Tag Archives: gifted adults

Grande Overexcitability Frappuccino (hold the whip)

Sigh.  Parenting our gifted and twice-exceptional children takes creativity.

Has your coping mechanism ever come in the form of a grande half-caff latte or a double-whip, lots o’ chocolate sauce, venti Frappuccino?  Mine sure has. 

Starbucks should create an overexcitability (OE) menu.  This blog makes the rounds; and yet, they still have not created a personalized menu just for us.  So, when the mood strikes me, I repost it.

Before you order and sip and sigh, know this about my coffee menu: It won’t help you advocate.  It won’t give answers to the world’s most difficult gifted and 2e parenting questions.  It will, however, get you a hot cup of coffee.  And really, on some mornings, after some meetings, and in between some ‘moments’, isn’t that exactly what we need??

1. Psychomotor: Caffeine!  Espresso, triple shot, and can you quadruple that? Oh! Sounds just right!  Then maybe I can do this thing.  It will be totally awesome!!  Excited!!! I think I’ll run a five-minute mile while reading over this IEP, reciting Keats’ poetry, playing solitaire on my iPad for some ‘me’ time, writing a sonnet, eating a muffin, twirling a baton, riding a unicycle, juggling bananas, running a five-minute mile… wait, didn’t I already say that?  Time for another espresso!

2.  Sensual: Pumpkin Spice Chai Tea, heavy on the whipped cream.  Oh. My. God. This place smells fantastic.  It is like walking into my head and curling up on an oversized armchair next to a crackling fire with a fuzzy blanket and a good book.  There is literally no one here, so I can just sip, stretch, savor, and really fall in love with my moment.  Then, that one old friend arrives who you love curling up next to with a good story.  Heaven!

3.  Intellectual: Coffee of the day, black.  See here’s the thing, on many levels I support the fact that most coffee houses use coffee which has been grown responsibly, but another part of me feels disgusted that so many small, eclectic, and caring coffeehouses have been shut down by big business.  From a convenience perspective, I like that I can drive through, buy shade-grown coffee, reuse my personal cup, and move on with my day and my plans; but from the perspective of a financially-responsible adult, I worry about the financial strain a Starbucks habit could have on my family.

4.  Imaginational: Juice in a mini coffee cup and a cake pop, please, pink with tons and tons of sprinkles.  It is always such a fun treat meeting great friends at a coffeehouse.  It takes me back to my college days; and Oh! Look!  Little stuffed animals!  Stuffed animals, which have nothing to do with coffee, are so adorable and only $14.99, which isn’t too much, really, for all of the joy this little guy will bring.  I mean, really, he fits in a coffee cup!…and I think I’ll download the free song of the day.  I have always been drawn to industrial music set in a forested region.  I can picture me with neon lipstick, a rad Divo hat, and a glow stick dancing around a closed-down and repurposed coffee shop.  Isn’t the tiny cup adorable??  I think I’ll keep it.

5.  Emotional: I want to get my usual.  My usual is easy; my usual is comforting.  I love the  known.  I always get the same thing and right now I need comfort and easy.  Maybe I overthink everything and need to let loose.  Maybe I’ll try something new.  What do you suggest coffee barista?  Honestly, right now I just need to get away from the noise (no espresso please), vent a bit (venti sounds fantastic, thank you), and think about the world (Ethos water? Seems like selling any bottled water is bad for the environment, so I’ll pass).  You suggest a scone and a nonfat, double whip, no chai, decaf, venti, coffee free, egg white, eco-friendly mocha Frappuccino?  Give me a minute.  Never mind, I’ll just have my usual.

Order one.  Order them all.  Order a mix of two or three.  Just like our kids… a little bit of everything.  Remember, the chai apple tea doesn’t fall far from the chai apple tree!

Gráim thú, Thought #2

him Thoughts, like corned beef, arrive at my mouth chewy and full of gristle.  I don’t love these thoughts the way I have loved other thoughts.  So I try to turn their hearts.  I try to make the thoughts love me again.  If they do not turn to love for me, then I try to turn their ankles with an Irish curse.  If they do not have ankles, then I try to turn their footnote, or their suffix, or their root, so that when they return I recognize them by their limping.

Trichotomies, and trinities, and other things that start with Ts, three times turned, and three returned.

Limping Thought #1:

“Retain a physician to give each woman you hire a special physical examination -one covering female conditions. This step not only protects the property against the possibilities of lawsuit but also reveals whether the employee-to-be has any female weaknesses which would make her mentally or physically unfit for the job. Transit companies that follow this practice report a surprising number of women turned down for nervous disorders.”

Ah yes, glorious Tip #4 from “The Guide to Hiring Women.”

Published in the July 1943 issue of Transportation Magazine, the “Guide to Hiring Women” was well-intentioned and well-received.  It helped employers during World War II deal with their new female workforce by imparting male boss-man wisdom, such as: choose a slightly husky girl, give women time to wash their hands often and apply fresh lipstick, and (for the love of God, my good sir) refrain from hiring older women, as they are known to be cantankerous and fussy.

Noted.  And, applied (in bombshell red).

The list passes by every so often on social media.  It is all in the name of a good laugh; which is to say, a best medicine, or a day not wasted, or a sun brought to a winter face, and so on.

Roald Dahl said it best, “It is a fine line between roaring with laughter and crying.”  Indeed.

Limping Thought #2:

Around 400 B.C., Plato advocated for specialized education for intellectually gifted men and women.  Plato believed giftedness was not determined by gender or by social or economic class.

Before you say, “Right, on Play Play!”

There’s more (always).

When Plato found a gifted child, he would immediately remove him or her from the home to keep the parents from stifling, from muddying, and from altogether tarnishing the child’s extraordinary gifts and talents.

Queue the chant, “Not cool, Play!”

To be fair, Plato lived in different times.  And we must be fair, because, as far as Plato was concerned, manslaughter was preferable to being unfair and unjust.  So, to be fair, Michael Beldoch won’t pen or define the term “Emotional Quotient” until 1965.

A little bit of selective memory, and gifted education seems to be moving in the right direction.

And then…

A thousand years happened.

Here’s what you missed: people were born, people died, disease happened, and there was this king, and once a tyrant, and some famine, and lots of religious strife, and some fine lines between laughter and crying.

Okay, you’re caught up.

The Renaissance.  The Renaissance supported gifted people who exhibited creative talent.  Of course it did.  The Renaissance was a rebirth for the world.  It lifted the tired and weary out of the dark ages, and helped make sense of the Black Death.

“Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Moore, Copernicus, Galileo…” says we.

“Just to name a few,” we says.

Selective memory: check!  We are on a decent track again.

And then…

(I am beginning to not love these ellipses.  They seem to precede something horrifying…  but alas, they are too small to turn and maim).

Some more things happened.

Then, in the late 1800s Sir Francis Galton suggested breeding between Gifted and Capable people (his designation for the top two tiers of society) in order to produce worthy humans.  Let me sum up his particular theory of eugenics: breed only Thoroughbred racehorses in order to win.

“Did he say race, as in…” asks we.

“God, I hope not,” we says, but we have ample imaginations.

The 1943 issue of Transportation Magazine is looking downright progressive at this point.  I’m sure the boss-men were brought many congratulatory smoking slippers and martinis when the issue came out (if said issue came out twenty years later.  My eras mix when I’m feeling cantankerous.  It’s why one should never hire older writers).

Limping Thought #3:

Let’s talk about corned beef and cabbage.  Good ol’ non-specific-gender, free-from-controversy corned beef and cabbage.  St. Patrick’s Day.  It is a day when Americans celebrate St. Patrick and the arrival of Christianity to Ireland.

Of course it is.

We celebrate it with leprechauns and with 40-lbs of orange powder dumped into a river in Chicago to dye it green.  We also eat the traditional corned beef and cabbage.

Leprechauns, green, corned beef, and cabbage.

I feel Irish just typing these words… (Curse you, ellipses!)

Chew on this: in Gaelic Ireland, beef was not corned, it was adorned.

That is to say, cows were used for their strength in the fields, for dairy products, and they were at one time a symbol of wealth; and therefore, sacred.  If you want to thank someone for corned beef, you’ll have to stay on this side of the pond.  You’ll have to thank New York deli owners, mostly Jewish, who offered Irish immigrants a cheaper meat as an alternative to pork.

How about the color green?  Wearing all of one color is considered bad luck in Ireland.  No pinch.  No poke.  No valuable brain tonic and morphine substitute for five cents a glass.  Err, no coke.

“What of my Leprechauns?”

In Ireland, leprechauns are not tiny, smiling, and jolly men who protect a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow; they are large, scary, and very grumpy.  Leprechauns are to be avoided whenever possible.

It seems to me that leprechauns in Ireland are quite similar to Limping Thought #3.

Love:

I want to love my thoughts.  And, I want my thoughts to love me.  These three thoughts hobbled back into my brain and into my blog for a reason. Definitions of gifted change as often as all things change. What it means to be gifted and  twice-exceptional (gifted and learning disabled) changes and morphs and melds and looks funny, or devastating, in retrospect. So here is how I deal with these pesky, hard to swallow, thoughts:

Love. 

No ellipses, just love.  You see,

I love when random thoughts come limping back into my brain in order to remind me that someday our traditions and our definitions may be nothing more than a book of humor.

I love that I don’t have to apply lipstick to make it through a blog.

I love that throughout history people have tried, in some capacity, to make the world more beautiful.

I love that corned beef and cabbage goes on sale on March 18th.

I love saving money.

“Oh dear, is she really trying to tie all of this together?”

Yes, I am (trying, that is).  Because, if I’m honest…

I love ellipses.

And, to imitate, metaphrase, and paraphrase: nothing is arbitrary.  Not even this.

Pigeons in Cerebro

If you visited Trafalgar Square in the 1990s, what probably struck you first was the name.  It used to be Charing Cross. The area commemorated the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar; and then, in 1845, John Nash redesigned the square and created the monument.  It is now owned by the Queen under the Right of the Crown policy.… wait, no, I didn’t think about any of those things.  And neither did you.

Let’s start over.

If you visited Trafalgar Square in the 1990s, what probably struck you first was pigeon poop.  Little white dings of pigeon waste flying through the air, catching you by surprise, and aimed directly at your eyeball.  Pigeons, that is what strikes you first.  And last.

Yes, I am talking about pigeons.

I can’t think Trafalgar Square without pigeons landing on the words.  One or three alight on the e.  Two more gents land on the T.  I think Trafalgar Square, and there they are.  Ca roo!  Coo Coo!

It was not just the quantity of pigeons which struck me as fantastic and notable.

For those of you who have not witnessed Trafalgar Square and the pigeons, it was the culture, the culture de pigeon, that made me pause.  Every morning, I watched as the street musicians, human statues, and pigeon-feed carts set up for the day.  Yes, I said pigeon-feed carts.  They sold pigeon seed on paper plates for 25 pence a serving.  The tourists were eager to queue up to purchase specialized pigeon feed.

People would laugh and shriek and feed and photo.

The pigeons would coo and eat and mock and poop.

It was a vicious cycle of photos and pooping.

It was comical and entertaining and messy and crazy.

And here it is:  Trafalgar Square represents my twice-exceptional mind.

…… BUMP BEAT BREAK….. Twice-exceptional is used to describe the gifted and learning disabled (ASD, SPD, ADD, ADHD, Dyslexia, Enter Your Own Acronym Here, etc).  Identifying twice-exceptional learners can be difficult, and it is always complicated.  The advanced cognitive ability might mask or compensate for the learning disabilities.  The learning disabilities often mask, or get in the way of, the giftedness.  It is another type of vicious cycle….. Coo!  I digress (as is my pigeonesque nature).  Back to it…

I am visual.  I give everything a picture.  And, I am Twice-Exceptional (2e).

What does my mind have to do with pigeons?  Why are pigeons in cerebro?  Why is she using a fancy, and very inaccurate, way to say pigeons on the brain?  Not all questions are meant to be answered; however, let me get to the first one straight away.

There are too many pigeons.  They flap and fall and peck and coo and gather.  They mill and bump and squawk and fight.  They reproduce seamlessly; and when they do, they arrive as full-sized birds (I mean, has anyone seen a baby pigeon?).  The pigeons get in the way of the square, of the history, of the story, and of the vacationers. They keep on keeping on, as it were… and they do it all with just one desire: to eat and eat and eat and eat.

The tourists gather around and snap pictures.  They smile and laugh and shriek, because pigeons in that quantity are fun, freaky, and different.  They buy food and feed it to the hungry critters.  They become overwhelmed by the mob of pigeons who are not satisfied with one or forty plates of seed.

It doesn’t take long for tourists to run for the safety of the Underground.  They decide it is time to check out the Palace.  Ah yes, Buckingham Palace, where pigeons eat properly, one grain at a time, thank you very much, and know better than to sit on your head and poop on your shoulder.

My brain is the Trafalgar Square Pigeons.

Even in England, where the queue is second to godliness, the pigeons do not form a tidy line and patiently await further instruction.  Of course they don’t.  Everything, absolutely everything, is an absolute onslaught.  Every seed of an idea is pecked at a million times, in a million directions, by a million beaks.  Every thought, image, movement, and emotion, flutters in packs, in singles, in crazed-eyed cooing.  There is nowhere safe to have a seat and think quietly; and if you are not careful, the thoughts, images, movements, and emotions will sit on you.

They are relentless.

And I can’t just shoo them away.  I know, I’ve tried.  They just won’t chill out.  Not with a plate of seed in each of my hands, and certainly not when I run through the Square shrieking, pulling at my hair, and catching dings of white poop on my cheek.

So what do I do?  I drop the plates.  Seed scatters everywhere.  The pigeons are not fooled.  They alight on my arms and head, they peck the seeds off my shoes, and they ca roo ca roo coo coo coo toward me.  They advance.  All millions and billions of them, as my imagination overexcitability pictures, and I see it then: a girl being carried far, far away by hungry pigeons.

But really, I just stand there, arms out, and I sigh.

Even if I try to shoo them away, they just regroup. They land again a few feet from me, hungrier than before.

They are my brain.

Ugh!  Ca roo, coo!  What can I do?  How can I help my own twice-exceptional child when I can barely clear my own mind from Pigeoninitis?

When I found out that my oldest was twice-exceptional (though it seems to me all gifted kids have a touch of Pigeon), I felt like a tourist.  I was desperate to snap the perfect photo to share his gifts.  I wanted the teachers and caregivers to see beyond the issues, so that they could share in his whimsical, wonderful, and amazing, not just his strange, chaotic, and stumbling.

If you or your child feels like I do, like there are pigeons in cerebro, try practicing a few pigeon pre-game rituals:

  • release only one, two, or twenty birds at a time;
  • imagine bigger seed.  Those little beaks are horrible at picking up broccoli, for instance, so feed them broccoli for a day.  They won’t leave, but they’ll look elsewhere, while casting furtive glances your way;
  • leave the area.  It may be best to go across the street to a little café.  From there, watch the chaos whilst reading, writing, or hiding.
  • accept the birds.  The pigeons, though they may seem impervious, are emotional creatures.  Each one desires friendship, understanding, and seed.  Don’t forget the seed.  They may (or may not) have little mouths at home waiting to be fed.
  • laugh.  laugh often.  It really, truly, and pigeonly is the best medicine that I know!

I am visual.  I am 2e.  And I have pigeons on the brain.  Here is how I get through:

  • I take a picture, run around, and I scream.  Then, I have a nice cup of tea; because the truth is, when you reflect on the journey, you don’t care about the pictures that you took, you just like to laugh about the pigeons that led up to it.

 

The Pigeons demanded I honour them with a summarised wrap-up of the issue:   After twenty years of encouraging millions of tourists to feed feral pigeons, the 1990s saw the largest growth of feral pigeons Trafalgar Square had ever recorded.  They were, quite literally, getting in the way of commerce, traffic, and meaningful family photos.  The government did away with the pigeon feed carts, and has returned the population to a number that Great Britain deems acceptable.  Though, I’m sad to report that they have not published the GBAPN (Great Britain Acceptable Pigeon Number).  I find that it would be quite useful for those of us who would like to compare said number to the USAPN.  “Why would you want to know that?” asks the completely sensible person.  “For all the reasons above,” I say.

Play On, Words

(Reprint of article published July 2014).

Dreamer. Head in the clouds. Eyes out the window. Grass is greener. Oh my. Flee fly. Scallywag.   Monkey tree. Oops, I got a little carried away. It is so easy to start listing fun-to-say words. Scallywag is fun to say; monkey tree, too.

Words were always my biggest distraction, my biggest support system, and my go-to when overexcitabilities were on full tilt. Words were companions when the class was boring, when the material was dull, or when the window was ridiculously bright, beautiful, and enticing.

Have you seen this in your gifted or 2e child? Do you have a bit of a dreamer? A Distracto Eyes? A Wordsmith? Even if not a talker- maybe Silent but Wordly?

I’m guessing that you have seen something of the sort. I’m guessing that you have seen it within the hour. Every hour. On the hour. Like clockwork.

After all, words are delicious. We should pack them every day for each child, like a snack, like a treat, like a well-deserved wordy break.

As a young, twice-exceptional, and gifted child, my world was comprised of wonderful words whirling whimsically around me. They were playful, friendly, enticing, and lovely. Words were the first connectors between my world and my inner thoughts and desires. But all of this went on inside.

My parents were sent a letter in 1977 in which my doctor said that I was cognitively deficient, that they shouldn’t expect too much from me, and that it should come as no surprise when I was unable to express myself accurately.

I didn’t disappoint. My expressions were pretty inappropriate and I found myself incapable, unable, misunderstood, and powerless. Still, not being able to express myself verbally did not change all of the things that I understood, all of the information which I absorbed, and the catalog of words I created while I waited for everything else to make sense and fall into place.

I amassed a dictionary which did more than list words; it loved words!

While academic achievement made its dawdling, sluggish, turtle-esque way forward, my young mind swarmed with the possible words I could use to express, both to myself and to the world, the depth that represented how I felt and where I saw myself fitting in.

It wasn’t easy. The words came out all wrong.

Words tripped, tropped, troped me at every turn. They seemed as much my way out as my way in. Words by others -long, flowing, pouring off the pages words by others- became a refuge. My own words -odd-sounding, never-ending, stream of consciousness words- would become my biggest barrier.

You have too many words, teachers said. Slow down, pick a few that matter, and be content with those. You are trying too hard, said one. You are dreaming too big, said another.

Wait, one can have too many words (Sounds crazy, I know!) I hope to never again hear those words in that order.

Nobody knew it was brewing and I didn’t –or couldn’t- tell. The fact that I was reading Clan of the Cave Bear, Carrie, and Flowers in the Attic at eight years old did not strike people as fantastic, amazing, and gifted; rather, I was labeled the odd child who didn’t say the right things and felt the need to say the wrong things all the time. I was completely asynchronous. I was young and lopsided, askew, off-center, cock-eyed, crooked. Thank goodness for words! Maybe early school was a bust, but all of the words piled up and I walked up and out.

Do you know a gifted or twice-exceptional child who struggles to express feelings, desires, and needs?  Maybe you know or have a child who struggles to show academic achievement, but clearly has more to say? Or maybe your child, like I did, struggles with classwork, but has a clear love for vocabulary, for words, for poetic diction, and for expression.

I’ve met so many children who fit this profile. They were my friends in my youth (and now, they are some of the most interesting adults I know).

So many of these kids don’t quite fit the gifted profile and don’t do well when tested. Many of them have special needs which hide the giftedness and giftedness which hides the special needs. Oddly enough, banging our forehead on the wall doesn’t quite advocate the way we hope it will (I know, I’ve tried).

These parents, like I did and still do, search for answers, for support, and for words which exactly and appropriately express what their gifted and twice-exceptional child need academically, socially, and emotionally.

It was somewhere during a word storm when it hit me. It hit me like the game of association. Like a ton of bricks. A wall. Hand ball. Stick ball. Baseball. Cracker Jacks! Cracker Jacks is more fun to say than peanuts.

It hit me that I started this blog as my little way to show my support of those kids who stare out the window, which don’t have the answer when called on, and sometimes seem to have their heads in the clouds. I started this blog as a way of letting off steam in the form of words while connecting with other parents raising gifted and twice-exceptional kids. I started this blog to offer a different perspective, an atypical voice, for the gifted adults who were lost in the system early on and find they are raising miniature versions of themselves.

Towards that end, I have written a series of posts just for fun. Just for them. Just for us. So many parents tell me vocabulary is no problem but writing is excruciating for their child. There is so much to focus on: punctuation, spelling, format, theme, handwriting, and that piece of fluff floating by the window and landing just so on the edge of the swing. Is that a dragon? Whoops, did I get distracted again? Of course I did. Writing like that doesn’t pay homage to words. It’s necessary, yes, but oh so difficult. I’ll leave that to the teachers. My words like to PLAY!

In my series, Play on Words, I created four posts to help us help our children have some fun with words. I will be republishing them in the next two weeks.  Join me!

Up first- Poetry.   And yes, it’s fun. Wherefore, crazy lady, wherefore!?

Delicious! Crunch. Snack. Nom nom.

Unopened Gifted: Gwendolyn Brooks, this is what I know

rewrite of my 2014 Portrait for a new series, “Unopened Gifted”.

From the back row I waited for the seats to fill in front of me with the fifty students, staff, and community members chosen to attend a reading by African American author Gwendolyn Brooks, a Pulitzer Prize winner in Poetry.  As usual, my anxious punctuality put me there much too early and I felt foolish sitting in the last row when there were still eight empty rows in front of the podium.

I willed blindness.  No peripheral vision.

No, I don’t recognize anyone. 

No, I don’t want to look over and have to smile. 

No, I don’t want there to be a chance of  (gulp) mingling. 

At nineteen years old I was, as I am now, awkward in social situations.  As the room started to fill, I felt conspicuous amongst the literati, the professors, and the people who didn’t just read Brooks- they taught Brooks.

The semester prior, my professor had selected a short story and a poem I had written to be published in the school journal.  After it was published she told me that I had been selected to attend an intimate poetry reading by Gwendolyn Brooks (Gulp).

After receiving the letter of invitation, I spent three weeks trying to find the perfect outfit.  It had to say “I-am-an-author-I-am-not-19-I-do-not-actually-want-you-to-talk-to-me-I-didn’t-finish-high-school-but-now-I’m-doing-better-dropout-dropout-dropout-but-yes-I-am-an-author-oh-that’s-not-to-say-I’m-an-author-at-Gwendolyn-Brooks’-level-I-just-want-to-sit-in-the-back-please-and-not-mingle-thank-you-loser-loser-dropout-dropout.”

It is safe to say I overthought the outfit I was to wear (along with every other detail).

The room filled without much mingling.  Gwendolyn Brooks entered the room last and slowly took her place at the podium.  She seemed small and branchlike behind the cumbersome mahogany.

She read three passages. By the second reading, I felt it happening.  The lump in the throat.  The sadness.  The connection.  The overpowering, overstimulated, and over-the-moon feeling of depth and words and poetry and beauty and world and universe and meaning and oh-no.  It’s happening.  Holding back the tears and so they found the path of least resistance: my nose.  There was not a tissue in sight.

I considered my sleeve and her words -words I loved so much- and I completely missed the end of her last poem reading in my effort to maintain.

While others took notes and nodded their heads in some sort of intelligence commiseration, I just sat there, my lip trembling, my eyes bulging, and my nose watering.  Physical limbs expand, and outlines receded, vanish… and we are part of the world, the atmosphere, the blue sky and the blue water.

And again, the tears.  The ugly kind.  The can’t-take-her-anywhere tears.

At the end of the reading and lecture, there was a small reception and I watched as the  smarts got into their smarts line, holding their smarts books, while they smiled with admiration at Gwendolyn Brooks.  They handed her their books to sign.

Oh no!  I didn’t bring one of her books or even a copy of a poem or a loose-leaf sheet of paper or anything at all for her to sign. It just didn’t occur to me; I had her works memorized.

I took an obligatory cookie and a triangular cup of punch and I stood there, willing invisible.  People pressed past me, heralding Brooks’ work as they pressed, and they moved on toward the door together: a beaming, wonderful feeling, smart group of people.

I wasn’t sure if leaving would be considered rude so I made an exit plan which involved the last two people in line and slipping out behind them.  My nose was still running with my mind and suddenly I was in front of Mrs. Brooks and a quick look behind me confirmed that I was the last in line.

My jaw locked and my tongue stuck to the backs of my teeth.

I searched frantically for something intelligent to say. What was that thought I had the last time I read “We Real Cool”?  What was that connection I made while she read “To the Diaspora”?  Nothing.  A blank.  I real cool. Me.

I didn’t have anything for her to sign. All I had was a napkin holding up my hand and a half-eaten cookie. I quickly set the napkin with the cookie on the table in front of her.

There it was: a half-eaten chocolate chip cookie on a small white napkin between us.

She looked at it and smiled. I flushed.  Why did I do that?

Before I could think, the cookie was off the napkin and in my mouth.  My mouth was dry, really dry, and the cookie made it worse. I willed that cookie into small enough pieces that they could slip down my throat and out the door.  Take me with you! I begged.  The napkin I gave to Gwendolyn Brooks with the grease spot was eyeballing me from the table.

“Are you an author?” She asked.

I nodded.

“What do you write?”

I swallowed the cookie bits and told her the truth, “I don’t know.”

Mrs. Brooks pulled out a folding chair.  She took my clammy hand in her fragile one and told me to sit next to her. She asked me many questions and I answered them all. She would laugh and get uncomfortably close to me.  I could smell tobacco and chamomile on her breath when she laughed and her laughter blew back my hair.  I told her which poem of hers was my favorite and she made me recite one of mine.  She’d press one long finger under her head wrap and scratch a moment and then lean in until I could see the pores smile where her glasses had been.

“I know you can do it,” she said, leaning back and adjusting the napkin on the table.

“How do you know that?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she said.  She smiled with her chamomile tobacco teeth.

The custodial staff started to fold and stack up the chairs.  She just kept talking.  It’s too much for here, let alone my soul, but the bits that fall out when I hold them:

“Write what you know… write what you know, girl.”

“What if I don’t know what I know?”

“You know what you know.”

“I don’t think I do.”

She just smiled and said, “That’s just talk.”

When it was time to go, I thanked her and stood up. She leaned forward in her chair and slid the napkin toward her.  She wrote something on it and then handed it to me.

It was an address in Chicago.

“You take that.  It’s my personal address. And when you figure out what you know, well you send it to me because I want to be the first one to read it.”

I drove home that night with whirling words and mind.  And I kept the napkin.

It went with me all the way across the pond to England.  I hung it on my dorm wall and it watched over me while I studied English Literature and wrote frantically between pertussis fits.  It accompanied me to University in Illinois and then it stayed safe in my files through marriage, children, and suburbs.  Through it all, it was with me, a napkin with a greasy eyeball and a very important opportunity.

When my son was born in September of 2000, I started to write my book.  I remember the moment I proclaimed, “I know what I know!”

For two years I slaved over the pages.  When I was satisfied, I dug out the napkin and considered it.  She would think I’m crazy.  She probably meant to say, “Go on girl, send it to me sometime in the next year or so, sometime in the not-too-crazy future, not in 25 years.  Yah, that’s crazy, that’s what I know.” She’d say.

I should probably look her up online first. 

In June of 2002 I looked up Gwendolyn Brooks and read that she had passed away in December of 2000.  Just three months after my son was born.  I wish this was a fiction, a creative tidbit, a cool spin… something to make it interesting and poetic.  She could have stood up, having fulfilled her contractual duty, and gone back to her hotel and rested.  She could have signed my napkin and moved on.  She could have done a lot of things.  But instead, Gwendolyn Brooks gave me a gift.  This woman who grew up gifted in a racially-biased society, with her face not recognized for gift because of something as arbitrary as the color of her skin.  This woman, this artist, who spent a lifetime sitting with authors after hours, after readings, after classes, after after, is the woman whose address I have on a napkin in a file in my desk drawer.  That’s what she did.  And now I can only wax poetic about the things I did not.

What I know: I sit in the back row.  I worry over social events.  I show up too early.  I sob uncontrollably when something moves me.  I always forget to bring tissue.  I love words.  I bleed words.  I need words.  I love words.  I love words.  They become more than a body.  They are part of the world, the atmosphere, the blue sky and the blue water.  This I know.

The rest of it? Well, that’s just talk.

“I am a writer perhaps because I am not a talker.” -Gwendolyn Brooks

Comparing Gifted

Recently I had a conversation with an amazing group of parents trying their best to keep at bay this monster of a job we call Parenting-the-Gifted-and-2e-Child.

“We just want the teachers to see his giftedness for what it is,” one said.

“What if they do?” asked another.

“What if they don’t?” we all worried.

We compared their journeys to our own and to other children’s even though we knew we shouldn’t.

“Comparison is a path which leads to insecurity and unhappiness,” One concluded.

“All kids are different and so comparison is futile,” another added.

“But still,” we all worried.

Does comparing beget more comparison? Does any good come from comparing one child to another or from comparing our experiences to our children’s experiences? To compare is human; or so the saying (should) go.

This blog was born from comparing and conversing about the habits, needs, and experiences of my children against the norm. For me, learning disabilities hid my giftedness and giftedness hid my learning disabilities. When I was young, I would compare myself to images of giftedness; and each time I did, I found that I fell short. Dropping out of high school was the final proof that I was not at all, in any way, gifted.

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I was not gifted. I was not gifted.  I was not gifted when compared to…?  That elusive end to the sentence. When compared to … to whom? To what? Rice noodles? Einstein? Border Collies? Sarah Johnson from two doors down? Integers? Lip gloss? Digital clocks? Gertrude Stein? Post it notes?  Random lists?

If we are going to compare, let’s get to the point. What exactly are we comparing ourselves against? Gifted kids were just “gifted kids.” Generic, shiny, fantastic, and perfect Gifted. Who can compare against that?? You see, therein lies the trouble with comparison: it is always against this strange and elusive norm. Normal gifted or normal normal. It is why we are encouraged not to compare our children to other children or compare their experiences to our own. Comparison has become a dirty word.

But I think we would serve our children well if we compared them; in fact, I think we are doing our amazing, fantastic, and whimsical wonders of overexcitability and asynchronistic-ity a disservice by not ever comparing them against one another.

We need to compare our children, swap notes, and consider what each gifted and twice-exceptional child is going through. We need to do this until we find enough similarities and differences that we can be sure that no child falls through cracks (and by cracks, I mean the gigantic vortex-y chasms that exist in both the identification and education of the gifted and twice-exceptional child).

Imagine if the world saw more than just a generic “Gifted Kid.”

I can imagine that world. It’s what I strive for with this blog. I am a high school dropout. It doesn’t matter how many degrees are accumulated after that fact; that fact remains. Let’s imagine I was in high school and could compare myself with the gifted dyslexic or the gifted underachiever. What if I had compared myself to a gifted high school dropout?  Yes, what if.

The face of gifted, the words of gifted, and the comparisons of gifted need to change if we are ever to completely serve our children’s needs and our own as their parents.

Compare the following statements and questions. They are all very real. Can you find similarities and/or differences? Can you find merit in the world hearing this gifted? Could comparing your child to their children help to motivate you?  Can you see a way we could help the community find their children’s place?

  • “My son doesn’t test well, but I know he is gifted…. I’m so frustrated!”
  • “My daughter was placed in a Special Education class to help the school handle her behavioral problems. She struggles with authority, but she reads Hawkins every night. What do I do?”
  • “My daughter writes at a 1st grade level, but she completes algebra assignments for fun. They put her in a gifted pull-out program but she doesn’t like the extra workload. How can I explain to the school that she needs a challenge but still needs remedial support?”
  • “All of my children are so emotional. They can barely make it through the day or to school in the morning, let alone a structured class or an accelerated program. Isn’t there anyone who understands?”
  • “I have never heard of a gifted program; besides, I’m an only parent and my kids need to go to the neighborhood school so they can take a bus.”
  • “My family and I are transient. My children get two of their meals a day from the school. I’m so afraid they won’t finish school or they’ll fall into the wrong crowd. They are so smart, I just wish they had the opportunities every other kid has.”
  • “I am dyslexic and I don’t know if my son is or not because it costs too much to test him. Children’s Hospital has a program with a 1-2 year wait, but they need a referral and the teachers don’t see any issues. I think he’s doing grade-level material because his giftedness is hiding the disability. What can I do?”
  • “My daughter just learned English and didn’t understand the test they gave her.”

Gifted looks different to and on everyone.  Gifted crosses all cultural and socioeconomic lines. Gifted is not one-size-fits-all. Gifted needs to be compared and we need to use the comparisons to start the larger conversation that all Gifted children, from all walks of life, with all abilities and disabilities, require specialized instruction and a place within the budget so that teachers, administrators, and lawmakers can meet each of our children’s unique  social, emotional, and academic needs.

“We have to do something,” said one.

“What if we do?” asked another.

“What if we don’t?” we all worried.

Of Cannonballs and Memories

Conversations, crazy sounds, and classroom odds n’ ends.  They all have a funny way of turning into pirate memories in the oceans of my mind.  Last week I ran into a book which instantly reminded me of a particular instance when all three of those things collided.  I wondered if telling the story would help an exhausted and frustrated parent who might, at this very  moment, feel as though they are watching their gifted or twice-exceptional student sail off into an unknown sunset (while hanging like a monkey from the mast, and howling like a Maned Wolf).  Perhaps my story will allow them to see asynchrony in practice.  Perhaps it will illustrate that achievement and cognitive ability are not interchangeable.  Perhaps.  So long as they apply themselves.  Happy Sails!  – IH

I had no business in a classroom, considering I was not able to learn according to those who were qualified to give the able-to-learn distinction to students; and every time I was reminded of that fact, the determinations settled like cannon balls in my stern and hull breaking through my exterior. It was only a matter of time until I sank.

Once math was off my academic table for good (if only she would apply herself in math… well, perhaps she is not able-to-learn math… ah, yes, that’s it…. she hasn’t been designated), the largest and heaviest cannonballs came in the form of Hebrew vocabulary. By Second Grade, it was obvious that I would not be participating in the Scripps Hebrew Spelling Bee (if one existed, which it did not, but that didn’t stop Jessica and Alana and Rivka from acting as though they already had a trophy on their bed stand).

It also did not stop the world from telling me to apply myself. The fundamental principle of success in the 1970s and 1980s: apply yourself. And if one does not apply applicable applications when said applications are applicable then one is most likely doomed. (Say that fast five times. I could. But I couldn’t write it in Hebrew).

Words running left to right and right to left, up and down and over and out. I understood everything I heard but my brain took the lessons, all of which needed to be read and written, threw them up in the air and let them fall. Standing at center, I’d spin helpless while frog and fence, rainbow and rabbit tracks, pregnant woman and upside down cup, and my favorite unicorn swarm around below, a jumble in my mind of letters, symbols, and nonsense.

Apply myself. I was too busy reading to apply myself in Hebrew or Math or Really Anything. The contradiction my reading presented was lost on me. I was not-able-to-see-it.

I was too busy reading.  Reading.  Reading.

I don’t mean I stumbled through a few words here or a Richard Scarry city scene there; no, at the Hebrew and Math Breaking Point of Second Grade I was reading my sister’s books: Watership Down, Big Red, Nancy Drew, and Madeline L’Engle. When her books ran out or when she wanted to punish me, I read my mother’s books: V.C. Andrews, Jean Auel, Kurt Vonnegut, and John Irving. It wasn’t long before I was introduced to the local library and secretly devoured Cormac McCarthy, Douglas Adams, and any cover which was not turned face forward by the librarian and would not, I was sure, find its way into my mother’s hands.

By day I was inept, unable, and sinking; but by night, by recess, and by nobody was looking (which was most of the time), there were plenty of signs that my mind was seeking more stimulation, more information, and more input. This was all despite being completely closed to growth in a classroom. And classrooms looked very different at that time.

“I would just tell her to do the work,” said my second grade teacher with his left hand in the waistline of his pants which were pulled up to ribcage.

My parents nodded. Of course, tell her to do the work.

“She isn’t studying and so she’s failing.”

My parents nodded. Of course, she isn’t studying so she’s failing.

“I mean, look at her,” he said gesturing to me.

They looked at me.

I was sitting in my seat; last seat in the row nearest the cubbies. The rest of the seats were empty because this meeting was special. He didn’t say I was special. Sometimes you can be too weird for special. (In that un-specialness possessed, I suppose I was, ironically, very special, very singular, very exceptional, and very distinctive… sorry, I digress… we are talking about my serious inability to handle vocabulary).

They were all looking at me. I was not looking at them; instead, I watched my fingers poking up like a squid seeking sailor through the ink hole in my desk.

My parents nodded.

“I’m sure you’ve done all that can be done,” Teacher said, “Not everyone is wired to learn.”

He leaned back in his wooden chair, which moaned in protest to his teaching style, and his left hand resumed position to indicate the meeting was over.

My parents nodded.

Lying across the back seat, I looked up at the streetlights through the back window. I squinted opened squinted opened squinted opened. At squinted opened fifty two, I looked toward the front seat and saw my mother’s face staring back at me, her frown palpable, as she wondered at her blinking, squid-fingered, Hebrew failing daughter who was not wired to learn anything at all.

I went back to squint open squint open squint open and thought about Kafka. Waiting to help me change and to give me a new distinction of able-to-learn, Kafka’s words (secretly) buzzed between mattress and wall. Frustrated and exhausted parents nodded in the front seat, hoping tomorrow I would apply myself; while I, strange and peculiar, singular and exceptional, weird beyond special, dreamed of Kafka while I blinked my large, bulging eyes over and over and over in some sensory-seeking mission to understand my instinctive pull toward streetlights.

Play on Words: To Punctuate or Not Punctuate That is a Statement

Encouraging your child to write without punctuation is a metaphor in practice.  It is very difficult to do (seriously, you try it first!).   And moments after you suggest this exercise to your child you will most likely experience the “You crazy!”-eyes and the “No way, no how!”-crossed-arms.

At first.

It doesn’t take long before you notice something amazing: the words begin to matter more than they ever have before. Where once there was a period there now can be a well-placed conjunction, an interesting combination, a juicy juxtaposition, or a clever continuation.

Without punctuation the words seem more poetic, more purposeful, and more playful. We don’t punctuate when we think, do we?  Finally, words are delicious. Finally, your children feel as though their words are playing. No rules, just write!

Oh no!  We worry.  What if they forget how to write properly?  We fret.  Why are you doing this to us!!??!  We over-punctuate.

Let’s take a deep breath.  In then out.  Just when you think all advances in grammar, punctuation, convention, and sanity are lost… something very interesting starts to happen.  You see, nothing makes punctuating –that is, punctuating without it getting in the way of stream of consciousness and creativity- simpler than removing it altogether.

in other words when you do not use any punctuation it all seems to fit together naturally and even the beginning writer starts to see logical places where punctuation might be helpful even better they start to see beyond what they can name and what they have learned they realize there is more than the end more than the period and more than just getting the job done to get the grade they think what could I put here that causes the reader to pause but ends a sentence and how can I make this more dramatic or express my real intention there must be something that exists that would break this up in a creative way

When a child writes without punctuation, the sentences become more than a structure they are learning to build. The sentences transcend into a realm that your children might think only exists in their books, their minds, and their futures. While you can’t write without punctuation all the time, it is a critical, imaginative, and brilliant place from which to begin real creative brainstorming.

It goes without saying, that the first step toward true and deep creative writing for your gifted and twice-exceptional child is the freedom to be creative when they write. Nothing promotes creativity more than the removal of borders and rules.

So get out there, in there, over there, wherever there…. and write.  Write with abandon.  Write without pause without punctuation and without worry everything will be okay and I believe you will be surprised by and pleased with the creative results

Tune in next time for “Speak, Words. Speak!” she exclaimed with her hands in the air, her hair in the air, and her mind fantastically distracted.  “Awww, who’s my good Words? You are, that’s who.”

It’s time to explore the exciting but intimidating world of dialogue. While adults tell me that they shy away from speech in writing, our young children seem to gravitate toward dialogue, and it soon becomes a whimsical place to grow their writing voice and encourage sharing.

Comma Comma Dot Dot Dot

alas there is nothing in this world as terrifying annoying and downright disturbing to my children and it seems all gifted children with whom I attempt to create words sentences paragraphs and in turn full essays than the art or the lesson or the torture that is punctuation and convention

“You use it wrong all the time!” My daughter is quick to point out now that she feels somewhat secure in her punctuatorious footing (it is not a word… but it should be).

That’s certainly true, Punctuatorious Daughter of Mine, I often throw (as I have now) all punctuation into the proverbial trash bin in exchange for ellipses and commas and odd placement and long, intentional lists and flow and meaning and fun. And, once she has a Master’s Degree in English she can do the same thing.

“You are not to call it poetic diction or creative parallel language until you can call it that without Google, m’dear.”

“Ugh,” she replies, “that is SOOO boring!”

“No, sweetheart, that is so boring. You can capitalize the word so in emails to me, but Oxford denounces it in proper writing.”

Seriously, now, why is it SOOO unbelievably difficult to teach punctuation and its uses to children whose writing and understanding of writing has far surpassed their ability to apply conventions and punctuation?

I asked myself this question today. I was handed punctuation bingo. It seemed easy… enough.

After a few hours in the classroom (where I built an elaborate shrine in my head to my youngest daughter’s teacher who literally wrangled spring-fevered clothed human-cats into small groups of actual functioning and growing entities), I have narrowed it down to five reasons my gifted children hate all things “practice, action, or system of inserting points or other small marks into texts, in order to aid interpretation, (divide) into sentences, clauses, etc., by means of such marks” (My Pal, Oxford English Dictionary, which recently added Shoop). Here it is:

  1. The need to edit punctuation implies imperfection.
  2. The need to edit at ALL implies imperfection.
  3. The need for perfection implies imperfection.
  4. I can’t remember number four.
  5. Please see numbers 1 through 3.

The children, my own included, from youngest to high school, all seem to think of editing and punctuation as some sort of slight against their writing, themselves, their abilities, and their minds. Further, the act of putting proper conventions in while they are writing seems to slow them down so much so to make them believe their content is flawed.

It’s as if little dragons live in semicolons and single-unit modifiers are bullies.  What to do? What to do?

First, place a fresh piece of fruit and some sandalwood incense at the altar for your child’s teacher. That helps. Next, see the above list and try to understand how bad it feels to write when you feel your punctuation is all wrong. I think I might dive into that a little more this month.  And finally, it’s okay.

Look, writing is hard for everyone. Could you sit down and get it all out, empty your minds, fill the page, and say what you want to say, all while following every convention you know? Of course not. (Fragment). Convention and punctuation is like the math of the English world and it has a place a proper place in your child’s writing your child’s learning and your child’s project but not in your child’s mind. (Run On).

Run on. Run on. Run on and on and on and on

the next time my child gets stuck on writing and punctuation and convention I’m going to have him or her sit down and write without any altogether and see what happens crazy right It might look crazy on the paper to see no pauses and places to rest but it’s so much more fun and besides didn’t you pause on your own in my first paragraph even though I didn’t tell you to

(Question Mark).

Of Wool and Wisdom

I need a little light.

Things on this blog have gotten heavy.  Let’s continue down the path to a story of taking what you have, gathering your small but useful resources and benefiting yourself, your family, and your community. It’s a story of great bravery, extreme courage, and steadfast determination.

And it begins with a little old lady in a tweed skirt and her folding dinner tray.

It was 1995 and I was studying English Literature at the University of Central England. During break a few friends and I decided to rent a car and drive through Wales. We mapped out various back roads, eager to hike the most remote areas.

Being as we were from the United States, Germany, Sweden, and Norway, none of us felt comfortable driving. Thank goodness for the Swedes’ love of cars. He drove while we navigated poorly. The large white words on the road, all in Welsh, did little to help us find our way. Still, we pushed forward and around and right and left and so on.

“What is that in the road?” Asked Sweden.

Norway sat in the front and he said it appeared to be some sort of animal. Germany and I stared at the map upside down, laughed at the lack of squiggly lines pinpointing where we were, and said nothing. We figured it was another sheep. There had been only us, rocks, and sheep for quite a while.

“No wait, it’s a person!” Norway exclaimed. After a few moments he added, “It’s a little old lady!”

Of course all of us became intrigued, leaning forward as we inched toward her.   Sweden only knew one speed when he drove: fast. But now, as we inched toward the woman, he had slowed down to a crawl.

It was, indeed, an old woman. She was, of all places, sitting right in the middle of the road.

She sat on a wooden folding chair wearing a grey tweed skirt and wool coat, buttoned to the chin, with a small knit hat resting on her head. Her hands were closed on her lap as if awaiting a sermon and her ankles were crossed, encased in proper hosiery, and they were finished off with well-worn brown loafers. Next to her was a metal folding dinner tray and on it was a small metal box.

Sweden came to a stop and the four of us regarded the one of her.

Her lips moved slightly in what one might call a smile and after what seemed like many hours we realized she would not be getting up.  When Sweden put the car in park, the four of us exited the car in unison and silently walked over.

“’Allo,” she said politely, “there’s a toll for passin here. Twelve pence, please”

She placed a hand on the box protectively and awaited our next move. She was a librarian, a grandmother, a churchgoer, a sewing circle member, a quilter… she was many things. But a toll booth? This we did not expect.

We looked at one another and back to the woman. We dug in our pockets, turned them inside out, realized we were a bit short, and looked back at the car as if it would magically produce some change or perhaps blink lights twice as our queue to run, jump in, and crash through this steel-willed barricade.

“It’s not enough,” said Sweden once we had handed him all of our loose change. Twelve pence wasn’t much, but we did not have it.   His hand, which held eight pence, extended toward the woman. In his most apologetic voice he pleaded, “I’m sorry, this is all we have.”

The woman remained unmoved.

We must have looked comical as we dove headfirst into the rental car, digging around for the missing four pence while cursing in four languages. We whispered plans to confront her; after all, we reasoned, she must be a con-artist, a scammer, a local beggar, and we were sure she was wanted by the local authorities. True, none of us had ever seen a criminal in such a well-starched outfit, but that was most likely the brilliance of her façade.

We considered our options.  The road was quite narrow and there was a stone wall on one side and a bit of a drop off on the other, so going around was not an option.  Going through- well, that one was out for obvious reasons.  We were poor; not crazy.

By a stroke of luck, we found the four pence.  We walked over together, paid the woman, and ignored the million questions hanging on our lips.

She reached into her pocket, pulled out a small key, and unlocked the small metal box.  After counting the money twice, she dropped it into the box and stood up.  She smoothed her coat and folded her chair. She took the box with her to the side of the road and she leaned it up against the stone wall. She returned with the box and did the same thing with the table. She stood on the side of the road, the box held with both hands in front of her, and said only, “’Ave a nice day.”

We stood there unsure and then hustled to our car, jumped in, and off we sped. Sweden was happy to be going fast again. Germany and I watched through the back window as she carried her small table back to the center of the road, set it up, and then took the box with her to get the chair. She set it up next to the table, set down the box, smoothed her coat, and sat down.

So curious, this moment.

We had seen maybe two vehicles on that particular road. Certainly the community wouldn’t expect an old woman to sit in the road for such a small amount of money. Perhaps she lived nearby and took it upon herself. Perhaps she collected the money and took it to a local charity. Maybe she drank it away or gambled it or stuffed a mattress with it. Perhaps she was crazy and hid it very well other than her habit of sitting in the road and collecting loose change from motorists.

The possibilities were endless. We couldn’t wait to drive back on the same road so that we could see her again; but alas, it was not to be.  We were not the best navigators and we never again passed her or any other elderly woman in tweed collecting tolls.

The story of this woman, this proper and orderly woman, is absolutely true. All of it happened in the span of five, maybe ten, minutes.  And since we were never given more information, I have let every moment become magnified in my memory.

The old woman in this story has become, in my mind, a representative of the calm and persistent qualities one needs to turn a sometimes isolated opportunity into some sort of purpose. She is a reminder that not all things are grand, not all things are exciting, and not all things make sense.  It is difficult, sometimes, to do something monotonous and droning. It can be aggravating to stick to something with such a small result. I feel it is in the gifted person’s nature to complicate a project, to expand all parameters, and to accelerate the speed at which we move.

My little toll lady story reminds me, and in turn I remind my gifted children, that sometimes sticking to one thing, one slow and ordinary thing, can have big results.

After all, if only ten cars pass a day and she collected from all of them, steadfast in her stance and brave in her placement, she would have over four hundred pounds, or over six hundred U.S. dollars, in just one year!  And that, truth be told, is worthy of her small and unwavering effort.

“Your hand is never the worse for doing its own work.”  ~ Welsh Proverb