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.

Group presentations. One of my least favorite memories from high school!

My ninth grader was assigned his first group presentation in history class with two other boys he knew from his previous school. They were to have one week to work on it, but the illness of one combined with unexpected snow days left two of the three of them with one class period to prepare. I had encouraged them to talk on the phone while school was out and to at least map out a plan of what they were going to do. They did talk some, but I think the lure of days off was too great.

However, he came home from school Thursday confident that they had put together a nice Powerpoint presentation, which he had on his flash drive, and he just needed to make a poster. Being the cautious and somewhat fatalistic mother, I asked if they had made a backup copy of the Powerpoint file. No, his partner didn’t have Powerpoint at home, so they hadn’t seen any reason to make two copies of it; my son had the only copy even though the other guy would be giving the presentation. It all made sense to them.

We made the poster, did our evening activities, and went to bed. As we were walking out the door in the morning, I suggested that he double-check to be sure his flash drive was in his backpack. It wasn’t.

There was a ten minute flurry of activity as every couch cushion, pants pocket, and bed cover was overturned in a frantic search for the crucial two-inch long device. No luck.

As I saw his eyes filling with tears and the panic squeezing his throat, I knew that I had a choice to make. I could deliver the mommy lecture that was on the tip of my tongue and ensure that he left the house feeling defeated, or I could use the opportunity to teach him some valuable life skills.

So, taking a deep breath and fighting back all of the I told you so’s clamoring to escape my throat, I said, “Okay. You’re about to learn a great lesson in adaptability!” I quickly grabbed a coffee-table book that we own on his subject and told him to head to the van. His presentation was in his first period class, so there really was no extra time.

On the way, I had him write out whatever details he remembered from the powerpoint and think about how to use the pictures we had. I shared my own experiences of speaking “off the cuff” and assured him that the most important thing was to appear confident in what he was saying, and that I knew they would be fine.

Deep breath.

There was just enough time to run into the school library and print out a couple more important pictures. The first bell rang. The printer didn’t work. With the librarian’s help, he got the pictures printed, with two minutes to get to class. “Confidence,” I said, as we parted ways. “You can do this.”

And he did.

He told me that afternoon that all three guys were able to divide up the resources they had, deliver their talks, and no one else was the wiser. The teacher even told us at parent night that they had done a nice job.

As I watched him walk down the hall that morning, I felt like the mother bird screaming “Fly, fly, fly” to her fledgling on the ground as the hungry cat lurks nearby.

He did fly, with only minutes to spare, and those wings are getting stronger every day.

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Breaking news in our house last night – my freshman son, Latin scholar and ignorer of all things nonacademic at school, has a fan club. What does this mean? I’m not exactly sure, but it is apparently the way that high school girls at his school indicate some type of interest in the boys. His good friend had one last semester, with some of the same girls. This fan club is not something they encouraged; it just sort of happened to them- I think the girls picked the most innocent and uninterested boys. At least one of the girls happens to have each class with him, and they are constantly asking him questions about everything except school. We intentionally tried to hold his “Affirmation of Manhood ” ceremony before too many of the raging teenage hormones kicked in. I think we succeeded on that count, as he sees any attention directed at him by these girls as just “weird”.

What’s a mother to do? I laugh and tease, a little, as he is obviously embarrassed by their attention. I’m surprised and a bit apprehensive, as I always imagined him as the geeky late-bloomer. And I wonder -are they truly interested in him or is it some kind of cruel trick? I know what a bright, kind, and compassionate person he is, but is that what they see?

I realize this is just the beginning of a whole new world of relationships with the opposite sex, a world that Mom cannot be a part of if he is to continue to develop into the man we want him to be. Sure, I can offer advice when asked, but it is a path he will have to navigate on his own.

Just when I was feeling comfortable with his new levels of freedom at school, somebody started snipping more of those apron strings!

Hiking in the mountains in the snow – those who know me know this is not my idea of a good time. However, my Eagle Scout husband and newly inducted Scout son see it as a grand adventure.  And so the preparations began in earnest, as the tab for all the needed equipment escalated more rapidly than the National debt.

By Friday evening, all was in readiness for the pre-dawn Saturday morning departure. My husband went to help our daughter straighten her bed on its frame, but she soon came downstairs, saying “Dad needs you. It’s his back.” With my heart in my stomach, I went upstairs to find my husband lying flat on his back, unable to move. Not exactly where you want to be the night before a hiking trip with a bunch of Boy Scouts.

After a long soak in a hot bath and some pain medication, it was only minimally better.  By morning, he stiffly got ready and couldn’t even lean over to tie his shoes. I couldn’t imagine how he could hike six miles with a pack on his back, but he was determined since it was our son’s first big outing and the troop was counting on him. Another Scout mom lightheartedly remarked to me, “If they do have to tote him down the mountain on a stretcher, it will count toward their First Aid Merit Badge and will probably count as practice for the next camporee!!”  Small comfort, but I appreciated the humor.

This fierce determination to push himself is not his typical character, but then I realized what had happened.  Our roles have changed.  When our children were babies, I would be up multiple times in the night, rocking them and soothing away the pain and fear. Even when I didn’t “feel like it”, it was what I did because they needed me. Now they’ve been sleeping through the night for years, and most of the time would choose to hang out with Dad rather than spend time with me. I have seen my role shifting, but did not realize that I was trading places with my husband.  Now I am the one in the background, keeping the pieces together while he is in the forefront, providing the needed security.  He went, not because he wanted to, but because he knew he had to.  That I understand.

They returned this afternoon, tired and smelly and happier for the experience. And his back didn’t even hurt (much) while he was gone.