Tag Archives: identify gifted kids

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.

Profound Giftedness (and all that jazz)

Starlight, star bright, first star I see tonight, I wish I may I wish I might, accelerate a grade tonight.

When I looked down into the big beautiful eyes of my newborn baby girl, I did not whisper a prayer of acceleration. When she wrapped her little fingers around mine for the first time, I did not wish upon a star that she would have the gift of missing out on some of the most beloved moments of being a toddler and a preschooler. That first long night full of snuggles and tiredness, I did not identify the first star and wish upon it so that my daughter could skip right over the next few years.

No, I didn’t do any of those things; and yet, as the parent of a profoundly gifted child I am constantly made to feel as though I push and prod, I live vicariously through her, and I want a trophy for the best and brightest child and parent of the century- no, the best and brightest child and parent EVER.

The truth looks much different. Parenting a profoundly gifted child can be an exhausting and uphill battle overflowing with anxiety, guilt, fear, and frustration. The extreme highs and pride which come from travelling alongside these glorious and vibrant souls are often offset by difficult decisions and uncertainty.

It often feels as though there is no place for the profoundly gifted child; and as a parent, I find myself constantly in a position where I have to choose between two equally wrong options: push to move forward or try to hold back. Neither option sits well in your stomach and you spend many sleepless nights discussing it with loved ones, reading reading reading, researching online, and thinking thinking thinking.

Not many people hear the term profoundly gifted and ask what I would wish for her; because, really, I have it all, don’t I? I should feel proud, blessed, and happy at all times. They hear that I accelerated my daughter, first entering Kindergarten a full year early, and then midway through the year accelerating again into First Grade, and they immediately assume either I have found the answer or I am pushing to make something happen. Either way, it’s all figured out. They say, “What more could she wish for? The moon!?”

But I do have a wish for my profoundly gifted little girl and it is not as unusual or crazy as one might expect: I want her to be happy.

All profound giftedness is not the same. For my daughter, it came with a speech delay and impediment. Speech therapists were quite intrigued and called it “twin-speak”, sans the twin, as they tried to figure out her language. It consisted of very odd replacements and sounds. I was her most trusted translator for many years. I always knew what she wanted to say and she was happy to let me help her say it.

Okay, let’s say it together now: en-ab-ler. True. But keep in mind I just wanted her to be happy- and she was happy when I translated. Enabling happiness, I like to say.

Still, it was not a shock when Kindergarten started and it became a traumatic and excruciating experience every morning as she begged me to go with her. It became such a struggle that I took a job working in the classroom to ease her anxiety and help her feel heard. I quickly blamed myself (see the above paragraph) and administration did the same. Let her cry it out, they said, let her find independence.

I have two older children, one with special needs, so I am no stranger to the idea that parents can get in the way of their children’s success at school. And so I stepped back and watched it unfold for a while.

Her behavior was quickly misunderstood by her Kindergarten teachers. Her unwillingness to learn was attributed to immaturity and she was able to hide in the classroom, regress in her learning, and internalize her fears. She would perform high sometimes and other times she would do less than everybody else. She was either the first one done or wouldn’t work at all. I was told that a gifted child can do more than she could do and if she didn’t produce they couldn’t help her in the classroom. Okay star, I wish for her to produce -whatever that means– produce so they can help you!

I spent my mornings trying to cajole, bribe, or force her to attend while I spent the afternoons trying to rein in the crazed outpouring of frustrations as she sought to fulfill her insatiable need to learn and work. She started pulling out her hair, chewing on it, and having accidents both during the day and at night. She would wake us every evening with night terrors or nightmares. I would put her to bed and then cry myself to sleep in a flurry of uncertainty.

I thought accelerating her was a good idea. She is in the 99th plus percentile in every area, she could read and write, she would do her sister’s math homework, it was academically the right move, wasn’t it? All of her friends were older than her and she played in extremely advanced circles of imagination, so it was socially the right move, right? I thought acceleration was more clear cut, that it would be something a parent understood innately, that the child who could do would do when put in the right situation.

And that’s when it hit me. Maybe it wasn’t my daughter. Maybe it was the situation.

