Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Speech on Children with Disability and ASD as addressed to principals on the Sunshine Coast 26/3/14

Hello, my name is Elissa Mizell.  None of my kids have an ASD diagnosis, however, ASD is the closest thing to the layering of learning challenges that they each experience.  My experience in advocacy over the past five years as parent of intellectually intellectually gifted children with multiple learning disabilities influenced me to switch careers from being an architect to being an all-abilities advocate for children and advocacy coach for parents.  All of my children are in the state school system, and my husband and I have a vigorous and positive relationship with their teachers and schools.   Thank you for having us as your guests today.  Thank you for being educators and for caring about children.  The work you do is important, and it has far-reaching effects for children and their families.    


[Picture of my child and her teacher]

I want to open with a post that I wrote on my advocacy site last week about my child’s wonderful teacher at Buderim Mountain State School.  This is what I wrote--“Today I scheduled a short chat [10 minutes] with my child's teacher. One of the things the teacher said was-- " I noticed while we were in the computer lab, [the child] was feeling overwhelmed with trying to compose sentences and type. [Child]'s anxiety was rising, so I asked her if she would like to get a drink to calm down. Then we talked about doing the assignment another way." This teacher then worked out a plan for me to assist my child with typing while she dictated. I could have hugged him for being so sensitive and kind to my child, and for being solutions-oriented. He didn't say what he could not do. He didn't complain about infrastructure or resources. He worked in partnership with me so the child could reduce her anxiety and show her knowledge. I am wondering if I could somehow get this guy to move up each year to teach my kid again! He should be cloned.”  That is the end of the post.  If any of you accept bribes, please let me know, as I would pay money to get this wonderful teacher to move up with my child to high school.  (I’m kidding. [laughter]  I wish I was kidding. [more laughter.])

We were so encouraged when Greg Peach informed us that you participated in  professional development through  the More Support for Students with Disability initiative.  We have also been working on educating ourselves and our families on the laws that protect children with disabilities and their families.  We have included, in your folder, a list of practices that are common among schools on the Sunshine Coast, along with the federal and state laws that they believe they break.  We hope it is a helpful list for you and for your staff.  I am not going to read through point by point as I know that you are getting more and more familiar with the law through your own PD.  I am going to talk about some of the big issues facing children with disability and ASD right now in schools.  The solutions to these problems, are found, not only in obeying laws, but in changing mindsets-- from what cannot be done to thinking creatively about what CAN be done--just as my child’s teacher is already demonstrating in his classroom as we speak.  

I am starting with a topic that is near to my heart. 

Victimisation.  The legal definition, from the standards is--action taken in relation to the person’s disability that is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to humiliate, offend, intimidate or distress the person or their associate (the parent).

63% of 1,167 children with ASD, ages 6 to 15, had been bullied at some point in their lives. 
Children with ASD are also often intentionally “triggered” into meltdowns or aggressive outbursts by ill-intentioned peers.
National survey by the Interactive Autism Network.  
When we leave our children at the classroom door, we charge you with a sacred trust.  We know that you take that very seriously.  Please remember that children with an ASD have a reduced capacity to understand social cues, and it puts them at risk for bullying.  They need protection, especially during unstructured time at breaks.  Some of the children in our group have sustained intense physical violence from other children and have ended up in the hospital.   It is your responsibility, under both state and federal law to protect these children from bullying by other children so that they are not damaged either physically or emotionally.  
Victimisation--action taken in relation to the person’s disability that is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to humiliate, offend, intimidate or distress the person or their associate” (in this case the parent).

From the Disability Standards for Education 2005

It is also vital that you work to protect these children and their parents from victimisation by teachers, who hold an immense amount of power over children by virtue of their job.  I will never understand why, but sometimes teachers humiliate a child for using disability adjustments or persuade the child not to use disability adjustments.  Sometimes a teacher will accuse a child of  faking a disability.  Sometimes teachers makes a diagnosis known to the class or to other parents, and point out the child’s weaknesses in public.  Teachers sometimes criticise parent for not doing “enough” early intervention and blame the parent for the child’s disability.  Teachers have been known to debate the diagnoses of the child, or to harass parents for using information from outside experts and refusing the help of the school’s G.O.  All of  these actions are arguably acts of victimisation.  

These examples of victimisation by teachers are not the combined experiences of our group, but only my own and my daughter’s personal experiences at state schools across Queensland over the past five years. Victimisation is more common and more painful than any of us would like to believe,  and, like many parents of children with disability, every time I meet with an administrator or a teacher, I have to work very hard to keep my past experiences from colouring my present interactions.


“ A detailed assessment, which might include an independent expert assessment, may be required in order to determine what adjustments are necessary for a student.” 
3.4.2(e) guidance note

Diagnoses and disability adjustments.  The guidance notes for the Standards say that disability adjustments should be determined by a detailed assessment.  They also state that an independent expert’s opinion may be required to determine  disability adjustments.   Often, you will have a parent walk in with a report from their child’s paediatrician or occupational therapist or speech pathologist.  These assessments are done by independent experts who detail the child’s diagnosis and behaviours related to their disability, and then make recommendations.  

