What It’s (Really) Like to Have a Gifted Kid

What It's (Really) Like to Have a Gifted Kid

 

I know, I know. You probably rolled your eyes at the title. I did, too, if we’re being honest. The term “gifted” is what does it. It has an elitist air to it, seems snooty, sounds like I’m bragging. But the truth is, most parents of children who have been identified as gifted, those having an IQ score above 130 or two standard deviations above the norm, they aren’t bragging, they’re BEGGING. Begging for help, for understanding, for answers, for a system that will recognize and meet their child’s needs. You see, giftedness does not look at all like you think it does. Some of you know my tale of tears, the years of counseling, testing, praying, dieting, oiling, reading, and sobbing, all to be told that what was “wrong” with my child was giftedness. The years spent searching for a diagnosis, knowing something was different about my boy, knowing he was miserable and hurting, wanting desperately to help and find an answer, but always falling just short of sensory processing disorder, of bipolar disorder, of oppositional defiant disorder, of autism spectrum disorders, of ADHD. Really, THOSE are the labels that came to mind before I had to be told that my child was gifted, and that the behaviors he was exhibiting were NORMAL. Those extremes are what I thought about my child, never a high IQ. I knew he was bright, don’t get me wrong, but bright and the actual classification of “gifted” are two very different things, and what I knew of giftedness was chess champions, piano prodigies, and tiny little adults. My emotional, sensitive, intense child who never slept and always worried couldn’t possibly be a – gasp – genius.

Except that he kind of is.

It’s been a year and a half since we “found out” about him, and every day I learn more about what it means for him to exist in a world that is built for people different from himself. Many days I find myself advocating, emailing, sticking up for him. I’ve been asked more than once what’s “wrong” with him. I’ve asked that myself on many occasions. Some days I have people roll their eyes. Lots of days people feel the need to question or disprove his label. One day I even had someone walk away while I was mid-sentence. There are a lot of misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding gifted kids – their parents are pushing them, their parents are bragging, everything is easy for them, they’re perfect kids, they can handle it. One of the most hurtful ones I’ve encountered is the apparent belief that there is some finite amount of intelligence in the world, some IQ pool that kids draw from, and my child having withdrawn more than the others somehow left less for their son or daughter. Those are the people who see him as a threat, who resent him for skipping a grade, who feel slighted that he earned a place on a math team that their child did not. Those are the adults who approach him with the sole intention of proving him wrong, tripping him up, who have made up their minds to blame him for something he cannot help and something he didn’t do. Who make no attempt to understand what it’s really like for him, how scary and overwhelming it is to have a brain that doesn’t turn off, to be able to take everything in but have no idea what to do with it.

People who think giftedness looks like this:

But have no idea it also comes with this:

 

People who assume the school sends us this:

But don’t realize they also send us here:

That’s what it’s really like, giftedness. To exist in a world that doesn’t understand you, that even resents you. To watch athletes be praised for their form of giftedness but to have yours dismissed. A world where a gold medal is earned but a grade skip is bragging. Sure, it can be high grades, athletic achievements, musical gifts and artistic abilities. But it’s also asynchronous development, where “cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences that are qualitatively different from the norm”, to have the brain of an adult, the body of a child, and the emotional stability of a toddler. It’s overexcitabilities, where the brain’s intensity creates disorder-like reactions to stimuli, creates more intense emotions than the norm, more intense physical needs than the norm, more intense everything than the norm. Giftedness is everything inside you going at 1,000,000% and not knowing how to cope, because no one else around you is having the same problem, no one else is bothered, bored. It’s having trouble finding friends because you read so many levels above your classmates but socially are so many levels beneath them, not being able to have peers because they don’t want to talk about politics in the second grade and don’t understand why you hide in your locker when things get to be too much.

