15 November 2006

Not like the other kids

I hope you get to meet Karen Walrond someday. She is so beautiful - yes, physically, but she also has a powerful spirit and open heart that must be experienced to be understood.

Enough crushing on Karen. But really, meeting her is worth a trip to BlogHer all in itself. Ok, ok, I'm done.

The other day Karen wrote this post about her beautiful (apple doesn't fall too far from the tree) young daughter, Alex.

It made me wince with recognition. Alex's preschool teacher doesn't like the way Alex plays by herself and thinks it is time for her to make a little friend. Meanwhile, Alex seems perfectly happy and loves to hang out with adults and other interesting people. Karen wanted to know what we, the blogosphere, thought.

Sigh. I think her teacher is an average person, and I think Alex is far above average.

Average people always try to make you act like them. They are always thinking they can whack above-average people into their molds and not have anything spill over.

But if you are more intelligent than the average bear, you often find your peers boring, silly or a little daft. In fact, quite a few people of all ages that you encounter seem boring, silly and daft.

As a child, my favorite person was my older (11 years my senior) sister, Laura, who was (and is) the Bomb. The age gap didn't seem to exist, because we understood each other perfectly.

My other favorite person to hang around was my Mom's cousin Jim, who was 40-something when I was 8. He lived in Europe! He was gay! He was well-read. He was super witty and had an acid tongue that would put Dorothy Parker on notice. He was a bit of a bon vivant. All of the qualities that attracted me to him then are things I still love in people today - almost 40 years later. My spirit knew what it wanted, even as a little tiny kid.

But other children my age were generally lost on me. They spazzed out and lied and were mean and told stupid jokes. Why, as an intelligent child, would I want to hang out with other children? There just wasn't anything in it for me.

I could do it, of course. I figured out how to fit in. I figured out how to not seem too smart because I knew what that would get me.

But whenever I had to spend too much time with other children, I would end up thinking "God, I would rather be home alone." I still have this thought a lot, today.

And even back then, stupid adults bored the hell out of me. I had a couple aunts who were classic airheads. Both could prattle on for days without stringing together a lucid sentence.

I remember that once, before the especially talkative Aunt Helen was due to arrive for a 5-day visit, my mother and I solemnly shook hands and said "Talk to you next week," because we knew we wouldn't get a word in edgewise.

At 5, I already knew those aunts were dunces, and I knew I didn't want to be around them. People think kids don't know much. But it is amazing how much that they are already who they are going to become, even before they can tie their own shoes.

What about you? What did you figure out early?


Suzanne said...

My cousin, who is 19 and a brilliant sophomore at Sarah Lawrence College now, is just like that. She was always into theater and the arts, and most of her friends are my age (I'm 30) or a bit older. It is a tough was to grow up, and can leave some unfortunate scars. Fortunately, Sara Lawrence is filled with other precocious "oddballs," so she has some very cool peers these days. I'm really glad that we live near each other and can hang out.

As for me, I mostly got along with kids my age, but it also seems like many super intelligent people clustered in the community in which I grew up. I found high school more intellectually challenging than college or grad school. What really burns me, though, is that I was always left out of "gifted" programs because my family was not wealthy like the other families. Clearly, a working class kid could not be as smart as some CEO's offspring, right?

Anyway, I have always been very class conscious as a result, which I think is good. It made me very socially active at a young age. (I believe I tried to get kids on my bus to urge their parents to vote against Reagan in 1984. I was 8.)

Suzanne said...

Shit that was long. Sorry. You touched a nerve.

Heather B. said...

a) Karen is effing gorgeous. Like everytime I saw her I was like "wow". And prior to that I had read her writing and saw her photographs, she's just amazing.

b) I'm with you on the whole 'average people want you to be average' thing. I've always enjoyed being around older people as well. I felt like they could teach me things. Even now it holds true, as a good number of my friends are now older than I. It's not necessarily about intelligence level for me, but instead I like to learn from other's experiences and if someone is older than I, then obviously they'll have more experience. Odd, but true.

c) Is it just me or does it feel like BlogHer was like 45 years ago? Crazy.

Anonymous said...

a reason I consider homeschooling my daughter.

granted we all think our kids are brill - but I think there's something to be said about having to meet the masses (i.e. school kids) where they are -- which is --not by any fault of their own, persay, a result of shitty parenting in this country.

I mean -- you can have a great teacher - but if the parents aren't doing anything with the kids or don't care to - it affects what's going on with the classroom.

Why should I (we) have to put up with that crap?

Sorry for the ranty rant there.

Anonymous said...

This is such an excellent post. My son is two and he doesn't like to play with other kids too often. I was so worried about it. But I realized he's just fine, he's not ready and I can't worry about that...he'll make friends at his own pace.

LittlePea said...

My sister and I just had a similar conversation recently because her 4 year old has no interest in his peers and prefers the friends of his 8 year old brother. The only concern she had about that was she thought it would be important for him to at least learn to be social so that he can learn how to get along with children his age whether he is above, below, or at the same intellect as his peers so that he could feel comfortable in any situation-especially when he gets older and would want to 'fit in'. I mean, thinking about how hellish high school can be without at least a couple good friends is a pretty premature worry right now-he IS only 4 years old. Still though-that might have been the teacher's concern. Or she might just be a know-it-all.

Anonymous said...

Karen is amazing. I've been reading her for quite some time. I was and still am one of those kids. Only as an adult I can't let age be the answer to who I choose to have as my friends. I am extremely choosy about my friends and subsequently many friends fall off... It's also hard because sometimes I feel like maybe there is something "wrong" with me when this happens, but truthfully I feel there are true few intellectual peers. Not that I am "smarter" than most people or not "as smart" as others, but my brain works differently.

