Twelve Years of Twice-exceptional

By Jen Merrill

May, 2017

This article first appeared as a “Laughing at Chaos” blog post, April 10, 2017, and is reprinted here with permission.

It’s been a solid dozen years of twice-exceptional life here in the House of Chaos. Our son was 4 when we first had him evaluated for giftedness and we heard “likely twice-exceptional.” In that time we’ve done all the interventions, made all the changes, and upended our lives so as to scaffold our son into adulthood. I never thought I would homeschool, yet here I am, deep into the thickest scaffolding you can imagine, trying to get him to where he needs to go. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been our reality for 12 years now. Wildly different is perfectly normal and we think nothing of it anymore.

And then I’m faced with what a neurotypical teenager is like. You’d think I’d be faced with that nearly daily, as I teach flute to a good number of them. But it’s different. I can’t really explain how, but it is. Something to do with how my students interact with me. I’m still doing a lot of scaffolding and teaching to how my students best learn, just as I am with my own son. I’ve been meaning to write a series on how homeschooling has made me a better flute teacher and how flute teaching has made me a better homeschooler — someday, when I have time, which may be half past never.

I’m mentoring a young woman at church, for her affirmation year. In Unitarian Universalism, young teens go through affirmation, similar to confirmation or bar/bat mitzvah. It’s a year-long process and can be a challenge. Our 2e son went through it last year and it just about did me in. The affirmants do a service project as part of their journey, and then present a statement of belief to the full congregation at the end of the year. Getting our son to work on, finish, and then present his project was probably a “half-case of wine” job. Getting our 2e son to work on and then give a speech in front of a room packed full of people was a “storage room at a bourbon distillery” job. We weren’t sure he’d give that speech until he finished and sat back down. I kept having flashbacks to the meltdown he had in 3rd grade, when he was supposed to go out and sing with his class at the open house and stage fright descended upon him with a resounding thud. So getting him through the affirmation process last year was brutal, and we were so relieved to have it behind us. Next year is his brother’s turn,  and dear lord I hope we re all  ready for that.

But back to my mentee. She is a delight. A flutist herself, I was paired with her for that reason. But she is a neurotypical 8th-grade girl, and the reality of my “alternative normal” keeps goosing me. We talked very briefly last fall about her project, and she ran with it. I checked in on her maybe twice, then freaked out when I didn’t hear from her right before her project presentation. Her presentation? Perfect. Little input from me and absolutely no prodding. It was just done. In fact, she’s still working on her project; this week I was copied on an email she sent out into the community. I vaguely recall her saying that she was going to do that, and…she did. No reminders. We met last week to discuss her belief statement. She already had a good portion of it written. We just discussed some finer points and that was that. No pushing from me, no scaffolding, nothing. I was barely needed, other than to remind her to slow down when she talks. Just got an email from her with the completed speech. Gobsmacked is putting it mildly.
In the meantime I’m scraping up the oobleck goo that is my 2e high schooler, trying to scaffold him through his struggles while encouraging him to design and build his own scaffolds for the future. And the dichotomy stings.

Since we started homeschooling, we’ve had the luxury of essentially hiding from the “normal” world. We likely have two 2e sons, just based on the fact that I have to do a lot of similar scaffolding for both boys. So I don’t really know what the normal, non-2e world is like until it’s literally standing in front of me, doing what it’s supposed to do, doing it well, and on time. A teen with a basic grip on time management, or planning, or the concept of cause and effect? An alien life-form to me. I try not to dwell on it, try not to be jealous, try not to rail at the world. But my god, I am so envious of the parents who don’t need to constantly herd their kids through life and homework and responsibilities. Do they even know how good they have it? I know they don’t grok what life is like on this side, that’s for damned sure.

I’ve often said that parenting 2e kids to adulthood is running a marathon at a sprinter’s pace. At this point of the race, the finish line is still over that last rise; there are no water stops within sight and I’m flagging. We have two years to get one kid ready to launch, and his younger brother? Another half decade. So we still have 2 to 5 years, bare minimum, of this fast-paced marathon, and I suspect it won’t slow down much after that.

Life has gotten so much better over the last 12 years, it really has; any decade-old post on [my] site proves that. The struggles have brought us closer, but my god it’s still hard. It’s demanding and thankless and exhausting; but it’s the only parenting life I know. And you know what? This wildly-different-is-perfectly-normal life is all mine, and after 12 years I’m finally embracing the weird it has brought to my life.
Just…boys? Please don’t take that as a challenge to up the chaos level, m’kay?

Jen Merrill is an Illinois-based writer, flutist, homeschooler, and gifted family advocate. She is also a speaker on homeschooling, gifted, and twice-exceptional topics and author of the blog Laughing at Chaos and the book If This is a Gift, Can I Send It Back?: Surviving in the Land of the Gifted and Twice-Exceptional. Her second book, on the needs of parents as they raise gifted kids, is in progress. 

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