Glass

I was grilling food and Braden walked outside. It was still over 70 degrees out so it struck me as curious. We chatted some and then he asked if we could visit the zoo before he goes to college. “Before he goes to college” felt so far a month ago and now here we are with less than a week away. 

Yes, of course we can go to the zoo. He pulls up his phones to check the weather for the lowest temp this week and it’s set. He goes inside and I barely hold it together remembering how we used to go to the zoo so much when he was younger that he had every exhibit fact board memorized. 

Today was zoo day and we picked up Jimmy Johns lunch to eat there.  As we pull out of the lot,  Braden sees a sign advertising cinnamon buns at Colonial Cafe. He laughs. I ask what was funny. He says the sign described the cinnamon buns as “Huge and Gooey.”

Me: ugh. Those are poor choice words for food. I don’t want anything huge and gooey. 

Him: Right? They could have at least used “respectable and dignified.”

I burst out laughing so hard that I started crying. As the tears of laughter appear, a few tears of sadness mix in. Together they look identical and only I know that today, they fall differently. 

Somehow cartoons come up on our way and I mention that Sesame Street might be the single most important piece of TV ever to come out of the US. He agreed. He then says he remembers first seeing Indonesian hand puppets in a cartoon and thought they were just the coolest things. Of course he remembers this, I think. I wondered who will remind me of these precious memories next week. 

As we drive he streams his music, like he typically does. Somehow he always chooses the perfect music. Many times it’s his go-to list of: Andy Gibb, George Michael, Stevie Wonder. Sometimes it’s Yeezy, or Jeezy? I can’t remember the difference. Today he plays disco and it feels just…right. I enjoy the music and wonder who will play the music next week. 

We take the highway to the zoo and pass a semi truck. He mentions a statistical fact about US shipping and cargo ships. Driving with Braden is never boring. Sometimes he mentions elements of urban design he sees or other seemingly random data that must pop into his head all day long. And while I am a captive audience at the time, I wonder who will keep me on my toes and learning next week. 

We show up to the zoo and the animals act like they were waiting for us. They were more active than maybe I’ve ever seen in my life. Braden was in his element with all the showmanship. “Well, sea lions might have moved up on my list of favorite animals.” he says as they leap around the pool waiting for snacks. We stop at a gift shop and he gets a super cool drinking glass with an octopus on it. It’s glass, because he is grown enough now to have the real thing. When did that happen? 

“You’re lucky he’s going to be close” is something I’ve heard over and over. Yes, I am absolutely lucky in that aspect, I am fully aware of how fortunate I am. But it doesn’t change how removing one person from my daily life changes how I see, hear and learn every day he is not here. So yes, I will get used to this, but it is absolutely something I will miss about him. 

We come home and have dinner. I remind him to take out the garbage for the last time and he says “Oh! I can turn off my garbage reminder alarm now. Or maybe I’ll just leave it for fun.” For that small time I didn’t have to wonder what he will be doing next week on Wednesday at 7pm because I know that alarm will sound and for just that moment, he will still be connected to our home thinking of us too. 

Growing up Gifted

I originally “joined” social media looking to connect with other parents of gifted kids. I acted as a gifted advocate for many years. While my time with public school is coming to a close with my gifted child, my ideals are not. The following is my closing letter to my school district regarding gifted kids:

Braden taught himself to read at 2.5. I didn’t even know he could read to be honest. He was taking a bath and grabbed those foam letters to spell words on the tub ledge. That struck me as odd. How was he spelling words? By Sesame Street memory?

Later that evening I grabbed a Level One reader book and he just read it. He stumbled on one word.

He was my first child and even though at the time, it did seem pretty early, it didn’t seem especially remarkable for him. It was like he was destined to read that early so when he did, it was almost like, oh, right. 

Braden entered the D203 preschool program at Elmwood elementary school at 3.5. By this point he had been reading books for over a year. I didn’t really connect at the time how him being an early reader would affect his education as a whole. 

At a preschool parent teacher conference something was mentioned to which I replied “Oh, well he reads.” and the teacher replied “That makes sense because he’s always reading out the title of the book before I do and I was thinking that this kid must have every book under the sun.”

Part of that was actually correct. He consumed reading day and night. 