My older son is much the same. He was a loner as a toddler and is in an accelerated learning classroom. He often gets in trouble when he starts spending time with his classmates and on weekend getaways enjoys games and interactions that specifcally involve adults.

My younger son is quite the opposite in many regards. Can spend hours on his own entertaining himself but is the life of the party when his peers are involved. He loves adults as well, but really loves men and rough play.

It interesting to watch them both grow and play and interact with the world. They are so very different and yet get along quite smashingly with one another.

Thanks for this thought provoking post. And for the comment on mine.

Major Bedhead said...

I think I was one of those kids. I didn't have any older siblings or parents who would tolerate a child hanging out with the adults, so I read. Incessantly. Books were how I escaped the dull kids in my neighbourhood, where I got to "listen" to people with opinions and interesting ideas, who didn't patronize the 8 year-old.

I'm still that way today. It drives my husband crazy. He always wants me to go out and "make some friends." I actually have had a post brewing about this for a few days, but I've been sidetracked.

Anonymous said...

I have tremendous respect for teachers, but they are just people, too. Because I was addicted to Sesame Street as a child, I learned to read at 3. In kindergarten, the teacher would have me read to the class at story time so the teacher could have a break and get some work done. I don't remember social repercussions from it, but if there weren't any, it was just pure luck.

My sister and I grew up in a trailer park outside DC, but were bussed to a different school for the gifted program. Our school friends were the children of Congressmen, our after-school and summer playmates were poor, and everyone resented us. We had to learn at a very young age how to get along with ALL facets of society. We never really fit in anywhere until we adapted ourselves to fit in everywhere. It took years, and a lot of pain. In the meantime, books were our lifeline.

Suzanne, I can't believe you were left out of gifted programs for class reasons! That's horrible! They didn't test you? I was lucky to be in a school district that went strictly by testing.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your point that everyone shouldn't be the same, and people with unusual qualities shouldn't have to act and think like others. Reminded me of that short story by Vonnegut, Harrison Bergeron.

Something in me rankles a little though, whenever talk of intellectual differences comes into a conversation. When it comes to placing value on intellect, I get wary.

Begin tangent. Not that you did that exactly. And certainly there are times when a high IQ comes in handy. But our culture devalues the slow and the old and the non-technical. We're just ratcheting the pace of our lives and the amount of information we process more and more and more. It's that post-industrial post-modern thinking that makes us believe it when someone says we only use 20% of our brains, which is only a part of the truth. How much of our bodies are we using? The concept of balance is so out of whack. End tangent.

When I was a kid I learned that adults didn't know much more than we did, so they weren't to be fully trusted. The criticism of others has never really stung as much as it would if it came from myself. I learned when I was young that I didn't care that much what other people thought. I developed some values and stuck to them, mostly, because I cared a lot about what I thought of myself. I liked spending time alone, but I also liked playing with kids.

My brother and I were both asked to join gifted programs as kids (and we were poor). I said hell no, mostly because I thought it would be an infringement on my personal space (probably due to my asperger's syndrome). My brother joined. Our older sister was considered average but she had a very strong social drive. No one ever expected much of her except that she fit in.

My little brother was born a sickly genius and during our childhoods he had poor social skills. He definitely suffered because of this. Later, he went to UC Berkeley and triple majored in Physics, Rhetoric & Philosophy. When he got there he realized for the first time he wasn't the smartest kid in the universe. It was a huge comedown for him, but also the beginning of his socialization. He decided to become the social organizer for his dorm and he took ballroom dancing and debate/public speaking classes every semester while he was there. He was a late but beautiful bloomer.

He and I are both happy and doing well in our lives. But my older sister who always tried to fit in and please others has had a tougher time of it. I wish she had been challenged more and earlier to be her own person.

I agree with you that we ought to allow kids to develop and grow and socialize more naturally. They need to have lots of practice affirming themselves, no matter their intelligence. Because let's face it, kids find their own life balance, in their own time.

super des said...

I am so going to BlogHer next year.

This is the same for me. And, this is why I read so much as a child, and still do. I don't (and didn't) like people that I feel (felt) are below me intelligence-wise. This is also why I don't watch tv. Then and now, I thought society was going in a downward spiral as people kept quoting the idiots from the idiot box, which were modeled after "real" people.

Anonymous said...

Pretty much the same thing. I despise my classmates because I cannot help but be bored to tears by most of them. The few who I do like are very special, unique, intelligent people.

Anonymous said...

I came back to read the new comments today and realized I was kind of rambling in a strange way!
Note to self: don't comment on blogs after you've pulled an all nighter.

I should have just stuck with something like "Your post is very thought provoking!"

Suzanne said...

I was tested, noshowmo. They claimed there was not enough room for more people, and that I was on the border of acceptance, so they would not make a new seat. Inevitably, some rich kid would then move in and a seat would be added for him/her. Finally in 7th grade, I exploded when I was left out of a gifted program for social studies (my forte), and my parents called the school to complain for real. Then they backtracked and pretended they intended to include me all along. I think that was another class issue - my parents were not as aggressive as the wealthier ones.

jess said...

Dude, we were separeated at birth!

Anonymous said...

Suebob --

I was going to thank you for this lovely shout-out privately, but I couldn't find an e-mail address! Thank you for your kind words. You're pretty charming yourself, so I consider these words coming from you the highest compliment.

Yes, I've decided not to take her teacher's thoughts to seriously on this matter. Alex is a pretty great kid, and definitely a very happy one, so unless she starts showing signs of loneliness, I think I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing.

Again, thanks very much for continuing the conversation here, and thanks to all of your commenters for sharing their thoughts. It's all great learning for me!


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