When I turned five I was given a stuffed yellow dog with a silly brown nose and big brown ears. He’s one of those beloved toys that somehow made it through the worst of times with you and therefore earns a forever home. He is filled with cedar, like all good stuffies were way back in dangerous times; and because he still lives with me, I still find little bits and pieces from inside of him strewn about my life.
His name is Yellow Rah-Rah. Or perhaps it’s spelled Yellow Raw-Raw. The poor dear has never been good at spelling and whenever I ask him- mums the word. Either way, the truth of the matter is that his real name is Roger; and yellow, well of course that is just his color. I had a severe speech delay and impediment, so everyone thought I was saying Yellow Rah-Rah… and the name stuck.
I knew then, as I remember now, that they had it all wrong. Roger. In my head I never called him Rah-Rah.
I named him Roger after Mr. Rogers from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. In those days a child who couldn’t talk was best when positioned in front of the well-intentioned television show. Of all the shows we watched, I appreciated his the most. There was something about his make-believe world and the way he interacted with it that spoke to me. I wanted my animals and my toys and my puppets and my thoughts to come to life in the same way.
I knew the first moment I saw my new stuffed yellow dog that his name would be Roger. Yes, my beloved yellow Roger.
About midway through Kindergarten it became obvious to me, and certainly to everyone else, that I was not like the other children. By First Grade, I was simply that girl, as I hung upside down from the tire swings at recess, pushing off and spinning madly, seeking constant and vicious sensory input. I spunspunspun while the other girls giggled, talked about Care Bears, and made fun of me. I couldn’t talk to them and so I talked to my yellow Roger. He fit inside the groove of the tire and would hold on tight, round and round, a yellow blur, my make-believe, my secret world, and my only friend who knew what I was saying without my having to say it wrong.
My sister, who was in fifth grade when I was in first, was an avid reader and we shared a room. When she fell asleep, I snuck over and stole her books. I’d use a flashlight to read under my covers. I had to hide it from her or she’d tell my mother. I know it’s every parent’s dream that a first grader would read her older sister’s books, but not in those days. My mother wanted me to be normal and reading my sister’s books was definitely not normal.
And then one night, Roger and I found a tunnel…
My sister had left out Watership Down. Every night for a week, Fiver, Hazel, Roger, and I were living an adventure. And then, my sister left out The Velveteen Rabbit. I wasn’t finished with Watership Down, and I typically liked to finish one before starting another, but I have a very vivid memory of considering my options: I have more than 80 pages left to read in one and the entire Velveteen book is less than 50 pages!
I quickly read The Velveteen Rabbit and realized that what I really wanted was not to read about rabbits, what I wanted to make stuffed animals come to life! Books give us the greatest ideas!
I became a girl determined! I was going to make Roger real! For what seemed like weeks, I tried every sort of magic I could muster to help make Roger come to life. I so badly wanted my friend to be real. I would collapse the ironing board, set him on it, and hide behind the couch (because if it DID happen, it would be crazycoolsuperscaryawesome) and peek around the edge. I wouldn’t blink, just in case, and I would squint hard. Before long, I swear I saw some movement!
Years later in kid time and days in real time, I decided my yellow Roger was not going to come to life. I had to resign to that idea. I supposed he was best as a reading buddy and not as a real dog. He lay obediently with me as I finished Watership Down (regrettably… turns out, it’s very sad! It started a whole new obsession for me with animal rights and bad dreams for quite a few “kid years”!) and I moved on to whatever my sister had laying around.
Yellow Rah-Rah is still on my desk and if I stare and squint long enough he’ll move just a bit or maybe my eyes just fatigue; either way, he represents a very important aspect of giftedness and it’s one I believe to be the cornerstone of my mission with this blog and with all of the Gifted and Twice Exceptional pieces I write.
Yellow Roger represents names and the power they have over our gifted children. My entire life people have been naming things for me. They tell me what I said, what I meant to say, what I said wrong, and what little I was capable of expressing. Everything that was the most beautiful part of my childhood was seen as a behavior issue which needed to be corrected, controlled, and hidden.
I am so much more aware these days that I swear that I am allowing my children’s gifts to flourish unhindered; and yet, I find myself getting in their way constantly. I tell our gifted children what they see, what they say, and what they need. They tell us in no uncertain terms that they want the tunnel to a make-believe world so they can talk to the cat and the king and, without meaning to, I tell them how to get there, as if I know the way.
My second post in my new series NEXT is dedicated to Roger, or Rah-Rah, or Raw-Raw, who has been here loyally for every post since day one. Every gifted child has a separate world which we, as parents and teachers, could not possibly give a name to or put into words.
The best and most beautiful of gifts are the things which no one else has, no one else sees, but everyone else allows.
Today, I want you to be okay with that same shirt for the fifth day in a row, the stuffie hidden in the backpack, the crazy-fast crawl across the floor which hurts our knees as adults just to watch, the rolling on the floor crying, the staring off into space… I want you to be okay with it not having a name. I want you to be okay with mediocre achievement, lax attitude to homework, and inability to produce in school. Just today, let that be okay. Let it be that moment and that year in kid time. Let it be the normal and let that mean the right thing. Because my fear is not that my children are unable to give their gifts a name, it is that I’m calling it the wrong thing.
I started this blog for one reason: to tell the world that my favorite dog’s name is Roger. It really is that simple. And it is no more true today than it was forty years ago.
Parents, sometimes gifts are trapped inside of our children, but if we stop naming and start listening, if we stop shaming and start smiling, I believe those gifts will find a magical way to shine through now rather than in forty years.
I’m going to hide behind the couch, because if all of these kids’ amazing gifts suddenly come to life… that would be crazycoolsuperscaryawesome! Squinting squinting…. I see it! Do you?!