So, the thing is
I never wanted to be one of THOSE moms.
In August, Ana will start Kindergarten. Weve attended Kindergarten Round-up,
(which is what we call Kindergarten registration here in Austin) and weve
signed her up and decided that she will indeed be starting school at the public
school by our house.
The decision probably doesnt seem very momentous but it was preceded by an
almost full-scale nervous breakdown on my part.
I dont want to sound like one of those horrible stage mothers frankly, I was
in denial about all this. But my oldest daughter is a pretty special child. I
mean, ALL children are special but shes special in a quantifiable way. Ana
taught herself to read at age three and now, at age five, reads and writes
fluently. Shes doing simple algebraic equations and spouting the multiplication
tables. She understands fractions. She read The Hobbit last year and there
just arent that many four-year-olds who are interested in The Hobbit. She loves
opera. On Easter, Ana held up a plastic egg and said, Mom, listen. and she
shook it. This ones as empty as Jesus tomb. Thats her sense of humor. We
are not the kind of parents who would send our kid to college at age ten, but
she IS that kind of kid.
Still, I had observed Ana at play dates and parties and she didnt seem out of
place to me. She seemed to be developing social skills at the same rate as the
rest of her friends (i.e. not at all.) I knew she was very bright but I reached
the conclusion that she wasnt so out of step with her peers.
Then, a few months ago, I substituted in Anas classroom. I led the children
through an exercise which required them to write their names on the back of a
piece of white paper, cut out four shapes from a piece of red paper, paste the
shapes in the form of a rabbit on the white sheet and write red rabbit
It took Ana about six minutes to complete.
It didnt even engage her whole mind. She did it like a chore and then off she
went to make math worksheets for her friends. The other kids were struggling
with cutting out the shapes and with writing those Rs and Ana just dashed it
off and went on about her business.
I cant explain the feeling I had. It was like I was this nice placid cow that
had suddenly given birth to a flamingo. I had to confront my own limitations: I
dont know anything about flamingos!
I felt simply awed by the responsibility Id been given for this kid. I set
about learning everything in the world I could about flamingos er gifted
children. I found myself talking to everyone who would listen to me. My neighbor
is a child psychologist and has navigated the options for schooling her gifted
daughter. She fed me names of parents dealing with the system and professionals
with whom it was helpful to speak. She saved articles for me about gifted kids
(my favorite title: Help, My Child is Gifted!) and allowed me to vent about
how overwhelmed I was feeling. Its like my friend Winter said, These decisions
just seem so huge.
Ana, naturally, picked up on my stress. Shes a sensitive kid. I was completely
out of control and hyper-emotional and spent too much time staring at her with
tears in my eyes, so she took a red crayon to the banister. (My kids need me to
be their stability and if I am acting like some deranged version of quicksand,
I did learn something: I learned is that there is no good solution for kids like
Ana. Our school system is designed for average children and I have yet to meet
one! The more people Ive talked to, the more Ive realized that Ana isnt so
uncommon. Oh, sure, shes uncommon in that her cognitive ability is so far
advanced but Ive met many kids who have gifts in one area or another. Or, the
opposite kids who have one or more areas where they are challenged. Ive
learned that sometimes the two go hand-in-hand. Sometimes children are twice
exceptional. They can be both gifted AND learning disabled, which means simply
that they dont learn in a standard linear fashion. The real problem is that our
school system is designed for some mythical average child and Im not sure
such a child even exists.
In Texas, and in most of the rest of the country, there seems to be this growing
movement to standardize education. It seems that every year, there is another
test to assess a childs educational progress. I can only shake my head,
especially as the age for such tests continues to get younger. I think our state
is trying to mandate a result that, in the end, can only be achieved by
committed and creative teachers teaching in such an accessible way that all
students grasp the lessons.
I think we need to take the burden of discipline and reporting and politics off
of teachers and allow them to actually TEACH. To build depth into their programs
so that the tops of their classes are challenged at the same time as those who
learn in a different or slower manner. There is a lot to be said for the
old-fashioned schoolhouse where all grades were combined and children learned
according to their ability and with the help of the other
I hope that if you are in the midst of a similar struggle over what to do with
your children, you will find comfort from what I have learned.
1) In dealing with a child who is outside the norm, (and Ive learned this is
almost every child) you can choose to nurture the cognitive side of your childs
development or the emotional/social side. I am choosing the emotional/social
side for a variety of reasons. (Id be glad to go into detail but this column is
already too long.) Ana will go to school with her chronological peers (at least
for this year) and I am convinced she will gain valuable knowledge in how to
negotiate a bureaucracy and how to communicate with friends on different levels.
Shell get supplemental academics, should that be needed, at home.
2) Although I felt as much stress as anyone trying to decide what the best
course of action is for his/her child, Ive decided that these decisions arent
really so huge. If something youve chosen isnt working out, you can CHANGE
YOUR MIND. Your local school district is no match for a parent with vision. You
are not dropping your child into school and then abandoning her for the rest of
her school years you are by her side every single day. There are a million
creative ways to educate your child combining home-schooling with formal
classroom, space camp, school abroad a million options. Most teachers are
dedicated and resourceful people who really want to help your kid reach his/her
The reality is that were all given these special kids and we have to make some
decisions, within the current system, to help our kids find success. The system
exists so that you can USE it MOLD it to meet your childs needs.
This is probably NOT what the administrators of our school district were hoping
No doubt I will be branded one of THOSE moms.
Editor's Note: But wait - there's more! After Barbara posted this
heartfelt essay on a world-wide forum (not a gifted forum), she received more than a few responses... making her feel the
need to send I am Sorry. Read on...
Another 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
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© Barbara Cooper 2003
Barbara Cooper is the mother of Ana (5) and Hurricane Jane (2.5). She lives in
Austin, Texas and still knows next to nothing about flamingos.