Pumpkin told me a joke this morning. It went like this.
“A butcher heard his bell but couldn’t see a person in his shop. He leaned over the counter and peered down, where he saw a dog. He tried to shoo the dog away, but instead, the dog stood on his hind legs and dropped what he’d been carrying in his mouth — a twenty dollar bill and a note. The note turned out to be a shopping list for 6 sausages, two chops, and enough stew meat to equal exactly $20. Instructions said that all should be double wrapped. The butcher felt strange as he filled out the order, sure that the dog would immediately eat it, but to his surprise, the dog carefully took the package in his mouth and walked slowly out the door. Since it was close to closing time, the butcher hastily locked up and followed the dog.
The dog went to the bus stop, again standing on his hind legs to examine the map. He then sat beside the bench to wait. A bus came, and the dog walked to the front as if checking the number. He shook his canine head and sat back beside the bench to wait. The next bus arrived, the dog again walked to the front to check the number, and this time it must have been right because he boarded. The butcher followed.
After a few blocks, the dog hit the stop bar, and exited with the package of meat in his mouth. Again the butcher followed. The dog led him to an old clapboard house, set the meat gently on the top step, and threw his body at the door. Twice more he threw his body at the door causing a loud thump, before the owner finally came to the door. The old man there picked up the package of meat and began screaming at the dog.
Coming to his defense, the butcher said, ‘But don’t you realize how amazing this dog is? He reads, he follows directions, you have him do your shopping. He could be on t.v. He’s really smart.’
‘Smart?’ growled the dog’s owner. ‘That’s the third time he’s forgotten his key this week’.”
I did laugh at Pumpkin’s joke. Sort of. I also felt slightly guilty. How often have I done that? Asynchronous development means that while my son does some amazing things (including remembering and delivering a joke of that length) he also still struggles with absolutely ordinary stuff that the average nine-year-old handles easily. It isn’t that I ever mean to be unreasonable with my expectations, but life never hands out stress evenly. It seems like stress comes in heaps and when I most need Pumpkin to be autonomous is when he is least likely to be. I have gotten on his case because he didn’t do chores or remember a note from the learning center. I’ve gotten irritated when he asked me to untie a knot in his shoelaces because I thought he should be able to do that himself.
I have also reacted poorly to the expectations of others. It was sort of like that cartoon where the man kicks his wife, the wife kicks the kid, and the kid kicks the dog. The dog then eyes the cat who thinks, “Try it Fido and you’re a dead dog.” Someone of significance (like family) said that Pumpkin shouldn’t still have meltdowns or should be able to do *blank* and for a few crazy days I tried to push him to do *blank* or stop melting down. And then sanity resumed and I backed off.
Parenting a brilliant kid carries a heap of unreasonable expectations. Somehow there is a blueprint for genius. I don’t remember learning it. Yet it’s right there in my brain even today. Genius should look like this: big vocabulary, amazing creations in the basement, straight A student, type A personality, picking out colleges at 8. Except genius doesn’t look like that. Where did that blueprint come from?
On first meeting him, most people see Pumpkin as the typical genius. I constantly hear, “Wow, he’s really smart.” When he sings or is drawing something, I have often heard, “Wow, what a talented kid.” Hubby and I went to a “Back to School Night” a week ago at the Learning Center and we got all of that in spades. “So smart.” “Really knows his stuff.” “Great memory.” “Very Creative.” And then we also got, “Hard time transitioning.” “Loud, loud, loud.” “Doesn’t like to write the assignments as stated.” “Slow starter.”
Back when Pumpkin was in public kindergarten, things started well and went down hill fast. The “Wow, he’s smart” quickly evaporated and became, “Bossy,” and then became, “Defiant”. And with each criticism I was harder on him than I should have been. I kept thinking that he should be smart enough to follow directions and, though I ultimately figured it out, I wish I could take my echoed criticisms back. I think it damaged his self-esteem a lot.
I’m not trying to live in the past here; I don’t feel that does much good ever. From time to time, though, I get messages from people who are a few years behind me. If I could offer any advice, it would be to take a step back. Just like the joke Pumpkin told me at the beginning, it’s important to see the phenomenon of cleverness without focusing on the little step that got forgotten. I also need to let go of my notion of what genius looks like. I’m pretty sure that the genius of Mozart looked nothing like the genius of Einstein. Michael Phelps’ gift is entirely different than Emily Dickinson’s, though both have been referred to as “gifted”.
Kids aren’t kids for long. They go from baby to adult in just 18 years. If we spend all of that pushing unreasonable expectations, before we know it the wonder of those years is just gone. I wish sometimes a parent with “normal” kids could switch with me for a few days. I say that as if it is only to teach them, but I think it would also remind me. My kids are stubborn, loud, argumentative, and AMAZING. But the last adjective needs the most emphasis.