This decision did not come easy. They never do. I considered pulling her out of school altogether, starting again fresh the next year, homeschooling, unschooling, reschooling, deschooling… There were many tearful advocacy meetings which ultimately led to a move to first grade in January.

The thing about acceleration is that it always starts so clear but then as you walk to the door to put your little girl in a class three years too old for her the air becomes thin, the view becomes hazy, and you are left wanting to turn and run, very fast, in the opposite direction, your profoundly gifted little gem on your shoulders giggling wildly as she yells, “Weeee haaa! Now THIS is how I want to spend my days!”

Alas, I did not run. Instead I gave it a try.

Wouldn’t you know she found happiness in First Grade? She asked me to stop walking her in so she could wait in line outside with the others. Of course! She asked me to let her pack her own lunch and backpack. You got it! She asked if she could write a letter to her teacher so she could tell her how much she loves her. Heart melts!

Academically she was still pretty quiet and her speech still got in her way, but she blossomed nonetheless. She still does more at home than at school, but so long as she finished happy, I was happy. Next year she will join first graders in a center gifted and talented program and I wish upon the same star that the second grade curriculum is a great fit.

I wish for a good fit because I want her to be happy. I wish for it because despite how it looks to the outside world, profoundly gifted children are, first and foremost, children. They want to run and play, explore and discover, love and be loved. They want to feel similarities with their friends rather than constantly understanding their differences. They want to giggle as much as they want to absorb.

If I get to the next step and she is not happy, I will do what it takes to slough off the parental anxiety and judgments, and I will fumble my way through another advocacy meeting. You see, it never gets easier and it never is clear and planned out for you. It’s a little change here and a little wish there.

When I looked at the first star on my daughter’s first night on this earth I wished for her to be happy. I did not wish for her life’s speed to be set on accelerate… but since it is already happening, I figure I’ll just go for it and wish for the moon. Why not? It’s what everyone is expecting and my daughter is headed straight for it.

** Around this time every year parents are faced with all of the difficult decisions revolving around the following school year’s game plan.  Do we accelerate?  Do we change?  Do we continue on?  It seemed like a good time to repost this post about PG kids and acceleration from June 9, 2014.**

A Sink Ronie

A Sink Ronie.  Asinkronie.  Asynchronous.  Asynchronous Learners.

Asynchronous is my new favorite word for gifted. Asynchronous Learner is, simply put, a child who develops in different things at different speeds and at varying abilities. For instance, a child who does Algebra at seven years old may lag over a year behind in handwriting. Where is that love button on Facebook when we need it? Asynchronous Learners. LOVE!

Such a simple change.  And I am ready to make it stick.

A word like asynchronous removes the image of elitism and replaces it with accuracy in definition. Asynchronous removes the anxiety-ridden expectations on both parents of gifted children and the gifted children themselves, and replaces them all with clearer understanding. Ultimately, asynchronous has the potential to remove the one-size-fits-all gifted child solution and replace it with the desperately needed individualized assessment which best fits each particular child.

Isn’t that what all of us have been asking for since we started this journey? Isn’t that what’s written on the sign you’re dangling over the freeway bridge?

I was most definitely asynchronous. I understood and remembered everything I heard, but couldn’t process my words to express age-appropriate emotions, needs, and responses. I could tap my pencil, my finger, my foot, my mind, all incessantly, but I couldn’t dribble a ball, play hopscotch, or keep the volleyball in the air. I could read anything, and did, but I couldn’t complete textbook reading and homework. I played with numbers in my head, but they did their own thing; and trust me when I say, they were not nice playmates and seldom listened to me. Still, I was just as gifted as any other gifted child.

So let me ask you parents: does your gifted or twice-exceptional child teeter between ages, totter between abilities, and stumble upon perfection sometimes and anxiety a lot of times?

It’s a double edged sword, snarling beast, use-our-best-imagination monster that is the gifted child’s needs. It breathes fire in the form of passion for something as often as it hides away in caves protecting its treasure from the world.

But we love our dragons, don’t we?

