Tag Archives: Lisa Hartwig

The Revolution Won’t Start Here…And That’s Okay

By Lisa Hartwig

Lisa is the mother of 3 gifted children and lives outside of San Francisco.

  • checklistDeliver a full cup of tea in a wagon that rolls smoothly on four wheels of four different shapes.
  • Design and craft a musical instrument that is played only by altering its temperature.
  • Freeze and pop an airborne bubble.

These are three of the 318 items on this year’s University of Chicago Scavenger Hunt List. Scav, as it’s called, is a school-wide game in which students get points for completing listed tasks. All of this occurs over four days, ending Mother’s Day. Participants are expected to attend class and complete all of their required assignments during Scav. The winning team gets nothing more than bragging rights.

My son’s participation in Scav got me thinking about all of the things my children have done just for fun. None of these activities will be on their resumes or college applications, and no money changed hands. They may have looked like a waste of time (I may have even said so myself), but they reflect the curiosity and creative thinking that characterize so many gifted children. So, in honor of Scav, I am creating a scavenger hunt of my own composed entirely of some of my children’s more unusual activities. I am doing this with the hopes that there might be other parents out there whose children are more interested in having silly fun than in changing the world. If your daughter constructed a science lab in her room to develop a new form of algae biofuel or wrote an algorithm to predict epileptic seizures, please stop reading. You will only make me feel bad. If you wonder if your child’s creative abilities are being put to their best use, read on…

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I Won’t Try to Fix You

By Lisa Hartwig

Lisa is the mother of 3 gifted children and lives outside of San Francisco.

Four years ago, I sat in the library of my children’s school and said a small prayer.

“Please don’t let that happen to us,” I thought.

I was listening to a psychiatrist talk about anxiety. He said that during adolescence a child’s hormones can amplify stress and anxiety, causing depression. As predicted, the hormones came, my son’s anxiety got worse and he became depressed.

Maybe I should have been more proactive and made choices for my son that would have reduced his stress and anxiety. Instead, we let him make choices that satisfied some of his personal ambitions but exacerbated his anxiety. We let him leave his support system and travel across the country to go to boarding school. The move fulfilled his desire to explore new interests, have new experiences and challenge himself. It also made his undiagnosed depression worse.

Read more on what Lisa did to help her son

Parental Expectations

By Lisa Hartwig

Lisa is the mother of 3 gifted children and lives outside of San Francisco.

When my sons were in elementary school, I argued with the teachers every year to get them the instruction that they needed. When they reached middle school, I found the solution: a school for gifted and talented students. I happily enrolled both boys. My daughter started in kindergarten. The school offered my children what they needed – academically, socially and emotionally. The school also brought out all my insecurities.

Read more of Lisa’s helping her kids fit in at a gifted school here!

What Does “Gifted” Mean Anyway?

By Lisa Hartwig

Lisa is the mother of 3 gifted children and lives outside of San Francisco.

In high school, I was identified as a gifted and talented student by the Research and Guidance Laboratory for Superior Students at the University of Wisconsin. I know this because my mother saved 2 reports from the laboratory. The reports contained testing results and interviews.

The first question on the report asked about my reaction to being identified as talented. My answer:

“I believe I am not exceptionally talented and that 8th grade reading scores couldn’t possibly tell. I have no feelings about it.”

I was 17 at the time I said this. I was one of 1800 students in my high school and deeply involved in the theater program. I was popular among my peers and I had a serious boyfriend. I also got a “C” in French that year. No wonder I was dismissive of my academic “talents”.

Read more of Lisa’s exploration of what it means to be

The Perfect Test

By Lisa Hartwig

Lisa is the mother of 3 gifted children and lives outside of San Francisco.

At my son’s kindergarten parent/teacher conference, his teacher played a game with my husband and me. She put 3 marbles on the table and asked us to close our eyes. When we opened them, we saw 2 marbles. She asked us how many she was holding in her hand. When we told her “one”, she repeated the game with 4 marbles.

Our son’s teacher told us she played this game with each student until the child no longer gave the correct answer. All the children in her class stopped at 10 marbles, except my son. She played with him until she had 20 marbles on the table. Then she stopped. She told us that he was clearly very good at math.
I left the meeting feeling proud of my son’s talent and satisfied with the teacher’s assessment. My husband wasn’t.

“Why didn’t she keep going until he gave the wrong answer?”

