where wildly different is perfectly normal
Gifted is.
Gifted is.

Gifted is.

gifted is.It’s more than likely you do not know the name Aaron Swartz; before this morning I did not either. But if you are reading this on a feed reader, he is why. Among many other things, he helped create the RSS feed by which you’re reading this. When he was 14.

Yesterday he hanged himself.

He suffered from depression, and was being prosecuted by the US Attorney for illegally downloading 5 million academic articles from a subscription service. He believed deeply that all information should be available for free. With a little Googling you can find all this; I don’t have the heart to search it out and link it all. But that’s not why I sit here now, shaken and red-eyed.

Rick Perlstein of The Nation wrote of his friend:

I remember always thinking that he always seemed too sensitive for this world we happen to live in, and I remember him working so mightily, so heroically, to try to bend the world into a place more hospitable to people like him, which also means hospitable to people like us.

And I sobbed.

I sobbed for my son, my incredibly sensitive twice-exceptional son, who this morning was distraught beyond words when we learned that our beloved pediatrician in Colorado had died on Christmas eve. I sobbed for all of our gifted and twice-exceptional children, fighting their way through their demons as the world around them actively strives to strike them down. I sobbed for us parents, struggling day after day to help our complex children navigate this world, even as we rail against the weight and unfairness of the burden. I sobbed for Aaron and for the pain of his parents.

I am sobbing still.

This young man, who I have never met and had not heard of before today, was obviously quite gifted. Based on what I’ve read today, he loved life and learning and creating solutions for problems no one yet knew they had. I didn’t know I needed an RSS feed reader until I used one; now I can’t imagine not using one daily. I think I would have liked him; he reminds me of my own son.

People? What are we doing to our best and brightest? I mourn this young man because he is…he is the child we’re raising now. Every time I read Perlstein’s observation of his friend, “he always seemed too sensitive for this world we happen to live in,” my heart breaks anew for our gifted sons and daughters. They are not gifted because they can do higher level math, or write complex computer code, or read and understand and discuss Chaucer. They are gifted because that is who they are. They are not, I repeat NOT, the product of their talents. Giftedness is not always a gift; too often it is a burden. To carry that burden alone, seeing and tasting and feeling the world a different way, while being lauded only for what you produce, for what you give to the world…

Gifted children and adults are not gifted for what they do, they just are. And it is dangerous and negligent to forget that. To focus solely on talents and eminence reduces a person’s very being down to “what have you done for me (society) lately,” and “you’re only gifted if what you produce is worthwhile (to society).” No. I demand more than this. I demand more than this for my son, for your son, for all of our gifted children struggling in this world. Struggling against poor educational fit, against bullying, against a society that thinks these children are not gifted unless they produce and produce in volume. Gifted is. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. 

I mourn Aaron Swartz, a young man I didn’t know. But I know a lot of young gifted kids, and I pray that I never have to mourn them. We can do better for our children, and we must.


  1. Amy

    I’m so sad reading this. But I love what you have to say about being gifted -and about how it isn’t important what is “produced.” I needed to be reminded of that today.
    About a year ago, my daughter was evaluated and the teacher (who was a specialist in working with gifted children) with good intentions said that my daughter had the kind of mind that could cure cancer. While that is amazing – it put my focus on her in the wrong way – like I need to push and push and push her to her potential. But I don’t think I need to push her at all. I think I need to help her find her passions in life and help her follow them without the weight of “you need to go out and change the world.”
    Wow – I’m going on a bit much here. 🙂 But thank you for a terrific post.

    1. Jen

      I know. My son is such an out of the box thinker that he’s going to create something someday that changes the world. He’s been compared to Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs more than once. But I have to push that put of my mind, because right now he’s a super sensitive little kid who still needs to be a kid.

  2. The Old Wolf

    Having spent the first 8 years of my schooling with a group of children identified by S-B scores as “gifted” – all of us were above the 99th percentile on that scale, for what it’s worth – this tribute and introspective essay touched me deeply. May Aaron rest in peace, and may peace somehow find his family.

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  4. Marta

    Have you heard of SEP at the U. of O.? The Summer Enrichment Program:


    I was one of those kids, during the first session in 1980. I never forgot it, and remembering that experience was one of the things that steadied me during high school. Remembering that college was going to be a LOT better.

    Your son might benefit from the program. I only just ran across your blog, so I don’t know his age. But I scan take a pretty educated guess as to what he’s going through.

    They have other programs for gifted kids through the U. of O. More info here:


    1. Jen

      No, I’m not familiar with it, but I know of others. He’s only 11, so not sure that would be a good fit for him right now. 😉 Here in the Chicago area there are some great programs; the challenge is finding one that recognizes the whole gifted child and not just what’s between the ears. It’s a search I haven’t started yet, for a huge number of reasons.

  5. Kate

    Thank you for writing about this. Such a tragedy.

    I’ve never commented here before, but read all your posts. Thank you for speaking out on the not-so-warm-fuzzy aspects of giftedness.

  6. Nicole

    Thanks Jen. I love reading your blog. This brought me to tears, as did the news of Aaron Swartz. I watch my 4 years old daughter, see her young heart is sensitive far beyond its years, watch her try to interact with the world around her, and know it will be a difficult road ahead. Thanks for sharing your journey and offering your insight.

    1. Jen

      The sensitive beyond years part is so, so hard. A is 11, and still has a hard time coping with with a few things you’d think an 11 year old boy could handle. But he’s been like that forever, it’s part of who he is, and with guidance he’ll learn to keep the sensitivity while managing to cope. 🙂 At least, I hope so!

  7. Yes, yes and a million times YES! They just “are”. It’s who they are and the world doesn’t always like that, with it’s focus on productivity and testing. I thank my lucky stars a million times over I brought my son home from school, because we so easily could still be dealing with anxiety and depression.

    But I hope and wonder about the future that doesn’t get our kids.

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