We want what’s best for them. We want to stand with parents of kids who are not gifted and feel accepted, understood, and maybe even commiserate with them about the issues, yes the issues, we have as parents of gifted children.  Yes, my children have been accelerated, treated, medicated, non-medicated, homeschooled, deschooled, unschooled, reschooled, old-schooled, and basically just loved and learned and hugged and appreciated. Just like them, just like you… I’ve tried it all to identify their needs and nurture their unique qualities. I have succeeded in some ways and of course I have missed the target altogether at other times.

Yet, schools are tasked with immediately and accurately determining their needs based upon scores and a few observations. A daunting task with very little budget provided to them.

Let’s start 2015 with something big, shall we?

Let’s start calling ourselves and our children Asynchronous Learners. Then, the rest of what you would say, the rest of your coffee chat, the moments you laugh about, cry about, and generally exhaust yourself thinking about… well, those moments can be told exactly as they would be anyway without that feeling that they stopped listening right after you said, “My child is gifted and….”

We have to make a change. I believe that. Children with unique needs at the other end of the spectrum have, in most cases though I’m sure it’s not perfect, been given the funding, attention, and specialized training they deserve to meet their needs. That’s all I ask the world for my child. And for yours.

Asynchronous Learners. Learners with areas of strength, areas of severe lack of strength, learning disabilities, need for acceleration, need for remedial support, and all the above. Learners who require a nod from the national education and special education budgets to boast public awareness, train specialists and individualize as needed, and fund each kid’s future the way so many others are funded.   How about this…. Let’s move forward in 2015 acknowledging our children’s very special needs rather than the special wants everyone on the outside seems to think we’re requesting.

Of course, this is all just my opinion. The opinion of a very lopsided, very profoundly gifted, and very prolific writer who was told she would never hold a pencil or form a cohesive thought.

So what says you?? Share, talk, redefine!

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

Little 6c

What is gifted and talented supposed to look like? What face is on the ideal lifetime of gifted contribution? Which pieces of the puzzle do learning disability, life circumstance, and opportunity support or hinder?

It is no secret that I made poor choices when I was younger and I’m sure many, and I do mean many, gifted adults would commiserate with me. They would shake their heads in wonder at some of the things that they have done. We would all wish for a gigantic broom and rug so that we could sweep, sweep, sweep some of those pesky little details underneath and out of truth.

As for me, most of my time was spent in the world of addiction. Addicts and I had a lot in common and there was comfort in their chemical-induced extremes. I never liked to do anything that took away my ability to retreat into my mind and I suppose that tiny fact saved my life.

Observer. That was the face behind which you’d find me. It was a great hiding place. No one thought to look for me there; and if they did, I’d see them coming.

I sat back and watched the beautiful and passionate people around me turn their passions and their ideas into spaces to fill with more drugs. I was their note taker. I was the person who wrote it all down in a brain not too damaged by addiction. I observed. But I did nothing.   That was my addiction, I suppose, an addiction to feeling like I could not say, I could not be, and I could not do. Observer, for me, was just as strong as their drug.

Now, I am out spreading the word.  The words we tell kids is that life is all about choices. We make good and bad choices all the time and our futures are driven by them. The Bad Kid fears that his or her choices make them bad people and the Good Kid fears that his or her choices are the hinge upon which their entire universe is balanced.

There is no need for hindsight. Let’s tell our gifted kids that their method of overthinking decisions is truth. That’s right; it is my belief that the truth is both and neither. Both choices are right, both choices are wrong, and neither choice is right, and neither choice is wrong. Choices are infinity-fold and the gifted teen knows this innately. They were born knowing it and they breathe it in daily. Telling a gifted teen to make that one and only good choice… telling them to choose right or left, right or wrong, good or bad… it can become an external struggle for the ages and an internal struggle from which they may never recover.

Infinity-fold choices.  No right.  No wrong.  All right.  All wrong.  This is what I would tell them.

As I said, I was knee deep in a group of addictions. I played the role of Observer. But there was a moment –a singular choice I made – which removed me from that scene indefinitely. It is a story, one of the million stories which stay with me, that seeps into my dreams like heroin finds its way into a former addict’s nightmares. I wonder, always wonder, what I would change if I could. There are so many moments to choose from.

