Learning vs Schooling

My son was picked on by one kid last year. Repeatedly. It never got physical, but it was a daily torment. People with Aspergers or HFA can come across to us neurotypicals as abrasive, headstrong, disruptive, etc. That never excuses name calling, being picked on or having teachers turn a blind eye. My son was singled out many times by the school’s PE coach, who seemingly enjoyed power struggles with a 10 year old, and failed to read and implement his 504 plan until a month before school was out for the summer. (I had submitted all documentation at the beginning of the school year when we registered.) His new class has 37 students. There is no way that even if every student had no extra needs that 1 teacher could, or should, have that many students in his or her charge. They might as well be in a college lecture hall.

My daughter complained of stomachaches multiple times a week last year. There was some social drama – what we deem “normal” and marvel at how young it seems to start. It got bad enough last year, we sought counseling. There’s popularity, boys and multiplication tables, but there are also teachers who are tired. Teachers who perhaps would be better suited for other vocations. My daughter overheard her teacher swear in frustration. She shared with me that she would get a lump in her throat when called on in class because if she gets the answer wrong, the teacher will humiliate her in front of her peers. A student should be allowed to make mistakes – that’s how we learn. She cried every week not wanting to go to school. This from a girl who has loved school up until this year.

When cleaning out the daily lunch boxes, I asked the kids, “Why didn’t you eat your lunch today?” I was often met with the same response – no time. They cut down the lunch to 20 minutes. Line up, sit down, be quiet, stop talking, sit still. Get up. Line up. Walk to class. My mom made the comment that it’s like they just want a class of robots. It sure feels that way.

There are benefits to public schooling, when it is done right. I also get that as a parent, my involvement is key to a school’s success. That said, I fear that schools that get it are few and far between. We were fortunate to have been a part of such a school in Texas, but not all the schools even in that district were so fortunate. I didn’t necessarily love all aspects or subjects in school, but overall, I liked it. (Okay, I loved school supplies. And the smell of books. And paper. And the crisp way a freshly sharpened pencil writes.) When I overheard my kids state they hated school, my heart broke. I asked them if they were at their old school, would they still hate it? It was an attempt to see if the work itself was challenging or if it was the social/teacher/atmosphere they were dealing with that caused such a visceral reaction. It was definitely the latter. It was as if their love of actual learning was being eroded away.

Homeschooling was something that we agreed was never off the table. It’s been something we’ve been open to, if needed. My sister has homeschooled my nieces off and on through their school years. They have been involved in all kinds of extra curricular activities and are well-rounded, social, and bright, critical thinkers – and isn’t that what we want? A population that thinks critically? Adults who can function, are polite, and well-educated? There is a clear difference between schooling and learning.

We’ve decided to homeschool our children this year. We have a curriculum that is well-laid out and meets all state requirements. It will allow for working ahead on subjects in which they excel, as well as the time and flexibility for areas in need of work. The idea of going completely against the grain feels scary – but in a really exciting way.

Kids learn more from our actions than what we say. I hope they will learn through this process not only the things required from an academic perspective, but also how to do what’s right for them. I pray they have the guts to go against what everyone else does, or what they think they “should” do when needed. I hope to instill in them that different isn’t wrong – just different – and different can be wonderfully freeing.

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Brain Bombs: Canine Edition

I see people with their dog babies at dog parks, on the beach, off leash, pulling skateboards (which is awesome by the way!) walking with dogs who don’t pull, bark or generally act like lunatics when they see other dogs.

Enter our 3 dog babies.

Shortly after we had adopted Hippo, someone came by (as I was very ungracefully detangling myself from three leashes) and said, “As if your life isn’t busy enough? You got a third one?!” Translation: You can’t figure out the first two, why would you attempt another? As much as I really don’t give a rip what people think, I want to be a responsible dog owner. I want what’s best for our animals. 

When I walk them all together, for the first 15 minutes it’s basically a 3 ring circus. They then settle into our walk and we are good to go. 

Hippo and I have been attending puppy obedience classes and I’ve been learning and applying the techniques on our other two. What I’ve learned through our instructor (who graciously stays past the class time to talk dogs and answer all of our questions) is that there are 2 main schools of thought when it comes to dog training: positive/reward based and negative/correction based. I came across this article that succinctly explains the basis for each method. 

Of course everyone who loves a dog has at least heard of Cesar Milan. Curious, I asked our trainer what she thought about his methods. She smiled slightly and then asked me how, as a personal trainer, I feel about Jillian Michaels. 

(Before I get a bunch of nasty messages from fans of both, hear me out.)

Cesar Milan has done wonderful things for the dog community, getting people out walking their dogs more often, adopting pets instead of buying from breeders, etc., but, what if there was a gentler way? What if we can get our dogs to do what we desired and still have them wagging their tail and happy and eager to please? 

