ADHD · Guest Posts · Kids

Day 749: Interest-led learning?

(A message from Mr. December)

N is extremely smart, but is interested only in some subjects (Chemistry, Greek, most math) and even there holding his interest can be difficult, especially if screens are involved. Right now he is simultaneously watching youtube, grinding on Roblox, playing on his switch, watching a music video on a phone, and also reading on his kobo. Any ideas for the kinds of things that might be able to compete for his attention?

N wearing a set of pink can headphones. He's seated at a desk with a giant screen in front of him, with a Nintendo DS screen on the desk and two controllers in his hands, with a phone on the desk playing a video and a kobo propped up, open to a page of a book he's reading. The screen in front of him is a spilt screen: Roblox on one side and a video on the other.
This photo was not staged. Well, maybe Mr. December slid the phone in there at the last second. But N really does this sort of thing whenever he can.
ADHD · waxing philosophical · Worldschooling

Day 718: Worldschool Summit, Day 2

Technically yesterday was the start of the Worldschool Summit, but yesterday was mostly getting-to-know-you-type mingling and icebreakers. Today was our first day of speakers and learning sessions.

We started off with a session about learning to live outside of our comfort zone. According to our speaker, we should be using our comfort zone to rest, but living in our “stretch zone” most of the time. Outside of the stretch zone is the panic zone, where we really shouldn’t spend much time at all. In light of R’s anxiety issues, this was a very helpful session; I have a hunch that she doesn’t have much of a stretch zone.

Our next session was about harnessing collective knowledge by using a set of rules for discussions. They were the usual sort of “don’t interrupt; everyone’s view is important; speak concisely” much of which is the opposite of how my family and I usually communicate. Some of this is a cultural thing, and some of it is ADHD, but it was certainly interesting to note that these rules are obviously rooted in a particular culture (not a bad thing—you have to pick some set of rules for everyone—but an interesting thing.) We had a couple of really interesting group discussions using the rules.

Then we met the anarchists. At least, they call themselves Anarchists—for all I know, that could be a term that gets thrown around a lot these days. They essentially gave a lecture on “building bridges” from which I took notes, but didn’t really gain much in terms of knowledge and understanding.

Lunchtime involved a super-slow caterer, but there was PB&J for the kids—a food win. We went back to our hotel (a two-second walk from the event venue) and Mr. December and I had a dip in the pool before our afternoon sessions.

The afternoon opened with a game in which we were split into two groups (“cultures”) and given a set of rules for our culture. Then we had various kinds of exchanges with the other group, often with hilarious results: in my culture, if someone touched you the correct response was to turn and walk away. You can imagine how well that went over with the other culture, who used touch for greetings and goodbyes. This exercise led into a discussion of how we navigate cultural differences when traveling.

We knew the last session would be amusing at the least and possibly very engaging—the title of the talk was “Don’t be a D*ck,” and it was a lively discussion of ethical dilemmas that many travellers encounter. I learned a couple of things from this: first, that the word “Colonialism” doesn’t mean what it used to, and second, that I’m uncomfortable with the hand-wringing, do-good-ing discussions about whether it’s supporting exploitation to pay a dollar to take a picture with costumed locals (for example.) It feels pretty patriarchal to me. Are we saying that people in other countries don’t have agency, or that they can’t make the right decisions for themselves and their communities? Isn’t that so similar to how Europeans landed in the Americas and decided to “help” the locals improve their lives through religion and education? I certainly think so.

In between sessions we met new people and heard about their lives and how they came to worldschooling; we walked to and from the nearby park a few times to check our kids in and out of the kids’ camp program (led by worldschooled teen volunteers); and—most importantly—I finally figured out how to activate my Mexican SIM card, which means I can now text people and order an Uber from anywhere, even if there’s no WiFi.

ADHD · Keepin' it real

Day 708: Magic Bullet

I’ve tried so many times to get myself organized. Not physically, with stuff—that’s relatively easy. Organizing my time? That’s hard. I forget appointments and music lessons. I miss deadlines.

I’ve already tried:

  • A giant wall calendar with large squares with plenty of space for writing.
  • An agenda book that I carried everywhere.
  • Trello.
  • Remember The Milk (another list-making app)
  • Google calendar.

Not one of those has worked well for me in the long term. When people tell me that it could be easy if I’d just write things down, I respond that they’re forgetting a crucial step: actually checking the calendar (or journal or app.)

