Dementia: another e

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Once I started reading about giftedness, it quickly became obvious that although I’m the only one who’s been confirmed , Mum, like my kids, ticks all the boxes. As a child playing the organ for church services, performing as a concert pianist in her teens before (and while) studying medicine and working in hospitals in Australia, Canada, and Denmark (as well as a stint studying Italian, in Italy), her asynchronous development, intelligence, and emotional sensitivity were always clear. She’s a perfectionist who loved and admired education. And we’ve long known Mum as the source of the AF-level stubbornness we all share.

It took me longer to understand that besides her belief in fairies, Mum’s anxiety (often dressed as control) also stemmed from a busy, undisciplined imagination, and that the physical sensitivities to smells and flavours, foods, metals, and unguents, are due to that same wiring. The hardest thing for me to see was that we share the typical giftie need for justice, albeit at different scales: I lose sleep over capitalism, for instance, while Mum remained angry over a classmate cheating on a test, for oh, 75 years. Like I said, all the boxes.

Now, Mum also has dementia. Just as a gifted child’s intelligence masks learning difficulties, Mum’s great big brain compensated for crumbling cognitive capacity for a long time. There was that time she phoned to ask whether she’d left her house keys at my place earlier, completely forgetting that she’d come to my place in a panic because she’d lost them, and that I’d given her tea and biscuits before escorting her home and let her in using my spare. But such incidents were so rare and so anomalous, and her other behaviour so normal (for her), that in retrospect it’s utterly impossible to guess when the disease started.

The second time a geriatrician tested her, about six months after diagnosis, Mum got a perfect, healthy score – and sassed him into the bargain, asking at the end of the consult whether she still had to remember the answers to the second question on the test. So it was just as well that she’d also asked him a different question twelve times during the hour, because as with any other 2e, the test alone would have returned a ‘normal’ result.

The other reason for seeing dementia as a second e, is that it helps both patient and carers understand what they are dealing with. Typically for dementia patients, Mum rejected the diagnosis, not only because she couldn’t remember the evidence we were observing, but because she felt patronised by the doctor. “How can she say I’m ‘highly intelligent’ and have dementia?” she demanded, angrily. “She’s treating me like I’m stupid.” I likened it to saying, “You are a marathon runner, and you have a broken leg.” It’s not the same, of course, because while a leg with appropriate supports will mend, Mum’s brain will continue breaking down, a chunk at a time, no matter how many supports we put in place.

The explanation worked, ish, although the combination of stubbornness, emotional pain, and the newly acquired learning difficulty, meant Mum still refused the diagnosis, pulling out her medical dictionary to dispute every one of the diagnostic criteria.

Since then, the things she’s lost are heartbreaking: we took her car away when she could no longer navigate the suburbs where she’s lived for 17 years; the tune for Amazing Grace is gone; she can only read short stories; when cool weather came, she didn’t know she had jumpers or slippers to wear; she can’t use the washing machine; she can make tea but not coffee, she can only cook chops, can only make ham sandwiches for lunch.

But when she determined to write her brother a birthday letter, he replied saying it sounded like she had all her marbles. She still plays the piano every day, and her Italian accent is so perfect, it makes the local deli owner tearful. When I mentioned someone who had lung cancer, she explained the anatomy (I never knew that lungs aren’t symmetrical, did you?) using correct terminology, though she hasn’t worked in a hospital since 1968. Then we debated dissecting toads vs frogs.

And this is the key, I think, the reason we have to see dementia in gifted people as another exceptionality rather than ‘just’ a disease. It recognises that the typical traits of persistence and intelligence can mask like nobody’s business, so testing needs to be nuanced and holistic. It recognises that we may have to educate and advocate for our parents in precisely the same way we do for our kids: for both ability and disability. Above all, it recognises that the intelligence – the need to interrogate, to ponder, to learn – remains, even when decades’ worth of skills, tastes, and memory are lost; that even when literacy has dropped to gossip-mag level and small talk falters, intellectual connection can still be made. Must be made, in fact, in order to meet our 2e elders where they are: gifted, with dementia.

Are you caring for someone who is gifted, with dementia? Would you like to share your story? I’d love to hear it!

The fear/anyway post

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Two months ago, I was pounding out my next novel. Six chapters, bang bang bang. Every spare minute, the words flowed without repetition, deviation, or hesitation. I knew what was coming and whenever I sat down, there it was, just as every writer dreams.

Then, COVID slammed that door shut.

I’ve heard the same thing from many friends and in writers’ groups online. They can’t write. Not now.

Of course, it’s because anxiety. (Hello, you old bastard.) Once you’ve opened the door to imagination, who knows what will come waltzing through? Under this kind of existential stress, what-ifs turn fairly quickly from playful to perturbing: instead of characters’ voices, you hear sinister whispers: past hurts, failures, foretellings of disaster.

Even blogging, which is less about the what-ifs and more about the what-happeneds, involves more thought than I care for right now, since these days every damn thing – a meal, a hug, a walk round the park – has to be overthought; all the emotions are already overwrought. Please, don’t ask me to dwell.

So that sucker was nailed shut, I thought, for the duration.

Then last night, a good old-fashioned panic attack. I used to get lots, pre-kids, sometimes clustered closely enough to shed 10kg through stress alone. Post-kids (now that I have 10kg I’d love to shed), they’ve been faint, few, and far between. And although I’d like to claim new-found wisdom, in fact I think I’ve just been too bloody tired to muster up the adrenaline for a proper freakout.

But there I was, at three in the morning – just like old times – awake, mind racing with all the usual garbage, this time COVID-themed: I haven’t been careful enough, we’re all going to die and it will be ALL MY FAULT. Cue a mental re-run of every mistake I’ve ever made, all the way back to the secret I told Carla Wells in 1975. (Why, yes, I AM being completely rational and this global pandemic IS all about me, thanks for asking.)

Cheers, brain.

Well, I’ve been down this hole before. It doesn’t fool me like it used to, and anyway I’m still pretty frickin’ tired, so this time, the shock-waves didn’t leave me gasping. Just awake, and annoyed. I mean, who needs this shit?

And then I thought, well, clearly I do.

Because while I’ve been feeding monkey-brain – reading, listening and talking, trying so hard to keep up – I’ve dropped the self-care ball. Meds have been muddled, sleep slipped, sunshine skipped, veggies eschewed, exercise excused. No wonder I feel like shit about myself, I’ve been treating me abominably. I need outside, movement, sleep, more greens, less caffeine.

Above all, I need to let some words out. Writing has always been the best, the kindest thing I can do for myself; it probably sounds counter-intuitive, but writing escapes my brain. It makes sense of all the words pouring in. The flow found in writing relieves pressure, finds paths, forges meaning. Without it, inside my head becomes hopelessly overgrown and tangled – a mean and scary place.

Scarier, even, than opening that door to find out what I really think.

I wasn’t going to COVID blog. I figured, likely nobody needs any more of that. But it turns out, I do. Scary as it is, I need to write my way through this.

So bear with me. Better yet, join me. Let’s figure this shit out. What do your fears look like?

The analysis-paralysis is a PITA post

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On Friday night, I thought the contents of the fridge seemed a tad…warm. On Saturday morning – yeah. No cold coming out of the fridge, and no heat coming from the back of it. Bugger. And oh, HELP. Because there is nothing – nothing – on God’s green earth that kicks a giftie’s brain into stupid roaring overdrive, than a problem that needs solving.

And if that problem comes gift-wrapped in the need for urgent solving, because, say, you’ve got a couple hundred dollars’ worth of groceries in there and it’s 28 degrees out here – ahhh. Lookit those purty headlights. Gee, they’re coming fast. So. Purty… Head lights… Fast… Coming… Purty…

When I tell the Skeptic, who is blessed with a normal brain, he asks, “So, we’re buying a new fridge?”

I don’t know. How should I know? I’m in the grip of a massive, irrational, existential over-think. Welcome to Analysis Paralysis!

Maybe I’m imagining it. I turn up the dial. When I check again, the fridge seems a little colder. Maybe? Maybe not.

I NEED DATA. I put the thermometer in the fridge and issue an embargo on cold things. An hour later, I realise I didn’t get a baseline, so I check. Fuck. It’s 21 degrees in there. And an hour later, no, it isn’t going down. Maybe we do need a new fridge.

This fridge has already been limping for about a year. When the drinks tray broke off, Electrolux wanted nearly half what we originally paid, to replace the whole top door. And they’d only supply it with a matching bottom door (“because otherwise the finishes mightn’t match”), which is a) idiotic (because children, FFS, the finishes haven’t matched since five minutes after we bought it, when sticky handprints spontaneously covered the entire lower half), b) outrageously wasteful (I don’t NEED both doors) and c) ethically reprehensible, because making me pay for something I don’t want, and adding unnecessarily to landfill. Or am I supposed to keep the extra door lying around, just in case it comes in handy when hell freezes over?

My heart rate’s quickening, and that’s just recalling an old problem that we already resolved by, uh, yeah. Failing to make a decision. Drinks live on the fridge floor, in front of the crispers, and my god that’s tedious –

But a new fridge! That could cost up to two grand. I wasn’t planning to spend two grand this week. And it’s only eight years old.

Maybe it’s the seal. I check. It’s not the seal.

So maybe we should get a new fridge.

Oh, no, OH, NO. That means —

WHICH FRIDGE?

Because gods forbid, I should (whisper it) get the WRONG FRIDGE, and blight our lives through catastrophically-ill-informed decision-making for the next eight years!

Yoga breathing, I get online, searching for the excellent website that helped me buy this fridge. Gee, it was useful. So, naturally, it’s gone. I try Canstar, Choice (curse you and your locked reports, Choice, I NEED INFORMATION), and AppliancesOnline. All I want is the most efficient fridge that will fit in the stupid fridge niche.

What’s this? Canstar give its most efficient fridge 5.5 stars, while AppliancesOnline gives the same fridge 4.5 – and neither says which energy-efficiency rating system they’re using. Fuckers. I’ve a mind to write to them and – no, concentrate. We’re buying a fridge, here, not fixing websites.

Oh. Here’s one. Height and width are perfect, 4.5 stars energy efficiency, wow. But … how is it 75l bigger than our current fridge? Oh yeah, D. (You know, V=HxWxD?) D means it will stick out of the niche by … with some comedy ‘help’ from the kids, I pull the old fridge forwards … yeah, no. We can’t have a fridge sticking out that far.

Huh… Choice says that fridge care involves cleaning the coils annually. Did you know that? I didn’t know that. (And now I’ve discovered something I’ve not been Doing Right, and ohmigod this is NOT the time to hyperventilate over that.) Maybe cleaning will fix it. That’d save a LOT of grief. So…

Nope. Even with my comedy helpers, we can’t get the fridge all the way out of its stupid niche – and now I smell like a cart-horse. Noice.

Maybe we should just call a fridge-repair dude. Although, COVID-19. Maybe he could trouble-shoot over the phone. Probably not. It’s a Saturday.

Maybe I should wait til the Skeptic comes home – he’s working 7-day weeks (gee it’s hard to ignore COVID-19) – and see if we can move and clean it together.

Although, the fridge IS eight years old. And if cleaning it doesn’t work, I’ll have lost 24hrs getting a new one. Plus, the tray thing.

Maybe we should just buy a new one.

Three. There are three choices, when I put in all the dimensions. And we will lose over 100l of storage space on all of them. I can’t lose 100l. It’s a stupid hot climate and my kids eat like bears, I need my 100l! (First-world tantrum, much? Yes. I know. Shh.)

Maybe we could rip out the built-in over-fridge cupboard and have a taller fridge, would that give me my 100l back? I’ve been thinking about that project for years. Maybe this is the time.

Although, how would we remove the cupboard’s bottom, anyway? The Skeptic is not blessed with handyman skills and I can’t call a handyman, because COVID-19.

Hello? Hello, Rebecca? IT’S 21 DEGREES IN THE FRIDGE, YOU CAN ACTUALLY HEAR THE BACTERIA REPRODUCING. JUST BUY A NEW FUCKING FRIDGE THAT FITS IN THE FUCKING NICHE ALREADY, OKAY.

Right. It’s what people do. It’s okay to buy a new fridge when I need one.

Do I need one, though? Millions of people in Africa –

RE-BEC-CA.

A table! A table will give me some clarity. I will make a table comparing the three fridges that suit, then choose the right one that way.

Now, imagine that between getting on with my usual job of feeding the bears and keeping them occupied, visiting Mum and this circus in my head, an entire day and night have passed, only I didn’t sleep because

  1. parts of my brain were still doing that dance, plus
  2. is a German fridge shipped to Australia really sustainable? Possibly yes, since six years ago the washing-machine technician said he was constantly repairing stuff made here, and never repairing stuff made overseas – I wonder if there’s a website that can clarify? Also,
  3. what happens to the old fridge. Landfill? Or is this my chance to set up a free library? Would the Skeptic be happy with me putting a fridge full of books in the front yard? Possibly not. and
  4. the freezer’s still working. Why is the freezer working when the fridge is not? Maybe I should call a repair dude, after all.
  5. I wonder if our insurance covers the loss of food when the fridge dies; I could call them and ask, although
  6. I still haven’t answered the bloody question and might as well admit,
  7. a teensy idiotic part of my brain is hoping someone else, perhaps the Great Refrigerator Fairy, will have solved it by the time I get up.

Now imagine it’s lunchtime, Sunday, and I’ve made no further progress, not even compiling that table, because I was writing this and my head would’ve literally exploded if I didn’t let some of the words out, and now I’m hungry.

It looks like over-thinking, right? I guess it kinda is. I don’t like that term, though, because that sounds like something I do, when this is just what it’s like in here. All the thoughts. All at once. All the time. (To be completely honest, even this doesn’t fully represent the zinging four-dimensional web that is this issue, packed in alongside similar webs for all the other issues, simultaneously zinging.) I don’t “do” anything, except try to squash it down so that I can do things. It’s just wiring. (Webs… wiring… nice, unplanned metaphor, there.)

When I was younger, trying to move through the webs gave me terrible anxiety; now I’ve learned pretty well how to breathe through it. Those skills wobble when anxiety rears its head, so I’ve learned – no, wait. Not going down that rabbit-hole, either.

Now if you will excuse me, I have to buy a fridge.

Stupid gifted.

Sanctuary

One of the great joys in my life, is our homeschool group. The women who started and run it are, without a doubt, among the most amazing people I have ever met. Having been through stuff that would make your toes curl, the lessons they took away have made them consistently empathetic, tolerant, compassionate, and kind.

Also, they’re quirky as all get out and so are all our kids, so there’s bucketloads of that particular, tar-black sense of humour.

We all bask in finding this concentration of other mothers who Get It; even if the particular diagnosis doesn’t apply in your house, you’ve had the experience of trying to raise a child who doesn’t follow any of the developmental rules and therefore having to overhaul every last one of your expectations. And then keep overhauling. When someone arrives with teeth gritted, everyone else has a pretty good idea of what they’ve likely been through that morning. Both parents and kids are treated with an extra dose of kindness, and everyone feels, you know – understood.

I know these exceptional mums love what they’ve created, and I also know that this doesn’t stop it being physically, mentally, emotionally and sensorily demanding, very hard work, the sort that would drive most school-teachers to despair or cruelty or quitting. But instead they have created that very rare, very special thing, a place where extraordinarily challenging kids – the ones who are always butting so painfully against the world – feel completely accepted and valued.

And, you know how I know? Because this morning, this happened:

My daughter and some of the other kids have been reading a book by a local author, who also happens to be friends with the group’s founder. She’s been invited to come chat to the kids, later this week, so when I ‘bumped into’ her online, I said, we have friends in common; I’m looking forward to meeting you this week! She replied, oh, are you with the school? Yes, I said, but you’ll be better prepared if you think of it as a circus. (Having no better description of what it’s like, being in a roomful of 2e kids, especially one where they feel fully accepted for who they are.)

At this point, CraftyFish came in, so I related the tale to her, knowing she’s excited to meet the author, and that she’d get a kick out of the circus comment.

I didn’t get that far, though. As soon as I mentioned the word ‘school’, she puffed up like a society matron smelling a fart. “Do NOT call our group a SCHOOL,” she exclaims, outraged. “It is NOT a SCHOOL. It’s a SANCTUARY.”

Can I invite you to sit with that, for a moment? Because there is a lot packed into that one word: The sense that school (even the wonderful school we went to) asks us to be something else, something other than who we are, to meet other people’s expectations, often regardless of your own. The converse sense of safety and recognition that our group provides. The sense of ownership, of belonging. The sense that this is, in fact, a place safe enough for her to do things that have so far been challenging, such as … reading a novel. The drama of the delivery, sure, because as long as you’re not hurting someone else or being disrespectful, that’s okay.

It made my heart melt, it did. It is all I would wish for anyone, but perhaps most for our quirky kids: that they find a sanctuary.

The writing post

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When I was in Senior, Bruce Dawe visited my school, to talk about being a poet. It was the first time I’d ever met an actual author and I was nearly sick with the thrill of it. (Got a lot of funny looks from my classmates, whose excitement, such as it was, stemmed mainly from the fact that they were sort of getting out of double English.) I couldn’t speak; I wanted to be a writer so badly, I didn’t even know where to start, so although I was exploding with questions, not a single one of them came out. Afterwards, Mum dragged us off to a shopping centre where I followed her around crying my eyes out, I was so disappointed in myself for having missed such an opportunity. (Funny looks from my siblings, then.) An opportunity for what, exactly, I didn’t know, only that I felt I’d missed something crucial.

33 years later, the one thing I really remember Dawe saying, was in response to a question from one of the teachers. He didn’t have an office, he said. He wrote at the kitchen table, with the kids and the wife busy, chatting, working around him and the dog at his feet. And, he thought that made him a better writer. Closer, more in touch, with the things he was trying to grasp.

That really struck me. Until then, I’d nurtured lonely-writer-in-a-freezing-garrett type images of my future. One of my uncles, dead before I came along, had written a few books, and I’d fallen deeply in love with his little writing cubby, an open shack no more than three square metres, on the bank of a rushing stream, down the hill from the family home in the Blue Mountains.

That was what I always wanted. (There were six humans and a dog in my childhood family and I’m an introvert; I wanted it hard.) Dawe showed me that things could be different, that what you could still write beautifully in the midst of chaos.

And it’s just as well I learned that, because if I couldn’t write in chaos, these days, I would simply never write, and writing is as essential to me as breathing. Don’t get me wrong, I would dearly love a less chaotic space to work in. It’s just that writing is more important. Choosing writing over housework takes no thought; I would and often do choose writing over nearly every other aspect of self-care, because it is so good for me. Writing takes me somewhere else. It simplifies, gives me a tiny space where I am, actually, in control. Above all it relieves the pressure of the words swirling incessantly in my head, and believe me when I say there’s a fucking lot of them. A week in a spa – a month of meditating – a year of yoga, couldn’t do as much for me as a day spent writing.

So if that table – swamped as it is by craft mess that the kids and I create, pencil shavings and fabric scraps underfoot, the piano at my back, Mr Pixel placing blocks or whatever it is he does to my right, a view of the empty supply cupboard and the garden ahead – if that’s the only space to write in, well, then, by god that’s where I’m gonna write.

The lovely thing I’ve learned, is that even with all that, with the TV and the cat, the chooks and the kids (one of whom chatters constantly, sometimes to the chooks, while watching TV), is that if I allow myself to cock my ear, to take a breath, exhale, and listen, the stories are always right there. All I have to do is tune in.

So, this year I finally finished the novel I started when I was pregnant with Mr Pixel. Yeah. 13 years. And although sleep deprivation took me on a very long detour via Utter Rubbish and the bog of Badly Written, I think it ended up somewhere a bit better, after all. I sent it off to a competition, anyway, a thing that crossed my feed about one day after I joined a romance writers’ group. I doubt anything will come of it, but you know. The point is that I did something with my writing, for the first time.

And then, amazingly, I started the next one, because I’ve been carrying these characters in my head for so long, too, that as soon as I was ready, out they popped, doing what they need to do. I easily caught two chapters on the laptop in the picture and even now, today – in a different writing space, writing something else altogether, I can dimly hear the sentences unfurling, as though the characters were just in the next room.

It’ll be Christmas in a couple days. I’ve still got shopping and wrapping and cooking to do and yes, cleaning, too. I’ll work in the garden and help CraftyFish with the impossible puzzle she’s doing, and spend time with Mum. The Skeptic and I have some urgent budgeting to do, and the garage needs to be cleaned out. But in between all that, in hours and half hours, here and there, I’ll keep writing. It’s who I am.

The oh yeah, that’s right post

Bondi Rescue lifesaver Harrison, rendered in gingerbread ©careerusinterruptus

Sometimes I wonder if my kids really are gifted. (Hello, imposter syndrome!)

Sure, they read early and zipped through their first couple of years of math, but then ill health, anxiety, a bad school fit, and a dash of bullying brought a screaming halt to their academic advancement. Since then, their disinterest in book learning is a source of perpetual bemusement to their dad and me – neither of them, really, has an academic bone in their body. So when I read about kids doing calculus at 5, or teaching themselves multiple languages, I do sometimes wonder whether I’m in the right parenting group.

And then we’ll have a 24-hour period in which one kid (it doesn’t matter which one, they’re both over age 10 and both more than capable of all of this):

a) soliloquises extensively about how desperate they are to learn everything, and “know the answers to all the questions in the world”;

b) throws a screaming fit over wrapping a Christmas present – they cut too much paper, you see, and had to trim in both dimensions, which “ruined everything” and then they didn’t know how to do corners so the whole idea was stupid and just FORGET IT, JUST CANCEL CHRISTMAS NOW;

c) carries on the screaming fit with floods of tears, on the floor, because they wish they were learning, but they can’t because they are sick, and they can’t find their math book, and couldn’t do any even if they could find it because their entire body hurts, but they need to do it before school starts in 8 weeks’ time or they will grow up stupid and end up living in some guy’s basement playing video games for their entire life;

d) insists they would rather flush their head down the toilet than watch any educational YouTube content, even though they are sick and need to lie down watching TV, and they’re bored silly with cartoons, and to thwart me, they turn on the TV themselves, flipping through the channels until they get to … the ABC’s educational programming;

e) and finally, after more tears because it’s the 2nd and we’re not doing anything Christmassy, settles on decorating gingerbread men and spend the best part of three hours contentedly creating artworks like the portrait above. And below:

Gingerbread cookies in the CI house
©careerusinterruptus

Hilarious, aren’t they? Take a close look at the designs on those Christmas jumpers. Some of those sprinkles were placed using tweezers, for the love of God, and that one down the bottom was decapitated deliberately. The Santa hat one is decorated the same front and back because that’s how hats work. And when a cookie’s leg broke off during the transfer from worktop to baking tray, they made a gingerbread wheelchair to put it in, with a lecture to me on the importance of representing all kinds of people, not just people with legs. There was a drag queen cookie, too, and both a topless sunbather and the creep who took photos of her (a storyline lifted from Bondi Rescue. You may notice a theme, here.)

This day was like a masterclass in teh gifted, banging through all the boxes: Intelligence and a thirst for knowledge, tick. Rampaging need for autonomy, tick. A tsunami of emotion, tick. A stonking sense of humour, tick. Anxiety (not necessarily a gifted thing, but often comorbid), tick. Social justice campaigning, tick. Intense and asynchronous up the wazoo.

I know, I go on about it. Partly, dude, I just need to vent. I mean, you try living with this. Partly I do it for that other mum who may be out there, wondering what the hell is going on in her house. And partly, I need to remind myself: yes, actually, I am dealing with somewhat … unusual kids, and if we all struggle sometimes, well, that’s understandable. And finally, partly, it’s to remind myself that yes, I am in the right parenting group, even without the calculus, because this is what gifted looks like.

The asynchronous development is a PITA post

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The thing about asynchronous development is, I can’t fairly write about how it looks in our house. All the stuff that would scythe right through popular one-dimensional notions of giftedness is too freaking embarrassing to my kids, and I respect them far too much to put it online.

Because the whole point of asynchronous development is that, whilst some of the stuff gifted kids do makes them look absolutely amazing, quite a lot of other stuff they do – or can’t do, or won’t do, depending on the issue – looks pretty bloody babyish. It is babyish. And my kids aren’t stupid; they know perfectly well they “should” have outgrown it like their age-peers have, but they haven’t, yet. That’s not down to my coddling or their manipulation or kids these days being soft/spoiled/getting away with murder, it’s just wiring.

It’s integral to the full picture of what we’re wrangling here, though, because the one thing us parents of gifties want you to know is that honey, we ain’t bragging. We cling to these words along with our gin bottles, because often, the “asynchronous development” part of the gifted diagnosis is the only thing that makes our kids make any degree of sense.

So instead, I’m going to share a moment from my childhood, when the asynchronicity – the all-over-the-shop development that makes gifted kids appear several ages at once – really twinkled, now that I look back through the lens of Much Reading.

On one hand, my parents bought me a subscription to Readers’ Digest for my sixth birthday, because I was desperate for reading material and they were desperate for me to stop asking questions – and they knew I’d love it. And, oh my god, I did love it. I devoured it, cover-to-cover, every month until we moved to Australia when I was 14 and the subscription lapsed. I can still tell you a whole stack of things I learned from Readers’ Digest. So on this hand, the expected precocious little smart-arse, right?

On the other hand, when my younger sisters ganged up to shame me out of thumb-sucking and sleeping with my Humpty, age 9 (first clue!), I epically lost my shit and bashed them over the head with a broom (second clue!). This hand – whoa. This hand was Daffy Duck, except actually dangerous. (Having been on the receiving end myself, I must say the tantrums of a three-year-old are a picnic compared to the same fury and lack of control whomping out of someone six years bigger and stronger.)

Now I know how today’s parenting forums would pile on. The “I would not stand for thats”, the “completely unacceptables”, the “9yo is definitely old enough to control their tempers”. It was completely unacceptable, obviously, but the point is – controlling your temper isn’t about age. It’s a learned skill. At 9, I had the self-control of your average three-year old, because I had never lost my temper before. Until that point, my parents would reasonably explain their position in any conflict and I would reasonably accept it. I’d never hit anyone; I’d never even thrown a tantrum. So my fit that night was a double-whammy: not only had I walloped my sisters, the fact that I could wallop my sisters came as a giant shock to all of us. It terrified the crap out of me, and I burst into tears every bit as loud as theirs. I was A MONSTER!

That’s asynchronous development. That’s the reason parents of gifted kids clutch their gin: at any moment, your hitherto rational, advanced, and well-adjusted child may suddenly be taken over by a foaming poltergeist of their much-younger selves – or, as in my case, a developmental stage they’d seemingly skipped altogether. (Tip: they never skip stages. If you think your kid has skipped a stage, by all means, read ahead and meet them wherever they are, but mark the place in your book. You will be revisiting it, sooner or later. Sometimes much later.)

Sure, some gifties lose their temper regularly and still take forever to learn that control. For others, it’s different aspects of development that are out of whack: they can read but not write, or recite the periodic table but not toilet-train, or calculate orbital trajectories in their heads but still need to co-sleep. The point is the lows that come with the highs and the vertiginous zipping between the two. One minute your nine-year-old is waxing lyrical about David Hartman, the first blind person to graduate med school in the US; the next minute she’s lost all self-control, everyone’s screaming hysterically, and you’re checking the littlies for concussion.

As a parent, I have suffered this whiplash so many times, it’s a wonder my head is still attached. It’s the thing I most wish to convey when I talk about the gifted. Sure, there’s an intellectual component to the diagnosis that hogs the limelight, but as a parent, you don’t really care about that. No, what keeps you awake at night is the berserker lurking behind the vocabulary, ready to leap out and wallop everyone when least expected.

That’s the thing that drove me to the forums and eventually, to my tribe of other, similarly-traumatised parents, and it’s why I’m sharing this now. Because if you don’t get what asynchronous development is, you might not know that this is what gifted looks like.

Bang! There went the week.

©careerusinterruptus

Sigh. There’s the whiteboard. Last Sunday night I brought it down to the playroom, so that CraftyFish and I could put together a plan for what we needed and wanted to get through during the week.

We don’t do well with routine in my house. Everyone gets bored if we do the same thing twice in a row and we’re all constantly generating new ideas for cool stuff to do, then getting sucked into the internet when we look up how to do it and forgetting what we originally planned. I haven’t quite decided whether we have executive function issues, ADHD (inattentive) or if this constant mental hyperactivity is just what gifted looks like.

Then, too, life is constantly throwing new and unpredicted excitements our way that knock us so thoroughly for six, we may take days to find our feet.

My aim, therefore, is for something like a melody, rather than a schedule, a routine or a plan. There are needs I aim to meet, one way or another, during the course of a week: the need for exercise, for getting outside, for creativity, for social connection, for the house to be somewhat slightly cleaned, for the animals to be taken care of, for stretching our comfort zones, for spending time with family, and for learning.

CraftyFish has Guides on Monday and piano lessons on Friday. In between is a blank slate. There’s no order; I just aim to keep the mix right. This week we needed to look in on Mum three times; she lives on her own and although she’s quite happy and safe, she can forget lunch, and won’t get out or see anyone at all if we don’t help her. On Sunday, though, CraftyFish was so busy doing … something, that by bedtime all I had for a “plan” was a trip to the skate park the following day and this week, art and literacy classes on Thursday afternoon. They didn’t even get written on the board.

And then Sunday night was one of those no-sleep three-ring circuses (even the Skeptic was up, briefly), topped, first thing Monday morning, by Mr Pixel’s computer blowing up when he turned it on. I mean, what sort of chance did that give us?

Exactly.

It went downhill from there. Eventually, we got out to a skate park that CraftyFish wanted to visit, only for it to be so thoroughly overrun with wild schoolkids that she freaked (not about the kids, per se, but about the possibility of running them over, since they appeared to have no self-preservation instinct whatsoever) and demanded to leave.

So we went on to IKEA, where CraftyFish refused to eat IKEA food because “it’s expensive junk and I don’t want to make you broke and I want to be healthy” (plus, also, probably, because she was still disappointed about the skate park and mad that we were there to buy something for her brother). Then she fell over onto her wrist and it turned out I couldn’t move the item we’d come for anyway, so we left with a disappointed Mr Pixel, a frustrated Mum, and CraftyFish in floods.

Tuesday involved Mr Pixel visiting the dentist; CraftyFish unable to decide whether to spend the afternoon at school or with us and therefore, yep, more floods; and the week’s first visit to Mum – on the way to ER to get an X-ray for CraftyFish’s swollen wrist. (Just sprained, fortunately.)

And yet somehow, things came right after that. CraftyFish has done about 15 pages of math that she’s getting 95% right. We set up her email address and a shop – writing the ‘About’ blurb, coming up with a shop name, etc – on the online marketplace where she wants to start selling the scrunchies she taught herself to make. A friend has already bought three. We bought stickers for the printer and she figured out designing and printing labels for her shop. She’s made a lot of LEGO and learned how to make plaster molds of her baby-doll’s face. (Don’t ask.)

On Wednesday we took Mum to the library and borrowed a book on LEGO stop-motion animation, so on Friday CraftyFish made half-a-dozen tiny but quite hilarious films. She counted her money ($103.75) and made another baby doll mask.

Meanwhile, Mr Pixel is thinking about how he’s going to build his computer himself and we are talking about options. While he ponders this he painted his Nerf armoury, did a LOT of LEGO, worked on a Nerf modification project, put the slats into his new double bed, played a lot of Minecraft, looked up videos to solve an algebra problem on his game, meticulously tended the mealworms – wait, have I mentioned the mealworm project yet? He helped me measure CraftyFish’s room so we can make sure the redecoration fits and has read all the library books – not a lot, granted, but he knows more about rockets than he did before. There have been some heavy discussions about Extinction Rebellion and quantum physics, which I’m reading but he wants to know about. Oh – and he went online and ordered the heavy IKEA item himself.

The Skeptic took them to classes on Thursday where Mr Pixel talked (and wrote) Dr Seuss and CraftyFish learned macrame, although she didn’t do much on account of the wrist. And they caught up with friends.

And on Friday, after piano, we went to Mum’s. Mr Pixel prepared the snacks and helped make her dinner and then we walked Mum down to the park where the kids went nuts on the exercise equipment.

It’s like this all the time. Sometimes I feel like I’m just hanging on to a pair of breakaway horses; all I aim for is to hit the big bollards on the way through. We got ’em all this week, I think, except Mr Pixel’s social life, which is on hold until we figure out the computer. And then we got some extra. Because in our house, this is what gifted looks like.

14 days

Him: Okay, so, just don’t paint the patio.

Me: <blink>

Him: Or, just don’t make yourself a dress!

Me: <blink, blink>

Him: It’s that simple!

Me: <squints> Dude. You’ve known me how long?*

Him: <throws up hands in despair>

Heh. He doesn’t even know about the mirror. Or the artworks.

*answer: 26 years. 26 years! Seriously. You’d think he’d have learned by now.

The Dish

You know that whole 17-day, 3000km road trip was organised around this, right? The CSIRO radio telescope at Parkes. Very first time I sat down to consider possibilities, I looked it up and it turned out, they were having a rare open weekend to mark the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. They would do tours! Well, there was no way I was missing out on that.

We got there 45 minutes early, I was so scared of missing out – and given that we had a 1.5hr drive to get there, that’s really saying something in our slow-starting household. I can’t remember the last time I was so excited. Quite possibly, never.

I will not pretend the kids gave a damn. The boys stayed on the ground while CraftyFish came on the tour, pulled along somewhat bemusedly by my excitement. And I was completely, ridiculously, viscerally, excited. Nearly a month later and I still thrill to think of it, to see these pictures. It is like an A-list celebrity encounter, multiplied a couple of orders of magnitude. I would’ve gone on the tour three or four times, if they’d let me, except I did also want to share it. With EVERYBODY.

It is not just that I think it is stunningly beautiful. The epic parabolas, the lacework against the sky. It is not just that it’s a hub of brilliant minds from around the world. They had an “Ask the Experts Marquee”, where I would’ve quite happily stayed all day talking to people about gravitational waves and pulsars and the temperatures of merging galaxies and the Square Kilometre Array, except that I was actually a bit too excited to stand there and talk to any one person for more than about ten minutes.

It is not just the stonking engineering: the 1000-ton dish, unattached to its base, still in its sixth decade at the forefront of the science, leading a global network ever forward technologically. It is not just the way this magnet for the curious rises out of the surrounding kilometres of flat red dirt like a massive sunflower, always turning, always searching. Listening.

It is not even the mind-emptying scope of what they do there, probing the farthest reaches of our universe for the birth of the cosmos. It is all of this, all at once, that fires my rockets. It’s like every crevice of my entire brain is being thoroughly, running-round-in-circles gasping-for-breath tickled. Think about all those big ideas for a moment. The hugeness of them. The implications. The burning questions still to come. Can you feel it? Even an inkling? Yeah? Welcome to inside my head.