I Am Number Eighteen

HALF-PRICE BRONCOS TICKET PACKAGE!, the email offer read. It was one of the ubiquitous Groupon-style things that shows up in my inbox every morning, shilling everything from discounted food to cheap overnight stays, and just for fun, I clicked on it. And almost threw up. My son is just now to the age when I’d consider taking him to a Broncos game, let alone the semi-disinterested girls, and so I haven’t really kept tabs on what game tickets cost. One decent seat, in this package, was going for $250 each.  At half-price. Surely that couldn’t be right, so on to StubHub I went, and sure enough, a decent Broncos game ticket is around $500. To take all five of us to a game would be $2,500, unless I want to sit in a nosebleed seat.

Later that day, I happened to run across Laughing at Chaos’ blog post, which sent me to this article, after which I held my breath and did as she asked; I looked at the comments. Sure enough, all the usual outpouring of vitriol was there. I snipped a few of the best ones for your viewing pleasure (below)

What, you’re asking, do Bronco season ticket prices have to do with gifted blog-post comment venom? Simple. As a country, we’ll pay insane ticket prices to see #18 wing a ball around the field, but we’ll take time out of our day to log on and trash a woman who dared to suggest that raising a gifted child is often a challenging process. We love gifted in this country, as long as it’s an entertaining kind of gifted. Anything else merits little more than thinly-disguised scorn and outright disbelief. The same people that blasted poor Chandra Moseley to smithereens in the comments section will probably sit down to watch a preseason game this weekend, or perhaps take in some So You Think You Can Dance on DVR, or head down to Comedy Works here in Denver for a show. And not one of them will have anything nearly as vitriolic to say about the  talents on display in those settings.

And right there, in that one word, is the rub, isn’t it? Talented we like; gifted we don’t. Consider the sheer number of reality-based talent shows that bombard the airwaves, from American Idol to The X Factor to America’s Got Talent to The Voice to the abovementioned SYTYCD. Hell, we LOVE talent. But gifted, from the perspective of these people, somehow sends a flat statement of my kid can do something your kid can’t. And that just sends their hackles into full bristle mode, despite the fact that I’m sure ten-year-old Peyton Manning could throw a football into a trash can from twenty yards away while their own kid probably couldn’t do the same from three yards away. You’re not going to see the Internet’s army of trolls camping out on ESPN to debate whether or not Peyton Manning is an accomplished quarterback, or whether Peyton Manning can do things we can’t. They might camp out to troll a team, or cast aspersions as to whether Peyton Manning is washed up or prone to injury or overexposed in the media, but they don’t troll his actual talent, or argue whether it exists, or whether or not all everyone can do what Peyton can do – a la the ‘all children are gifted’ comment listed above. No, they all save their vitriol for the intellectually gifted, because they don’t show up on TV much, and they don’t contribute much in the way of mass-market entertainment, and no one is walking around in a Neil DeGrasse Tyson jersey1. And in our society, in the United States, in the twenty-first century, that’s the last bastion of safe sniping; the smart kids always have been, and (unless we do something about it) always will be targets of this sort of selective aggression.

Worse, I think, is what this has done to us as the parents of gifted children. We live in a country that will barely tolerate blog posts in which we occasionally bemoan the difficulties of raising these exceptional kids. Imagine if we did a post on the joy of raising them! And so we have responded, in Pavlovian fashion, to this: we have slowly, slowly, become a nation of victim parents, because being a victim parent minimizes the amount of flaming oil hurled our way from the trebuchets of the neurotypical. In the absence of the freedom to discuss the positives of raising gifted children, for fear of having to chicken-wire our blog platforms, we’ve chosen to play up the bitterly exhausting effort of parenting them.

Well, I for one am weary of it. Kath and I began this blog, in part, so that there would be ‘breadcrumbs’ for our children someday; that they could look back and see what our mindset was, what our decision-making process looked like, and why we did what we did. The last thing I would want to see is any sense of apologizing to the public for who they were, or turning the experience of raising them into a woe-is-me exercise in trembly navel-gazing. I’ve never apologized for who they were or what they could do, and I don’t have any intention of starting to do so now.  My kid can do things your kid can’t do, and that does come with a package of bizarre wiring that will occasionally take them into some dark territory, but the things they can do are as awesome and inspirational and differentiated as the feats of any singing, dancing, trashcan-throwing football prodigy you can offer up in response. I don’t really care that you think my child is ‘retarded,’ or ‘bratty,’ or ‘overly sensitive,’ and I’m not interested in attempting to sell the gifted parenting experience as a soul-crushing exercise in weariness and despair. Does it have those moments? Sure, but every parent has those moments, and in churning out whinefest after whinefest, what we tell our own children is this: the difference between raising a neurotypical child and raising a gifted child is entirely negative. And that’s not true. 

And so, to the ‘every child is gifted’ crowd, what I would say it this: you’re probably right, in the sense that many children have particular talents…but the word ‘gifted’ is kind of…reserved. It means a very specific thing, and while the package of wiring it describes is often wonky and strange from the outsider’s perspective, gifted children are capable of amazing, awe-inspiring thoughts and actions, just like other talented children are – children we celebrate (even as they grow into talented adults.) Gifted is different, and gifted is apart from, other talents and abilities – so please keep this particular ‘all children are gifted’ opinion to yourself, or consider revising your perspective on it. We need this definition, this delineation, so that we can communicate clearly among ourselves. And so, CNN comments nation, I feel compelled to directly contradict you: not every child is gifted. For, in smearing the meaning of that word, this would imply that all children somehow share all of the same particular abilities. And if every child is gifted in similar ways, doesn’t that mean every adult is gifted in similar ways? And if we all share these same gifts and talents, can’t I go around saying ludicrous things like, ‘well, EVERY adult is a starting NFL quarterback?’

Oh, by the way, your kid can probably do things my kid can’t do either. But you don’t see me camped out on CNN, sniping at parents whose kids took home the state gymnastics medal or won a 4-H prize. I’m not shouting BULLSHIT and SPOILED BRAT at proud parents of Pee-Wee football champs and tae kwon do tournament winners. I won’t hurl epithets like WHINER at parents of other special-needs kids, because I have a sense of what you’re dealing with. I solemnly pledge to leave your kids’ accomplishments and challenges alone, because I’m confident those accomplishments came at the cost of a very real challenge, in the form of effort and inconvenience on your part. Maybe you were up at dawn all winter to drive to hockey games in distant towns, or to help slop the prize 4-H pig when the GI bug of the week had your kid in bed shivering. Maybe you’re taking your child to physical therapy twice a week. In turn, I’d like to ask for the same respect. We’re each hiking our own trail, and I’m not going to question how difficult yours is, or whether I might have a harder or easier path; I’ve got my own hike to worry about. I’d like you to do the same.

__________________________________________________________________________________

1 But I want one.

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