This change would come first.

It was cold outside and I had moved back home with my mother. She and I had just fought over my refusal to take the GED. She desperately wanted me to go and take the test, she had set the appointment; and I, foolish daughter, was too scared to go.  I hid that fear behind refusal and apathy.  After all- who wants to take and fail the GED?

I ran to my friends for moral support.   Please tell me it’s okay to be, to say, to do nothing… and I received that support in spades.

We ended up at a friend of a friend of a friend’s apartment.  We sat around a card table smoking cigarettes and drinking beer. It wasn’t long before the hard stuff came out. I wasn’t in the mood to drink and I never did like the hard stuff.

As usual, I was well hidden in my role as Observer.

Late into the night I observed.  Leaning back, smiling where appropriate, smoking cigarette after cigarette, and secretly worrying about the GED.   I mean, really, how hard could it be? I had read the GRE study guide. Surely this had to be easier than the GRE? But what if there are bubbles to fill in…. what if there are –gulp- multiple choice math problems?

It was past midnight when I heard the sound.

It was quiet at first. My ears pushed through the hot, the smoke, the noise, and the lifeless conversation… it sounded like a kitten mewling. Was it trapped somewhere? Was it outside in the cold? Did it need help? As soon as I started to pinpoint the direction- it was gone. I tried to brush it off.

There it was again.

I stared at the door. Outside I knew there was a long hallway with ten similar doors.  I followed the sound with my ears, visualizing the hall, the dirty carpet, and each door. I tried to find the door behind which the sound was most intense.

The sound was constant now. It wasn’t a kitten.

From somewhere deep in the building it was howling. Like a train mournfully tearing across a wheat field covered in snow, muffled yet intense, and as keen as it was distant. The sound was as sad as it was driven by purpose.

Laughter pulled me from my thoughts. A girl I didn’t know was laughing. Too loudly.

She covered up the sounds I was so desperately trying to locate. Her head was pale and exposed by a recent buzz cut. She had left her bangs long and blonde with hot pink ends which covered one eye.   She had as many piercings as she had volume and both flashed too loudly for my senses. It was time to go.

I stood up just as she did. We looked across the table at one another.

“I’m going to head out.” I said and started towards the door without saying goodbye.

“Wait, I’ll go with you!” buzz girl said, grabbing her cigarette and bouncing towards the door.

We opened the door and the intensity of the noise hit me square in the chest. It was coming from the left. Buzz girl went left.  The exit was right.  I went left.

The noise from our party was nearly erased by the sound of wailing in the hallway. With only two lights, both encased in 1970s amber-colored glass, I could barely see; but I could hear. I could hear the cry, the scream, the whimper, the fear…

I could hear the baby.

Buzz girl stumbled back and forth, cigarette in her mouth, a ping pong ball on her way down a urine-soaked hallway to her innocent child. I walked steadily behind her.  My stomach grew heavy.  I could turn and run. I should. I was going in the wrong direction.

When she arrived at 6c she opened the door. It wasn’t locked.

Inside a small metal lamp offered the only light. Centered in the room was a dirty square playpen. A small child was sitting against the netting, too tired to stand any longer, wearing only a very full diaper. The acrid smell in the apartment was hard to mistake: a mixture of human waste, heroin, booze, and filth. The heat, which was regulated by the superintendent, was on full blast and made the small room an oven.

I stood in the doorway. I wasn’t sure what to do.

Buzz girl stumbled into the small studio kitchen, opened a dirty bottle, and filled it with water. She opened a cupboard and took out a bag of white sugar. Reaching into the bag, she closed her fist around as much sugar as it would hold. I watched as sugar fell through her fingers on its way to her other hand holding the bottle. She opened her hand and grains of sugar fell all over, some landing in the liquid, others landing on the counter, the floor, and her clothes.

She closed the lid, shook it twice, and looked over at me.  When she saw my quizzical look she just shrugged, “Milk is expensive. This baby gonna eat me out of house and home.”

She leaned over the playpen, her silver piercings catching the light, as she handed it to the baby who took it eagerly and fell over backwards in eagerness for that first useless sip.

