". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Friday, May 25, 2012

A Parenting Epiphany

I've recently had an epiphany. Several, actually. The first is that my son Evan, 8, fits perfectly the definition of a highly sensitive child (HSC). I have known for a long time that he is "sensitive." But when I thought about sensitivity I tended to do so in purely behavioral terms. So I equated his sensitivity with the fact that he seems to feel things incredibly deeply and to wear his heart on his sleeve, broadcasting every emotion for all to see and sometimes having trouble getting those emotions in check. But none of those things automatically equate to being Highly Sensitive. Like introversion and extroversion, high sensitivity has more to do with what is going on inside a person than it does with what you see coming out of the person. It's not something you can identify merely on the surface.

Having recently shared with a few friends some of my and my husband's challenges in parenting Evan, I was advised to read the book linked above, The Highly Sensitive Child by Elaine Aron, and I have been doing so for the past week. I have learned so much! High sensitivity means literally what it says: the senses of a highly sensitive person are heightened such that textures, smells, sounds, tastes and visual stimuli are all more pronounced. So there is a higher, stronger level of sensory input than there is for the average person and there is also more of it; in other words, because the receptors are more sensitive the stimuli are increased in both quality/intensity and in quantity. Not only that, the highly sensitive person is typically more intuitive, picking up on subtleties that many people miss. All of this can sometimes add up to sensory overload, with which the highly sensitive person uses various means of coping.

The Highly Sensitive Child begins with a diagnostic list of 23 markers for highly sensitive children. Aron says that 13 or more of them indicate likely high sensitivity. Evan exhibits about 20 of them. They are things like--

startles easily

complains about seams in socks and labels in shirts (Evan takes forever to put on his shoes because his socks have to be just right, and I have to cut the tags out of the back of most of his shirts. Once he gets used to wearing a certain type of clothing it is also very difficult to get him to change. I still have not gotten him to wear sandals this summer.)

uses big words for one's age

dislikes wet, dirty or sandy clothing--has to change immediately if something is soiled (Evan changed his shirt yesterday due to a hole the size of a nail head. Then he asked if I could please go to the store and get him another shirt exactly like the one with the hole.)

asks deep, thought-provoking questions (Um, yeah. We get our share of those. )

dislikes surprises

very sensitive to pain

bothered by noise

cautious--considers the safety of things and avoids risks

performs best when strangers aren't present

feels things deeply

notices slightest unusual odor (and the poor kid has coffee drinkers for parents)

clever sense of humor


has trouble getting to sleep

doesn't do well with big changes (or even small ones)

asks a lot of questions

is a perfectionist

empathetic--notices and feels deeply the distress of others

notices subtleties (something in a different place than it used to be or a change in someone's appearance)

There are several other things that are not included in the diagnostic list but are mentioned in the course of the book. Evan exhibits all of these:

more allergies than the average child

frequent headaches

strong sense of shame (I see this in Evan a lot--he will do something wrong, will say he's sorry and be forgiven, but then he continues to feel ashamed.)

My oldest son has Asperger Syndrome. We have been wondering for a while if Evan might have it, too, but while he has a few AS traits he is missing others. According to the book, high sensitivity is often confused with AS or other autism spectrum disorders because of the physical sensitivity and also because of some of the behaviors one might see in an overwhelmed HSC. But the big difference between AS and high sensitivity is that an AS child is not sensitive to social input, in fact misses huge aspects of it, while a highly sensitive child is. The HSC may have trouble handling all the social input, but he is most definitely tuned in to it.

We have also wondered if Evan has ADD (attention deficit disorder) because of the ease with which his mind wanders. For example, he is in children's choir at our church, and he loves to sing, but so often he just forgets. He will start out singing something, stop a few words in while he ponders something else, and then suddenly come back in at the end (usually too loud). But at other times he can concentrate for very long periods. In the book Aron says that high sensitivity is often confused with ADD due to the high distractibility of both types of children but that the difference is that the HSC does not have the same basic difficulty with "executive functions such as decision making, focusing, and reflecting on outcomes. HSCs are usually good at all of this, at least when they are in a calm, familiar environment" (p. 29). It's just that, again, the HSCs are aware of so much that they may have trouble ignoring the distractions.

