It ain’t much but it’s all I got

Yesterday, in his strenuous efforts to avoid writing a story, Mr Pixel found and watched a video on wealth inequality in America.

Ten hours later he still knew all the figures: 15.1% living below the poverty line; 1% who hold 40% of America’s wealth; the vast disparity between what people think is happening and what is actually happening, let alone the ideal that 92% of respondents voted for. He’s outraged.

We are not American; we do not live in America.

There is no reason on God’s green earth why he should have watched that video; he did, he said, because he’s a curious bird. (Mo Willem’s phrase has much life in our house. Or to put it another way – Hello, intellectual over-excitability!)

There are, on the other hand, a stack of reasons why he should’ve been writing a story: he’d had a great time in class, collaborating with other, similarly-humored kids to come up with the four characters they were supposed to write about; a genre he’s more than familiar with; a teacher he adores who in turn adores him; the plan that she’d collect all their stories, type them and bind them, so each kid would see their work ‘in print’ and also see how others had explored the same basic idea. Since he ran out of puff and needed to leave before they’d begun writing, the teacher said she’d look forward to receiving his story by email, any time until late the next night. You really can’t ask for better support than that.

But none of it – not the class craic, the amazing teacher connection, the flexible deadline, the reward of a bound printout – is enough to motivate Mr Pixel over the hill of anxiety that stops him writing. Because that is what it is: he freezes like a rabbit in the spotlight of having to make a choice out of the multitude of possibilities and he just. Can. Not.

We talked about perfectionism and how there’s no wrong answer; we talked about the fact that he’s able, if he’d give it a go. (I’ve read about dysgraphia; I don’t think that’s it, but then last night someone on a forum said something that’s sent me back down that rabbit-hole, so watch this space.) Besides the anxiety, there’s a great deal of genetic stubborn here (which if you ask me, he owns far too proudly): for eight years now, he’s consistently maintained that he doesn’t do writing, and so far nobody’s been able to budge that for more than a sentence or two. Scribing, voice-to-text, story prompts: they’ve all been flat-out rejected. He knows what I’m up to and he’s not having a bar of it.

I can’t tell you how nuts this makes me. The point-blank refusal sends me nuclear. Every time I hear ‘no’, I’ll be honest, there’s a reflexive bit of me that wants to reach for my Momma badge, the one that says DAMMIT, I AM IN CHARGE. There are so many good reasons to try and make him do it. Not least, the insult is galling: I’m smart enough, you’d think I could fix this.

But I’ve learned that that is my problem. Making it a power play turns it into a fight, which means he’s not writing. And writing is the goal, is it not?

So we played a bit with Google docs. We wrote each other questions and answers; he wrote a couple of lines about a fat, dumb gamer who met a Ninja who helped him defeat someone who wanted to win a tournament. Needless to say none of that bore any relevance to the assignment and after about fifteen minutes he was over it and quit.

But you know what? I’m counting it as a win. I’m gonna go ahead and celebrate because in that short process he did plenty of rewriting and self-editing. I am shouting it to the skies because it’s the closest he’s ever come to writing a story and even in two sentences his sense of humour shone through and really, truly, that’s all I want: my kid to learn to overcome his anxiety and learn to express himself.

In fact, since he learned something about wealth inequality in America, too, I’m counting it as two wins. The class about statistics is another thing he wouldn’t do, but left to his own devices he stumbled onto it anyway and the conversations have begun. I’m reading up and ready to talk.

Because this is Mr Pixel’s wiring: anxious and stubborn and avoidant as all hell, and yet burning relentlessly away underneath all that is the insatiable need to know. In our house, this is what gifted looks like.


It’s a cliche, I know. I just can’t think of any other word to capture the intensity, the speed of highs and lows, that we have fielded this week:

On Sunday, Grandpa reveals that he has lung cancer; it is operable so at some point in the next month or so, they’ll take him in and remove the offending lobe. Dread.

Monday: I finally post on the writers’ group I’ve been following for several months. I say, I’ve written a piece I think I might like to publish, does anyone have any suggestions? Brave!

When a commissioning editor expresses interest, I fight a strong urge to change my name, leave the group, go hide under the duvet and instead send her an excerpt. Scared!

CraftyFish’s Guide group goes for a fast-food meal at a place she’s never been before, followed by a toad-busting walk in the dark; she is terrified and then – having survived and had a great time with her friends – ecstatic.

Tuesday: I have a long text chat with someone else who’d commented on my post, saying ‘hello’ as a fellow home-schooling mum of intense kids. Funny, bright, wry woman who writes poetry. Lovely!

I get into the garden and build an entire raised bed. I end up covered in dirt and mulch that are stuck in the sweat. Satisfied. And proud.

The Sceptic comes home and announces that ‘some time in the next month or so’ for Grandpa’s surgery has been bumped to ‘tomorrow’; he has to be there at 05:30 and is first cab off the rank. Scared.

That night an argument with Mr Pixel (who refuses to do chores) bangs into something I read a while ago, flinging me down the rabbit-hole of wondering whether he might be ADD. Only two or three indicators that fit, but BOY, do they fit. I mention one of them to him and he looks at me, wide-eyed. “That – that’s me!” Hmm. I’ve never wondered that before; now I am wondering hard.

Wednesday: a landscaper comes to go over my proposed garden projects with a more practical brain and a knowledge of costs. Engaging! Thought-provoking. Also a little scary – it’s so grown-up of me to ask for help.

We spend some time with Mum. Bittersweet.

Grandpa finally has his surgery late in the afternoon; The Sceptic goes to visit. Relief. And some anxiety.

I spend hours searching for rain-water tanks to fit the garden and looking up psychologists to test the kids for giftedness, ADD/ADHD (I’ve long thought CraftyFish might be the latter), and the anxiety/depression scales, since they both show plenty of signs there, too. Beyond frustrating. There is so much available for autism-spectrum conditions now; so little for plain old giftedness, let alone combined with anything else. I cannot find one single person using the term ‘2e’. Is there any point dealing with someone who doesn’t get it?

Thursday: Estimates come in: water tanks $830 plus installation plus the base for them to stand on. Landscaping projects: $2000, if we do a fair bit of the labour ourselves. Psychological evaluations: $2700. Ouch, ouch, ouch. Commissioning editor admits my piece isn’t what she’s looking for. Ouch. The Sceptic reports his dad is looking better but still has tubes everywhere, so we’ll just hang on to that anxiety for a while.

Friday: I send piece to someone else. Scared again.

CraftyFish burns her fingertips with hot glue. After 20 minutes under tap water she is pale and her knees won’t hold her up, she is so scared and pained. Our GP’s hold message informs me they will answer in 15 minutes (rage!) so I take her somewhere else; wonderful doctor explains why the pain is a good sign; a nurse dresses her fingers (relief); Mr Pixel makes her laugh all the way home (gratitude). After lunch we go out for groceries. Tedium. Thinking. Ugh. On the way home we drop CraftyFish to a friend’s. She’s so happy! We get home and Mr Pixel – oh, my poor, sweet boy – Mr Pixel discovers that the guinea pigs are dead.

Pet deaths are so hard. Add emotional over-excitability into the mix and – well. Multiply however bad you’re imagining it by about 150%. Bedtime is horrendous. That’s okay. I can hold all the space they need. I am so strong.

Saturday: I wake at four. So. Much. To process. We spend the day hiding, the kids on their screens, eating like invalids, me baking like a madwoman. Late afternoon we visit Grandpa in hospital. He’s looking better than we’d hoped. A degree of calm.

Bedtime is easier but as Mr Pixel is dozing off the sounds of drunken belligerence disturb our peace. The drunks choose our yard for their last stand. We are ready to call the police when squad cars begin arriving, lights flashing. Three cars, cops all over the road. The drunks quickly lose their belligerence and wait quietly for friends to come. Way too much excitement at 11pm. Mr Pixel is rigid with tension and fatigue. I stroke him to sleep.

Sunday: Exhausted. I am having my writing time, my two hours off for a week’s good behaviour. On my way home I will pick up some lunch treats and … nope. Can’t remember the other thing. CraftyFish wants me to buy her a black sequinned hat for the funeral. (It is essential to look the part.) And then, I think, I might see if anyone wants to go to the beach. We need it.

Crazy, busy fingers

It’s a terrible photo, I know. But you try taking a photo of a pellet of gum, wrapped in five loom bands. Yes, you read that right: it’s a pellet of gum, wrapped in five loom bands. (I know, because I took them off and counted them, which is why I can’t take a better photo, and no I’m not asking her to do it again, because that would be crazy.)

This is a flag-staking post: my kids are gifted. No, I don’t have the certificates that say so, but we are an evidence-based household and the evidence is here in spades. Usually, on the floor. Scratch that: it’s on every flat surface, spilling out of drawers, in our beds at night. And so I offer Exhibit A: a pellet of gum, wrapped in loom bands.

A pellet of gum, wrapped in loom bands isn’t an IQ score. What it is is the product of a child so busy, so wired, so ON, all the time, that nearly everyone struggles to keep up with her ideas and her waterfall of talk, a child whose fingers and toes ITCH to be doing something, even when she’s already doing something. (As I write, she is making things with light clay, while watching videos online; I have about half an hour before she throws it down and begs me to wrestle her.) I already knew she was like this when I came across Heidi Klass Gable’s Ted Talk and first learned about Dabrowski’s over-excitabilities – this one, the crazy-busy fingers one, is psycho-motor oe. At the same time, I had a profound that’s MY child moment – the sort of moment I had not had when reading up on sensory-processing disorder or ADHD or anything else I could think of to explain the busy and the noisy and the intensity and her freakish ability to do many more things than I was aware of.

The profound recognition in that moment brought me to the other OEs: emotional, imaginational, intellectual, sensory. We aren’t so much about the sensory. It’s there, but I know many people way more sensory than we are. The rest of it, though? The rest of it fitted us so well, I finally had to accept something I’d been denying for a long time: we are gifted.

I had a very hard time, coming to that point. There was the issue of my own baggage (another post entirely, or possibly a book); there was the issue of my leftie bias against any form of elitism; there were my friends who don’t believe in giftedness, those who think it’s merely a polite way of saying ASD, and those who believe it is a straight-up elitist scam. Certainly, there are contexts where those things may be true. We all make our own and group meanings out of the most fundamental phenomena; that’s human nature.

So I’m not going to try to convince you. I’m going to use the Columbus Group Definition that most educators (and parents of gifted kids) use:

Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm.  This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity.  The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop optimally.  (The Columbus Group, 1991)

And I can’t answer for anybody else. I’m just going to write about our experience of giftedness, because writing about it helps me understand, because finally accepting that label gave me a useful search term and some tremendously useful connections, and because maybe there’s someone else out there who’s as lost and confused as I was for such a long time.

Anyway, there it is: a pellet of gum, wrapped in five loom bands. In our house, #thisishwhatgiftedlookslike.