Archive for the ‘Intensities’ Category

Time for A Cool Change

just_beyond_the_sunset_by_annmariebone-d5k2jnv

And now that my life is so prearranged
I know that it’s time for a cool change.

– Little River Band

I spent the last week taking H and E to Colonial Williamsburg for the first time. Their teacher, along with some kids from their class, went on a class trip this week, so we decided to take the opportunity (with not much going on at school) to head there ourselves. My aunt lives in Colonial Williamsburg, so we flew into Newport News, VA and stayed with her while we toured the sites around the town. Because she lives there, we were also able to get great discounts on tickets, and the weather was wonderful in April.

It was a fabulous experience. (For those of you who have visited, you will recognize the activities.) The girls rented costumes from the visitors center – white colonial dresses with pink and purple sashes – and we headed into the town itself. When we rented the costumes, the girls were given a type of scavenger hunt to complete in the town: learning colonial manners at the Geddy House, learning how to plant a turnip seed in the community garden, and delivering a letter with a request from the post office to the printing office. Everywhere we went, the actors would stop and talk to H and E, inquiring how they were doing, and giving us information about the period. One kind lady helped us put their bonnets on correctly (since I had no clue how they were supposed to go on.) We took a relaxing carriage ride around town, and walked the evening ghost tour under a beautiful and spooky full moon on a cool night. Every day around 3:30, there was live theater in the streets, which recreated events in the town around the time of the Revolutionary War. The girls were enthralled by the open-air acting; the second day ended with the cannons firing followed by the fife-and-drum march. We learned about the different trades, how things were made, and how everyone dressed (including the wig shop, which was fascinating.)

Looking back on it now, the best thing I did in terms of planning the trip was not to make a plan at all. I would describe touring with gifted, intense kids as a “speed up-slow down” process. I never knew for sure what was going to excite them, but when they were interested in something from an intellectual, emotional, imaginational, or sensory viewpoint, they would stay right there until they were done. In the case of observing and learning about glassblowing, that turned out to be several hours of a morning for E. We woke up one particularly cool morning and decided that would be a good day to see glassblowing; being around the hot ovens is pleasantly warming when it’s cool outside, and, conversely, can be oppressive when it’s hot. Both the girls were transfixed by the process. Then H spent the better part of an afternoon learning about fashion: corsets, stays, dress styles, bonnets, hats for all occasions, wigs, and shoes. There were other things that I thought they would be more interested in, but weren’t. Sometimes this was because they were hungry, or tired, or just mentally worn out. So, we moved along quickly if they weren’t feeling it, and took frequent breaks at my aunt’s house for lunch, snacks, and relaxing/reading time.

The fourth day we were there, we woke up to find it drizzly and cool – not great weather for touring outside. So, we headed to the Yankee Candle store by my aunt’s house (really, it’s more of a mall since it’s one of their flagship stores.) We saw the Christmas store inside with the twinkling lights on the ceiling while it snowed every 4 minutes – seriously! – they made their own candles, smelled every possible scent, and tasted fudge and popcorn. It was an intense kid’s dream. When we finally emerged, the sun was coming out, and we spent some time relaxing on the porch before heading out to Colonial Williamsburg again.

On our first night back home together, we all ate dinner at the table, then sat outside around our firepit, eating s’mores and listening to music, while the kids spun their tales from the week. The full moon rose over the house, and we danced and laughed until late in the evening, with nothing in particular to get up early for the next day.

I returned invigorated for the coming year. I realized that my main source of frustration these days is trying to fit my unscheduled family into a scheduled life. We’re an unscheduled bunch: Dave and I both have flexible jobs with deadlines, but we can move the work around where it makes sense in the day or the week, and ebb and flow somewhat with our energy and interest levels. A pops out of bed at 6 am, ready to go. By 1 pm, he doesn’t want to sit – he wants to go run around. H works best starting mid-morning, with frequent breaks. E works best in the evening, staying up late and sleeping in.

