Whirling Ponytails

Elaborate family and friend get-togethers evoke fear sweat in my soul as I imagine trying to talk my children out of their favorite soft fluffy pants and into something (ANYTHING) fancier. I don’t expect the moon; maybe you could just trade them out for these identical fluffy pants without holes? I look at their unruly hair and dread trying to tame it; perhaps just a simple ponytail? I set priorities: I just want it out of their food. I bribe, I persuade, I force… two minutes into pony tails and I find myself combing the hair of a twirling dervish and saying, “I’m not trying to hurt your feelings, please just stop twirling, no I’m not trying to get in the way of your personal religious views on meditation, I’m just trying to brush your hair!!!” Does it always have to be this complicated?

As hard as getting ready can be, it’s just the beginning- we also have to attend the party. Gulp!

Look, we are doing our best as parents of gifted and twice-exceptional children. Everyone says that children don’t come with a handbook; but our kids do… many of them. I’ve read countless handbooks about my kids’ special needs. I’ve dog-eared a thousand pages, highlighted full texts, and wallpapered my kitchen with inspirational and educational sticky notes to get my husband and me through this journey with some sanity intact. Still, there are times we just grunt like cave people and stare at them in disbelief. There are times we forget to be good parents and all we worry about is The Bad.

In this scenario, The Bad is overstimulation, the crowd, the late hour, and the hunger combining in a crazy combustible conglomeration only moments from an unpredictable and messy explosion.

It’s so easy for well-intentioned people who love your children very much to misunderstand their responses. There are generational differences at play, as well as unintentional judgments by those who know your child is gifted and expect more from them, and in a party situation it can sometimes be too much for the other children or the host to handle. All of these are valid even if from your perspective they are not appropriate assessments of the situation or your child’s part in it.

I try to remind myself daily -for school, parties, sports, whatever they are doing- that my kids are not bad even if others see what they are doing as bad. In most cases this bad behavior comes with an emotion or idea which my children cannot express without that reaction at that very moment. For instance, my children love seeing their many cousins and our large and loud extended family; they love it so much, in fact, that they get overly excited and respond in kind. It can be hard to control the buzz surrounding them when we are on the way to a big family dinner.  So why try? Instead, I tell them I’m excited, too, and offer a new pair of fluffy soft pants. As the penguins say in the movie Madagascar™, “Smile and nod, boys, smile and nod”.

This brings me to the ease with which I talk about how to handle the moments when we are embarrassed by the paint-covered, chandelier-swinging, hill-roll-downing, ballerina tip-toeing child who just broke into uncontrollable sobs when they realized veal was on the menu. We’ve read the handbooks and know on some level that this behavior is an expression of their intelligence and creativity, but at the moment it looks a lot like broken dishes and spilled grape juice. It is much easier said than done.

I admit that it is only after the kids are safely silent in their beds that I can reflect upon my day and attribute my choices to glorious parenting skills; okay, most of them, anyway. There was that one time… oh and I suppose I should have done that a bit differently. Hmm, that’s okay, because every night I can read another book and get a few more ideas for the next time.

I know there are many who will see the good behaviors of the gifted as Bad. With higher expression there always seems to be confusion, disruption, or well-intended misdirection.  The job of the gifted child’s advocate, the parent and educator both, is to recognize that that Bad is simply not expansive enough as an adjective when coupled with intensities and overexcitabilities.  It might be time to redefine and not simply redirect.

I read once that art is knowing which mistakes to keep; to me, parenting is knowing which mistakes to appreciate.  I appreciate the effort and I appreciate the crazy. I appreciate the effort and the outcome. I appreciate the me-time to pretend I parented perfectly all day and the go-time to create a plan B when I realize I didn’t. I appreciate the soft fluffy pants and the whirling ponytails.

And when all else fails: smile and nod, boys, smile and nod.