Cautiously Optimistic

Depending on how I count it, we’re either in our ninth week, fifth week, or third week of school. Since it only really all came together in the past few weeks, I’ll pick the latter.

I’d been dreading this school year since at least May. Okay, maybe even April. The previous two years were a downward spiral, with my older son and I finding our way ever more deeply into a black hole of discouragement, despair, and daily battles. Okay, perhaps that’s a bit strong, but neither of us were happy with each other or ourselves. And Instead of working together, we both seemed bent on proving to each other that things could indeed get worse. So they did.

As August approached, my dread increased. I certainly wasn’t helping my older grow into more responsibility. If anything, I was hurting the process. In acute distress one day, I went so far as to call our local public high school two weeks before it was to start, ready to demolish our plans in hopes that school could help him more than I could. The act of calling calmed me down and absolutely convinced my son that immediate change was required. Besides, it reminded me why we’d left school almost eight years earlier. Asking for accommodations for an exceptionally gifted kid who needed significant support for his dysgraphia wasn’t going to be easier at 15 than it had been at seven. Anyway, the promised returned calls after the initial talk with the counselor went unanswered. Surely that was a sign to continue as we had planned.

And so continue we did. He’d begun his Coursera literature class in July and his physics course in August (the only class with me at the helm but with the benefit of a friend in attendance as well). After Labor Day, two classes at Madonna University promised a new way of learning independent of Mom but requiring a far higher degree of autonomy and responsibility than previously experienced or exhibited.

Yes, I had my doubts. And instead of remaining upbeat, positive, and generally supportive, I was sitting in a place of fear tinged with not a small amount of resentment and anger. Boy, did it show. But there he was, excited about university classes and tolerating the accommodations offered given his learning differences. Somehow, despite my negativity, he was still quite sure he’d be fine. As his first day of school approached, his excitement built. Mine did, too, although I continued to worry.

Then I stopped. His university classes were days away from beginning. He was more excited about those than any other academic endeavor in the past two years. Perhaps he’d be fine. And if he wasn’t, perhaps that would be the nudge he needed to work harder on the organizational piece that’s always plagued him.

Was I comfortable with the idea of letting him fail, or even letting him flounder and swallow some poor grades? Not really. Even at a reduced rate for dual enrollment, the tab for eight credits is significant. Beyond the financial investment was my concern about his ability to manage the deadlines and dates that school requires. He’d struggled mightily with that at home, and how much was teenage rebellion and how much was executive function challenges was unknown. But my deepest concern was that a failure at school would confirm his growing sense of identity as someone who couldn’t succeed.

He, however, was all confidence and enthusiasm, and that was contagious. And hopeful. So I relaxed.

He returned from the first class, Calculus I, ebullient. He’d attended with another 15-year-old friend, and together, it seems they took the class by storm. The professor asked questions, but the other (traditionally aged) students didn’t answer. Some would mumble, my son reported, but only after much prompting by the professor. So he and his buddy started answering questions. After suggesting he make sure others have a chance to answer, I let out a mental exhalation. In those few hours, he’d been reminded of what he’d forgotten for years or perhaps what he never actually believed:  he was smart.

Yes, I know that plenty of college (and high school) kids zone out in class, knowing plenty but saying nothing. But participating successfully in that setting (yes, I asked if his answers were correct) reminded him that he wasn’t stupid. Nothing I’d been able to say had changed that perception of himself, as for years he’d only seen the learning disabilities and not his own giftedness.

That bit of confirmation of his own abilities along with the desire to do well in the college setting seems –so far — to be enough to help him summon some basic organizational skills. While his binder and backpack were scary when we looked through them today (first check), I could see that he’d received excellent grades on all his assignments. Heck, I was thrilled he’d remembered to do them and to turn them in, but the grades on them confirmed to him and to me that we’d made the right choice this year. Today, three weeks in, we spent some time on Basic Backpack and Binder Organization 101, and while I’m sure paper chaos will return to that black maw, I’m seeing some light at the end of what’s seemed like a very long tunnel, and I doubt it’s an oncoming train.

So here I am, cautiously optimistic with a son who’s happier, more independent, and more confident than he’s been in years. It’s early to say how the semester will go, but I think there’s every reason to believe it will be fine. His improved organization and planning have spread to his Coursera class, where he’s taking more ownership over his work and no longer asking for assistance on essays. Honestly, this independence is taking some getting used to. I’m accustomed to butting in more, and those habits persist. Being rebuffed because of growing ability, however, is fabulous.

May the “No, thanks, Mom. I’ve got this,” that I’ve heard so often these three weeks continue. Those words are warming my heart.

Is growth happening in your house? Share away!



4 thoughts on “Cautiously Optimistic

  1. I just started following your blog. I love this post! It’s so wonderful to hear that a gifted child can overcome challenges and succeed (like we know they can!). And that Mom has reason for optimism. 🙂 It’s not easy raising a twice-exceptional child…my son is gifted as well, but suffers from executive function issues related to autism and ADHD. Every day is a battle. Your optimism and your son’s well-deserved successes are hope for us! Best of luck to you both!

  2. I, too, am encouraged by your post. My daughter is in 7th grade now, Gifted/ADHD, and often believes she is stupid. We butt heads quite often and she claims to need more help with school than I know she really does. I have recently been researching how to homechool high school, and came across a site called There is some great information over there, and between it, and your uplifting post, I think we might actually be able to do this. I can’t wait for the day when my daughter takes more responsibility and actually believes she is smart. I hope you and your son continue with the positive direction, and that I see some move in our house along those positive lines as well. Good luckl!

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