What if My Kids Weren’t Gifted?

What if my kids weren't gifted

In an alternate universe…

My girls would have turned three and five. They would have done as most children do, enrolled in preschool and kindergarten, respectively. Learned their colors, numbers, shapes. Learned to read. Loved the hustle and bustle of the classroom, the excited sounds and noise. Reveled in the chaos that an early childhood classroom should be.

I would’ve waited my few years of stay-at-home mom-ing. I would now have an amazing amount of free time, and started classes again, full-time even.

In this alternate universe, my girls are five and seven now. Kindergarten and second grade await. I have finished my Master’s degree. I am now a licensed therapist, working with children and teens, doing what I know is my calling and where I am supposed to be. I specialize in gifted families, helping teens navigate their way through the muddled waters of high intelligence and social intelligence and the high emotions that each of these bring.

My girls do well in school. They love their classmates and teachers. They learn every day and are excited to tell me about their pursuits.

Flip upside down to real life, to my universe. My girls are three and five. My five year old began reading chapter books one year ago and shows great aptitude for math and all things creative. She longs to play with the eight year old down the street and and enjoys the company of her five year old friends, but they don’t always understand the games she wants to play. She devours biographies on creative souls such as Leonardo Da Vinci and Georgia O’Keefe. She remembers everything, including my schedule, and keeps me on track better than a DayPlanner.

My three year old follows her sister, doing the same math and picking up coding games faster than I can. She talks about death and worries about when we will all pass, asks me to make sure her heart still beats as she goes to sleep. She cries when children are mean to each other, even if she doesn’t know them. She cries when we read Disney books and the characters go through tough times. We do not watch movies, only shows that have happy endings. Her empathy is deep and wide, overwhelming to say the least.

Now they are five and seven. The seven year old begs for multiplication and division to go to sleep with, and reads books I didn’t read until my teen years. She talks about how it feels to be the smartest person in the class – uncomfortable, awkward, boring, exciting. She dislikes the noise of the classroom – she cannot think with all of the chaos. She’s discovered characters like Hermione Granger, The Mysterious Benedict Society, and Alex from the Land of Stories, that she relates to. She wants to learn chemistry and how to write a book. I accidentally mention the recent events in France within her earshot and find her crying over the victims of the attack, and frightened about our own safety. We talk about how you can only fight hate with love, and what we can do to change the world in our small area.  My breath is taken away while I feel overwhelmed with the thought of what this girl will need from me in the coming years, academically and emotionally.

The five year old continues in the same trajectory. She learns multiplication from her big sister while reading words I didn’t even know she could pronounce in books thicker than I would have thought to choose for her. She still worries about death, and where we will all be buried, and please can she and I be together after we die? I listen and comfort and wonder how I will support this soul as she grows older and more aware of the goodness and evil in our world. How can I protect her big heart?

They love nature and are affected by beauty with a force I can comprehend. We watch sunsets together with tears in our eyes while a voice from the backseat of the car mentions how isn’t it strange that all of this beauty comes from light reflecting off of dust particles?

And me? I am biding my time, very slowly working through classes until I can finish them without feeling like I am taking away from my family when they need me, conflicted by the thought of the other families that might need me too. So many things I would like to have on my plate, but there is just not room for everything I want right now.

I didn’t have the support that my girls have the potential to enjoy. I didn’t come to terms with my giftedness and who I am until my mid-thirties. Barbara Kerr and Robyn McKay state in Smart Girls in the 21st Century,

“Millennial girls trust their moms, share confidences with them, and often work side by side with their moms to nurture their families. For mothers of smart girls, this means a great responsibility to understand that they are, in the most profound sense, the role models for their daughters.”

I feel pressure to be here for my daughters, be the role model and sounding board, and empathetic support. It’s exhausting. It’s exhilarating.

I think I would sound crazy to anyone who didn’t understand this conflicted life with gifted children and gifted parents. Until you’ve walked in these shoes, it sounds like faux bragging of the ridiculous sort.

If you have walked in these shoes, however, you know exactly what I am talking about. On the most difficult days, when you really, really want to trade them in for some fancy heels, a cute new dress and a grown-up job where people appreciate you, you are just like me.

And then you put the shoes back on, grab some coffee and feel so fortunate that these are your children, highs. lows and in between.

I’d love to hear about your highs and lows in the comments below. What do you wish was different? What would you not change for the world?

This blog post is part of the GHF Blog Hop, The Highs and Lows of Gifted Parenting

November blog hop

{GHF Blog Hop} Parenting and OE’s: Is Sensitivity Your Child’s Super Power?