It’s sometimes making great grades, but it’s also sometimes struggling with being twice-exceptional – having both a gifted IQ and a learning or emotional disorder. Yeah, that’s a real thing. It turns out there’s a lot about gifted kids that most people don’t know. I share these things not to brag, not to garner sympathy, but to educate, to help. Ever since I first shared our journey to discovering our son’s giftedness, I have received almost a message a week from a friend, or from the friend of a friend, seeking answers, wondering if their child might also be gifted, looking for support once they discover that they are. So I’ll keep sharing, keep talking about it, for the parents who feel overwhelmed and alone, for the parents desperately looking for an answer to their child’s behavior that doesn’t seem “fixable”. I’ll endure the eyerolls and the sighs, the people who think I’m bragging, and I’ll continue to share about how we endure tears on a daily basis, emotions and thoughts that are too big for a little guy to handle, how we are caught in a never-ending race to meet his intellectual needs. I’ll tell about the testing, the never-ending testing, the 504 meetings and the IEP requests, the phone calls from school, the guilt and doubt I face when it comes to school at all. I’ll share about the anxiety, the overwhelming fear I have when he’s walking the halls of school or running on a soccer field, not knowing what will trigger HIS anxiety, what will reduce him to a crying toddler or ignite him to become a raging monster. I’ll tell you about how he doesn’t have birthday parties because they’re too much for him to handle, and he doesn’t really have friends to invite to them, anyway. I’ll write about how embarrassing it is to walk into a school office, knowing how a lot of the adults in there feel about your child, how humbling and remorseful it is to message another parent about what my own has done. I’ll tell of the expensive specialized psychologist we can’t afford and the hour it takes to get to her. I’ll share about how futile it feels to try and find a place for your square peg child in a world of round holes.

I’ll also tell you about how hilarious he is, how he makes jokes far beyond his 7 years and has mastered sarcasm on an expert level. I’ll tell you about how intensely sweet he is, how he snuggles me still and says he never wants to grow up and leave me, how his love literally makes me ache. I’ll write about how thoughtful he is, how he makes crafts and cards for people he loves, includes money, Starburst, or anything else he thinks the person may enjoy. I’ll definitely tell about how creative he is, how his brain works in a way that never ceases to amaze me, how he’s able to see things from a new perspective, from a place you didn’t even know existed, how he’s able to create entire worlds and mythologies with just 10 minutes and his toes. I’ll roll my eyes as I tell you about his love for Star Wars, how he has learned every single fact you never even knew was out there.  I’ll shout from the rooftops about the advocates he has on the inside, the teachers who have helped him AND me, who get him, love him, encourage him, support him, and want the best for him. I’ll marvel publicly at how naturally he picks up math concepts, how he reads novels in a day, his herding-like abilities on the soccer field, how he can identify insects and read Roman numerals and tell you about cultural customs all the world over. I’ll share wistfully about his infectious smile, his giant blue eyes that sparkle with mischief, and his sweet little feet that still have some of the toddler chubbiness left on them. I’ll declare firmly and confidently that I know he has a purpose in this world, and I believe it to be huge.

I love my boy. My gifted boy. My intense, emotional, overwhelmed, creative, hilarious, loving boy. He is not what people think he is. Giftedness is not what people think it is. It is a wonderful, exhausting, never-dull and never-easy experience. And for the last time, it’s not bragging.

I Just Want to Just

It’s been a hard day.

It’s been a hard week.

I’m texting with a friend who’s been having a hard month.

We both have kids who, for different reasons, have special needs, and it is EXHAUSTING. Don’t get me wrong, any parenting of any child is exhausting. But there is a different kind of fatigue I’ve come to know since I was introduced to the “norm” my children don’t fit into. It’s an ongoing fatigue, with no promise of anything ever getting easier. Today was difficult, and tomorrow likely will be, too. Today I worked my butt off to maintain a sense or normalcy or to meet my child’s unique needs, and it will do little to affect tomorrow, so I have to do it again. And again. I can never just…. JUST. I can’t just drive through a fast food restaurant and feed my children anything from the menu. I can’t just send my child to school and expect the day to go well. I can’t just take my child anywhere and expect it to be uneventful. I can’t just watch a kid’s movie with any deaths or sad moments (so scratch every single Disney movie ever). I can’t just watch Shark Week. I can’t just Google an answer and have the question be finished.  I can’t just eat at any place in the city, can’t just accept offers of casseroles when I’m ill, can’t just enroll my child in school or watch him play soccer or introduce him to someone new or go anywhere without needing a bag for an EpiPen and Benadryl. And with the limitless access we have to blogs, and the freedom we have to write them, we’re given the unique opportunity to get a peak into the lives of other families that may not look like ours… or to feel understood by families who look very similar. I’m not alone. WE’RE not alone. There are many, many parents who, despite their beliefs or location or socioeconomic standing, all want one thing.