Some other things I have observed in Evan that I am now starting to connect to high sensitivity are--


Fear of television--he will only watch tapes of shows he has seen before because he is afraid of startling images, loud noises, or anything unexpected coming on to the screen. It is hard to get him to watch something he has never seen before.

Crying over goodbyes--even when it is a child he just met and played with for a short time on the playground.

Refusal to play outside because of fear of bugs.

High level of empathy--I have to be very careful about the books I choose to give or read to him because he will become distraught over even mildly sad or scary stories. He has cried over Calvin & Hobbes.

Taking forever to complete simple tasks because he is distracted by every. single. thing.

Dislike of things or people that look different from what he is used to. We had to drop out of swimming class a few years ago in part because his female teacher had a crew cut and multiple piercings and he was afraid of her.

Dislike of things which threaten his ability to control his responses. On more than one occasion when expecting something in the mail he has told me, "Only tell me if it comes. Don't tell me if it doesn't come." So he will watch as I go out and check the mail. And I know he is watching to see if the thing he is expecting came. But if it didn't come, and I return to the house to tell him, "It didn't come" there is the danger of a meltdown, whereas if I just don't say anything and let him watch and figure it out on his own he will be able to handle the disappointment better.

Refusal to use the same utensil for more than one item of food on his plate.

And the list could go on. As I peruse it again, I am amazed that it took me this long to stumble on this framework for understanding my child. So much is making sense in a way it never did before. And here at the age of 47 I am understanding myself a little better, too. Because for the first time I have realized that I am also a highly sensitive person. My family is laughing at me, saying, I'm sure, "We could have told you that." But it is a revelation to me. And in another post I'll tell you why.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Kickball with the Cantor

Last week we had our end-of-year Schola Cantorum (parish children's choir) party. What does a Schola Cantorum do when they aren't singing? They have what has come to be affectionately known as a "frolic day." (The word "frolic" has become a staple of our day school and parish children's choirs' vocabulary, as his singers regularly ask the cantor, "When's the next frolic day?")

We were blessed with beautiful weather for playing outside and we took full advantage of it before going inside for treats. The first kid running into home (the one that had to be reminded to run) towards the end of the video is mine. :-)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Summer School

I am so proud of these two. First, a little horn-tooting on Caitlin's behalf. She just received her geometry grade for the year: A-! For a girl whose aptitudes lean more towards the arts and humanities, I'd say that's a superb showing. Much credit goes to Caitlin, but we were also blessed with an excellent teacher at the homeschool co-op where Caitlin took the course. We are pleased that Caitlin will have the same teacher for Algebra II/Trig next year.

Now to the pictures you see below. Yesterday Caitlin began summer school math. You will notice that her teacher is her brother, who has offered to coach her in math while he is home this summer. He is designing a custom curriculum based on his study of Caitlin's performance on the math portion of the PSAT, which she took for practice this past fall. Her scores on reading and writing were in the 99th percentile for sophomores taking the test, but her math score was not quite so impressive. She is my word girl, after all. The simple fact of her having now completed geometry should help a lot, but we would like to be proactive this summer and help her to be as competitive as she possibly can when she takes the test for keeps.

Trevor is such a fine teacher. Towards the end of last week he asked if he could have at least an hour per day of Caitlin's time for math this summer. I said yes. Then he asked for that hour to be put on the schedule at a regular time. Math class has been set for the hour following lunch each day. Class includes timed drills on various types of problems (one of Caitlin's weaknesses was speed) plus targeted work on concepts utilizing various resources, including Khan Academy videos.