Buzz girl hurried out of the apartment and shoved me out of the way of the door. She slammed it shut without locking it and leaned back. She looked at me as if to say, “There, we did it.”

She wiped the sugar off of her hands and headed back towards the party.

I stood there.

She opened the party door, the noise intensified, and then it was closed. I heard her annoying laughter once more.

I stood there.

The baby had quieted but I could hear small sobs. The door was unlocked.

I stood there.

At the far end of the hall an exit sign buzzed, on and off, the letters had broken so that it read E IT.

I stood there.

The sobbing finally stopped. I was certain the baby had fallen asleep.

I stood there.

I was so tired. So tired of not knowing who I was capable of becoming.  So tired of pretending.  So tired of watching it all go down.  But most of all, I was tired of who I was allowing myself to be.

I walked to the party door. I kept walking. I walked to the E IT sign. I kept walking.  That night I walked out of that hallway and into a new life. I walked into a life in which I was an active participant who needed to act worthy of the opportunities she had been given to achieve something.

It all sounds so majestic, but the fact remains- I never opened that door. I walked away and into my own life without opening the door and doing something. I observed.  I observed to my and an innocent life’s detriment.

What I would tell gifted teens and lost teens and young kids and all kids is that addiction, of any kind, does just that. It walks away when it shouldn’t. It is selfish, unkind, and unrelenting. Walking away from that apartment building was the best and worst decision I’ve ever had to make; and even now, twenty-five years later, I cry for Little 6c and wonder if anyone ever opened the door.

We can’t sweep it all under the rug. Gifted doesn’t look like me and gifted doesn’t look like you. Gifted doesn’t look like anything at all. It is not perfect and shiny, quiet and capable, beautiful and prepared. It is, just like all things, something from which we start; and from there, we can go in any number of directions. Infinity-fold. That’s the truth, that’s the dust, that’s the rug, and that’s the sound I was following.

Little 6c, I’m sorry I never opened your door. I should have. I could have. But I walked away instead. Ever the Observer. The best and worst decision I ever made. It’s what my gifted looks like; it’s what my gifted feels like; and that, dear readers, dear gifted teens, dear gifted adults, dear unidentified gifted child locked behind the proverbial door, is what my gifted sounds like when I close my eyes.

Stop. Motion.

My two youngest children discovered stop motion filmmaking in the same way they discovered volcanos, dolphins, making pies, cartooning, and weaving. It burst upon them in an unstoppable force which had to be carried out right at that very moment and was to continue until such time that the passion ebbed and the excitement flow ran out of steam.

While I, exhausted mother, went fetal in their wake, mumbling incoherently as I rocked back and forth amongst bits of discarded lighting, torn backdrops, and plush and Lego film stars awaiting their directions.

We try so hard- don’t we?

Look, I absolutely love passion. I have a passion for passion, as it were. But let’s face it, these gifted gems fell from gifted trees, if trees grew gems that is, and even as parents we are still just as prone to overexcitabilities of our own. We all get just as jazzed about the new passion as they do, but we do it on older knees and with the same load of wash going through the washer three times.

Still, the last thing I want to do is stifle that passion.

Stifling the gift of passion is truly and literally the last thing I would do on this earth. And since I’m reasonably sure their next passion won’t be who can proceed the calmest through a Monday or 1001 ways to solve problems without jumping up and down on mom and dad’s bed at 5:00 a.m., I will have to deal with the laundry later and find every moment, every insatiable and enchanting moment, as an absolute gift to my soul.

I remind myself that exhaustion can be repaired in a night but the loss of passion for learning may never be restored.

Even when it’s not so easy.

Stop motion filmmaking was easy and fun. There were not too many tears and all in all the day was a success.  But there are times they can’t ebb that passion in a day.

When my daughter decided she would learn to ride without training wheels, she left the house thrilled at the prospect and then stormed back into the house in tears twenty minutes later when her ability was not up to par with her imagination.

I held her while she cried.  I said, “Not all things happen in a day.”  Which brought her to the next grief level: anger.  It’s time to teach mom all of the things that DO happen in a day!  (I share because I know you have all been there!  But oh, the worrisome stares from the public we could collectively claim!)

