Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Regarding Riley

So I've debated about posting this one. It may just be too personal, though I know that for this blog that's saying something. So I figured I'll write it and then see how it feels.

The new school year started and the boys are now in 6th grade. Riley's teacher asked the parents to do a homework assignment: write her a letter describing our child and telling her all about him, including things she might need to know, likes, dislikes, etc. And it was due by the end of the week, so one must assume it was also a test to see if the parents take homework seriously, as well as to see how good their own writing skills are.

I wrote a little piece about Riley which I edited and and added bits to here and there; it got rather long and rambles around in no particular order. After writing it I think I need to write one for Casey as well, but I haven't gotten to that yet.

So here is my essay, though I've added in photos because I am me after all.

Mr. Riley is a very social animal. He talks a lot. He frequently annoys his twin brother Casey because he’s always talking about the latest thing to catch his interest, or humming whatever song has lodged in his brain that day, or talking about what happened to someone during the day, or musing out loud about whatever he's been reading and discussing the implications of this or that. He has a hard time not talking, and this has been a big struggle for him in class in the past. He loves to socialize, to make friends, to chat. He makes friends easily, especially with adults. He tends to launch into intellectual discussions about esoteric subjects that can make his listeners’ eyes glaze over quickly, unless they share the same passion and revel in finding a kindred enthusiast for their pet subject. He frequently will take great interest in the activities of an adult who interests him, and listens with great attention to what they say; this can give the target adult a slightly misleading impression of greater maturity and erudition than Riley really has. He has a big vocabulary and has sometimes been told irritably by other kids to ‘speak English!’ if he gets too wordy. He has always liked being the expert, the intellectual, the smart one. Recently he’s mentioned feeling like being too smart makes other kids think he’s weird or strange. He talks more lately about ‘trying to fly under the radar’, though he also says he’s not at all sure he really can do that. It seems that with adults he feels at ease because he can talk to them as equals; with other kids his age this can be a problem because they don't usually have the same interests or even vocabulary. I have to hope he finds a way to feel more at ease with being himself around other kids and not feel like he has to camoflage himself too much to fit in.

Riley can be very passionate and outspoken about things and causes he’s attached to. We haven’t gone to McDonald’s since third grade, when after talking to his (awesome) teacher about it, he did some research on his own into what their practices were and decided they were Bad— bad nutritionally, bad for their business practices, and bad for the environment. If you want to get a rise out of him, just say you’re thinking of going to McDonald’s. 
Riley is very sentimental about people, animals and things that have special meaning to him; they’re often very surprising things that others wouldn’t think of valuing. He’s fiercely protective of people and animals that he cares about and is always quick to jump in to defend them; this gets him into trouble at times because he's not afraid to fight to protect who or what he cares about. His heart is big. 
He’s honest even when he knows it will get him into trouble and one of the things that bugs him a lot is when people lie and try to put the blame on others. He can be very emotional and yet he hates to be embarrassed, and in the process of trying to hide his emotions he can come across as tough or cynical. He wants to be ‘cool’ but often feels that he doesn’t really fit in with the cool kids, though he’d like to. 
He will trust and consider people friends early in a relationship and then staunchly defend them despite clear evidence that they have hurt him. He tends to give people the benefit of the doubt, believing their intentions are good even after they let him down repeatedly. He is determinedly optimistic, preferring to see the positive, to change the subject or try to cheer things up if things get too depressing or dark and intense.
 Riley has always been a very energetic, on-the-go kid; he’s always been a handful because he’s athletic and fearless, opinionated and not afraid to say what he thinks. Every teacher, each year so far, has struggled to get him to sit still, to focus, to stop talking, finish his work. 
From kindergarden.
The beginning of each school year has always been the hardest period for him, as he seems to gradually ‘settle in’ during the course of the year. He’s been a challenge for teachers to have in a classroom, but Riley seems to grow on most of them; he has great respect and admiration for almost all of the teachers he’s had. It's no coincidence that the teachers who've had the most impact on him have been the ones who treated him fairly, with firmness but respect for him as a person. All of the teachers he admires and respects have had a really profound impact on his views and opinions about things in the wider world.

