Monday, June 6, 2011

rise and shine

Can I tell you a story?

I can?

It's kind of long.

That's okay?

Then I will!

Once Upon a Time.

There was a boy.

Inquisitive, sharp, funny, excited, enthusiastic, rhythm driven, and just, so, talkative.

(And that's when he was one!) :)

There was a boy who

was ready for life the moment he entered it.

Ready, set,
(he must have said to himself, poised as he was then, at the edge of Being)…

And he went, and went, and leapt at everything life offered. Leapt at learning and singing and reading and drawing and thinking and asking and doing and laughing and playing and

And he leapt at going to school, where after a while…at around Term 3…

he ran out of steam.

And he cried and said, "I don't want to go!"

And his teacher said, "He's an egotistical learner. He wants to be king of everything he does."

(This being because instead of circling the 5s in Kindergarten, he would add them up. There were other reasons. The teacher frowned and crossed her arms. And possibly expected us to apologise.).

After a longer while… after being told in Term 4 that my very-young-for-his-year boy would need to repeat Kindergarten because he was no longer paying attention,
we had my boy assessed by a Psychologist with lots of letters after his name.

The man said, "He must've been in a coma all year. He knows it all, already."

This was when the words "Highly Gifted," were introduced to our lives. And I didn't know what to make of them. They looked so shiny and fine, and kind of like an answer, only the teachers and the Principal didn't want to look at them. The Teacher said, "He'll grow out of it." The Principal said, "We had a child once who came and could read chapter books in Kindergarten. But by year 3 he was at the same level as everyone else. They all balance out in the end."

We left that school.

And went to another which seemed lovely, but was 20 minutes away on a curvy road, too far for a car-sick 5 year old to go, so after only a term, we went to yet another school. Our third.

(At which point a mother said to me, "What are you doing to your son?").

The third school seemed perfect. An energetic, young teacher. An involved principal. Lovely kids. Beautiful location.

I asked them, "So what can you do for my highly gifted son?"

(I tried not to sound pushy, or like an overly proud mum, but was under instruction from the psychologist. He had said, Your son has special needs. He needs an individualised program. Ask for this! Use these words! Show this report! So I did)

They said, "Oh, lots!"

I said, "The psychologist suggested he do independent work; he suggested a lot of self-directed projects."

They said, "We'll see what we can do."

Years passed.

Some years were harder than others.

One year, when I asked, "What can you do for my son?"

his teacher simply said, "I don't know."

But I would still ask. And ask specifically,

"Could he have a box of work he could go and do? Could he go to the library and work there?"

The teachers said: No. It would affect class management. It would affect his relationship with his peers. It would make him stand out, and the other kids would want special work too. They could extend my boy in different ways, they said.

After we'd been there about two and a half years, the school introduced a Gifted and Talented program. It went for one hour a week. One hour out of 30. The rest of the time, my son did the same work as the rest of the class.

I suppose it was a lot to ask. There were plenty of very smart kids in the school. The school ran interesting programs—music, language, computers. There were 25 to 30 kids in each class, all unique, all special, who all could have benefited from individualised lesson plans. And frankly, I'm not sure the teachers saw my son as anything other than a bright, sweet kid who didn't perform at an unusually higher level than the others.

In a group environment, and being a slow, very precise worker, not hugely motivated, deeply uncompetitive and quiet, my boy did not rise, particularly, and he did not shine wildly bright.

Certainly not enough, perhaps people thought (and think now?), to have me fussing over his "needs," and using such words as Highly, together with that kind of contentious word: Gifted.

For those who didn't and don't feel that way, I can hear some of you thinking

(I can, I swear!),

"Why, oh why, didn't you homeschool him?"

Because I didn't realise, then, that I could. It takes a whole mind shift, especially when you're already settled on the tracks, to jump off and take a completely unknown route. To say, I can teach a kid who needs so much, and challenge him and keep him occupied and meet his needs. To go, I can provide this, and more.

It takes another child having a near nervous-breakdown over school to push you off the tracks.

This other child being my girl, who I pulled out of school a term into Year 1.

By then, my boy was in Year 4. I said, "I'm going to homeschool your sister. You want to come too?"