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Confessions by the Dashboard Lights

By Lisa Hartwig

Lisa is the mother of 3 gifted children and lives outside of San Francisco.

iPodThere is a song on my son’s iPod that has over 500 plays. 500 plays in 3 months, no other song comes close. He listened to this song while he was at boarding school in New Hampshire. He was depressed.

Made a wrong turn once or twice
Dug my way out, blood and fire
Bad decisions, that’s alright
Welcome to my silly life
. . .
You’re so mean when you talk
About yourself. You were wrong.
Change the voices in your head
Make them like you instead.
–P!nk “Perfect”

When my son came home from boarding school, he told me very little about his depression. He did, however, tell me how many times he played P!nk’s song. From that moment on, I followed his musical tastes closely.

We brought him home from boarding school, and his depression continued. He enrolled at a school in San Francisco halfway through the year. I picked him up from school and drove him home every day. Most days we sat in silence. When he refused to share his day with me, I would ask him to play me a song from his iPod.

‘Cause you can’t jump the track, we’re like cars on a cable
And life’s like an hourglass, glued to the table
No one can find the rewind button, girl.
So cradle your head in your hands
And breathe… just breathe
–Anna Nalick “Breathe (2am)”

He was working through his problems, and he shared this process with me every day at 3:00pm.

Hey, don’t write yourself off yet
It’s only in your head you feel left out or looked down on
Just do your best, do everything you can
And don’t you worry what the bitter hearts are gonna say

It just takes some time, little girl you’re in the middle of the ride.
Everything (everything) will be just fine, everything (everything) will be alright (alright).
–Jimmy Eat World “The Middle”

Sometimes it felt like he was hitting me over the head.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
Stand a little taller
Doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone.
–Kelly Clarkson “Stronger”

This must all sound so contrived. I don’t think I would believe it if I didn’t live it. The funny thing is that I was never good at finding patterns. That was my son’s strength. I take most things at face value. It wasn’t until I became aware of my son’s pain and his accompanying silence that I began to pay attention to what was happening in the car.

It all makes perfect sense now. He has been doing this type of thing for years.

My son collects inspirational quotes and posts his favorites on his Facebook “About” section. “Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.” Or “I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.”

He searches for writings that move him, like “Acknowledgement: A Meditation” by Kenneth Sawyer and Anis Mojgani’s “Here Am It.” He made me watch countless TEDTalks. His favorite: Jan McGonigal’s “The game that can give you 10 extra years of life.”

In a week, I can stop looking for clues; my son is ready to talk. He is going to participate in a student production in which he and 10 other high school sophomores perform a series of scenes and monologues they have written about their lives. He will be writing about the last year. I’m more than a little nervous. Somehow, the expression of pain is easier to stomach when accompanied by a guitar.

I no longer pick up my son at school. He likes the independence of riding BART and the bus. Instead, I ask him to make me CD’s with his favorite songs. When I do find myself alone with him in the car, I ask him to play his iPod. I take great comfort in listening to his latest favorite.

Isn’t it time you got over
How fragile you are
We’re all waiting
Waiting on your supernova
Cause that’s who you are
And you’ve only begun to shine
–Anna Nalick “Shine”

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High Anxiety in My Gifted Child

By Lisa Hartwig

Lisa is the mother of 3 gifted children and lives outside of San Francisco.

Which of the following is a symptom of anxiety in a gifted child?

a. An eye twitch
b. Pacing in circles
c. Fighting with her mother

The answer?
All of the above.

The eye twitch and the pacing were easy for me. My oldest son’s eye began to twitch in fifth grade, around the same time he started to disengage at school. Our middle child began pacing in circles around the bathroom in second grade. That was the year that his teacher wrote his name on the blackboard with the word “teacher” before it because she thought he was too bossy.

My daughter is the one who fights with me. She is in an ideal educational environment. We fight because I am annoying.

If you met my daughter, you would find her to be an adorable, Justin Bieber-loving 11 year old. And she is. She is also super critical of me. According to my daughter, I clear my throat excessively. I use the word “sweetie” when I’m irritated and I make squishing noises when I chew. When I do these things, she tells me to stop. Sometimes she even imitates me.

My daughter’s need to correct me leads to terrible fights. I can’t understand why she won’t overlook my annoying behavior. She doesn’t know why I keep doing things that irritate her. Usually, I just walk away. That enrages her. She hates it when I walk away.

