where wildly different is perfectly normal
The joys (HA!) of gifted intensities
The joys (HA!) of gifted intensities

The joys (HA!) of gifted intensities

The joys (HA!) of gifted intensitiesOh, the joys, the joys. You know when the principal of the school rubs your back and says, “He’s one of the most complex kids I’ve ever seen,” that she’s starting to realize that you’re not making stuff up. This is the same principal who was the district’s GT coordinator. Who has a Masters degree in gifted education. Who studied with George Betts. At least now A’s teachers…principal…random people in the hallway…know I’m not making shit up.

I suppose I should back up a bit.

Tonight was the 3rd grade specials showcase. A chance for the kids to show off what they had learned in art, music, PE, and computer lab. The PE teacher was going to lead them through a dance with the parents, the art teacher displayed the Carnivale masks they made, the computer lab teacher let the kids show off the Power Point presentations, and the music teacher had a little program of three songs with hand chimes.

And our son, spawn of two formally trained musicians, re-freaking-fused to participate.

We’ve been trying to gently encourage him to move out of his comfort zone. To push himself a little. I worry that by giving in to him too often that he’ll grow up to never try anything that’s uncomfortable or different. So we brought him to the showcase tonight and it just went downhill from there.

A curled up in the hallway by the music room and tried not to dry heave. For fifteen minutes I talked to him, cajoling, sweet-talking, encouraging. His music teacher (someone I went to grad school with…sigh) tried to talk to him; she knows he’s a strong singer (on pitch). The principal tried talking to him. His friends asked him if he was ok.

And he couldn’t do it. Couldn’t get up and walk into the music room. Couldn’t go into the gym to sing. He has the strongest will of anyone I’ve ever seen, and he managed to convince himself that he couldn’t do it, that he would literally get sick if he did. He was well past fight-or-flight.

The principal, God love her, took him to watch the kids sing. I stayed in the hallway to breathe. In. Out. In. Out. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

I eventually made my way in, and sat behind A. I was still too raw to sit with him. And once the kids started singing, the tears flowed.

This was the world I envisioned, the one with happily singing kids and proud parents with video cameras. How I envied the families in the audience, calmly enjoying an evening’s entertainment. I had to turn around and face the wall to hide my quiet sobbing; thankfully I was back far enough that no one could hear me. That is not my world, and won’t be. Our oldest son will always march to the beat of his own drummer, and little I do can change that.

Once the music and PE part of the evening was over, A dragged us to the computer lab (with only the briefest of stops in the art studio). And proceeded to show us every.single.thing. that the Mac could do. The computer lab teacher was so happy with his work.

I know, in the grand scheme of things, that this is not a big deal. I know there are other parents out there with much bigger problems, much more difficult kids. But I think the challenge here lies in appearances. By all accounts, A looks entirely “normal.” And he’s not. He is so smart, but his intensities set him apart and make life difficult for him. I’m honestly at a loss as to what to do. Things had been going so well for him lately.

Tomorrow is another day.


  1. Deborah

    Such a powerful post, Jen. I applaud you for your honesty, your deep love for your son and your bravery. Thank you so much for sharing this…so very poignant and raw.

  2. Sounds just like the son of a friend of mine. No, really a friend. We’re okay with school recitals, it’s just, oh, going to school, religious school and 3xweek band practice that are the tough spots. Oh wait, that’s not so encouraging!

    We have to remind ourselves that one day, that resolve, that strong and stubborn spirit will be a strength.

    Hang in there; you will see it! {hugs}

  3. Oh, I remember the days…and days…and days…like that. The best I can say about intensities (my eldest now being 15)…is that they come about when we least want their company. But such is the company we keep when parent kids that are just MORE. It does get easier, as we help them grow into those intensities and learn how to channel them a bit.

    But, on to the real business at hand here…Did A shine in that computer lab or what?

    Now, that is something to SING about!

    Hang in there, mamma…those of us that know, REALLY know and “get it”. For those that don’t get it…we can’t even begin to explain. When A gets to channel his intensities in the directions that feed his soul…he will SOAR. I know you find ways to help him do that already!

    You are not alone!

  4. ella

    No, you can’t change the fact that he marches to his own beat but you can make sure he knows that who he is, what he feels, what stirs his soul is valuable. He needs to know that his passions/interests are just as important and valid as your passions/interests and that it’s okay if his path is divergent from anybody else’s around. Their path is a more difficult one but it also holds much more promise. It’s our job to nurture the kid we have not the one we expected and it’s not an easy job. It hurts when we see their immediate pains and struggles. I’m so glad that he had a place to shine and has a “home” in the computer lab!

  5. Eventually, that supersmart, superintense personality will take him all the way to the sun and back. Or at least that’s what I keep telling myself.

    I get it Jen, I really do. I can’t keep the sobs from coming, and I shouldn’t, they’re healthy and needed sometimes, but I can hold your hand while you’re doing it.

  6. My son is very similar to yours. He’s the youngest of my four. The best thing I have ever done for him is to let him do what he loves. And also take an interest and share with him the things he enjoys.

    So now I share new tech info that comes out on @mashable and watch him play video games. By joining his world, it loosens him up and boosts his esteem in a way that nothing else does. This gives him the confidence, sometimes (with coaxing), to venture out into new territory.

    A great person to follow is @DeborahMersino. On her site she has a lot of great info on social and emotional skills for gifted kids.

    Best to you.

  7. Rebecca McMillan


    A very powerful post that captures what I live on a daily basis with my younger son, L, who is 9. After 2.5 years of trying to make school work for him, we finally gave up and have been homeschooling him for the last 2 years. He is much happier and we are far less stressed. We build our days around his passions and interests and leave him lots of time to pursue his creative interests. Still we bob and weave to work around his moods, intensity and perfectionism.

    Thanks you for sharing this moving glimpse into your life with your son. I look forward to reading your blog regularly.


    P.S. It does get easier as they age. My older son (19) was similarly intense and is now thriving in a double degree program at Tufts University and New England Conservatory. He channels his intensity into his music and academic pursuits now and is a very happy camper.

  8. Jen you. are. an. amazing. mom. Don’t ever forget that. It is so heartbreaking to watch our children struggle and it makes us all feel very isolated and alone…especially when sitting in a room full of ‘normal’ families. Thank you for being brave enough to share your experience with us.

    A will find his way because you and your husband are there supporting and encouraging him. He will learn to live with his intensities and hopefully channel them into his passions as some here have mentioned. Take the computer lab and remember how proud and amazing he was there. Maybe next year, he will feel more comfortable about participating in the musical portions – maybe not…but know that no matter what happens – just remember – You are amazing and so is he.

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  10. Heather

    This is a very moving post. I wish someone could have been there with you to empathize and at least give you a shoulder to cry on, so you wouldn’t have to be alone in that experience.

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  12. Joan

    I’m a gifted adult and still going through the hell that is the so-called joys of gifted sensitivities. It is hell, you are looked at as weird, different, and you don’t fit in. If you’re my age (53), even your teacher mother doesn’t recognize your differences as giftedness and thinks you need to shape up and be like everyone else. Your child is lucky – at least you are trying to understand, and at least there are programs now for gifted children. There weren’t in my day, and god forbid if you were a gifted girl. The world still doesn’t care for gifted women.

    1. Jen

      I’m trying, that’s the best I can do. I wish I could do more for him, but I can’t. At this point it’s on him. But the gifted sensitivities…whew…yeah, they’re exhausting wrapped in frustrating with a heavy dollop of good God not again. Three of the four of us here are Type A gifted first borns. Poor J can barely keep up! LOL! We all have our various GT sensitivities and they usually get along about as well as magnets bouncing off one another. Gifted women? Sigh. I didn’t acknowledge I was a gifted woman until about a year ago. Even now I have an extremely hard time saying the words, and can barely choke them out even to my husband. So many reasons why gifted women have a hard time, starting with wiring and ending with society doesn’t like/respect a gifted woman. No easy answers.
      Thanks for your comment, Joan!

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  14. Misty Parker

    Just now reading this as you referenced it in your most recent post…my gosh can I relate! Last month we had our son’s 2nd grade music recital. Last year he did go on stage only to practically take off his entire shirt as he was hiding in it and ending with him sitting in the riser so as not to be seen. This year was a big improvement (combination of one recital under his belt and adhd meds, i don’t know…) at first I had tears because he was actually singing and not taking his shirt off! He looked so normal! Then the tears came back at the end of the performance as the auditorium erupted into applause and he turned into a T-Rex and stomped off the stage with his arms held in T-Rex pose perfect with 2 gnarly fingers and swaying side to side…guess we’re just not meant to be “normal”. Sigh.

    Thanks again for sharing so much of your experience. It has really helped my sanity! 🙂

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