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

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When Your Unschooler Wants to go to School

WhenYourUnschoolerGoestoSchool

I began homeschooling when B was two years old. We started out with a lot of structure and over time evolved into unschoolers. Unschooling has many definitions. For our family, I define it as respect-based learning. We respect each other’s time, needs and interests.

B has never been a child who liked to stay inside of the lines. She is quirky and confident. Her own person, she loves the story of Stephanie’s Ponytail, by Robert Munsch and is known to make every day crazy hair day.

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At age 5, she attended her first sleepover, a slumber party at her gymnastics center. It was Harry Potter themed, so she packed Book Four along with her pajamas and other necessities. I questioned her choices. I mentioned that people don’t usually bring 700+ page books to sleepovers. She had made her decision, though, and off she went, huge book and all. As it turned out, the theme of the night was based on the tri-wizard tournament, and her extensive HP knowledge led her team to victory. She wasn’t a weirdo; she was the hero!

In February of this year, B said she’d like to try public school. This was difficult for me to hear. It felt like a failure on my part – what was I doing wrong that caused her to want to go elsewhere? Then the worry began. How would the school keep up with her learning needs? Will I be able to effectively advocate for her if they don’t? Will her creative spirit get shushed in the classroom?

Once I finished having my fear/pity party, I looked at her desire through the lens of her needs. She wants to try something that is novel for her, something the majority of kids get to do all the time. She feels the need for deeper relationships. She’s hoping to make friends, connect with someone. She’s looking for a new challenge. Her expectations are high. She is extremely self-aware and has analyzed the pros and cons of the public school setting as well as benefits and disadvantages to her personal lifestyle. This is what she has decided she needs right now.

I’m not certain that public school will fill these needs, but with a respect-based learning philosophy, I have to respect all of her learning choices, not simply the choices that I like. I will be sensitive to her interests and give her the space and trust she’s asking for, especially when it’s difficult. No matter what happens, she will know for certain that the next time she wants to take a leap and try something new, her family will support her every step of the way.

She picked out her clothes for her first day. This child, who wears her best dress to be properly attired for a friend’s barbecue, picked out running shorts and a t-shirt covered with hearts. Comfy for play, but unusual for the first day of a new adventure. I chose my words carefully. “B, sometimes kids dress up for their first day of school. Wear whatever is comfortable for you. I’m just letting you know since you haven’t been to school before.”

She wore her comfy clothes and didn’t bat an eye at what anyone else wore. She’s strong, brave and independent, and she makes me proud.

Listening to our kids’ needs is complex sometimes, especially when they don’t coincide with our ideas. What situations have you dealt with in which your desires and your child’s didn’t fit together? How did you find a middle ground?

When the World is Telling You "Hush"…

I ran across this blog post from Paula Prober on the GHF Facebook page…

“Individuals with rainforest minds are often intense and quite bright. They love learning new things and sharing what they learn with others. But you may run into trouble when your cohorts don’t appreciate your long detailed descriptions or your esoteric musings.”

                                                                ~Exuberance and Unending Curiosity

                

It described me exactly. I love to find an article or blog or research paper about something interesting that has lots of other links to study it further. I read the links, I check the cited books out of the library, I soak it all up until the next subject is discovered. I love to share what I’ve learned, usually with my husband or sister, who humor me kindly.

Sometimes, I get so excited about it, that I forget to check my surroundings before I start spouting off.

One night, the husband and I had a Trivial Pursuit night with his best friend and wife. One of the questions reminded me of some random subject of interest that I had just finished reading about. I don’t remember exactly what it was, but I do remember saying, “Oh! I was just reading something about that, and what actually happens is…” and it being so interesting to me, but the eyes of our friends began to glaze over. My husband started doing the “cut” sign across his throat. And the sound of crickets.

I may just be over-analyzing (yes, I do that too. Sigh.), but I believe that was the last time we were invited over to their house. The guys hang out all the time, but our families haven’t gotten together in a long while. Are we just all busy, or did I accidentally cross the line of letting too much of my wiring out?
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It’s so rare and comforting to run across someone besides my husband who “gets” me. It feels as is a big sigh of relief washes over my entire body. I can be myself. I can talk about my kids. I don’t have to pretend. Most of these people, however, I have only found online, and I am a proximity person. I typically need to see you often to be able to feel close to you…but maybe I will have to train myself to be different in this area if I’d like more real friends. I have been making a concerted effort to be more involved in a few of my online groups, and I’ll see how that goes.