Let us be clear, Recommendations from Independent Experts = Recommendations for Disability adjustments.  

Recommendations from Independent Experts = Recommendations for Disability adjustments. 

A principal, a guidance officer, or a teacher is not qualified to question the validity of the recommendations made by specialists in their respective fields, and when a school denies professional recommendations made by an independent expert, it is arguably breaking the law.  I want to take it even one step further--when a school denies disability adjustments, thereby setting the child up for failure, and then disciplines the child for behaviour related to the disability, arguably, the school breaks the law not once but twice.  

Many of our families have spoken with the human rights commission and with the anti-discrimination commission of Queensland, with solicitors and with the ombudsman’s office, as they see independent dispute resolutions services and courts as their only option to get disability adjustments for their child, so that their child can access education on the same basis as a child without disability. Just last week, I went to a talk by a senior conciliator at the Anti-discrimination Commission of Queensland.  In her words, often, the solution is very simple, but the communication and trust have broken down so that the commission has become involved.  

Parent Engagement + 2 way Listening + Flexibility + Creative Solutions = 

Trust, Fewer Conflicts, Less Stress for All Parties. 

We are here to advocate finding flexible and creative solutions for disability adjustments before the communication and trust break down.  Engaging the parent to participate in the process and being flexible and open to trying new solutions can be unfamiliar and uncomfortable, but it is infinitely easier than than working with the human rights commission and your superiors and the department’s lawyers, and the parent’s advocate, and the media, and THEN making the adjustments later. We have  included a list of conciliated outcomes from complaints made at the Human Rights Commission.  We hope you will see, as we can, that often the solution was very simple, and that the conflict and loss of trust could have been mitigated if both parties had flexibly worked together earlier for the good of the child.

The DDA protects people with a disability against discrimination in education in Admission and Access.

Refusing enrollment or offering enrollment on different terms to students with disability.  We have had several families in our group who have been refused enrollment because of the disability of their child.  If a school refuses enrollment because of the disability adjustments a child needs, the school is arguably breaking the law.  Many of the children in our group have been offered reduced hours at school.  This practice is discriminatory on its face and breaks both federal and state law.  The law prohibits any practice that offers a child with disability different terms of enrollment from a student without disability.  That means, that if you deny a child with ASD a place on a field trip because of the support that he requires, if you deny an intellectually gifted child with ASD a place in your gifted program or if you deny disability adjustments on the field trip or within the gifted program, you are arguably breaking the law.  Children with ASD are entitled to participate at school on the same basis as a child without disability and they are entitled to all the benefits of being at school.  

The Disability Discrimination Act makes it unlawful for people with disability or their associates to be victimised for claiming rights under the DDA, learning about the DDA, filing a complaint with the Human Rights Committee or alleging that another person has committed an act that is unlawful under the DDA.  

Penalty= 6 months imprisonment

Disability Discrimination Act 1992, Part 2, Division 4, Section 42.1

Before I close, we want to remind you of the dire consequences of victimising any children or their parents represented by their committee today.  We want you to know how serious the disability discrimination act is.  In Section 42, the disability discrimination act warns that any person who victimises another person for asserting rights under the DDA, or complaining to the human rights commission, or attending learning conferences about the disability discrimination act, the person who victimises can be penalised by imprisonment for six months.  The disability discrimination act is a very serious document, and it should be treated as such.   

After surviving the first draft of this speech, Greg Peach [regional director for the sunshine coast] worried that you might think that I am picking a fight with you, but I don’t think it is picking a fight  to remind you about the laws and to talk about how not following these laws impacts parents and children with an ASD.  We are not here to fight, but to convince you to work with us for the good of children with ASD.  We are asking that you educate and instruct your staff about implementing laws that are 20 years old.  Most of all, we are here to talk about shifting mindsets from what has always been done, to what CAN be done as you facilitate an environment that engages parents and is flexible about thinking of creative ways to implement disability adjustments.   We look forward to working together in partnership with your schools to ensure that children with an ASD can access education on the same basis as children without disability. Thank you very much for your time.  

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

When Parents and Teachers Collaborate--A Success Story

As published in Mindscape, the official magazine of the Queensland Association of Gifted and Talented Children
In case no one has yet informed you, the first day of school year for gifted kids also marks the official opening day of advocacy season for us parents.  If you have a gifted child, or better yet, a gifted child with learning disabilities, you already know that the likelihood of your child’s learning needs being met without you advocating for her is slim.  Advocacy for a gifted child or a gifted child with learning disabilities is difficult, but possible; and research consistently shows that the best-case scenario for gifted kids occurs when the parent and the school listen to one another and work hand-in-hand in their respective areas of strength.

