Archive for the ‘Intensities’ Category

Jonathan’s Game

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This week, a three hundred-pound man and a skinny genius collided in my world, united by a common experience, and divided by a single action.

The man was Jonathan Martin, the sort of physical specimen you wouldn’t normally think of as the victim of bullying. Jonathan Martin stands six feet, five inches tall and weighs three hundred and twelve pounds. He’s not only enormous, he’s bright – a starter at Stanford – and relatively wealthy, earning a 2013 salary of $607,466. In short, he’s physically imposing, intelligent, and possessed of considerable – if not NFL star-level – wealth. And this week, he left his team – the Miami Dolphins – because he was being bullied. We’re not talking about some sort of exotic grown-up bullying, either. According to teammates, he was teased, called names, and – I’m not making this up – forced to eat his lunch by himself, because they would actually get up and move if he sat down next to them. Grown men did this. Seriously.

The skinny kid, meanwhile, was Ender Wiggin (portrayed by Asa Butterfield), protagonist of the new movie Ender’s Game1, who’s bullied twice – first on Earth (where he’s fairly sure his response gets him kicked out of the training program), and again in space – SPACE! – where the same cycle of guilt and shame repeats. Watching Butterfield up on the screen brought back the same throat-closing adrenaline rush I experienced when I first read the book back in 1985, a year that found me freshly on the other side of the bullying ‘line,’ having shot up two inches during the year and gained twenty pounds from a full season in the swim team weight room. I was bullied incessantly from the time I entered the fourth grade through the summer of my eighth grade year, and when it dissipated, I was keenly aware of its absence. Not being bullied is something you notice, especially being a smart kid that was a frequent target; one day, they’re looking for you, and the next – it seems – they’re not.  But looking back after the fact, Ender’s Game spoke to me, and I’m sure it’s spoken to bullied kids ever since. It still speaks to me, because of what separates Martin and my current adult self from my own 1974-1984 self (and from Ender): choice.

With, seemingly, at least a few hundred thousand dollars in the bank, Martin could – literally! – afford to make a choice. It might turn out to be an unpopular choice, or one that might end up branding him with many of the same words that kids across the country get branded with – insert your own pejoratives here, I’m not going to dignify them by typing them here – but it was a choice nonetheless. That choice said a lot, too. It said that bullying is in the experience of the bullied, not the intent of the bully himself/herself. Martin, of the Stanford education and the 20 reps at 225 pounds on the bench and the six-figure bank account, simply had no answer for teasing and name-calling and lunch exclusion, but he did have choice. He left. Kids in school bullying situations don’t, and thus begins the cycle I saw up on the screen with Ender Wiggin: the desire to somehow end bullying permanently. I won’t spoiler the movie for those that haven’t read the book, but bullying – and some unseemly steering of his emotional state by authority figures – transforms him into a monstrous entity. Did Martin try to do the same through all those hours in the weight room? Was he trying to permanently outrun bullying by becoming something unbullyable?

It’s easy to look upon Martin’s situation as a reflecting pool of the bullying issue. Some would find his situation laughable, or dismiss his issues as easily discardable; a six hundred-thousand-dollar salary might be interpreted as sufficient to balm the wounds of plenty of names called, or plenty of lunches eaten in isolation. Others would find Martin to be a case study in the lack of hope for bullied kids everywhere; if a starting NFL  offensive lineman can be bullied, what hope is there for skinny junior high kids trying to avoid eye contact with the hulking eighth-grade brutes, dog-eared copiesof Ender’s Game in hand? We all looked forward to being Jonathan Martin someday: frighteningly huge, college-educated, wealthy. Unassailable. What would I have thought of this news when I was in the sixth grade? What does his plight say to those kids today?