Gifted kids are passionate about everything and they expect everything to flow at the same rate.

Take, for example, writing.  If I had a quarter for every writing woe I have felt or stories of writing woes friends have shared with me, I’d have… well, if you’ve read my blog you know I’ll never count them; suffice it to say, I’d have a lot of quarters.

Kids are passionate about writing.  They are passionate about stories and thoughts and words and learning letters and a particular pencil and lines and pictures and the view outside their window and…. the list goes on and on.  Putting that all together and producing the work necessary at the moment and in that moment? That’s another thing altogether.

This journey can be exhausting or it can be exhilarating.   It’s really all about perspective.  If we refuse the passion for today’s obsession, we risk removing the passion for tomorrow’s lesson. Worse, we might add anxiety to passion that can’t be helped and can’t be controlled.

I say, let them go with their passion, whether it is filmmaking or rubber ducky racing, and try to understand how they feel when they just can’t get it quick enough and they have to cry.  They will need to learn how to function through that passion, but we can be there to listen, to enjoy, to support, and to set up the camera.  After all, your child will learn to ride a bike, hold a pencil, write a story, and maybe even put together a short stop motion film.  It might not happen in a day, most things don’t, but it will happen.

All of this sounds great on paper—but I am just like you, a parent who is just trying her best and finding myself at times unable to come up with the right answer.  For every blissful moment, there is a counter moment during which I run out of the room screaming, crying, and pulling out my hair.  And that might have been a good day!

I just remind myself as often as possible that an object in motion stays that way unless… you know the rest.  I don’t want to be that external object which causes them to. Stop.

(So long as I’m going there…. oh, to be an object at rest!)

6576

Somewhere out there is a locker.  In it is a jean jacket, a copy of Cat’s Cradle, a paper-bag covered textbook which was never opened, and a slip of paper. On that slip of paper is the code which opens the lock holding the items hostage.

Memories like this one further validate my need to carry everything on my person.

But I digress. Back to my locker. In theory, of course. I’ll never go back. And anyway, I can’t.

Leaving the code inside the locker was a rookie mistake. I went to the office and said I needed a new locker. I said that I had not been assigned a locker the week before. The staff was flustered, as they always were when I abused the system to cover my mistakes; after all, they were certain that the locker assignment had happened, as planned, a week prior.

Are you certain, dear?

Here’s the thing: I changed high schools nine times and in the one and a half years I attended high school in total, I learned little in the way of curriculum. The changes did provide me with loads of experience in Office Speak. I was fluent. I could talk my way into, out of, and around any high school front office.

This was cake.

After a few bewildered and impatient moments during which we both looked at each other, the form, each other, the form, the truth, the clock… she acquiesced, mainly to get me out of there, and she gave me a new locker.

I was never worried.

Before I left, she showed me a map of lockers and hallways which made the school look like a primary game of Tetris and I tried, very hard, to look like I got it all while secretly sweating. I knew I’d remember the color blocks and the exits, clearly labeled as they were, but…. Dear God, what was it with all of those tiny numbers?  There were so, so many of them. Laughing and pointing, reminding me that only a fool leaves her locker code inside the locker.

Off I went. Blue 32 steps, red 14 steps, yellow staircase no need to count, past the funny-looking Dalmatian portrait, and… 6574, 6573, 6572, 6571… almost there. No, wait. The numbers are going down. I turned around. 6572, 6573, 6574, 6575, Biology 301, Mr. Hastings. 6589, 6590, 6591. Wait, what?!

I crossed the hall, looking for the missing numbers, checked the map, and then –suddenly- I was in the 6300s. I was lost and tired and the bell decided right at that moment that it would add some humor to the situation. Doors opened, kids rushed out of classrooms, and my sense of space was invaded by noise and chaos. There would be no numbers found that day.

Maybe the next school would use a better system? Maybe it could fix this.

I realized that I had better hurry and beat the truancy officer. I ran towards the exit sign –green- my favorite color on the map! I pushed hard and the door flew open sending a rush of cold air into my soul. It snatched the slip of paper from my hand. Up, up, up it flew. It floated a moment and then rushed towards the ground and landed in my path. I rushed to pick it up.