Our house is bouncing constantly with overexcitability. If you are unfamiliar with that term,

Overexcitabilities (OEs) are inborn, heightened abilities to receive and respond to stimuli. They are expressed in increased sensitivity, awareness, and intensity. Each form of overexcitability points to a higher than average sensitivity of its receptors. As a result a person endowed with different forms of overexcitability reacts with surprise, puzzlement to many things, he collides with things, persons, and events which in turn brings him astonishment and disquietude.” (Dabrowski, 1964)

There are five types of overexcitabilities: emotional, psychomotor, intellectual, sensual, and imaginational. On a regular basis, the members of the family alternate between high levels of emotion, the need to move, and a desire to learn and do everything as often as possible. We each have various levels of sensory comfort and discomfort, and there is no shortage of imagination.
It can make life interesting.
For this post, I am going to focus on the emotional overexcitability, which is most likely my strongest of the OE’s, and we all enjoy a healthy dose of it.  

image: JD Hancock, text added by TSL

 

I have a tendency to take on others’ emotions and react accordingly. I can’t watch or read the news on particularly bad months. I feel the responsibility to make the world a better place, and my heart aches when I am unable to do so.

I cannot make it through an airport without tearing up. It’s a family joke at this point – but the soldiers in uniform meeting their families, the mother with two small children holding handmade “Welcome home, Daddy” signs, and the father nervously putting his 8 year old daughter on the plane by herself, wiping away a tear as the gate closes, send my emotions into hyper-drive.  
I am a big, sappy dork, and the more I accept it, the more pronounced it gets.
*  *  *  *  *
B’s emotional OE often comes in the form of a desire for social justice. She has a sense of urgency and action, rather than tears, when it comes to those who need help. She zeroes in on the homeless, the animals, the families in need. She is unselfish and willing to do whatever needs done. She is extremely environmentally conscious and cannot fathom why we don’t all drive electric cars and use solar and wind power as much as possible already.
Her relationships with family members become volatile quickly. She flies into a rage, she defends with abandon, she loves with her whole heart and soul. She views herself more like a twelve or thirteen year old might, worrying about the blemishes on her face, what she is wearing in public, and how other people will see her.
She is intense. The asynchronies involved make emotions even more complicated, as she feels and thinks like an early teen, but reacts like the six year old she is.
*  *  *  *  *
C is our lover. She is one of the most empathetic children I have known. From a very young age, she would act out in response to my emotions. It took a few years to discover this was the impetus behind her behaviors, and now I refer to her as my emotional barometer.  It can be exhausting, as my bad day becomes her very bad day. We are both learning to adjust to each other. 
C dislikes most movies, especially movies that have a component of bullying, unkind/unfair behavior, or too many bad guys. She can assess when she has a lot of emotion boiling up inside and will ask to watch Spirit (a 2002 Disney movie about a stallion that leads his herd across the frontiers and meets many challenges), so she can “cry [her] sadness out.” I don’t know if I will ever become accustomed to the depth of her emotional understanding.
Her mood swings are hurricanes, but the cycle is becoming predictable. She begins with the quick and violent fury, followed by the passionate cry, then comes the hysterical laughter, and finally the apologetic hugs. She is learning her cycle as well, and I am hoping that with maturity, she will be able to fine tune it.
Both girls have a strong memory for feelings, and expect deep friendship among those they meet. They remember children’s names months after chance encounters at a random playland or the park. They form quick attachments to children of all ages, and are heartbroken when these fleeting acquaintances do not want to expand their friendships. B is overjoyed to begin working with the 8-12 year old group at gymnastics, with whom she fits in much more easily than her previous class. At just barely four, C’s best interactions are with the eight year old boy she plays video games with at the gym while I watch her sister’s class. But, again, asynchronies make these relationships unpredictable when emotions begin to overwhelm.
*  *  *  *  *
So, how does our family function with this circus of emotional intensity? How does my logic-embracing husband handle all of us?
 
I keep a favorite quote on my refrigerator from Corin Goodwin, and read it often.

 “The times when kids need your love most may be the times when they behave in the most unloving ways. Try to understand what is happening in their heads and their hearts, and address that first.”

Empathy and understanding are our foundations. We do our best to meet our children in their moment and support them.  I have adjusted my strategy from a “how can I fix this?” perspective to a “how can I help you right now?” perspective. This approach gives my girls ownership of their intensity, and validates their feelings. They do not want advice or distractions.  They want me to appreciate their sensitivity and let them express it.

We discuss our feelings a lot, and the girls are becoming more self-aware. We use “I feel” statements, and “You feel/you need…am I understanding correctly?” questions.  Yoga is helpful for regulating all of us, and playing outside together clears the mind. We embrace the ecstatically happy moments and hold on tighter during the soul-wrenching sad times. 
 
More than anything, we accept each other, overexcited emotions and all.  I hope with age and maturity, the girls will find that this abundance of intuition and feeling is a super power. Emotional overexcitability opens your eyes and heart to a glimpse of the world that most people never get to experience, and I am grateful for my view.


This has been successful for our family. What works for yours? Please let me know in the comments.

This blog post is part of the December GHF Blog Hop – Parenting OEs, 2Es, and Everything in Between. Check out the other talented bloggers insights on parenting gifted children here!

Resources:

Overexcitability and the Highly Gifted Child from Davidson Institute for Talent Development

Sensitivity in Gifted Children from Ian Byrd

Emotional Sensitivities from Gifted Kids Ireland

Parenting Emotionally Intense Children from Talent Development Resources  – (this article discusses how it feels to live in a society that does not value feelings – great perspectives!)


