Anna’s Story

blogtour21I first met Anna just over 10 years ago when she was the dazzling ‘princess’ – just remarried, wearing a lovely tiara like her favourite princess, Diana.

Anna is not her real name, but for the sake of anonymity, I will not use anyone’s real names in this story.

Anna had been married before and had two lovely teenagers, aged 13 and 15, that she had raised on her own since just before the youngest child was born – nearly 14 years! Wow – that in itself was a credit to her resilience and commitment to give her children the best start she could.

While her youngest was still pre-school age, she studied extramurally and gained her Accountancy degree and worked part-time as an accountant. Soon after graduating she took a post-graduate teaching course and started primary teaching, which suited a single mum with two school aged children perfectly! Prior to babies, she had been in fashion design for 15 years and this in itself showed her range of talent – left and right brain dominant!

But this is not a story about Anna’s gifts or talents, because she rarely thinks of herself as gifted, just “bright”. This is a story about her new relationships with a family who are obviously creative-gifted, and dysfunctional, and a stern reminder why we should advocate for our gifted kids with all our heart.

Marrying into this family has broken Anna’s heart, but not her resolve to advocate for those she can.

Anna was swept off her feet by her ‘prince’, maybe somewhat foolishly, but he captured her heart as a pianist, could be as ‘gentle as a giant’, and loved the outdoors as much as she did, especially skiing and sailing. He ran his own business from home and had been single-parenting his own two children, and a foster son, for the previous six years. To take on someone else’s wayward son at age six and transform him into a caring, educated citizen was not something many men could be proud of. So, of course, these all looked promising traits for the marriage ahead.

Six months into the marriage – Wham! Anna was not prepared for all she got. She expected ‘rocky’; she even expected ‘resistance’ from the children. What she didn’t expect was the disparity with her husband that began to open and fester like an ugly wound.

What started out as her husbands’ awkward idiosyncrasies and different ways of doing things soon became frustrations and points of dissension. She thought, “Who have I married?” She was not used to such an opposite set of values or ways of rearing children. The stress was really telling on all the family, so her husband suggested she take some time out from full-time teaching and study for a while.

Meanwhile, he was also questioning the marriage and what he had gotten himself into. Who was this woman who was so different to him? He privately began to search for answers, and started to question her mental stability!

Anna chose to further her studies into education, and especially online education and gifted education. She had started to develop interests in meeting the needs of those marginalised in the regular classroom. Long story short, she started to see the traits of the gifted, especially the creative-gifted, so obvious in her husband. She started to share these with him and over time, he began to understand his ‘differentness’. He had experienced this since school, and had been badly bullied as a young person. At 44 years old, though, he was not about to change his ways of coping that he had developed over the past few decades.

Anna’s husband had an extremely strong mind and he would push through all obstacles that got in his way when he was ‘a man on a mission.’ That had yielded a mixed bag of results in his working life from top national sales person in one company, to pulling his own company back from near bankruptcy in later years.

The full story would take too long, so I will cut it short at this point. Anna went on to experience various marriage separations as her husband sought his own space to be ‘himself’, and threatened her with ‘ultimatums’ of how things would have to be for them to live together. There was no form of mediation or meeting each other halfway. It was ‘his way’ or the ‘highway’! Anna knew by now, he wouldn’t back down. She had seen this dogged determination in gifted students she had taught, and often feared for their future adulthood.

At one point of separation, Anna’s husband claimed she had Asperger Syndrome. She had taught some of these special children, and vehemently denied his claims. She insisted that if he thought that, then maybe both should be checked out for it, because she found him equally problematic to communicate with. Three hours and $650 later neither were found to have Asperger Syndrome, but the specialist did say there were other problems in the marriage that could be dealt with.

Nothing else was dealt with, because her husband laid the blame for the marriage problems on Anna not understanding him. She tried to accommodate all his idiosyncrasies, now knowing that was how he was wired, but it was a tense relationship and the cracks ever widened, with Anna living under the cloud of his self-diagnosis of her ‘problems’.

Ultimately, after living on a Pacific Island, where they had gone to help restore post-tsunami tourism, and hopefully patch up their marriage, he asked her not to return after a trip back to New Zealand. She had shown absolute commitment to her marriage, living through extended periods of poverty and hardship in ‘third world’ living conditions (living in the bush with no electricity, running water, and living off the food grown on their land) in her last two years.

For those of you who have read the sophisticated picture book, Westlandia, and remember the character, Wesley, this is a most apt depiction of Anna’s husband.

Anna says she has learned much about the other side of giftedness from her ordeal, but her return home was the continuation of more of the tragic story. She returned and stayed with her ‘mother-in-law’, initially just until she got work, but it ended up being for nearly one year for various reasons. She became the main caregiver of the mother of her now de facto husband after the elderly lady had a heart attack, and learned much about the family in the time she lived there.

All the family members had traits of creative-giftedness in the areas of music and the arts. The mother also had dyslexic traits. None of these had ever been officially identified and this family had been well-known for years in art, dance and music circles. They had lived a very difficult life together as a family and have all appeared to go their own separate ways, with the parents finally separating after 40 years of a rocky marriage, and the children hardly contacting each other.

What Anna has drawn from this experience …

Firstly, it is important for the gifted to have their academic and creative needs met in school, so they are not frustrated and lose hope for themselves.

But more importantly, they need to have social and emotional needs met, not only for themselves, but also for the sake of those nearest and dearest to them. This can be to nurture their own healthy family relationships, but also for those they will eventually relate to outside of their own family.

I would add…

Just as we give guidance to our top sportsmen to help them cope with the pressures of professional fame, we should be guiding our gifted youngsters into developing the means to advocate for themselves. To do this effectively, they need to know themselves, and how they think differently from others they might meet. There are some easy ways of letting others around you feel more comfortable in your presence.

