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.
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:
- Treat the kids like adults, and
- 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.