Monday, April 8, 2013

My Family of Wise Learners: My Inspiration


So, someone asked me the other day about what sparked this crazy interest I have in neuroscience, and as a result, now sparks this equally nutty desire to share, share, share, through WiseLearners (cute name right?). Well...I've always been fascinated by this amazing brain resting comfortably between our ears ever since I was a kid. That was the initial spark...but the kindling? That has been my family, especially my kiddos. Tracy and I served as foster parents for eight years. Serving children with severe emotional, physical and mental disabilities. Both of our children that we adopted through foster care have FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder). In a nutshell, this is permanent brain damage caused by a mother drinking alcohol during pregnancy. If you think I was driven to learn about the brain before, being blessed these two children pushed me to a whole new extreme.
The unexpected blessing for me has been, not only have I been able to help my own children, but everything I've learned about neuroscience and education has allowed me to help other families as well. To understand a person is to know what they hold dear in their heart. In previous posts, I've shared with you all what I hope to accomplish. I've shared great information that I've used myself and hope you can benefit from too. Now, I'd like to share with you a little bit regarding the people in my life that inspire me to always soldier on...my family of wise learners. I'll start with my mentor. My first and most influential teacher...my ma.

The Wise Master (my very own Yoda): My mom is amazing. She had NO formal education, having only attended kindergarten for a few months as a child growing up in Puerto Rico. She is about a hair taller than a hobbit, but has the spirit of a giant, and the mind of a sage. I've met few people in my life that could match her willpower or her intelligence. She has always been an autodidact (self taught, self inspired, self motivated learner). She taught herself English, raised three boys (my bros) as a single mom in the 1950s and 60s, built profitable businesses (record store and jewelery store), and then when her time to rest at the age for 40+ came...she had me. I was taught a lot in college in preparation to become a teacher. The funny thing is though, I had already learned most of it (honestly about 90%+) from my mom. All college did for me my first few years is teach me all the fancy names that went along with what I had already learned. My mom...my first teacher and my inspiration.

The Charmer: Aniah was our first foster placement and also our first adoption. I never thought I would ever want a daughter, and even asked God to please give me only boys. I’ve never been so wrong in my entire life!  Aniah came into our home nine days after being born, straight from the hospital. She weighed two pounds and fit in the palm of my hand, but she has held my heart since I first held her. Now according to my wife, she has had me wrapped around HER finger ever since that moment eight years ago, but I steadfastly assert that is an exaggeration and that I am immune to her charms (well…partially immune…um, mostly immune…err, these are not the droids you are looking for). The doctors always told us to "temper" our expectations. My wife repeated this to me...she began to believe it. THAT was the moment I dedicated my life to learning all I could about the brain and how we learn best. Today, my girl still struggles with her disability. It affects her gross motor skills, impulse control, etc., but I am convinced that her emotional intelligence is at genius level. Temper my expectations? Michaelangelo once said "The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark." Temper my expectations?!?!? I think not! =)

The Action Figure: Our youngest son Tristan was our next infant. His mother had contracted HIV and the foster agency was having great difficulty placing him when they contacted us. My wife and I made the decision that with the right knowledge we could do this. Whatever we’d struggle with couldn’t compare with what this kid had to battle. The effects of the medication he took for the first six months were grueling, but with every passing month, the chances that he had contracted HIV went down. He is six years old today and HIV free. He also has FASD, just like Aniah. Amazingly, his first grade teacher just told me he is reading at a level N! In less fancy talk, that means he is starting to read at a third grade level! This is a child with brain damage! I think its his afro...he must pack extra knowledge in there somewhere.

The Scholar and The Dreamer: Our other two children, Lawson and Kyla also arrived through different circumstances. Kyla is my stepdaughter. I love that kid so much and get a special kick out of seeing the young adult she has become. She is a loving, hardworking, and idealistic young lady. One of the best things I can say about her is that she is willing to talk to her parents about anything, and to her credit, she also listens (well, most of the time). Last, but not least (especially in sheer vocal volume), is my biological son Lawson. He has NO verbal filter. If it is in his brain, it just comes spilling right out. The questions, the comments, the endless stream of silly nonsense…but I can’t honestly complain. I’ve heard about his every dream and aspiration, and marveled at the creativity he possesses.

The Queen: Finally, there is my wife. What an incredible woman. She is my best friend in the whole wide world. I can talk to her about anything. She laughs at all of my jokes, thinks I’m super handsome, and she cooks Cuban food better than my mom (and my wife is from ARKANSAS…go figure)! She loves goats, and that’s a good thing since I’m extremely stubborn, just happen to be a Capricorn, and sport a nifty (goat like) beard. She is a wonderful mother, incredibly smart, absolutely beautiful in my eyes, a total nerd, and ridiculously goofy on top of that! 

We'll that's them in summary form. This blog has been a real labor of love, but that love stems from the influence of those around me. I hope you continue to pop in and hopefully learn something new that can benefit you and your family, just as it has benefited me and mine.  =)