I want to share a success story of some collaboration that resulted in great achievement for one of my daughters last year.  Reflecting on this story reminds me about the benefits to my children when I persist in the difficult task of respectfully advocating for their learning needs with their teachers and school.   I hope it encourages you to work with your child’s teachers and school so that your child gets to have some great learning experiences this year.  If you are a teacher, I hope it encourages you to use your areas of strength and to engage the strengths of your gifted students’ parents to create some fantastic learning experiences for students whose learning needs may not be met without creative differentiation.  

In 2013 my daughter started year 7 at a new state school after we moved from Brisbane to the Sunshine coast.  The year before, she had been  "whole-grade" accelerated mid-year from year 5 into year 6 with some additional subject acceleration in maths and science.  She was part of a year 6/7 composite class at a state school, and sometimes the whole class did the year 7 assignments in English.  My daughter loves science and maths.  She plows through stacks of books, expresses herself articulately and has excellent comprehension; but she has historically hated English as a subject and has passionately loathed writing of any sort at school.  

In year 6 she plugged through a memoir assignment and got the "C" that she deserved for completing the project to a satisfactory level.   This year, during her year 7 year, when the exact same memoir assignment came around, she was in tears because she so dreaded having to write a memoir again.  About the time they assigned the memoir project, her teachers also nominated her to participate in a workshop about writing where she met authors of books and listened to how they composed stories and created characters.  As she sat, spellbound, listening to authors talk about their writing processes, somehow, the idea of writing-- not as a compulsory activity to be dreaded, but as a creative enterprise to be enjoyed--took hold.  It was like a light switch had flipped!

I emailed my daughter’s teachers to let them know about how discouraged my daughter was about repeating the memoir assignment.  I asked if it would be possible for me to differentiate the assignment for her so that she did not have to do the same one again. They agreed because they cared about how she was feeling, because they also wanted her to learn something new and because they wanted her to enjoy writing.  We tossed a few different differentiation ideas back and forth on email.  My daughter has always been interested in pre-historic cats, so, at my suggestion and  with her teachers’ approval, she wrote the memoir as a sequence of adventures from the point of view of a prehistoric cat, instead of writing about her own "boring" life experiences.  The result was unbelievable!  Her teachers and I were all blown away, and so excited about her breakthrough in enjoying writing.  By the time she was finished, my child who has always deplored writing had composed a memoir of 2800 words!

That assignment was a creative and an academic triumph for my daughter, but it was also cause for celebration for her teachers and for me.  Her new-found talent would not have been revealed and developed without the enrichment offered by her teachers and school, or without communication and cooperation between her teachers and me.   They used their expertise and resources as educators, and I used mine as a parent who knew what might engage my quirky, fact-collecting, prehistoric-feline-buff.  I really could not thank her teachers Anita and Kate for working together with me to reveal and develop talents that might have otherwise remained hidden.  

Great learning experiences for gifted kids are possible and they are built on the foundation of collaboration between home and school.  This year, as school begins for gifted kids and advocacy season opens for us parents, get ready to roll up your sleeves so that you can respectfully advocate for your kids’ learning needs and collaborate with their teachers.    There is really no end to how much parents and teachers can help gifted children develop when they work together with the child's best interest in their hearts.

Elissa Mizell is president of the Brisbane North Branch of QAGTC and mother to 3 girls who are all gifted with learning disabilities.  She lives with her family on the Sunshine Coast.  In 2013, she launched her company The Learning Architect to provide advocacy, advocacy-coaching, and tutoring for children with diverse learning needs and their families.  She specialises in gifted children and gifted  children with learning disabilities.  Email her at elissamizell@gmail.com.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Bound By Love--A Tribute to Grandma E (Ernestine Ainsworth)

When I was a little girl, my parents’ parents lived far away, and I didn’t get to see them very often, but that didn’t stop me from knowing what it is to be close to a grandmother. You see, when I was a little girl, Grandma E loved me, and her love bound us together as family.

Love was a common theme in her life. She loved her husband; she loved the babies at the daycare where she worked; she loved her siblings and cousins and their children and grandchildren; she loved God and the families she adopted at her church, families like mine. Some of the treasured memories I have of Grandma E are hearing about each of the different people she loved. I suspect we all got to hear about each other, because Grandma E. loved to talk about all the people she loved to other people she loved.

Through the many years I knew her, I had the privilege of listening to lots of her adventures, some from the Great Depression, some about her family growing up, some about the factory where she worked during World War 2. Reading between the lines, I know that many chapters in her life weren’t easy, but she had the habit of finding and remembering the bright side of situations and the very best side of people.

Helping whoever was nearby was another common theme in her life. As I listened to her memories, over time, I learned to listen for the person that she helped in each period of her life. She never had a lot in the way of material possessions, but I know she was always willing to share whatever she had with those in need.