Parents of kids with allergies. Parents of medically fragile kids. Parents of premature babies. Parents of kids fighting cancer. Parents of kids with autism. Parents of kids struggling with their identity. Parents of kids with emotional disturbances. Genetic disorders. Mitochondrial disorders. Eating disorders. Sensory processing disorders. Mood disorders. Attention deficit disorders. Kids with IEPs. Kids with diabetes. Kids with developmental delays. Kids who can’t travel anywhere without a piece of medical equipment attached. Kids who can’t travel anywhere at all. Kids who fight authority and kids who will likely never live alone. Kids with below-average intelligence and kids with above-average intelligence. Kids who teachers don’t “get” and kids who doctors can’t help. Kids who get stared and parents who are judged.

Parents who are misunderstood. Parents who are exhausted. Parents who feel isolated. Parents who spend their free time on research and their savings on co pays. On weighted blankets. On medical strollers. On home healthcare nurses. On surgeries. On treatments. On medications. On conferences. On books. On organic ingredients. Parents who have cancelled plans more often than they’ve kept them. Parents whose schedules are mostly ruled by their kids’ needs. Parents who have hung their heads in the gaze of disapproving strangers. Parents who advocate and fight tooth and nail to keep their child from falling between the cracks. Parents who never imagined their life as it is now. Parents who just want to JUST.

Just want to eat at a Chinese or seafood restaurant. Just want to be able to leave the kids with a babysitter. Just want to spend a few dollars on something for themselves. Just want to see their friends more than they see doctors or therapists. Just want to be able to leave their child alone with their other children. Just want to walk through a store without bringing attention on themselves. Just want to enjoy their child’s laughter without the interruptions of medical equipment beeping. Just want to hear their child laugh at all. Just want to go through a day without fearing – or getting – a phone call from the school. Just want to fill out paperwork without needing extra room for all of the conditions or medications to be listed. Just want an answer so they HAVE a condition to list. Just want to be able to meet new people without having to explain anything. Just want to know that the school is meeting their child’s needs. Just want to not live in fear. Just want to dream and plan for the future. Just want to be able to attend birthday parties. Just want their kids to make friends. Just want their kids to see how amazing they are. Just want the rest of the world to see how special and loving and wonderful they are. Just want to know that it’s going to be okay.

All parents want some silence from time to time. All parents want to pee alone, go on a date, and have a healthy child. All parents want different versions of the same things. But some parents, just for a little bit, just want to JUST.

Yes, there are plenty of parents who struggle with situations “worse” than food allergies or high IQ. But that doesn’t make the very real difficulties of parenting kids like mine any easier. We’re grateful to know our kids, grateful to have been trusted enough to care for them, grateful for the access we have to modern medicine, alternative medicine, doctors and forums and blogs and therapists and support groups. But we’re tired. And sometimes we want to just JUST.

