Well. It's the Longest Post Ever - but I promise this is a one-shot deal and I will never make another one on the subject.
I know I am a nice person. I know I am a good person. But here I am, at 41 years old, and right now I no longer have a single person in my life that I can honestly call a friend. I sense a time is coming where that will change - this past year has been a time of transition; a shedding of skin.
Everything used to be fine. I had regular friends: old ones, good ones, toxic ones. As we have grown up and started families, something odd has happened - I've stopped being able to honestly talk about what's really happening with my life. Which has led to superficial relationships. And ultimately, ended relationships.
I've been debating this post in my mind, because I know it is a big risk.
Yet there is something that encourages me to write it all down, once and for all. How I got here, why I am alone, and why it matters to me. You cannot see the evidence - maybe you will reject it - and quite honestly, friends and family in real life have literally recoiled in the face of it, so that would not surprise me if that happened here. But, I am afraid.
When we first had SmallBeaver, she was already different. Weirdly alert from Day One, she rolled over for the first time on Day Two, and was walking and talking at 7 months. On some level, I knew this was a little odd, but everyone - friends, family, the doctor - were very quick to advise me that of course all children even out in the end. Which is, of course, absolutely true (about walking and talking.) After all, starting early doesn't make a person a better "talker" in the end, amirite!
But something deeper was happening. SmallBeaver was obviously different than the other kids in our social circle - and she made people uncomfortable, just by being. When she was as young as three, adults often felt the need to take her down a peg: "Isn't that book too old for you?"; "Oh, you can't do that puzzle, you're too little"; "You couldn't possibly understand the answer to that question!" And they made all of these assertions to her face, while she was quite clearly in the middle of understanding the book; doing the puzzle; and grasping the concept. I broached the subject with each of them, "Please don't discourage her," I would say, but very frequently they told me she was too little to be hurt by their words, and that I should simply relax. I was also met with the accusation that I was somehow "Making Her Too Different" by letting her explore her ideas, which were admittedly a little weird.
I truly believe that as parents, the very best thing we can do is to follow the lead of the child - that it's our job to listen to the interests of the child and open the door to their passions. I'm sure everything would have been fine, if only SmallBeaver had been interested in dolls or trucks as a toddler, but instead she got interested in things like Terry Fox, Cancer and Surgery. We are not doctors - I do not know the Fox family personally. So beyond actually giving birth to her, I didn't create that.
But because of these differences, something started to happen to me, too - I started to feel like friends and family suddenly wanted to take me down a peg, too. Me? A person who learned very quickly to never, ever talk about baby milestones? A person who had never once had a frank discussion with her GP about her child because the doctor proactively made clear the kid who could say "antidisestablishmentarianism is the longest word in the English language" at 18 months was nothing special? But yes. So in response, I began to prune my social circle. And the ones I kept? I decided to censor my conversation: never, ever offer any information about SmallBeaver and always, always downplay her attributes because it worked better socially. For me. I freely admit it was unbelievably selfish - but in my defence, I had no idea how bad things were about to get.
Last fall, SmallBeaver started school. Within weeks, she was a shell of her former self. She withdrew. She raged. She threw things, slammed doors and screamed at me every waking minute. She wanted to quit dance. She developed stomach aches and headaches and started to refuse school. Then she wanted to quit school - at FIVE. She said she had no friends. Over and over, for weeks.
The rest, I had put down to a developmental blip, but that last one started to worry me. I spoke with her teachers and they said she was the most popular girl in the class, which rang true for me because I was getting play-date requests up the wazoo. How could this outgoing, gregarious, popular kid feel like she had no friends? Why was she so upset all the time?
Cue the psychologist. The assessment revealed SmallBeaver is what they call Exceptionally (possibly Profoundly) Gifted across the board - academically, emotionally and physically. For the record, I hate that word "Gifted" - it pains me to write it down - I have never said it out loud to a single person other than my husband. But what this kind of Gifted means - for SmallBeaver at least, is that right now she cannot be in a traditional classroom - not even a Gifted one - she is too socially adept, too aware of everyone's expectations.
She was covering her abilities because she had "understood" that kids her age couldn't do the things she did or think the things she thought or speak the vocabulary she found meaningful: she decided to conform to expectation.
Code-switching her speech for teachers and peers, she fooled everyone. She actively prevented herself from learning to read, by pretending that text had no information to offer her. She pretended to be the perfect friend to each child in her class - and they all fell in love with her, even though it turns out she felt no outgoing connections whatsoever. All of this pretending was exhausting - it was killing her. Figuring it all out took many months - too long, obviously, since in March of last year, my beautiful, sunny, amazing child began to talk seriously about wanting to die. Not dramatically. Not in anger. Just as a matter-of-fact, potential solution to her problems.
It was around this time that I lost my last, and oldest (also most toxic, but that's another story) friend. Her mother is a big cheese in education around here, and I've always loved and respected her. I felt very safe as I sat in her car, with tears streaming down my face telling her my woes: the anger, the suicidal ideation, and how the school was certain I was just a Pushy Mum and that SmallBeaver's problems were all due to my Hurrying Her Beyond Her Capacity. The school's attitude was completely contrary to the professional assessment, of course, and I was starting to feel like they were somehow gas-lighting me - how could they not listen to the psychologist? Did they want us to leave the school? How could I make them understand that SmallBeaver needed their help? We had scrimped for years to be able to afford to send her there - it was supposed to be the place with No Academic Ceiling, where they Would Meet The Child Where They Are!
And my oldest, closest friend, and her mother - the Educational Expert - sat there and told me that developmentally, there was no possible way SmallBeaver could be doing all the things she was doing, thinking the thoughts she was thinking, or feeling anything close to the pain she was expressing. And that even if she was doing these things - of course, I should really just stop worrying, because - wait for it - children even out in the end. It was all I could do to not leap out of the moving car.
SmallBeaver somehow managed to finish the year (with a lot of support from her AMAZING dance teachers) and we committed to homeschooling this year. It is really quite something, and I am forever grateful that I a) work from home and b) have a 6 y/o kid who can study and play independently for 7 hours a day. I don't think I fully understood how far and how fast a kid like this can fly, when unfettered by the expectations of adults.
Briefly, since I'm apparently in for a penny, in for a pound... She is officially four years accelerated in school, and recently took standardized tests that show her scoring in the 99th percentile in both Language and Math for 10 year olds. We skip all over for Math, and she is chugging along in Algebra and Geometry from Grades 7+ - I literally have yet to find anything that's a challenge. She just finished a paper on Marine Symbiosis - and because she is 6, illustrated it with goofy cartoons of the 5 pairs of creatures she discussed. She is happy, healthy and thriving. On Monday, she will take her first-ever Ballet exam - she is the youngest candidate her school has put forward in 30 years. I expect she and her friends (YES! FRIENDS!) will kick some serious ass.
So, yeah, Diamond Shoes. If your diamond shoes are too tight - you can take those off anytime, and you can put on another pair or just go barefoot. An yes, there are some wonderful things about SmallBeaver: she is funny and wise and kind and remembers literally everything. But the thing is, she has special needs and like all human needs - they are real. Maybe she will just even out in the end - but I honestly don't give a shit about that, because she has specific and unusual needs RIGHT FUCKING NOW that need to be addressed.
I don't know if she'll graduate high school at 14... or 13... or 12 - I can see that her pace is accelerating - we live in the age of online schools, so it could happen and it is frankly terrifying. She has told me that maybe by the time she's that age, she'll be mature enough to just go coast through a regular high school and then graduate with her age peers. Or maybe she'll go to University at 17 after a couple of gap years volunteering in our community. I think I have made peace with not knowing for sure - we are learning about this as we go.
Because just like all parents, we will have new problems every day, and we will solve them with the best information we have at the time.