My SIL and BIL are a little ahead of us in the kid department. Before they were married, she already had two kids from a previous marriage and then met my husband’s younger brother. They got married and had one kid together. All three boys are wonderful and the youngest is gifted but not 2e. He was educated in public school where he mostly thrived in a G.A.T.E. program. Since I met that little boy, we’ve had a pretty good relationship until he got to be a sullen teen. And the in-laws initially thought a lot of me. Always they told me I’d make a great mother. That assessment held until I really had a kid. And he was –ummm– challenging.
So now that you know the history, we come to the realities of today. This branch of the family lives pretty close to us, but we aren’t really close-knit. Mostly, we see one another at holidays, birthdays and special events like weddings. A and V’s children are grown. The eldest just got married, the middle boy is married with a kid of his own, and the youngest will graduate this year. Along the way I’ve seen a lot of their relationships, and (recognizing that you never see everything) they made it look easy.
Their kids hit developmental milestones on time, functioned normally even when their parents weren’t always on top form, and grew up to be pretty awesome young people. For us, life has not been so easy. Our children have development all over the place — brilliant beyond their ages, while simultaneously uncoordinated and unable to absorb normal social mores. Our children seem to take a lot more work and, as much as I’d like not to be hovering helicopter mom, this seems to be a necessity. Let me offer you some examples. On Halloween, we’d bring Pumpkin to trick-or-treat with their youngest (B) until B got too old for that kid stuff. They’d never feed him until after the treats were gathered. Meanwhile, mine would have a melt-down and become a total brat. We’d be invited to a barbecue to start at 5:00. Except the food might not get started until 7:30. Their son was fine with that. Mine became a little raging monster. Christmas Eve is traditionally the family meal. Their kids wouldn’t eat most of the foods, but that was no big deal. Mine couldn’t sit still at the table. This after waiting for the actual meal to start (sometimes as much as two hours) and my child would become a loud, obnoxious, whiny mass of emotion. Or, they’d get him excited and he’d go overboard and I’d start to get THE LOOK while Pumpkin got wound tighter and tighter and got louder and louder. And I admit, things had degraded to where I dreaded family stuff.
Understand, I don’t think my kid is a brat or any of the other names used here — truth is that he simply doesn’t deal well with the situations I’m describing. At home, his dinner time is a very set schedule. I know when I can encourage his laughter and when it can spill into over-stimulation. And he always knows what to expect. If circumstances beyond my control force a need for flexibilty, I know how to introduce it to make it acceptable. I know my little guy is going to absorb and reflect the most extreme emotions in the room. And most importantly, I understand that Pumpkin must eat within his window, and if the window of time closes, he turns from sweet fluffy magwai, to vicious little gremlin. Whatever V thinks about his nature (and she has occasionally pressed her opinion), this really isn’t his fault.
Pumpkin is a 2e kid. On the good side, he’s brilliant. He started reading small words at 18 month old and could read giant chapter books silently by 4. He had crazy puzzle skills, often completing puzzles face down and from the center out. He knew more about paleontology at three than most people ever know. On the other side, he’s as inflexible as rebar. He has to have a very regimented day while claiming to hate structure. When he’s hungry, he’s absolutely unreasonable while at the same time being unaware that that he’s hungry (or thirsty for that matter). Wheat does crazy things to his body, and FD&C dyes make him violent or suicidal. He’s a sensory seeker, becoming a daredevil at the worst possible moments. He gets over stimulated by the most normal things — like television and laughter. And he has no sense of social skills, so when people start to react to him negatively, he’s completely unaware of it. And somehow, my in-laws manage to tromp on these issues at every holiday.
My In-Laws were pretty lucky with their kids. And they don’t understand that Pumpkin isn’t that easy. When I started tinkering with diet, they thought I was stupid and therefore sabotaged it at every opportunity. And these were the family members that left me an article from a newspaper about how horrible homeschooling was (they dropped it in my house when they were over for a birthday party and never even said anything so that i found it when cleaning up). They are family and I do love them. And I’ve tried to understand why they just couldn’t bend. Maybe they are a bit like Pumpkin and welded to their beliefs by their experiences, which are lightyears from my experiences. Simple discipline made their children compliant. Stepping back and letting the kids grow up was perfectly acceptable and didn’t result in either hospitalization or crazy calls from school professionals. I don’t think they ever took one of their three to a psychologist for any reason. Their kids won’t eat vegetables willingly, but they aren’t overtly rude about it. And “go with the flow” is actually a concept their children can work with. Not mine.
