How we do it

@careerusinterruptus

Last month, SpaceX’s Falcon-9 rocket carried an Argentine satellite and two, smaller, ride-sharing satellites into space to drop into orbit. It was F9’s fourth launch, but its first time landing on shore. (Normally it comes down on one of two drone boats – a beautiful sight.) And they caught one of the rocket’s farings in a huge net on their manned boat.

Do you want to know more? I know more! I know the names of all the boats and satellites, what a faring is and does, how far into space each stage goes and what its function is, when SpaceX’s next crewed mission is, who the crew will be… You know how I know all this, right?

NOT because I have any interest in rockets, but because Mr Pixel does. He monitors the launch schedule, watches the videos, absorbs the facts, and loves to share. He can either explain, or instantly check on a pinned tab, any detail a silly old mum has failed to engrave on her grey matter. How much he loves this stuff can be gauged by the fact that all week he’s been checking a live-stream of SpaceX’s Boca Chica site, even though nothing’s happening there. (Exept a digger arriving on Tuesday.)

Meanwhile, CraftyFish decided I needed to learn about Harry Potter. (AFAIK I’m the sole member of the International I Don’t GAF About Harry Club.) Clearly, none of the eleven meta-HP books in the house own were sufficiently informative; CraftyFish had to make her own. So she downloaded a ton of images and pasted them into a document which we had to go get printed, our machine being on the fritz. But – DISASTER! – incompatible file types! Skew-whiff formatting! (ENORMOUS self-restraint mobilised here, tremendous, to avert public tears.)

Home again, where, under great emotional tension, I dredged up 35yo skillz to format 11pp of images in a suitable program. Then back to the print shop. CraftyFish, who had, in the interim, decided to learn Für Elise from sheet music she found online, asked to print that, too.

Then back home. She spent the next three hours happily cutting, gluing, and practising, while I lay down with a cold compress and a g&t.

PLEASE NOTE: ALL OF THIS HAPPENED SIMULTANEOUSLY, UNPLANNED, ON A MONDAY MORNING.

(Okay, not the gin. Even though I DESERVED IT.)

Educating my kids is like herding a dozen Jack Russell-mountain goat crosses while a rogue wildcat stalks the pen. There’s a LOT of yapping and head-butting, with the constant looming threat of unbridled panic. (SO MUCH YAPPING. SO MUCH HEAD-BUTTING. SO MUCH PANIC.)

Today is Wednesday.

As I write – because there’s hell to pay if Mama’s horses don’t get exercised, too – Mr Pixel is following video instructions to build a massive digger in Minecraft; judging from the huffing coming from his corner, it’s rather challenging. CraftyFish is trying a new recipe for coffee-cream sandwich cookies. While batches are in the oven she’s reading Twilight, which was recently the subject of a homeschool class on How Not To Write A Book. She keeps coming to gleefully read excruciating passages aloud to me. We are talking about adjectives, plot, and healthy relationships.

This is how we ‘homeschool’.

Pretty much all I do is hang on, negotiate, figuring out on the fly how much I can say ‘yes’ to, damn the plan, because Pick Your Battles is my first three rules of parenting and sticking to the plan when the interest bug has bitten is not a battle I’d ever win.

For us, interest is a wild thing. It isn’t especially narrow or deep – Mr Pixel, for instance, can get just as excited about Nerf, Lego, snakes, Minecraft, Tesla, or a recipe from Babish, as he does about Space-X – it’s about the intensity of the curiosity that may bite anywhere, at any time, and does not let go. When CraftyFish spotted a book about rocks, one of her current interests, she haggled for three days until I bought it for her – and then she read it, reveling in the strange new words. Learning that there was a name for this, intellectual over-excitability, from Heidi Klass Gable’s Ted Talk, was the first crack in my refusal to hear that my kids were gifted.

I recognised it, you see. I remember being the kid who spent an entire afternoon reading the new dictionary my dad brought home, when I was 12. I remember how bad I wanted a spare brain that could be set to read, while I did all the other things like school and eat and sleep. (That scene in Dr Strange; you know the one? THAT WAS MY FANTASY.) I also remember how utterly, profoundly uninterested I could be, and the resentment that followed being pushed to do irrelevant things when my interest lay elsewhere.

I don’t want to do that to my kids. Discipline comes not from forcing yourself (or being forced) to study things you have no interest in, but from learning to overcome the obstacles to the things you are interested in. Left to their own devices, they do all the heavy lifting of finding motivation, goal-setting, problem-solving, and persistence.

(Heh. Mr Pixel has just groaned, “WHY did I think this was a good idea?!” But he keeps going, and that is all the good things right there.)

It isn’t always like this, of course. At some point – usually when I say, “Get off your screen/clean up the kitchen/bedtime” – the Jack Russell-mountain goats will morph into wailing floor jellies, because everyday reality is visually overwhelming, organisationally incomprehensible, and paralytically boring, all at once.

So my role is really just admin and coach. Keep the consumables flowing. Remind them they have bodies that need care, too. Get them through the emotional stuff. Help them learn that washing dishes and sweeping the floor are, though boring, necessary corollaries to the fun stuff.

Now if you’ll excuse me, someone has hatched a plan to make sugar from cane they spotted at the grocer’s, and I feel another headache coming on.

I don’t know anything about imposter syndrome

©careerusinterruptus.com

Really. What could I possibly have to say about it? Nothing, obviously. Many people, smarter and better-researched, have written far better posts and probably books about imposter syndrome, than I ever could.

Although, I can tell you that academia is an excellent place to contract it. Brains are the name of the game, and it’s easy to feel like an idiot when you’re surrounded by smart people, with faster processing and/or better memories, who have read more and/or who just happened to have read that one crucial item that undermines your whole idea.

And in my experience, the vast majority of scholars are combative as all get-out. They’re dying to show that they know something you don’t, to challenge both the content of what you have to say and your right to say it. They’d much rather be right, than kind. Whether this stems from a terrier-like commitment to intellectual rigor, love of battle, competition fostered by a shrinking sector, plain old insecurity, or all of the above, is hard to say, but meeting the rare scholar who lifts rather than digs really highlights how keen everyone else is to put you in your intellectual place.

If you have even a skerrick of intellectual OE – that burning desire to know – this culture kicks you pretty regularly in what’s already a sore spot: the painful awareness that you will never learn all that you want to. That realisation, when I was about six, was my first true grief. Like any proper grief, the pain has never completely gone, so every time someone bopped me with something I didn’t know, it throbbed. That happens often enough, you start to wonder what, if anything, you do know, and what the hell you’re doing there. When my office-mate even challenged my sadness over a colleague’s death (“Did you really know him, though?”), I began to feel that perhaps my entire existence needed peer-reviewing to be legit. Okay, I didn’t really feel that. I just felt an enormous disconnect, a terrific sense that I was not a real academic. I did not belong there.

Of course, I knew that was imposter syndrome speaking, but everyone has that, don’t they? Heck, I even read an interview where Michelle Obama talked about it. She said, you get over imposter syndrome when you realise that those people aren’t that smart, after all. Hm, maybe — IF YOU’RE MICHELLE FREAKING OBAMA! I’m not that smart. Obviously.

But a funny thing happened after I left academia: Parenthood. I definitely knew nothing about that, so like a proper swot I researched my arse off, becoming more and more confused as book after book failed to describe anything remotely like what was going on in my house. Not how I saw the world, not my values, not how my kids behaved. (Free tip: don’t ever get me started on reward charts.)

Eventually, though, through reading, I found my way to teh gifted. (‘Back’ to teh gifted, I should say, since I was identified as a kid.) And these people! Oh, my goodness. Smart. Funny. Sensitive. Snarky. Passionate. Ambivalent. Crusading. And wrestling with the same issues: the screaming, the kids who’d happily die (DIE, I tell you!) before giving in to any authority they perceive as arbitrary, the anxiety, the perfectionism, the stubborn, the under-achievement, the big, tender hearts, the burning thirst for knowledge (STRICTLY on their own terms), the … imposter syndrome. Oh, yeah. I’d found my tribe.

I still don’t think I’m that smart. I’m pretty much always convinced that everyone is smarter than I am. Everyone has achieved more, done more, read more, and for sure, knows more about just about everything, than I do. I frequently wonder whether perhaps we’re not gifted, just, you know, really emotionally dysregulated, over-thinky, and a bit useless. There are 6yos out there who do calculus for fun, for goodness sake, while my kids at 11 and 13 spuriously insist they can’t tell time – and will hold their breath to prove it!

The lovely thing about the gifted/2e tribe is, they get that. There’s no pissing contest about whose kid is more gifted or whether you’ve read Silverman, Tolan or Merrill. We all know we are learning on a job where there’s no union, no OH&S, and no damn tea-breaks. We don’t really have a clue what’s going on (because these kids mix signals like nobody’s business) or if we do have a clue, we remember all too well the bruises from our own days of seeking.

So we tootle along, sharing, laughing, and crying, and when someone wobbles, wondering what the hell they’re doing there when their 13yo has read nothing but the same two book series over and over for the past TWO YEARS, they all just laugh, empathise, proffer gin and if you’re after it, advice. It’s that recognition that saves my sanity, every time. The knowing laughs when I complained about starting this very column two months early and twelve different times, the women offering the balm of their likeness, rather than a reference to fix that.

Sure, I have a long way to go to guru-dom. I should definitely read more University Press books, especially about giftedness, homeschooling, and being a good human, instead of books with curly embossed titles and drawings of teapots and frocks on the front. But I don’t, because my brain hurts from living it, and because I’ve come to realise that actually, that’s all the expertise I need, to write about what happens in my house. I do get us. And as long as I’m sharing something that might give you a glimmer of recognition, of connection, of feeling less alone in your confusion, then I’m on the right track. Perfectly entitled to my position and right to speak it.

Just don’t look to me as any sort of authority.