What I took out of it is the depressing permanence of the damage bullying causes. It leaves scars that no one can see, and worse, are expected to heal on their own. I’ve taught my kids that school bullying has three timeless and eternal aspects: it exists, it is temporary, and it is best solved in groups.  No amount of school assembly speeches or stern hallway posters are going to eliminate bullies from human existence, but it does pass – at least in the aspect of confinement to the bullying environment, since adults – like Martin – can just pack up and go. It’s also a test of group fortitude, since if even one friend can be counted on to stand up and side with you against a bully – let alone an entire class – bullying can’t survive for long.

But that’s the problem, isn’t it? Bullies pick loners, the Ender Wiggins of the world, to go after. They don’t have classrooms on their side, or even groups – and sometimes not even a single friend – to side with them. Who are the loners of the junior high hallways? Smart kids. Kids with intensity. Kids with learning disabilities. Combinations of the above. I don’t know that Jonathan Martin wasn’t bullied in the Dolphins training room; maybe he was. Or maybe, the kid within Jonathan Martin, the smart kid who got bullied in those junior high hallways, never got a chance to grow up feeling safe – and thus never got a chance to really grow up at all. Souls don’t necessarily benefit from the strengthening effects of bench presses, and bullying scars don’t necessarily heal in the cold tub.

His certainly didn’t.

______________________________________________________

Yes, I’m fully aware of the irony of writing a bullying post involving Ender’s Game when author Orson Scott Card has turned out to be a homophobic monster of an individual, and yes, I’m aware of the backlash against the movie. Here’s what I would say about it: at the time I read the book, Ender’s Game had one of the most powerful messages of compassion, inclusivity, and empathy I had ever read, It moved me deeply to see those qualities present in Ender and his friends, and the book encouraged me to continue along that path in my own life. Clearly, I wasn’t alone in those feelings. If it was Card’s intent to instill in me instead a hatred and suspicion of those different from me, he did a colossally piss-poor job of it, and somehow ended up doing precisely the opposite. In the end, I went to see the movie in large part to close the chapter in my own life that Ender’s Game had been a part of.  I take issue with what Card has become in the years since the publication of the book, and I wonder if he would, himself, not benefit from a careful re-reading of Ender’s Game.

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The Maddening Transience of Memory

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This week found us comfortably ensconced in the airy confines of the Leprino Family Atrium at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science – homeschooling has its privileges! – as E learned systems of linear equations in two variables for the second time, and I learned them right along with her, for probably the seventeenth time in my life. And E’s upset about this fact. She knew this, just last spring. What happened? The same thing that’s happened to me, I tell her: I forgot. And that’s okay.

It’s not that they don’t make sense to me; they do. And it’s not as if I’m not fairly sure I know how to do them (E was, too); it’s just that I’m not a hundred percent sure, and that forms the basis of what I call ‘the maddening transience of memory.’ I learned systems of two variables first in eighth grade algebra, and then again in geometry, again as review for the SAT, and then for the ACT, then again in Algebra II, and since then, there’s been a double-fistful of times I’ve needed to solve a system of linear equations in two variables. The last time, prior to this one, was two years ago when I was working on modeling the educated and English-speaking population of the Philippines for a client. I’ve learned and re-learned how to solve a system of linear equations in two variables over and over in my life, and to be honest, I don’t consider myself an educational failure for it.

The reality is, we retain what we do, and we slowly discard what we don’t. And that, in turn, is why I’m more focused on making sure my kids know how to quickly re-learn something than permanently know it, because permanence – unfortunately – is kind of a relative thing. If the goal of learning is ability, as we’ve said before, then ability is surely the axle that turns the wheel of learning. Leave the axle alone too long, and rust accumulates.

