Unpacking the Brain Backpack, AKA, “What grade did my kid just get?!?!?”

My kiddo is smart.

I’m not saying he’s like, “genius-savant-off-the-charts” smart, but the kid can keep up conversations with people three times his age. Half the time, when he’s in trouble, he can skillfully debate with my on a level that leaves me shaking my head (and he definitely keeps me on my toes). I’m not looking forward to the teen years, let me tell you.

He’s quick-witted, easily distracted, and possibly OCD when he gets on a topic of choice. He may have a slight dose of ADD, but as long as he continues to maintain acceptable levels of self-control, I’m not going to look at getting a formal diagnosis. The investment into keeping him in a small, faith-based school means that he’s getting a lot of one-on-one relationships and education, so we’re able to maintain independence as parents when it comes to our child’s unique personality (Unpopular opinion: When your kid is 1 in a class of 24, with 1 teacher, and they have a lot of energy/thoughts/need to express all of the above, the teacher can’t possibly give them the space they need to do that, without affecting the other kids. Kids then fall behind, because they’re not getting what they need and they’re in an impossible environment. It’s hard on the teacher, the child, and the parents, and many times, parents are told they need to get their kids “under control.” The conditioning has become to get your child a formal diagnosis, an Individual Educational Plan, medication in many situations, counseling, and an asterisk that they are “different” or somehow not on a level that’s even with their peers. I feel like this would be the path we’d be facing in public school. I’m not saying it’s good or bad, but I am saying that it’s not for us. Small classes, individual attention, a solid curriculum, and most importantly, a foundation of faith, is the education I grew up with and is the education we chose for our child. I understand it is not for everyone—I’m not here to pass judgment, and am in no way saying that all kids are treated the same, or should expect to be. I will definitely say that I’m a huge advocate for Christian education, and that if you ever have any questions about it, I’m more than happy to answer to the best of my abilities. I went to Christian schools from Kindergarten through my Bachelor’s degree, and my son is now in his 4th year of Christian education, so I feel like I’ve got a pretty good grasp on the good, the bad, and the scary.). My son’s teachers have all celebrated Jericho’s strengths and have challenged his rough edges; I don’t always agree with them, but I will always support them (and when I don’t agree, I reach out to them to clarify my questions, and they ALWAYS respond with kindness).

Second Grade is challenging my son. I have to say that I don’t believe it’s challenging his intelligence as much as it’s challenging his patience and his focus (and looking back, I wish I would have realized the same things about myself as I faced my own academic issues). He gets the facts straight for his classes, but then doesn’t exhibit the focus he needs in order to recall those facts. He doesn’t want to slow down enough to have legible handwriting for his answer to count as correct.  This has led to a number of discussions (many ending in tears) about, “Jericho, what is the point of knowing the answer if you won’t take the time to write it neatly enough to be read? You KNOW this stuff!!!” I find myself getting frustrated. I don’t want to go the route that devolves into hurting feelings, or making him feel like he’s “less than.” It can be challenging to convert, “DO better!!!” to, “Hey, you’re awesome, and you’re enough…and you’re also way smarter than a “B,” so slow down and do the job.”

I want him to understand that he is more than capable, and that it’s WORTH IT to slow down and to do it right…

But what does he hear???

It’s very difficult for me to stop, refocus my words, and to clarify both my intention and my love for him. I look at his little face when he’s turned in a “Bad” grade, and I know he’s beating himself up for it more than I ever could.

When we’ve had remote learning, he’s told me, “I don’t WANT to do the work with you!!  You expect me to be PERFECT!!!!!!!”

It’s not true, but oh, how that hurt my heart to hear. I still want to cry when I think about it—have I failed him, in pushing him towards his potential? Or do I keep pressing in? 

I’m not inclined to accept mediocrity when I know he has the ability to excel, but at what cost?

“You’re not here to be his friend,” I remind myself on an almost-daily basis. I love him too much to let him take the easy way out, even when it’s hard for me to stand my ground.

Now, don’t get me wrong—I’m not Tiger-Momming it over here. I consistently tell him that I want to see that he’s TRIED. If he tries and he gets a “C,” I’m totally okay with that—but I want him to TRY. That’s what matters to me, more than letters. Speaking of “C,” last night, he brought home a “C” on a science test.

I about fell over….the words escaped my mouth before I could stop them” “What in the world?!?  A C?!?!”

Cue the tears.

