I never understood before how the parents of young Olympic athletes in our country could fathom allowing their child to move away from home while still a child, live in a dorm with other highly driven and dedicated athletes, and only visit their families a few times a year. Now, we were not blessed with gifted athletes in our family, so it was always just an academic discussion, a “what-if” scenario where my husband and I were sure that we would never make those choices for our children. Family is too important and the gold medal too elusive — the cost was just too high. Well, you know what they say about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes….

We still do not have an Olympic-caliber athlete in our home, but we do have a brilliant young son who has hit an academic wall of sorts; the kind of wall every mother thinks she wants to face. When I called the guidance counselor to explain that he just didn’t feel challenged in his honors classes, she responded, “Well, that’s a great problem to have. That’s wonderful!” Only it isn’t. It means that he faces the very real possibility of being unchallenged for 3-1/2 more years before college. That he could cave to the pressure of the masses and just stop caring, never to be all that he is capable of becoming.

So, how do we stave off this potential disaster and help him find a way to stretch himself and his mind? We have met with the teachers and guidance counselor, but their solution seems to be to let him continue on the current path. After all, he is making A’s, so why are we complaining? Also, their hands are tied by local regulations so they can’t let him skip ahead without extensive and expensive testing which they seem unwilling to do.  The other students are already calling him “the kid who knows everything” because of his great vocabulary. He insists that he doesn’t; that there is plenty left for him to learn, but it falls on deaf ears when he appears light years ahead of the rest of them.

He needs a peer group of students who love learning as much as he does and who can feel the thrill of the academic challenge. And where can we find that for him? One option we are seriously considering is an early-college entrance program. There are only a handful of programs like this in the country, where gifted high school juniors and seniors enroll in a particular college, but all live together in a dorm just for them, with more restrictions than the regular college students but all of the academic opportunities.

Yes, I have shed many a tear over this, wrestling with the idea that my first-born may be leaving home two years sooner than we expected. He has a close relationship with us and with his brother and sister, so it would be a tough transition. It’s all still in the discussion stages – no bags packed yet-but when I watched the promo video for this program, I knew. When he watched it, his face lit up. His dad got excited about all of the opportunities it would offer him. Next week, we will attend a Preview Day to get a taste of life on campus.

It’s not a done deal yet. But in my heart, I’m sympathizing with all the parents of young Olympic athletes out there. I get it now – they didn’t make those hard choices for their kids; the children chose because it was who they were created to be. Having a child with an exceptional gift or talent is certainly a blessing, but helping them to find the right outlet to refine their skills can be a bittersweet experience.

For the first time since 2002, says AAA, travel during the Thanksgiving weekend will decrease from the previous year. Glad to know that we’re not contributing to that part of the economic slump! Oh, no -we have a jolly 10 hour trip planned today to see cousins and grandparents. Fortunately, my kids are past the age where every minute in the car seat is pure torture.

In fact, we’re even past car seats, as of last year. It’s a whole new phase of freedom! The kids can change seats at will partway through the trip without having to reconfigure every piece of carefully packed luggage and without two adults leaning on the car seats to make sure they are tightly buckled into the car. Nope – it’s each man for himself, or each child for him or herself now. Ah, the simple joys in life!

We still, I reluctantly admit, rely a little too heavily on the DVD player. After all, the alphabet game only lasts so long – and it’s a LONG trip! One thing I enjoy to build a little family time into the car ride is listening to an audiobook together. I try to pick a book to suit all tastes (that’s always fun!) that will last several hours, and we break it up into short segments. Listen for a while, play for a while, watch a movie for a while. Even the kid who gripes about having to listen usually ends up enjoying it, and we have a common reference for discussion later, too. Often an inside family joke will develop over something we’ve heard, and the joke may last long after the story is forgotten. But the memories were created, the family bonds were strengthened, and we made it to Grandma’s with our sanity intact.

My overly-ambitious list for this trip includes:

The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs by Alexander McCall Smith

The Girl Who Married a Lion ( a collection of African folktales) by Alexander McCall Smith

I’ll give you the critics’ results when we return.

For all of you who will be joining me on the road this holiday weekend, may you have safe travels and may the visits be worth the effort to get there. For those of you staying home, I wish you an enjoyable and restful weekend. And here’s a Thanksgiving wish for everyone:

May your stuffing be tasty
May your turkey plump,
May your potatoes and gravy
Have nary a lump.
May your yams be delicious
And your pies take the prize,
And may your Thanksgiving dinner
Stay off your thighs!

I’ve been in a funk for the last week or so. Something has just been unsettled in my soul, and I hadn’t been able to identify it. Until today. I had anticipated heavy involvement in my kids’ schools this year, but it hasn’t turned out that way and they are doing just fine without me underfoot every day. My younger two, who attend a “university format” school, go to classes Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and are home doing lessons with me on Tuesday- Thursday. Next year, we just learned, the school will change to a traditional 5 day a week format. So, after 15 years of being a stay at home mom, I will have no one to stay at home with. With only four years until we begin footing college tuition bills, an income-producing opportunity would certainly be a prudent use of that time. However, as is true for many of us, the jobs for which my college degrees prepared me are not necessarily the ones I desire at this stage of my life. So, I’ve been in this funk – the what do I want to do with the rest of my life blues.

The one thing that excites me regularly is writing this blog; it has filled a part of my soul that I didn’t know was empty. Putting thoughts into words and creating beautiful spaces has stirred up a surprisingly intense passion. I have always enjoyed being around creative people but never considered myself to be one of them. Recently reading The Creative Call, I sensed God telling me that He sees me as a writer. Me? A writer? With no journalism or English degree? And writers fall into that “starving artist” category – not exactly a lucrative career to pave the way for three kids in college!

When I started writing this blog it was, in my mind, to journal our family’s transition into middle and high school. However, God had other plans for it, which I am just beginning to discover. Since its inception, He has been telling me, “One step at a time; I’m only giving you one step. When you follow that one, you get the next one.” Me, the planner, the map -my- life- out- for- the- next- six- years person. It’s making me crazy. It’s making me nervous. It’s making me rely on my daily prayer time to be sure I get that next step.

Oh, me of little faith. It only takes a day or two of silence for me to doubt what I’ve heard. So, this morning, I got up and prayed. “I don’t see how you’re going to use this blog to make me a writer,” I told Him. Slightly disgusted with the lack of an answer to my prayer, I decided to check my e-mail. There, in my inbox, was an invitation to post one of my articles in an online women’s magazine and possibly to write several more articles for them in the future. Sheepishly, I confessed that once again, I was running ahead of God. Oh, me of little faith. He who can make an oak tree from an acorn can surely make a writer out of me.

If you would be interested in participating in an 8 week online group study and discussion of the book The Creative Call, please leave a comment with your name, e-mail, and a note about what you believe your creative calling to be (if you’re not sure, join us to find out!).