Starlight, star bright, first star I see tonight, I wish I may I wish I might, accelerate a grade tonight.
When I looked down into the big beautiful eyes of my newborn baby girl, I did not whisper a prayer of acceleration. When she wrapped her little fingers around mine for the first time, I did not wish upon a star that she would have the gift of missing out on some of the most beloved moments of being a toddler and a preschooler. That first long night full of snuggles and tiredness, I did not identify the first star and wish upon it so that my daughter could skip right over the next few years.
No, I didn’t do any of those things; and yet, as the parent of a profoundly gifted child I am constantly made to feel as though I push and prod, I live vicariously through her, and I want a trophy for the best and brightest child and parent of the century- no, the best and brightest child and parent EVER.
The truth looks much different. Parenting a profoundly gifted child can be an exhausting and uphill battle overflowing with anxiety, guilt, fear, and frustration. The extreme highs and pride which come from travelling alongside these glorious and vibrant souls are often offset by difficult decisions and uncertainty.
It often feels as though there is no place for the profoundly gifted child; and as a parent, I find myself constantly in a position where I have to choose between two equally wrong options: push to move forward or try to hold back. Neither option sits well in your stomach and you spend many sleepless nights discussing it with loved ones, reading reading reading, researching online, and thinking thinking thinking.
Not many people hear the term profoundly gifted and ask what I would wish for her; because, really, I have it all, don’t I? I should feel proud, blessed, and happy at all times. They hear that I accelerated my daughter, first entering Kindergarten a full year early, and then midway through the year accelerating again into First Grade, and they immediately assume either I have found the answer or I am pushing to make something happen. Either way, it’s all figured out. They say, “What more could she wish for? The moon!?”
But I do have a wish for my profoundly gifted little girl and it is not as unusual or crazy as one might expect: I want her to be happy.
All profound giftedness is not the same. For my daughter, it came with a speech delay and impediment. Speech therapists were quite intrigued and called it “twin-speak”, sans the twin, as they tried to figure out her language. It consisted of very odd replacements and sounds. I was her most trusted translator for many years. I always knew what she wanted to say and she was happy to let me help her say it.
Okay, let’s say it together now: en-ab-ler. True. But keep in mind I just wanted her to be happy- and she was happy when I translated. Enabling happiness, I like to say.
Still, it was not a shock when Kindergarten started and it became a traumatic and excruciating experience every morning as she begged me to go with her. It became such a struggle that I took a job working in the classroom to ease her anxiety and help her feel heard. I quickly blamed myself (see the above paragraph) and administration did the same. Let her cry it out, they said, let her find independence.
I have two older children, one with special needs, so I am no stranger to the idea that parents can get in the way of their children’s success at school. And so I stepped back and watched it unfold for a while.
Her behavior was quickly misunderstood by her Kindergarten teachers. Her unwillingness to learn was attributed to immaturity and she was able to hide in the classroom, regress in her learning, and internalize her fears. She would perform high sometimes and other times she would do less than everybody else. She was either the first one done or wouldn’t work at all. I was told that a gifted child can do more than she could do and if she didn’t produce they couldn’t help her in the classroom. Okay star, I wish for her to produce -whatever that means– produce so they can help you!
I spent my mornings trying to cajole, bribe, or force her to attend while I spent the afternoons trying to rein in the crazed outpouring of frustrations as she sought to fulfill her insatiable need to learn and work. She started pulling out her hair, chewing on it, and having accidents both during the day and at night. She would wake us every evening with night terrors or nightmares. I would put her to bed and then cry myself to sleep in a flurry of uncertainty.
I thought accelerating her was a good idea. She is in the 99th plus percentile in every area, she could read and write, she would do her sister’s math homework, it was academically the right move, wasn’t it? All of her friends were older than her and she played in extremely advanced circles of imagination, so it was socially the right move, right? I thought acceleration was more clear cut, that it would be something a parent understood innately, that the child who could do would do when put in the right situation.
And that’s when it hit me. Maybe it wasn’t my daughter. Maybe it was the situation.
This decision did not come easy. They never do. I considered pulling her out of school altogether, starting again fresh the next year, homeschooling, unschooling, reschooling, deschooling… There were many tearful advocacy meetings which ultimately led to a move to first grade in January.
The thing about acceleration is that it always starts so clear but then as you walk to the door to put your little girl in a class three years too old for her the air becomes thin, the view becomes hazy, and you are left wanting to turn and run, very fast, in the opposite direction, your profoundly gifted little gem on your shoulders giggling wildly as she yells, “Weeee haaa! Now THIS is how I want to spend my days!”
Alas, I did not run. Instead I gave it a try.
Wouldn’t you know she found happiness in First Grade? She asked me to stop walking her in so she could wait in line outside with the others. Of course! She asked me to let her pack her own lunch and backpack. You got it! She asked if she could write a letter to her teacher so she could tell her how much she loves her. Heart melts!
Academically she was still pretty quiet and her speech still got in her way, but she blossomed nonetheless. She still does more at home than at school, but so long as she finished happy, I was happy. Next year she will join first graders in a center gifted and talented program and I wish upon the same star that the second grade curriculum is a great fit.
I wish for a good fit because I want her to be happy. I wish for it because despite how it looks to the outside world, profoundly gifted children are, first and foremost, children. They want to run and play, explore and discover, love and be loved. They want to feel similarities with their friends rather than constantly understanding their differences. They want to giggle as much as they want to absorb.
If I get to the next step and she is not happy, I will do what it takes to slough off the parental anxiety and judgments, and I will fumble my way through another advocacy meeting. You see, it never gets easier and it never is clear and planned out for you. It’s a little change here and a little wish there.
When I looked at the first star on my daughter’s first night on this earth I wished for her to be happy. I did not wish for her life’s speed to be set on accelerate… but since it is already happening, I figure I’ll just go for it and wish for the moon. Why not? It’s what everyone is expecting and my daughter is headed straight for it.