You’d think that a phone app would be the best thing for me: alarms to remind me of appointments, notifications to other people if an event changes, and the undeniable convenience of having it right in my pocket. But I hate trying to type, search, and view my calendar on my phone. It’s just way too small; and I don’t think a larger phone is the answer, because if it can’t fit in my pocket it won’t be handy when I need it.

I’ve decided to try something that’s very old and maybe a bit new: a bullet journal. It allows me to indulge my love of stationery (all the pretty pens, you know.) It’s a very flexible system, making space for me to jot down ideas and memories as well as appointments and tasks. I can put everything in my brain—all the big and small tasks that are weighing on me—in this book.

There’s only one way for this to go really wrong, which is for me to lose interest and stop checking the journal. Maybe if I keep it open on my desk with some doodling markers handy I’ll be reminded to actually use my bullet journal for its intended purpose.

If I end up having to throw this journal on the pile of “organization systems that don’t work for me,” at least it’ll be in good company. Right?

Close-up of a spiral-bound notebook with a translucent plastic cover. Through the cover we see a page titled "key" with a legend of symbols to be used in the journal.

ADHD · better homes than yours · DIY

Day 667: Small Improvements

I’m in a weird place today, mentally speaking. I can think of about six things I want to do to improve the house, but I can’t do any of them to completion. I started decluttering the extra table in our living room and then stopped because too much of it depended on other people’s participation. I decided my workbench could use some tidying, but that was too daunting so I left it for another day.

You know that ADHD song I posted a link to a while ago? The whole thing was pretty descriptive of me, but the best part was this:
Imagine the human brain as a gigantic mixing board
Most people can use these sliders to move in and out of chores
A little of this and that and like that all the chores are gone
My brain doesn’t work like that, man—my brain just goes OFF and ON.

And oh, man, is it ever true. People who say things like, “Your kid doesn’t have ADHD, he can pay attention just fine when it’s something he wants to do” are missing this crucial piece of information: for some of us, attention is all-or-nothing. So is motivation.

I consider it a victory if I can manage to finish a project within a week or two of having started it. Today’s victory is that I finally hung the wall-mounted self-watering plant pots with all the baby spider plants in them.

I can already see that maybe I should have picked a different kind of plant for at least some of the containers—something trailing would be nice here—but the spider plants were here and handy, and one plant separated into so many little ones, and I felt bad throwing out the extras. So I planted them all.

“I love it!” I enthused to Mr. December. “It’s so colourful! Should I buy more of those pots and put them all over the wall?”

(Because right now, as far as this project is concerned, my brain is ON.)

“Why don’t we wait and see how these hold up,” he suggested, “and then we can buy more.”

“Right.” I say (and try to convince my brain to turn OFF for this project.)

Hey, it’s small improvements. Maybe by next week I’ll have decluttered the table.

ADHD · crafty · DIY · lists · Resorting to Violins · The COVID files

Day 648: Hyperfocus Hurts

I just went and practiced viola for maybe fifteen minutes. As practice goes, that’s extremely short—but I had to stop because of the pain in my left arm.

I didn’t want to stop. I wanted to keep practicing. It’s a classic case of ADHD hyperfocus: once I start something that I love, it’s very hard to stop. Yesterday I finally tore myself away from the instrument after forty-five minutes. Better quit while I’m not in pain, I thought to myself, but I caught myself inching towards the instrument cabinet several times again last night.

I guess yesterday’s practice session set me up for pain today, because ten minutes into today’s practice, my arm was starting to ache. It took me five full minutes to accept that maybe today wasn’t the day for another long practice session, however much I wanted it to be.

Know what’s as much fun as online shopping? Online browsing the library catalogue.

Seriously. Clicking “place hold” is even better than clicking “buy,” because it’s not costing me anything and I can click to my heart’s content. There might be a limit to the number of books I can put on hold at one time, but so far I’m up to thirty-one. Libraries are awesome—especially now that they’ve stopped charging fines for late returns. It’s supposed to be a temporary measure until COVID calms down, but I’m hoping Toronto follows the examples of Chicago, New York, Boston, and San Diego and just ditches fines permanently.

I’ve had ideas popping into my head all day about small projects I want to tackle. I should be listing them on my Trello page, but I’m too lazy to click over there, so I’m sharing it with you here instead:

  • Reupholster the storage ottoman in the living room (the faux leather is peeling.)
  • While we’re on the ottoman, install a puzzle shelf a few inches inside it, just a few inches below the top, so we have a place to leave puzzles that are in progress.
  • Organize a puzzle swap among my friends so that we can all have some new puzzles to work on.
  • Order the labels for the library.
  • Make the giant letters spelling out “Makery” for the makery wall. Right now the wall says, “welcome to the…” and whenever I see it I start humming “Welcome to the Rock” from Come From Away.
  • Work on N’s quilt.
  • Buy myself some new pajama pants. Also basic t-shirts. And socks.
  • Repot our spider plants in the new self-watering wall planters.