(As for Jillian Michaels, I should probably save that post for another day. There are many fans who get up and move to her videos and gain something from her, and that’s great. In my experience, both as an exercise enthusiast and as a Personal Trainer, berating people into fitness doesn’t motivate anyone in the long run. And a highly-edited, sentimental chat with soft music playing doesn’t soften the negativity. People as a general rule do not respond well to yelling and being made to feel worthless.)

What our instructor went on to explain was that while Milan has done much for the canine community, there’s been a bit of damage as well. Milan’s methods are correction based. She challenged me to view an episode with the sound off and simply watch the dog’s body language. 

I was astounded. 

And then it clicked. Walking all 3 dogs, I’ve felt frustrated. I could give a correction, but I lacked the ability to teach, to ask the dog to do what I wanted. It’s like never speaking to your kids, except when you catch them doing something wrong. All of your interactions then become negative associations. As stated in the above article, and then watching the body language of the dogs on television with the sound muted, the dog then associates the person, the leash, training, etc with negativity. 

How can that not damage your relationship? With kids or with your dog?

Classical conditioning of emotions provides one reason why reward-based training procedures should work better and establish a stronger bond between the dog and his trainer, than punishment based systems. Every time you give the dog a treat, or some other reward, you set up the event sequence “sight of you-treat-pleasant feeling.” Even if your timing is off and you are not a very good and knowledgeable trainer, there is no harm being done in this case. Every instance of reward makes it more likely that the dog will feel better about you because you are actually conditioning the emotional response “sight of you-pleasant feeling.”

-Stanley Coren, emphasis added

I’ve since been walking the dogs individually, working with them one by one and using only reward based methods, and showing them what I want them to do. 
I cannot stress enough the difference; both for the dogs and myself. I’m more relaxed. The dogs aren’t feeding off of my tension. And the best part? They are doing what I’m asking them to do! They are being set up to succeed!

I haven’t been brave enough to let them play off leash. We have neighbors whose dogs come when called, take a couple of laps, tails wagging, tongues out happy as can be. “But, what if ours don’t come when I call them?” I thought. “What if they take off and I can’t catch them?” As a high-stray animal area, the last thing I want is for our dogs to run off and get lost or hurt. Not only would it break my heart – it would crush the kids’. “What if they start barking at another dog and bite them?” What if something happens?” It’s fear again, but of another kind.

But what if all this training I’ve been doing works? What if they get to run themselves breathless, happy and free?

What if?

I started with Buck. I went to the end of our dead end street and where we have a great trail. Taking a deep breath, I unclipped the leash and took the ball out of my pocket. I used my clicker and treats, but really didn’t need it. That dog LOVES fetch. For hours! He came when I called Every. Single. Time. Tongue dangling sideways around the ball, panting, tail wagging, running merrily and dare I say smiling! To say it was joy-filled would be a gross understatement. We then walked all the way home – off leash. He stayed right with me. This was huge! 

But would the other two behave as well? Whitney is the one that really flips out when she encounters other dogs on the leash. Dropping them off at doggie daycare last week (I know, it is ridiculous. But it’s SO amazing!) our son was having a hard time leaving Hippo there, so much so, that he started to cry. Generously, they offered to let us walk back and see all three playing with their dog friends. We got to peek without them knowing we were there and see just how they do with other dogs. 

Seeing them happy and chasing with other dogs was great for Jake as he had a visual that they really were having a blast. 

For me? Holy crap! **Ding ding ding!*** Brain bombs! 

First of all, I think 90% of our issues when encountering other dogs is my energy, my bracing for the worst. And then that’s exactly what happens. Later when a neighbor’s dog was off leash, I let Whitney off and they played and chased for about 10-15 minutes. Both dogs breathless and panting, I called her and she came right to me.

I’d never seen her interact with other dogs in a positive way – until we got our sneak peek. My expectations changed, my tension lowered, and she was set up for success. Her frustration was simply because she wanted to play, not rip the other dog’s head off! And play she did!  

                     Tuckered out after!

And today I did the same, fetch with Buck, off leash playtime with Whitney, and then Hippo’s turn. 

The way to the Hippo’s heart is through his stomach, so we went armed with yummy treats and a fetch toy. 

And he came when called. Every time!                      Uber happy and worn out!

We will continue our off-leash work, continue to keep them socialized and continue the human training (i.e. ME!)

Because it works. 

And it works with kindness. 

(And perhaps a clicker and some treats!)

 

Brain Bombs and Power

I fired off an email to a friend/mentor of mine after having an off week. In training people, it is much the same as in training yourself. There are excuses, days where you just aren’t feeling it, and many, many qualifiers. Qualifiers typically go something like this:

Client: “I wish I could lose weight faster. I’m working out regularly. I’m eating right. I just don’t get it. Why is the weight not coming off?”