That’s true of everything. Things I’ve known within the last twelve months that I don’t know right now: the guitar solo to Queensryche’s I Don’t Believe in Love; the muzzle velocity of a magnetic coilgun (writing-related, I assure you); contracting regulations for the Federal A-76 outsourcing program; trends in public-sector budgeting for state employment offices; how to bias a 12AX7 amplifier tube; the part number for our whole-house air filter media replacement; the telephone number of our drywall installer (don’t ask).  The list goes on and on. When I’m in the moment, I know the information, and once I’m done with it, it slowly gathers its hat and coat over the course of a week or so and makes its exit. By the way, every single one of those neurons was refilled with some other item of knowledge, and I’ve probably forgotten that, too. The older I get, the more I realize that some aspects of our brains are just like a quirky hard drive of limited capacity; there are things that will always be remembered (the way my wife looked in the sun of Fiddler’s Green on August 6, 1991) and things that will swiftly come back to me when I need them (how to solve a system of linear equations in two variables) and things that I may have already forgotten I ever knew.

So why, then, do we focus so keenly on testing and comprehension for kids? I buy into the argument that it’s important to know something once so that you can re-learn it quickly, and for that, I’m grateful I received 1980s-level rigor in my algebra testing. I did know this once, and did well on it, but testing is (obviously) no guarantee that something has taken up anything like permanent residency in my head. It’s not even a guarantee that the second, or third, or nth, exposure will cement it permanently. I’ve done about a hundred Z- and two-tailed t-tests in statistics in my life, and almost every time I do one, I have to go double-check to make sure which is which; about half the time, I’m wrong. I just don’t do them often enough that the information lives in a high-confidence neuron for me. It’s a never-ending ‘oh, right’ moment.

When Kathy was in medical school, she bought – and made extensive use of – an HP palmtop computer (back when THOSE were a thing) that she had the most marvelous term for. She called it her ‘peripheral brain,’ and in it she stored everything that was useful to a physician from a reference perspective. She was ultimately still responsible, during her intern and resident years, for coming up with a diagnosis and plan for every patient she saw, but dragging around a hundredweight of medical textbooks isn’t an option for an exhausted intern (or anyone, for that matter). Over time, I saw her use it less and less, and when I asked why, she told me that an increasing proportion of what was stored in her peripheral brain had moved to her ‘primary’ one. But it never left entirely, and to this date, she still uses a service called Up to Date, which keeps physicians informed on recent developments in medicine (because it’s a daunting challenge for any physician to remember what’s already been learned, but next to impossible to stay current with every new piece of research). In a sense, she, too, is forever learning and forgetting information in service of the need to do a good job now.

So, what I’ve come to is a position that I’d call the polar opposite of the current grind of elementary and primary school testing. I’m less concerned with my kids’ ability to permanently learn the date of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, or the formula for the volume of a quadrilateral pyramid, or the five major varieties of Pacific salmon. If one of them ends up being an industrial historian, or a civil engineer specializing in pyramids, or a Pacific marine biologist, those facts will end up taking up permanence in their ‘primary brains,’ and for the rest of us, if we need to know it, there’s Khan Academy or Wikipedia or a hundred other sources of ‘peripheral brain’ capacity.

I don’t care that they know something within an inch of their lives today, because there will come a day when they don’t know it anymore, and they need a sense of calm about that; a lost ability is just a few moments of review away from being recovered. What is important to me is that a concept makes sense to them today and can be grasped; anything grasped once can be grasped again, and that’s why I’m talking E off of a ledge, here in the sun-drenched air of the atrium, opening Khan Academy and starting a video on systems of linear equations. It’s as much for me as it is for her.

Just This Side of Narcolepsy

I have the sleep gene. I can fall asleep anytime, practically anywhere, within about ten minutes. One of my daughters, H, got the sleep gene from me as well. ( Our son falls asleep easily but literally pops out of bed at 5:30 am, so I don’t count him as a “sleeper.”) H and I go to bed early, and get up at a reasonable time. I can’t really think of the last time I didn’t sleep all night, given the opportunity. I’ve had countless patients lament to me that they can’t sleep, and while I earnestly listen and empathize with them, in truth I really have no idea what that feels like.