When I was in middle school, I was part of a gifted program that grouped those of us that qualified together for language arts, social studies, math and science. Those school years were my best – I was surrounded by people who were so much like me. We had different interests, and we understood how exciting it was to share them with each other. Then came high school, and several moves, and we fell out of touch. Since that time, I have made a few friends that have lasted with me over time, but they are not “spill my guts” friends. And certainly not “spill my guts about my kids” friends.

Over time, I have just come to the realization that I am who I am, and I like who I am. I have become an expert at toning myself down and fitting my personality into the circumstance, but it’s so cramped in that box!

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As I watch my kids grow and develop, and see that they have acquired many of these same traits, it encourages me to not keep myself folded up in that box. I want them to love and appreciate themselves for who they are, and the best way to teach them is by example. Of course, they will need to learn some situational cues and behaviors in order to survive in this world, but I’d like them to be confident in themselves and not be convinced that they need to camouflage their personalities, as I did for 30 some years.

So, here’s to getting out of that box and exploring the rainforest.

Meltdown City

image: tiffany terry

C has crazy, scary, unpredictable meltdowns. It usually begins with something I say innocuously.

“Please take off your paint shirt before you go in the living room.”

Or something she does, or something that happens. Something I would never imagine would set off the cycle…

“I can’t button my pants!”

“My raisin fell on the floor!”

“I can’t reach that!”

“You put my syrup on top of my pancake instead of beside!”

…turn into yelling, angry face, awful words, hysterical crying, “please hold me, Mama, don’t go, just hold me”, tears streaming, turning into hysterical laughter and the exhausted calm and the “I’m so sorry, Mama. I was just so angry.”

We’ve tried deep breathing. We’ve discussed that all problems have solutions, if you can stay calm long enough to figure it out. It’s that “stay calm long enough” part that tends to be an issue.

She isn’t a spoiled kid, in fact, she is a wonderful, kind, empathetic girl. She doesn’t like to freak out. It exhausts her. She even knows she needs some self-regulation and asks to do yoga after she regains her sanity. (Thank you CosmicKids Yoga on YouTube. You are a necessity in this house.) I know that with time and maturity, (hopefully) she will improve her ability to manage her emotions.

Prior to staying home with the girls, I was an early childhood specialist, doling out advice to frustrated parents who didn’t know how to deal with their child’s out of control behavior.

“He’s doing that for attention. Just let him cry it out in his room. It may take some time. He is in control of you when you let his throw the fit in front of everyone. Remove him from the situation.”

I see now that despite the training and education I was drawing from, I had no idea what I was talking about. I want to go back and apologize to all of those parents. I had at that point so far only dealt with a very compliant 4 year old of typical fit-throwing abilities, and a classroom full of special needs preschoolers who spent just 3 hours of their day with me. I feel as though teachers often are absorbed into their bubble of time and space, and although what they (we) do is very important, we forget that we see our children but a fraction of their lives, and really can’t get the whole picture of what is going on with these kiddos. In my own circumstance, I can look back and see that although I felt like I knew these children inside and out, I knew just a small piece about them, and most likely not enough to venture into advice territory. Perhaps just active listening and compassion would have been a better choice. But alas…that was another lifetime ago.

For a long time, I just felt like an awful mother during C’s meltdowns. It was so frustrating, and time consuming, not to mention trying to keep a schedule and get anywhere on time is next to impossible when you don’t know when the hurricane is about to hit. I practiced my own advice, and found that tossing her in a room by herself only made things worse (as I had cautioned other parents that it would) but instead of eventually calming down, she would just become emotionally frantic. Threatening consequences, bribing with rewards, throwing my own fit…there was no solution and mainly made things worse.

My philosophies have grown and changed since my teaching days. I keep a quote from GHF on my refrigerator now, “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.” I re-read it frequently.

The Explosive Child, by Ross Greene is the most helpful book about parenting that I have read in awhile. It gave me some answers, some strategies, and gave me hope that I am not the world’s worst parent. The Highly Sensitive Child, by Elaine Aron was encouraging as well, and helped me understand both of my little girls more completely.  I’ve learned that the most helpful thing I can do for C is weather the storm. hold her when she needs me to, and let her be. Sit on her bed, or lay beside her or hold her hand until she is able to calm down. Let her know that I support her when her emotions become too much, and improve my patience with her during the challenging times.

There are good days, and bad days, and there are just age-typical “I want my own way” days, which are an animal of their own requiring their own response. At the end of the day, though, I make it a point to have the girls find one or two of the best things about the day, and finish it on a positive note, concentrating on the happy moments and proud moments rather than the difficult ones.

Because as Roald Dahl wrote…” if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”

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.