Locker Number: 7566

Not even close. Ah well, maybe lucky school number ten will fix it. Fix this.

Recently I had a conversation with an amazing group of parents trying their best at this parenting-the-gifted-child thing we keep talking about. They expressed the anxiety, the extreme anxiety, we have all experienced along the way. We all fret over the what-if-they-do’s as much as we fret over the what-if-they-don’t’s. We compare their journeys to our own and to other children’s even though we know we shouldn’t.

What’s the worst that could happen, we wondered?

I expressed it was on this very blog that I, for the first time in my life, shared the stories of my high school experience, of dropping out, getting a GED, and hiding disabilities –and abilities- for years upon years.

A friend smiled and said, “Look at you now! See, it doesn’t even matter!”

This is a sentiment I would have loved to hear 25 years ago. Now, however, I realize it does matter. It matters a lot. I thought the degrees and the successes were top. They were my sundae, my toppings, my icing, and my cherry. I thought they made me who I had become and by sheer effort of forceful ignoring the bad stuff my childhood would just — disappear.

Nothing disappears. Especially for the gifted person who has the gift of memory.

People ask me if the stories I tell are true. Absolutely. My Nagymama was a real light, a beautiful light, who unintentionally tripped into a bad decade and dealt with it the only way a brilliant mind can. Billy was a real kid, a great kid, a truly gifted kid who fought a battle against ignorance, poverty, and abuse, and lost. Cassie was a real friend, a great friend, a truly messed up, addicted, and disillusioned kind of friend, who I secretly hoped would read my blog and email me, “Is that you!?” Yes, yes it is.

This story is real.  Very real.  There is a lucky jean jacket wearing winner of a Vonnegut book somewhere in this universe.  The real… the real about being gifted and learning disabled is that even if you don’t know about either one… you still know.  You just do.  And it doesn’t always make it feel any better.

Sometimes it just feels like bits and pieces of memory locked away with their codes in places you will never find.  You can easily feel lost.  You can easily learn to pretend.  But it’s real.

My failures are real.  My failures matter. They matter to all of those kids who we have a responsibility to change the method of testing to identify. They matter because they were not really failures at all and I believe the parents who are anxiously raising their twice-exceptional kids and the kids who are daily struggling with their own truths need to hear that failure is just a comparison to an antiquated notion of success.

I will keep telling my stories and I will never again hide those things which went wrong.  I will work hard to make it real, to make it raw, and to make it matter.

That’s how we’ll fix this.

Above Identity

So I walk. I walk right out of where I start.

The bad the good the stick

fills out the bottoms.

Heavy but taller. taller. Taller.

Up

I can see out now.

The far the real the point

untie my shoes.

floating up, floating up, Floating.

Up

We nearly drift away with every step.

Up

Gravity, understood, has no say in this flight.

There is such negativity surrounding the concept of being above something. This is especially true when one must rise above something of value. Still, above is exactly the direction in which our children who are the most difficult to identify as gifted or gifted and learning disabled need to travel.

The many factors which hinder identification, from poverty to cultural differences and learning disabilities to opportunity, don’t change the fact that a percentage of children are born every single day with an exceptional need.

They start, as we all must, wherever they are…  It’s not complicated. And it’s extremely complicated.

We honor those who have the fortitude and innate capabilities to collect enough unfortunate from their situation to build themselves tall and climb out.  We tsk tsk towards those whose feet are too heavy to take one more step in any direction and choose, instead, to lay back, make angels in their cast, and barely live with it.

Those with the lightest shoes have the greatest opportunities and my heart breaks for children who would soar but carry too much of a burden from where they have been forced to walk. These kids, they don’t see heavy as taller and they don’t see soaring as winning. To them, it’s just weight and escape.

Wait and escape.

What a great responsibility… but it is one we all must share!  We have a responsibility to reach beyond ourselves and our children’s schools, to reach within ourselves and our children’s souls, and help another gifted child

Up.