My husband and other daughter, E, on the other hand, have difficulty sleeping at all.  Stimulating intellectual intensity, a desire to read continuously, and feeling there are not enough hours in the day to fit in all of the varied activities they’d like to explore, results in the two of them being up late at night. When I first met my husband, he was stunned that I napped (I come from a long line of professional nappers.) When Dave and I lived in our little apartment, if I had been napping longer than an hour, he would come in, bouncing on the bed, to wake me up to go do something. I would stare at him, one-eyed, like a cat, wondering why he couldn’t sleep more like me (I fondly called him “Tigger” during this phase.)

Things did calm down somewhat when I entered medical school and residency, since I was in a constant state of sleep deprivation for seven years. I was gone every third or fourth night – working all night, and when I did get home to sleep in my own bed, Dave would definitely let me sleep. Having twins leveled things out even more – then I was the one who could tolerate the sleep deprivation, since I’d been living it for so many years. After the fatigue of having three kids, Dave now sleeps more than he used to, and even occasionally naps with me.

So it’s not surprising that I consider sleep to be the best form of self-care for me. Walks and bike rides are great, pedicures and foot rubs even better, but nothing beats a great nap in our bed. The main benefit is brain rest: I can stop thinking about my patient list, a half-finished homeschool project, or what I need to get done around the house. I can blissfully rest away, and, for a short time, all the other issues can wait.

I feel a little sad every time I wake up from a great nap that Dave can’t share that feeling with me. Even while he sleeps, his brain is working overtime. As an example, yesterday, our son – who has always taken to water like a fish – overdid things at the pool, and I had to make him sit out for a while to rest. Dave got himself up twice during the night to check and make sure our son wasn’t “dry drowning.” Once Dave gets something in his head, he won’t be able to sleep until he rectifies it. As a consequence, his mental reset mechanisms are different: playing the guitar, a brisk walk, or a great movie gets him re-centered and ready to go.

Regardless, whether it’s sleep or exercise, we both find that working and homeschooling is impossible if we don’t take care of ourselves, too. Stopping the world to allow ourselves some time to center is the only way to power this system for the long haul. We both encourage the other’s needs: if I announce I’m taking a nap, Dave will say, “that sounds like a great idea, you should definitely go.” I offer the same encouraging words when he’s going out for a bike ride or off to band practice.

Speaking of which, if you’ll excuse me, the bed is calling my name.

 

 

 

We’re participating in a blog hop with Gifted Homeschoolers Forum this week on “Sleep and other Forms of Parental Self-Care.”

Check out the other posts on this topic!

Sept GHF Bloghop

Actually, You Probably Could

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Now that school is back in session, we’re starting to run into our old trad-school friends – at restaurants, in the Target aisles, at the pool in the evening. There are pleasantries exchanged, and they often feel the need to bring up alternating positives and negatives about their own experiences, as if to both reassure themselves and reassure me at the same time. I’m sure we’ll get past all of this in time, and we’ll all agree that we’re doing what we need to be doing. It’s with that thought in mind that I’m finding that the most common denouement to these conversations is a simple statement on their part with respect to homeschooling: “I couldn’t do it.”

Actually, you probably could.

If you felt you needed to.

Seriously. When have you, as a parent, not tried to do what you felt your kid needed? Not wanted; needed. And how often have you, in a split-second, made a judgement call as to whether something was a want or a need? I found myself in the school-supplies aisle at Target this week, and I saw parents make those calls a hundred times over. Yes, you need a binder; no, you don’t need a binder with a built-in iPad holder. Yes, you need a protractor, but I’m sure you could get by with this one instead of that one. Yes, you need a backpack, but…yes, you need a calculator, but…on and on it went. We’re in the business of drawing those invisible lines as parents; where am I serving this kid’s needs, and where am I being wheedled into something unnecessary and indulgent?