Grandma E was a very rare woman. Not every adopted grandmother can appreciate and enjoy the horrible faces made by my little hyper-active brother during the serious parts of sermons at church, or would pay attention to the fashion sketches of a 10 year old girl and keep them folded up as treasured possessions in her Bible until the girl is 35 with children of her own. Not every adopted grandmother could revel in my dad snoring when he fell asleep in church, or would be willing to share her extensive knowledge of gardening with my mother, an obvious plant murderer. Not everyone of Grandma E.’s generation could look beyond superficial differences like the color of skin to find common ground and friendship with folks from other cultures and backgrounds, but Grandma E could. The amount of love that flowed through her heart and into the lives of others was truly extraordinary.

Though she didn’t have any children by blood, her legacy lives on in the lives she touched, and in the traditions she handed down to us, her loved ones. Her legacy lives on when we love our families, when we enjoy babies, make family of friends at church, when we give to those who are needy, when find the sunny side side of trials, or reach across cultural lines to find friendship with those who are very different from us. Her legacy lives on in each of her loved ones, whether we were her family by blood or by love.

I am thankful to have known Grandma E. as my grandma, and sad not to see her again on earth, but it brings me great joy to imagine her in heaven, reunited with many of the ones she loved who have gone before her. It gives me great pleasure to imagine God saying to her, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” and to know that I will see her again in heaven some day. Goodbye for now, Grandma E. Thank you for loving me so much and making room in your life for me for these past 35 years. I love you too.  

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Ask the Question

As Published in Mindscape Magazine, the official magazine of the Queensland Association of Gifted and Talented Children, Feb 2013

"Thanks, but my life and theirs would be easier if they weren't gifted," I said to a well-meaning professional who felt the need to congratulate me on having gifted kids. This goes down exactly as poorly as you might imagine, but it's true, and I’m outspoken, so I say it anyway to educate people who tend toward awe or envy when pity is what would be most welcome. In case you are still in denial, let me be frank-- being the parent of a gifted child, or gifted children, if you lucky enough to have more than one, is extremely hard! There is no quick fix; there are very few knowledgeable experts to advise us. Parenting gifted kids requires sustained effort over time, lots of time, about two decades of time. Don’t get me wrong--I enjoy my kids; I want what is best for them. I love them, and that very love often makes being responsible for decisions that direct the course of their lives heavy. It seems many of my friends with gifted kids feel the same stress over how their choices will affect their kids now and in the future.

In order to lighten that grave sense of responsibility that hangs over my mind, I do occasionally fantasise about how I might make my three girls less gifted. Perhaps I could place them in front of the t.v. for all their waking hours, or cease the practice of conversing with them altogether? Maybe I should burn all our hundreds of books, and throw the microscope and watercolours in the bin? I've even toyed with the idea of feeding them an entire diet solely consisting of junk food and devoid of vegetables ( perhaps on lead plates?) in hopes that just one of my girls might become more "normal.” You see, "normal" would make my life and theirs incredibly and immeasurably easier. But alas! These are just the fantasies of a mother who can't do any of these things because of one nagging question, one that pops up at home, in the library, in meetings with teachers and administrators. It is such an inconvenient question, really, but one to which parents like me must return again and again, one that, if asked frequently, clarifies our vision and directs our goals and the paths we lay for our children.

I had to ask myself this question at the commencement of last year when I confronted my own urge to duck and run, to pretend I had no need to intervene on behalf of my daughter who started prep last year. Experience with my two older girls said that the teacher would benefit from knowing that my four-and-a-half-year-old knew most of the academic subject matter that would be covered this year and that she was learning at alarming rates. Experience also said that her teacher would probably resent my bringing this knowledge to the table no matter how meekly, apologetically, and collaboratively it was presented. Experience postulated that "visual-spatial learning style" is a dirty word to many teachers, because of the modifications in curriculum and teaching style that it requires. In spite of my fears, I asked myself the question, "What is in the best interest of my child?" and made the appointment. To my great surprise and delight, my child’s teacher received my insights with grace and sincere consideration. My interview resulted in my child coming out of hiding and being given the opportunity to learn new things, even material that is not standard fare for preps.

My husband and I had to ask the question when we considered formal testing from the educational psychologist for my two older girls. Since our school didn’t see that our children had divergent learning needs, they were not willing to expend resources for testing them. We were concerned because both girls had good grades but disliked school and were losing more interest in school every year and developing perfectionism faster than they were acquiring new knowledge or critical thinking skills. Their teachers weren't concerned; in fact, one set was quite skeptical toward the idea of my daughter being gifted at all, for, at seven, my middle daughter had already assigned her intellect to deep cover and had altered her speech, grammar, and manner of presenting herself to complete her disguise. The cost of private testing for two children at the educational psychologist seemed astronomical for our one-income, public-schooling family, but there was no other way to figure out what divergent educational planning they required. In the end, "What is in the best interest of my child?" made the decision of whether or not to test privately easy. Testing consumed our vacation money and confirmed what we had suspected--both gifted. After a year and a quarter of working with their school, we finally have two official student enrichment plans in place to answer learning needs that were invisible to school and unclear to us before testing.

