L. hiding in the pantry — otherwise known as “I’m a mummy in my sarcophagus.”
There has been a lot of talk about gifts, and “giftedness,” in our house lately.
Proving that things are never boring, at least not for long, in this old red New England home, J. and I received some interesting, unnerving, not all negative, in some ways wonderfully positive, and completely flummoxing news about L. this week. When we went to talk to his kindergarten teacher about how his year has been wrapping up, and what we ought to do to help ease the transition to first grade for our quirky sensory boy, she used the G-word.
Not just a little “gifted.” Possibly a lot “gifted,” she thinks. And I wouldn’t, by the way, be sharing this with you unless it was absolutely relevant to where I am mentally and emotionally today and what I really want to write about. L.’s abilities and disabilities are central to our lives, but they aren’t necessarily what this blog is about and I don’t always like to parade them out on display. But this is what it is, right now, to be in my head and to be a mother, and this post is about mothering. It is, after all, almost OUR day, moms of the world.
It’s not the first time somebody’s casually mentioned this in passing, but I usually shrug it off and smile and blush a little because, hey. Everybody’s kids are smart, right? Everybody’s raising a special snowflake. (And possibly, they’re raising special snowflakes who don’t also have years of OT and PT under their belts, and who can pedal bikes and catch baseballs.) Of course, when he started playing Beethoven on the piano by ear, I sat up a little straighter. When he started reading upside-down and backwards, I got a kick out of seeing him do a G-word parlor trick I’ve been able to do my whole life, and didn’t honestly realize some people couldn’t do until I was, quite literally, almost 30 years old. When he described parts of speech to me by telling me that God constructed everything in the world out of nouns, I melted a little. And when he hotly criticized Tomi Ungerer’s drawings in a picture book by protesting that the palace of the maharajah didn’t look enough like a building that was located in India (he was right, by the way), I rolled my eyes a little bit inside and said to J., “Don’t other kids just listen to their bedtime stories and go to sleep without an intellectual debate?”
It somehow never occurred to me that he was actually, really different in THAT way, not so much that it would require a whole new chapter in our educational advocacy for him. I don’t know why I allowed myself to be surprised by his teacher’s observations, when looking back, it’s quite clear that some of what goes on with L. was probably obvious to everyone else who knew him well. But I was surprised, nevertheless, and a bit – no, not a bit, COMPLETELY – rocked back on my heels by the implications of everything we now know, or think we know, about our kid. By the combination of his highs and his lows. By the realization that we now have things on both extremes of the ability spectrum to deal with, and almost nothing that’s actually in the middle.
It might not have hit me so hard if it didn’t come partly as a wake-up call to re-examine myself. Kids are funny in the way that they grow as living funhouse mirrors of ourselves – not exact reflections, but stretched and re-imagined versions of so many parts of us. I’ve done so much thinking lately about my own journey, not only as a parent and a partner but as an individual human being, and this conference with L.’s teacher brought me face-to-face with the wavy, wobbly image of my own “gifted” childhood….and the reality, which I’ve ignored for over a decade, that “gifted” children grow up into “gifted” adults.
That’s not always good news. You’d think that a “gifted” adult would have a star’s trajectory; that we who graduated from accelerated programs ostensibly designed especially for us and made it through colleges and universities with honors and distinctions and double majors and accolades of all kinds would be the effortlessly successful ones. You’d think we’d stand out as having immaculate careers, high earning potential, positions of power and influence….you’d think we’d have it made. But the truth is that as I look at my boy, who doesn’t live in the middle of any reality or any chart, I see the reflection of myself as a person who has never lived in the middle, either. And adulthood, in case any of us haven’t figured it out yet, is a place where the middle is highly encouraged. The middle is supposedly the best place to be.
I can’t be other than who I am; I can’t blend. I can’t be “sort of” good at things; I either am, really, or I’m not. Really. I can do many, many things well without trying very hard, which has resulted in a life that feels sometimes sort of half-formed because it’s hard to find the things I really WANT to do, and SHOULD be doing, when I can get along fine doing just about any old thing. People look at me, doing just fine, and think I ought to be deliriously happy; but because “just fine” isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of fulfillment, I end up quasi-miserable and confused about why I feel so unsatisfied with the day-to-day. Why the MIDDLE is a place I can’t comfortably inhabit like I’m supposed to.
Living on the extremes is often frustrating, and sometimes beautiful. And if I’m really lucky, I get to have moments of that beauty that are so perfect, so true, that they serve as a way to pull me out of my stuck places, being tethered to the safe but uncomfortable middle of things, and show me where I need to be. I’ve been so blessed lately to have a few of these beacon-like experiences, times when I got to stand up in front of people and speak truth and feel truly powerful. Feel truly, forgive me, “gifted.” These moments are rare in my life and I cherish them because they bring me back to myself. But remarkably, this time, the people who have shared the beautiful moments with me aren’t letting me go quietly back to the middle. They’re cheering me on and pushing me ahead and wanting me to stay extreme.
To you, fellow truth-tellers, who are challenging me to come away from being ordinary and to find a way to be myself, really myself, for the first time in so long: Thank you. To Carla and Laura, to Marian and Jennifer, to Stephanie, Lauren, Lexi, Jackie, Kirsten, Alicia, Kelly, Phyllis, and Jessica, my Listen to Your Mother castmates/sisters, you’re a continuing inspiration in a way you probably will never fully understand. But I love you for it.
To my own mother and sister, who love me when I’m extreme and when I’m not, so much love and gratitude is owed. You’ve seen the ugliness of every part of me and haven’t flinched. And you’ve shown me, in patiently and aggressively loving me my whole life, what it is that I need to do for L., as we walk the G-word (with complications) road with him.
To L.: I vow, this Mother’s Day, to devote myself in the coming year to embracing life on the extremes. To rejecting the middle and understanding that we all have a path to walk, and we all have gifts to give, whether we’re “labeled” that way or not. I will throw myself into loving the path that is open to me and not being afraid to take it, no matter what I think I “should” do to blend into the crowd. I will be more of everything that is right for myself, because you, my child – my mirror on myself – are there to reflect what I put on display. If I show you the way to be boldly and happily and authentically alive on the extremes, you will (I hope, I hope) know that it’s okay to be someone for whom the middle isn’t an option. You will know that you can be more YOURSELF. And you will give your gifts lavishly and openly, something too many of us fight doing for too long.
Happy Mother’s Day, dearest readers of this crazy blog of mine. You’re so much a part of my heart and the best of my extremes. Thank you for the gift of YOU. Without your eyes on these pages, RRG is nothing. Gifts aren’t gifts until they’re shared.