I know where that line is in education, and so do you. We all do. If you felt as if homeschooling was a need, instead of an indulgence, you’d do it, and you’d do fine. You’d at least go down swinging, which is all most of us do anyway; some days are wondrous voyages of enlightenment and learning, and other days, we’re fighting through our frustrations just as our kids are fighting through theirs, to get their heads around writing assignments and algebraic formulas and the role of the sickle in early agriculture. Like anything, there are days that we feel like we’re doing it, and there are days we feel like we’re not.

I think that sensation – “I couldn’t do it” – is probably a good and healthy test of your own thought process on homeschooling. This was an option for us for several years, and nothing more, despite a very dear friend and counselor – the inimitable Patty Gatto-Walden – calmly taking Kathy’s hand during a counseling session, looking directly into her eyes, and saying, “you’re homeschooling in three years.” We exchanged a quick glance, one that probably betrayed the shared initial feeling of we can’t do that. And that was true, at the time, because I didn’t know everything I needed to know to perceive homeschooling for my kids as a need, not an indulgence.

But the data piled up, like snow in March here in Colorado, layer upon layer, silent drift upon silent drift, until the same instinct kicked in that makes you start pulling on boots and coats to go and shovel it. EXPLORE scores and WISC-IV data and dyscalculia information and case studies on emotional sensitivity all accumulated until Kath and I began to exchange other glances, ones that suggested that maybe, just maybe, Patty had been right. Were we really going to send a kid off to sixth grade who already tests high mastery of all of middle school and a fat wedge of high school? Were we going to undertake increasingly distant split-grading for another kid who belongs squarely in one grade for writing and reading and squarely in another for math? What about our kid who just doesn’t seem to learn anything in school because the emotional ‘noise’ is too loud? This was looking less like an indulgence with each datapoint.

In the end, Patty was right, of course, and here we are, ready to get going again, and I’m nodding and smiling in response to I couldn’t do that in all of its varieties of delivery.

I couldn’t either, once.

But I can now.

Third Time’s A Charm

This fall we’re at it again. For the third year in a row, we’ll be taking a child (our son, age 7) out of the local GT program and homeschooling him. He’ll join his sisters, age 10, in homeschooling full-time. We’re all excited, because this means more time, more fun, and more learning together. It means being able to stand back and watch, up close, their amazing brains and personalities. I would have never guessed the capacity for a human brain to learn something until we started homeschooling. It is nothing short of astounding.

Thankfully, though, this is our last child. Why do I say thankfully? Because Dave and I have learned some lessons ourselves after we’ve done this two years in a row. So I thought I would share what we’ve learned, and, as an added bonus, we’ll both have this post to look back on when things get dark, and we get scared. Because, as Yoda said, “you will be.”

1. Halloween is not only All-Hallow’s Eve, but also the date at which we will be convinced this is absolutely not working, and we need to send him back to school. By Christmas, everything will be fine. By spring break, we’ll be wondering how he ever went to school.

2. We will need to start from the beginning. No, the actual beginning. Even though the school says that he knows how to write a sentence, read a book, or perform basic math functions, none of these things are completely true. We will need to find out what he knows and doesn’t know, and in some cases, go back to kindergarten level.

3. There are some things he knows at a much higher level than we thought. He will show us what he really knows on these topics, and then we will stare wide-eyed at each other in amazement.

4. There will be days, or weeks (hopefully not months) in which we’ll be fighting. A lot. He’ll be fighting because he hasn’t ever really had to learn, and we’ll be fighting because we don’t understand how he learns. Eventually, we’ll all figure it out.

5. He will have no concept of how to study for a test.

6. He will not know how to critically read a piece of writing, or make inferences.

7. He will not know how to effectively find the answers to his own questions.

8. He will move through some subjects, and grade levels, faster than we thought he ever could.

9. He will find a passion, and in this area, we won’t be able to stop him from anything.

10. He will find confidence and joy. And so will we.

So here’s to the rainy days, the dark days (let’s be honest – jet black), and the sunny days ahead for all of us. It just might be a while before the sun comes out.

