When Miss J was in kindergarten, I found myself in an accidental conversation on the school yard. It was unusually warm that day and instead of rushing into our cars and hurrying home, parents lingered to talk as the children whipped down the slides and crossed the monkey bars until their hands were blistered.
M was just three years old at the time and was not yet walking. I placed him on the edge of the playground in the grass where he was quite content to watch the children play. I was thankful for this because it gave me a few minutes to talk with the other moms.
The conversation taking place outside of the school was light and lively. The topic shifted to educating gifted children and the lack of funding for gifted education within the public school system. One mom in particular felt quite strongly and shared her thoughts:
"This really bothers me, " she said, clearly annoyed. "Why is so much money funneled into special education and not gifted education? After all, these are the kids who will rule the world."
She continued, "Raising a gifted kid is just the same as raising a child with special needs."
I was stunned into silence. I glanced my own child with special needs, sitting just feet away from us, unable to fully comprehend what I was hearing. I felt deflated. Did she feel that children like mine were not worth the expense of educating?
The part about gifted children "ruling the world" didn't bother me.
I didn't bother me because in actuality, it was true.
This mother's child may very well become the next Hawking, Jobs or Beethoven. And while her child may someday be a Nobel laureate, mine will likely be the one bagging your groceries or greeting you with a warm hello at the local Walmart.
M's path is a different one. Different, yet equally wonderful and certainly not a consolation prize.
M brings love, compassion, patience and understanding to those around him. Precious gifts, usually not fully appreciated, but still gifts that fill a vital need in this world.
Even the statement that there should be more funding for gifted education didn't really bother me. Not all children can fit into a cookie-cutter education, especially those who sit far to the left and the right of the bell curve. All children should be able to receive an education that suits their needs and with a budget to to it, regardless of the community or zip code they happen to reside in.
The rub for me was the statement that "raising a gifted kid is just the same as raising a child with special needs."
I can tell you: It is not the same. Not in the very least.
Some parents of gifted children will argue that it is the same because they must fight and advocate for their gifted child, just as a parent of a special needs child would. They may say that social interaction is more challenging for gifted child, just as it is for a child with special needs. They might even argue that raising a gifted child is more exhausting, more demanding , just as it would be with raising a special needs child.
There is partial truth in these parallels, but they are not the same.
For parents raising a child with special needs, the concerns are deeper and wider.
It is not the same...
I worry about the endless doctor and therapy appointments and the piles of medical bills. I worry about health insurance and life insurance. I worry about seizures and kidney failure and blindness. I worry about what adulthood will look like for M and who will watch over him once I have passed on.
It is not the same...
I worry that he will never learn to safely cross the street and that he will never learn to tie his own shoes or be able to work the buttons on his shirt. I worry that he will never be able to make himself a meal or that he will burn down the house trying. I hope if he ever got lost he would be able to give his name and phone number and that whoever found him would be kind enough to help him find his way home.
It is not the same...
My hope for M isn't that he is accepted into a top ten university, but a top ten group home. My hope isn't that one day he is blessed with a family of his own, but that he always have family (biological or not) around him.
It is not the same....
There is a certain sadness that occasionally washes over me, especially when I see other little boys creating master designs with Legos or flying carefree down the street on their bikes or on skateboards....both requiring more skill and motor control than M has. Over the years I have tempered my expectations and have come to the understanding that I will probably never hike with M to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and I will never stand in awe with him in the Louvre to admire beautiful works of art. M may not write amazing essays, but the joy I feel when he writes his name is the same. He may never do complex math but I still swell with pride when he counts out loud his beloved M&Ms.
I have my moment of sadness and my thoughts on what might have been. I accept the loss that I feel at times and I mourn it. And then I move on.
I has been many years since that conversation took place yet it remains fresh in my brain. At times I still feel the sting of her words.
If I could go back, I would tell her that raising M is....
Just as it is for any parent raising any child.
I would tell her what she will never know ...
That even still, it is not the same. It is very far from being the same.