Difference can be celebrated, once it is accepted. But, if we deny the chance of identifying these children, we may forever leave them struggling in their future relationships. I know many students say they don’t want to be seen as different, and don’t want the gifted label, and I empathise with that. But, they are different, and they need to be identified and assisted in any way they need to help them function as a healthy, emotionally adjusted citizen. In an ideal world we would personalise the education of everyone to help them to reach their aspirations and beyond. We would not have to label anyone as we would be accepting of all. But, we don’t have an ideal world. We don’t have ideal parents raising ideal kids and ideal teachers for every child they teach.

What we do have are passionate people who have all experienced any number of situations like Anna, but who may not be as keen to talk about them publically. I ask that in this “Gifted Awareness Week” we recognise the Anna’s out there, and ask our politicians and education ministries in whatever country we reside, to know that behind our calls for funding are real people who have been really heart-broken because of giftedness not being given the priority it deserves.

Finally, if you know “Anna” or recognise her from some of this story, please be thankful for her openness, but please keep her anonymity.

What the chickens have taught me in Samoa…

What the chickens taught me in Samoa
What the chickens taught me in Samoa

I updated my Facebook Profile with this comment last week and thought I should elaborate on it in this week’s blog post. Firstly, to post again for those who didn’t see it:

5 things I learned from the chickens outside my tent in Samoa –

1. Stay close to Mum, she will always keep a lookout for trouble while you are busy eating!
2. If Mum chirps … Beware … you better respond quickly, or you might not live to tell the tale.
3. Follow Mum’s advice and actions – she gets up on the high rock for a reason.
4. Don’t fight with your brothers and sisters, it only distracts you from more important issues, like eating.
5. There is always one chicken who is adventurous and wants to do his (generally always the male chick) own thing, and not follow Mum.

Now, I don’t just have two cuddly yellow chicks visit me each morning – like the picture. They are far too quick for me to actually capture them on photo! In fact, I have about five families/generations of chicks to wake me every morning at 6am (7am this morning thanks to Daylight Saving over the weekend!) Continue reading “What the chickens have taught me in Samoa…”

The Sweetest Sweetcorn

For those who don’t know, I am in Samoa with my creative-gifted husband, working on raising the tourism dollar post-tsunami. Another entry to my weekly update for folks back in New Zealand, this week, involved much about giftedness – repeated here for your consumption…

Gifted ideas in Samoa tourism
The sweetcorn patch

Harvested the sweetcorn and had our first meal – what a sweet treat that was! A few meals from the beans, but the tomatoes are s-l-o-w ripening!! One nearly turning red, out of about 450 last count!!

Three months of using the long drop – not a milestone I am particularly pleased about – and I may have a flush loo in a day or two!! Continue reading “The Sweetest Sweetcorn”

Knowing who you are helps

I have spoken about this before – but I have just read “Belinda Seiger’s revelation to herself” and she puts it very succinctly. If we are intense people, it pays for us to realise that BEFORE we scare all our buddies away!

Before we can build relationships with other people, we simply need to know who we are first, and how we appear to others. This is a lesson for not just gifted people who need to learn to engage in a ‘foreign’ world to themselves, but to any of us who think that everything out there is just like them.

Coming to live in Samoa, in a new culture, is a big learning curve. To Samoans, my everyday actions can be interpreted as rude – in THEIR culture.

“[S]o, I just wanted to dash out and post a letter – but I was still finishing my doughnut! I dare not leave it in the car – my husband would have ‘seen food and eaten it’!!! I took it with me, but later found out it is rude to eat while you are walking in Samoa! So I hid it under my fan (lucky you can’t go out on the street without a fan to keep you cool) and kept walking …”

Many mis-communications come from people who just don’t realise how their words and actions appear to others around them. Sometimes, I have described this to my husband as him “walking around with his blinkers on”. Other times, I have joked it away with friends as him being a “man on a mission”. They have either learnt to accept his intensity, or been driven away by it.

I am a little intense too – I am always challenged by what I could have done. Many times through life I seem to have missed opportunities – sometimes because I was too early for them, before others were ready to listen. I was in the right place, but at the wrong time! This young girl may have smothered her need to achieve by smoking weed – I have taken to cryptic puzzles lately, just to keep my mind active, while I flounder about thinking which way to go next!

Sharing online – just another way to look at life.

Update : Sonia Dabboussi gives another view of this in her blog:
http://giftedforlife.com/1599/gifted-adults-intense-emotions-depression-and-anger/

Informal Learning

I watched some videos by Jay Cross and Peter Casebow recently on the value and extent of informal learning. “What is informal learning?” I hear some of you ask. The opposite of formal learning – surely?

Informal learning is not a stand and deliver type of transfer of knowledge. There has been much more informal learning taking place with the rapid uptake of social learning tools on the internet. (You know, the types of sites the school authorities want to ban you from using in school – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and a myriad of others).

Jay made the point that “conversation is incredibly powerful to transfer learning” and I guess, by way of deduction, it can be the place where reflection “in action” can take place. Why wait until the end of the day when we are too busy to reflect on the experience?

Education can’t be linear anymore. We have information coming at us from all directions, so we need to navigate it carefully while we are amongst it. A great idea for your computer labs in schools must be to get rid of the individual computers and chairs and put 2-3 seater benches at the computers so you automatically have groups of students interacting and discussing what they are learning.

They concluded by saying “Social networks are vital for informal learning” and conversation is the most powerful network to bring people together. However, keeping in mind the Pareto Principle, we are funding 80% towards formal learning, but in fact, 80% of our learning takes place informally.

Have fun talking … and learning.