 

 

We’re participating in a blog hop this week with Gifted Homeschoolers Forum on “Homeschooling: Where and How to Begin.”

Check out the other posts on this topic!

Small Graphic

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Marty Jones and NAMB's AV conference room equipment.

There is a palpable sense of relief in the room when the company CEO loosens his tie. There’s a moment of respect paid around the conference table, and then top shirt buttons are gratefully tugged open and ties pulled into cockeyed Ys. It can’t be more than 78 degrees in the room, and once it was clear that the air conditioning had well and fully failed, fans were hastily procured and brought in. But it’s still hot.

I keep my tie securely fastened. I’m the vendor in the room.

The next slide comes up, and the narration continues. The corner of this slide reads 11/51. I’ve already read the first eleven, in depth, in my office, and I’ve read the next forty, too. But the CEO wants to deliver them, so I’m listening.

Sort of.

What percentage of me is in this room? Sixty, seventy percent. I’m not necessarily feigning interest; that’s too harsh a term. But, seventeen years into a career of consulting, I can put on a studious expression at will. My soul is twenty-one miles west down I-70, hefting my giggling son in the air for another toss into the deep end of the pool. I can already feel my rotator cuff stinging from the effort, but I don’t mind. My last memory of him, and his sisters, before I left this afternoon was one of pure presence and mindfulness. They are truly themselves in the summer; there’s no artifice of school personas, no submerged intensity. They reach a perfect symmetry of their inner and outer selves, all in balance, all present without shame or conformity. They are the children they are. It’s beautiful.

They’re looking at my tie at this point, and I think about loosening it for a moment, and then – perhaps in honor of that memory – I just don’t. “Can we run that back?” I ask. “Are those assumptions base case or bear case?” More discussion.

I’m not always required to be present in these moments, suit-and-tied in client offices. Most days, when I’m not selling new engagements or reading out existing ones, I can work alongside their summers, shorts and Keens all around as they sprawl about the house with new books or invent new plots involving the TARDIS tent in the basement or add on to the ever-expanding world they’re building in Minecraft. But when I am present in the corporate environment, I’m conscious of how I’m holding it in, toeing the line, obeying the norms –

Speaking of, they’re still looking at my tie. Right; when in Rome. I unfasten the top button my shirt, too, and give my tie a tug. It’s all part of the ritual, the dance…the ojigi.

They’ve done this in school all this time, holding their intensities at bay to be like the others, laughing when the peerage wants it and not laughing when the teacher’s had enough, and otherwise obeying the ojigi of public-school life. They’re not necessarily themselves when they’ve done so, and the contrast between the children I taught for the year and those I see daily over the summer is dramatic.

I know why I do what I do. I enjoy it, first off; it’s mentally engaging for me to help clients tackle thorny issues. I like the people I encounter (mostly) and the compensation I receive for work done (mostly), but that’s all been of my own design. My children trust in me that their school days are spent in equally directed and efficient endeavors. Otherwise, why would you bother? Why not exist in this perfect symmetry at every moment? Why contend with any of the bullshit ojigi at all?

Why not be the people we are all the time?

We don’t get to, of course. There are Important Tasks to Attend To in the Adult World®.  I’m fortunate in that my time-to-be-a-grownup moments are fairly few and far between, but even I have to pretend to be 43 from time to time. But I can see my own purpose for doing so. Even as the slide deck drips languorously over to 12/51, I can contemplate what this engagement means: it’s money in the bank for homeschooling tech, or a fistful of day trips this fall, or in their 529 accounts, or the rainy-day fund. My reward for time spent in ojigi is linear; I know why I’m here, what the pros and cons of my involvement in this moment are. I’m aware of the decision I’m making, and it is made of my own free will.

