Please indulge me as I tell you a bit about myself as a gifted elder. It is my belief that knowledge of my personal journey might add to your understanding of some of the thoughts that you read in the posts that follow. I hope you agree that only through a thoughtful familiarity with our past do we perceive the meaning of our present and glimpse our future.
The third child of four and only daughter of two World War II era Southerners transplanted to the nation’s capital in search of finding a way to provide for their family, I spent my early years in the suburbs of Washington and later in southern Maryland, on the Patuxent River. Spending time during the summers either on the Atlantic coast, the Chesapeake Bay, or the river, imprinted in me a love of water and I lived most of the rest of my seven decades a half hour or less from either the east or west coast, or the fourth coast – the St. Lawrence River.
My earliest memory of being bright was when my kindergarten teacher, “Miss Betty,” visited our home and told my mother that she expected “great things from me.” Through the years, others shared their belief in my abilities, but it was much too early for the “G” word (gifted) to be passed around. It remains for later posts to share why my confidence in my abilities was never quite as strong as the belief of others. For now, suffice it to share a few lines from my book, Nurturing the Gifted Female. As introductions to chapters in the book, I shared vignettes of gifted females in my study, each vignette representing a construct that I wrote about in the pertinent chapter. The chapter that addressed voice actually gives a narrative portrait of me, albeit with a different result. The following is a snippet from the vignette. Having taken poetic license, you will note some anachronisms in the literary references.
Hailey discovered words the first time her mother read nursery rhymes and other poetry to her. She imagined herself playing with the words – tossing them up in the air and watching them spiral, leap, and dance. Her favorite line early on was, “with up so floating many bells down” (Cummings, 1994). She invented special gestures to accompany the delightful sounds of her special words and shared them with all she met.
One day she realized that she had the same magic as her mother since, suddenly, the shapes on the page began to speak to her and she could give them voice by saying them out loud. This discovery left her breathless with excitement. She knew, though she could not explain it even to herself, that this was a powerful gift and that somehow her life was very different as a result of this magic. Years later, she remembered reading to her parents for the first time and seeing her parents smile at her and at each other, as she read The Swing, by Robert Louis Stevenson. Even when she stumbled over the strange word, “pleasantest,” her mother took Hailey’s finger and sounded it out for her as they traced the word together.
The day that Hailey began kindergarten she was so proud! Along with her pencil box filled with lovely pencils and crayons, she took her favorite book of poems to read to her teacher. Miss Betty was very busy that day, but Hailey was sure that next day she would want to hear her special words. Yet, it was early spring before Miss Betty realized that her intense and imaginative student could read. By that time, Hailey no longer carried a book with her to school each day. Miss Betty thought that her reading ability was confined to the sight words on display around the room…
When she was in the fourth grade Hailey encountered a different kind of words. After answering the science questions in class one day in a lesson that dealt with the same type of insects she had discovered and researched two summers before, Jimmy and Brad called her a “smarty pants” and said she needed to lose them. Hailey was deeply hurt and felt threatened in a way that she could not yet explain. It wasn’t long before most of the kids frequently made hurtful remarks about her abilities and her love of learning. Hailey began to say less and less in class and Mrs. C became frustrated with her lack of participation. It seemed that the girl she had thought of as her bright, shining star pupil was not so intelligent after all and that it would not be a good idea to turn in the form she had completed recommending her for the school’s enrichment program (Navan, 2009, 27-28).
To be continued…
Cummings, E.E. (1994). 100 Selected Poems. New York: Grove Press.
Navan, J.L. (2009). Nurturing the Gifted Female: A Guide for Educators and Parents. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.