Bully Bully Oxen Free!

I have big eyes. Some might even say they are frog-like. (And some did).

In fact, when I was in third grade, a clever boy created a comic strip called Frog-Eyez to celebrate what I suppose he thought was the awesome largeness of my eyes. The book was passed around the school and pages were added by others who had equal or greater comedic prowess and felt the book was lacking in substance. The teacher took the book away if it was passed around in class and she returned it when class was over. “Keep it out of the classroom,” she would say to everyone with a roll of her normal-sized eyes. Everyone… as if my unintentional position as bully-muse somehow made me a coconspirator in the project.

The following year I was given advice from my fourth grade teacher on how to not be such a large target. She told me that I could play with the other kids at recess more, she banned me from reading outside of class (seriously), and she gave me a job of writing out the assignments on the chalkboard in the morning so that I could have a position of leadership. She really did try to help make the target smaller; but at the time, I never felt like more of a loser than I did those first few weeks of school (until she gave in, threw at me the largest book she could find, and safely affixed a target to my forehead once more).

It wasn’t long before my parents were told that the real problem was application. If I would just apply myself then everything would get better. Everything would be fine. Everything would be normal. I would be normal. The harder they pushed, the more I retreated. Moving away from pressure is natural and that is exactly what I wanted to do. If reading The Clan of the Cave Bear series is too strange of a thing for you to see a girl do in third grade during recess, then I’ll happily squeeze under the temporary trailers and read under there. I don’t mind the bugs and they certainly don’t mind me.

The feelings of inferiority and insignificance were intense. They were too intense for me to handle as pressure came at me from every direction. I was not cool, I was not smart, I was not pretty, I was not normal, I was not, I was not, I was not. I had nowhere left to retreat. And so I stayed inside. I curled up inside of me with a good book or three (thousand) and that is where I stayed for a very, very long time.

Does this sound familiar to you? Perhaps this is your story or your child’s or both. I’m sure there are many more we could share once we got started. If only I could have laughed at myself back then! Alas, that is not how childhood works. But times are changing.

When my children were identified as gifted and twice-exceptional it seemed to me that they would be spared from the anguish that comes from being alone in a traditional classroom when they have a clear special need. Educators don’t allow the type of bullying I experienced any longer, so it felt like a small double victory: my kids would be accommodated, accepted by all, and universally loved.

Hmm… I have one child who finds everything funny and another who takes things so seriously that laughter is insulting. Two minutes into communications and we have tears. I have a child who thinks his walk is stupid. His walk!? How can I possibly help him with that? Is there a gait class of which I’ve not been made aware? And all three of them have come home in tears because of an intense emotion or three (thousand) which sent them deep into themselves searching for a place to hide. Sigh.

A gifted and twice-exceptional child is, by definition, different from his or her same-age peers in a traditional classroom; further, the more we accommodate and support the gifted learner, the more we are defining and delineating just how different they are from their peers. Wait, wait, don’t worry! I am a passionate supporter of the social, emotional, and educational needs of the gifted, so I am very much an advocate for specialized and accommodating educational policies which protect and serve our kids. That said, kids do not care about policy and they certainly don’t want to hear about their social and emotional needs. If they did, they would most likely get teased for it.

I have decided to look at gifted kids with gifted-kid-colored glasses. They don’t know what it means to be gifted any more than we do. Sure, there are words put together to make a sentence and sentences put together to make a definition, but they just want a friend to play with them on the playground. They don’t understand accommodations or twice-exceptional; they only know that everyone else raises a hand to answer the question before they can construct the answer.

I was a tad strange, a tad off-center, and more than a little obtuse and kids can’t help but wonder about the kid who ignores everybody, reads as she walks, and barely says a word. I know this now, but I didn’t think of myself as an introvert who finished a book in a day because I was an advanced reader. What I remember is being a freak under the trailer whose best friends lived in wardrobes on planets which tilted. I don’t remember not applying myself. I do remember how numbers jumped around to confuse me, how verbal directives jigged and jived out of my ears before I could reply, and how conjuring up just the right sentence in reply to the simplest question took so much effort that I was still thinking of my response an hour later while walking home alone.

I realize how it looked on the outside; but more importantly, I remember how it felt on the inside. I remember everything… every excruciating detail is stored in my fingertips and I believe that gifted and twice-exceptional kids are served well when they hear adults talking about being bullied for the very things we are saying are different and wonderful about them. The unintentional signals we send, the insecurities about the best part of us, are best sent intentionally.

If I could say anything to parents and educators of gifted and twice-exceptional kids it would be a rally call! I would tell parents to hold up the asymmetrical mind and put it on a pedestal where it belongs. I would tell them to advocate for both accommodation and appreciation at school. I would tell them that gifted kids live in the feeling and we have to meet them there to get to the heart of it. I started this blog because I feel… not because I know.

I imagined my kids’ educational experience being easier than my own; but in reality, their experience is just different. No two experiences, no two children, no two gifted, no two anything are alike; and sadly, insecurities hide in the shadow of different. For me, I will continue to remember and I will continue to pull my kids out of retreat to let them know that all of those things which they can only define as different right now will someday become their amazing familiar. I would tell parents to call Olly Olly Oxen Free! Release them from their hiding places. No penalties and no losers.

It will be a long time before hindsight gives your kids the ability to appreciate the way the world sees who they are, but it shouldn’t take a lifetime for them to be happy about it.

…. SOUND OFF! Share your story below… when enough people feel different, it soon becomes same!…