The friction enters the picture when I am trying to fit our unscheduled family life into the school life, which is structured and scheduled. In our house, intensities aren’t on a schedule, and I’ve grown weary of scheduling them when I don’t have any reason to do so. I’m ready for life to speed up and slow down naturally. It’s time for a cool change.

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Redstone Willow

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Minecraft stole into my house with the grace of a cat burglar.

It began as a topic of discussion among the kids in the car; who was playing, who was not playing (I can take a hint as well as the next parent), and what untold delights awaited those LUCKY CHILDREN (ahem) who had access to their OWN SERVER. Over time, as these discussions got more frequent, I began to give them a rear-view mirror smile, the patented Dad grin that says “I hear every word you’re saying, and right now, I’m working out how to rig this to parental advantage.” The hints stepped up further over time, and the wide-eyed stories of the glories of Minecraft grew more evangelical after every Mojang-centric playdate, until the fervor reached a pitch I couldn’t ignore much longer. The timing worked out, actually. They’d grown weary of Wizard 101, and Free Realms, and I was looking around for something that could replace both – and, ideally, add more creativity to the gaming equation. But, like all modern parents, the choice presented itself when it comes to the new end-all, be-all video game: am I a willow or an oak?

Quick aside: I grew up in a no-video-games household. My parents’ reaction to the September 1977 U.S. launch of the Atari 2600 was truly something to behold, a cross between John Lithgow in Footloose and Jason Miller in The Exorcist. I genuinely felt bad for them in retrospect; I’m not sure how I would have handled the arrival of an entirely new childhood time-wasting technology, either. What I do know, from raising three kids myself, is that if you demonize anything, that thing instantly becomes a must-have. (We really should put salmon filets and homework up in a high cabinet and declare them off-limits.) I’m a case study in that. I lived eighteen videogame-free years in my home growing up, sneaking time on Yar’s Revenge and Pitfall at my friends’ houses; when I went off to college, I promptly blew my first retail-store paycheck on a Sega Genesis.

That was the oak route, one I got a good firsthand look at. So we’ve opted to be willows, submitting to the wind but not breaking. Here’s the thing: like most things in life, your kids are going to play videogames. Don’t try and deny it. It’s going to happen. Getting in front of that train ends just like you’d think getting in front of a train would. Are you the we-don’t-have-a-TV family? They’ll be playing on a laptop. No laptop? It’ll be an iPad. No iPad? No iPhone? They’ll be That Kid at sleepovers. “I know it’s three-thirty in the morning, but CAN’T WE PLAY MARIO KART AGAIN?”

The trick is not to outlaw videogames, but to manage them, and I’ll be honest: as management tasks go, Minecraft is pretty benign. If I judged it strictly by its presentation, I’d actually be pretty surprised that they’re into it: the graphics look like two crappy 80s arcade games had a goat-child, the sound is just as bad, and the server-side mods can be wonky (think NetWare 3.12 wonky). But by God, they take to the gameplay like it was a triple-fudge Oreo dusted with fairy glitter. There’s something about the possibility of unlimited creation that engages them at some very primal level, and they’d probably play it six hours a day if I let them. Maybe that’s what concerns parents about Minecraft – that it does seem so obsession-prone in its nature, and that their kids, left alone, will want to play it six hours a day. How’s that going to be managed? What’s the answer to that request?

