When I was 25, I moved back to Chicago and lived with three Jewish guys. (I found them – and the apartment – because one of my closest girlfriends lived below them.) It was kind of like that MTV show “The Real World”. Only waaaaay more tame. Most of us were in grad students, so we were pretty dorky and responsible compared to those reality stars. But other than that, it was just like the tv show.
One of my roommates, Jeff, had an interesting idea for a screenplay. The plot involved a handful of people who each make a deal with God before being born. In his/her lifetime, each character would have one gigantic stroke of good fortune – insane athletic ability, virtuoso-like musical talent, fame, fortune – as well as one major hardship, such as drug addiction, disease, or a tragic accident.
The point of the screenplay is that each person has blessings and burdens in life, and no one earns their triumphs without going through their trials.
I’ve thought about Jeff’s play so many times over the years, both as a way to understand my own life and as a way to understand the children I teach.
What if this was really how the world worked? What if we each have challenges and victories? If you think about this, you may be able to relate. My guess is that you can. My hunch is that you can also apply this to your child’s life…his or her challenges and gifts…as well.
Years later, I would see Jeff’s fictional screenplay theme in neuroscience form in the concept of neurodiversity.
Neurodiversity is the idea that differences in our brain wiring are to be expected. Some people are capable of writing symphonies or choreographing beautiful, intricate movement, while others are gifted at connecting with other people, and still others may find their strengths in solving mathematical equations.
Each talent is just as important and valuable as any other.
Everyone is perfectly “normal” in that each person represents one of the endless combinations of possibilities in the human race.
You may be thinking ‘This all sounds fine and good, but it’s not how the world really works.’
Somewhere, your child may be getting the message that he/she is inferior in some way. You may be the shoulder on which your child cries after a hard day at school or a frustrating homework session.
So how can this idea of neurodiversity, of struggle-then-victory!, of all this warm fuzzy stuff help you and your child?
Here’s how it helps: It helps to remember that sometimes the world, our schools, and our culture’s expectations are a little nutty. Things get warped when we put a bunch of kids together in groups and start comparing them.
It helps to talk about this stuff – these wacky rankings and expectations and valuation of talents – particularly with other parents. Then we feel less alone.
And then we can help our children and remind them that they are not alone and that their world won’t always be this way. The circumstances that will allow them to shine and bring forth their own gifts are on the horizon. In the meantime, helping our kids through difficulty, until they get to the time and place where their gifts are valued, may be what parenting is all about.