Monday, July 13, 2009

Of all the kids, Lisel is the most like me. This causes her to be both uniquely endearing and uniquely annoying to me. In my totally pregnant, super hot, so achy I can hardly move, the "annoying" side has definitely been dominating lately.

Most of my childhood insecurities, I see in her. But instead of causing me to have compassion and reach out to her in a way that I know is meaningful to her, I'm annoyed and pull back. I know that it's not right to withhold affection from my child in this way. I'm not excusing my actions at all. I'm just wanting to record what life is right now. I don't like the way I'm parenting, especially Lisel.

But in the last week I've been given a really insightful blessing with her. It started out as a "we need money desperately" type thing. At least two years ago, I had submitted Bennet and Lisel's name to the local university for a "Preschool Problem Solving" study (psychology stuff, you know) that paid pretty nicely. Bennet didn't get in, and Lisel wasn't old enough at the time. But a few weeks ago, they called back, asking about whether Lisel was now in the correct age range, and twenty bazillion other questions to determine her eligibility for the current "Preschool Problem Solving" study. She was accepted.

The study involved two meetings -- one at our house, one at their office. Both were long -- about 2 hours each. During them, Lisel was given a ton of different IQ-type tests -- most of which I would consider falling within the math-skills sets. Meanwhile I filled out form after form after form on things everything from how our household works, what my level of satisfaction with life is, how I parent, and health of everyone in our family, etc.

But in the background, while I filled out forms, I could hear and see the tests that Lisel was doing.

I was amazed. I learned so much about my daughter during this time. (For the record, this was also a paid study -- we earned a $75 Wally World card).

So, more as a way of documenting it than because you'll read it, here are some of the things I noticed.
  • Lisel won't guess at something she doesn't know. The tester demonstrated counting backwards - -3, 2, 1. Then asked her to try counting backwards from ten. She refused to even try. This wasn't rare. In general, she knew the correct answer or she wasn't interested in guessing.
  • Yet Lisel has really amazing math skills (at least, I was surprised). She could accurately solve simple division story problems: Emma and Anna made ten cookies, if they each eat the same number, how many did they each get? She nailed it. Now mind you, the most math I have ever taught her has involved counting -- and she can only count to twelve. This is a way more advanced skill that she has somehow picked up from life.
  • She's fast. Every segment of our testing was done early. This is another trait that she got from me. I was also super smart in school, and the first one done with any exam. In our house now, this "book smart" characteristic is kind of downplayed and unappreciated because Chester is so "handyman smart". He, and most of the other kids, can figure out how anything works, and can fix anything. Lisel and I are left poking our nose into books and knowing things that feel relatively useless. It was nice for her to get validated as "smart". I need to pay more attention to this with her.
  • When she's tired, she quits. This is sort of in line with the first one. And it makes me realize that she has just a bit of a passive-agressive tendancy. The last test in each session was timed. In two of the three sessions (last week, this week before snack and this week after snack), she quit part way through the timed test (before time was up or she was finished), because she was tired of doing it. She wouldn't be persuaded otherwise.
  • Her favorite animals are currently monkey and owl. I was shocked. Last week they were unicorns, and before than kitties, butterflies and rabbits -- all fairly girly. Then today they're monkey and owl. I asked her about this later, and here's how the logic goes: Bennet changed his favorite color from red to blue. So she decided to change her favorite color too. (It had been purple). Bennet wouldn't let her have blue, since that was his, so she chose brown, since her and my eyes are brown (everyone else in the family has blue eyes). Monkeys and owls are brown, so they became her new favorite animal. Several times today after the testing, she played "owl", running around flapping her arms and whoooo-ing. The tester's said they've never had someone pick "owl" as the animal they liked. I wouldn't have guessed either.
  • Lisel has a much stronger tie to rules than I would have guessed, and good delayed gratification skills. In one part of the test, she was given a handful of M&Ms, on the table in front of her, under a clear glass. Also on the table was placed a bell. She was told that she had to stand perfectly still, not talking or anything, with her hands on the table, but not touch the bell or the glass with the M&Ms. She was also told that at the end of the time (which was four minutes), she would get to eat the candy. Then, during the four minutes, the tester had to try to distract her for a couple of minutes (not overtly, just doing things like moving around, dropping a pen, coughing, etc), then leave the room for the last 90 seconds (testing whether the kid would disobey in some way with the tester absent...). I was allowed to watch through a two-way window. I had read about this study (they published results of it a year or so ago, from a different test group), and was really curious what Lisel would do. To be honest, I thought she'd probably eat the candy, but leave the bell alone. But she did pretty much perfectly. She moved very minimally (in her mind, I'm sure she was perfectly still, but the tester said that she wiggled her fingers constantly), she didn't even show signs of being tempted to eat the candy or to touch or ring the bell. She didn't even squirm much beyond the first few seconds, and didn't talk at all. I was pretty surprised -- I'm not sure why, I would have done exactly the same at the age, and she is a lot like me, but I was surprised anyway.
All in all, the time was really special. She got a prize at the end -- she picked a purple notebook with a cupcake on the cover and a flowered pen to write with. She picked them because the cupcake was sparkly. She totally ate up the time with Mom, one on one. It made me realize again, that this sort of thing is really important to the kids. A while back we had tried taking our kids on "dates" every once in a while -- just an hour out with Mom or Dad alone. We tried to keep it simple -- like taking a walk down to the store to buy a cookie together, or going for a bike ride, but it was still too complicated to fit well in our life and only lasted a couple of weeks. But Lisel especially, and Bennet to some extent, still talk about these dates and ask when we'll start them again. Having this time with Lisel, and noticing the new appreciation that I have for her as a unique individual, motivates me to try to start this up again. How, I have no idea. It's not like there's any spare time around here.

(As if anyone is actually reading.....)

Do you have any ideas for 1) fitting a date with kids into a schedule, and 2) keeping scheduled dates with kids maintainably simple?

This is important, and I want to make it happen.


  1. Still reading (and was pretty fascinated, maybe in part since I've known you for so many years :)! Have yet to be blessed with children so can't really answer your question with any authority; only thing that comes to mind is, perhaps, trying the dates with two of the kids at a time???

  2. How about starting with just walks and when you feel you have time beyond 10 minutes, expand thsoe to more things.

  3. We have talked about doing one-on-one dates with our kids, which would have been a good idea to start when we only had two. :) (Okay, I guess we could get a few in before #3 comes.) I can imagine that it gets a lot more difficult when you have more children.