Well, every once in a while, the answer should probably be yes. One of my favorite phrases around our house is “everything in moderation, including moderation.” Once in a great while, if it would truly balm your soul to eat a carton of ice cream, or take a three-hour nap in the sun, or sample every chocolate milk stout on the market in one afternoon – or play six hours of Minecraft – I think you should do it. Not every day; it’s not a round table, and Moderation sits at the head of it. But every once in a while, especially if they’ve truly rocked the other aspects of their growth and development that week, I’ll let them go to town. Once in a great while, mind you. Because if ‘a great while’ got to be too often…

…well, that’s a slippery slope. Buffalo Mama wrote a post a while back entitled “But What If All The Kid Wants to Do is Play Video Games?” It’s a core question in unschooling: what if something becomes everything? Well, I’m not sure I would let anything become my children’s everything, no matter what it was. Everythings, in general, are bad in a house of intensities, because if something is an everything, everything else gets squeezed out completely. It’s one reason we do Adventure Lunches over the summer, and try out Indian and Greek and Korean and Moroccan food, chasing sushi with rice-paper ice cream balls and vegetable korma with gulab jamun: because left alone, humans fall into ruts. For kids, that’s doubly true, and for intense kids, even moreso. It’s easy to let them become chicken tender-eating, sidewalk-Razoring, Mario Kart-driving, Phineas and Ferb-watching automatons, so we continuously break that ice as it emerges with baba ganoush and indoor skydiving and Portal and Doctor Who and a zillion other life variations that keep them evolving.

What I have learned on the videogame front is to bend like a willow, rather than break like an oak, and thus it came to be that they became LUCKY KIDS with their OWN SERVER. And you know what? Their intellectual and creative development hasn’t faltered in the slightest; if anything, it’s grown, and given them a new means of socialization as well. I’ve seen how this game can bring kids together; operating a Minecraft server has been the 2013 equivalent of owning a trampoline or a swimming pool in the 1970s. The other kids come around to play – virtually, in this case – and there’s something to be said for watching how other kids approach the tasks of resource collection and construction. They build together, and they build apart, but there’s a line of companionship and shared passion that runs through all of it.

It’s not everything for them, but it’s a something that I’m cool with, and I haven’t seen their interest in other somethings diminish. Oh, and we get to talk about other stuff in the car now. Win/win.

The Woodpecker and the Hummingbird

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We have an extremely irritating woodpecker who loves to drum on our house. It’s likely different woodpeckers from year to year, but I like to imagine it’s one single, annoying bird. Despite each of us wandering out and shooing it away, taping old CDs to our house, and putting metal protection where it likes to work, it continues to drum away at our house year after year.  Knock, knock, knock.

We also have a neighbor who loves to attract different types of birds. He has several hummingbird feeders, and I love to watch them as they flit around our garden, precise in their approach, going from flower to flower. They don’t stay long, but they are beautiful to watch. When they leave, we look wistfully after them, wanting to follow.

I grew up thinking that being like a woodpecker was a good thing. Not the annoying part (though I’m certain I was pretty good at that skill as a child), but the persistent part. Keep at it, keep working at it, and eventually good things will come to you. Perseverance was the key to success. For my own life, this has actually worked out to be pretty much true. I decided around the age of eight that I wanted to be a doctor. I took Latin in high school because I thought it would help me understand medical terms. I majored in biology in college, went to medical school, then internal medicine residency, and then found a great job. I might be a case study in the success of persistence.

I have come to observe, though, that recommending this path is not always a good fit for gifted individuals. Meeting my husband was interesting. Here was a brilliant man (he will protest this post) who was good at everything. A true polymath, as comfortable writing a novel, performing calculus, or playing in a band. I have come to understand, over the years of being married to him, that the multipotential nature of these folks is often a curse and a blessing. Do you persist at something that you are insanely good at, but don’t really enjoy? How many things should you continue to focus on, when there are so many options to choose from? When is it OK to let go and move on?

One of our daughters has turned out to be a polymath as well. I am thankful every day that she has my husband to help guide her. She could so easily look at my life and think to herself, “that’s how I should do things.” But, in following me, she would be miserable. Polymaths get restless easily, and can persist in doing things far beyond their useful life to the person involved. I think of them as the hummingbirds: they attack each subject they are interested in with deep intensity, ingesting everything they can from the experience in record time. Before long, they are done with it, and can then move onto the next thing. I imagine there is no other way to live your life when everything has so much possibility.

