About Being Different
We are all different…every one of us. Most of the time, when we first suspect that might be so it scares us. We want to belong, fit in, be part of the group…all those comfortable things, and one of the first strategies of social interaction most of us learn is to conceal our differences. All too many of us never get past that, and for those who do the achievement often turns out to be a frightening one. It takes a lot of courage, character, toughness and, well…testosterone…to be true to one’s self and be a smoothly functioning part of a larger social group at the same time. I learned all this stuff the hard way.
Being gifted is what happened to me. Gifted means really smart. It has nothing to do with being dysfunctional or disappointing or disobedient or any of those other unhappy things…but…if you are the one who is gifted and does not know it, if your unusual abilities are unacknowledged and you don’t know why it always seems that there is something wrong with you, it can feel like all those things and worse. I know. I wrote the Imperfectly Ordinary Trilogy to share what I learned.
When I was a boy, nobody in our New England village had ever heard of any such thing. I was just different, and maybe too smart for my own good. My parents, respectable and responsible members of the community, did not know what to do with me, so they did their best to make me believe that I was nothing more than a perfectly ordinary small town kid. I could not do it. The best I could do was to grow up imperfectly ordinary.
If you had asked me about those things when I was four or maybe five years old I would have told you that I was just like any other little boy…I wanted to be grown-up, to know all about everything, to learn what made things go, and find out what it was going to be like when I could have a real bicycle and do more than just pedal my three wheeler up and down the gravel sidewalks of our sleepy side street. I had not yet learned to read, but that was because even though my mother and grandmothers and various aunts read stories to me, it never occurred to anyone that they could have started to explain what all those marks on the pages meant. I didn’t know enough to let that bother me and at first perhaps my parents didn’t, either. After The Test, though, they should have.
During the spring just before I turned six my parents explained that I was going to take some sort of test that related to starting First Grade in the fall. No one said anything more about it to me, but I overheard enough hushed conversations to realize that it had something to do with a place called Boston University. I have clear recollections from that day of waiting with my parents in a dark hallway with shiny, varnished wooden benches, then going into a small room with bright sunlight from the windows and sitting down at a table with a tall, spare woman who I was instructed to address as Miss Jensen.
I was being given an intelligence test. It was administered verbally, so it had to have been designed for very young children…preschool kids like me. The child I was realized immediately that I was able to answer all the questions, so it was a non-threatening experience except that I kept trying to figure out what am I really supposed to be doing here? What sticks in my mind is the last series of questions. It would not be until many years later when I had become a teacher myself that I would understand I had run right off the scale. Miss Jensen was trying to keep herself from coaching me to see how far I could actually go…and invalidating the test. I just assumed that everybody got tested the same way and went on trying to figure out how to be a little boy who wanted to learn about everything all at once, and none of my elders ever spoke of the test to me again. Nobody did anything about it or because of it.
Maybe there wasn’t anything they could do. In those days the whole notion of special classes and challenges for gifted children wasn’t much more than that…an idea…so what were they supposed to do with me? I can say now, a lifetime later, that a few words might have made all the difference. They could have told me the truth. “Bobby, we believe that you are what people call a gifted child. You learn things much faster than most other kids. That means you have a special responsibility always to do your very best and make good use of your special gift. There will be times when you’ll feel different, but we’ll be here to help you when that happens.” No matter what their reasons might have been, they did nothing of the sort.
Part of what being gifted meant for me was a soul-deep attachment to anything connected in any way with airplanes. It did not take my family long to discover that, and they wasted no time making it clear that my odd interest was going to be tolerated, at best, but certainly never encouraged. They managed to convince me, early on, that I had no business even thinking about real airplanes, but I learned how to nurture a love of model airplanes no matter what anyone else said. I grabbed that passion hard and ran with it…or maybe it ran with me. The Imperfectly Ordinary Trilogy is in large part the story of what that led to.