Maybe we bumped into each other at the grocery store and haven’t seen each other in years. Maybe we’ve never met, but you’ve overheard my kiddo say something kinda enormous for a kid his size, and you want to share your admiration and excitement with me. Or, maybe you’re my best friend and we’re used to gabbing about everyone and everything, alone, with a glass of wine in hand.
No matter the situation, there’s one thing you probably want to talk to me about: my kid. And why wouldn’t you? He’s amazing. I’m his mom, so he can literally do no wrong in my eyes. He’s the only thing I want to talk about. It’s a little difficult for me to brag about him sometimes though, because he’s kind of out there. You just can’t brag to the playgroup that your 2 year old read his first Dr Seuss book yesterday. Well, you can. But it’s met with a certain kind of reaction.
“That’s amazing!” “He’s a genius!” “Little prodigy!” “What training program did you use?” “How did you get him to do that?” “That’s unbelievable!” “You should play with him more.” *worries that similarly aged kid who is not doing the same thing is behind* “You should put him on Ellen!”
It’s a lot of pressure. For me as a mom, and for my son. Because see, while we usually think of kids as operating on a different radio frequency since they never seem to hear us say things like “clean up your toys” or “finish your dinner” there is one time when they love to listen to us: when we think they aren’t. And if they know we’re talking about them? Well, who doesn’t love to listen to others say nice things about them? So yes, he hears most of what we’re saying about him. And yes, he understands it.
He knows his brain works differently. As someone who tested gifted in school, and skipped a grade, but only recently learned what being gifted entails, I make a point to make sure my son knows that while he’s different from the kids he sees on a daily basis, there are tons of kids out there who are just like him. Heck, we’re all different, and it’s our differences that make us special. The internet is such a godsend. He can watch videos on youtube of kids his age talking about the periodic table. I can show him pictures of kids from gifted kid forums doing his favourite activities that he’s never been able to con another kid his age into doing with him. I can show him that while he is a big fish in a little pond now, there’s a whole ocean out there and one day we’ll find his school.
But that doesn’t mean I want him to hear about all of the details. I don’t want him to know about my frustration that school is a terrible environment for him. I want him to delight and find joy in being a kid! When he was just a little baby and I was researching local schools, I wanted him to go to Waldorf school for goodness sakes! Waldorf school is the one that teaches kids about fairies and doesn’t formally teach them to read until they’re 7! That was my idea of an idyllic childhood. Knowing my kid now, I know that he would despise that. But no matter how intelligent he is, he cannot at 4 understand all of the nuance that is behind my frustration, so yes, I will keep a smile on my face and say that Kindergarten is so much fun! even if it comes across as completely fake.
I don’t want him to know that raising him is a challenge. Raising all kids is a challenge! All of parenting is that test in college that you spent weeks preparing for and walked out of certain that you completely bombed. Let’s face it- no matter how many organic free-range meals we prepare our kids, no matter how many trips we take them on, no matter how many presents we buy them or don’t buy them at Christmas they are still going to grow up and tell us how much we sucked at parenting. Because that is the great circle of life. No, parenting is not going the way I planned. I thought we would wear dress up clothes and have tea parties all day long and hopefully I’d be able to teach him a few things like how to spell “cat” and “dog” and that 1+1=2 but then I’d ship him off to school and they’d fill in the blanks while I taught him about cooking and finances and how to give Dad a wet willy. The last thing I expected to have to do in order to keep his brain fed was consult a university text book and hire him a mentor. I did not expect to have to call on friends and their parents and old teachers for assistance. I did not expect to have to have a parent teacher conference in the first month of Kindergarten. I did not expect to have to beg programs for school aged children to let my 3 year old in because I am that darn desperate. But here we are. And you know what? I wouldn’t change that for the world. And I certainly don’t want my child thinking he’s a burden, which is exactly what all children think they are at some point or another. As a parent, it seems laughable, because we would rather die ourselves than not have our children in our lives. They are our light, our lifelines, our reason for waking up in the morning. (Literally. We would sleep until noon if it weren’t for them.) And I don’t want my child feeling like he is anything less than the best part of my life.
I don’t want him to know that I’m worried. Worried he doesn’t have many friends his age. Worried he may never have a real school experience- the one he wanted so badly! Worried he’ll never be challenged. Worried that he’s already showing signs of perfectionism and anxiety. Worried that he knows about things like the Taliban, racism, sexism, and death already. Worried that he’s somehow missing a “normal” childhood. I’m worried that I won’t be enough.
