It started the second week of preschool. Three mornings a week, three hours a day. My social butterfly, my natural leader, my people pleaser, clinging to my leg and sobbing at the classroom door.
“No, Mommy. Don’t go!”
Normal separation anxiety, they said. “It peaks the second week.”
By early November the teachers were concerned.
From the first quarter progress report:
“Fixates on your absence.”
“Difficult to distract.”
From the telephone conference:
“Most kids recover in the first five minutes. She takes much longer. Maybe you should have her evaluated?”
We tried ballet class. She had her favorite tutu and sparkly shoes. She bounced in the room bursting with excitement but spent the class in the corner with her arms crossed. Tears lined her bottom lid.
“She’s got excellent body awareness and she’s smart as a whip, too. But she needs to work on the shyness. It’s damaging her ability to participate.”
Soccer practice. Coveted team jersey; comfortable cleats. She ran for the field with her ball, then sulked from the sidelines while the other kids played.
“She’s exhibiting defiant behavior. Please work with her if you want her to stay on the team.”
It wasn’t just activities and events that were problematic.
At home, she was afraid to go outside in cloudy or windy weather. She was waking several times a night from terrifying dreams and the fear of being alone. She would break down in tears at random, realizing that evil existed in the world. I was frustrated and embarrassed, ignoring textbook examples of Dabrowski’s emotional and imaginational overexcitabilities. Truthfully I was lost in them myself, running off a cliff of desperate scenarios:
My daughter would be a hermit.
My daughter would be an outcast.
My daughter would be unable to function as an adult.
My daughter would have unstable, unsatisfying relationships.
My daughter would afraid to go swimming at the beach (because priorities).
It had to be dealt with. Swiftly.
I huffed. I puffed. Like an unhinged mama wolf on steroids, I would blow down the house of cards she had built around her fragile heart.
She would start enjoying life. Or else.
She came into my room crying.
“I don’t want to leave, mommy.”
“It’s bedtime, honey. We’re not going anywhere.”
“I’m walking to Grandma’s. If I go, it will be two kids instead of three and your life will be much easier….”
She had a bag. It held her hairbrush, her wooden rosary, an old unicorn slipper, five stuffed animals, and a rubber snake.
Walking to Grandma’s, she said. To make things easier on me.
Or else what, Ginny?
Society equates precocity and intellectual prowess with maturity and poise. But intense physical, sensual, emotional and imaginational characteristics lead to social and emotional struggles in the outside world. A gifted child’s academic experiences, creative outlets, and physical interests end up bearing the brunt of it. Parents push their children into all manner of classes and activities from infancy. I saw it in the classroom, and I saw the toll it took on my students. I swore I would never become one of those parents.
And now I had.
At five it’s running to Grandma’s. What will it be at 15? Will she find herself awash in self-doubt and anxiety, making decisions out of fear? Will she follow in the footsteps of “Genius Girl,” a local high school senior who faced such intense pressure to succeed at our local STEM magnet school that she concocted an elaborate hoax, convincing parents and classmates that Stanford and Harvard were fighting over her in an admissions tug of war?
Not if I can help it. Forcing her to face her anxieties does nothing to alleviate them. While some would argue this builds character, I argue it builds mistrust.
I had taken her to activities she had begged to join only to see her floundering and misunderstood. Rather than listen to her cries for help, I bought the lie that continued exposure would eventually lessen the blow. It did not. Rather, it forced this beautiful, vulnerable child to pack a bag and plan an escape to lessen her burden on the family.
No child deserves to feel like a burden.
This year, we’ll again be choosing activities in which our daughter shows interest. But we’ll listen and follow her lead along the way. I’ll stay outside the classroom if she’s worried about being alone. We’ll spend time watching parkour videos ahead of her first class so she knows just what to expect. When I can, I’ll place her with groups and coaches with whom she’s already developed a relationship. When I can’t, I’ll take her to meet them ahead of time to alleviate the fear of the unknown.
My daughter is taking the lead, now – the lead she should have had all along.
I’m looking forward to the ride.
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This post is part of the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum August Blog Hop, Choosing Extracurricular Activities for Gifted Children, Keeping Overexcitabilities in Mind.