Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Why my son isn't special, and yours isn't either

Someone sent me a link to the (no longer airing) television show Psychic Kids the other day.

My son, the person contends, might be like these kids. Not socially maladjusted, probably, and not with these abilities, but he's got a special something. He's not like most kids. Check this show out.

I'd never watched it. I had a feeling it would just rile me up, and I was right. I felt dirty watching it. It really seems to border on child abuse. These smart, sensitive, fascinating kids were getting all the wrong messages; their parents were getting all the wrong messages; and no one was being helped. The kids want validation, guidance, understanding; and they can't get it except through exploitation and fakery.

But here's the thing: I kind of, sort of, understand where the parents are coming from.

No, not like that. I'm still me, after all. Rational, skeptical, wholly anti-woo. What I understand is the parents' urge to have their kids be special. Unique. Like really, really unique. Their talents are different from everyone else's talents, so of course their problems are different from everyone else's problems.

And they're right. The kids' talents and problems are unique, and difficult, and nuanced. Just like everyone's problems. Their kids are hard to reach, and their problems are hard to address. Just like all kids.

I see it in Arizona all the time, these two extremes. At one end, you have the hard, grizzled "I ain't buyin' this 'Everyone's a special snowflake' bullshit; now pull yourself up by your bootstraps!" guys. Think ranchers, cowboys, farmers. Everything is black and white. Every problem is easily addressed, and there's one -- and usually only one -- common-sense solution. Anyone who thinks otherwise is a namby-pamby idiot. At the other end, you have the froofy, kooky "We're just the universe getting to mystically know itself" crowd. Think UFOlogists, Sedona vortex seekers, and the folks who love to talk about the Phoenix Lights while showing you their crystal collection. (I actually had someone do this.) Now I truly love the grizzled Arizona frontiersman, and I love me some dreamy Sedona artists, but this is silly. Truth and validation are not magical, but neither are they simple. It's not always either "Here's your problem. I fixed it!" or "There is no answer on this physical realm." That's what I'm talking about with Psychic Kids.

It's entirely possible that these kids have more -- maybe much more -- talent and difficulty in some areas. The kids have mental issues and aptitudes that their peers won't understand. It's necessary to grant them this validation. However, it's just as likely, and just as necessary to express to the kids, that other children have issues and aptitudes that they don't have and won't understand. You don't get to be the star of the world. You don't even get to be the star of your own world. You're a spectator and participant, and it's infinitely better and more interesting that way.

Maybe these kids' talents and problems lie along more difficult-to-discern, difficult-to-deal-with lines. Maybe the parents decided they don't understand what their kids are going through -- which is fine; but then decided that it must be incomprehensible to anyone, paranormal -- which is not fine. You don't need to resort to magic for your kid to be special. Magic isn't real. Your kid's specialness is. Your kids problems are.

Am I one of those hippie parents who thinks everyone's a winner? Yeah. I guess I am.

But here's the difference: I'm not saying your (or your kid's) special beauty lies in some unable-to-be-grasped magical aura. I'm specifically saying it does not. It's real. You might not be able to grasp it, but it's graspable. It's concrete. You're special, and there are ways to find out how. You have problems, and there are ways to pin them down and address them. Same for your kid. Everyone is special. Everyone's a winner. This doesn't diminish the words "special" and "winner," because we all win at different categories. And we all suck royal donkey balls at several categories as well. Same for your kid.

Apparently (according to the original link sender), this makes me a closed-minded wet blanket. I don't see why. The choices aren't "My kid has black and white talents and foibles that I can readily describe" or "My kid is a magical starchild." Do you really think every kid but a select few is less complex, less nuanced, less worthy of wonder and consideration; than psychic kids, savants, "Indigo" children, "Crystal" children, kids with an affinity for animals, or whatever specialty your kid has? How is that better than "My football player can kick your honor student's ass?"

Of course I think my kid is the most special kid in the world. And it doesn't feel like an opinion. But it is an opinion, and none less valid for being one. He's the most special because of his unmatched (in my limited experience) imagination and way with animals, because of his intelligence and insight, because of his kindness, and yes, because of his flaws. (His ability to focus, for example, is so miniscule that while we were ice skating the other day he stopped, simply because he forgot to keep moving his legs. I'm relieved that breathing is involuntary.) His specialness is born from his specific set of characteristics as well as those of everyone he encounters. His shared experiences and private thoughts write a specific story that's his, and to a much lesser extent, mine and my husband's. His story is staggeringly beautiful. It is mind-searingly tiresome. It is heart-breakingly, uniquely painful. It is heart-meltingly amazing. I'm proud, touched, annoyed, exasperated, and amazed every moment that I'm with him. I try, from time to time, to share some of that with you. But here's the thing -- I share the qualities of it. I share the universal -- or near universal -- parts, including the universal happiness we all feel from witnessing someone's distinct footprint on the world. I share the details to show the beauty. I don't expect the details themselves to impress anyone, because I know they're not objectively special, at least not in the sense that they're unique to us. And they don't need to be. The whole package is special. Isn't that enough?

