Mar 182014

Gifted and Talented

“Don’t worry, Scout, it ain’t time to worry yet,” said Jem. He pointed. “Looka yonder.” 

In a group of neighbors, Atticus was standing with his hands in his overcoat pockets. He might have been watching a football game. (*He was actually watching the house next door to the Finch home burn to the ground.*)

“See there, he’s not worried yet,” said Jem.

To Kill a Mockingbird

Last week, one of my mama friends called to tell me a story. Her daughter had come home from school and while she was eating a snack she said, “Mom, I’m sorry but I’m not gifted. They sent home letters today to the gifted kids. I’m not a gifted kid.”

Let’s  talk about that.  I have some thoughts, and so I’ve just sent up a Twitter prayer to the G-O-D that it’ll all come out right. Sometimes I know something to be true, down deep in my bones, but when I try to turn it into words, it changes. Gets all jacked up. Like how blood is blue till it hits oxygen and turns red. Which is why I predict we’d be better off if people talked less and just quietly knew more. She said, as she wrote her 3,670th blog post.

Here I go. I’d like to talk to you about your brilliant children.


Every child is gifted and talented. Every single one. Everything I’ve ever written about on this blog has been open for argument, except for this one. I know this one is true. Every single child is gifted and talented in a particular area. Every single one also has particular challenges. For some kids, the classroom setting is the place where their genius is hardest to see and their challenges are easiest to see. And since they spend so much time in the classroom, that’s a tough break for these little guys. But I know that if we are patient and calm and we wear our perspectacles and we keep believing, we will eventually see the specific magic of each child.

Like my student who was severely dyslexic and also could’ve won Last Comic Standing at age seven. “Hey, Miss Doyle. Were you really busy last night or something?” Yes, actually, I was. Why do you ask, Cody? “Because your hair’s actually the same color it was yesterday!” The boy was a genius.

Like my precious one who couldn’t walk or speak because of his severe Cerebral Palsy, but whose smile while completing his grueling physical therapy inspired the rest of my class to call him the “bravest.” Genius, that kid.

Like my autistic little man, who couldn’t have hurt another living being if somebody paid him to. He was the most gentle soul I’ve ever known. And he loved animals like they were a gift made just for him by God. Which, of course, they were. But nobody in our class knew that but him. Undeniable Genius.

Like my third grader who read like a kindergartener and couldn’t add yet. But one day I stood behind her at recess, where she played all alone, and heard her singing to herself. And that was the day I discovered her gift. It was also the day that she discovered her gift. Since I FREAKED OUT. And marched her over to the rest of the teachers to make her sing for them. And announced to the class that we had a ROCK STAR in our midst. And she quietly beamed. And she sang all the time after that. All the time. Actually, it was a little much. But we let it slide because you don’t mess with artistic genius.

Or the little man in one of Chase’s classes who was always getting in trouble. Everyday, getting in trouble. And Chase came home one day and said, “I think he’s not listening because he’s always making pictures in his head. He’s the best draw-er I’ve ever seen. He’s going to be famous, I bet.” Chase was right. I’ve seen this kid’s work. Genius.

Or my little one who was gifted in learning the classroom way, and was miles ahead of the other kids in every single subject. But had challenges being kind and humble about her particular strengths. So had a lot of trouble making friends. Sometimes it’s tough to be a genius.

Every single child is gifted. And every child has challenges. It’s just that in the educational system, some gifts and challenges are harder to see. And lots of teachers are working on this. Lots of schools are trying to find ways to make all children’s gifts visible and celebrated.And as parents, we can help. We can help our kids who struggle in school believe that they’re okay. It’s just that there’s only one way to help them. And it’s hard.

We have to actually believe that our kids are okay.

I know. Tough. But we can do it. We can start believing by erasing the idea that education is a race. It’s not. Actually, education is like Christmas. We’re all just opening our gifts, one at a time. And it is a fact that each and every child has a bright shiny present with her name on it, waiting there underneath the tree. God wrapped it up, and He’ll let us know when it’s time to unwrap it. In the meantime, we must believe that our children are okay. Every last one of them. The perfect ones and the naughty ones and the chunky ones and the shy ones and the loud ones and the so far behind ones and the ones with autism.

