Guest Author - Lorel Shea
Intense. That's the best word I can come up with to summarize my gifted children in their first years. They demanded attention, and lots of it. They slept little, and in short bursts. They never acted like the normal babies in all of the handbooks I read. At times, it was quite overwhelming trying to parent them.
When my kids were very small, I'd go to playgroup meetings or the park to hang out with other moms. Their kids would appear in strollers, car seat baskets, or on playmats, and gurgle happily or sit quietly. The moms could relax and chat. They didn't appear chronically exhausted or “touched out” the way I always did. My babies needed to be held constantly, talked to, and amused. I had to wear them in a pouch or a sling- if they weren't touching my warm body, there was no end to the indignant protesting. They might agree to a ride in a stroller, IF I kept it moving and acted as tour guide as we moved along. “There's the pretty pink house with the little doggie in the yard. It's a beagle. Hear it bark? Arf arf! Oh look, I see a gray squirrel. Sometimes we might see a red or black one, but the gray ones are the most common around here. Do you like that bushy tail? How far should we walk? Do you think we should turn around at the corner, or go all the way around the block?” I'm sure many people thought I was crazy, having long conversations with children so young that most wouldn't even bother trying. But it kept them happy, and that was enough for me. Of course, all this early chatter primed them for early speech. Every one of our children was an early talker with a great vocabulary.
We moved to a new town during my first pregnancy. The moms group I joined had lots of smart, ambitious women in it who were taking a break from professional careers to raise their babies. I enjoyed their company, but was uncomfortable with the subtle (and sometimes no so subtle!) feeling that some of these moms were keeping close tabs on the development of other children, and fervently hoping that their child would come out “on top”. I really wasn't interested in competition. I was unused to being at home all day, and I was desperately trying to carve out a new social life for myself. I was lonely, and having kids that seemed so different from the norm wasn't all fun and games. My kids and I were clearly outliers. I couldn't sit and sip tea while my eight month old was running through someone else's house, chasing their cat. I had to follow, capture, and carry them away, from all sorts of situations most babies don't get themselves into at that age. I did my best to not call attention to the early crawling, walking, and talking, but some people noticed and scowled, while others pointedly pretended not to notice.
One woman who I met for a playdate discoursed at length about her brilliant four year old reading a few words, while she disregarded my two year old reading books aloud in front of her. I got the message that I should hide any of these “out there” abilities, as it wasn't gaining me any friends. So consequently, I stopped talking about my own children, except with family and one or two close friends. I felt more accepted by the group, but at a serious cost. I wasn't able to share equally in these relationships, and had the sad realization that very few people actually knew me and my kids.
It took a few years, and gradually I came to the conclusion that for the sake of my growing children, I needed to amend my behavior. Gifted kids pick up on things pretty fast, and what message was I sending if I only mentioned my kids in neutral or negative ways? Wasn't it important for them to know that I was proud of them and that I did get excited about the new things they learned? Slowly, and not without some discomfort, I began to change. My former policy had been only to volunteer information when asked directly. Now, I pushed myself to reciprocate more freely when milestones came up in conversation, and to share a few funny stories that highlighted some advancement. It was hard. I cringed inwardly, and felt a sense of shame at first, baggage from my childhood, when I was told not to look too smart, lest I should make others feel bad. But I firmly believe that each child needs to be loved and appreciated for who and what they are, whether they are to the right or the left of the curve.
Nowadays, I understand that there are some people who dislike me for the emphasis I put on giftedness, but I know that I am not responsible for whatever they are feeling. I don't brag about my kids, but when they accomplish something big, I try to share it with friends and family, or better yet, let them share it for themselves. People can choose to be inspired by accomplishments, or intimidated by them. I like to be inspired!