myke in the middle? growing up “gifted”

Yesterday, I had the privilege of meeting a vibrant and energetic woman who works as a life coach, focusing on supporting health and well-being of the mind, body and spirit for families, particularly those with gifted children.

I met this lovely person through a mutual twitter contact who is using her services on a professional level; connecting after the mutual friend had a crisis situation late last year.  We discussed various issues after assisting with the crisis and then kept in touch on and off since then.

What drew us together was that I was identified as being gifted early in grade school.  I went to gifted school from grade 5 to 8, choosing to quit the program in high school.  We discussed what led to my being identified as a gifted student, my experiences in the gifted program and my “uneducation” afterwards.

Needless to say our conversations have been engaging, enlightening and entertaining.

We finally met yesterday, agreeing to meet over our mutual addiction:  coffee.

As she began asking me about me, she interjected with the commonalities that she has found in her work with people, particularly children, who are identified as gifted, be it intellectually, artistically or emotionally:

  • They tend to operate on different planes than the average person (I can’t comment on this, I am who I am, however I note that there are people who GET me and people who don’t seem to).
  • They tend to operate on two ends of a personality spectrum:  extremely introverted (me for the most of the time) or a flamboyant, dramatic extrovert (sometimes, but I can’t stand myself when I’m that way!)
  • They tend to internalize their emotions, particularly the negative ones (YUP!  Guilty as charged!  I am a bottler indeed!)
  • When they do release their emotions, the release is usually dramatic or catastrophic (YUP!  I can be a ticking time bomb at times, but I try to avoid any collateral damage, if possible).
  • If they don’t release, they often self-medicate with self-indulgent and self-destructive behaviours, be it over-work (YUP), self-medication (not any more), over eating (not any more), self-mutilation (thankfully, no).
  • There is a higher than average propensity for left-handedness amongst gifted people (Guilty as charged!)

I warn a lot of folks that conversation with me can be extremely “stream-of-consciousness” and the end result most closely feels like what a paintball target looks like after a busy Saturday.  Kind of chaotic, scattered and colourful as I tend to veer off conversation paths and diversions as my brain takes me there.  With many of my good friends (such as ME and DJ), this form of conversation often tends to be like a game of dodgeball, with us throwing curveballs at each other, often sparring, but eventually ending up at the same general conclusion, exhausted and elated.

Yesterday’s conversation was very much like that, with the exception that we both were energized and charged up afterwards.  I wish all conversations could end with me feeling that way, it was a wonderful experience and for it to end was almost a moment of sadness.  But there will be more conversations in the future, this fact we both agreed to!

On the ride home yesterday afternoon, I had time to reflect on everything that we discussed; particularly noting that gifted children seem to exist in some form of constant dysfunction to a certain extent.   My comment to DB is that the way that gifted education was depicted in the television series “Malcolm in the Middle” was quite honest, although the teachers often were not the instigators of the extreme competition in the classroom, but the students were.

Growing up in my early years in school, I never felt like “one of the pack.”  I always felt different and often targeted by teachers – either to assist students or to be made an example of.  I loved school and I loved learning, however felt held back by my fellow students and often misunderstood by my teachers.  One particular memory I have of my earliest years is of constantly being picked on by my grade two teacher about my messy desk (he often just dumped the desk out on the floor, making me pick it up in front of my fellow students) or else told to slow down and be quiet.

My grade three teacher was the opposite, having me work with slower students, including one of the (oh God, I’m going to say this but this was the term used in those days) TMR (yup “Trainable Mentally Retarded”) students to help them out.  I was also taken out of class for special enrichment with a guidance teacher, which was often a point of ridicule and further led to me being ostracized.  It wasn’t until grade four that I was tested for giftedness and I was slated to transfer in grade five.

I often likened my experiences in the gifted program to being on “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” Island of Misfit Toys.  Everyone has their own “thing” or specialty however everyone seemed to be not quite normal in some form.  The fact that our school consisted primarily of gifted students, French-immersion students and the behavioural adjustment kids didn’t help in this feeling.

By the way, my thing was darkly introspective writing and musical exploration.  No shit, eh?

And let’s be honest, even within the gifted program, the teachers were a total crap shoot.  There were phenomenal (grade six and eight), okay (grade seven, although he helped me accept who I was because he was openly gay) and one of the worst teachers I had (grade five).  And by the way, having to go to school on the “short bus” is still a fucking stigma, no matter what anybody says.  The only thing that could have been worse would be a van with seatbelts, if you catch my drift!

I even went to a gifted summer camp one year and found that fellow gifted students tended to feel as outcast as I did.  Not only that, a good number of them cultivated that feeling by highlighting their dysfunctions.  Going to this camp enabled me to meet other gifted kids my age, however I rapidly tired of their quirkiness for the sake of being quirky (kind of like why I have little patience for hipsters these days – be true to yourself for fuck sake!)

By the time grade eight rolled around, our class had been together as a group (give or take one or two new additions/subtractions as people moved in or out of the area) for four years.  We did not have the luxury of a new group of class mates each year like “regular students” and it was showing through the various cliques and tensions that arose.  We were no longer classmates, however were closer to a family and knew how to push one another’s buttons.

Let me preface this next paragraph stating that I loved gifted school as it gave me opportunities that regular schooling would have never afforded me.  I also fondly remember many of my classmates, but I also know that by high school, I was ready for a change of scenery and personnel.  Heck my best friend, DJ, has been my best friend since grade five.

We ended up having group interventions as folks felt we were growing apart.  Once that shit went down, I realized that time for a change was then and I asked to be transferred to a normal high school for grade nine, where I could choose my own program and work at my own speed. 

One of the best fucking decisions I’ve made in my life.  And work at my own speed I did, I carried a part-time job, worked as a musician, played in the high school concert band, stage band and was in the choir, also getting vocal training.  During all of this, I managed to fast track and do five years of high school in four, while only having to take one summer school course.

Rather interestingly, DJ did the same and we have never looked back and regretted it.

When asked at our first reunion, if we had kids, would we enrol them in gifted school if they were so identified, my answer was “yes, but…”

But what?  I don’t know in all honesty, I do know I would have let the child make the choice and review that choice each year – hopefully helping them learn that there are consequences for these choices.  I will never find out as my lifestyle tends to preclude children and honestly, I don’t want children.  I love my nieces dearly and also have the joy of sharing my friends’ triumphs and tribulations of child-rearing.

That’s good enough for me these days.


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