Archive for June, 2012

All This Space in My Head

The kids are gone with my parents in the mountains for several days, and Dave and I took some days off work to spend some time together, just the two of us, while they are gone. As with all parents, we love our kids immensely – and we need breaks from each other, too. It’s refreshing to get to a state where I’m primarily concerned about myself and my husband for a while.

Once I’ve caught up on sleep and reading, I find my mind bounces back quickly to what I’ll call its “natural” state.  Normally, my mind is busy with the mechanics of Dave and I taking care of the kids, the house and everyone’s daily schedules; making my patient schedule for the day, talking with patients’ families, etc.  Working part-time, homeschooling part-time, and sharing the care of the kids and the house keeps us both hopping. The summer is a little calmer, but still busy. Consequently, there’s not a lot of space for Dave and I to be engaging in philosophical, theoretical conversations with each other on a day-to-day basis.  We’re usually engaging in these conversations with our kids.

Once the more mechanical parts of life slip away for a while, the space in my head feels huge by comparison. I find it, then, an amazing luxury to explore my mental space. To let my mind wander onto different topics, read about random things, and discuss theories with Dave in depth and detail. Just for fun. While everyone has the reasons they like time away from their kids, being able to lay in bed snuggling with Dave and exploring and discussing different ideas is one of my favorites.

One of the great parts about sharing things equally is that we’re usually in the same mental space at the same time. It makes for so much less friction in a marriage when you’re not having to remember that your spouse had a totally different day than you. Although my actual day might look vastly different, he and I have similar stresses on our day – where to fit in the work with the kids, getting the kids/clients/patients what they need, keeping up with the house and the laundry, getting exercise, etc. Things get even more complex with highly gifted, intense kids.

This morning, I take a deep breath and enjoy the quiet in the house, my amazing husband, and the wonderful space in my head. In a few days, I’ll be ready to reconnect with the kids and hear all about their adventures.  I’ll have plenty of space then.


The Basket of Intensities

It has been said that one of the most interesting things about being a parent of a gifted child is learning about your own giftedness, and then being able to reflect those experiences back to your children. For me specifically, learning about gifted intensities has been a fascinating way to understand our family. Thank goodness for gifted psychologists. Dave and I describe our family as a “basket of intensities”, and try to teach the kids about what their intensities are, and how to embrace them (and, at times, control them).

This, of course, means that I can also embrace and try to control my own intensities as I understand them. It’s strange to explain to someone who hasn’t had the experience how much a part of you intensities are. Living with them is like living with your nose, or your ears; you’ve never known a life without them. So, learning that these feelings and impulses are part of my fabric, and related to my intellect, has been extremely helpful in explaining to the kids how to understand  their own. We have discussions about why they feel such incredible joy, love to have their backs and feet rubbed, will get completely lost in their own world, or want to talk in great detail about what they are reading.  We also discuss that everyone has some of these feelings, but they probably don’t feel them with the same degree of intensity.

I have also learned that trying to suppress intensities is not always possible. When the kids were little, I would spend all my time saying “don’t touch that”. Later, I realized that if a situation arose where their sensory intensity combined with their intellectual intensity, that “not touching” something was literally impossible for them. For instance, we would be at a museum where, say, an Egyptian artifact was intellectually very interesting to them, and some idiot had not put glass over it.  After countless times of yelling at them under my breath or physically restraining them, I learned to say, “when you feel you have to touch something, touch my arm instead.” A simple acknowledgment of their need, while giving them an appropriate outlet for it.

How did I identify with this? Well, sometimes, I’m the one who has the unbelievable impulse to do something, touch something, say something, move around, etc. and now understand why. Whether or not I am able to control it altogether is another story, so I suppose I’ve developed some empathy in that respect as well.

One reason we are more comfortable hanging around other families with highly gifted children is that we don’t have to explain ourselves. The parents and kids are very accepting of intensities, because we all have always had them. To us, they are normal.

Getting Out of the Way

The principal thing I learned this year, working with E, was how to get out of the way.

It’s a strange thing, really. Given a job, our first reaction as humans is to somehow make our involvement in that job visible, and relevant, and valuable. We want to do the job, as an action verb; how will anyone know I did the job unless I take action? But with gifted education, particularly with a profoundly gifted child, the first order of business is getting out of the way.

This is, in large part, because children with intellectual intensity want to learn. They’re vectors, of motion and intensity, and when you get between them and their goal, you slow the learning process down. It’s possible, in a hundred ways, to do that; to insist on being the teacher, to insist on taking a pedagogical stance, to insist that this is your job, to teach, and you must be an on-stage actor in order to be valuable in that respect.

It’s also wrong.

What I saw this year was a child that, given support, and encouragement, and direction when necessary – and I’m careful to italicize that concept, when necessary – the job of the teacher is to let the student learn in the way that’s best for him or her. It was truly an amazing thing to stand back and watch, and when I finally learned to stop fighting this fact – in October of 2011 – the year blossomed for her. It opened up and became magical. And all it took was getting out of the way.

Was I absent from the process? No – I was beside E the entire year, suggesting, collaborating, co-designing, informing here and there, filling in context and gap knowledge and providing connections where they didn’t exist yet. But I taught beside her – not in front of her – and that made all the difference.