R and N are coming back from Florida tomorrow; they haven’t been home since October 20. This house is about to get a lot noisier. We’ll see whether I can get any work done when all four of the kids are in the house.

ADHD · Worldschooling

Day 523: Analysis Paralysis

It’s hard to plan a trip when every decision affects every other decision. I’ve been going round and round on the internet trying to pin down something, anything that I can use as an anchor for our travels this fall; so far I’ve found everything and nothing. To wit:

  • If we want to be in the centre of the country, we should fly directly to the capital; but it’s the rainy season, so we might want to try for a different part of the country where it’s drier, in which case we should fly to a different airport. So we can’t book flights until I know where we want to stay.
  • Beaches in the drier part of the country aren’t as safe or good for swimming as beaches near the centre. We have kids who are accustomed to swimming in placid little lakes; we don’t need to court disaster by taking them to a beach where there are rocks and undertows.
  • A separate-but-related decision has to do with the type of place we rent: do we want to be in a lush tropical setting, or would we rather be in a town or village where we can walk everywhere we need to go? If we get some beachfront villa it’s likely we’ll have to rent a car…

… and so on.

“Just make a spreadsheet!” Mr. December says for the umpteenth time while shaking his head resignedly. “Also, you have too many tabs open in your browser. It’s confusing.”

Sweetheart, I want to say but don’t, I have too many tabs open in my BRAIN. It’s called ADHD.

He’s right that I need to attack this in a systematic way… but I’m not really sure how. Maybe a grid that takes into account location, walkability, amount of rain, and beach safety? Maybe I should just print a map and do some colour-coded highlighting. On the other hand, a comparison chart—the kind you see when you’re comparing appliances on a website—might be the best way to go.

Are you confused yet? I do like to give my readers an immersive experience…

ADHD · blogging · Camping it up · Keepin' it real · parenting · whine and cheese

Day 515: I had it a minute ago…

I need an office with a door.

I was just thinking up a blog post about something that’s been percolating in the back of my mind for a few days—

“Eema? Next time you go shopping you should buy more peaches.”

I look at the interloper and say, “I’m sorry, I’m working on something. Is this a time-sensitive issue? Because if not, now is not the time.”

“Oh, yeah. Sorry. It was kind of random.”

So anyhow, I was thinking of this blog post and then realizing that the kids go to music camp for a week starting on Sunday, and I have to book them in for COVID tests—

“Hey, Eema? You know how I told you my friend Noa will be visiting from Montreal in September? Well, she’s actually coming tomorrow.”

“Have you made any plans? No? Okay, keep me posted.”

Back to work. Our home insurance company changed names and account numbers on us when I wasn’t looking and so now I have to straighten out the whole mess before our insurance gets terminated. I’ve already emailed and called our insurance broker, but it seems that I’m going to have to—

“Look! Do you like what I made?” A craft of some sort is thrust into my face at close range. I can’t even see what it is.

“I’m trying to work. Can I see it later?”

“Okaay…” says the young artist.

Oh, crud. I just remembered that I have a few online purchases to return. I keep deferring it, but I should definitely get that ball rolling today, before the return window closes. I’ll start with the lucite rods from Amazon—

“Eema, will you brush my hair?” a freshly-bathed E inquires from the top of the stairs.

“I’m trying to work. Can you ask someone else?”

It’s pretty obvious that I won’t get anything done sitting at my desk. I might as well go work on the drawer fronts I need to build for the library. After some frustrating measuring, during which I discover that the drawers will need to be slightly out of square to fill the space correctly, I finally realize that I can solve the problem by just removing the central part of the face frame. I’m hammering at the back of it, trying not to wreck anything else—


“WHAT?” I huff, putting my hammer down with exaggerated care.

“Um, I was just going to ask if you’re not doing anything, could you finish making the Wacky Mac I started? But I can see that you’re doing something, so I guess I’ll just do it myself.”

And so on… all. day. long… Which is why you’re getting this narrative of my day instead of a thoughtful piece about raising kids who are impervious to peer pressure (it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.) It’s 10:10 p.m. and the kids just finally—

“EEMA! Are you coming to tuck us in or not?”

Ugh. Just once I want to finish my thought process without interruption. It’s past bedtime and I didn’t actually finish doing any of the things I mentioned above. Some of them didn’t even get past the conceptual stage. And I’m sure that for every one thing I remembered to think about doing, there are two more that just completely slipped my mind.