I don’t want him to know the adult things. I want him to be innocent and carefree. I want him to be excited and happy. I don’t want him to feel the pressure. Because when everything comes so easily – when you never have to try – and you’re always told you’re so smart, it becomes a part of your identity. And then when you suddenly do have to try, you think “oh this is it, I’m not actually smart. This is the day everyone finds out I’m a fraud,” and you quit. And I never want him to quit.
And then there’s that word: genius. To me, that word has a totally different connotation. When you have a dilemma and someone comes up with a creative solution, you say, “you’re a genius!” When someone is endowed with a high IQ… they are just that, a person with a high IQ. I (supposedly) have a fairly high IQ, and I can promise you I’ve never done anything “genius” in my life. I am too paralyzed by rules and expectations to do anything outside-the-box enough to change anything. Think about it: every time we tell a story about a genius, it’s someone who failed and failed and failed some more. We love to talk about the fact that Albert Einstein didn’t speak until he was 3. We love the meme about Ben Franklin being kicked out of school for being too “dumb.” Because genius isn’t what you are, it’s what you do. So telling a kid, before they’ve done anything in life, that they’re a genius is way too much freaking pressure. Like woah. Yikes. Nu uh. And we don’t mean it that way at all! We’re caught up in it, we’re amazed, we’re impressed, it slips out! And I never begrudge anyone for saying it. I get it. I have a hard time reeling in my excitement too. But that’s why I might suddenly have an awkward freeze up in the middle of a conversation. It’s jarring to someone who has heard it enough to worry about the repurcussions.
And then there’s the parents. I’ve been asked one too many times from a parent with a furrowed brow and a worried tone to their voice, “how old is he?” “is he really advanced?” Honestly, it breaks my heart a little bit. Because the last thing I ever want to do is for anyone to worry about their kid’s well being. I feel like parents are afraid to share their kid’s milestones with me, which is so unnecessary because I genuinely get excited to hear about little kids doing new things. And when parents of younger kids ask me about milestones and where their kid is at I freeze up, because I have no clue how to answer! I was blissfully unaware of how advanced my son was for the first two years of his life, and I sometimes cringe to think how much worry I unknowingly placed on other parents simply by answering their questions matter-of-factly, not knowing I needed to add a prescription commercial-type disclaimer to every comment I make about my kid. And the thing is, because my kid is gifted, I think I look for gifts in other kids even more than I did before I started reading up on giftedness. I notice the little girl who is extremely empathetic. I notice the little boy who spends the upper part of an hour studying rocks. I see these things and it makes me excited for the next generation.
But at the same time, I’m never going to put my kid down. There’s a common response in the gifted community where when another parent says, “I can’t believe he’s reading!” you say “Yeah, I just wish I could get him to sleep.” No, no, no, no, no. Putting our kid’s deficits on display to make others feel better is not charitable. It is not okay! So I will smile and nod, defer the compliment to my son, and leave it at that. I definitely do not want to make anyone feel bad, but my first priority is my son. I have to hope that you are adult enough to understand that all kids are different. Our kids are not a representation of ourselves. Trust me, or I would be a hell of a lot smarter and more successful than I am.
Sometimes I slip up. I’m tired. It’s been a particularly difficult day and I really need to vent. Or on the flip side, it’s a really freaking good day and I’m so excited I want to share it with the world. So I’ll go on and on and indulge myself. And then I feel like a complete jerk. Because this isn’t what I want my kid to hear. But I’m only human. I’m a mom. Some days are really freaking difficult. And other days I just want to stand on a mountaintop and brag about my kid because it means that all of those really shitty days were oh so worth it. I’m working on not getting caught up in the sideshow that is my kid’s giftedness.
Because it’s only one side of who he is. Yes, it encompasses our lives and his intensities shape his personality. But there is so much more to him than “smart.” Giftedness isn’t just being really smart. It’s feeling and thinking and experiencing differently.
So whether we run into each other at the grocery store or on my living room couch, know that I do want to talk about my kid. Know that I don’t think you’re being nosy. I am not judging you or your kid. I’m too caught up in my own damn problems for that. I’m worrying that I’m going to say something to offend you. I’m worried I’m going to say something that ruins my kid for life. I’m worried I’m just going to say or do the wrong thing.
I’m still getting the hang of this whole “parenting a genius” thing.
But if you get a weird response from me, please know that I’m just trying to remind myself that little ears are listening, and I’m trying to frame my response in a way that I’m okay with him hearing.