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So, the thing is… I am sorry.

by Barbara Cooper

If you haven't already read it, first read I never wanted to be one of THOSE moms.

Barbara wrote I never wanted to be one of THOSE moms  for a world-wide forum, and received more than a few negative responses.  Barbara learned quickly that discussing our gifted kids in "public" is taboo.  As a result, she wrote this apology to the forum.  And thankfully, during the same period, she found the gifted forums, a home, and a place where it is OK to talk about our gifted kids.

This morning, Jane and I were drawing with chalk on the driveway. She wanted me to draw a picture of poison ivy. (I know, I know, that’s a strange request. But my girls play this game where I draw a picture of poison ivy and then they run away, in mock horror.) So, I obliged by drawing three leaves and a stem and Jane came over, scrunched up her face and said, “No! That’s CORN!” She was very disappointed. So, then I drew her a picture of corn so she could see how I draw corn. “Oh,” she said. And then she kind of patted me on the shoulder sympathetically and asked if we could go run through the sprinklers.

This small exchange mirrored what’s going on in my life this week. This week I sent a column that, although entirely sincere, was not very sensitive and not very well written. I am embarrassed and I owe my readers an apology.

After the column came out, I received two “unsubscribes” from long-term readers. One of the readers was someone with whom I’ve had a lot of conversations and someone whom I really respect, both as a mother and as a follower of my column who really thinks about the things I write. I was stunned and (I promise I don’t do this to every unsubscribe I get) asked her if she would mind giving me some feedback.

This morning, I received her response and it really resonated with me. I thank her for spending the time to educate me. Here’s an excerpt:

“To begin with, I want to say that I know that there are people/children who are gifted. I believe that God made us all different, with different abilities and intellect. I work with exceptionally brilliant adults (my term, not theirs!), and my daughter (who's in kindergarten) has a little friend who I am guessing is gifted. And your Ana certainly seems gifted as well. I am also aware that you and your family will face certain challenges with her giftedness, as do parents with kids that have other special needs. No objections here.

“But I believe when a parent declares to the general public that her child is gifted, one must use care. The very concept and term "gifted," implies that the child is better than average, more advanced, more special. It compares the gifted child against the non-gifted child. And this is where you may find yourself in a touchy area. Your article not only declared Ana gifted but gave many examples of just how exceptional she is. Okay, I do understand a parent's pride.

“But I think that you went too far when you gave even one more example...the story about how Ana completed her task in minutes where the other kids were still working away, and how the task didn't even engage Ana's mind fully. You compared your exceptionally intelligent daughter to all of her less intelligent peers. Ouch!!! I am the parent of one of those kids who was still working away at that table! I have to say that my daughter is "average." (Now, of course, she is not average, she's 5 1/2 and going to be a Supreme Court Justice, or a cheerleader... but this is another story!)

“To further complicate matters, you went on to criticize the public school system because the curriculum is geared toward the average kid. To me, you have implied that the school system will not be able reach your gifted child because it is focused on reaching the average kid. As in the average kids will be somehow holding the gifted kids back. Ouch! Ouch!

“Barb, you had some real thought provoking points at the end of your article. There is a huge, ongoing debate regarding education and funding and the allocation of assets for special needs kids (at all ends of the spectrum and in between.) But you have drawn some sweeping conclusions and Ana has not even started school yet.

I know that you will have challenges. We all do in one form or another. All I can recommend is that you use care with this topic. When it comes to the topic of giftedness, be aware that it provokes a comparison of children, and you can potentially be going down a slippery slope with the mama-bears of the of the world.”

I really appreciate this thoughtful feedback. I was honestly surprised by what offended her, but I think she’s right: this isn't the forum for using my personal observations to illustrate this particular issue. I've been so immersed in this issue that I just wasn't sensitive at all to how I sounded to other people. When I used the word “gifted,” I was using it as a technical term. I wasn’t even thinking of it in its literal sense. I sincerely apologize for being so incredibly insensitive.

I struggled a lot with the column before I sent it. It had been almost four weeks since my last column and I decided that I needed to write about this issue in order to move past it and get onto other things. I should have written it all out (my first draft was almost 2,000 words!) and then just put it away. It's a ticklish subject and I'm not an expert in it by any means.

I was trying to reassure my friends and readers who are struggling with similar issues and I ended up sounding boastful and like I had everything all figured out. I don’t have everything figured out, by any means, and I am sorry to come across that way. I never meant to sound like I thought that my children are in some way superior. I do not feel that way and regret immensely that I gave that impression. As a writer who did not communicate what I intended, I take full responsibility.

I thank my readers for always being so forthright and willing to help me understand when they feel I’m off-base. My critic did re-subscribe and I’m glad. I need readers who will call me on my pretensions.

My fellow writer and friend Carol Ann wrote me a note last night and said, “Maybe you should do a letter on apology. I did one for last Mothers Day, about the singer in the little town at the church service. The singer was so awful that even he knew it, and at the end, he simply said, "I'm sorry."

So, the thing is… I’m sorry.

Editor's note: Ana completed Kindergarten in June, 2004, and will be starting first grade this fall.  She had a terrific year, thanks to the differentiation of Ms. "Walks-on-water"... but that's a subject for another column.

To subscribe or unsubscribe to this free e-mail newsletter, send e-mail to barb@sothethingis.com. (Your address will not be used for any other purpose.) If you would like to forward this column on, please do so in its entirety. Feedback welcome. Back issues can be found at www.sothethingis.com.

© Barbara Cooper 2003

Barbara Cooper is the mother of Ana (5) and Jane (2.5). She lives in Austin, Texas and can draw a recognizable chalk FLOWER.

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