Me: “Talk to me about diet. What does a typical day look like?”

Client: “I eat a great breakfast and I’m getting a lot more veggies in,”

Pause.

Me: Silence. Waiting for it.

Client: “…but, I did have just one ____________ (fill in the blank with whatever food they currently deem as ‘bad’) then I went out for so-and-so’s birthday and it would have been rude to not have at least a little piece of cake. My kid had a bad day so we went out for ice-cream to cheer him up.”

Blah, blah, blah. All of the reasons why I didn’t do what I said I was going to do. There is always a “but…” That’s the qualifier.

We then have a great conversation about moderation, how the turtle wins the race every time I read The Tortoise and the Hare. We discuss that foods need no moral judgement. Food is neither good nor bad. It just is. Will some food give you indigestion? Yep. Will others give you energy? Yep. Will still others spike your blood sugar and give you a crash later? You bet. But food isn’t moral. It just is. While we are at it – you are not a dog. Mind blowing, right? You are not “good” because you stuck to a stupid diet. You are likewise not “bad” because you didn’t. People who obtain AND maintain health over the long term do not subscribe to a good/bad philosophy when it comes to food or themselves.

The email I sent described the realization that as a trainer, I cannot walk this journey for anyone else. I’m a signpost holder. I can show you the how, but the doing has to be done solo. I can want it for you. (I WANT IT SO BAD FOR EVERYONE! It feels incredible to be comfortable in your own skin and to have energy and strength to get through the day!) Ultimately, we each have to walk the path for ourselves. 

Do you ever encounter people that say something and it’s like, “Whoa. Mind completely blown”? Usually it’s something profound, simple and very direct. I feel fortunate to have a few mind-blowers in my life. The mentor I sent the email to had this to add, “I also don’t allow any clients to give me credit for their health and fitness successes. Never allow them to be in the position to give their power away. They did the work, they take the credit.”

Brain bomb.

Mind blown.

So simple, but very profound.

Getting healthy and adapting new habits isn’t easy. I get that. It doesn’t come naturally for me either. But whether I succeed or I take a detour or two, the power is in me.

And you. You hold the power to do what you want. 

Whether it’s fat loss, fitness, parenting, or whatever else – we hold the power to choose.

Success or detours are entirely in YOUR hands.

What Medals and Miles Will Teach You

When I started running, I remember my friends tracking numbers. Things like pace, distance, miles over the year. I remember thinking 300 miles seemed like so many to run over the course of one year. Then I started goal setting. Apps on the smartphone like MapMyRun and RunTracker got the job done, and eventually I got a GPS watch to track my stats.

In 2011, I logged 188 miles. 2012 saw 326 miles and in 2013 I eeked out 170 miles. (Thank you deployment!) Last year I made the goal of 500 and as of right now, 2015 mileage sits at 507. These miles seem insane to me on paper and goal setting is really only one tiny fraction of what running has given me.

Not only have there been running challenges, laps on tracks, fartleks, races, tempo runs, trail races, medals earned, bib numbers pinned, traveling runs, sprained ankles, pain, victory, sprints, nausea, euphoria and more, but there has also been therapy, solace, and peace in these miles.

Running is transformative. It changes who you are and who you think you can become. It changes your mood. It takes the impossible and makes it reality. It offers comfort in the uncomfortable. It’s an escape, if only for the duration of the run. It forces you to be in the moment. Every single time you run, you return better for having done so. Running has brought self confidence. Running will bring out a mental strength you had no idea you possessed.

It will shock you. 

It will shock you just how difficult it can be. It will hurt. It will ache. In the beginning for me there was a reckoning of just how far I’d let my physical fitness go. I had to learn to focus on each little accomplishment because the road ahead seemed just too damn long. Sometimes those little accomplishments are just making it around the block. There are shin splints and cramps and side stitches. Then we learn to move past the physical pain. We discover work arounds to the pain and the inconvenience. Running is a fantastic metaphor for emotional pain. That sometimes the only way around the pain is through it.

It will challenge you.

When you stick with it, it becomes impossible not to chase after that next thing. That faster pace, that longer distance, the next goal. Running will whisper in your ear, “That was awesome. Can you come just a little bit farther? What about this distance? How much do you love me? Wanna go a little faster?” Running will taunt you. “Betcha can’t beat your last time…”

It will change you.

Running will restore your belief in the impossible. Distances or paces just out of reach will become your new reality as you set your sight on the next goal. Striving for improvement will bleed over into every other facet of your life. Running just does that. It changes who you are; physically, mentally and emotionally.

What has running taught you?