Other folks may observe this behavior and think, “they quit too soon, they had such potential!” For those of us who are really good at a few things, the woodpecker life suits us well. We continue to drum away, happy in our success, never yearning for anything more. For polymaths, however, only a hummingbird’s life will do. Making them continue to do something, long after the flower has been sucked dry, is more harmful to them than teaching any lesson of persistence. My house may be full of finished and discarded projects, and probably a lot of lost potential, but the birds of various types are all happy, which is what matters to me.

My Daily Dose of Vitamin P

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One of the wonderful things about being an internist in a geriatric practice is the continual, daily perspective on what matters in life. I work part-time, rounding on patients who are residing at a skilled nursing facility or in long term care. Often, I will only be caring for a patient for a few weeks, one in a line of physicians from the emergency department to the hospital to myself. I will then hand them back to their regular physician when they are ready to discharge.  Even though I may not know them for long, I do have the luxury of being able to spend more time with them, seeing them several times a week if needed, and focusing on what’s really important to them. I am supported, thankfully, by fabulous teams of nurse practitioners, nurses, and nurses’s aides; physical, occupational, and speech therapists; nutritionists and case managers that keep things running smoothly for these patients at the various facilities I round at.

When I first meet a patient, I have already read their prior chart, looked through their medication lists, and retrieved the details of their recent medical history from our electronic medical record.  I let them know that I’ve already looked through this material, so they don’t have to repeat their story for the umpteenth time (unless they’d like to).  I’m mainly there to find out more about them, how they are feeling that day, and elicit whatever medical concerns they have.  We can then focus more on how recent events have affected them and their loved ones.  Many of the patients I see are over age 75, with quite a number over 90, and so discussions of end-of-life planning are common.

One of the first questions I ask is, “tell me about yourself.” It’s an open-ended question that allows them to tell me what is most important about themselves from their frame of reference, not anyone else’s. Even in patients with significant dementia, they are able to answer this question with details about childhood events; they are not living in the present, but perpetually in the past. Others, whose cognitive status is more intact, can tell me about their current life. I hear details about children, grandchildren, pets, faith, volunteer work, and travel. I also listen to descriptions of grieving, loss of hearing and eyesight, medical illness, fear, and pain.

Interestingly, the one thing patients don’t tell me is what they did for work. They might be happy to tell me proudly what their children and grandchildren (and sometimes great-grandchildren) do for work; their family members are business owners, military service members, homemakers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, and everything in between.  I often prompt patients to find out what they did daily for the better part of their life. Most have been retired for 20 years or more, and that part of their life has become less important to them over time, fading into the distance like so many memories. For many years since retirement, their life has been filled up with family, new babies, friends, pets, hobbies, books, and much more.  Even the patients who didn’t have children are involved as great-aunts, or run the local pet shelter. It doesn’t matter if they worked as a contractor, researcher, dancer, professor, engineer, author, or dentist.  It doesn’t matter where they went to high school, college, or graduate school, or what grades they got along the way. It doesn’t matter how devoted they were to their work, what awards they won, or whether they achieved notoriety in their field.  None of this matters as much to them at this point in their lives. While they have regrets, what matters to them the most are the personal connections they have been able to sustain throughout their lifetimes.

These daily encounters often leave me thinking about how to guide my current life. Meaning, if I had their perspective – vitamin P – how would I live my life right now? I find I have more initiative to help my kids find their passions in life, and less tolerance for continuing in negative situations. I seek the company of those who understand and celebrate me for who I am, not those who want me to be something I am not. I celebrate exploration and discussion more than achievement, and I place a higher value on snuggling and long walks.