Sometimes asking "What is in the best interest of my child?" means letting things go, even things that are unjust. Last year, in preparation for standardised testing, one of my daughters had her spelling deficiency pointed out in front of the entire congregation of children in her grade. So far, although she is gifted by many measures, sensory processing issues confound her attempts at spelling; however, it is hard for me to imagine a context in which pointing out any child's weakness in front of a group could be acceptable. Certainly, the children with learning difficulties who are not gifted were not subjected to the public humiliation that my 2E child endured. My daughter was outraged, but not because she recognised her deficiency or because she was embarrassed. She was upset because she felt that she had been falsely accused. She thought that the adult in question "had no idea what she was talking about." I took a day to cool down and then mentioned the incident to her teacher, who calmly communicated my displeasure to the offending party for me. No apology was made to me or to my child, and no explanation has ever been given, but, as there was no harm done to my daughter's academic self-concept, answering "what is in the best interest of my child" meant dropping the issue, and avoiding the offender until I was sure that I wouldn’t lose my temper. I drank herbal tea and cycled ferociously to calm down, and then proceeded to make excuses to my daughter for someone else's “mistake” while devising divergent spelling strategies for my confident-yet-remedial speller.

"What's in the best interest of my child?" is a question with many caveats, many shades of grey. As parents, we get the privilege of weighing short-term decisions with long-term decisions, and deciding how to make the two work together for good. Determining what is most beneficial to a child sometimes means considering social issues against learning issues, or financial issues against intellectual ones. It means electing when to act and when to lay low, and often choosing the best of several poor options. It means planning when, how, and with whom to stage learning interventions, and sizing up innumerable factors to resolve how to present your person, your point of view, and your proof in such a way that your child benefits from your effort.

"What's in the best interest of my child?" often comes into direct conflict with other questions we ask ourselves, questions like, "What will my friends think of me?" or "Will my child's teacher or school classify me as a 'pushy parent?'" or "What will they think if they have never done what my child needs before?" These and other questions, both the valid and the neurotic, battle for centre stage in our decision-making process. In the end, however, whatever is in the best interest of our children has to trump what other people think of us, convention, our own aversion to or affinity for conflict, love of being right, tendency towards flying under the radar, our fears of tall poppy-hood, appreciation for vacation money, etc.

Asking the most important question first helps us prioritise decisions that affect our children by the criteria by which they will judge us in years to come (you have already experienced the piercing truth produced by those dreadful analytical skills--imagine how sharp they will be in 15 years). So, fellow intense parents of complicated gifted children, in an hour, tomorrow, or next week, when you come to the next inevitable impasse in decision-making regarding your child, ask yourself the most important question first. Ask yourself, "What is in the best interest of my child?" before you ask all the other questions and charge forward with confidence and with courage. Chances are that you already have the answers before you; perhaps they are just waiting to be prioritised by the right question.

Elissa Shaw Mizell is an architect, and the mother of three gifted girls, two of whom are also 2E.  She has recently moved to the Sunshine Coast and launched The Learning Architect, a tutoring service for gifted and 2E children and advocacy-coaching and support service for their parents.  Contact her at elissamizell@gmail.com or find her at “The Learning Architect” on Facebook.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Fighting Terrorism at Home and Abroad--The War to Build Character in One Gifted Toddler

