There is a pain inherent in being Zachary’s mother.  A pain that comes from knowing the world is a difficult and confusing place for him and also knowing that I cannot make so many parts of his life easier.  A pain born of my understanding that his remarkable intellectual gifts do not come with the emotional tools he needs to navigate the complexities of his own rare mind.

            It is a cliché at this point: the mother who thinks her child is gifted and tormented because he is misunderstood.  I am not going to get into proving what I already know about my son.  So, you can either take me at my word on this one and listen to the worries that I have, or you can click away to a more humble mommy blog.  Because today I am going to be completely honest about who he is, without worrying that people will read this and think I am just a competitive mother trying to get my kid into the gifted class.

            Another cliché is the person who says, “I hope my child is not gay.  I don’t care, of course, but I would like his life to be easier than that.”  We scoff at those people, calling them camouflaged homophobes.  Shouldn’t they just celebrate the things that make their children who they are?

            Well, for the first time in my life I think I get what they are saying.  Not that this has anything to do with sexual orientation, because I am (thanks be to heaven) years away from the point where either of my children thinks about sex.  (Is there any way I can postpone that for a few more years – like till I am ninety?)  But, I finally get why someone would want to take away a difference from her child, a difference that is beautiful and rich and rewarding, but that also can carry with it confusion and pain in a world unprepared for it.

            Watching Zachary navigate his social world, watching him try to deal with the sensory overload that comes from taking in so much more than other people, watching him do math that makes children twice his age sweat without even thinking about it, watching him think that he doesn’t measure up because he is not as comfortable as his peers, it makes me want to sob on my pillow.  It makes me want to hold him close and keep him out of the world with all the pain it will have for him.

            But I can’t.  Because I cannot stimulate him the way he needs.  He wants to be at school, in the structure, drinking in all it offers him.  But, when we added afternoons this week, the more unstructured time bombarded him, and he was miserable. 

            And so, we are right back where we were almost three years ago, when we pulled him out of daycare because he could not handle the stimulation all day long.  He will stay in the afternoons just for the first hour, which is a class, and then I will pick him up before the free play.  I will lose some much-needed alone/work time, which I could get if he were at school while Benjamin slept.  His brother will have to adjust his nap schedule, which will make him a little cranky but otherwise not affect him much.  Fairness is not about everyone getting the same thing; it is about everyone getting what he needs.

            It will help a little.  But Zachary’s world is a place we can only enter so far, and there is only so much I can do to help him find his way.  I worry that I am not up to the task, that, frankly, he would have done better with a mother a bit less like himself.  I know a lot about the place where he lives, because I have been to its suburbs.  I am not even close to the mind I suspect he is, but I wonder if a mother who had spent her life feeling rather than thinking wouldn’t actually be a better match for his needs.

            And some days, some days like yesterday, if I could, I would make my baby a little less talented, a little less special, if only it could ease his road.

29 responses to “Bystander

  1. Ah… the joys and heartaches of parenting. He is lucky to have a Mommy who accepts and rejoices in who he is. I too have a son, now l8 and in college, who many would have looked upon as different. There were years where I thought about moving to a big country farm, away from the rest of the world, just to protect him from those who did not understand him and to give him the freedom to be himself. Yet, in time, my son and I learned to find new ways for him to take steps in the world on his own path. You and Zachary will do the same.

    You are blessed to have him and him you.

  2. What’s the school’s take on this? It seems to me that they should have ideas and plans for providing a nurturing, challenging, educational environent for all sorts of kids.

    For example, (just thinking very simplistically and there’s probably some obvious reason that this wouldn’t work), if unstructured time is a challenge for Zachary (and I would bet for a few other kids as well), why can’t they make some kind of arrangement that would accomodate his differences and obvious strengths?

  3. In answer to Niobe’s excellent question: the morning is the regular school day. The afternoon is “enrichment” plus free play afterwards. The enrichment is an hour class, then free play till someone comes to get them. The group is too big for him. So, the morning works great for him, but the free play part of the afternoon is difficult.

