Self-Help, Uncategorized

Under the Influence

Mel and I love to watch old movies. A few days ago, we watched National Velvet. Originally written by Enid Bagnold and published in 1935, it debuted as a Technicolor film in 1944. So much fun. I love the miles of dialogue where every word serves a purpose. Bright colors compliment the passion poured into life’s simple pleasures. The story is refreshingly simple even if unrealistic. But, hey, that’s the stuff dreams and fun movies are made of….

There’s one part in the story where Velvet goes to her mother seeking money so she can enter her horse, Pie, into the Grand National Steeplechase (I think that’s how you say it). Her mother agrees and gives her the money she won for swimming across the English Channel many years earlier. The mother understands her daughter’s dream and what it means to have a chance to live life to its fullest, to be great at something. I love the way Velvet’s mother calmly navigates the chaos in her family. Ultimately, she’s the glue that holds them together. She’s also the reason Velvet feels comfortable in standing up for what she believes is right.

Mother love quote

I wish I could say I’ve been the kind of mother who offers the perfect advice, faces conflict without hesitation, and is sharp enough to think on my feet, but I tend to be the opposite. Probably due to some neglect and attachment issues as a child, but I won’t go into those details. Suffice it to say, while I’m not perfect, I understand the importance of being present and active in my children’s lives.

“No one has ever achieved greatness without dreams.” –Roy T. Bennett,

As many of you know, my daughter, Mel, is co owner of this website, my writing partner on most projects, and is an extraordinary artist who is just starting out in life. Where I sold my first book at age 50, she’s 23. This doesn’t surprise me at all. I have never, one single time, doubted Mel’s ability to be successful. She just has that grit, if you know what I mean. She doesn’t settle for less than her best. But not everyone believed in this side of her.

In third grade, Mel’s teachers suggested she had behavioral issues (was lazy) because she wasn’t completing her classroom work. If I hadn’t already had two boys who sailed through school, I’m not sure I would have recognized something wrong. Mel would start out doing her work, but when she hit a complex math problem or a story question, her eyes would glaze over and she would enter zombie mode. No amount of time would help her complete the rest of her homework. She had to go play or draw to reset her brain.

I tried to explain this to her teachers and requested testing, but after speaking to the principal, they insisted on an informal IEP and behavior modification charts (testing is quite expensive). If Mel completed her in-class work, she’d get a star.

Want to know the easiest way to discourage a child? Set them up for failure. Mel’s reasoning at age ten: “If I can’t get a star, why even try?”

Those charts didn’t last long. Thankfully, the school year ended soon after and Mel was promoted.

In fourth grade, Mel’s teacher noticed some dyslexic tendencies and recommended testing. I told her about the trouble we had in the past. Since this was a public school, the teacher said if I requested testing then the school was obligated to provide it. Mel hated the idea of being singled out. At the time, the only thing I could think to tell her was that if you understand your weaknesses, then you’ll know how to move forward capitalizing on your strengths. Hefty advice for an eleven-year-old, but I didn’t how to make it better.

Mel was tested and found to be heavily right-brained which interfered with analytical thinking and her ability to process information. We implemented some creative strategies that helped simplify information for easier processing, and her grades improved. Academics were still hard, but at least she knew why.

Utilizing new tools and techniques for learning caused Mel to stand out and be perceived a little differently from the other girls. As a mom, I felt like this could go one of two ways. Either she rebels and doesn’t care about anything, or she embraces the challenge, copes with the pettiness of other girls, and one day becomes stronger because of it. So that’s what we discussed.

“Empowerment leads to success.” I searched for a good quote that would say this better and give it the authenticity I desired, but I came across this press release instead. It explains how Power2, an England based youth program, uses the same strategies as the English World Cup team.

Two strategies for empowering kids/others:

  1. Treat the kids like adults, and
  2. Give the kids more personal responsibility

In fifth grade, Mel was invited to present a portfolio to the county to be identified as gifted in the creative arts. While some frowned upon labeling, I saw this as an opportunity for empowerment–to show Mel the value of hard work (I had no doubt in her abilities). She had to submit several pieces of artwork in various mediums. In the end, she had a perfect 60/60 score from the testing instructors. With each “success,” Mel felt more empowered even though she still struggled in school and was even bullied at times.

In sixth grade, I had discussed Mel’s processing challenges and reassured her teachers it was okay if Mel didn’t meet academic standards as long as she was learning. Even so, a well-meaning teacher suggested she be put on attention-deficit medication to help her focus in the classroom. (The U. S. Educational system is an interesting place).

Disclaimer: There are many teachers out there that I respect and admire. Between my three kids, I can only count on one hand the teachers I had an issue with. It’s a noble and very difficult profession, requiring a special set of skills.

Every year, I went through the same motion of educating the teachers. I placed Mel in private art lessons, helped her participate in contests and programs, and continually reminded her of her strengths. When we moved to China, Mel was starting her junior year. I carried her test results into a meeting with her World History teacher, prepared for battle, but once he learned about Mel’s learning differences, his frustration turned to excitement. He went out of his way to create tools that helped Mel simplify and complete her project (on the Vietnam War no less). A huge success.