George Bush has become one of the most polarizing figures in the years since 911, but no matter what you think of his goals or methods in "the Global War on Terror," no one can deny he spent most of his time as the President of the United States, after 911, fighting terrorism at home and abroad. Although I enjoy considerably greater popularity abroad than old "W", as we call him in Texas, I do have a lot in common with the forty-third president of the USA. Though I now reside in Oz, I too am from Texas, and I too have spent the last eight years fighting terrorism at home and abroad with what we Texans call "Texas Justice." I guess the main difference between W and I (besides my incredibly high popularity rating abroad) is that the opponents in my war are much fiercer than the jihadists that threaten western society. If my opponent had gone head to head with Osama Bin Ladin, I think the Global war on Terror could have been ended in about fifteen minutes. Who is this fierce opponent, you ask? What could strike fear into a hate-hardened, fanatical, would-be martyr in a thousand-year religious war? Good question! Read on.
A few days ago I went to the grocery store near my home in Stafford, North Brisbane. I had the car, so I took Micah Jade, my constant companion, with me to acquire the groceries that our family would need in the following week. She prattled constantly, in the car, on the way, enquiring honestly about how the world worked and why.  Micah Jade, who is two, wore in a cute, little, pink dress, her short, honey-colored curls framing her smiley impish face.  She looked adorable; I should emphasize the word "looked."  She made it through grocery shopping with no notable incidents, but as I was checking out, Micah Jade began to play on the chrome grocery gate. I was busy trying to pay, so I did not notice her mischief until she began to bang the gate against its post again and again. “Clank! Clank! Clank!” I turned to correct her, calmly requiring that she cease and desist with the loud banging, as it was not appropriate behaviour for respecting the property and hearing of others. For a moment, she looked like she was going consent, but only for a moment.
As I turned back around to the credit card machine, I heard MJ say, abruptly, in a forceful voice, not unlike the voice of Cookie Monster, "NOOO, ya don't tell MEEEE what to DOOOOOO!" The challenge was thrown down, right there in the grocery store. MJ was confident that I was not going to make her mind with an audience of fifty people. Like the jihadists, her main weapon of choice is not force, but fear. At two and a half, she had weighed the shop and the people and had sized me up, in an instant determining that I was not brave enough to face her head-on.
But what MJ didn't know was that I had been fighting terrorism at home for half a decade before she even came along. I had tamed two terrorists, even before she existed. She thought she could take the battle abroad to the grocery store and win it there, because she thought I would be afraid of what that store full of strangers would think of me and of her, but little MJ had made a serious miscalculation.
In an instant, I snatched her naughtiness up, and in the time that it took me to flip her over my shoulder, she commenced shrieking like a banshee. I frantically punched in my pin number in the credit card machine, flung the groceries into the cart, and hastily bid the cashier goodbye, as MJ, still screaming, began to kick the air in front of me. All 100 eyes were upon us, and the people within six meters of us began to put their fingers into their ears to protect their hearing. As we walked out of the store, the horror of the situation overcame me and I began to laugh out loud, my mad cackling adding to the audio-mayhem created by MJ's super-human lungs. All the way to the car, she continued to belt out high-pitched screams, the kind of screams that Jamie Lee Curtis screamed in those 80's Wes Craven films, while I laughed like a madwoman.
I held my naughty, air-kicking toddler over my shoulder, and I pushed the trolley to my car in the parking lot with one hand, walking with ease through the channel through people and cars that we had cut with our sound waves. When we reached the car, MJ received a well-needed disciplining--a short speech on obedience before I buckled her in her car seat and closed her into the car alone. Her rebellion lasted about a minute more, but she was only able to deafen herself, since the car could now contain her voice.  After that, she found her thumb, and calmed herself down on the five minute ride home. By the time we arrived home, she was back to Dr. Jekyll, and her Mr. Hyde personality stowed away for another day. She was smiling and laughing and discussing her take on the world again like the cute little toddler she appears to be.
Gifted toddlers are amazing creatures. They paint with poo and eat dog food, at least MJ does. They routinely bite and hit beloved family members and close friends, even while kissing and cuddling, as they honestly critique your parenting skills, physical fitness, or eating habits. They are unashamed to be naked in public, and occasionally refuse to brush their teeth, despite having dog-food-breath (again MJ). The gifted toddler will proudly proclaim his toilet habits and demand lollies for not making a mess in his own pants, before demanding to know how exactly the toilet and the entire sewer system function. I love to watch gifted toddlers as they discover the world. Each one is as unique as a snowflake. Gifted toddlers are equal parts sweetness and raw ambition, both adorable and insufferable, simultaneously. Gifted toddlers are so much more exciting to me than infants; but, in my experience with my children and the children of my family members and friends, I have continually found that gifted toddlers are terrorists, almost by definition. They are hell-bent on imposing their vision of reality on the world and will use fear to accomplish their sinister goal, (though a world where the loving guidance of a parent is replaced by the anarchy of toddler is a scary place, especially for the toddler herself.)
In my opinion, the prevailing wind of popular parent psychology, the stuff you read in the magazines and most popular books, seems to declare that if you just wait out the toddler years and accommodate or ignore tantrums and coups thrown in selfishness for a few years, that a sweet school-age child will emerge, magically reformed and reasonable, just by aging; but I don't believe it for a second. I guess I know too many people, gifted or not, that have never outgrown selfishness, people who have never learned to care for the good of others or to submit to any authority outside themselves. No, character is not reformed by time, but by consistent and kind intervention and guidance by a loving parent, starting during the toddler years.
The cost of refusing to confront terrorism in someone I love is too great to postpone or ignore. A little child who pouts when she doesn't get her way can be funny and outrageously cute, but a pouting adult is intolerable. In life, we don't always get to drink from the pink cup. Sometimes we are lucky to have a cup at all, even a blue one or (horror of horrors!), an orange one. Often in life, we don't get another ice cream cup if we throw ours on the ground--on purpose. Sadly, in real life, throwing tantrums and articulately slicing through others with words sometimes means the loss of a relationship, and as adults, we all experience the lasting consequences of our own poor choices, even when we are sorry afterwards.   Though gifted toddlers don't yet know it, a life, well-lived, is not about making the world conform to one's self, but in loving others, in living out honesty, thankfulness and kindness, and in developing one’s potential, not only for the sake of one’s self, but in order to contribute towards the good of others.  For me, the most important parts of parenting (though also the most difficult parts) are teaching these global truths in the mundane moments of everyday life.
It is such a huge task to be responsible for the developmental years of someone I love, and I guess that is why I think a lot about what I am working toward, while I am in the thick of grocery store tantrums, deep conversations about the meaning of life or the sewer system, and playground assaults on friends. I'm sure I'm not a perfect parent. Anyone who knows me could tell you that. I get frustrated sometimes, and often I am not as consistent as I should be; but I know what I am working toward and what is not important to me. I am not interested in having the best behaved children on the playground (this goal would be completely unattainable for me). I don't aim to make friends of my children; (Why would anyone want to have friends that are two or six or eight years old?) I may not always find agreement in parenting with my peers, with the current mags, or with my children's school; but if I am parenting for the good of my children, worrying about those things is not worth my time. No, I care most about my girls, about encouraging their inherent strengths, and about confronting and disciplining ugliness in their hearts every single time that I see it, so that they grow integrity instead of selfishness, pride, and deceit. I care about building their character and supporting them while they begin to make their own wise choices as they gradually take from me, the responsibility for their own lives.
I don't know how much progress George Bush made in the "Global War on Terror" during his eight years as president. I guess time will tell, but no matter what happens on a global scale, in my own little corner of the world, even after the eight years I have already served, I know that I will continue to fight my micro-war on terror both at home and abroad in the hopes that one day soon, I will make enough progress with MJ for the folks at the grocery store not to have to endure the ear-piercing shrieks of a terrible tantrum from my gifted toddler. I'll keep on bringing "Texas Justice" to MJ, like I have to Jordan and Meryl before her, because it is in the her best interest that I  intervene to help her to build character.  Judging from my battles with other temporary terrorists in my family, I think I probably only have eight months or so left between now and the time when I can declare a tentative victory. In the time between now and victory, though, if any of you counter-terrorism-agent-types need help, please shoot me a facebook message. My resolve is sure, my cause is just, and thus, MJ's days as a terrorist are numbered.
Afternote:  It was more than two years until my husband and I could declare a tentative victory in the war on terrorism within our house, though some days, we still feel aftershocks and shadows of it hanging around MJ.   (probably because MJ inherited a stubborn streak the size of Texas from both of us).    
Elissa Mizell is an architect, a writer of several projects including the blog elissainoz.blogspot.com, wife of her best friend, and the mother of three gifted girls, two of which are also 2E.  