I am so proud of Caitlin for what she has accomplished in math and for her continuing commitment to achieve her highest potential in it. And I am equally proud of a son who takes to heart his callings as brother and friend. How blessed I am to watch and learn about love, family, perseverance, and vocation from these two fine individuals. And how blessed to claim them as my own!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

How to Teach Spelling in One Easy Step

Have your child misbehave on a field trip to the extent that he needs to write apology notes to the seven other people who were in the van with him on the way home. By the time he's done writing you will never again have to tell him how to spell the following words:


Sugar, Sugar

"Mom, it's important that children get enough sweets. It they go without sweets for two months they might get a sugar coma. With a sugar coma they will itch all over and everything will taste sour. But won't worry, adults don't get sugar comas, only kids."

Monday, May 14, 2012

"And do you think their conscience prickles? No, it tickles."

Caitlin and I are back to the Cameron Thompson book for literature. Last week and this it was poetry. I get away from reading poetry for long periods of time and then when I get back to it I wonder why I stayed away. There is just nothing like a great poem for awakening senses that have been numbed by a too-long stretch of existential days. This morning I spent about an hour sitting in the parking lot reading poetry while Caitlin was at geometry and came to the conclusion that I am not getting enough of sunshine, fresh air, or poetry these days! 

Here's one that I particularly appreciated. It's by Ogden Nash. Remember him? He wrote all those fun animal poems you enjoy reading to your children. Well, here's one for us grownups. It's from the "Truth" section of the book. The poem exudes Nash's characteristic whimsicality, but beneath the lighthearted tone is a cynical testament to the benefits of dissembling.     

"Golly, How Truth Will Out!"- Ogden Nash

How does a person get to be a capable liar? 
That is something that I respectfully inquiar, 
Because I don't believe a person will ever set the world on fire 
Unless they are a capable lire. 
Some wise men said that words were given to us to conceal our thoughts 
But if a person has nothing but truthful words why their thoughts haven't even the protection of a pair of panties or shoughts,
And a naked thought is ineffectual as well as improper, 
And hasn't a chance in the presence of a glib chinchilla-clad whopper. 
One of the greatest abilities a person can have, I guess, 
Is the ability to say Yes when they mean No and No when they mean Yes. 
Oh to be Machiavellian, oh to be unscrupulous, oh, to be glib! 
Oh to be ever prepared with a plausible fib! 
Because then a dinner engagement or a contract or a treaty is no longer a fetter, 
Because liars can just logically lie their way out of it if they don't like it or if one comes along that they like better; 
And do you think their conscience prickles? 
No, it tickles. 
And please believe that I mean every one of these lines as I am writing them 
Because once there was a small boy who was sent to the drugstore to buy some bitter stuff to put on his nails to keep him from biting them, 
And in his humiliation he tried to lie to the clerk 
And it didn't work, 
Because he said My mother sent me to buy some bitter stuff for a friend of mine's nails that bites them, and the clerk smiled wisely and said I wonder who that friend could be, 
And the small boy broke down and said Me, 
And it was me, or at least I was him, 
And all my subsequent attempts at subterfuge have been equally grim, 
And that is why I admire a suave prevarication because I prevaricate so awkwardly and gauchely, 
And that is why I can never amount to anything politically or socially.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Schola Does Chicago!

Earlier this week our church's Schola Cantorum sang for chapel at Concordia University-Chicago. We have done this trip with both our Schola Cantorum and our junior high day school choir several times over the last few years. We load up children in cars, drive to River Forest, sing for chapel, have a little fun, and then stick around long enough to serve as a demonstration choir for Dr. Charles Brown's children's choir conducting class. It has proven to be a mutually beneficial arrangement for all involved!

I did manage to get a few photos from the day. Here is our choir, which meets every Wednesday after school. There are 17 singers ranging from second to fifth grade. That is not a set age range but is just how it worked out this year. All of these children but one (mine, who is homeschooled) attend our church's day school and also sing in school choirs. So they are bullish about singing! This is a wonderful group of children and we love working with them.

After chapel we had a picnic lunch. It was a beautiful day for it! Clearly our little angels also know how to be silly.

Waiting for instructions from the The Man.

Time to blow off some steam!

Not everyone had steam to blow.