He cried, and he wailed, and he yelled, and he had a Total. Meltdown. David was working upstairs, and he came down to see what torture I had inflicted in the household, to warrant such a racket.

I hadn’t said a word, other than my initial shock. You see, the night before that test, Jericho had recited almost word-for-word, the entire Study Guide. He knew it all. When I went to bed the night before, I just knew he was going to kill that science test, and maintain his GPA (yes, we talk about it in the Second Grade). He knew all of this stuff, and for him to bring home a “C” was a genuine shock to me.

He cried his little eyes out while sitting on my lap. I shushed him, told him it was okay, and quietly said that I just wanted to unpack what happened (I never raised my voice, if you’re wondering). He kept yelling. It took a while to calm him down and to focus, but once he did, I told him this story:

“Your brain—sometimes, your brain is full of cats in paper sacks. It’s nearly impossible to get your thoughts wrangled together and to focus through to find what you need, right?

Jericho, think of your brain like your Backpack. Say you’re going to Grammy’s house, and you need socks. You throw them into your backpack, first thing…and they sink to the bottom, as everything does when you throw it into the backpack, first.

As the day goes on, more things go into the backpack: Shoes, pajamas, stuffed animals…everything goes into the backpack, on top of everything else….

But you need your socks….and they’re at the bottom of the backpack….So what do you do?”

“You dump the backpack out and you find them.”

“Exactly. So, you sort through everything to find what you need, right?

It’s the same thing for your Brain. Think of your Brain as your Backpack:

You see, you KNEW all of the answers to that science test. You had it!  But things happened….maybe a video game, or a TV show. Maybe you put a puzzle together that you were excited about, or you had a really great recess. All of those were things that went into your Brain Backpack, on TOP of the science stuff you knew so well, the night before.

So when the science test started, you needed to take a few deep breaths, focus, and really concentrate on sorting through all of the “other” stuff in your Brain Backpack, and find the answers you knew in the bottom of the bag—THEN you can pull the answers out, and write everything down as you know it.”

I don’t know if this mental picture will help him on his next test, but I know that as parents, our responsibility to encourage him towards excellence while protecting his self-esteem is very important to me. I never want him to feel like HE is not enough, even when his efforts are lacking. I’m grateful that he’s first of all, in a classroom, and secondly, surrounded by educators who are on the same page as David & I are, in lovingly pushing him towards his potential while giving him space to learn. It’s a delicate, balance and one that I am very challenged by.

Parenting isn’t for the faint of heart, and it’s not for those who aren’t willing to look at tear-filled eyes and still stand their ground (in love). I’m not his friend; I love him so much more than that….and I’m so grateful for my spirited, smart, hilarious little mini. He’s a good kid.

This video by The Holderness Family basically sums up our lives right now, and I couldn’t agree more!!!!!!!!!

Side note—Since my last post, we got a dog! Say “hello” to Noodle the Mutt—she’s about 5 months old, and she & Jericho are still getting used to each other, so that comes with its own set of challenges. I never wanted a small dog, and David never wanted a rescue or a mutt….Noodle happily meets all three of those “nevers” and we couldn’t love her more.

Raising Rainbows

I know, it’s been a while since I sat down and wrote anything. Life is BUSY, and it’s hard for me to discipline myself enough to focus on the monitor! So, to catch up—

The last blog was all the way back in July! It’s been over a MONTH?!?  What the heck?!? In August, we had some childcare crises to navigate, so we were running all over the place to make sure we were covered. My challenge for the school year is to find a new summer care program for my son, because he just didn’t seem to be as happy at the one he’s been in. I need to figure something out—I’m taking suggestions!

School started mid-August, and Jericho started the First Grade. He has a new teacher, and a new routine, and he seems to be settling in well! I also signed him up for Cross-Country!

I never did sports in school; I was always a music/drama geek, so the concept of team sports didn’t really come my way until I “played” volleyball in college (I use the term, “played,” VERY LOOSELY. I sucked.). My family did martial arts, which is a solo sport—well, solo, until they throw you in a ring and you have to either beat someone up, or get pummeled. I didn’t do so well there, either. J Either way, I believe in athletics and teamwork, and I’m really glad his school is so supportive. I was a nervous WRECK!

It was a million degrees, and I was mostly afraid that he wouldn’t finish the race, but HE DID, and I don’t even know if he came in last—I didn’t pay attention to that. He FINISHED!!  I was so stinking proud (and stinky—did I mention it was a million degrees?!?!)!  The first thing he said to me was, “Did I earn my Taco Bell?!?” Yes, baby, of course you did.

