Interview with a Gifted Kid: Peggy

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Peggy Speaks

This interview with a grown-up gifted kid is a series within a series. It is the latest in my Interview with a Gifted Kid series. In this episode, we meet the matriarch of three generations of a gifted family. In this installment, Peggy, a retired school librarian with a gifted son and a gifted granddaughter, shares his thoughts with me (and you).

This interview was conducted simultaneously with Peggy’s son, Sheridan. You may wish to read that interview next.

When did you first realize you were gifted or hear the term “gifted”?

I’m 66, and when I was in school, nothing was done for gifted students. It was not a term. My strongest memory from that time was the first day of school and teacher held up a card with a color red and asked, “Class, what color is this?” She did this with two or three colors.

I remember thinking, “Oh, no, these kids don’t know their colors.”

I was totally freaked by that. They didn’t know their numbers, and they didn’t know their letters.

One day I must have snapped. I turned around and I carved my name in the back of the wooden chair. I was thinking, “I can’t take it anymore. I can write my name! I know my letters!”

I spent a lot of time in the hallway.

My only saving grace was that I had the same principal from 1st grade through 12th grade. Eventually, he told the teacher to send me to him instead of the hallway. Not because I was in trouble, but because the teacher would send me to him to be his office assistant.

How was it explained to you?

It really wasn’t. When my son was in school, I was having to read everything I could possibly read to help him.

I didn’t know what was going on with me. I just knew I was different and outside the norm.

They tested my IQ and called my parents in and my mother was very upset because they told her I was very smart. She didn’t think that was good because girls have a hard time if they are very smart. I didn’t really put it together until I saw my son developing and learned about gifted ed.

How did being gifted affect making friends?

After they tested my son, they came to me blown away. “Did you know gifted he is? He’s across the board and off the charts.” They told me, “We’re shocked because he acts so normal.”

[NOTE: There’s this belief that truly gifted kids can’t get along with other people, but that’s not true. It’s part of the anti-intellectualism that pervades our society.]

I grew up in a school with a graduating class of 200 people. I was very social and outgoing, and I loved going across these boundaries. The preps sat together. I loved making friends in all those groups.

What about being gifted caused hardship or was hard for you?

I overheard the conversation my parents thought they were having in private. It pulled the rug out from under me for many years.

It made me feel that I was not okay in my own skin for many years. It made it hard to find my skin. It was hard to be okay with being an intelligent woman.

I come from a long line of strong intelligent women, but they were in a patriarchal system.

How did you experience other people’s expectations of you?

I hid in back of room and tried not to make smart aleck remarks. The work was so easy, and there was no relief from that. I learned to hide and be very quiet.

In middle school one of the teachers figured it out and gave me a reading test. The test stopped at 12th grade. I got to that level and could have gone higher.

She gave me SRA kits instead of what other kids were doing.

[NOTE: Why is this unusual? This technique, technically called “compacting” is useful and free.]

It was the only interesting class I had.

In high school, I had the same principal, and he knows I’m losing my mind. In 10th or 11th grade I would stay home and not go to school. I would show up and take all the tests on Friday. I would tell them I needed to go because my mom needs me – my parents had a restaurant. I graduated with an 89 average showing up once a week.

If you could go back and tell your younger self something, what would it be?

There are so many layers for me. Once I realized that not everyone realized girls could be smart, I went to the library. The library was my sanctuary – I actually became a librarian. I scoured the library for biographies of strong women. They were all queens. I know a lot about British aristocracy!

If I could go back and talk with myself and convince myself, “You are who you are, and that’s great. You’re different from your family, and that’s okay. Celebrate the differences, embrace those, and just be who you are.”

What did the school do right?

They admitted they had nothing for me, and they were kind. There was incredible kindness for me, and that wasn’t there for my son or granddaughter.

What could the school have done differently?

When I carved my name in my desk, you don’t have to be a genius to know that’s a cry for help. They should have accelerated me. They should have sat me down and tested me and moved me on. That wasn’t a thing.

Even when Sheridan was in elementary, they wanted to accelerate him, but said socially it wasn’t a good idea. For him, they weren’t listening. For me, it just wasn’t a thing.

What’s the impact of giftedness been on your adult life?

Once I’ve settled into it and became comfortable in my own skin, I could sit back and observe what was going on around me, and when it was nonsense, I could ignore it.

My ex-husband is a mechanical engineer, and he’s a very linear thinker. I’m not at all a linear thinker. I would try to have these deep conversations with him, but it didn’t really work. When Sheridan was six or seven, we were standing in the kitchen having this really involved conversation – lots of layers, lots of depth – his father was standing there and said, “You finally have someone to talk with.”

[Note: Here, Sheridan shared a story to illustrate what she meant. He said, “I was watching Highlander  with my father, and there’s this scene where they’re fighting in a parking garage. The camera pans up to the moors of Scotland, and my father said, “All this is happening on top of that parking garage????”]

I could find shortcuts, find better ways, reinvent things. As a school librarian, I’ve had to come up with own curriculum, and that’s how I’ve kept my mind busy.

Were you drawn to librarianship because of autonomy?

Absolutely! I first obtained teaching certifications in journalism and English, and while subbing realized that the worst part of teaching was the nonsense put on by the school board and the state, so I went back and got a masters in library science and ended up working as librarian, and autonomy was part of that.

Interview with a Gifted Kid Series

The Interview with a Gifted Kid Series seeks to create a body of voices that will be persuasive that gifted students have needs, that giftedness isn’t some “get out of hardship in school free” card, and will give hope to gifted individuals that they are not alone.

Do you have a story of growing up gifted? If you’d like to be interviewed, please contact me. I want the stories told. I am happy to interview gifted children or adults, so feel free to reach out.

Wrapping Up:

Peggy’s story is a stark reminder that gifted services, as shockingly inadequate as they often are, are still light years ahead of where they were. I was reminded of my mom’s telling me that when she was younger, the newspaper classified ads had “jobs for men” and “jobs for women”. Society’s evolving views of the importance of intelligence in women is worth contemplating.

Her story of carving initials into her desk as a cry for help evoked so many emotions in me.

How many of us can relate to her horror when she realized her classmates didn’t know their colors?

I hope that we can read Peggy’s story and consider how we can be better at not having these kinds of dynamics now.

Let’s also consider the importance of kindness. Even though the school was lacking in gifted services, there was kindness that was lacking for her son, even though there were services. Can we please have both?

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