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Sugar Cookie Diet

You've heard of the Atkins diet, the African Mango diet, the South Beach diet, the diet where you eat only chicken Ceasar salads (minus the best parts--croutons and dressing), liquid diets, diet pills, diet shakes, but have you yet heard of the Sugar Cookie Diet?  Yes, that's right, the sugar cookie diet, invented by a ingenious stay-at-home mom who has discovered marvellous secrets of diet and body chemistry through the sugar cookie.

Here's how it works--

1.  Make yourself some sugar cookies, from scratch, with lots of butter and sugar, which we all know have been influences in diet for thousands of years.  

2.  Ice the sugar cookies with lots of icing.  Add sprinkles for an extra helping of sugar.   Icing is linked to happiness--more sugar, more happiness.

3.  Reduce the amount of food you normally eat, and substitute sugar cookies for said food.  Sugar cookies are better to eat than spinach, as everyone knows.

4.  Enjoy your cookies.  They are the perfect breakfast food, lunch food, or dinner food.  If you wonder what to snack on, you have the answer in the name of the diet--sugar cookies.

The "fine" print:  (Be sure you want to know before continuing. . . ) This diet is a great way to enjoy the holidays, and I would recommend adopting it around any holiday that could be used as an excuse to make sugar cookies . . . BUT. . .It won't actually help you lose weight (Shocking, I know.)

Since this diet is so fantastic and so incredibly successful as a tool to modify food intake, at some point, this diet will probably be published, and you will have to pay to get this expertise.  Be sure that you take full advantage of this amazing system of changing your diet before The Sugar Cookie Diet is refined it into a system that is actually workable for those that want to lost weight.  Go ahead; enjoy the Sugar Cookie Diet before the good parts are extracted (that would be the sugar cookies).

As you've probably guessed, I am the infamous, I mean ingenious, stay-at-home mom who invented the Sugar Cookie Diet.  This is the "diet" that I adopt during the two weeks around Christmas every year.  In case you are wondering, yes, I gained a few pounds, (and have lost  most of them again. Just eliminating sugar cookies and adding the spinach back will do the trick.)  Let me know how your implementation of the Sugar Cookie Diet goes, though I can probably guess . . .

A belated merry Christmas, happy New Year, and an early happy Valentines Day to all you fellow sugar cookie junkies out there. Just to make sure that you don't run out of opportunities to enjoy the Sugar Cookie Diet, here is a list of major holidays for 2012.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Lunatic Next Door

An electrically charged doorbell would probably have done the trick, just a mild electrification, no more.  A gentle shock just might have helped the neighbourhood kids remember that my kids, who attend public school, went to school a week longer than they (the neighbor kids) had at the Catholic school, and that, yes, today is part of the extra week, just as yesterday was, and that (still) my kids wouldn't be home until later than three thirty, so there is no need to come before then and ring the doorbell, waking Micah Jade, AGAIN!  It's not that the neighbourhood kids are bad kids, just a little forgetful, and  I don't dislike them particularly, any more than I would dislike anyone who had woken crusty Micah Jade up for five days in a row from five much-needed naps that hold the power to prevent her from transforming from Dr. Jeckyl to Mr. Hyde for the remaining five hours of family life each day.