Raising the Difficult Child – Consider the Dandelions

I wrote a concise little blog on this topic a few months back, but now I really feel like I can go a little deeper into the issue. I am no parenting expert, nor do I believe there is only one, specific, unwavering way to raise children. But I DO have a difficult child, and am learning quite a bit in the process of raising – and loving – him. I’m not naming names, but let’s just say it’s not the oldest one, and it’s not the youngest one. I’ll leave it up to your imagination. He has always been difficult. I remember our pediatrician trying to tell me in between my desperate sobs that some babies just don’t need as much sleep. He rarely napped and didn’t sleep very long. This was particularly frustrating when I compared him to my firstborn, who slept 14 hours straight at night and took 2-hour naps. I remember the night he discovered he could escape from his crib, because he did it more than 30 times. That one, single night. This was particularly frustrating when I compared him to my firstborn, who climbed out once and was so sad to have been in trouble for it that he never did it again. I remember the first time I punished him and he laughed at me. This was particularly frustrating when I compared him to my firstborn, who is so sad to have disappointed me that I rarely have to punish him. This difficult child of mine (who shall remain unnamed, remember, you’re still guessing at who it could possibly be) is stubborn, willful, volatile at times. He is easily angered, easily frustrated, and easily entertained by acting on any impulse he has. Covered in scars and dripping with swagger, he is unmoved by the concept of cause and effect. I’ve said it before that he knows about gravity, he just doesn’t care. He climbs walls, he leaps from furniture, he talks back, he gets into trouble at school, and he is extremely difficult to parent. This is particularly frustrating when I compare him to my firstborn, who is compliant, people-pleasing, a teacher’s pet, and pretty easy to parent. You can probably guess what the first thing is that I’ve learned in my journey of parenting a difficult child: you can’t compare. Comparison is the thief of joy. In parenting ANY child, comparison will only leave you frustrated and doubting yourself. One of the best days I’ve had as a mother was when the lightbulb went off, when it clicked that my two boys are different people. The more I compared the unnamed mystery wild child to the older, tiny-adult-like child, the more I was setting us both up to fail. He will never be his older brother, and that is a GOOD thing. He is unique. I don’t need two of the same kid. God spent a lot of time making him, with intention, and it was high time I started appreciating him for who he was, rather than getting frustrated at who he wasn’t. Milestones, demeanors, and reactions are as varied as likes, dislikes, and fingerprints between two same-gender siblings from the same gene pool. Wild.

Another thing I’ve learned while parenting my difficult child is that it sucks. This echoes my sentiments from the previous blog, yes, but allow me to elaborate: it really sucks. It’s hard. It’s exhausting. It’s EMBARRASSING. It’s isolating. I cannot tell you, dear reader, how many books and blogs and journals and wise sages I’ve sought in my attempts to tame the unruly beast, all spanning different belief systems, based on different foundations, and implemented in different ways. But the one common thread is consistency. Be consistent. If it was against the rules yesterday, it has to be against the rules today, no matter how tired you are. But oh, Lord, how tired we are. How truly, bone-achingly exhausted, drained, depleted, worn we are. Every single incident, every single day, in the hopes that it will someday *click* and he’ll get it. It can make a mommy numb. It can make a mommy dejected, make her feel hopeless. Afraid to leave him with a sitter because his behavior is embarrassing, afraid to go to the splash pad because he may act up, it leaves a mommy feeling alone. Tears over what’s happening and fears over what’s to come, parenting a difficult child is, well, difficult.

The final, most important, most incredibly hard thing to grasp that I’ve learned while parenting this difficult middle child of mine (don’t act surprised, you knew it was him all along) is that it is not my fault. No argument that was ever presented to me in college has ever made me think more about nature vs. nurture than raising a strong-willed child. Sure, there are kids who act a fool because of their parents’ foolish ways, but having this handful has given me a new, more sympathetic perspective. Not every kid who talks back or doesn’t listen or has a moment is the result of bad parenting. The mom you’re judging is likely nearing dehydration from all the exasperated tears she’s cried. We know our kids are rough, it’s not something that escapes a parents’ attention.  Not every difficult child “needs to be set straight”. How do I know this? Because I’m a good mom, dangit. I know I am. I do everything I’m “supposed” to and then some. He is loved, disciplined, fed well and put to bed on time. We engage and take an interest in him, he is physically active, intelligent, and socialized. And yet he acts like a real butthead sometimes. He will always have a consequence for his disobedience, yet he still chooses to disobey. This is particularly ENCOURAGING when I compare him to my firstborn, who is from the same gene pool, is of the same gender, and is raised in the same home with the same rules, love, and attention. Two wildly different fruits of the same tree prove to me that the roots aren’t to blame, it’s just how the fruits ARE. He just IS how he is. It is no fault of my own, it’s only up to me to adapt and learn what he needs and marry that with what is expected of him. And THAT is nearly as hard as not blaming myself for my child’s behavior. I’m a good mom. This is not a cop-out, it’s a revelation. The sooner we can let go of the guilt, the sooner we can address what REALLY is causing behaviors and deal with them with an appropriate amount of attention. It is not my fault. As I sit here, my face red and tear-stained, debating just giving him an iPad for a few minutes of peace, I notice a dandelion and feel God speak to me. Dandelions are weeds. Unsightly and dreaded by gardeners. They’re stubborn, unruly, and difficult to get rid of. The more you tug at them, the harder the fight, and the more likely you are to find more dandelions next week. Just like my difficult baby. He doesn’t fit into what would be considered ideal, pristine. No one WANTS dandelions, they just pop up. But consider them for a moment. Difficult, yes, but vibrant with color. They stand out instantly not because of our feelings towards dandelions, but because they are different, bright. Dandelions can provide healing and nourishment. They undergo marked transformations, and are the stuff of childhood wishes. They spread their seeds with the wind, quickly, and all too soon are gone. Just like our difficult babies. Stubborn, tough, and not “ideal”, but beautiful in their own way, quickly-growing, and valuable. My dandelion literally grows like a weed, but he is also incredibly intelligent, creative, talented, funny, thoughtful, and can be painfully sweet. I can compare him to roses, tulips, or lilies, and he will always fall short, because he is a dandelion. Or I can appreciate his vibrancy and his limited time with me and be happy I have a flower at all. What if we all saw our own dandelions not for the pain and hassle they cause, but for the wishes we can make upon them? Hang in there, you, me. We’re not alone, it’s okay to admit we’re struggling. Having a hard time doesn’t mean we love them any less, or that we’re not doing a good job. It just means our precious little ones act like buttheads sometimes

