the gifted self

My brothers and me – Before I knew I was “different.”

I was a latecomer to this gifted thing. Being a mediocre student most of my life and being childless until I was 42, I had no reason to know or learn a thing about giftedness. Then at age 42, I became a mom. I didn’t wish for a gifted kid. Being pregnant at age 41, I just hoped my baby would be healthy. The very last thing on my mind was giftedness.

My first introduction to the gifted thing came from my son’s preschool teacher, Mrs. Marovich, who told me my son was gifted. She asked me what I was going to do about his education.  My response?  Smiling, I said, “All children are gifted. I’m going to send him to public school when he’s 5. What else would I do?” She told me that I might want to learn a little about gifted kids and rethink my plans. Little did I know that learning about giftedness to understand my son better would lead me to totally rethink my life and my identity.

When Mrs. Marovich told me my son was gifted, he was 4 years old. He’d be 5 in June, so he’d start kindergarten in August – or so I thought. I started checking on what I needed to do to register him for school only to find that he had missed the cutoff date by 28 days and would have to wait until the following year to start kindergarten. That seemed unreasonable to me as he was reading chapter books and books about space and dinosaurs. I called an old friend who was a first grade teacher at the school my son would attend. I innocently asked her what the school does with kids who are reading when they start kindergarten. Essentially, she told me that was not possible. Kids that young simply couldn’t read.

Not possible? My son was a fluent reader. Maybe there was something to this gifted thing after all.

I started learning about giftedness by reading the book Parents’ Guide to Raising a Gifted Child by James Alvino. For the first time, a parenting book was discussing MY child. But it was also discussing ME. As I read the characteristics of gifted children, I saw my son. And I saw me. But I saw myself in a different way. By the time I was done with that book, I had re-evaluated every aspect of my life and nearly every event that had shaped who I thought I was.

As I read through that book, my mind began replaying every meaningful event in my life. It was like watching movies you’d seen as a kid, but through the eyes of an adult with greater understanding of life. I saw things I hadn’t seen before. I had always felt a little “off,” different, even defective. But I was beginning to understand why.

I had never had many friends, but I thought it was mainly because I was shy. That made it hard to make friends. Of course, it might also have had something to do with the fact that I hated playing with dolls, preferring to climb trees and shoot hoops. Maybe I would have been better off if I could have been friends with the boys, but back in the 1950s when I was growing up, that wasn’t a possibility. Girls didn’t play sports. They just cheered on the boys who did.

It was pretty clear to me that I didn’t fit in with the other girls. And it made me feel different. I felt that way a lot. But feeling different wasn’t always a bad thing. I remember having to lie down to take a nap in kindergarten. I had quit taking naps at age 2, so I could never fall asleep. I’d lie on my mat and look at the other kids snoozing away. I wondered what was wrong with them. Why were they sleeping? There were things to do! That was the last time I thought there was something wrong with the other kids. By the end of third grade, I “knew” I was the problem. There was something wrong with me.

For instance, I was highly emotional. It’s natural for kids to tease each other, but I didn’t always understand the teasing. When kids said mean things to me – as kids will do – I thought they meant it. I would never have said such things unless I meant them and figured they were the same way. Whenever I tried to talk to someone about it, I was told I was “too sensitive for my own good.” That came from kids, teachers, and other adults. I was learning I was defective.

I wasn’t just defective emotionally either. I came to see that I was also defective academically. When I started first grade, I was eager to learn. I would learn how to read! And there would be so much to learn about the world! Some of that eagerness remained until third grade, but by the end of third grade, I was a classic underachiever. I simply stopped caring. I got tired of being held back, of not being allowed to run with my enthusiasm for a topic, of being told my answer to a question wasn’t “in the book.”

I wanted to spread my wings and soar, to explore – but I was expected to memorize facts from the book. I got tired of seeing the other kids put their hands over their mouths to hide their smiles and snickers when I gave one of my unconventional answers. I was done. My teachers eventually gave up on me, and by the time I talked to my high school counselor about potential careers, they saw me as an average kid – like my grades. I thought I was dumb.

My counselor confirmed my opinion of my intellect when he asked me what kind of career I wanted. I said I wanted to be a psychiatrist. He laughed at me. Out loud. He explained to me that I wasn’t smart enough to go to medical school, which I’d have to do to be a psychiatrist. I wasn’t even smart enough, he said, to be a psychologist. Elementary education was the right career path for me. I could manage a degree in that.

When I was done mentally replaying all the events of my life, I thought about the little girl I once was and how her life might have been different if she – and her teachers – had understood giftedness. And then I cried. I cried for that little girl who might have made different choices in life had she realized she wasn’t a defective misfit.

Understanding the Gifted Self

If I hadn’t become the mom of a gifted kid, I probably never would have understood my gifted self. I now wonder how many gifted people go through their entire lives unaware of who they really are. How many think there is something wrong with them, often seeking therapy that will “fix” them? How many see themselves as defective misfits?

What if every gifted child understood his or her gifted self? What if parents and teachers helped children understand what it means to be gifted? What if one day, no gifted person ever says, “If only I had known…”?

Note: I did end up getting a degree in psychology, but I didn’t pursue a career in that field. Instead, I ended up focusing on linguistics, thanks to a linguistics teacher who saw me in a way no one else ever had – smart and capable. Thanks to him, I went on to get a masters degree and then to work on a doctorate in linguistics. I guess I wasn’t so dumb after all. It still took a long time to get there, though. My son was three years old when I started working on that doctorate. I was 45.

This blog post is part of the Hoagies Gifted Blog Hop on Things I wish I knew back then. To read more blogs on the topic, visit the Blog Hop page or click on the graphic above.

Carol BainbridgeAbout Giftednessthe gifted self
I was a latecomer to this gifted thing. Being a mediocre student most of my life and being childless until I was 42, I had no reason to know or learn a thing about giftedness. Then at age 42, I became a mom. I didn't wish for a gifted...