When I am done rounding and go home to my family, it is a joy to walk through the door. I have usually picked up our kids from school, after homeschooling in the morning. Dave has been working from home, or we switched times that day so he could attend a client meeting. The house is busting with multiple intensities of every type, and learning, work, love, and laughter are all mixed together in one crazy bundle of energy. I will be always grateful that I became a physician, not as much for the patients I helped, but for how they helped me. And I hope, towards the end of my life, to have lived in a way that would make them proud, too.

Haku

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Nomenclature’s back again, for what appears to be its scheduled quarterly visit. Apparently, every three months I’ll get a trash bill in the mail, a cheery reminder from the work email server to change my password, and a scolding from somewhere in the world – in this case, New Zealand – about what term is socially acceptable to use in referring to my kids.

Know what? I’m kinda done with it. I’m not surrendering on this front, per se, but I will agree that we need a new word – if for no other reason than the word gifted itself has become a charred ruin. It’s radioactive. There’s no deploying the word in conversation without kick-starting a polemic. We might be able to come back to gifted in fifty years, or a hundred, but for the moment, it’s untouchable without tongs and a rad suit. It’s just become too divisive to be useful.

I’m glad that something finally pushed me off the fence, but the article itself is something of a trainwreck. It’s not as if Stacy Hunt doesn’t make any good points; I don’t like the term ‘gifted,’ either, actually, and I’m in at least partial agreement with her as to why. It’s a word loaded to the gunwales with effusive positivism. As a term, gifted virtually explodes off of the page in a nimbus of birthday candles and tinsel. But that doesn’t really match up to the reality for most of us. Gifted kids (and adults) don’t always feel positively about giftedness. It’s not that it’s not often useful to be gifted; it’s just that somehow, the word needs to reflect the flawed, organic nature of the gift itself.

I’ll also concede the point that gifted seems to indicate an act of giving, from some sort of outside force. While it’s true in the strictest definition – hell-O, those gametes came from somewhere – it also has a sense of something arbitrarily boxed up and shipped. Gifted didn’t come from somewhere, as gifts do, and it can’t go back, receipt or no. If it’s a gift, it doesn’t behave like one in the truest sense of the word. In these two areas, at least, I’d be fine with dispensing with the term. It just doesn’t convey the whole of the condition. Like so many words in our language, it sucks at conveying the complexity of what it describes.

But having made these points, then Hunt’s got to go where all good nomenclature critics go – into the elitist argument, as if having gifted kids is just pure upside, unadulterated positive differentiation. For Hunt, our use of gifted marks us all out as the bored, arrogant, listless Eloi to her salt-of-the-earth, hard-working Morlocks. I’ll respectfully disagree, as I always do when this tired saw of an argument gets deployed by offended gifted critics. I tend to think of elite in the strictest sense of the term – one in which, if I was part of this supposed elite, I’d be lounging on a dais with a fistful of grapes in hand while my gifted children worked diligently at their own self-designed work, my life vastly easier than that of other parents as a result. That’s not the case for us, and if you’re reading this, I’m guessing it’s not true for you, either. In fact, I’m pretty sure the ten-gee gravitational environment of a two-career, homeschooling household with three gifted kids would crush our New Zealand correspondent flat within a day. (Who’s the Morlock now?)  Still, I’ll take the presence of the elitist argument in Hunt’s column as more evidence that gifted has become a radioactive word. Start up a nomenclature jihad, and this is sure to be among the first arguments wheeled out. It’s become a knee-jerk reaction, and we’re simply going to have to acknowledge the reality: it would take a great deal of work to calm those societal knee nerves down at this point.

All right, then. Whatever. Fine. Here’s your term back; you don’t like it, and neither do we, really. It does some magical things for parents still in a traditional school setting, so for them it’s worth the slings and arrows. For those of us that have brought our kids home, though, it’s nothing but slings and arrows. It’s served its time as a word that enables us to identify and talk with each other, and that’s useful at a sort of fifty-thousand-foot level. But even within ‘gifted’ as a broad-brush term, gifted sucks at specific description. We’re HG and EG and PG and 2e; we see the world through different intensities. My PG/intellectually intense E might belong under the same extremely wide umbrella as my HG/2e-emotionally intense H, but in our house they’re chalk and cheese – and A’s just as different from both of them. If I really wanted to describe them, I’d put their intensities in order behind their ‘G’ rating, so E would become PGInSIm, while H would become HG2eEInS, and A turns into EGESPIm. Descriptive? Sure. But a system like this one would read like stereo instructions.