We love choir moms.

Choir is a place for making friends!

After lunch and outdoor play it was time for ice cream. Bet you can guess where we went.

"Look at what we colored, Cantor!" 

Cantor served as guest instructor for Dr. Brown's class. With the children's help he demonstrated warm-ups, talked about children's voices and repertoire, and discussed techniques for running a rehearsal and managing discipline.

The university students were extremely attentive and asked excellent questions. Dr. Brown is pictured at far left. CUC is so blessed to have him on the music staff. We are huge fans of Dr. Brown!

The students and their director. My little guy is in the front row, far right (distracted as usual).

The children sang four selections for chapel, all memorized. This was the only one I recorded (I was playing piano on the others and failed to get a surrogate videographer). The children sang the second stanza of "Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice." The setting is by my husband. Dr. Steve Wente is playing organ. It is impossible to overstate the musical, educational and spiritual value of this day for the children. We are so thankful to CUC for making this day possible!

"Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice" from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

From My Daughter's Hand

I'm thinking this one could really take off. T-shirts, coffee mugs, the whole bit. There are so many applications. And it gets the point across incredibly well, don't you think?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Wordless Wednesday

"Banana Bread"

Insomnia Slayers

My insomnia has been a little better of late. I have started taking melatonin most nights before bed, and it seems to be helping. Maybe it's a placebo effect--I don't know. Whatever it is, I'll take it!

Last night I went to bed around 10:30. Earlier, when I tucked Evan in, I could tell he was having his own bedtime anxiety. He is accustomed to having our dog Shiloh in his room at night, but since Trevor got home from college Shiloh's loyalties have been divided. Last night she was in her big boy's room. I asked Evan if he wanted me to get Shiloh to come in his room and he said no, he wanted her to stay with Trevor. He asked, "If I have trouble sleeping, can I come in your room?" and I said yes.

Around 11:00, just as I had fallen asleep, here came Evan. He asked if he could put his sleeping bag on the floor next to our bed and we said yes. The move accomplished, we all settled back in. Then, around 11:30, just as I was once again drifting off, I felt a hand on my arm. Guess who? I was rather vocal about my frustration at being awakened yet again.

So hubby took over, walking Evan back to his own room. They stayed there talking for a while, during which time I, of course, could not get back to sleep. When my husband returned he said he had had a talk with Evan about Mommy's insomnia and need for sleep and had tried to impress upon him that when you love someone, you put the other's needs before your own. His words seemed to have an impact because he told me that Evan had said, "I would risk my life for Mommy." (sniff)

This morning as soon as Evan woke up he came to me to say he was sorry for giving me "amnosia." :-) (I guess that's a combination of insomnia, amnesia, and nausea.) Of course I forgave him and said he didn't cause my "amnosia" but that Mommy has trouble sleeping and when I do finally get to sleep I need to be left to sleep. He said that he would try not to wake me up anymore and then added, "Daddy and I would risk our lives for you. We would do it together."

I am so very blessed.

Saturday, May 5, 2012


Last night Caitlin and I watched Premonition. It was released in 2007 and starred Sandra Bullock. It is of the "psychological thriller" genre, revolving around a housewife who, upon her husband's death in an automobile accident, finds herself caught in an apparent time loop in which she is randomly bouncing around among the days immediately preceding and following her husband's death, but in no particular order. One day she wakes up and her husband is alive and eating breakfast in the kitchen. The next day, she stumbles down the stairs to find that once again he's dead and the living room is filled with mourners. She repeatedly finds herself bumping up against the effects of actions that she has apparently taken but can't remember (for example, discovering a prescription bottle from a psychiatrist that she visited but has no memory of). The result is intriguing, sort of a combination of Groundhog Day and Alfred Hitchcock, and I was quickly drawn in to trying to figure out what was going on and how it would all end.