"No way!" said my boy.

Rough patches had been sorted; now he was settled. He'd found a groove, and he was comfortable there. Not particularly rising or shining, but happy enough. Plus my son thought he'd have to spend all his homeschool days cleaning the house and going grocery shopping.


But a term later, after hearing about the crazy amount of fun my girl and I were having he said,

"Mum. Can I try homeschooling now?"

Of course!

Well, it's been almost two years.

I'm not sure he's as happy as a clam, because I suspect my boy is happier. After all, clams just sit there, underwater, stolid and unmoving.

Whereas my boy has

discovered himself.

And flown.

He knows what he wants to learn, and gets to learn it.
He knows what kind of learner he is, and he is it.
He knows what he loves to do, and he gets to do it.
He knows who he is
and gets to Be it.

It's beautiful.

Fast forward to now. 

Well, actually, now we're here,
let's go back about a month!

We were at the art gallery last month, checking out the Just Imagine exhibit, and he said, "I'd like to write a story for that!"

This is an art exhibit where kids from Year 5 to Year 12 are invited to write a creative response to an artwork. The winning stories get put up next to the work, and they have always been fascinating. And I'm a sucker for melding two creative forms—like poetry and music, dance and story, art and words. Big fan, I tell you.

So yeah, "Excellent idea!" I said.

We meandered through, looking closely at the artworks. The works were grouped into categories. There were 4 artworks for the Years 5-6 to write about, four for the years 7-8, and so on.

Problem was, none of the Year 5-6 artworks appealed.

"But I like that one," he said, pointing to an artwork for Years 7-8.

Paul Ryan
Welome to the Jungle

Thus began our journey of Wild Rebellion!

Off I went to the front desk. Excuse me, I said, but could my son who is not technically in Year 7-8 write about a Year 7-8 artwork?

Absolutely not, said the front desk.

Um, well, you see, I said. And put my debating hat on :)
As homeschoolers, I said, We aren't technically enrolled in any year. And if he was willing to write and have his story judged against the stories of kids older than him, would it hurt? And did I mention that, as homeschoolers, we aren't actually bound to a year?

Oh, they said, getting a little softer. A little bendier.

After about ten minutes of chatting, they were all for it. Gung-ho, in fact! Big smiles. A lot of friendly, "I don't see why nots," and "Well, okay thens," and "Good lucks!"

And we were off!

Story was written over the next couple of days.
Boy loved writing Story because he loved the painting and was totally inspired.
Story was awesome. Story was submitted. Job well done. Adventure finished!

Or so we thought…

(Don't you love the build up of suspense? You do, you really do—you can't deny it)

Cut to two weeks ago.

Phone call!

My boy had been shortlisted for the Best Story award for the Just Imagine competition at the City Gallery. Would my boy like to come to an award ceremony where he would receive a Highly Commended certificate, or possibly win Best Story?

Would he? Why, yes. He would!

Now it was getting exciting!

Cut to today. 

During one of the busiest weekends of my husband's professional life, an inaugural regional music festival being run by my husband's conservatorium,
we managed to get to this award ceremony in the art gallery.

My husband literally ran from another venue to make it on time!

He came in all sweaty, just as the ceremony began. Whereas my son sat, cool and calm (in his hat!), in the hall, amongst the crowd. And it was a full house, packed to standing with proud parents, relatives, friends, and teachers.

There was a speech. Then another speech, and then?
The awards were handed out. First came all the certificates for the years 5-6. Lots of beaming kids, all about my son's age.

Then it was time for the year 7-8 awards. The first artwork? The one my son used as a happy springboard for his story.

Highly commended to that girl, and to that boy, and then to that girl… all of them tall, all old, all at least 2 years older than my boy.

And the Best Story winner?

My boy.

Wow. Yeah. Wow.

He went up to collect his award. He was at least a foot shorter than one kid. He didn't grin like a maniac (like I did) and he didn't cry (like I did). He was, simply, himself.

And then he cruised on back to us, calm and collected, smooth and happy and cool and fine.

And then?