So the term is neither accurate nor generically descriptive, and any system that would introduce fine detail – like the one above – would push the bounds of syntactic usefulness.  Fine. Where to from here?  How about using something completely non-judgmental, like…colors? Well, we’ve been through the Indigo phase, and that didn’t stick, which is kind of a shame. Indigo would have been a very agreeable and decidedly non-elitist term for kids in a different part of the spectrum. Oranges and reds and greens, and over here, the indigos. But a relatively benign basic concept got wrecked, excessively loaded down with New Age mysticism and outright bullshit (and meta-meta-bullshit), so we’re left to struggle for other possibilities.

Perhaps we can build it from the ground up, and look through our lexicon for a candidate. What does our word need to have in it? We’re different, for one, so let’s not entertain any sense of not being the Other. We are. Deal with it, society at large. We don’t see the world the same way you do. We perceive it through lenses of intensity, one before another, filtering and polarizing and changing our view of life. We think about things differently. So let’s not bother with campfire songs about belonging; we need a word that does a little bit of xenos. But not too much – because so many of our, um,useful xenos words are positively charged. Keen, sharp and bright all share a common antonym – dull – and that’s just the tip of the problematic iceberg in assessing the descriptive words as possibilities. From our own point of view as parents, too, we’re also going to need a word that isn’t strictly positive or negative. There are aspects of both to gif- er, to our children’s existences. So, you know…we’re looking for one of those emotionally ‘safe,’ culturally cautious words with immense descriptive power that can mean something daunting and challenging and wonderful and exhausting all at the same time. Good luck with that.

You have to wonder if, perhaps, we’ve arrived at a place where we’ll need to go outside of our own language to find a word that fits the bill. Just for fun, I went back to some of the wonderful work I’ve read on giftedness in other cultures and other languages. Among these is the work of Jill Bevan-Brown, who’s done some exceptional work on giftedness among the Maori. How appropriate! After all, the Maori are right in our New Zealand correspondent’s backyard. Maybe Hunt has had exposure to something better. Something more wonderfully on point, in the way that sometimes only the words of other cultures can be. Perhaps there’s a Maori word that might suit our needs.

Except it turns out that they don’t have a word for giftedness. Not in our sense, anyway. Gifted kids in Maori culture are valued and nurtured and offered ‘full membership’ in society – but they’re not labeled. I wonder if we shouldn’t try that road; labels seem to have done us little good up to this point from the society-level view. Until then, though, nomenclature has value – and just before I left Bevan-Brown’s world of Maori giftedness, I took one last look through the Maori lexicon for inspiration.

Guess what? One word – haku – means four different things at the same time: gift, flaw, open up, and flash (like lightning).

If there’s a better single word to describe what’s going on in our house, I’ll cheerfully take it. Until then, I’m thinking about adopting haku as our term  – our flawed gifts flickering and flashing as they open us up to new possibilities each day.

Hands On With Intensity

My day started out with an overabundance of pomegranate seeds. Specifically, too many of them to reasonably eat. We use a service in our area called “Door-to-Door Organics;” they deliver fruits and veggies to us once a week. Between last week and this week’s orders, we ended up with 4 pomegranates, producing about 4 cups of pomegranate seeds. And, though my kids love to eat the seeds, even they can’t eat that much before the next delivery.

