“No one ever talks about it,” said the mom. “It is frustrating and lonely.” She insinuated that she did not know what to do or how to parent her son, whose needs were beyond the scope of “normal.” “My girls,” she stated, “are so different, so easy.”
“Once you find resources, and supportive people, it will get better,” I told her. I was trying not to pry or be intrusive or over-share with this mom. I actually said very little, but listened carefully. Her story was familiar in many ways.
This was part of a conversation I had with a mom I met on vacation. Her ten year old son had raced by the boulder upon which I was sitting to have a lakeshore picnic lunch in Alberta, Canada. He immediately noticed our food, asking if we had hiked it in with us. (It was a 5 km hike, one way). Yes, we had, I replied to him in a friendly and easy manner. (I like inquisitive kids.) He kept talking as he went, ruminating about how he wished they had brought more food, but acknowledging that his mom had brought sandwiches (at least).
The conversation with his mom began soon after the encounter with him. She seemed exasperated, and almost, apologetic regarding his behavior. She was interested in how we parented three boys, and how boys were different than girls, and how her boy had not come with “an instruction manual” seeming to defy what other parents of young boys experienced.
While our parenting experience of boys was not hers, I did recognize a similarity. Her son was gifted. I saw the signs. After raising gifted children, developing enrichment groups for other gifted students, and founding a support group for parents of the gifted population in our school district, I can easily recognize the signs of giftedness. Without even being told, I knew.
After a brief conversation with me that occurred as the boy passed where I was finishing my lunch on the boulder by the lake, I knew. After observing his way of being, I knew. After hearing him say he wanted to swim in the glacier fed lake and being allowed to strip down to his underwear, I knew. But, these ways of knowing were really only hints of his giftedness. It was when he said, “I want to go in the lake but then I remembered about that water borne illness!” that I really knew. This was a gifted child.
At that time, I said to the mom, “I can see that his mind running a million miles a minute!”
“Yes!” she exclaimed. “This is my life right now! It is exhausting. He never stops!”
I felt for this mom who appeared that she just needed a stranger’s ear to bend about how hard it was to raise a gifted child. The conversation was couched in careful phrases on both of our parts, defined by past experiences of being mis-understood or worse, unheard, and unsupported. Slowly, without me divulging too much of my own experience in raising and working with the gifted student population, she finally realized that yes, I did understand her frustration. It was at that point that she finally used the word, gifted.
“No one talks about it (referring to the needs of the gifted),” was the cause of this mom’s dismay. And, I had to agree with her. It is somewhat of a taboo subject, even amongst educators, family, and friends. It should not be this way. Giftedness is a way of being. It is not only about intelligence. It is about how one interacts with the world, in general. It is about having needs that go unmet because of misperception or lack of funding, or lack of understanding of the needs of this segment of the population.
This mom already understood that her child’s needs would go unmet unless she advocated for him. She’s on the right track and has started to gather resources, some from national groups. He’ll take ninth grade math in 5th grade. Is that a good thing? In truth, I am not sure anymore. Did we accelerate our boys in math? Yes, we did. Did they find it beneficial? No, probably not. But, as a parent, you are in a quandary when you see your child’s learning needs not being met by a inflexible curriculum, and inept, unmotivated, or maybe even overstressed teacher who’d like to do something more for your child but cannot. There are only so many hours in a day. So, you let your child be excelled in hopes they will get what they need and not become bored with the educational process and progression based on standardized testing.
Unfortunately, there are no all encompassing right or wrong answers for gifted children. This mom is finding out what I learned so very long ago. There are no manuals for raising your children. You do the best you can for them and hope it is good enough and the right decision. You build a support network and utilize the people and systems that seem to understand your child’s needs. The needs of the gifted are similar to the needs of other children in special ed, they just are not recognized or funded in the same way. So, as parents, we have no choice but to talk to strangers on a beach in a foreign country about our gifted children. Once in a while you run into someone who seems to truly understand and tells you it will get better.
I hope I was able to show her that there can be a very bright light at the end of the educational journey for her gifted son. It will all be okay. After all, it always helps to share one’s frustrations and seek answers. Giftedness should not be left in a world of silence.
Disclaimer: I know just as many gifted girls as boys. It just happens that most of my own experience is with boys. This mom was seeking advice on her gifted son at the time we talked. My post is not meant to be sexist or exclusionary in any way.