Theirs isn’t. Education is a long-term investment of their time and effort. Maybe that time and effort docks with the work environment of their future, and it was time well-spent. Maybe it doesn’t, and I’m just burning their childhood hours, these perfect symmetric hours, for nothing. When I do get the chance to remember who they are, skin darkening with each passing day in the sun, laughter a little more organic and less self-conscious as the months roll on, I want nothing more than to preserve the conditions under which they freed themselves to be these people. There are endless days of ties and slides and ojigi ahead of them, but every day I can keep them from that is a day they’ll remember well later. Even when they find their passions and go to them, that’s still not quite the same – and I feel that I will, in some sense, owe them a reckoning of I how I chose to spend these moments on their behalf.

As we roll on to 13/51, comfortably aware of my own motivations in this moment, I look out the window. There’s plenty of sun left in the day.

Resolute

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I spent yesterday morning holding the hand of Resiliency in a darkened auditorium. There were tough moments – many of them, in fact – but Resiliency got through them with quiet grace, as she always does. She broke down later, in the car, and got up again; broke down again later, in the restaurant, and got up again. Resiliency knows that these moments are coming, and she’s gotten better about them over the years, and I love her for doing so.

It’s not easy, I’ve learned by watching from afar, to be a twin. Even when the word itself is meaningless, as it is in our family – they’re fraternal, not identical – it’s impossible to shake. They have been described as twins since birth, given the label over and over again, and been acknowledged as such on every sports team, in the getting-to-know-you round of every first day of school, ever. They have been fed this concept of sameness, of mirrored existence, since they left the hospital.

They are not twins to me. They never have been. They are two children born on the same day that share loving parents and a two-story suburban home. They both like black olives, and they both like pedicures, and they both like Doctor Who and Muse and sea salt-caramel gelato and pandas and footrubs. But they are not twins and never will be, and I know that, and they know that. They are as different as night as day, and they each have their own challenges and burdens to bear. Yesterday, I spent the day celebrating the triumphs of one, and supporting the emotions of the other.

H is our 2e daughter. She is our empath, and our joy fountain, and the canary in the emotional coalmine of day-to-day existence. She struggles with dyscalculia and task sequencing every day. Things we take for granted, like glancing at an analog clock, are work for her. Some days numbers don’t come easily for her, and other days they don’t come at all. She must contend every day with this concept of being a ‘twin’ to someone who does not share her challenges. So when she takes her seat next to me in the auditorium, and E walks tentatively to the stage, still learning to navigate open-toed heels, to accept her high-score certificate for the Colorado state EXPLORE test in science, I squeeze her hand.

She squeezes back. It’s not the iron grip of civility under tension. It’s a reassuring squeeze; Dad, I’m OK. 

For many gifted kids, resiliency is bouncing back from a bad game in chess club, or a robotics assignment that refuses to compile, or a crushing snub for the school poetry annual. H’s is a different type of resiliency. She rises every day knowing that math will be no easier today than it was for her yesterday, that it might make sense but probably will not, but that she must try anyway. Dyscalculia never goes away. Superhuman effort grinds it down to the status of an impediment rather than a disability. It is not a condition that rewards such effort, but merely offers a grudging nod of oppositional approval before retreating to its cave for the night. A level of exertion that, for most of us, would produce growth and confidence merely means a day without tears and frustration. As a society, we tend to view resiliency in terms of its role in enabling forward progress in our lives. The narrative of resiliency in our country is that of rising above our challenges, enduring the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune only to surmount them in the olive wreaths of victory. For H, resiliency is fighting numbers and clocks and money – inexhaustible and omnipresent – to a draw, every day, only to rise and try again tomorrow.

I don’t know what that’s like. What I do know is that I have watched her fall over and over again, and I have watched with hope and pride and love as she has risen each time. It is not a resiliency that many gifted parents know, but for those with 2e children, it is every bit as vital and inspirational as any other flavor.

As she stared resolutely forward, genuinely happy for E, I squeezed back – because I love her for her calm resolve, and because she is the bravest person I know.