I spent yesterday morning holding the hand of Resiliency in a darkened auditorium. There were tough moments – many of them, in fact – but Resiliency got through them with quiet grace, as she always does. She broke down later, in the car, and got up again; broke down again later, in the restaurant, and got up again. Resiliency knows that these moments are coming, and she’s gotten better about them over the years, and I love her for doing so.
It’s not easy, I’ve learned by watching from afar, to be a twin. Even when the word itself is meaningless, as it is in our family – they’re fraternal, not identical – it’s impossible to shake. They have been described as twins since birth, given the label over and over again, and been acknowledged as such on every sports team, in the getting-to-know-you round of every first day of school, ever. They have been fed this concept of sameness, of mirrored existence, since they left the hospital.
They are not twins to me. They never have been. They are two children born on the same day that share loving parents and a two-story suburban home. They both like black olives, and they both like pedicures, and they both like Doctor Who and Muse and sea salt-caramel gelato and pandas and footrubs. But they are not twins and never will be, and I know that, and they know that. They are as different as night as day, and they each have their own challenges and burdens to bear. Yesterday, I spent the day celebrating the triumphs of one, and supporting the emotions of the other.
H is our 2e daughter. She is our empath, and our joy fountain, and the canary in the emotional coalmine of day-to-day existence. She struggles with dyscalculia and task sequencing every day. Things we take for granted, like glancing at an analog clock, are work for her. Some days numbers don’t come easily for her, and other days they don’t come at all. She must contend every day with this concept of being a ‘twin’ to someone who does not share her challenges. So when she takes her seat next to me in the auditorium, and E walks tentatively to the stage, still learning to navigate open-toed heels, to accept her high-score certificate for the Colorado state EXPLORE test in science, I squeeze her hand.
She squeezes back. It’s not the iron grip of civility under tension. It’s a reassuring squeeze; Dad, I’m OK.
For many gifted kids, resiliency is bouncing back from a bad game in chess club, or a robotics assignment that refuses to compile, or a crushing snub for the school poetry annual. H’s is a different type of resiliency. She rises every day knowing that math will be no easier today than it was for her yesterday, that it might make sense but probably will not, but that she must try anyway. Dyscalculia never goes away. Superhuman effort grinds it down to the status of an impediment rather than a disability. It is not a condition that rewards such effort, but merely offers a grudging nod of oppositional approval before retreating to its cave for the night. A level of exertion that, for most of us, would produce growth and confidence merely means a day without tears and frustration. As a society, we tend to view resiliency in terms of its role in enabling forward progress in our lives. The narrative of resiliency in our country is that of rising above our challenges, enduring the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune only to surmount them in the olive wreaths of victory. For H, resiliency is fighting numbers and clocks and money – inexhaustible and omnipresent – to a draw, every day, only to rise and try again tomorrow.
I don’t know what that’s like. What I do know is that I have watched her fall over and over again, and I have watched with hope and pride and love as she has risen each time. It is not a resiliency that many gifted parents know, but for those with 2e children, it is every bit as vital and inspirational as any other flavor.
As she stared resolutely forward, genuinely happy for E, I squeezed back – because I love her for her calm resolve, and because she is the bravest person I know.
Dave Mayer posts regularly with his wife, Kathy, on Chasing Hollyfeld.