Photo of the gym where our play group is held taken by Sir Talks A Lot
Here's a secret that everyone who's gifted already knows: being gifted is an incredibly isolating and lonely experience. When giftedness is combined with another difference which alters how you interact with or perceive others socially, your chances of finding like-minded people *and* having positive social interactions with them are about the same as the proverbial pig who wants to take flight's chances.
Usually when other people talk about socialization, its assumed lack in homeschooling, and its importance in shaping the characters of children, there is an implicit unstated belief that we all are capable of being molded through the same process of social censure and approval. Call it peer pressure, call it social grooming, call it instilling values, we all have experienced pressure to conform to a norm. Some of us, though, try as we might, are just not like other people. When I was a little girl living on a secluded mountain in Germany, our closest neighbor was an amazing wood worker who liked to find unusual bits of wood that appeared to be deformed or twisted. He made animals, candlestands, frames, lamps and whatever else he could think of with this wood. Whenever anyone would marvel at his creativity, he would tell them that the wood knows what it is supposed to be; it was only his job to help the wood reveal itself. His failures, he explained pointing to the kindling by the fire, came from trying to make the wood do something it was not inclined to do. There was plenty of wood that made furniture or chairs without protest, but his heart beat faster for the more difficult treasures.
When I was a six years old, I had a huge imagination, was a voracious reader, had a passion for social justice, and watched the news the way that other kids watched cartoons. Stirring music, beautiful art, pristine nature all made me weep with joy. The savagery of mankind, intolerance and injustice, cruelty and unkindness kept me awake nights as I lamented my inability to change the world. By the time I was seven, I was reading dystopian literature and questioning whether or not there was a God. Needless to say, my playground compatriots had little interest in discussing the art of Salvador Dali, the works of George Orwell or even the energy crisis. I had no one to talk to except my sister who, even when she had no idea what I was talking about, would listen with rapt attention to the stories I would weave about the world around me. Even the adults, especially the adults, found me off-putting, frightening, wrong. All of that was bad enough, but I was different in a way that those who categorized me had no words for. I think it would have been easier if other people could have just chalked my difference up to being "smart," but what was distinctive about me was not that I always thought at a higher level, more that I thought in a way that was completely different from those around me. I had strange abilities and equally strange disabilities at the same moment. Now, I understand that I was (am) 2e and struggled with many things that other people found simple like tying my shoes, writing words, or riding a bike. I was very literal, and my responses to the questions posed to me by my teachers angered them for reasons I could not understand. I spent a lot of time being talked about and little time talked to. The playground was the worst. All of the kids seemed to share some kind of secret language which told them when to run or chase or laugh. They all knew how to join games and make conversations that other people understood. Social situations, particularly in school settings, felt like being a wounded minnow in the midst of piranha frenzy.
When my own children were born clearly quirky and wonderfully, wildly different, I suspected that social situations might prove a bit challenging for them as well. They are at an advantage considering that they are the product of two 2e parents, and we exist very happily away from the outside world in our cocoon of intensity. It would be wonderful if we could remain in the bliss of our own approbation, but at some point we have to leave the house and encounter that hell which is a by-product of the scrutiny of other people.
In spite of the fact that the kids participate in art, music, sports and educational activities with other children on a daily basis, unscripted social activities are still difficult for us. Like most homeschoolers, we want our kids to have the opportunity to make friends with and play with other children. One of the staples of any homeschool group is the Park Day. Held in a park on good weather days or a gym on bad weather days, a Park Day is like the homeschool version of recess. Kids of all ages are brought together to do whatever it is that unfettered kids do while their parents are sitting nearby.
This is how our play days usually go. We arrive at the playground late after spending the morning dealing with lost shoes, special items which are essential for living but have been misplaced, meals which take triple the time to eat, and general existential crises about our places in the universe. Once all of the fires have been put out and the screaming is over, once all of the supplies have been first loaded then unloaded and we have made our way to the circle and established our place in it, it is time for the kids to join the others in whatever game is happening. For us, this means that the kids stand at the edge of the game and watch and hope that someone will issue a personal invitation for them to join. If none is forthcoming, then the kids have to figure out how to become a part of the group. Sir Talks A Lot is the veteran of this process. He generally opens with an awkward greeting and then states a fact about something he has been thinking about. Once the other kids have recovered from their confusion about the non sequitur, they often return his greeting and he becomes a de facto member of the group. Lady Chatterly still hasn't learned to unravel the mystery of interacting with others. Her tactic is to analyse the game and then report back to the others how it could be improved. This usually involves her telling the other children why they should do things her way. If they comply or if the initial game meets with her satisfaction and no discussion is needed, then the social interaction proceeds with no problem for the moment. If, however, the others decide she is being rude and bossy and try to politely redirect her by ignoring her, she either redoubles her efforts or melts down, heartbroken because no one will play with her (her way). Once we get that drama sorted and Lady has been coached on how to interact with others her age, the playing can begin. My kids are loud and dramatic. They whoop and scream with joy. They wail with despair. They howl with frustration. They play as though every imaginary moment is real and as though every second of play is vital to their survival. Some kids (and some parents) find them too overwhelming, but others enjoy the intensity and are swept up in the drama that the kids provide. The world becomes transformed when they are around as they fight villains, heal or protect the innocent, and survive cataclysmic events. Those are the days spent with people who have met the kids before and have an inkling of what to expect. Those are the good days, the good moments.
The bad days, ironically, happen on what we call good brain days. These are the times when the kids are fully engaged by their thoughts. When their creativity is blooming or when they are absorbing something new. Performance days, projects days, philosophy days, new math days, language days -- those days when their brains are expanding and all they want to do is express their minds to others. On those days, the kids are random and scattered at best. They are moody, sensitive and introspective. Recently Lady Chatterly was asked what color the sky was in her universe by someone baffled by her complete, out of the blue inability to focus, and she thought carefully before replying that the sky was purple, but streaked with lovely pink and yellow designs so that everyone who looked upon it would know that there is hope in the world.
When people learn that we are homeschooling, they inevitably ask us about "the socialization." They notice our quirky kids and look at us with pity, assuming that our kids are unusual because they have been locked in cages their whole lives and kept away from normal people. If we explain that we are helping our kids value their differences, we are subjected to lectures full of platitudes and prejudice about the "real world." For us, socialization is not about learning how to conform to the world's expectations; rather, it is about learning how to be content with the fact that we *can't* conform. Our experiences with being 2e are not unique. Many people who find themselves out of the mainstream experience extreme pressure to be like everyone else. We only have to look at the suicide rates for those kids who feel different from others to understand how crucial it is to learn self-acceptance. So, our goal is to continue our efforts at being social, and to try to circumvent the negative by-products of "the socialization."