References:

Dabrowski, K. (1964). Positive disintegration. London: Little, Brown & Co. (Out of print).

 

Something I Wrote Once

Asynchrony
My girl is that unusual one…
The activist, making signs to “save the prairie dogs” at the soon-to-be developed field
Reading the book about the Civil War, crying throughout dinner
Over those who perished in the war, unable to take a bite.
Who is able to meet adults, professionals
And have eloquent discussions with them
Yet is too nervous to leave the house to meet a group of girls her own age.
Who blurts out a passage of a book that she has memorized
Because she is not certain of what to say,
And wants to be part of the conversation
Who answers big questions with good vocabulary
While her face is dripping with the water of melted ice,
Because she loves how it feels on her face
Whose hands are cracking, dry, because she hates the feel of lotion
Who flaps like a bird and stomps her feet when she gets excited
Quirks others don’t understand…
The excitement that comes from reading the best part of the book
Saving an animal from harm
Finishing the math problems without help
Writing a story
Seeing something beautiful
Christina Rossetti
Abraham Lincoln
Ghost stories
Watching documentaries about anything prehistoric.
The solar system. The human body.
Who loves anatomy and practices cutting with a scalpel,
Dreaming of her future career as a surgeon
Who can tell me the species of
And intricate details about almost any bug or bird we meet
Who is teaching her little sister how to read and spell
Who can learn just about any new skill in five minutes.
Ten, if it’s difficult.
Who wakes up in the night, crying because her pajamas no longer feel “right”
Who feels the most miniscule rock in her shoe, or chair, or anything she has to touch
Who asks me to put my hand on her lungs to confirm she is still breathing while she sleeps
Who senses my stressful mood before I do, and expresses my emotions before I realize them
Who expects lifelong friendship and connection after playing with a stranger for five minutes.
And is heart broken when that is not the case.
Who speaks of life and death and the existential beyond
With the understanding of a philosopher
Who remembers events and details about everything more fully than I can ever hope to.
Who loves to learn like a bird loves to fly
And fly she will, someday.
For now, she will swing on the pendulum,
The intensity of the sun
The feelings of a 5 year old
With the intuition of an adult
The reasoning of a sage
With the tantrums of a child
And an open heart, naive and vulnerable
To everything and everyone around her.
GiftedHomeschoolers.org was kind enough to publish this on their blog here. They have many fantastic resources for parents of gifted children and 2e children, and a discussion forum that is invaluable. This year, SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted) is offering GHF supporting members a special discounted rate at their annual conference. This is a great opportunity to learn new information about supporting the social and emotional needs of our gifted learners, find support in the gifted community, and meet some great people. More information can be found at GHF here, and more details regarding the conference can be found at SENG here.

Fitting In

Sometimes, the comments B makes make me happy.

I was quizzing her on math facts while driving her across town, and she answered them all without hesitation.

“You need something more difficult, daughter.”

So I asked her subtraction facts instead, answered with equally quick replies. I was surprised; we haven’t really worked on subtraction very much.

“How did you figure those out so fast?”

“Well, you know, Mom, everything is really just addition.”

My teacher self was so proud.

Sometimes, the comments B makes are painful.

“Mom, that girl at the park was so clever!”

“Oh really? Why?”

“She was really great at losing me!”

*Sigh*

I want my kiddo to be able to go to the park and find a buddy to play with. Yes, she has her sister, but sometimes a 5-and-three-quarters (as she likes to say) needs a bigger-than-three to play with.

Instead, she finds kids that are good at losing her, while the rest play happily together.

I see her sweetness, her immediate love for all, her ability to make a friend in three seconds. They see her lack of respect for physical boundaries, her intensity, her oddness.

It’s hard on a mama.

We were at a girl scout cookie booth last weekend. B was tired, she had been at a practice for a play all morning. There were lots of people, lots of noise, unfamiliars everywhere. She decided to build a fort with empty cookie boxes instead of help sell cookies. I could see her point…it was quiet and shady in there. I would have liked to crawl in if I could have fit. Then, she chased balloons around like a kitten, paying no attention to where other people were standing or what they were doing. She had to be asked to stop. So, she took a ribbon with a balloon weight attached, and “walked” it, telling everyone it was her pet, Smiley.

Which was all fine. But odd. And little girls pounce on odd. A few of them took over her fort and wouldn’t let her in. Another scout reprimanded them and helped B recover her spot, which made me want to hug that little girl. Finally, we had to leave when B decided that she had had enough and settled down on a bench for a nap.

When I write it all down, it doesn’t seem so bad. But in the moment, it was uncomfortable, embarrassing, out-of-place. The other girl scout moms were watching her, no doubt wondering “What is UP with that kid?” while their children stood at the booth and happily sold cookies to strangers.

I feel awful when I am embarrassed of my girl, when I want her to conform to social norms and act like the rest of the kids. That is not who she is, and I doubt she ever will be. In fact, I don’t want her to be – that would mean that something broke her, and she gave up her exquisite self to be someone else, to fit in.

I need to put away my own pride and emotions in those situations and make sure that I support her in who she is when her individuality appears. That’s difficult some days.