About Face: the image of Gifted

What does the face of gifted look like? If there were a definitive answer for that question life would be much simpler for parents and educators. Sure, there are similarities, characteristics, and a handful of tests which measure cognitive ability; but what gifted actually looks like, which features, colors, images, and actions combine to create the gifted child… these are not questions I have seen answered in a way which sates my need for concrete and conclusive; nor have they, at the very least, been answered in a way which sates my love for language and helps me express what it is to be my children or myself to Joe and Joanna Public.

On the contrary, everything I read, everything I learn, every step I take on my journey transports me slightly further away from final destination: Gifted Defined. Every face of gifted I cover in my portrait series and every family’s story I read about only reassures that nagging fear that we as a collective whole have no real idea how to phrase, paraphrase, capture, and release the image of giftedness.

Why does it matter? Well, it matters because stigma and jealousy live in the undefined. Misunderstanding lives in undefined. Something undefined quickly becomes one thing or the other; and one thing or another begets very little knowledge, impatience, and inexperience with the in-between. Loneliness, isolation, elitism, and separatism… they and their many friends stake their claim in everything dichotomous. Gifted or Not Gifted. Black or White. Right or Wrong.

So what does Gifted or Twice-exceptional look like on a child’s face? Is the gifted child’s face studious, quiet, thoughtful, pensive? Is the gifted hand first in the air or last to come to the answer? Is the gifted child successful, CEO, MVP or dropout, burnout, and addicted? Is the gifted child a tiny adult or an immature grown up? Is the gifted child the teased or the teaser? The talker or the thinker? Which habits, behaviors, and outcomes combine to represent the gifted child…. the answer is Yes.

If you are thoroughly confused then we are at a wonderful starting point. From here we can recreate what we imagine and what look for when we identify and support gifted children. We have to revel in the grey where our Gifted children reside. We have to trust instincts and look for nuances. So much cognitive ability lies in the nuance of a day, an action, an emotion, a gesture, or a fight back. Look for it, teachers. Dig for it, administrators. Stand behind it, parents!

We have to let loose of the term Gift and Gifted to the extent that the public, the lawmakers, the administrators realize what gifted children have and need to thrive in educational settings has as at least as many facets as it does moments and children in the class. One size, accelerated or not, does not ever fit all.

I believe we need to redefine our parameters for definition. We need to admit verbal defeat. We have to say, “okay, you got me, there is no perfect word or phrase which successfully encompasses that which we are trying to define when we label a child gifted.”

Does there have to be testing? Sure. Does it work in every instance? Of course not. It is a pricey and therefore none-existent option for low-income and impoverished families. Survival, we can all agree, is more important than testing; while this is true, it is critical to remember that the percentage which deliniates the gifted population does not stop at geographic, economic, or budgetary lines drawn on paper. For the many, many children who can’t find the way to the means, let’s pave a path to the Gifted end. Let’s use our words to define Gifted in a way that when the shaky, the questionable, the untested, and the Ungifted look in the mirror, the reflection they see matches our words.

I have looked in the mirror at Gifted my entire life and I still don’t know with any real certainty what it looks like. I have prepared, educated, and advocated for myself and my children; and still, I have no real answer, no grouping of words, no perfect way to encompass all that my children are and all that they require and deserve. But I need to. I need to hurry up and write it out in a way that I can rush in old-school, sweat on my brow, and slap the finished copy onto the world’s desk and watch with a hopeful and exhausted smile as the world’s editor pushes a fedora back and lets out a low whistle. “My word, you sly fox, you! you’ve gone and done it! You’ve cracked the code, figured it out, and by god, this is front page tomorrow!”

The newspaper bundle flops down on the sidewalk the next morning: Extra!!! Extra!!! Read all about it! Parents of gifted and twice exceptional kids have figured out how to convince the world that their children are not better than everyone else and yet still deserve the services, funding, and specialized instruction they require to thrive in educational settings!!

Front page news. That is where I want to see the face of all Gifted Children. I know you do, too, so let’s put them there! Let’s join hands for strength, combine words that are impactful, make sentences which matter, and create a soft web of definition to catch all Gifted children and then, when all Gifted kids -every face and every image- is not defined as much as they are genuinely and unabashedly expressed, we can share them with the world and that, I believe, will leave us all at a loss for words.