Because here’s what I believe. I think a child can survive a teacher or other children accidentally suggesting that he’s not okay. As long as when he comes home, he looks at his mama and knows by her face that he really is. Because that’s all they’re asking, isn’t it?

Mama, Am I Okay?

In the end, children will call the rest of the world liars and believe US.

So when they ask us with their eyes and hearts if they’re okay. . . let’s tell them:

Yes, baby. You are okay. You are more than okay. You are my dream come true. You are everything I’ve ever wanted, and I wouldn’t trade one you for a million anybody elses. This part of life, this school part, might be hard for you. But that’s okay, because it’s just one part of life. And because we are going to get through it together. We are a team. And I am so grateful to be on your team.

And then, before we dive into “helping.” Let’s just eat some cookies together and talk about other things. There are so many other things to talk about, really.

And then our kids will see that we are like Atticus Finch . . .  Hands in our pockets. Calm. Believing. And they will look at us and even with a fire raging in front of them they’ll say, “Huh. Guess it’s not time to worry yet.”

And then we’ll watch carefully. We’ll just watch and wait and believe until God nods and says, “It’s time. Tear open that gift, Mama.”

And we’ll get to say our Mama FAVE. Told you so. Told you so, World.

**A version of this essay appears in Carry On, Warrior:  The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life.**

Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
Join the Momastery on-line community on Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest

Mar 122014

We try to protect ourselves by not allowing our hearts to be broken. But a broken heart is not the end of anything. It’s the beginning of everything.

“Broken Is The Beginning” is the fourth in the “Beautiful Rowdy Prisoner” series.

The small woman
Builds cages for everyone
While the sage,
Who has to duck her head
When the moon is low,
Keeps dropping keys all night long
For the

- Hafiz

This film was made in collaboration with my dear friend Travis Reed at The Work of the People. His gallery is a treasure trove filled visual essays of folks like Richard Rohr, Brene Brown, Brian McLaren, Shauna Niequist, and Barbara Brown Taylor.

Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
Join the Momastery on-line community on Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest

Mar 102014


When we teach our kids a team sport – there are really TWO LESSONS happening. There is the sport – and then there are the deeper, truer, lessons. Lessons like how to be part of a team – how to win with class and lose with grace – how to show up, take risks, fall down, get back up, and how to treat friends and adversaries. Like my husband says, very few of his players will ever play professional sports – but all of them will become citizens. And so what Craig is really trying to do as the kids’ coach is to USE SOCCER to teach kids how to be brave, kind and happy citizens.