Pumpkin has had the misfortune of living with parents who are figuring out the rules as they go. He had an absolutely normal diet for six years, before we figured out that it was killing him. Today he’s healthy and happy, but dreadfully thin. I’ve read posts from a parent who decided ahead of time that there would be no food battles in his house. I remember envying him. There absolutely must be food battles with Pumpkin. I can remember talking to his doctor about my worries that he was such a picky eater. “Don’t worry,” she said. “Keep providing healthy meals,” she said. “He’ll eat when he’s hungry and it will all balance out,” she said. And then he ended up in the hospital on a glucose drip while I tried to convince them that I hadn’t been neglecting him. Wheat does funky things to him. When he ate it, it was all he wanted. And then he’d eat less and less until he was starving to death. Removing it entirely from his diet was hard, but not as hard as watching my son look like a poster regarding childhood starvation. We had a harder time removing the other crazy-making things from his diet. Dyes. Without those poisons in his body, he eats and laughs in a much more normal way. Most of the year is pretty doable. Until the holidays.
I take Thanksgiving now. A holiday devoted entirely to rich foods is terrifically hard when much of the family wasn’t that careful about wheat. (Please note that it changed last year). A couple of things helped. Ducky came along with 17 food allergies (most of which he’s outgrown). Pumpkin’s sensitivities were different. They didn’t look like allergies, so it was hard to convince family that he couldn’t have that stuff. Ducky projectile vomits wheat. It goes in and comes out with force. And my beloved aunt-in-law N made a loud effort to provide foods my children could eat. She told me in front of them how much respect she had for my struggles and that I should never have to feel awkward about asking family to help. That’s what family does. I remember how V stared at A and flushed. That changed everything. No amount of thank yous will ever equal what Aunt N did for us in that one day.
While it has gotten better, there is still the matter of trying to force my inflexible children into a non-schedule. Sometimes, I am envious of parents that can feed their kids whenever. There are days I wish I could step back and not regiment everything. And I would like to be able to give Pumpkin more freedom and trust that he’s going to handle whatever arguments he encounters, whatever frustrating games he plays, and whatever teasing he endures without a blow-up. That is not the hand I was dealt. My kids must have things to entertain them, safe snacks at their regular meal times, a barrier between strong emotions and them (usually me) and in the case of Pumpkin, limits on electronic games and screen time, because that stuff just over-stimulates him. He doesn’t always like me for it, but over time, even he has come to know that taking a break from the video games is necessary for him. I’d like him to have unlimited access to technology, the way some of the gifted homeschoolers I respect the most provide, but Pumpkin can’t handle that.
Holidays mean having a plan and two or three back up plans. When we leave our house, the magic backpack goes too. It has healthy snacks that get digested so quickly no meal gets spoiled. It has rewards. It has extra clothes or sometimes pajamas. It has crayons, color books and reading books. It has the therapy brush in case things really get out of hand, and it has things that make the kids smile automatically. If the holiday is at my home, the day is extremely regimented. If the holiday celebration is at another family member’s home, I have the bag and the knowledge that I’m entering that house knowing it is possible that I will have to leave and apologize later.
Celebrations at another household means that I hit the door and discreetly snag as many food labels as I can. My children don’t get served something if I don’t know what is in it. And I volunteer to bring more than a few dishes because I’m protecting them. They don’t realize that they were shorted a few things if their plates are as full as everyone else’s. If we go to a birthday party, I bring cupcakes for my children. They can sing to the birthday boy or girl and watch the cake get cut, but what goes on their plates is safe stuff from our home.
Last Christmas eve, we didn’t open gifts until 10:00. All the littles were cranky except mine. I had put my kids in pajamas after dinner, knowing the 30 minute drive home would wipe them out. My husband gave them each a small toy to keep for the drive and loaded the rest of the gifts directly into the car. He brought back the security blankets and I read all the children a story to calm them down. Mine needed snuggles and kisses and that meant both were heaped in my lap. When B tried to tickle Pumpkin, I had to be stern about how we don’t tickle after 8:00 p.m. Then, as I handed Pumpkin a marker to strike off the gift section on the homemade schedule and pointed out that it was pack-up time, Aunt N said, “You make it look so easy. You’ve got it all figured out.” I gaped at her because it isn’t easy and I can’t imagine how people could think it looks that way. I don’t have it all figured out. But I believe that if I try each day to learn more than I knew the day before, I’ll get there.
This post is part of a blog hop regarding surviving and thriving at the holidays with a gifted or 2E kid.