I don’t tell many people about my daughter’s criticism because it makes both of us look bad. It’s disrespectful. It’s insensitive. It’s evidence of my bad parenting skills. And, according to a psychiatrist I know, it’s a symptom of high anxiety.

About a year ago, I was talking with a psychiatrist about anxiety issues of my own. She went down a laundry list of symptoms. At one point she asked me if I get annoyed easily. I said no, and she seemed surprised. She said that highly anxious people are often irritable. Then I remembered my daughter. I thought about how she hates it when her younger brother cracks his knuckles, when her older brother chews ice or when her father talks with food in his mouth. It occurred to me that my daughter is irritable because she is anxious.

I am the first to admit that I might be fooling myself by thinking that my daughter’s behavior reflects anxiety instead of permissive parenting because I don’t want to take responsibility for the behavior. Having said this, I can’t escape the genetic component of her anxiety. After all, I’m anxious, and so is my husband. Our sons? Anxious and anxious. Any genetic predisposition she might have received was certainly nurtured by my anxious parenting.

Okay, maybe I lied to the psychiatrist. Sometimes I am irritable. Early in our marriage, I told my husband what to do when I behave this way. When I am at my most unlikable, what I really need is a hug. I need some physical reassurance that I am not bad despite my bad behavior.

We tried it with our daughter. Or more accurately, my husband tried it. In the middle of a particularly bad fight, he waited for her to catch her breath and then asked her if he could give her a hug. Surprisingly, she said yes. Eventually, she would ask for a hug after she made a snarky remark but before we would get into a full blown fight. Those were hard hugs for me to give. It seemed like I was rewarding bad behavior. It did, however, prevent the fight and hasten an apology from her. She always expressed genuine remorse for her behavior after we fought.

I found support for our hug therapy in a blog by Dr. Claudia M. Gold, a pediatrician and author of Keeping Your Child in Mind: Overcoming Defiance, Tantrums, and Other Everyday Behavior Problems by Seeing the World through Your Child’s Eyes. According to Dr. Gold, this behavior has to do with the underdevelopment of the higher cortical centers of the brain. Our daughter didn’t experience early trauma, nor does she have sensory processing problems like the children discussed in her blog. She is, however, intense and highly sensitive like many gifted children. She has almost all of Dabrowski’s overexcitabilities. The way she externalized her intense nature felt like a personal attack, but it was no different from the boys’ eye twitching and pacing.

I can’t say that I’m entirely at peace with the way our daughter expresses her anxiety, and if I’m wrong and I am a poor parent, please don’t tell me. I have found a solution that involves holding my daughter close and giving her a squeeze. My hope is that the memories of the fights will disappear and what she will remember are the hugs.

In what ways do your children exhibit anxiety? How do you handle these expressions of anxiety? Please share with us in the comment section below.

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Getting Your Parental Report Card

By Lisa Hartwig

Lisa is the mother of 3 gifted children and lives outside of San Francisco.

I just received my first grade as a parent. I got an “A.” How do I know I got an “A”? U.S. News & World Report said so.

My oldest son earned me this grade by getting into the University of Chicago. I know that sounds awful. But the message I received from other parents over the last 18 years suggests that I am responsible for my children’s achievements. The ultimate achievement in our community is enrollment in an elite university.

No one told me directly that I was being graded, but I saw how my neighbors reacted when we made educational choices for our children that were different from theirs. They took it very personally. They behaved as though my husband and I were implying that what was good enough for their child was not good enough for ours. I remember one difficult dinner when our guests insisted that our move to a local independent school was not only unnecessary, it was opportunistic. Private schools were only good for helping students develop business contacts for the future. If a child had the strength of character and family support, he could achieve success in a public school setting. His proof? He went to a public school and ended up teaching at Stanford and working at a large biotechnology company.

We all went our separate ways, with no common rubric to judge our progress—until now. It’ time for our children to go to college.

It seems wrong to take credit for my son’s accomplishments, and I’m not even sure U.S. News & World Report can measure them. So I asked my husband what role he thinks we play in our children’s accomplishments. He said that he would not give himself credit for our children’s success but would take credit for not messing them up. I thought we deserved a little more credit than that. I decided to evaluate my parenting skills by my ability to help them find the sun.