By the time Braden was in his 2nd year at Elmwood preschool, the teacher suggested he attend the Kindergarden enrichment class. Sounded great and that’s where Braden wrote his first book.

All my Little Ducklings. 

I was actually impressed that the system attempted to meet his needs and had no prophecy that his education wouldn’t always be as flexible and as supportive as this was. 

I’m certainly not going to go into great detail regarding the rest of his elementary years but I will say that it was much like a rollercoaster swinging between ok-ness and this is not good. 

In 2nd grade things were especially bad and we had a meeting with the school ast principal, the learning support coach and the teacher. You see, the first grade teacher had come up with a plan to support Braden in 2nd grade but for whatever reason, no one in 2nd grade decided to follow it. We were told at this time that he would “Even Out.”

I’ve never been blown off as a parent as much as I was by the principal at the time. I’m a pretty reasonable parent and all I wanted was the plan to be followed. My child had frequent twisted stress knots in his stomach from reading 8-10 hours a week while in school because there was simply nothing for him to do and part of the solution was already written out for them. 

There were definitely highlights: Ms. White, Mrs. Kainrath, Mrs. McLean, Ms. Mason. 

Struggles peaked in 6th grade when one teacher told us at a PTC that he raised his hand too much and maybe we could manage that. Another suggested that he wrote at a 3rd grade level and needed remedial help. This was 2 different teachers and by the end of the year, I had written to the school that we were holding our right to part time homeschool him for 7th grade. 

I gave Braden one month into 7th grade to decide if it was going to work for him. Turns out, Braden’s 7th grade academic team saved him and I will forever be grateful to them. Mrs. McGroarty and Mr. Schmidt were especially incredible as they saw Braden for who he was and supported him and his writing. Just having that support meant the world to us.

Then came the highschool whiplash. I had heard for years and years from the gifted community that “it gets better in high school” and they were right. 

Braden has won so many awards in highschool, they didn’t even fit on his college applications. (Most) of his teachers have ADORED HIM even if they don’t understand him or agree with him. He has had support, praise, and has been challenged in specific ways that just hadn’t been present before. 

Have there been a few hiccups? Sure, but we aren’t expecting perfection here and overall, his experience in high school is now where you have me as a D203 cheerleader, a completely awkward situation for me, if we are being honest. 

So why am I writing this? Well, this very very gifted student is now graduating from your school district. He’s onto a new path with new challenges and growth opportunities. We could not have hand picked a better college for him. 

I guess I’d like to challenge D203 with their perception of what they think are the gifted kids and how to support them. Not because you have PI/HM and PI+ programs to sort them into. Because these kids are in all levels of your system. They can be quiet or bold. They can blend in and stick out. They can be excelling and they can be failing. They are there when maybe you don’t see them and they shouldn’t have to wait until high school for things to “get better.”

I believe you can do this. We need you to do this. 

Thank you for your time,

Jennifer Hajer

When Life Hands You Flowers

When the pandemic struck, we didn’t have any masks in our house. I was on FB when a local dry cleaner posted they were sewing masks for a donation. I got in my car and drove immediately over there. I grabbed 2, stuck a $20 in the jar, and left.

I took the flower one for myself, naturally. I wore this really basic mask until we were able to get better fitted ones. After we did, I left this mask hooked on the shift gear in my car (everyone did this right?) Soon, it became somewhat obscured with other masks being layered on top of it. And still, it was there besides me for 14 months.

About a month ago I decided to take a pivot after my other consulting work sort of stopped with the pandemic. Friends and family often consulted me regarding garden design and ideas. I always helped as talking to people about flowers is apparently the sweet spot for my ability to people at all in life. So I started low key offering garden designing.

Once I realized that maybe I was going to have more interest than I knew, I put up a website at GardenByNumber.com to sort of explain things before they contacted me.

The requests kept coming.

One day I was getting ready to visit a new garden client and realized that I was down to the last mask on the shift gear. The OG flower mask that saved the day over a year ago when the future seemed so uncertain.

I grabbed it happily and thew it on the hood of my car until I gathered my things for the next appointment. Once I was gathered, I went to grab it off the hood and then saw it. I looked closer and could not believe what I was seeing.

Sometimes a pandemic hits and it’s terrible and awful and uncertain but it also hands you flowers to let you know things will be ok.