Swim Time

Today is not only my daughter’s 4th birthday, but it was also both of the minions’ first day at swim lessons. Having attempted this before, I was crossing my fingers hoping it would go well. As a baby, Jake positively detested water on his face, or in his ears and would scream the entire lesson. He didn’t like the instructor, who was wonderful, and by the end of class, he didn’t care much for me either.

Fast forward nearly 5 years and we have made serious progress!

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The first lesson included kicks, splashing, back floating and the usual first class activities to acclimate them to the water and build their trust with the instructor. By the end of the 45 minutes, I sat poolside trying to pick my jaw up off the ground.

Here are the take-away lessons I learned never taking a step into the pool:

Push past the fear. Sometimes you need a coach (or your sister cheering you on) to give you the boost of confidence you need to take that first plunge. Take that boost where ever you find it and use it to push forward. The people in your corner will help you if you need it. Or, they’ll clap when you finally do what they knew you could all along!

Trust Trust in the people around you that have earned it. When they’ve earned your trust – they won’t let you drown.

There is value in letting others love and teach our kids. I don’t know everything. Yes, I know my kids better than anyone else, but professionals, be it teachers, speech therapists, counselors or what have you, all deal with many children. They have all kinds of tricks up their sleeve!(and I will beg, borrow, and steal any and all effective tactics!) could be a way to handle a difficult day, or even a way of communicating that works like a charm. I was emotional watching the kiddos bond with this teacher, and not from a “I want them to myself” kind of way, but more just joyful in watching her work with them and have them both respond so positively. Seeing their little pride-filled chests puff out as they did something for the first time was incredible.

When you accomplish something awesome, celebrate the heck out of it! My car was so loud for all the talk coming from the back seat! “We are so cool!” “We can swim now!” “I got water on my face and didn’t even freak out!” “I’m a water master!” Do your happy dance. You’ve earned it!

Know when to throw in the towel (for the day). When you are at your limit, it’s okay to take a break, take a step back, or come back to it later. Knowing our limits keeps us from getting frustrated, losing our temper, or even giving up. Small doses are a good thing sometimes.

The kids’ next lesson is on Saturday. I can’t wait to see what we’ll all learn!

Just Imagine

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There are some days when I just don’t feel like working out.

When the warmth of my comforter feels much more inviting than wrestling a sports bra, slipping on workout clothes, consuming fuel and heading out into what still feels like the middle of the night.

But imagine what I miss when I don’t get up. Just imagine missing out on this sunrise, and the way the colors change right before my eyes.

Imagine missing out on some time alone, so I can be a better mom, wife, and friend.

Missing out on the chance to work this body that has given me so much. Working out is a privilege, an honor, and a way to tell it thank you. Thank you.

Just imagine missing out on the endorphins that keep seasonal depression at bay. My body needs this. Even if sometimes my mind has to be convinced.

Imagine missing out on the gift of meeting new people, growing and learning, even if it’s against my natural hermit tendency.

Just imagine…

I can’t imagine missing this.

So I won’t.

Stillness

Daily Prompt: For a moment today, time stands still — but you can tweak one thing while it’s stopped. What do you do?

Ah, if only this could be true. I find when I look at my kids I’m seeing a glimpse of just how fast time is going. Everyone says the trite “Enjoy your kids, because it goes so fast. Enjoy every moment.” Wistful yearnings for time to slow down just a bit, just to savor the people you love and the little people who grow much too fast into big ones.

Honestly, I don’t enjoy every moment. I don’t enjoy the meltdowns, the fighting, the gut wrenching doctor appointments. I definitely didn’t enjoy potty training, until they figured it out. Once they figured it out – it was great to celebrate it…but going through it – blegh. Definitely not enjoyable. I didn’t enjoy not sleeping. (And lest anyone mistakenly think my kids are blissful sleepers, think again. We still play musical beds many nights, but as long as we all get rest, I don’t really care about “rules” and rigidly making them stay in their bed. They aren’t going to want to snuggle with us in a few short years so I savor those snuggles while I can get them.) And that’s what coffee is for, right?!

If time could stand still today, I would do what I do most days – and just take a second to appreciate my kids. The moment fades and they do something to tick each other off and the spell is broken. I would love for that spell to last just a bit longer. To really take in who they are becoming as people. To revel in their personalities, laugh at their jokes, and just be silly with them without losing myself in my mind mentally checking off a to-do list or calculating just how much time we have left until we have to move on to the next thing.

Lately I’ve been feeling the frenetic pace of how we live…the go-go-go-ness. It’s wearing on me. After the kids went to bed the other night, my husband and I watched TV, but both of us had our phones nearby to fiddle with during commercials. It’s like we forgot how to do just one thing. It’s multitasking on crack. Getting into our fall/preschool/football officiating/writing/studying schedule has been a little bumpy. I could use some stillness. I think the kids could use some, too.

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