My children are sunflowers. If I let them act instinctively, they will turn towards the sun by finding the people and places that feed their love of learning. If something gets in the way of the sun, they wilt. I know this is a silly metaphor, but it helps me visualize my role in their lives. My job is to clear away any obstructions so that they can find the sun. They faced a lot of obstructions over the years. Sometimes, it’s been me.

It’s hard to see yourself as an obstruction. But I learned, with my husband’s assistance, that my “help” was not always helpful. So, I returned my red pen to my son when my college essay edits robbed him of his voice. I remained silent when my son eschewed the Calculus AP exam in favor of “Circus” class. I bit my tongue when he told me that he wasn’t going to apply to a particular Ivy League school because the admissions officer stressed the accomplishments of the student body and he didn’t want to achieve anything in college; he just wanted to learn. I believed that my son has good instincts. I was determined to let him find the college that best suited him, and that meant I couldn’t get in the way.

I think parents of gifted children have a particularly hard time establishing the right grading policy for themselves. Most of us begin by assessing our ability to find and deliver the appropriate curriculum and social and emotional support for our child. Our efforts are often handicapped by teachers who think our children don’t need accommodations and parents who see our requests as elitist. Even with our best efforts, our children may still disengage in the classroom and underachieve at school. Given their abilities, we are tempted to see anything short of extraordinary achievement as our failure (and theirs). Our final grade, by my neighbors’ standards, may not reflect our efforts. We may not even agree on what constitutes an “A.”

My son decided to go to the University of Chicago because it had interdisciplinary classes like “Mind” and “Power Identity and Resistance.” The school has a Circus Club and the world’s largest scavenger hunt. He liked the admissions essays and heard that the kids watch Dr. Who. Its motto is “Let knowledge grow from more to more; and so be human life enriched.”

I dropped my son off last week. As we walked through the leaf strewn quad, he said, “I don’t think I will ever do anything in my life that takes advantage of everything this place has to offer.” My son turned toward the sun, which turned out to be in Chicago. Maybe if I stay close to him (but out of his way), I will feel some of its warmth, too.

What role do you feel you play in your child’s accomplishments? Please share in the comment section below.

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Fostering Resilience in Gifted Children

By Lisa Hartwig

Lisa is the mother of 3 gifted children and lives outside of San Francisco.

“Raising Successful Children”—who could resist that title? I immediately began to asses my parenting skills after I saw Madeline Levine’s opinion piece in the Sunday New York Times. According to Dr. Levine, parents spend too much time focusing on academic success and not enough time fostering “authentic success.” Authentic success comes when parents hang back and allow their children to make mistakes so that they can develop the resilience they need to handle the difficulties of life.

As I considered Dr. Levine’s advice, I was struck by two thoughts. First, what do you do if your child is the one who is overly focused on academic success? And second, when is it okay to interfere in your child’s academic experience? My husband and I faced both of these questions last year. In answering these questions, we came to a powerful conclusion: helping your gifted child develop resilience is a nasty business.

Last September, our 13-year-old son left his 17-year-old brother, 10-year-old sister, and both parents to attend an elite boarding school on the east coast. The school had classes and resources that were unavailable locally. As a boarding student, he could devote all of his free time to his studies and extracurricular activities without worrying about family commitments. He even received a scholarship to pay for the tuition. He saw an educational nirvana. We saw the end of our parental influence.

So, Madeline Levine, is this where we are supposed to hang back? We did. We let him decide. He didn’t hesitate. We were devastated.

The following months were the most difficult of our lives. Our entire family mourned his absence, but that wasn’t what caused us the greatest pain. What kept us up at night was the emotional toll that my son’s decision took on him. He was extremely unhappy. He begged to come home. After every telephone conversation with my son, alarm bells went off in my head. Something was terribly wrong in New Hampshire.

By the time our son returned for the holidays, it was clear to us that we needed to bring him home, which we did. The emotional toll it took on him, however, was not yet done. Although he was happy to be home, he was disappointed with himself for not being able to make the boarding school experience work. He worried that his return home would affect his admission to college. He hated being the new kid again at school. His return home marked a new emotional low.

Were we wrong to let him make the initial decision to go? Should we have let him fully experience the consequences of his decision to leave home and left him in New Hampshire? Were we wrong to bring him home? According to Madeline Levine, our job “…is to know [our] child well enough to make a good call about whether he can manage a particular situation.” Our son was not able to manage the situation. We decided to say “enough” instead of making him stick with a decision that wasn’t working out as expected. While we wanted to teach him tenacity, we also felt that if we want him to take risks, we also need to help him admit when a choice was making him unhappy.