It was interesting, then, to discover that the reviews of the movie upon its release were pretty poor. Not only was Bullock's performance criticized for being stiff and wooden (she was playing a woman who was in shock following her husband's death, for Pete's sake), but the movie was criticized for being illogical and hard to follow. I would agree that it is confusing. But I think the reviewers that criticize this aspect of it are missing the point. I took the story as a whole to be an allegory of the mind following a life-shattering event. Have you ever had something happen in your life that was so enormous and so pivotal that it seemed to make everything come to an immediate halt? Time seems to stop. And then as you try to come to terms with the event, you find yourself going back in time, reliving not only the event but the days leading up to it. You ask yourself whether you saw this thing coming and whether there is anything you could have done to prevent or change it. You replay things in your mind and pick up on details you hadn't noticed before. You remember and long for the days long before the event, when everything seemed to be normal. And then you find yourself jumping ahead in time, imagining what your life is going to be post-event: wondering how things are going to change and how you're going to manage under the new reality. Sometimes you wonder if you're living a dream--or a nightmare. This is very much how this movie struck me, and as a result, it rang completely true. Sometimes life just doesn't make sense.

One of the things most criticized in the reviews I read was the movie's ending. I don't want to spoil things for anyone who has not seen it, but I think the ending was stunning. For the entire story we see Sandra Bullock as the wife at various times before and after her husband's death. She is like a detective trying to piece together a puzzle, wondering if she might even be able to do something to prevent the terrible thing from taking place. When she discovers that on the day of his accident her husband was driving to meet a woman with whom he had decided to have an affair, she wonders if her husband--and her marriage--are worth saving. She visits a priest who tells her every day is a miracle and she needs to fight for the things she cares about. But it seems a moot point because the time warp she is stuck in won't allow her to wake up on the actual day of her husband's death. Finally, though, the needle skips out of the groove in which it has been stuck and she finds herself reliving the events of THAT day. Rushing to the scene of her husband's accident, she is metaphorically ready to face the truth, whatever that truth is, and move on with her life, wherever it may take her.  

We think of life as a linear thing. And it is. There's a beginning, a middle and an end. But for our brains it's not always that simple. We have a way of replaying things in our minds, tormenting ourselves with the "what if's," "maybe's," and "if only's," wondering whether if we look at a thing from this perspective or that one it will somehow look different. It's something that we need to do, I think, to process great grief or shock or change. But there comes a time when we need to jump off the hamster wheel and move on. We can run on that wheel all we want; it's not going to change the facts. Once we jump off, we are ready to quit reliving the past and start planning and hoping for the future.

I just wish it weren't so hard to make that leap.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Field Trip

What? You mean you don't take field trips to Starbucks?

Hobnobbing with Royalty* (Updated)

I'm sorry. I know it's bad form to brag. But I can't help it. Because, you see, on Tuesday I met Rebekah. Yes, that Rebekah. When she let me know she was going to be attending the Gottesdienst conference with her husband this week, I knew I had to drive over. We have been online friends for a while but had never had the opportunity to meet in person. There was no way I was going to pass this up!

Have you ever met an online friend only to discover that she (or he) did not quite match the picture you had in your head? Yeah, me, too. But not this time. Rebekah was exactly as I imagined her, brimming with all the humor, intellect, and kindness that those of you who read the CSPP blog have come to expect. And as if all of that weren't enough, the lady is just so darned competent. You've heard that phrase "calm, cool and collected"? When you're in her presence you kind of get the feeling that everything's under control and it's all going to work out fine. I haven't felt that way in a while, so it was nice to absorb a little of it from my friend.

In addition to Rebekah, I also had the pleasure of meeting Melrose. And a few others I don't have links for. (By the way, every last one of them is a total babe.) I was the oddball of the group: no pastor husband in the other room, no children tagging along, and a few more years under my belt than everyone else. But there's an advantage to being the old lady in the group. After several hours soaking in all that youth and vitality, I came home feeling ten years younger. :-)

Only down side to the day: I forgot to get a picture!

*To be absolutely clear, the ladies in question--and their husbands--do not act like "royalty." They are some of the humblest people I know, dear brothers and sisters in the royal priesthood of fellow believers in Christ.