May 20, 2013

Undesired Gift

There are gifts you are given that come with no receipt, that cannot be returned for a refund or store credit, no matter how inconvenient or improbable they are. Some days I feel this way about parenting in general, but today it's about something more specific.

I have loved learning my whole life. I learned to read on my own at four, then devoured Nancy Drew mysteries in 1st grade and Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo in 5th grade. Though there were challenging moments for me in school, very few of them were academic. I was in college before I learned how hard it could be to learn. I did fine and got my degree in a challenging major, then entered the corporate world.

My husband grew up similarly. He was speaking in complete sentences by age 18 months and reading before school. He loved detail and rules, Legos and learning. His college/post-college path has had math, philosophy, flying lessons, seminary, and trade work.

With all of this, it doesn't surprise me that our kids both love learning--and reading, too. The so-called gift I want to return this morning is just how good they are at learning.

Before going farther, allow me a disclaimer: families struggle through each day for their children. Some families have incredibly heavy loads to bear due to their child/children's health, mental, emotional, or developmental needs. Usually when I hear a conversation about a 'gifted' child, it is perceived as that parent "complaining" (bragging, really) about how talented little June is and how hard it is to keep up with her. Every other parent in the group tends to feel defensive about their child and want to know where the 'gifted' child (or that child's parent) is lacking. This makes it incredibly hard for a parent of an irregularly intellected kid to communicate their own fears and concerns, to have someone hear how truly terrified they are by their child. I believe every child has a gift that is their own and a passion that only they will express in a particular way. I do not believe every child scores in the 1 out of 1,000 ranking on a test. It's mathematically impossible.

There are times I am scared of my kids. It isn't normal to find out by accident that your 4-yr-old can count by 5s--especially when you don't know where or how they learned it. It can be bone-chilling to have your 3-yr-old give you a run-down of some of Tchaikovsky's work when you didn't even know the child was listening to classical music. It is terrifying to hear your 6-yr-old teach a 3-yr-old sibling how to tessellate and what shapes work to tessellate--then have to go look the word up yourself to figure out what they're talking about so casually. (Tessellating is also known as 'tiling the plain' in mathematics. Shapes that can be laid next to each other without leaving 'gaps' in the tiling can be used for tessellating; squares and triangles work for this, but circles don't.)

How do you handle this as a parent? How do you balance ALL of your child's needs in light of something like this? If we insist on keeping them with age-related peers so they relate to them socially, is that good discipline for them or does it solidify a belief that school isn't where their learning happens? Are we enriching their lives or depriving them of... fill in the blank? Idyllic plans of using flash cards on items around the house to help my kids learn to read are long gone. Any teaching I do for them at home is more a case of trying to find a door for today's passion, then leave it open just a hair. They ignore it or break down the door to learn more. I never really know which it's going to be from one day to the next, but I better have a door ready all the same. It's exhilarating and exhausting at the same time.

It is definitely a gift, but still one that is tiring and terrifying at times; a gift I sometimes wish I could return.

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