Mel’s new school offered an excellent art department and she excelled in art class, even at the rigorous international baccalaureate level. However, her academics were not the greatest, certainly nothing to brag or probably talk about. And while many of her friends were receiving acceptances to prestigious colleges (for which they spent most of their lives preparing for), Mel was looking at online animation programs.

Time and again, she and I have discussed the danger in comparing ourselves to others.  Not bending to societal norms because as long as we’re utilizing the gifts God has given us, we’re serving our purpose. Many times, a person doesn’t realize their potential until they stumble into it along the road of life. The danger in wandering without purpose is losing sight of our gifts that get buried under hardship…

…Unless someone reminds us. Nothing compares to a mother’s love, but a close second is a trusting adult who reminds a child that their uniqueness is a strength, and a weakness is simply an opportunity for growth.

Identify your child’s strengths–what they’re good at–and then encourage them to give it their all. You will be greatly rewarded as you watch them blossom.

What has been your greatest challenge or blessing in raising kids?

Have you heard of Power2?

“To be in your children’s memories tomorrow, you have to be in their lives today.” –unknown.

Hope you have a wonderful day.



3 thoughts on “Under the Influence”

  1. It was immediately obvious to teachers – in kindergarten – that my daughter struggled. At first the assumption was just that she was a little delayed and repeating kindergarten would get her on track developmentally. Since she’s an only child, my husband and I had no point of reference to realize something was wrong. I remember visiting my family that following summer and meeting my two nieces, one of whom is 4 months older than my daughter. Hearing her chatter and ability to communicate was like a sucker-punch wake-up in comparison to the baby-talk my daughter was speaking. We transferred to a different school for the second year of kindergarten and had immediate testing done. Probable dyslexia (because public schools can’t officially diagnose).

    We had a fantastic teacher the first two years and we worked together focusing on teaching Alora the alphabet and phonemes. I made laminated cards with the alphabet and we would play go-fish and memory, working on a handful of letters at a time. I read several books on the subject, attended a Susan Barton seminar. Then that teacher transferred at the end of the year and no one else at the school seemed to have a real understanding of dyslexia – an all too common issue at most public schools. Alora languished while we were constantly reassured she was progressing adequately and given vague answers as to just what that meant. The school was in constant upheaval cycling through teachers, principals, etc. and the special education department suffered. (Since moving it has come out that the school is hundreds of thousands of dollars in deficit.) Finally in mid-4th grade, her latest teacher – who wasn’t even fully licensed yet – accidentally let slip some concrete information – our daughter was *finally* reading officially at a first-grade level. To say we hit the roof is putting it mildly – 5 years on an IEP and she had 2 years worth of progress to show for it.

    That was the wake-up call. No more being complacent and trusting the school to know what to do. In addition to rereading those books on dyslexia, I read up on special education law and becoming an advocate for your children. I joined facebook groups and mailing lists. And we sent a certified letter to the school requesting an independent education evaluation at public expense. The gloves came off after that letter, on both sides. They agreed to the evaluation but on plain paper (no letterhead) and on the Meeting Summary stated that should there be a diagnosis of dyslexia, the school would no longer be providing services. We had to involve not just the school principal but the school district superintendent. And make clear we knew what our further recourses would be if necessary.

    The official testing took place over the summer between 4th & 5th grade. The testing was slower than usual and we ended up having to go back multiple times. The results were that Alora was reading at an early second-grade level and she had moderately severe phonological dyslexia, with slow auditory processing speed (a double deficit) and adhd-inattentive type added to the mix. Rather than be upset at a label, Alora was relieved to have a specific diagnosis – to have a name to put to her struggles. She already stood out so significantly from her peers, now at least she could explain to them that her brain was just wired a bit differently than theirs.

    Unfortunately not much changed that year as a result of the testing. In an effort to placate us, the school had purchased the first few Barton System levels over the summer (before we even had the results). We struggled through that year and I made plans to homeschool if there wasn’t significant improvement by the end of the year. But then my husband found out in November that his company was closing in April. And I was offered a job in Florida starting in May. We sold our home, moved mid-April, and spent May touring the two middle-schools in our new district. While they both seemed nice, neither of them had individualized plans for their students and I was not looking forward to the upcoming school battles so we debated between giving one a try or just homeschooling. And then we heard about a state scholarship for students with disabilities. I really didn’t think we’d qualify – the scholarship seems more geared toward severe disabilities – but my husband was convinced we should try. And we were accepted. And Alora got into the local Christian private school where she’s been steadily improving ever since.

    One of the things I’ve heard most often when it comes to children with dyslexia and other learning differences is that it is critically important to find the areas where the child can shine. That’s not always the easiest thing to do however. So we try to help Alora have the chance to experience everything that comes our way. She has always loved rocks – bringing home pockets full since kindergarten. And in the past 2 years she had discovered that she loves math. Neither of these will ever come quickly to her – her processing speed will always slow her down. But if she’s given the time she needs, she’s learned she can shine at the things she loves. Too many use their weaknesses as an excuse not to try instead of as an opportunity. You and Mel are blessed to have discovered her artistic abilities as quickly as you did. And Mel is blessed to have a mother like you looking out for her. ^_^


    1. Thank you. What an incredible story. It actually gave me chills. You’ve gone through so much to help Alora. I felt the passion. Talk about a lucky kid! And the most important factor in all of that is learning to love God. In the end, that’s all that matters. So Alora is doubly blessed.


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