I was sipping my coffee and decided to Google what I might be able to make with the seeds, and found a recipe online for oatmeal pomegranate muffins. The kids and I measured the ingredients, mixed up the batter and topping, and baked the muffins. We then sat down to a family breakfast to sample our work. The muffins were delicious, and a great way to use up a lot of the seeds. My kids talked excitedly about the flavor and texture of the muffins, and discussed whether or not they would like to make this recipe again (a resounding yes.)

Next we moved onto the cardboard box which arrived yesterday in the mail. Inside said box: one frog dissection kit. E and A had asked if they could do more science at home, and after a discussion about options, we ordered a dissection kit to try it out. The kit comes with most of the items you need to perform a dissection, including the preserved frog. Being a doctor who rounds at different facilities, I luckily always have a box of latex gloves in the back of my car; we all donned the gloves and got to work. Over the next hour, we observed, poked, prodded, and dissected the frog with the instructions provided (and some assistance from our iPad app.) H even joined in on the fun for a while, before deciding that the smell (not to mention the sight of a dead frog) was a bit overwhelming for her emotional and sensory intensity. E, meanwhile, meticulously separated and labeled the organs, while A kept commenting on how interesting it was to see the inside of a frog. The most unexpected find for them? Observing the delicacy of the webbing on the frog’s hands and feet. Once we were done, we said a quiet thank you to the frog for giving his life so we could learn.

Next up for the day: sewing machine lessons. My grandmother taught me how to sew, knit, and crochet when I was a kid, and my mom does quite a bit of sewing herself. I personally haven’t done much sewing since med school, but had bought a new sewing machine a few years back so I could hem the kids’ pants and sew on scout patches. Mostly, though, the machine sits unused.  H has developed an interest in fashion design, and I mentioned to her that she could start by designing clothing for her American Girl doll (the look-alike kind.) She ordered a book of patterns , and we all trekked to the fabric store. Two very intense hours later (seemingly infinite colors, textures, and ideas), we left with our fabrics, and a multitude of possible projects.  H decided on a pink animal print dress to start.

While Dave helped E clean up the frog dissection, I worked with H on cutting out the fabric according to the pattern, and we pinned the pieces to get ready to sew. E had expressed an interest in learning, too,  so I taught them both the basics of running the machine.  Together, we sewed the dress, (which frankly looked adorable on her doll – she did a fine job picking out the material,) and H was so excited that she decided to make a miniature pillow and rug on her own. E embarked on making a Kindle case – using her soft purple fabric – with a velcro closure.

I sat down and relaxed after an awesome morning. I reflected on moving through math, science, project sequencing, and life skills within the space of a few hours. The kids all stayed intensely interested and inquisitive, and I very much enjoyed myself, too. Not only did I get to spend time with them, I had the privilege of teaching them new skills, and watching their amazement at their new knowledge and ability to use it.  Learning, the way it was meant to be.

Call the Doctor

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It was probably only a matter of time (pun intended) before at least one of the kids discovered the world of Doctor Who. It was a slow build for us; some of the other kids in the fifth-grade class H and E part-time in had started watching, some picking up in the David Tennant seasons, others climbing into the newer Matt Smith episodes. I myself hadn’t watched any iteration of Doctor Who since Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor, and I decided to give it a try with them. By turns witty, poignant, touching and exciting, Doctor Who is everything I remember it being, with all the benefits of 21st-century CGI added into the mix.

The more we watched, though, the more I found E (in particular) identifying closely with the Doctor. That was probably inevitable; he’s quite obviously some flavor of gifted, or perhaps all Gallifreyans are as bright as he, or perhaps he simply benefits from the compended wisdom of close to a thousand years’ existence. Regardless, E instantly fell in love with him. (It’s a little disconcerting when your nine-year-old daughter describes anyone as ‘hot,’ but I suppose I’ll take a Matt Smith/Doctor crush over Bieber Fever.) Still, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was about the Doctor’s character that E was finding so appealing and comforting, until we sat down as a family and watched “Vincent and the Doctor.” Then it hit me: where else is she going to find a truly asynchronous protagonist in pop culture?