It’s Not You, It’s Me – Life As An Allergy Mom

We’ve all cringed when someone’s snotty, hacking child comes hurdling towards our babies, hands outstretched, ready to infect them. Doctor’s offices, restaurants, grocery stores, church… people LOVE touching babies. They’re soft and squishy and instinctively grasp your finger. But babies have very sensitive and weak immune systems. Their bodies can’t fight like ours, and they’re affected much more strongly by simple bugs. So we protect them, turn away from strangers, put covers over their carseats, or just avoid public places altogether.  When you realize how contact with other people can harm your child, you go to great lengths to protect them, shield them from that harm until their bodies are ready to fight it off.

But what if their little bodies never can?

I am the mother of an allergic child. Two actually, but one isn’t severe. He is allergic to peanuts and amoxicillin, both only causing hives and both easy enough to be avoided. My really, severely allergic child is the baby. She’s 19 months old and already has a laundry list of no-no foods and environmental allergies, each with its own reaction ranging from hives to bloody diarrhea to anaphylaxis. We carry an EpiPen and Benadryl everywhere we go. We avoid restaurants and potlucks and pre-packaged snacks. Birthday cake is as accessible as Atlantis. Grocery shopping takes twice as long and costs twice as much, between the constant label-reading and the price of buying organic. Oftentimes there are at least three different meals being served to our family of 5. I’m constantly checking and re-checking ingredients, watching for signs of a reaction, holding my breath if she finally gets to try a new food, keeping an eye out for the green poo that parents of allergic babies know all too well, Googling plant families and related vegetables… It’s a lot of work. Of course, it’s all worth it. I’m an info-aholic, so I crave knowledge, am always looking for new sources and new information on her numerous allergies. Sadly, her allergies seem to be increasing, so I find myself back at Google fairly often. Anytime she cries out in her sleep, I immediately grab my phone and quadruple-check the plant families of everything that was in her dinner. All this to say, I am ON TOP of this allergy thing. I research and ask and avoid like a boss.

But this weekend, I was shaken. Within 20 minutes of arriving at my mom and stepdad’s house to swim, baby girl began rubbing her eye. She had only napped for about 10 minutes, so I thought she was tired. But then she really started digging into it, whining even, and I thought maybe she’d accidentally gotten some sunscreen in her eye. Nope. Her eye was getting bright red and she was getting really upset. I took her from my mom and noticed some pink splotches on her forehead. Being a super pale little thing, she has been known to get splotchy from crying, but this wasn’t that. Could there be an ingredient in the sunscreen she was reacting to? Reading the label twice told me no. And this reaction was localized. It started getting worse. The splotches were spreading, getting darker, and swelling. Her eye was nearly shut and her lip was almost twice its size. She was having an allergic reaction. We quickly dosed her with Benadryl and watched her. My mind was racing. EpiPen or ER first? EpiPen or ambulance first? But the worst thing in my mind was that I COULD NOT FIGURE OUT what was causing this. She hadn’t pet the cat. She hadn’t eaten anything. There was an actual line down her face where you could see the reaction – her left side was fine, her right side was swollen and red and splotchy. Something had touched her face.

