeLearning Magazine:  Unschooling. Unrepentant and subversive. From our early years (perhaps our BEST years) homeschooling.  I kept the subscription for a long time because it inspired me, speaking to autonomous learning and parenting better than any other single publication I read. But overall it wasn’t quite our family’s reality either.

Welcome to my world.  Or worlds.

The whole magazine scenario, brought to the fore by the NAGC questionnaire, is a metaphor for our entire parenting and schooling experience.  Because I don't think there's a magazine for the creative parenting undertaken at our house. Instead it's been vaguely charted territory, best addressed in the supportive emails found on the listserves of the incredibly generous gifted online community.  But unfortunately there’s no HoagiesGifted Magazine.  No little piece of "home" to arrive in my mailbox, complete with photos and "how-to's" every month. (Not that my children would have enjoyed following a step-by-step—and, heck, I don’t do well with following directions myself—but some sort of a reference beyond "Thar Be Dragons" would have been nice, because the warning wasn’t going to do any good; the kids were launching us into Terra Incognita regardless.)

Nevertheless, I remember the tinge of remorse that accompanied the eventual intentional lapsing of both subscriptions in recognition that the children had grown older.  For better or worse, that ship had sailed and we'd already whipped past the benefits to be gained or ideals marked by the magazines' charts.  Had we wanted to add those ports?  Had we managed to?  Sometimes yes, sometimes no.   But the ship sails on. . . .

Here's a homemade Christmas card from many years back.  Despite the the unschooling and the frequent fights with the system, clearly I've never been able to move past a certain desire to embrace the traditional.  (We were stretching a bit further back than Norman Rockwell:  the costuming is for St. Lucia and, yes, that is live flame atop my child's head.)

Recognizing that gifted adults are unlikely to find a single destination in life appropriate or desirable to them, my husband and I have done our best to encourage our children to approach life's diversity as travelers:  to live in many worlds (literally and metaphorically), to be at home in their own skins, to be flexible thinkers and creative problem solvers, and hopefully to know that they will always find safe harbor with us.  Now they are reaching the age where it is less about equipping them for their own journeys and, alarmingly, more about seeing how they begin to fare.

As for those magazines and the sometimes-perplexing juxtaposition between the microcosms of expectations and reality they present:  On the up-side, I can still whip up an awesome Halloween costume when the need arises.  But I'm more pleased that I ended up with creative individualists who enjoy making their own.

CookieMonster Slayer: willing to wear costumes even without occasion to during her two-year stint at public high school, my daughter enjoyed classmates' responses to this not-so-Family-Fun costume two Halloweens ago.