Tune in tomorrow, when I start packing the kids up for camp and they all disappear for several hours so they don’t have to help. Maybe if I take my laptop into their rooms and surround myself with piles of clothes and towels, they’ll scatter to avoid having to help… and I’ll be able to get something done.

ADHD · Camping it up · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 487: He gets it from me.

Dear Eema,

Thanks for your letter. Please send me more letters.

Blah blah blah blah blabbity blah blah.

There. Now it’s long enough. I can go get tuck.

Love, N.

My response:

Dear N,

Thank you for the thoughtful letter you sent. I loved the story about how blah blah blah blabbity the blah in blah. You have such a way with words.

I can’t wait to see what you write next.

Love, Eema.

I think we can all agree that the kid is a creative genius, right?

I mean, first a giant “Hi!” and now the blah story. How can I possibly compete with that? (I welcome your suggestions.)

The girls have written similarly short letters. All they have to say is that camp is fine, and also can I please send:

  • More fidget toys
  • More Rainbow Loom
  • Candy
  • Candy
  • Their Ritalin
  • Candy
  • What about the Rainbow Loom?

As it so happens, I will be sending more fidget toys and Ritalin. I guess I can stuff some Rainbow Loom into the package as well.

There’s no need to wonder where N gets his sense of humour. I was reminded of that fact as I worked on our homeschool yearbook today. I needed something eye-catching and fun for the first page, and settled on “We heart BFHS because…”

I, in all my smartass glory, invented a few quotes to complete the sentence:

  • “I can go to class in my pyjamas. And there’s no homework.”
  • “I feel like they’ve known me all my life.”
  • “The teachers will do anything to help the students succeed.”
  • “I feel at home here.”
  • “I’ve learned more here than I did at any other school.”
  • “Because why not?” (N’s current favourite thing to say)

And then at the bottom, below a bunch of photos: “BFHS. Like one big, happy family.”

See? My kids come by their smartassery honestly. Actually, from both sides of the family. They never had a chance of escaping it.

ADHD · crafty · family fun · Kids · Resorting to Violins

Day 485: Hyperfocus Hurts

Yesterday I had a block of time all to myself, all alone in the house. I took advantage of it to work on a personal music project of mine. ADHD hyperfocus kicked in and before I had realized it, I’d been playing and singing for over three hours.

I learned a few important things. First, the new laptop we got for the kids has an excellent built-in microphone, so I can just do all my recordings on that computer—no need to buy a mic. Second, I learned that a music degree isn’t a “get out of practicing free” card for the rest of your life. Five minutes at the piano made it very clear to me that I can’t just improvise a piano part and then record it in the same afternoon. And third, I learned that playing for three hours straight is not a great idea for my body, although it is for my soul.

Now, I’m not new at this; I know that playing the same instrument for three hours will cause soreness. That’s why I switched instruments a bunch of times. Different instruments, different muscles—right?

Apparently not. I mean, I guess three hours of playing the same instrument might cause more pain than I’m feeling right now, but switching instruments doesn’t seem to have eliminated the problem.

In a perfect world—okay, maybe just a non-hurting body—I’d channel my hyperfocus into my music for several days straight. In this imperfect world I have to give it a rest for a few days before I get back to it. It’s a good think I’m a dabbler with lots of different interests; I’ll just rotate through them while I wait for my hands to calm down.

Speaking of other interests, I’ve been thinking about quilting again—it’s been years since I made a quilt, probably since my niece was born almost six years ago. But each of my kids was promised a quilt when they moved into big-kid beds. I’m obviously several years behind on this commitment.

In the past I’ve gone so far as to have N pick his favourite fabrics and approve a design. I don’t remember which design it was, but thanks to my avoidance of putting things away properly I know exactly which pile of fabrics is his “yes” pile.

I want to start his quilt, but I can’t. I’m trying to impose some self-discipline here: I have a long list of things to do while the kids are at camp, and making N a quilt is definitely not on that list. It will have to wait.

So what am I planning to do this week? Well, I promised E a fun outing tomorrow afternoon. In the morning I have to return all those fabric samples (I’m really no further ahead and I’m heading over to a different store to find some more options,) buy some more gray spray paint (ran out mid-spray today,) and pick up a prepaid parcel box from Canada Post (R has run out of Rainbow Loom, hardly surprising since she’s probably supplying her entire cabin with it.) After that, fun! At least, I hope it is. One way or another, you’ll hear all about it tomorrow night.