Category Archives: Books

Grit by Angela Duckworth

If you haven’t read Grit by Angela Duckworth, be forewarned and encouraged: the book is long AND it is worth your time. The information is enthralling. Listening to the audio (read by the author) is even more fascinating.

One of my colleagues suggested I read it after I related the latest escapades in our quest to find the best care for our children’s special needs. Grit, according to Angela, is “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.”

When it comes to our adopted kiddos, any social worker, community service board member, child services team contributor, school administrator, teacher or member of the mental health community with whom I’ve interacted would agree that I tend toward dogged advocacy. Our first social worker told Hubby I’m “hypervigilant” (hence the blog name).

Their well-being is my Quest, if you will.

Our kids had such a traumatic start; Hubby and I are determined—as much as is within our power—to make the rest of their growing-up years decidedly un-traumatic. I have to tell you: spending almost every moment of my wake time (and sometimes my dreams as well) finding ways to sow seeds of future success is exhausting.

At my friend’s recommendation, I read Grit thinking it might give me some encouragement.

Check.

Perhaps some validation.

Check.

Maybe even a little focus.

Check.

What I didn’t expect: Angela talks about ways to develop Grit in our children.

Her explanation of Grit indicators enthralled me. Among other things, a huge predictor of future success is a child’s commitment to a challenging activity for a certain amount of time.

At the high school level, two years of involvement in the same activity (whether sport, club or organization) is a solid predictor of future success.

Chess club, lacrosse, football, student government, school newspaper: as long as the activity creates growth and challenges the child to learn more, improve or think more creatively, it counts. (One year of involvement predicted nothing, by the way. That second year matters.)

To grow Grit in their children (and themselves), Angela, her husband and her children all “Do Hard Things.” (As a nerd partial to ancient myth, I prefer the term”Grit Quest.” My paraphrase of quest: an adventurous search or pursuit to secure or achieve something.  GQ for short. Gives more of a sense of the “bulldog determination to scale the highest limit of this mountain” ideology our family tends to embrace.)

The Rules:

1. Everyone does SOMEthing that requires practice (pursuit) to improve. Each family member must embrace a GQ.

“Everyone” includes parents—how can we expect the kids to do something difficult while we potato on the couch?

If you’ve followed this blog for long, you know that Hubby and I do fun things like teaching ourselves how to knock out and rebuild walls, replace the bathroom ceiling and restore cars. The kids’ counselor actually told us we needed to take time to relax, to show the kids that adulting isn’t all work. #1 will be no trouble.

2. Everyone chooses his or her own GQ. No one wants to work hard because someone else is making them.

We have a child who would prefer to do nothing at all, so #2 will be more difficult.. If we don’t choose something for her, she will sit in her room and converse with herself. We’ve come to a compromise: there will be a GQ and it will involve music; the kids can choose from the instruments we already have on hand (piano and guitar). They’ve each asked for music lessons (unwitting of the work required), so this technically follows Angela’s guideline.

Other GQ considerations are transportation and impact on family time. For instance, we’ve ruled out football (American) for now because practices every night and games on weekends would effectively preclude any other activities…for anyone, player or not. We’re open to any sports which enable the kids to play together without taking over the family schedule.

3. No quitting. At least, not on a difficult day nor due to bad attitude. Predetermine a timeline or stopping point.

Once they’ve fulfilled the terms of the agreement (e.g., eight weeks,”when you reach x level” or a sport season) they can pick a new instrument or try something else.

Angela Duckworth says, “if I’ve paid the tuition for your set of piano lessons, you’re going to take all those lessons and you are, as you promised your teacher, going to practice for those lessons.”

Sounds great, but #3 is a bit more tricky for us, as we’re still working on motivation.

For over a year, the kids took Karate (THEIR CHOICE). We told them they could quit once they received a green belt. Most of the class attained the first belt within the first three months. Over a year later, our little darlings finally managed to pass the first belt assessment. They simply refused to practice.

No consequences mattered. Rewards, consequences, the teacher calling them out in front of the entire class…nothing mattered to them.

This lack of response to negative consequence or positive reward has been an ongoing burr under my saddle. It’s a “normal” response from trauma kids.

I literally had to stand there and watch them, directing every move. Right, it’s only fifteen minutes a day…but when it took an hour to complete thirty minutes of homework and we had Scouts (one for each) twice a week and counseling twice a week and…and…and…it just became too much.

What I learned from that experience? Pick a shorter term goal. The idea of allowing them to quit when they hit green was this: by the time they got to green, they’d be so good, they wouldn’t want to quit. Both of them have athletic physiques and our boy has flexibility any ballerina would kill for. We knew if they found success, they’d want to continue.

