I want to say right away what I mean by “those kids:”
Deep. Intense. Intelligent. Self-aware. Often charming. Sometimes dismissive. Dogged. Focused. Very talkative and, alternately, unsettlingly silent. Nearly unbribe-able, even with chocolate cupcakes. Special.
I think — no, I know — that I have one of these kids. And it’s different. It’s unique. It’s something to get used to.
Hi my name is Natalie, and I have “one of those kids.”
The kids who are marvelous and magical and a little bit (or a lot) unexpected. The kids who might join the group and play but who are just as happy to wander off on their own and read a chapter book for an hour — at age 5. The kids who, when you’re driving, alert you that you’ve gone the wrong way because they recognize the roads and know the directions better than you, and they’re paying more attention. The kids who can tune out the world so well it’s like they’ve shacked up in an underground bunker, or who can overhear an adult joke, a play on words, from across the room and start laughing hysterically.
The kids some people don’t quite know what to make of.
I knew our youngest daughter was slightly different from the “typical” child — though really I don’t believe there is a typical profile of a child, any more than I believe you can standardize personality.
But I didn’t realize that people might not “get” her the way we do. Until she started public school.
Last week we attended her kindergarten open house. One month into the school year, I was eager to see her new desk, visit the fish and worms and snails she’s been investigating, see her stash of “just right” books.
And I was excited to talk to her teacher, a warm and friendly woman regarded far and wide as the Holy Grail of kindergarten teachers.
“How is she doing?” I asked, waiting for my daughter’s teacher to gush about her inquisitiveness, her advanced reading skills, her quirky character, her almost eerily adult-like sense of humor, her funny taste in upcycled-mismatched-colorfully-hoboesque outfits and (purposefully) clashing hair accessories.
“It’s good,” the teacher said, with a tiny hitch at the end that probably only I could catch. “We’re working on getting her to make eye contact.”
Can I tell you honestly how I felt at that moment?
I felt that for the first time in my life I understood for one second how all the parents of all the “different” kids (the autistic kids, the ADHD kids, the delayed kids, the genius kids, the slow-to-develop kids, the sensitive kids, the domineering kids, the introvert kids, the traumatized kids) must feel all the time. My series of reactions went something like this:
Defensiveness (There’s nothing “wrong” with my kid!)
Guilt (There’s nothing “wrong” with any kid, and I can’t possibly imagine how challenging it is to have a truly challenging child, so who am I to get defensive comparing my kid to anyone else’s?)
Disbelief (You mean you haven’t discovered how incredible she is yet? At Montessori preschool they appreciated every last one of her quirks.)
I nodded politely, hoping for any additional morsels from this golden-ticket teacher who, fair enough, could barely even know our child yet with a class of 26 and only a month of the school year under her belt.
“She obviously loves to read, and she has a sense of humor,” the teacher said.
Yes, I thought, exhaling slightly, yes.
“Her friends always help me remind her that she needs to put the book away during transition times. And I’m working to have her respond to me when I talk to her, to use words to speak back.”
Trying to keep calm, I made what I hoped was a not-too-desperate play to get the teacher, in 30 seconds, to come over to our side and understand our unique kid a little bit better.
“She’s really focused, and she gets locked in on projects, but she does hear everything you are saying and she’ll remember it all, photographically, later, I promise. It’s part of her personality. She talks a lot at home but she’s also actually quite shy. She really loves school, or so she’s been telling us. And says every day that she adores you.”
“Really?” said the teacher with a warm smile and a tinge of disbelief. “That’s great to know. I had no idea.”
Then, that fast, it was the next parents’ turn, and we were walking home through our neighborhood, hand-in-hand, my daughter and her older sister, me and her dad.
Our kindergartener balanced across the low wall along the front of the school grounds, chattering on about her Starry Starry Night drawing imitating Van Gogh, her first computer test coming up, and about her newly gained wisdom that “being late for school once in a while doesn’t ruin your life.”
The October night was cool and dark, and there was a comforting hush between the soft crunch of our family's footsteps over the gathering leaves.
I batted away my snippy thoughts, my worries, my insecurities, until I was left with this one pure wish:
I wish for no one to think of my daughter as “one of those kids” … not her well-meaning teacher, not her classmates, and not us.
I wish that both my children be recognized for their uniqueness, and not compared to any other kid on the wide, wide spectrum of personality.
I wish that we all remember to honor the infinite possibility of childhood and try to let the (quirky, wonderful, unique) chips fall where they may.
In between school drop-offs and coffee binges, Natalie Singer-Velush is ParentMap’s Web Editor. In her former life she wrote for newspapers and once pumped milk in the bathroom of the King County Superior Courthouse while covering a murder trial. She was also once chased by rabid raccoons. Natalie lives in Seattle with her husband and two school-aged daughters, whom she is really trying very hard not to over-parent.