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And then, he proceeded to eat everything on the menu.

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As he gets older, one of the things I’m learning to work with is the endless list of questions. He doesn’t stop asking questions, and I try to answer them all; sometimes, I get overwhelmed and have to make him give me five minutes of silence, but normally, we have some pretty great conversations. He’s known for about a year now that he had a sister, and that she was a baby when she died; he’s now at a point where he’s asking pretty intense questions.

I’m learning to navigate.

He’s learning about germs and bacteria. His sister died of Late-Onset Group B Strep with Bacterial Meningitis, so the fact that a bacteria caused her death is fascinating to him. Yesterday, he was asking me about the technical aspects: “how did it kill her?” “What did it do?” “What kind of germ is it?” “Why couldn’t the doctors fix her?”

I don’t ever want to lie to him, or gloss over something. If he asks the question, I’m going to answer it in the most matter-of-fact, non-emotional way that I can. Working in healthcare for as many years as I have, I’d like to think I can be pretty good with divulging clear facts without emotional interference. It’s a compartmentalization kind of thing. He asks, “how did it kill her?” My response is, “Well, it got into her brain, and it made her brain stop working.” I leave out the other parts that will always hurt to remember…but I do remember, and it does hurt, and I can’t put into words what it’s like to say something so simple but to have such a complicated, graphic memory in my mind.

There are things he simply cannot know, but that I remember in vivid detail.

And there are moments of hope and love in the middle of those painful details…there are even moments of humor…And someday, when he’s much older, we’ll discuss the way Jesus wrapped Himself around our hearts with love and friends, and with memories of people who kept us lifted up in the heaviest of times…

But for now, I will stifle those emotions and those memories, and I will stick to the scientific facts that a six-year old boy is fascinated by.

When you’re raising your rainbow baby, there are no manuals for how to jump these hurdles. There’s nothing that tells you what to say when they ask you the hard questions, and he’s just getting started. Right now, he’s into the science of a germ that takes the life of someone. At some point, he’s going to get into the questions of faith, and healing, and “why didn’t God save her?” “Wasn’t He powerful enough to save her?” “Didn’t He love her? And you?”

I’m not sure how I’m going to answer those questions when they come—especially when sometimes, I can’t even answer them for myself. I’m past the point where the self-doubt, the accusations of the enemy, and the guilt Satan tries to throw at me over her death, sticks. It took YEARS to get through that part, especially since guilt over everything tends to be my go-to reaction when bad things happen. But I’m through it. Medically, I understand there was nothing we could have done. Physically, I understand that we did everything by the book. Because of that research, I am free from all of that.  Spiritually, sometimes I still struggle. It’s hard for me to pray for healing for other people, because that one time, it didn’t happen…

But the Bible says that we still pray for healing…We still pray for others, even when doubts tap in the corner of our minds. So, I pray, and I trust God to use His wisdom to do what He will.

I’m a pretty Type-A kind of person when it comes to life. I have lists, I have outlines, and I have step-by-step methods by which I keep things organized in my office (I try at home. It’s kind of pointless). I like to have questions and answers, and if I can’t answer it, then I FIND an answer for it. It’s been very difficult to come to the place where I let go and I trust God that He has all of the answers. I don’t understand, and I never will in this life, why my daughter died. I don’t get it, and when my son asks me “Why?” I don’t know what I’m going to say.

My go-to answer is that we’re not entitled to answers. We’re not entitled to understanding all of His whys and hows, but what we’re promised is that He knows, He cares, and He loves. How He chooses to love is up to His discretion, not mine, so I have to sit back and trust in Him.

I’ve been very candid to explain to Jericho that had we not learned the things we learned during Hannah’s birth and death, he would not be here. I want him to grow up being thankful for the sister he never knew, and for how God used such a sad thing, for His glory. I want him to understand just a smidgen of the miracle that he is.

These questions are TOUGH, and I wasn’t necessarily prepared for how they would start to be asked…but he’s asking.

I think that as long as my answers continue to point to the redeeming grace of God, even when we’re talking about the science of it all, that we’re on the right track….

And as I learned yesterday, the track isn’t necessarily a fun one to be on….but as long as we run the race, and we don’t give up, there’s a tremendous amount of glory in finishing it and in completing our mission!!!…