I stared at my almost twenty-nine-year-old baby book with concern. I was studying it intensely, trying to make sense of the long list of words I was speaking when I was younger than my daughter. I was worrying. And if I am really honest, I wasn’t worrying that she was behind developmentally, I was worried she wasn’t more like me. Worrying that her baby book wouldn’t be as “impressive”. It’s an ugly moment I would rather not admit ever crossed my mind.
When I was a child I was labeled “gifted and talented.” My IQ was tested and I was pulled out for special classes – which I hated – because at that time I just wanted to be like everyone else. Academics have always come blissfully easily to me, and I have been able to count on my gifts to help me succeed in life. And so I wanted exactly that for my daughter. I wanted her to be nothing less than gifted and talented. But in the way that I was. The traditional way.
You know how some days, you find something you needed, but didn’t know it yet? I was randomly checking Facebook when I came across Glennon Melton’s Momastery blog titled “Every Child is Gifted and Talented. Every Single One.” I read it and I cried. If you haven’t read it yet – do it. I promise you it will be worth your time.
The post starts off with a story about one of Glennon’s friends. Her daughter came home from school one day and apologized to her mother, explaining the “gifted” kids got letters that day, and she wasn’t one of them. The rest of the post is a beautiful reminder that ALL CHILDREN ARE GIFTED. And above all else – we (as parents) MUST BELIEVE THIS. Deep down, we must believe this.
Each sentence I read the tears welled up higher and higher until they streamed down my face. Because I was perfectly capable of reciting what moms are “supposed to” say. That I love my child no matter what, and it doesn’t matter what her talents are, I will accept whatever they are with open arms and pride and encouragement. That I will not ever try to make her something she is not, and will never, ever wish she was different. But my emotions were causing me to pause and question if I really meant these words.
I spent several years tutoring children when I was in college. I went to Head Start and to elementary schools and middle schools. As part of our training we learned about the theory of multiple intelligences. That basically, each child has gifts, they just look different. And I believed it with every cell of my body. I would nod enthusiastically as I heard people speaking on it, because I KNEW it was true.
And then there I was sitting with my old baby book, suddenly terrified that my own baby wouldn’t be “gifted” in the academic sense. And when I read Glennon’s post and imagined Gia coming home from school and apologizing to me for not being “gifted”, it was like I got kicked in the gut.
I can look back at my childhood and honestly have no idea the talents my mom “wished” I had. Because I never felt an expectation from her of who I should be, and never felt disappointment from her for who I wasn’t. And I wasn’t a lot of things. I wasn’t easy going, or brave, or patient, or good at any sport with a ball. But that was ok. Because I was other things. And my mom reminded me when I forgot. So I grew up confident in myself. And I didn’t have to grow up in a box of expectations of how my life should look.
But a lot of kids don’t get that. Their parents are human and have specific hopes and dreams for their child, just like I secretly did when I was searching my baby book for validation. But what if you aren’t what your parent hopes you will be? What if you felt like you were never good enough and were always letting down the people you most loved and looked up to in the whole world? The only people whose approval you needed more than anything else? When I see this happening, and I do see this happen, I can’t. I just can’t. It absolutely breaks my heart. And I was getting there myself with my “secret” wishes for my daughter.
I must believe my child is truly gifted, even if she is nothing like me. If she struggles in school and doesn’t enjoy it and would rather paint, or run, or sing, or be around animals, I want to embrace these things. I have to believe that even though I don’t know what it is like to struggle through school that it will still be ok. I have to be able to look into her eyes and promise her that she is gifted, and really, really mean it.
I must believe that if my son grows up with no athletic talent, and no interest in sports – that is ok. Even if I was the star quarterback of my college team and had dreamed of throwing a football around with my son and going to every high school game with his number on my back. I must believe that my painfully shy child, of whom I had dreams of lighting up the stage because that’s what I always wanted to do, is still gifted, and still incredible. I need to be able to believe this, deep down, because my child needs me to believe it, so they can believe it.
Where is the place in my daughter’s baby book to note the date I first saw her dancing to music or trying to sing along to a melody in the car? Where is the place I get to celebrate that she has so much love in her little heart already that she will shower all of her toys and me and her daddy and grandparents with hundreds of kisses and enthusiastic hugs? That she is so happy?
Maybe she will grow up and be labeled “gifted”. Or maybe it will be “artistic” or “athletic” or “musical” or “hilarious” or “a leader” or “kind-hearted” or “confident”. I don’t know that yet. But I do know that I desperately needed the reminder that above all else, she is Gia. That there is nobody else in the world like her or with her talents. She is not me, and she is not her father, and she is not the child of my best friends. And she needs me. She needs me to believe that she is gifted, but not necessarily gifted just like I was. She needs me to remind her that gifted looks different for everyone, and she isn’t necessarily going to be the same gifted as her friend or her mommy. And that not only is that ok, that is BEAUTIFUL.