But what?

Thankfully, the Benadryl did the trick. The swelling started going down and the spots began to fade. We took pictures of her for documentation, but they break my heart, so I won’t share them. She perked back up after an hour or so and had a great time swimming. But what had caused the reaction? The question never left my mind. I’m STILL racking my brain, trying to pinpoint what caused it.

The next night we had a church back-to-school swim party. I hadn’t slept well the night before, constantly checking on her in the night to make sure the reaction didn’t reappear once the Benadryl wore off. We hadn’t been there five minutes when I noticed a rash on her. This time on her legs. She hadn’t eaten anything. There were no cats. No one had decorated with burlap. She’d just been in chlorinated water the day before, so it couldn’t be that.

What was HAPPENING to my baby?!

I just about had a meltdown. For all of my research, all of my learning, all of my avoidance and diligence in checking labels and ingredients and packing safe snacks, everything I had done to protect her… there were still things that could hurt her. I could not control everything about the environment we were in, and I didn’t like it. Any time someone reached out to touch her, my heart leapt. What was on their hands? What had they recently eaten or touched? Did they have pets? What was in their lotion? Bodywash? Perfume? Could this person, innocently greeting my child, cause her to go into anaphylactic shock? There was a young girl, about two years older than my own, who followed us around like a shadow, constantly trying to touch or hold her. My chest started burning and I couldn’t catch my breath, hot tears were rolling down my cheeks. I was FREAKING OUT. My dear friend recognized the anxiety and took baby girl from me, my husband took the boys, and I leaned against the side of the pool, alternating between breathing and running worst-case scenarios in my head.

I know, I know. Anxiety is not of God. He has not given us a spirit of fear. Be anxious for nothing. All easier said than done when you’ve just seen your child have allergic reactions to something you can’t name, and therefore can’t avoid. The control freak in me was not handling it well. The mother in me was taking it even worse. To be honest, I haven’t calmed down much since then. My Google foundation has been shaken. I can’t tell you everything she’s allergic to, because I DON’T KNOW. I can’t keep her from the dangerous stuff, because I DON’T KNOW what it all is. I DON’T KNOW where to find it. I’m in the proccess of finding another allergist (one who actually became a doctor to help people), but know that even after extensive testing, she can develop new allergies. I’m praying and begging and pleading with God to heal her. I want her to be able to go to birthday parties and have cake, eat at potluck dinners and big family picnics, do late night fast food runs, eat the snacks in preschool. We’ve learned a lot about health and the disgusting ingredients a lot of the things on the shelves of grocery stores contain, learned to be smarter about what we put into our bodies. I am so grateful for what she has taught our family about health. But I am also desperate for her to be healed. And I’m desperate to protect her.

So if I cringe at you reaching for my baby, it’s not you, it’s me fearful of that amazing-smelling lotion you just put on.

If I turn my body away from you, it’s not you, it’s me worrying because I don’t know if you’ve just eaten peanut butter on your toast that morning.

If I decline your offer for babysitting, it’s not you, it’s me not being able to control the environment she’s in, or me worrying about your pets, or me being exhausted at the thought of going over the list of allergies, EpiPen instructions, Benadryl doses, and emergency contacts.

If I ask you not to feed my child, it’s definitely not you, it’s me protecting her.

If I don’t visit you, or don’t go to a restaurant with you, or don’t eat the food you cooked, it really isn’t you, it’s my natural reaction to avoid everything but my own home and my own cooking.

If I seem distracted, it’s not you, it’s me watching her like a hawk and running a thousand different scenarios through my head at once.

If I complain, I’m sorry. I love my baby and am grateful for the wealth of information available now about allergies. But I’m also a mess. I’m worried and hungry and so very tired.

 

So please don’t feed my baby. Please don’t be offended if I pick her up before you can. Please understand that the unknown for an allergic child can be life-threatening. She IS that child who can’t even walk past peanut butter. She IS that child who could have dire consequences from eating the candy you want to share. And she’s the child who has unknown allergies and severe reactions. Please wash your hands. Please don’t feed my baby. And please don’t be offended.