Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Consequences of the Gifted

Since I write so infrequently, you may not know that JD was long ago diagnosed with a speech delay. He continues to struggle with certain speech elements.

Toodles, however, is the opposite. At this point, she is clearly verbally gifted. At 22 months, she not only has a fully functioning vocabulary (I couldn't possibly count the number of words she uses) and uses her words in complete sentences. It is a pleasure hearing her sing various lullabies, play with dolls and action figures, talk with JD, and respond to questions. She knows all 26 letters of the alphabet, recognizes numbers 0 - 9, and can count to 22. I have begun to teach her to read, though that hasn't materialized, but I would not be surprised if she is reading by 3 years old.

And it's nothing that I push on her. She asks to do puzzles and points out letters. The most I do is raise the bar, speak Spanish, count higher, spell out words and try to write letters. She is enthusiastic about learning.

There's always a "but" though, isn't there?

While speech delayed, JD's gross motor skills are at the top of the charts. He was able to throw a ball on target at six months old. When he was 18 months, he picked up a hockey stick and by two-and-a-half, could place his shots. At four years, he can wind up and throw a pitch for a strike and hit a pitched baseball.

All of that power invited consequence. Playing with kids his age was impossible. While other kids would pick up a ball and run with it, fearful that they would not get the ball back, JD understood the reciprocal concept of a game of catch. He threw the ball so much harder than kids his age, they would get hurt; he was too small to catch balls thrown with the same power. We put him into soccer and floor hockey with older kids, which exposed his social weaknesses. So while I love to play sports with my son, we are confined to that capacity for the next 6 months to a year, when, at 5, either other kids will have caught up or JD will be able to compete with kids slightly older. (He is 90% for height, 75% for weight.)

Toodles's vocabulary comes with a lack of maturity. I was handling raw chicken and she asked for a cup of milk. I told her, "Just a minute, please." That wasn't good enough, though. While she understood what I was saying, she had no concept of time, so again she asked. Again I answered. Again she asked, but with greater urgency. As this call-and-response continued, our collective patience ran thin and I found myself, on this less-than-my-best day, yelling at a 22-month-old girl with big blue eyes and curly blond hair.

Today, on our 40-minute-drive from the burbs to the city, Toodles didn't want to sit in the car. How do you explain to a 22-month-old that we have to go home; to get home we have to ride in a car; riding in the car means being buckled into a car seat? After 30 minutes, she fell asleep. Until then, there was screaming, whining, and pleading to get out of the car. To our credit, neither Wife nor I yelled back. We ignored her least rational communications and gently tried to overcome her intelligible objections.

While we don't expect our children to be perfect at any point in our lives, we do hold false hope. I say false hope because, as we have experienced with JD, with every problem overcome, another is around the corner. To the optimist point-of-view, with every milestone passed, another achievement is around the corner. Those are the ones that keep parents happy.

Those first steps, first words, first game of catch, first day of school, first competitive sporting event, first performance and all of the other goals we look forward to are out there. With all of the opportunity children (and adults) are afforded, come consequences. It is the ineffective parent who can only see the troubles ahead, the problems to come, the difficulties to overcome.

I actually look forward to helping my kids through heartbreak as much as to sharing their successes. Why is that? Because it's easy to help them with the things that don't require motivation, that come with smiles. It doesn't take much effort to feed them cookies, but a lot to get them to eat vegetables. It's easy to play catch or sing ABCs, but it's hard to be patient, to urge them to improve in areas that don't come naturally. In my limited experience, though, the successes borne from those drills bring the greatest pride.

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