Though it may be inconsistent with my plans to electrify my door bell, I consider myself a good neighbour.  That said, this good neighbour has had a few difficulties with  unsupervised neighbourhood kids in the past, but before I tell you that story, you must hear the backstory that sets the stage.

When Greg and I bought our first house, it was in a decent neighbourhood, one with big live oak trees, older brick houses, and happy kids that played outside in the streets.  It wasn't an expensive neighbourhood, or a fancy house, but it was home.  I bought wrapping paper and chocolates and other things to support the kids in band at the local school, because I like a neighbourhood where kids can go door to door to bother people for cash.   I liked the kids that played outside too, at least in theory.

My first and last run-in with the neighbourhood kids at our house in Texas occurred at night, when I was twenty-six and alone with my two tiny kids while my husband was out-of-town.   Late in the evening, there came a knock at the door.  I wondered if it might be a neighborhood friend in trouble, but when I went to answer the door,  there was no one there.  My immense imagination could tolerate one such occurrence, but after three knocks, my fear began to further paralyse my reason as I imagined what I would do when the perpetrators forced their way into the house and attempted to kill us all (which does sometimes happen in Texas).   So, in order to get help before this impending calamity materialised, I did what any responsible, young, terrified mother would do.  I called the police.

Not far from my part of town, the police had really dangerous people to deal with--drug lords, thieves, and general thugs--and so the neighbourhood kids were small fish.  The next knock at my door was a policeman.  "Well, ma'am, there are some kids walking around outside in the streets, but it is not past curfew, so there is nothing I can do.  It is probably them, but I wouldn't worry," he said, in a calm, but patronising tone.  

Well of course he wouldn't worry! He was 6'2" and he probably had ninja training and he definitely had a gun, and, judging from his judgemental expression, he was clearly not in possession of an imagination as vivid as mine is.   When threatened, he also probably had the advantage of both "fight" and "flight" instincts, whereas I only possess "fight."  With his reassuring message delivered to the cowardly young mother, he drove off into the night, and left my imagination,  myself, and the neighbourhood kids to my own devices.

And then it occurred to me.  A note!  I will write a note to warn them of the consequences of tormenting a paranoid young mother late at night.  In a former life, I was a reasonable artist, so I put my skills to work do draw what would occur if the perpetrator cared to come back, and I taped it to the window beside the door.  Then I checked the doors again, and went to sleep because I knew with veritable certainty that it would work.

The next morning, when Greg came back from a business trip, he paused at the door in disbelief, wondering if he should call first before coming through the front door.  With tremendous courage, he unlocked the door with his key and came to find me, unsure of what had transpired while he was away.

"Babe?" he called, "Are you alright?"

I casually strolled into the living room, smiling, with an infant on my hip, and a toddler in tow.  "Yes, honey, why?"

"Well, I saw this picture of a gun in the window, and read that if I knocked on the door, that you would 'blow my head off through the window' like this picture on the sign you made."

"Oh, that was not meant for you," I said with a pleasant smile.   "The neighbour kids scared me last night when you were away, but they didn't knock after the note."

"Well, I guess not!"

I never had another kid try to sell me wrapping paper or a car wash.  Word must have gone around that five dollars for a band fundraiser was not worth facing the crazy lady at 11703.  I suppose that part of me wishes I could say that I am sorry about this incident, but I am not sorry.  My friends and family love to bring it up, and, we have all enjoyed our fair share of laughs because it is exciting when someone that you generally think of as being sane  has terrified deserving neighbourhood children that you don't know in a neighbourhood that is not yours (and subsequently refuses to repent).

So, I guess, compared to my last confrontation with the neighbourhood kids, my fantasies about shocking a new set of neighbourhood children with an electrified doorbell are quite mild.  My recent designs have given me a few chuckles, though at least this time, my plans have been hidden by discretion from real people and only revealed to my 619 friends on Facebook who laughed with me and helped me strategise (and of course, to you, my loyal blog readers, who enjoy my writing because I am foolish enough both to own and to tell any thought in my head.)   The truth is that whether I reside in Texas or in Australia or somewhere else,  I will ever be the lunatic next door.   Don't ring my doorbell at nap time for several days in a row, and, for your own sake and for mine, if you knock after dark,  please don't run off :)  

*Just to be clear, I have not ever owned a gun, and would not really shoot anyone.  Also, I don't really know how to electrify my doorbell, so wouldn't do this either.  

Thanksgiving chef in Oz

Thanksgiving chef in Oz