Life in the Tail

Cheetahs are built for speed and maneuverability. One critical asset of this magnificent species and their agility is the long, light-weight tail that acts as a rudder when the big cat is racing at high speeds. The highly specific evolutionary design of their tail allows the cheetah to quickly change direction in pursuit of its prey. The tips of the tails vary among individuals, from white to black and all the rare but distinguishable variably that lies between. This is frequently the only way to distinguish between individuals. Therefore, while their distinguishable variability is small, it exists in their tails.

I have also heard about this distinguishable variability living in the tails of the bell curve. There is research to suggest that there is more variability between the individuals at the tips of the tails of the curve than between the first, second, and third standard deviations of it. I’m evolving to understand this statistical mantra first hand as I realize that we are living in the tail of the cheetah- in the tail of the bell curve.

Case in point- it is with great irony that the one institution charged with advocating for the profoundly gifted recently divulged that they are not in fact equipped to educate my child because she falls outside the scope of their current and future curriculum. She lives in the tail. And even the sole proprietor for the education of profoundly gifted children has chosen to focus on the bell, on the body of the cheetah, rather than on the tail.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

So here we are again. Isolated. Trying to be the rudder that changes the body’s course. The tail that wags the cheetah, if you will. I know this is not a sound strategy as the bell and the body are immovable. The isolated inhabitants of the tail need to disperse and go their own way.

Like many transitions in the process of raising a profoundly gifted child and tail dweller, I needed to write about this uncoupling, about living in the tail of the curve, to come to a full acceptance of it once and for all, as a last farewell to any possibility that even a slightly traditional path might accommodate our child. Having the last door to that possible path close off from the very group that espouses to cater to the needs of profoundly gifted learners forces me awake. Even a slightly normal educational trajectory will not lay ahead.

The uncoupling is complete and the path has been set forth by the body of the cheetah, by the bell of the curve. We’re pathless, isolated, and mostly devoid of companions. But life in the tail also comes with a certain freedom unburdened by the expectations lain out by the beaten path. We’re going to embrace the tail end of this adventure. We’re going to be our own rudder potentiated with great maneuverability, ready to mobilize in any direction at a moment’s notice.

So here’s to a life beginning to fully inhabit its own elegant evolutionary design. My only hope is that the isolation of life in the tail is alleviated by finding fellow dwellers of that uniquely special space, from the white to black tips and all the rare but distinguishable variably that lies between.

 

 

 

 

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A Brief History of a Pivotal Year

This has been a year of duality- its been both fantastic and ravaging. The ravaging aspect comes in the form of longer work hours, both for me and my child, greater educational challenge, increased responsibilities for musical commitments, and less downtime. The flip-side, the fantastic aspect, has been the payoff of the those efforts and only underscores the importance of work and dedication.

The ravaging work laden undercurrent of this year brought with it multiple applications for both school and scholarships. The two most thorough of which included the Stanford Online High School application and the Caroline D. Bradley scholarship application, which was referred to in our household as “the octopus” because its tentacles stretched in so many directions. Both applications required multiple forms of standardized testing which made this year replete with the SCAT, ACT, and SAT. The year will conclude with multiple AP exams.

Personal essays, work samples, and letters of recommendation were also required forms for these applications. I cannot fathom the amount of time my child spent on these essays and work samples but I would hypothesize that it was in the 20+ hour range, especially given that the result of the work sample submission included two blogs. Again, this did not come easy, it was not handed to her by her own genetics- all of this took effort.

As the application and testing circus was performing in its corner trying to distract us, all the typical stuff was ramped up as well- the courses became more challenging and her commitment to music increased as she prepared for more competitive events and joined an honors orchestra.

And who wants to write a novel? And, “Mom, I don’t really want to have my series self-published, I want to send out manuscripts and have it published the traditional way.”  So, lets add that to the mix. The absurdity of the whole thing becomes glaringly apparent as I write this. Its not as if anyone outside a small bubble of people would empathize. I can barely fathom that either of us have survived to this point.

But we both have. And we both know what is possible- her especially. She is likely maxed out on hearing me muse about the pride I have for the amount of time and genuine effort she committed this year in multitudes of directions, but it amazes me, so once in a while I can’t help but emphasize it.

Its difficult not to get tangled up in all the rewards in light of the embarrassment of riches that have been unwrapped this year. But the constant that underscores all of it is the work. I want my daughter to know that her gifts are a platform from which to grow, explore, and dive. And that in order to truly embrace her capabilities that she will have to challenge herself, at times jump through the hoops, and dig in and find the discipline she needs to actualize all that she can be.

Meanwhile, I’d just like to grow, explore, and dive into nap time.

Circle of Trust

There’s a great ironic span of realizations that accompany having a profoundly gifted child- not the least of which is a shrinkage in your circle of trust. Just as you learn about your child’s gifts and incredible abilities, just as you begin to notice that the opportunities for them in this life may be boundless, just as you want to shout from the top floor of the preschool that dismissed your concerns about education- that’s when you learn that very few people actually want to listen, and what’s more jarring, that most people just want you to be silent.

As I am a stubborn person by nature, this irony took years to fully coalesce into a coherent thought. But after repeated episodes of learning that a) no one wanted to hear about my child’s unique experiences and b) more often than not people were skeptical and jealous, I have finally arrived at the hypothesis of the shrinking circle of trust –

the greater the extreme of giftedness > smaller the circle of trust

By this formula, a parent with a moderately gifted child may have a circle of around 30 people to share information and experiences with. I’m working on one hand…people I can count on, on one hand.

So what does this do for awareness for the profoundly gifted? Well, in many ways it has a highly negative impact. We continue to hide ourselves and children because we can’t (or don’t) talk to others outside of the community and share our experiences in a trusted way. We keep ourselves relegated to tightening the circle, which pretty much ensures that the rest of society will fail to understand our children and their uniqueness, let alone understand what its like to raise a PG child.

I have struggled under the forced choice between the comfort of the circle and the social consciousness and weight of responsibility of speaking out. This is obviously a choice we all grapple with at some point. Knowing that I am far from gifted at following authority and social norms, I sense that this blog is the inception of an evolution from the cradle of the circle to the criticism of the crowd.

…And I will be okay with that, because I know I’ll always have that seminal circle of trust that we all need to rely on, to retreat to now and then, and to grow from.

On Giftedness, Pat Benetar, and Sherpas

Where do we begin? Can I be honest with you and lay it all out? Will you withhold your judgement, your cynicism, your criticism about socialization, and tiger parents, and giftedness? That would be marvelous.

Our child- she is an intricate arrangement of possibilities stretching in infinite planes. She is unapologetically the center of our multiverse. This in and of itself does not distinguish us from other parents, and like every parent around this globe, we too have a unique experience.

What sets our own journey apart, however, is the giftedness. Oh horror, I used a word that triggers certain people. Going into great detail about the characteristics of a gifted learner is something that any Google search can instantly reveal. I’ve done my time in the educational machine researching various definitions and characteristics- if you are in search of these definitions and resources you may visit my resource page. Our child is gifted- profoundly. She also happens to be a diligent worker. This combination has allowed her to pursue advanced coursework that is often unattainable without a honed set of executive function skills.

But enough about her for a moment. I want to talk about Mt. Everest.

Hopeful, naive, idealistic climbers risking their lives to summit the highest peak in the world need something besides health, will, gear, tenacity, and money to get them there- they need a guide. They need a Sherpa. That’s me, that’s us if this is all ringing true for you. We are fearless, exhausted, underpaid, overworked guides who will never quit. Put those lyrics into Pat Benetar’s voice and we have a theme song.

Pat Benetar

As mothers, fathers, grandparents, caregivers we all do this for our offspring. In the most elemental evolutionary sense of the explanation we are just trying to further the reproduction of our own little packets of personalized DNA. We are all in some sense Sherpas.

However, what sets my Sherpa experience apart is that I am climbing without the company of others, without the gear, without the certainty or luxury of a path laid out before me to ensure my climber summits.

Profoundly gifted climbers and their guides forge our own trails. If we are extremely fortunate we will have the benefits of wisdom from a select group of individuals who have also forged their own trails. And while these treks in all likelihood varied greatly in direction there may be some glint of wisdom we can apply to our own journey.

I hope this is where I can be of some assistance to the Sherpas just waking to the enormity of the journey ahead of them. And with that I want to leave you with one glint of wisdom passed down to me, one constant to your future climb- be always ready to change course. The weather can turn, the can trail can dwindle, the climber may run thin on oxygen- be ready to change course. This is true for Sherpas and climbers on treacherous excursions and its true for parents and gifted learners navigating their own expedition into the educational system.

 

 

 

Emotional Reckoning

Imagine your child awakens one morning with a super power, lets say she can see through objects…including clothes. She sees naked people everywhere. Naked people including you.

Obviously you wonder at the origin of this super power. Neither of her parents can see through objects, nor her parents’ parents. And slowly there is the realization that your child can see through you- all your beauty, your fallacy, your special human awkwardness. And this is when the apprehension begins to brew.

You ruminate on the following:

“How did she come to be so different?”

“What will be the trajectory of her life?”

“Will she ever be able to share her power with others?”

“Will she see me the same way she did before she realized she had this power?”

Now pull back from the example at hand and replace her X-Ray vision with the super power of boundless intellect. Rather than being able to see through objects she can see through fallacy, illogical reasoning, she can cut to the clarity of elegant solutions. Let’s imagine that this child is radically accelerated in school by five to six years beyond her chronological peers. Let’s imagine that you, in all your nakedness, your normalcy, your typicalness are somehow presented with the grandiose responsibility for raising this child. And the responsibility is heavy. And there are very few people to help you carry the weight. And most of them laugh at the mere thought of you needing that help.

And so, you ruminate, and you feel the uncertainty. Waxing on the aforementioned questions and adding new inquiries to the file on a a daily basis. But a strange thing happens as time steadies you and your child on this new path- acceptance. The questions remain, but the acceptance brings with it the joy of wonder. You can marvel at the super power, tempt it, coax it, watch it bloom, and hypothesize at its trajectory.  Not a day passes that I can’t help but wonder at the raw dance of DNA and the secret of the womb that produced this intellectual pod of possibility.

At least, this is my experience and these seem to be my stages of reckoning. Despite what is now years of evidence that my child is an outlier among outliers I still tend to norm her and wonder in astonishment by her insights and abilities. The apprehension and uncertainty still chases me around after each pivotal decision. I suppose that this is just parenting, but it feels different when you’re bringing up a cheetah. Fortunately, for me, the sense of wonder and astonishment prevails.

I suspect that as the caretaker of said “intellectual pod” that this sense wonder helps me out from under the weight of responsibility , that is delivers to me a sense of hope in the prospects of the present and the future. While the cheetah is rare and its astonishing capabilities bring forth this flurry of emotional responses by those entrusted with it- the cheetah also creates for itself a remarkable niche…opportunity.

Random Thoughts on Strategic Passion

I’m constantly having ideas bounce around inside the remaining free space of my brain. Usually these neural sparks are related to planning- avenues I haven’t explored, corners of advocacy I haven’t yet unearthed. My mind is forever angling, always curious, constantly searching for that next opportunity.

Rubiks

Not for myself, mind you, for my child. I’ve already played the game for myself. I navigated the convoluted bureaucratic circus to garner my college credits in the most efficient way for my time and money. I can even admit to enjoying the game, possibly more than the actual knowledge I gained while playing.

In the end, I’ve come to the realization that I’m best at just about one thing- planning and organization. My strength lies in being a strategist. Aside from love, patience, and empathy strategizing is my greatest asset in being the parent of a child in dire need of navigation.