He’s always received good grades, been on the honor roll. He’s very bright, but his high energy has become ever more of an issue with the increasing school workload as he goes up in grades. We've had various people, teachers among them, who suggested having him tested for ADHD, but I was always resistant, feeling that there was nothing inherently wrong with him, it was an imposed, artificial environment that he wasn't well suited for that was the core issue. However. Last year after talking at length with his 5th grade teacher and Riley himself, we finally had him formally tested, and the results were borderline. Through the last school year, Riley was increasingly anxious and moody, and told me that he was concerned that he wouldn’t be able to go to college or get and keep a job because he was having such trouble focusing; he found the noisy classroom environment overwhelmingly distracting. He was having a lot of trouble sitting still and finishing in-class assignments, constantly distracted by wanting to socialize and talk, feeling the need to jump around. The fact that he was on the honor roll was more a testament to just how intelligent he is because he could do so well academically when he was doing so little actual schoolwork in class. Over this summer, with our pediatrician's guidance and support, we started him on a medicine for ADHD and after some time to get used to it, he seems generally calmer and much more relaxed. We aren’t sure yet whether it will actually help him sit still and focus in the classroom, but we hope so. It was a very hard decision to come to for us as a family; there are plenty of debates about the merits and pitfalls of doing such a thing and whether energetic boys should be treated in this way in order to fit in better within the artificial school environment. When it came right down to it, we and Riley decided together and we'll see how it goes. We're trying to do the best we can to help Riley have the best chances at a good future as well as a happy present.
Running with Yoda Bob Dog.
Sports are very important for Riley; he’s currently in CYO Cross Country, and he’s hoping to make the basketball team again this year, as well as competing in CYO Track and Field in the spring. Years ago he started in gymnastics with his brother (who is still in it and competes at the state and regional levels), and the discipline and exercise was great for him. 
A rather prophetic picture from when they were 4; Casey on rings while Riley runs.
He wanted to go into running and track rather than gymnastics, and we’ve tried to let him explore whatever sports he’s interested in. Running and sports help him as well with his excess energy; he does better in school and with everything else when he gets regular energetic workouts, so we try to support that as best we can. High jump is a particular favorite at the moment.
Why, yes, tennis is all about jumping the fences between courts.
Riley is an enthusiast; he takes on new interests with single-minded passion and immerses himself in his latest subject to the exclusion of almost everything else. He likes educating himself to a deep level and he really enjoys talking about what he’s learned. He can also come across as a know-it-all, since he likes to display his knowledge. He tends to move from one subject to another after awhile, but usually retains an interest in and affection for all of his past crazes. 
At a rock jam. Photo by John O'Halloran.
Many of his interests are ongoing; he comes back to them periodically and keeps learning more about them. A few have been role-playing games (ongoing), collecting and learning about fossils, story writing, calligraphy, learning to play guitar and drums, reading fantasy and sci-fi, chemistry, genetics, sustainable energy sources like solar power, reptiles, strategies for clean energy cars, and a lot of others I can’t remember right now. His interests are pretty varied but he has always liked nature and animals.
With Lester the Bearded Dragon. They're both much bigger now.
Reading plays a huge part in Riley’s process of learning about his interests, so he reads avidly and constantly about whatever his latest interest is. He likes the process of learning about things, but it’s harder for him to focus on other things that aren’t his latest obsession. He likes most subjects at school; he’s got a natural affinity for math. He doesn’t much care for being told there’s only one set, established way to do something; in the past he has taken that as a challenge to stubbornly find his own unique way to do it. He tends to rebel against rote methods that are not rationally explained (or not explained in a way he can understand) and he responds to ultimatums with resistance. He responds better to explanations with logic and reason than to ‘because I said so’ or ‘just because’. He can be very stubborn and rebellious, and he likes to think for himself.
Reading Harry Potter in 2nd grade.
He writes his own stories and has described writing as a need or a craving. He likes learning and creating things that combine handwork and puzzles, and so he and I like to learn and make various crafts together, like jewelry and leather crafts, artwork and calligraphy. I suspect his interest in those is mainly because those are my interests; he picks up enthusiasms from his dad and teachers and coaches and other adult friends as well. He likes the process of learning in general, though maybe like any kid he’s probably only going to want to learn about whatever interests him. If you can get him interested in a subject he’ll run with it and strive to become an expert in that. And then he’ll talk your ear off about it.
Riley is one of my favorite people, not just because he’s my kid, but because he’s genuinely funny and very intelligent and he has some amazing insights. He’s a really interesting person, and he just keeps getting better. I’m looking forward to seeing where he goes.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

pause for a summer...

Pause for a moment... no, actually, pause for the whole summer...

There. We had a good summer.

Lots of swimming, lots of roller coasters and even a stagecoach (my own favorite). Casey had a gymnastics meet for Future Stars, the elite track for kids who excel beyond their allowed levels. He did qualify to go on to the Regional Future Stars as one of the top three in the state of California for his age and level, but between the pressure Casey felt, the fact that the required routines turned out to be completely different from what he had worked so hard at all summer, and the fact that none of his teammates would be joining him, he decided to opt out of Future Stars for this year and continue along the regular track of competitive gymnastics. It's really the first time he's decided to pull back from a challenge like this, but it felt to all of us like the right thing to do, and he was the one who decided. He'll be happier, he'll get to be with his teammates and he can work on the usual level 7 routines and know he can do well and have fun.
Riley went off to High Altitude Running Camp, where he ran and ran and swam and ran more up in the Sierra foothills with his Cross Country teammates and some of his favorite coaches. It was the first long sleep-away camp for him and he did great and had a blast, according to his coaches.
And besides the fun stuff of summer with two 11 year old boys, we had other stuff going on. Paul left his job at Zynga and is now actively searching for a new, happier job situation. So there's all the anxiety and uncertainty of health coverage, money and all the rest that goes with being unemployed. Again. It's not like it's new, so we know how it goes. Here's hoping this time is easy and short.

Go ahead, I tell myself, pick a star and open it up, see what wisdom it can give you this time round. Though ironically enough since I picked all the quotes and wrote them on the strips and made all of these fun little lucky stars, all of the messages are already in me somewhere waiting to be applied...
 At least it all has been reminding me to slow down and just breathe. Savoring the fleeting moments seems like a healthy respite from worrying over the unknowns, along with a realization that everything passes. This phase will pass soon, just like summer has. And it's raining outside, in September. It never rains here in September. Wild things happen all the time.