Did I Fail My Gifted Child? What to do when your child thinks outside of the box.
Savannah was my first daughter, I had her when I was barely 22 years while a student at the University of Toronto and working part-time. As my mom told me back then, “you have a good life, why would you do this?” Yes, life was good, I was traveling and of course, partying like most 22-year olds. My boyfriend then wanted to have her, we were in puppy love and I was blindly raised, to just meet a man and get married. I decided to keep her, thinking we would live happily ever after. Subsequently, he ended up dropping out of the relationship and fatherhood altogether – as he fell prey to life in the party lane and unfortunate addictions, its too bad because he was a really, nice guy, who couldn’t kick the addiction. Perhaps that’s another blog, for another day.
It was a healthy, easy pregnancy, I didn’t grow a big belly until the last trimester, which at first was alarming to my O.B. so he monitored my progression carefully. During one of her ultrasounds – the doctor said “10 fingers, 10 toes” and that’s when it really hit me – oh there are children who can be born without this? And that’s when I started quietly praying each night, that I would have a normal, healthy child. By the time she was 2, her father all but dropped out of our lives, no money or physical support was to come for the rest of her life.
Leaving me to in the treacherous waters of real, single motherhood, no co-parenting, to child support cheques, no alternating weekends of babysitting. Back then there were not many online resources at all for raising children, there was no Mom meet up groups, or online forums for new moms. The mall and the neighborhood park were my mom outlets. None of my friends were having children, there was certainly no wiki-how- to raise your child or Instagram comparison posts to other super-moms.
All I knew, was that I didn’t have to overly childproof my house, I would tell Savannah not to touch the outlets and she didn’t. I could sit her up on the edge of a table and she knew not to crawl to the edge and fall off. I didn’t even have baby gates on the stairs, she somehow knew not to climb it or go near it when we were upstairs. Once she started crawling, she automatically would crawl down backward, safely finding herself at the bottom. We could sit at a restaurant table and she would quietly just observe other patrons, around us fascinated and still. When it came time to potty training, she quickly followed her older cousins lead and was out of diapers almost overnight and loving her big girl panty’s. Basically, all these little childhood drama’s and phases came and went easily for us. When I did speak to other moms with toddlers and heard of their potty training and childproofing challenges I couldn’t empathize. I didn’t get it.
By the time she was in grade 1 she no longer wanted me to pick out her clothes, putting her outfits together, right down to her socks and the accessories in her hair. By grade 2 she was layering, accessories, necklaces, and bracelets with confidence and an eye for style.
By grade 5 was when the “testing” began in her school. And she was “labeled” with giftedness. In that, her cognitive and comprehension skills were advanced than the other kids her age. Still, it took years for me to realize that yes despite, disliking being “labeled” maybe she was indeed “gifted.” By the age of 10, it was clear that she was a creative artist. She had an eye for colours, painting, photography, fashion and anything creative.
There happened to be 3 other girls in the class also with giftedness, in different capacities. Once a week they were bussed to the gifted program at another school. I succinctly remember her looking at her IEP (Individual Education Plan) during report card time and seeing the list of those with IEP’s. Special Needs children, blind, physically or mentally disabled. And she was wide-eyed and in a bit of shock exclaiming, “I’m special needs!! I’m in the same category as blind kids?!!” It never occurred to me that my child was special needs either. I wish I had known Dr. Shefali back then, my now model for being a Conscious parent (and Human being).
I was raised very old school, like leather belt whip type of old school. I wasn’t born in Canada. The types of discipline I was raised with was spanking, and other methodologies that would be considered illegal, and child abuse in this new age of child rearing. I knew that was not how I wanted to raise this child. My parents especially my father, suddenly had a change of heart with this first grandchild of his. He coddled her and babied her for years and would never ever consider raising a hand to her, but then again Savannah was an easy-going understanding child.
I wholly encouraged and supported her to explore her creativeness and artistic abilities, the gifted program she was in was wonderful for her learn through imagination, improvisation, and creativity. But I also thought she had to try to fit in the box, for her to be able to succeed in the “real world”. She had to respect teachers (or did she have to?), there were rules to follow, deadlines to meet, tests to pass and grades to make.
I didn’t realize that her concept of time was not the same as most “normal” people. She had difficulty completing assignments on time, couldn’t focus on the material that needed to be learned to pass a test. However, whenever she did complete the assignments (she liked) she would do so with AAA grades. The teachers were baffled at how sometimes she could get A’s and other times she was just an incomplete. If only I knew then, what I knew now. My child didn’t have the capacity to learn the way it was being taught in a general classroom setting. She was easily bored and distracted – which I often misinterpreted as lack of focus and discipline.
Oh I could have really used Dr. Shefali ? It was not until the last year of high school that a special teacher sat us down and told us that Savannah was not going to fit in this school’s system or the way it was taught. There was a school in the west end of downtown Toronto called the “Student School” there, the students had full say in their curriculum, got to pick which subjects were taught and weren’t graded on exams, but on contribution and altruistic real-world projects of their choosing. This one year of high school for Savannah changed her life and open my eyes. She enjoyed going to school, even though the commute was longer with extra buses to take. There was no pressure to get there on time, and you didn’t get scolded for not wearing the exact, uniform (there were no uniforms there of course). There was no box she needed to fit in and the threat of failing or of not graduating high school was no longer imminent.
What I know now about learning styles, that I didn’t know then: Everyone learns differently, everyone processes information differently The most basic categories of these can be learning best through kinesthetic (by doing), audio (by hearing) visual (by seeing) and auditory digital (likes the details and things broke down) Or any combination of these. And some kids just need extra special attention to process information and learn. I get that it must be very difficult for teachers to teach all these styles to many times, 20 plus kids. And it takes a very special teacher to recognize and understand to the special learning needs of a child who otherwise seems “normal”.
What I know as a more conscious parent now, was that my struggles, worries, conflicts with my expectations (or what I thought were THE expectations) of a society or culture. We’re required to put our children through a systemic, old, curriculum and not at all designed to nurture the child to be the unique, expression of who they truly are as human beings. Then add to that my expectations of what I perceived were the definition of success and successful parenting.
Who’s definition of successful parenting was going by? Too many times I tried to get her to meet the expectations of this bubble we live in. Be sharply on time, dress a specific way, get good grades. My daughter had not a care in the world to meet these expectations and was loving her time in school.
In the end, all the spats we had, was all for nothing. She ended up graduating from high school, being accepted in the Ontario College of Art and Design University. Then she found it too boring after her second year. All the while I was gritting my teeth somewhat because a part of me wanted her to have the piece of paper with letters behind it and the other part of me knowing that it’s certainly not the ultimate definition of success. Now my daughter is happily pursuing her career in music, and still busting out the funky styles, she’s very self-aware, compassionate, helpful and living unapologetically to life on her “gifted” terms. And certainly, more authentically comfortable and free in spirit. Now, where’s the Diploma for that?