I imagine other parents of gifted children may have the same two questions for Dr. Levine. When we hang back and let our children make mistakes that result from their devotion to academic excellence, the price they pay is the anxiety that comes from failing to live up to their own impossible expectations. The intensities that characterize gifted children only increase the cost of these mistakes. Is this the price of resiliency for gifted children? When do we say “no” to our child’s quest for academic challenge?

Strange as it might sound, my husband and I don’t believe we made a mistake by letting our son go away to school. We certainly would have faced other problems if we had denied him such a wonderful opportunity. On the other hand, we don’t yet understand the full psychological costs of his decision to go. The only thing I know for sure is that I want to strangle anyone who uses the word “resiliency” casually. I have spent the last year struggling with this difficult concept. Madeline Levine says my struggles are worth it. I sure hope she is right.

Have you struggled with when to say “no” to your child’s quest for academic challenge? Please share your experience with us in the comment section below.

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Hunting for Gifts

By Lisa Hartwig

Lisa is the mother of 3 gifted children and lives outside of San Francisco.

Some gifted children are easier to identify than others. My middle child is a mathematically talented student. It’s hard to overlook a kindergartner who is multiplying and dividing double digit numbers without having ever been taught to do so. In contrast, my oldest son possesses gifted characteristics that were less obvious to me. He has emotional depth, a vivid imagination and an interest in doing things differently. He is highly creative. My son is smart, yes, but he is not an outlier in any particular academic area.

My gifted antenna failed to properly identify my oldest child because I didn’t know what I was looking for. To further complicate matters, he didn’t have the opportunity to demonstrate these characteristics in the classroom. In retrospect, I realize that I saw evidence of these gifted characteristics but failed to recognize them because I viewed his behavior through the prism of my own upbringing. In short, I was on a hunt for buried treasure with an incomplete map and poor vision.

Like most parents, my husband and I initially approached parenting with the assumption that we would raise our children largely the way we were raised. We both attended public school in the Midwest. While my education was not ideal, I attributed my success to my work ethic and internal drive. My husband felt that his success resulted from his desire to please his demanding parents. So, when my oldest son started daydreaming in class, we assumed that he lacked the drive and work ethic to succeed. We relied on his desire to please us and applied parental pressure. We said that we were going to “put the spurs on.” It was an unpleasant metaphor, but it wasn’t the worse thing I said. At a particularly frustrating moment, I called my son lazy.

It was at this point that we began to question our judgment and reevaluate our strategy for motivating our son. Bullying could not be the answer. Maybe something else was going on in the classroom. We decided to ask him.

My son told us that he retreated into his imagination when the teacher repeated information he already knew. He created a fantasy world with characters and a story line. Other times, he revisited characters from books he read. At one point, he told us that he didn’t read books, he lived in them. He even extended his creativity into mathematics. Once, he experimented with a new way of solving the problems on a math test. Unfortunately, his experiment failed miserably.

My son wasn’t lazy at all. He was building worlds, reliving old worlds and finding new ways to do things. He quietly disengaged as the class moved slowly through the curriculum—although, the teacher thought he was doing fine. Fortunately for him, he only needed to pay partial attention to do well in school. He was learning that that he could succeed while devoting minimal attention to his studies. This was not the work ethic we were hoping for in the classroom.

I learned later that my son’s disengagement was an early indication of underachievement. Every book that I consulted in later years made the same suggestions: address underachievement early with accommodations tailored to the student’s abilities. That is so much easier said than done. Our multiple attempts at advocacy would lead us from the classroom, to the principal’s office, to the Superintendent and then to the School Board. Ultimately, we succeeded, but that’s another story entirely.

When I think back on all of the preconceived notions we had about gifted children and success in the classroom, it’s a miracle that we discovered our son’s gifts. Somehow we found the humility to question our parental judgment, the courage to challenge his teacher’s expectations and the imagination to see what was invisible to us. But what we really needed was our 9-year-old son’s wisdom. Eventually, we discovered his gifts; we just needed gifts of our own to see them.

Have preconceptions of giftedness or success caused you or an educator to miss seeing something important in your child? Please share your experience in the comment section below.

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