Well, after we saw my son's story officially displayed beside the artwork (where it will stay 'til September),
and after a man from the newspaper came and took a picture of the Best Story Winners,
and after we heard my son's story would be published in the newspaper,

my boy went off to play music with his dad,

just like a regular old day.

A day

in the life of a boy who truly wants for nothing.

Because he has and does what makes him happy.

He gets to rise, he gets to shine,

but it's his

rise, and his shine.

And he

owns it all.



  1. have moved me to tears!!! Literally, tears as my heart swelled overjoyed in reading your story of your wonderful, beautiful, amazing son! The struggles you faced with schools is not an uncommon one as I've heard others who also struggled to provide a right fit for their children. Most discover homeschooling after many attempts to get help with no success. How wonderful you were able to convince the museum staff to let your son choose his own painting. Every child deserves a parent advocate like you! Thanks for sharing this lovely story.

  2. Helena,
    This is a beautiful story! I, also, was feeling quite teary as I read it.
    Congratulations :)

  3. Ah congratulations!!! What a wonderful story. I've always disliked the notion that "they'll even out." Everyone is different, period.

  4. That was a beautiful story! Thank you so much for sharing. Hearing stories like yours make me so excited and hopeful for our home-schooling future. My girls are 3.5 and 1.5 and although we've already decided to homeschool, we haven't officially started yet (which is a funny choice of a concept in respect to homeschooling, I realise, as most of us want learning to be a way of life). Hats off to your boy! Will you publish the story on your blog? I would love to read his award winning work!

  5. Helena, What a beautiful story. It makes me want to print it out, frame it and hang it on my wall where I can look at it on the harder days, the days where I wonder if everything will be okay. This is why we homeschool. Giving our children what they need to learn is the same thing as giving them wings to fly. Your boy (and girl) is soaring.

  6. I love that your boy is happier than a clam!

    I love that you are in this place now!

    I love that your boy got that award!

    I love that homeschooling allows all children an individualized plan!

  7. Congratulations to your boy!

  8. I love this story.

    Except that bit about the teacher who said "egotistical learner." Her I just want to smack.

    (I want to smack Blogger too! It won't let me comment anywhere and keeps calling me anonymous! I am not Anon! It is I, Deb!)

  9. Love your story - long and all! And what an ending! Congrats to you and your boy! I'd love to read his story!

  10. Helena I am just smiling big with tears in my eyes. I just wish I could give your boy a huge hug and tell him how unbelievably proud of him I am.

    I love your story. You had me enthralled from the first words until the last. [Even though I KNEW how the story ended because I saw your Facebook post] I would love to read his story.

    I love this: "a day in the life of a boy who wants for nothing" because isn't that truly what it is all about? To be happy, so gloriously happy exactly where you are planted. And like Theresa I love that he is happier than a clam.

    YAY for your boy. And the wonderful Mom that is YOU.

  11. Helena - you can tell those sorts of stories any time you want! Because you made me read along, in suspense (what happens next?), you made me smile, cry, nod my head in agreement, shake in anger at those stoopid school teachers!

    How fabulous your boy is finding his joy and enjoying his life. How fantastic that he can work at his level and not worry about grade levels. How amazing that you were able to help him get there :-)

    As an aside, we must get together one of these days - I think we have a lot in common ;-)

  12. You've done it again! Another beautiful post that made my heart swell with love & awe.

  13. Yay yay yay yay! So much joy, so much everything. I love that.

    I have a "highly gifted" son who also happens to have sensory issues. 2ef, twice exceptional, whatever you want to call it. I know if he was in school they would address the sensory stuff in a special classroom, totally ignoring the HIGHLY gifted part. One of the things I love most is that he seems to learn by... absorption! ;) We unschool, we go with the flow, we explore and learn but never sit and study. But when something comes up he knows the math. He knows the words. He knows the most minute detail. I love that.

    Kudos to you mama for not just accepting what you were told and finding the right thing for your child. Love!

  14. What a beautiful story Helena!! So lovely to see through your eyes, how your son's wings unfurl. Congratulations to your wonderful son and the tremendous journey he has only just begun :).

  15. What a beautiful story. I see where he gets his story writing talents.


I love hearing from you! Thank you for your heartfelt, thoughtful responses—they lift me, and give me light.