Problem is, they fought so hard to be complacent, they missed out. Toward the end, they both started realizing goals in karate. Unfortunately, it was too late, because they were both approved for in-home counseling (7-10 hours per week). With school, there’s currently no time for karate.

But hey, once the summer starts, we will have all kinds of time to practice an instrument. (Yep, I plan to practice as well.)

In the meantime, I’m going to go listen to Grit one more time. There was a section about the Seattle Seahawks I didn’t fully catch the first time around, and I want to listen again.

If you take time to read it (or already have), weigh in below.

What do you think? Do you have grit? How do you know?

Write to the Death

Finding time to write is not a problem for me.

Oh, wait.

I meant to post that on April 1…but didn’t have time.

***

Another blogger and I have been kicking around the idea of forcing ourselves to novel with a deadline.

I suggested we call next month Manic May (in which we write like mad) and proofread each other’s work in Judgmental June (because I couldn’t think of a better word starting with “J”).

Upon hearing my idea, Hubby said, “and then, Judgemental July because neither of you will finish writing in May, so you’ll have to push back proofreading.

Then will come Angsty August because you don’t like each other’s novels but don’t want to say so.

During Sad September, you’ll find your friendship ending over red pen.

You’ll try to salvage the project, if not your camaraderie, during Objective October.

Finally, in Nasty November: a fight to the death over grammar, stabbing each other with the Oxford comma.”

Geez. Maybe HE should write the novel.

 

Adoption = Irony

We’ve had such a long road to literacy.

The odds were stacked against my son. He knew less than half the alphabet when he arrived at our house. He was 5.3 years old. Most of my friends’ kids knew the whole song before they were three. For someone with a life-long reading love affair, watching him struggle to find the word “the” on a page was soul-crushing.

I’m obsessed with reading. Words demand my attention; if something is written or printed, I have no choice. Must. Read. Sometimes it’s annoying, especially when a sign catches my eye and I end up with whiplash or smash my nose on the headrest, trying to decipher it as we drive by. This addiction paid off big-time, however, when the medical records arrived the year we adopted. I sat on a hard wooden chair, elbows on the kitchen table, and read every page. One was missing. Our son was born with a heart defect. Multiple notes made clear the danger, but none showed a resolution. If not for my enslavement, we might have never known.

I was an early reader, happily consuming Seuss on my own before I was five. On my seventh birthday, I received The Chronicles of Narnia. I finished all seven books in the series within six months. Granted, I didn’t expect our kiddos to read on the same time table, but nevertheless, I was distressed. Books bring joy, open doors, transport to new worlds.

Entering 2nd grade, our son read on a pre-K level, thwarting my desperate wish to introduce him to the incredible experiences available in books, especially, as he calls them, “chapter books.” I wanted to take him to Terabithia. Show him the wardrobe, the Shire, the cupboard under the stairs. I dreamed that together we could Number the Stars, meet the Giver, sit in the Secret Garden, listen to the Trumpet of the Swan.

Audiobooks (if you’re not familiar with Audible.com, I highly recommend the site) have been an incredible boon. We’ve listened to treasures like The Secret Garden, Bunnicula and The Tale of Despereaux on road trips. And in the meantime, it’s happening. He’s caught the bug (thankfully, not the flu bug) and made a sudden shift from reluctance to fluent reader.

He’s a bit obsessed with a graphic novel he won at the library this summer, The Family Secret. It’s a WWII story written at the late elementary to early middle school level, but he loves it. The WWII era has always been one of my favorites, so it’s become a shared passion. He reads as much as he can on his own, stopping periodically to sound out a word or ask me for help.

What used to be the bane of his existence is now his lifeblood.  A year ago, I despaired of ever seeing him love to read. Now, he can’t get enough.

But we have a problem.

Here’s the irony. He’s getting in trouble for reading.

He reads when he’s supposed to be getting ready for school, or eating, or doing homework. He sneaks books under his desk in the classroom. He reads the street signs and advertisements. If I drive slowly enough, he’s going to finally figure out that the building on the corner is not, as I’ve claimed, a “ladies’ swimsuit store.”

Two days ago, I did the unthinkable: threatened to take his books away. He went ballistic. Begged me to take his prized submarine instead. The enormous one, with flashing lights and “dive, dive!” alarms. He promised to get ready on time.

Yesterday, I apologized to the reading teacher, who was handling school check-in for tardy students. “I’m so sorry we’re late. I left him alone for half an hour. I thought he was getting dressed, but he spent the entire time reading.”

She grinned and high-fived me.

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