My daughter is ten, and in the gifted and talented program at her school. A few years ago, when she was first being tested, I told my sister in law, and she asked if my husband was gifted, and if that was where she had inherited her intelligence…I realized that I had done too good a job hiding my light, as it were. Covering, acting like I wasn’t as smart as I am…
Actually, I have spent 40 years swinging pendulum style from showing off knowledge, back to acting normal, then exploding with brilliance, then faking idiocy. In the 80’s in a small town, it wasn’t okay for me to act smart. I remember hemming and hawing at Trivial Pursuit questions pretending the answer wasn’t obvious, sitting on my hands in Spanish in junior high. It was absolutely not appropriate for me to get better grades on Spanish tests than the Mexican-Americans who spoke Spanish at home- they were mean to me because of it. I didn’t stop trying, I just tried to be less obvious about what I knew. Other people who grew up with me may argue, perhaps they were super-intelligent and felt their intelligence was nurtured by their peers. No one else has lived my life, and being super genius was not the way to go, most of the time for me. I developed a “self-deprecating” style in the hopes that people would like me. It doesn’t always work.
Inside, I’m still nerdy, and desperate for people to like me, or at least not hate me.. I sometimes wish I could be that person who thinks, if they don’t like me they can f— themselves, but I’m just not. See, I can’t even cuss on my own blog, I’m so desperate for you to not be offended. So, the pendulum swings again, and I listen politely while people explain things to me that I already understand, then I show off, explaining how linguists use a phonetic alphabet to transcribe people’s accents, or that the Rosetta stone is actually in the British Museum. Then I make a joke, put myself down before anyone else gets a chance to. Those boys in junior high Spanish were mean as a form of social control- they didn’t want to feel bad themselves, so they made me feel bad.
At least I have chosen a job where my intelligence is mostly rewarded. I teach, and that is a job where I can be a know-it-all. I’m supposed to be an expert, if not a genius, and so I mostly fit in here.
As an adult, I have found circles of friends who like me for me, a husband who is my peer. I am so lucky. The pendulum doesn’t swing so far that I am afraid of falling off anymore.
Knowing this, I worry for my daughter. She is, as I said, also gifted (she gets it from both of us, dammit…)and I see her crazy pendulum swings now, in upper elementary, and wonder what middle school will be like. When she gets an answer on her homework wrong, she’ll hit her forehead with the heel of her hand, chanting “stupid,’tupid, ‘tupid!” Then the pendulum swings again and she says, “actually, Mom…” and correct my misconceptions. She recently learned the word misnomer, and went around using it correctly. “Monty Python’s Flying Circus is actually a misnomer, it isn’t a circus that flies…”
I wish her grace- the skill to gracefully show what she knows without appearing snotty, I wish her confidence, not arrogance. How do I guide her? Her G.T. teacher, herself a gifted person who is the mother of a gifted girl, oddly isn’t much help…she has just come through the teenage years and wonders how she survived, I think. Conversations in the teachers’ lounge usually turn into parents bragging about how smart their children are, a round robin story topping festival. Not helpful, when I want my little girl to grow up happy…
I shared the story about my sister in law not having noticed I was smart with a colleague, herself a gifted woman. She laughed. In my voice, she said, “Oh, see, I’ve been hiding the fact that I’m smart around you because I didn’t want you to feel baaaad.” She had also spent time covering up her intelligence, but she had realized that she could be one of those people who says F you. She knows who she is, and and she isn’t going to act any differently just to make other people feel comfortable. She probably even can curse on her blog. I’ll just stay here on this pendulum until it slows down.