    I am going to try to meet with the director this week just to talk about how to best meet his needs…

  4. Well – you know where I stand on schools meeting kids’ needs; it’s why we unschool! *I* believe you can do that, meet his needs, better than anyone else. It sounds like that’s not something you want to pursue, but if the thing keeping you from pursuing that, is that you don’t believe you can… I *know* you can.

  5. How I wish we lived on the same coast so that Zach & Caleb could possibly hang out.

    You’ve put this in words so much better than I ever could. I am feeling this pain: wanting to celebrate my guy & make life easier for him BUT knowing that he will have a tough road ahead where he will encounter some pain & disappointment (don’t we all?) that he doesn’t have the coping skills to deal with right now.

    After our move & with the twins in a new school, I picked them up at 1:20PM for the first three + months. It was brutal on Finn’s nap schedule & my ability to get out there & get acclimated to our new environment. However, it was what they needed at the time & it worked. We now have a glorious 3PM pick-up time & they sometimes beg to stay later…

  6. “I worry that I am not up to the task, that, frankly, he would have done better with a mother a bit less like himself.” — I have been feeling this way often about my son too. As I become frustrated with some of his social handicaps, I realize that many of them stem from traits we share. It almost frustrates me more, because I don’t want him to feel as I did at times growing up.

    I have no brilliant wisdom. Only keep doing as your doing. Support him and look for solutions. Hoping the school works to be your partner and you find an option.

  7. Emily, I may have something hopeful to tell you today. I think Zachary sounds quite a bit like Jack. Or, rather, how Jack *used* to be. And that’s my point. Ever since Jack started kindergarten (at five years, nine months), he’s shed a lot of his old fears and insecurities.

    I’d like to say I had something to do with it, but I suspect that all he needed was a little more time.

    He’s a different kid today than he was a year or two ago.

    This may be in Z.’s future, too.

  8. Wow, this is a real dilemma because you want him to be able to interact with “average” others comfortably which will always be difficult for him.

    Getting him into a gifted class sounds like a good first step because he will be around others like himself.

    I’m sure you know how it is, being gifted yourself… which is why I think your instincts will be the correct ones.

    You might also want to look into a book called “The Highly Sensitive Person” which gives some good suggestions on how to deal with all the extraneous noise in the world. (Being an HSP, I can tell you it is rather hellish without having any coping tools.)

  9. Zach sounds like my Ben. He has major issues (I think I’ve spoken to you about them before) as well as some amazing gifts. He’s a great person, and I can only hope that the rest of the world sees that.

    It’s so hard to be a parent this way. It just hurts.

    You may not believe me, but I understand you and all that you’re going through.

  10. I can understand your feeling of inability. I feel like that a lot with my daughter who has Down syndrome.

    I would not want to change anything about her, but some days, I’d like things not to be so hard.

    I think as parents, this is a shared emotion, regardless of the child. But with some, amplified.

    I hope you guys find a system that works for you and that helps him, and therefore your family, to thrive.

  11. I can understand your feeling of inability. I feel like that a lot with my daughter who has Down syndrome.

    I would not want to change anything about her, but some days, I’d like things not to be so hard.

    I think as parents, this is a shared emotion, regardless of the child. But with some, amplified.

    I hope you guys find a system that works for you and that helps him, and therefore your family, to thrive.

  12. I could have written this post. I know the challenges and heartaches of raising a child that is so different, so gifted, so…apart from everyone else.

    I wish I had an easy answer, but I don’t. My son struggles every single day and all I can do is put out the small fires that blaze up as he navigates his world. It seems pretty insignificant and inadequate.

  13. I think your dear boy has the exact right mother for the job. Hang in there, mama!
    Beautiful post!

  14. My daughter is an over-thinker and her social skills are not on the same level as her intellectual skills. Both my son and daughter are in the gifted program, but they are polar opposites when it comes to how they do their work, when it comes to how they learn and when it comes to socializing. It’s been heartbreaking at times and a learning experience for us.

    Doing what is needed for Zachary is proof that you are the right mom for this little boy!

  15. I can relate to this in so many ways. I’m very anxious about releasing my son into the world. I’ve seen much older boys treat him like a nerd-freak on the playground. He’s mostly oblivious to this now, but I know that will end soon…

    When I think about childhood, though, it seems to me that those moments where we are in an environment that allows us to glow can outshine all of those feelings of awkwardness.

    I know it isn’t easy, but I think your awareness and insight will help carry him a long away, even if there are daily struggles. Beautiful post, as usual!

  16. There is nothing harder than the days you don’t feel you know how to mother your own child.

  17. I can promise you, it wouldn’t. The extraordinary remain so.

  18. I’ll bet it’s excruciating watching Zach and wanting to create a world around him that fits him just perfectly. But you know, the cleverer the child, the better it is in some ways that they struggle with the adjustment now, when it won’t scar them or last in their minds. In this country hothousing, which was the program for gifted children, resulted in a lot of mental and emotional problems of great severity. The world never fits around us, we always have to compromise with it, and given time and space and encouragement (all of which I know you’ll give him) he will find his own ways of coping with the negotiation. And that’s a lesson that those super smart kids really benefit from learning. Trust in your son to figure this one out, Emily, and he will learn emotional and social intelligence to match his intellect. But you are quite right that he can only go at his own pace, and that’s the one he’s comfortable with.

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  20. It’s funny, you know, because I find myself–this is going to sound awful–being thankful that Frances isn’t as smart as I am.

    I mean, she’s smart. All her teachers comment on how bright she is and how articulate and advanced she is for her age. But she’s not as smart as I was. And people stare at me horrified when I say this, but what you say is true. Being freakishly smart is no picnic. Frances’s brightness and social gifts will get her a lot farther than my brain ever did for me.

  21. I could have written this same thing about my boy. (Only not so beautifuly.) It’s hard raising a child who is sensitive and smart and special. Luckily your little guy has a mother who is so in tune with him and his needs.

  22. I was with you on not understanding why parents would want to take away a part of who a child was just to make life easier for them…until I read this. My heart goes out to Zach and his momma that knows him so well. I know you will help lead him well!

  23. Is there no other kind of school or even individual tutoring style things that would better stimulate his mind for more than an hour a day?

    I’m sorry, I can feel how frustrated you are. How impotent you feel. Hang in there.

  24. It seems to me that the very fact that you are wondering if you are up to the task is a very clear indication that you are, indeed, up to the task.

  25. Zach sounds like my third daughter, who is turning 30 and becoming a mother this fall. As a child and teenager, she seemed too sensitive for this planet. She never found good friends until college. She met the love of her life at 19 and married him at age 23. They are perfect for each other; he teases her lovingly out of her emotional intensity. But that brilliance, passion, intensity, and sensitivity is now channeled into combatting torture and defending human rights both as a writer and a lawyer. If you google her first name (Katherine) and torture, hers is the first hit. I am thankful that I am enough like her to have been able to let her be her own unique self. You sound like you are going the same for Zachary.

  26. I am in the same boat with my son G. He was recently diagnoised with Asperger’s, and it’s so hard watching him be brilliant, and yet so far away from the world of other children his own age. You’re so not alone….

  27. I don’t think anyone should consider parenting until they’ve learned:
    1 to grow plants from seeds &
    2 to grow plants from seedlings

    The aim is always to balance the quirks of Nature as quickly as possible, so the plant can thrive on its own. Constant care is, unfortunately, generally a disservice to that process.

    In my eyes, children need good food, exercise as fun, laughter, touch and a basic moral directio, not much else. They will find their own way, if given encouragement, much like most seedlings.


  28. He has you to ease his road, and that is a lot.

  29. So sorry. I actually remember being the same way. I still need lots of quiet time. But I did get used to it, and my mom let me have all the QT I asked for. Z. is lucky to have you.