Twice Exceptional or Half Capable?

In high school, I laughed too loud and too long. Shushed a thousand times, I never realized how annoying I was until our French class videotaped a comic recital. When we re-watched it after school, my lusty guffaws drown out the players on stage. My whole body blushed. Adding to my mortification, our teacher, Ms. Lucia, commented, “And here is Lori laughing…”

She did not say this in a jovial manner, to ease my embarrassment. She sounded defeated, sad for me, as if my laughter was a sign of incurable illness or impending disaster.

This hurt. I thought Ms. Lucia enjoyed my good spirits. After all, I spent hours writing comical journals and assignments for class. Classmates encouraged my boisterous antics and skits. I longed to be her favorite!  But that honor went to another. Michelle. Plop a Tonya Harding haircut on Snow White, add mom jeans and a Peter Pan collar and you have Michelle. Starched and stalwart, her seriousness contrasted sharply with my over the top exuberance. If I sat next to her, she scooted her erasers and highlighters opposite me. (I was in the habit of transforming them into smiley faces mid-lesson). She stifled her discomfort but eventually,  I felt it–an electric current of stay away.

We did not begin as adversaries. French class meant the world to me and I liked Michelle. She worked hard for every quiz, test, and assignment. I, however, aced exams and sailed through lessons with barely a glance at the material.

Grasshopper in Snow
Winter at last.

Since routine classwork bored me, I created little narratives.  I never handed in six-sentence verb exercises or blasé paragraphs about the library. Instead, I illustrated three-page epics replete with new vocabulary and painstakingly researched grammar.  My teacher commended my stories, but since I took my time handing them in, I seldom got credit.

Michelle, however, was always on time. She completed assignments as instructed, in neat and precise handwriting. I worked, when and how it suited me. Below average grades on my late masterpieces didn’t matter because I enjoyed writing them. Michelle worked with daily determination for good grades. She was the ant, and I was the grasshopper, except winter never came.

My senior year showed me where I stood with Ms. Lucia. Without enough students for a French III class, the ambitious could petition to study an extra year under her guidance. Michelle was accepted, and I was not. When I made a fuss, Ms. Lucia handed me a book and told me to study on my own during a free period. Without support, I drifted away. Decades have passed, but her rejection still visits me. In dreams, I sit forever alone before an open textbook, sad, bored, and failing French III.

Twice-exceptional* students struggle with rote and repetitive classwork. This grind is hard in a non-intellectual way. Results seem so distant that it feels like climbing an endless stairway to a pointless destination. Just sitting still was an effort for me, so I respected Michelle’s tenacity as she hauled herself up each long and boring step. I managed by completing projects with a flourish. Unfortunately, the world finds flourishes less valuable than deadlines, so I’ve failed plenty of courses. Every time, the recipe was the same–I mired myself in interesting tangents and details while neglecting routine assignments. Somehow, I skipped over skills that others had been building since kindergarten.

I’d like to change the past–but not to improve my grade. I want to go back for Michelle.  She never realized that I equated her between-class studiousness with my story-writing industriousness. We both worked hard for French and thus, were sisters. I tried my awkward best to be friendly, to make her smile, but somehow I managed to only alienate her further. The more I bumbled, the more anxious I became. Anxiety fueled future stupid and off-putting behavior, to my eternal chagrin. Friendship isn’t something Michelle owed me,  but if she understood that my behavior was neurological and not conceit or ridicule, my heart would be at ease.

Get Along Together

In retrospect, I wonder if Ms. Lucia was worthy of the affection I held for her. She could have spoken kindly to me about my unintended laugh track. She could have sat me further from the microphone. She could have paired me with Michelle instead of setting me adrift in an empty classroom.  Michelle and I could have collaborated and emerged twice as capable.  Come to think of it, Ms. Lucia’s every wince, sigh, and impatient gesture taught students like Michelle that I was somehow less-than.

Fortunately, the “needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” educational philosophy of the 80s is vanishing.  Feeling less-than, unliked, and discarded can haunt students well beyond grade school. I am grateful my son’s school has a progressive and positive atmosphere.  When his neurology kicks into overdrive, his teachers support him and set a strong example of acceptance. As I write, he has found his own Michelle, and I cannot wait to see what they create together.

*My exceptionalities are autism and Tourette’s syndrome

The Inferno: Twice Exceptional Raising Twice Exceptional

The Inferno

The Dream

Six months ago, I dreamt I lived in a vast black basement and never slept.

My singular duty was to stoke an enormous and intensely hot furnace. I heaved mound after mound of dusty coal into the roaring inferno.  My back ached. My mouth burned with thirst. Yet, I shoveled on.

At intervals, I rested.  The sudden stillness dizzied me, as if I were falling asleep. Heat and light jarred me back to alertness.

I pondered the purpose of the inferno. Does it fuel a city? Power a massive factory? Or is this subterranean monster an entity of its own?

I waved away the thought. Work resumed in minutes. I needed a few moments of mindless relief.

I shoveled.  Unequivocally ravenous and implacable, the fire vaporized  fuel as quickly as I could provide it. I increased my pace. The walls of coal began creeping closer. I shoveled frantically to avoid being pushed into the flames.

I could not maintain this furious pace.

Should I make peace with my doom or continue to  shovel?

I woke up.

The First Interpretation

The struggle of fueling a voracious furnace resembles raising a twice exceptional child.

Forever vigilant, I juggle interventions for anxious, tourettic behavior. Today I dab balm on eyelids chapped from compulsive rubbing. Tomorrow I hide tomatoes and bananas under dishtowels.  Our home is a stage constantly reset to remove temptations. Everything is just so, to reduce spills, plumber bills and frustration.

Liev ’s intelligence generates another kind of perpetual effort. Keeping pace with profound giftedness demands more than hiding scissors or stowing away hand soap.  Intellectual thirst requires mental fleetness, abundant creativity and cognitive endurance. Without stimulation, a gifted brain agonizes. Boredom triggers unendurable tension and restlessness.

I strive to support our son. Should my attentiveness wane, I fear I will be engulfed. Meltdowns,  intense emotions, and wild behavior disorient me. I fear I will fail him.

I secured these thoughts in a notebook. My legacy to Liev will not be an interminable online ode on how hard it is to raise him.

The Truth

A week ago,  I revisited my notebook. As I re-read my words, I realized the inferno dream was less about raising a twice exceptional child and more about my own struggle with twice exceptionality.

Long before Liev entered our world, I shoveled. I fed the fires of schools, university degrees, jobs and interpersonal relationships. I put forth enormous effort to maintain impossible standards.  At times, the furnace snuffled me in; blackening me into deep depressive spells.

No six year old holds me captive in a basement. I’ve always been here. And now I have company.

My dear, sweet, bright little boy grips a shovel in his hand. His furnace roars. I hope to teach him the finest shoveling techniques.  I hope to teach him to enjoy the radiance of his gifts without being gobbled up by his differences. Above all, I hope to teach him how to brush away the ashes and begin anew.

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Birthday Mom

Hello Kitty!

My five-year-old son has chosen his Halloween costume. He wants to be Hello Kitty.

This should be interesting.

Why does he want to be Hello Kitty? Because he is in love with this little girl:

The singing character is “Kitty,” Liev’s imaginary friend.

Liev wants to be Hello Kitty “because Kitty likes Hello Kitty and I want her to like my costume.”

In case it is confusing, the “Kitty” in the video is not Hello Kitty, although they are both Japanese.

Of course, I’ve already bought him a Hello Kitty Hat:

Tomorrow I am off to find a white shirt and matching bottoms. Pictures to follow.

BTW, this is an awesome article about one mom’s choice to let her son wear a “girl’s” costume.

Japanese Language Fascination

We are on week four of Liev’s Japanese fascination.

Last Saturday was the All Japanese YouTube Day. At 8:00 a.m. Liev cranked the computer volume up to “stupefy” and shouted along to his favorite songs.

Downstairs, hubby ate breakfast and perused a guitar catalog. Clicking away on my laptop, I sipped tea. After the fourth repeat of “Ya, Yi, Yu, Yo, Yeh!” hubby and I exchanged looks. Some days are special interest days. You just have to roll with it.

Twenty minutes and a thousand “NOOs” later, I reduced the YouTube volume. T’s passion for Japanese, however, remained unquelled.

On the bright side, his video songs were quite catchy. By Saturday night, both Egor and I could sing along.

If Saturday was YouTube Day, Sunday was Kana Day.

Liev wrote Japanese characters all day. He wrote with a rigid fanaticism I have not seen in a while. By late Sunday afternoon, he filled up a 100-page notebook with kana.

He wrote kana on the basement freezer, the downstairs refrigerator and on the bathtub walls. If I would have let him, he would have covered the remaining walls, floors, and doors with hiragana and katakana.

Sunday night, previously cute Japanese songs were infinitely annoying.

Monday, Liev mercifully ended his YouTube fixation. This is because he had memorized every song ever sung on the Genki Japan Channel.

He sang “Mary Had a Little Lamb” in Japanese:

Mary-san no hi-stu-ji, hi-stu-ji, hi-stu-ji. Mary-san no hi-stu-ji, ka-wa-i-i ne?

In the bathtub he warbled the Japanese Question Song (who, what, why, where, how, etc):

“I tsu? Do ko? Do re? Da re? Da reno? Naze? Na ni? Douyatte? Dono kurai? Ikura? Arimaskuka? Dareni? Nanito?”

He produced the accompanying hiragana script in purple, pink and green bath crayon.

Liev’s mania surrounding Japanese will subside. I intend to let him enjoy his special time learning Japanese. With luck, he will develop an enduring love for the language that will translate into a genuine skill.