Which brings me back to what I suspect some of the Psychic Kids parents are doing. Their kids have talents, sensitivities, and problems that happen to be hard to put a finger on. Fine. So spend time with your kids. Validate them, even if your answer is "I believe you, but I don't know what is happening. There is a real answer out there. Let's find it together." Even if it takes a lifetime to find, even if you never find the answer. Because you'll make your own answer along the way, and it will be built of a million real things. Early morning cuddling and dinnertime fights. Walks through meadows in the golden hour and homework nagging. Sleepovers and playground fights. Snapshots by road signs and sinks full of dishes. Board games and cats and dogs and backyards and cookies and toys and baseball games and school dances and a million other things that won't be special to anyone on the planet but you and your kid. And that's fine. Think of the world you'll discover together. Think of the people he'll meet, who'll get to know him in return. He will grow up with volumes of special experiences. What's more, the understanding that it's the big picture that makes who we are, that no one's concerned about his mundane trivialities -- but only because each one of them is carrying a whole universe of their own, waiting to be explored -- I think he'll be infinitely better for it than if you told him he has magical powers and sent him to a spooky house with some wacko.


Cindy said... Best Blogger Tips


Anonymous said... Best Blogger Tips

This is SO perfectly expressed! To me, their special talents, their essence and uniqueness *not* being magical/paranormal in nature makes it even more special. This is who they are, without impossible things or unreachable explanations...and really, it needs none.

Thérèse said... Best Blogger Tips

Well that's very well put. Children learn from us parents and at one point they will have to dislearn everything and relearn the same or something else on their own.

Adrian Thysse said... Best Blogger Tips

Wow! So well said. Raising my daughter has opened my eyes to how very unique our offspring are.In many ways, our 'fruit of the loins' didn't fall far from the tree. In other ways she is so different from us (in positive ways) that we can only stand back in wonder.
Thanks for this post, and the many wonderful photographs you share of your son's life.

Tracey - Just Another Mommy Blog said... Best Blogger Tips

I am going to go one step further and say that I would have given my left nut (had I had nuts) to have had my son NOT be "special". I don't particularly think he has gained more than he has lost in having to deal with his issues. I think that this is against all of the unwritten rules of parenting a high needs child (as I prefer to term it), but I fervently wish my son had NOT been born different.

It is what it is. He is who he is. I love him despite his inability to be empathetic. I love him because he's my son.

Kim Hosey said... Best Blogger Tips

Cindy: Thanks!

Anonymous: Exactly. Well put. Kids (and everyone) are special, on their own, through aptitude and effort and determination and love and all those very real things that make up who someone is.

Thérèse: Thank you, and yeah, you're probably right. I guess I can only hope that I teach my son as many correct things as possible the first time around! :-)

Adrian Thysse : I've had the same experience with my son. He's so like me in some ways, and really in his own world in some other ways. It's frustrating. It's wonderful. (And thanks for the compliments on the post and photos!)

Tracey: Thank you. I think that's a really compassionate and honest thing to feel, really. Of course it's fun to be different or special when "different" means the one kid who's getting a medal or the kid who makes the varsity team. Different or special, obviously can mean many things. "Special" for "special's" sake isn't worth anything. I think that's what I was trying to get across, and I did hope it didn't come across as uncaring toward people who are taking care of high-needs children or who otherwise lead very unconventional lives. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, truly.

Stacy Jensen said... Best Blogger Tips

I'm with Cindy. Amen. I recently told a group of moms that my kiddo would be happy being a janitor at a welcome center — combines his love of a broom and greeting people. I faced a little schock. We'll see what he does.

Kasey mathews said... Best Blogger Tips

I just love this post and love your writing! I read it twice! I really admire your clarity and certainty. My daughter was born 4 months prematurely. I heard over and over again that she is a miracle, and came to hold that as truth. It took me years to finally understand, that every birth, every being, is a miracle, none more special than any other. Thanks for this great piece! SO excited to read more!

Kim Hosey said... Best Blogger Tips

Stacy: Ha; as long as they're happy, right? I agree. I've never been one to place much stock in "What will the (neighbors/other parents/fill-in-the-blank) think?"

Kasey: Thank you so much! I'm so happy you liked it. Wow; I'm glad your daughter was OK. And yes. Your daughter is remarkable. So is my son, and billions of other people. All in our own, undiminished-by-others'-specialness, ways. Sharing the wonder is so much better than hording the notion for oneself. And yes, it took me a while to learn that too. My son's birth was rather dramatic. It certainly feels like you're the only one who's that lucky, you're the only one with a miracle. I think that feeling is fine. We just have to be aware that there are a kazillion other "miracles" out there.

Kim Hosey said... Best Blogger Tips


I swear I know how to spell.

unikorna said... Best Blogger Tips

Your words and images are enchanting. You've created a magic world here on your blog :).

Koala Bear Writer said... Best Blogger Tips

I agree with you. As parents, our job is to nurture and encourage our children - not to pressure or push them or to raise them in a bubble where they never have to struggle. Every child is special in their own way. :)

Dana said... Best Blogger Tips

I'm newly 30 with an 18m/o son. I went to college for acting and was fostered a deep sense of destiny. Only recently have I begun to feel like a "grown-up" but it wasn't until after I securely grasped that I am not "special". For me, it was a state-of-mind validated by the rich and famous, "Give it your all, people will see and you'll rise to the top!" But it's certainly possible to give it your all, not get noticed and feel humiliated... or humbled. It's a big world, with lots of people who want lots of things. I've resigned to making happiness where I am, doing what I'm doing, with what I've got. I still get an sense of "special" but it's in the company of those that are special to me.