Keeping that end goal in mind, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Please respect your kid’s courage. Be in AWE of her. Look at what she’s doing! She’s out there on a big field in front of screaming adult spectators trying something new and scary and taking huge public risks. Can you imagine the COURAGE that takes a small child? Can you imagine how scary that would be for YOU? Have some reverence for every kid out there, especially yours.  Don’t wait till she scores ten goals to be proud of her. Tell her after every game that she was so brave and that you couldn’t be prouder of her –  because life is about showing up, trying, being kind, resting, and then trying again. And that’s what she’s doing. So no matter how she plays – hug her and tell her, YES, brave sister! Well done!
  2. Don’t trash talk the coach. If you have questions about his methods or vision – call him up and ask to talk – person to person. Be a grown-up about it because the way you handle your concerns teaches your child how a good citizen deals with conflict. Again – we are not just trying to win soccer championships here – we are doing something INFINITELY MORE IMPORTANT – we are shaping hearts and minds. So behave the way you’d like your child to behave. If you must complain about the coach – maybe don’t do it on the sidelines. Likely, his wife is sitting right next to you. It’s awkward. Also – and I wish this went without saying but my experience over the past few seasons has taught me otherwise – never, ever trash talk any player on the field, from either team. The number of exceptions to this rule is zero exceptions. They are children. You are a grown up. That is all.
  3. Before yelling out directions to individual players during the game: please look down at your shirt first. If your shirt says the word “Coach” on it:  Yes! Go for it! Yell away! But if your shirt does NOT say “Coach:” shhhhhhhh. All the yelling confuses the players –  they can’t hear the coach, and so they’re trying to PLEASE YOU instead of learning to PLAY SOCCER. For that one hour: you are not the boss of them. Sit back and enjoy it! And don’t worry – most of the directions you’re calling out like: GET THE BALL! and FASTER! – are unnecessary, really. The kids might not know much, but they definitely know they’re supposed to run fast and try to get the ball. They’re trying. It’s just that they’re kids and sports are hard. So give them some time to think and to listen for their coach instead of just constantly reacting to you. On Saturday mornings you are not the athlete and you are not the coach. You are a parent. So just parent – just be a loving, supportive, encouraging cheer-er on-er.
  4. If you need to make or take a quick call on your phone – go for it! If you need to have a twenty minute business or personal call –  maybe step away from the sideline. This is a really special time for many parents and we’re trying to take it all in. Signal that you think this time is special too by removing yourself if you have business to tend to.
  5. Consider displaying appreciation for the other team. The big difference between THEM and US is that their names got placed on one roster while our kids’ name got placed on another. So, no difference. When trying to have compassion for both teams it’s helpful to remember that most of these players JUST GOT BORN during the past decade. They’re little. So we should be kind to all of them, not just the ones wearing the same color as our kid. I always pretend that a dear friend with a kid on the other team is sitting beside me. If I wouldn’t say it with her there, I don’t say it at all.
  6. Ask your child how she’d like you to cheer for her. My son likes me to be really quiet on the sideline. Tish likes me to call out her name a few times per game, but not too much. Amma wants me to cheer for everyone throughout the entire game as loudly and often as humanly possible. I LOVE AMMA’S GAMES THE BEST BECAUSE I AM NATURALLY A CRAZY CHEERER. But I respect all my kids’ wishes. One player on Craig’s team last year always wanted to play defense. When Craig asked him about this he said he was “afraid to score” because he knew his very vocal (and precious) dad would go crazy with loud pride and this kid was just too shy to handle that. He was afraid to tell his dad though, so he played beneath his ability all season. Find out what your kid needs from you on the sideline. Remember that you are there FOR your child, not the other way around. She’s not performing for you, you are supporting her.
  7. Consider broadening your definitions of “wins” and “losses.” Last season several parents became upset because Craig was playing everyone instead of just the “best players.” These parents insisted that Craig was “hurting their chances to win.” And Craig had to explain that at this age- his goals for the game were as follows:  Everyone stays safe. Everyone plays. Everyone receives both praise and direction from him at least once. Everyone shows excellent sportsmanship. Everyone’s smiling. That’s a win for him. With the younger kids- Craig usually can’t remember what the score was- but he can always tell you who worked on her shooting and who helped up a player from the other team and who played keeper even though she was really scared. Victory, victory, VICTORY!
  8. Your kid, more than anything wants to HAVE FUN and MAKE YOU PROUD. Please, please teach her that she can do both at the same time. Most of these kids just want to pull on their cool shin guards, pump their little legs up and down the field, test out their courage, and eat orange slices with their friends.  Let them have that. They have the rest of their lives to compete and worry and strive and fret. Let’s let them be kids and be free for now. Let’s teach them that the victory is in SHOWING UP AND TAKING A RISK, not in the outcome.
  9. Win or Lose – thank your coach. In front of the kids, shake the coach’s hand and say “Good Game, Coach.”  He deserves your public, sincere thanks because he works hard and loves your kid. And you never know his story. He could even be a former professional soccer player who learned during his twenty-five year soccer career that the best thing sports have to offer is CHARACTER BUILDING. And so what he’s doing is more important than winning. He’s BUILDING. He’s helping to BUILD YOUR KID. Thank him for it.

Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
Join the Momastery on-line community on Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest