Tag Archives: gifted children

Overexcitablity Inferno: leading gifted/2e kids to writing

As a writer, I thought that my children would burst from the womb thinking in haiku, stretching for writing implement, and begging for more time to write.  The Von Trapp family of the pen, perhaps. The five of us giddy and spinning.  Rolling along on clover fields, somewhere near Dover, and southeast of Shakespeare’s birthplace.  Writing, writing, writing…

The reality looked very different.  They loved storytelling but they hated the act of writing. Much of the angst was due to a volatile mixture of giftedness, overexcitabilities, and learning disabilities.  Dante Alighieri says it best in Inferno, “In the middle of the journey… I found myself within a dark woods where the straight way was lost.”

Exactly.

When it came to helping my gifted and twice-exceptional (gifted and learning disabled) children with their writing, we were lost.  We were in a very dark woods.  There was no straight way.

Inferno.

My children fought grammar, tantrumed convention, monstered punctuation, and nearly died when asked to practice their handwriting.  Seriously.  Death.  Nine circles of horrible, burning death.

I didn’t want to be Virgil leading my little Dantes through inferno. I wanted Von Trapp.  I wanted the clover.  I wanted the sunshine, smiles, and joyful which come from successful writing.  I wanted that for my children, too.

I suspect there are other Virgils out there, leading little Dantes, and searching for some Von-Trappiness.

So let’s find it.

C.S. Lewis said, “You can make anything by writing.”  If my children knew that, really understood that writing could “make anything,” how could they not want to write?

Writing isn’t easy.  It isn’t innate (even when it is).  So when I noticed that many of my children’s issues and hindrances when writing could be matched with Dabrowski’s five overexcitabilities, I started mapping out the connections and my responses to them.

Below are the connections I made to overexcitabilities and the solutions which worked for my children.  I hope they help to turn some Virgils into Von Trapps; or better yet, into C.S. Lewises!

Psychomotor overexcitability.

Even the gifted child who does not typically present as having an intense surplus of energy seems to hit the psychomotor overexcitability mark just about the time they sit down with pencil in hand.   Suddenly, movement seems enticing and talking incessantly becomes top priority. Focus is next to impossible and it seems that nothing you do will quiet them down, help them sit still, or finish the job at hand. So, how did I conquer this impulsive, bouncing, barking, snapping, humming, groaning semblance of my child and get him to write? The answer: I didn’t.

That’s right… my first piece of advice for parents and teachers who ask how to get their reluctant writers to write happily is: don’t. As a writer I can tell you there is nothing more frustrating than having to write when I don’t want to.

I sense protest coming on, so let me say that when it comes to your child’s homework you must ask yourself what the worst case scenario could truly be.  What I would say is something like, “I can see that writing is difficult for you right now. Let’s go outside and play for thirty minutes and try again and if you still can’t get the words you want out on the paper, we’ll come back to it tomorrow.” And if they still can’t get it done then try other options: let them type it out or let them tell you the story and you write it (trust me, this won’t last forever, but it will excite them).

Keep trying and allow them to fail a few assignments. If their bodies can’t stop moving, it might mean that their minds can’t slow down either. If their hands get too tired, they will eventually build endurance. Once their fine motor skills, keyboarding, and their desire to write catches up with their mind, and once they realize writing isn’t a battle to stop their movement, the writing will come. Breathe.

Sensual overexcitability.

A child with a sensual overexcitability seems like a writing dream child. After all, they appreciate the beauty around them, melt at the perfect tasting food, tear up at the softness of a kitten’s fur, and feel a connection to art, music, and the entire world. It sounds like a recipe for writing success! But the parent of a child with sensual overexcitability knows that writing can be an overwhelming task on multiple levels: their inability to express in words the depth of their feelings, their intense connection to their writing which makes it difficult to follow rubrics and prompts, and their physical responses to external stimuli which often gets in the way of their work, all lead to a giant brick wall with STOP written on it.

Help them to define and then understand their own writing process. It can be difficult for gifted children, who feel so connected to the world, to approach writing from a structured and organized perspective without feeling like something is lost along the way. This is especially true for those with heightened awareness of their senses. When you force structure into their writing they may feel detached. This leads to distraction by environmental factors (the hum of the light, the dog barking next door, the birds chirping, the tag on their shirt, the light hitting their paper just so). Make the environment quiet, pleasing, and child-led. Allow them to define their process and then help them use it each time until it becomes easier.

Finally, and this is a big one, praise their effort! Nothing feels better for these kids than seeing someone connect with their writing at an emotional level.  This is as relevant for the emerging writer as it is for the intermediate and high school writer.

Intellectual overexcitability.

While this overexcitability is the most recognizable in a gifted child, it seems like it is also the least understood when it comes to writing and producing materials. A child who is intellectually overexcitable may appear distracted when he sits down to write. He may start discussing his paper more than he writes it; or, he may show a greater interest in a related topic and want to focus on that instead. He may become so intensely focused on one aspect of the assignment that he misses the big picture or doesn’t get it done. It would be no surprise to find a IO fighting the validity of an assignment altogether.  So many of these kids are excellent writers but decide early on that writing is a waste of time.

Be careful not focus on handwriting or structure. My kids often become perfectionists when they write and can overthink that to the point of missing the gestalt, the overall point of the exercise. Next, and this is a big one: learn keyboarding. Fast thinking, analytical thinking, and problem solving happen fast.  Typing will ultimately help them express themselves better and faster. Finally, allow the concentration and fixation even if it means they don’t get the assignment done. I always gave my son a small notepad to jot down his ideas and thoughts, his questions and comments, while he was working on another assignment. The process of thinking during writing, even if it’s not on topic, will help them find a little happiness in it; and even though they may not ever become writers, knowing that they can use writing to solve their big questions, present their findings, and change the world will be useful in college and beyond.

Imaginational overexcitability.

If all the raindrops were metaphors and idioms, oh what a rain it would be!! Standing outside with my mouth open wide…. Ah yes, the imaginational overexcitability. There is nothing my imaginational kids love more than a good story; that said, they fight like gladiators fighting lions or knights slaying dragons when it comes to working on their writing homework. As someone who can relate to imagination, I assumed that my children’s imaginations would translate into delightful tales and magical meandering stories. Much to my chagrin, the act of learning to write was not enough to create little authors and homework was still a chore.

My best advice for the parent struggling to get an imaginative child to write is to read to them or allow them to stop working and read for themselves. There is never a time when reading doesn’t spark a desire to be in the story and there is no better way to be in a story than to write it. If you ask them, I bet they have ideas while you/they read.  Have them write those down (or write it down for them).  The ideas will probably mirror the story they are reading.  Imitation is the first step!   Praise them for it, don’t try to make it “original.”

Also, it always helped to let my child choose where he wanted to write. Your child may prefer a lapboard, the patio table outside, or they may even being under a table. The act of pretending while writing might just be the ideal unrestricted system they need to produce.

And don’t forget to read! If I could write a book at the same time that I was reading a book…oh what a rain that would be!

Emotional overexcitability.

A difficult evening spent doing homework can be an emotional roller coaster for child and parent alike. In my house, I’ve seen inanimate homework objects fly, tear, crumble, sail, and dissolve right before my eyes. I’ve watched a backwards P cause a meltdown which cannot be described in words without causing even more distress in this world.

P, oh P, oh, oh E.  OE, indeed!

This overexcitability creates anxiety.  It breeds insecurity in my children as they compare their work to others.  They question what they are able to produce.  This overexcitability often comes on the heels of another one, the intensities begetting intensity, until the entire household is braced for the deluge.

Many writers have an emotional overexcitability.  It is this very thing that drives them to write.  It is what makes sharing so scary, pushing them into a lonely, quiet corner.

The most important way to help a child dealing with emotional overexcitability during a writing assignment is to take the focus off of achievement and place it on method. This is opposite from many of the situations above when I suggested encouraging writing by focusing on emotion because, at this moment, your child has that in spades.

I join my kids. This might mean helping them focus.  It could mean listening to what they have so far.  The next step is to give them one practical tip to move forward, such as make a tree map, create an outline, or go through and add one detail sentence to each paragraph. The final step is to sit there quietly and allow them to work next to you but not through you. I have found that eventually, if not that very session, they will ask you to move so they can get their work done. This is especially important in a classroom.  Good writing takes space.  It can be next to impossible when you are elbow to elbow, face to face, with friends.

Virgil, Von Trapp, and Lewis.

Gifted kids are funneling so much information at every moment. They are absorbing the world and determining their responses to it all of the time. Asking them to WRITE that response down can be overwhelming.

Writing asks us to give something of ourselves. Writing asks us to take an idea and expand on it using finite space, time, and structure. Writing asks us to open up our souls but to do so with formatting, rules, and guidelines. Writing is abstract and concrete all at once.

Lewis said writers can “make anything” when they write.

That’s true, Clive. But not when it comes to my children’s writing.  I can’t make my children write when they don’t want to.

Maybe they don’t want to write because the moon is in Neptune, the sun is in willows, the tide is in ceiling fans, or because all of this is nonsense.  Bottom line: they don’t want to.  And, sorry to say, I have no advice for Neptune, willows, and ceiling fans…

Wait, yes I do… write that down!

It is at moments like that one, when nothing makes sense, when words are warriors, when the kids have set up a fort with pencil projectiles and paper targets, that the best stories will be told.

Embrace that moment and “make anything.”

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Irene Hila lives in Colorado with her husband and three children. She blogs and publishes under a pseudonym as an alternative voice for gifted and twice-exceptional children.  Her alter-ego earned her MA in Creative Writing and is completing her MFA in Creative Writing. She is currently working on a collection of poetry as well as two young adult novels. Her work has been published or will appear in 2e, University Press, and f(online). 

 

 

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.

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.

Going Insame

(Reprint of March 2014 article published in 2e series)

Every day I sit in my seat and try to ignore the fact that the pebbled plastic leaves grooves in my legs which will itch like crazy.  Every day I am reminded that my feet are not flat on the floor. Every day I stare at the pencil in my hand and will it to do tricks or loops or flips or floops or anything resembling writing while I doodle away in my mind. Every day I listen to conversations going on around me, everyone just talks talks talks talks, and every day I’m told that I don’t listen. But I heard.

I wish I could hear less of it.

I am so tired of forgetting the question when it is my turn to answer. I wish I could stop licking my lip, tapping my foot, adjusting my sleeve, and I wish you wouldn’t call my name. I am so tired of the ideas and the dreams and the answers and the questions and the stories and the conversations, all of which regale me every second of every day. You say I daydream. But I am right here every second.

I wish I could sleep.

I try to sleep. There are too many possibilities in the dark. All of the things I could not answer in class are suddenly swimming before me. Only thing is, they are swimming with friends, lots of them, the answers are suddenly better than anything anyone else said and I wish I could turn back time and I wish I could squeeze my eyes shut to close out the ideas and the answers and the images but they find their way back in. Poetry writes itself, images present for creation, solutions come easy, action sounds delicious, as does too much food, dinner was too crunchy sticky bland, and all the time

I wish I could stop it.

Then it is morning and it is another every day and another every day and another. But today, on the way to school, the sunrise moves me to tears and I can’t stop. It is not just the color, so brilliant and crisp and beautiful, it is the promise of something grand, something bigger than me, something I can’t explain, something I want to think more about, something I want to hold dear, to never let go. There is something promising I can be Same. Same, it says.

Not different, but Same.

It’s all too much and I forgot my coat. Crisp sunrise turns too cold in line waiting for the bell to ring. A coat is all I want, and to see the colors just one more time. But it is not to be. The sun is up, the bell has rung, and the pebbled plastic seat leaves grooves in my legs which have already started to itch

like crazy.

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

How Slow Can You Go? Trivia and the Gifted/2e Child

I have never enjoyed trivia.  Never.

And yet, at the slightest mention of trivia I feel a crazy competitive sweat break out in my soul.  Not only do I have to answer the trivia question, I must answer it correctly, and I must answer it first.

“I have the answer!!!!”  screams my sweaty soul in response to every question asked.

I don’t care if it is Jeopardy or Juicy-Juice juice boxes… if there is a trivia question involved, I am a poised Answer Puma ready to pounce.

There’s just one problem: all of this happens inside.  On the outside, it is usually about the time when Answer Puma thinks she is poised to pounce, when she truly believes the answer is coming, that

(I’m visualizing myself as the sleek black jungle cat, a Puma, meow, meow! Still I worry at the loss of my habitat.  Perhaps the recent positive-step initiatives for localized farming will lessen logging destruction.  Oh good.  If I were a Puma.  And there are so many names for Puma.  Their habitat range is so large and encompasses so many countries and continents.  I shouldn’t capitalize Puma, now that I think about it, but I suppose I’m using it as a title)

three people call out the answer to the question, the contest is over, and I have not yet answered.

“Wait! What just happened???” 

Ugh.

Now that is a question I can answer quickly: I have never enjoyed trivia.  Never.

So why do I focus all of my attention on trivia?  Why can’t I play trivia (and by play, I mean win, of course)?

The trivia me, the Answer Puma (if you will indulge, dear reader) reminds me of every gifted and twice-exceptional child I’ve ever met.  Why is it that kids who are so astonishingly amazing and have so much to offer the world expend so much of their energy and focus so much of their attention on the one thing, whatever it may be, which makes them feel less than someone else?

Have you ever witnessed a gifted and twice-exceptional child -perhaps your child- in a traditional classroom or on a traditional playground or on any given traditional afternoon?

I have.  It went like this:

“What can I do for you?” asks World.

“Please, please see my child,” pleads Parent.

So World looks at your child so that it can assign brilliance from what your child does and says.

“I don’t see it,” says World.

“No, you can’t look; you have to see!”

World points out what it needs to see the child do and say.  Parent points out the child who seeks brilliance from what he or she is unable to do and unable to say.

The World just shrugs.

Ah yes, the sticky wicket we face as parents of gifted and 2e children.  How can you possibly explain that the very thing which causes kicking, screaming, shutdown, turn up, and face down is the perfect example of how your child is gifted?  How can you explain that your sweet (kicking, screaming, shut down, turned up, faced down) child’s inability to do and say shows the very real need for accommodation in order to meet his social, emotional, and academic needs?

Back to trivia.  “I’d like Things I Hate for $800, Alex.”

When I was unable to talk, my parents tried speech therapy.  I remember the therapist very well: she chain-smoked and fed me peanut butter when I answered any question (right or wrong). I remember spending the entire session trying to get the peanut butter from my palette as she asked me question after question.

“Is this a tree or is this a tree?”

“Will you say tree?”

“Do you like trees?”

“Have you seen a tree?”

“Have you heard of a tree?”

“Does a tree make a sound if you run from my office and bang your head against it?”

I still hate peanut butter, but not as much as I hate trivia.

How can we help our gifted and 2e kids focus on their strengths?  Are the strengths simply too easy for our kids and so they seek out a challenge in their failures?

So there I was, Answer Puma, giving my friend the evil eye for saying, “Gene Wilder’s character is from Poland,” while I was still processing

(Wilder really does resemble my father.  He is Hungarian. Still, Poland is more common and Wilder is, himself, of Polish decent.  Wilder played a Rabbi in the role and it reminds me of Young Frankenstein and Igor’s hunch.  I hunch when I sit and my shoulders have been bothering me.  I’m hunched now.  The chair is too wooden.  My grandmother hunched.  She was from Hungary, not Poland)

“Wait, what was the question?” 

Running dialogues make answering questions quickly seem like a trivia game for some gifted kids (and for Answer Pumas).  And then there are the abstract questions.  As a parent, I ask abstract questions and expect quick answers daily.  I don’t mean to, but sometimes:

“Is that a good choice?”

“Do spoons belong in your pockets?”

“Do you need to keep all of the paper scraps?”

“Did you tell your sister the ocean was crying and dying because she accidentally put cardboard in the trashcan?”

I imagine, to children, all classrooms and all kitchen tables feel like trivia contests.

I wish someone had told me long ago that answers are answers.  They are not wrong just because they are not produced fast enough.  I wish someone had put an answer box under the question and said, “Drop in your answer whenever you are ready!”

Slow answers do not equate slow thinking. 

When the feeling of trivia is removed, Answer Pumas answer quite quickly.  Add back in competition and speed, and it still isn’t slow, I would explain it as roundabout, rotating, angled, encompassing, imaginative, and possibly digress-y.

If the World could see the beauty of the maze rather than the confusion of the turns, it might help them see our kids more clearly.

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.

My Morning Routine: A Cup of Overexcitability with a Scone on the Side

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

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

Starbucks should create an OE menu, don’t you think?  Well, if you can believe it, they have not created one for us.  So I went ahead and made one.

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, 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 whip cream.  Oh My God this place smells fantastic!  It’s 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 no one here, so I can just sip, stretch, sip, savor, and really fall in love with my moment.  The place stays empty until 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 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 be 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- pink with sprinkles.  It is always such a fun treat to meet up with great friends at a coffeehouse.  It takes me back to my college days and the little stuffed animals I had.  Stuffed animals, which have nothing to do with coffee, are so adorable and $14.99 isn’t too much, really…and I think I’ll download the free song of the day.  Oooo!  I have always been drawn to industrial music.  Well, not really, but I can picture me with neon lipstick, an 80’s 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 and it is known.  I love 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?  Nah, I’ll just have my usual.

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

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.