The Doctor lives in a Gordian knot of asynchrony during the Matt Smith seasons; his wife, the engaging River Song, is actually living her life backwards from the Doctor’s perspective, so each time they meet she knows more about him and he knows less about her. The Doctor himself is killed at the beginning of season six, only to arrive on the scene moments later, a full two hundred years younger, having had the good sense to work out a means by which his companions can investigate his own death once it’s occurred, with a younger version of himself along for assistance. (And let’s not even get started with the paradox of the sonic screwdriver and the Pandorica.) It’s all delightfully madcap, and through it all, the Doctor maintains a gallantry and cool charm that E has found truly enthralling. It’s OK, in the Doctor Who universe – cool, even – to be asynchronous.

I’m glad that voice exists for her. Asynchrony is, from my perspective, the most difficult thing about being a gifted child.  Nine-year-old E – “9E,” for the sake of brevity – comes and goes. Most of the time, she’s solidly ‘teen E,’ more content circumnavigating a playground’s outside path than playing within it. But while she often rolls her eyes at the activities of typical ‘nines,’ she’s usually good for a Saturday morning bowl of Cocoa Puffs and some Phineas & Ferb. We’ve seen a lot more of 12E lately; she’s a little authoritarian with her siblings sometimes, and more prone to exploring some of the more – ahem – mature content residing in our Kindle Cloud account. 14E is handling Algebra I quite nicely, but this new, mathematically-patient E is a very recent iteration, and it’s taken her most of the fall to round into form. We aren’t quite sure what age E is writing at; based on her ACT and EXPLORE scores, that iteration is somewhere between 16E and 19E, and I daresay even 20E has shown up in our critical reading sessions from time to time.

All of these entities have to coexist within 9E’s physical form. I don’t envy her. As a 43-year old guy, I’ve finally reached the age when I’m not seeking to be accepted by anyone for being any age older than my own. (Although many mornings, I’d prefer to be twenty years younger, especially after horsing around with the kids all day.) But E’s just starting down that road, her mind variously projecting iterations of herself five and even ten years older than her biological age, with those iterations often coming and going within the space of an hour. It’s as alienating for her as I remember it being; chronological peers aren’t always where you are intellectually, while your intellectual peers are uncomfortable with you socially. Expectation-setting is a catch-22 for all of us. Do I assume she’ll default to her most mature and intellectually-proficient iteration, and her ‘true age’ moments are aberrations? Do I assume she’s 9E with occasional visitations from the Ghosts of Future E? Do I mentally average all of these iterations and assume she’s 14 years, seven months, or some other such amalgam? In truth, I can’t do any of these things. It’s left to us to merely accept her in whatever iteration the moment and the subject find her, and address her in a manner appropriate to that age. She’s unstuck in time, a gifted Billy Pilgrim, and chasing her across these various iterations during the course of a given day makes me wish for a sonic screwdriver of my own. (Or just a screwdriver.)

I suppose I’m not surprised, then, to find her glued to the wildly asynchronous Doctor’s adventures, hand drifting unconsciously to the popcorn bowl as Matt Smith visits Renaissance Italy and a deep-drilling mining operation in the future and sad Vincent van Gogh himself, his work unappreciated in his time until he’s shown a glimpse of his fame in our own present. Companions come and go in the Doctor’s world, and perhaps that’s by design; asynchrony, whether you’re in a TARDIS or a suburban frame house, is a lonely path. No two humans are alike, but it’s rare that two asynchronous, PG kids can operate in the same relative time long enough to even build a stable friendship. In many ways, I think E wishes it could be as simple as the Doctor’s life is, with the rubber monster of the week or the metallic cybernetic menace of the moment dispatched with thoughtful elegance in every hour’s episode. Perhaps it would be easier for her. But until age gifts her unity, as it has for me, I wish her the very best of every age she’s in.