Intensity: The Dirty Little Secret of Giftedness


(Note: I wrote this a couple months ago and scheduled it for a time when I knew I would be overwhelmed and not have time to write. Points for planning ahead. However, since I first wrote it, I’ve been hit with the intensity stick repeatedly, and am taking an indefinite hiatus from Laughing at Chaos and social media in general, for my own sanity and well being. Because the first rule of self-care is knowing when to cry UNCLE!)

Higher. Faster. Louder.

No, not Drum Corps, though that is the unofficial Corps motto.

Gifted intensity.

You know what I’m talking about here. Everything is at an 11, plussed, bigger than life. Enhanced.

More, more, MORE!!!

And my god, it is exhausting. I’m not talking about parenting this intensity (for a change); I’ve written about that ad nauseam. I’m talking about intensity as a gifted adult.

I don’t often write about being a gifted woman. That’s mainly because I’ve been writing about my sons for a decade. But it’s also because I still have a hard time admitting that out loud. How do you admit the dirty little secret of giftedness? That intensity never goes away, that it never abates, that it is always there, and that it influences everything?

That gifted intensity can, in a word…suck?

I’ve been accused of being addicted to stomach acid, of being the Stress Queen, of being too tightly wound. And while I can’t really argue with any of those descriptors, from this side I’m more than a little tired of it. I can’t help who I am and how I react to things. I’m trying. I’ve been working very hard on self-care, basically to counteract the effects of my natural reactions to…everything. I’m getting better at knowing and respecting my limits, because when I don’t I pay a price far greater than the crime. Moreover, and key for a people-pleaser like me, I’m doing this unapologetically, with no regrets. If I need to get away from people, I will and I do. If I need to cut back in my life (or not even take something on), I will and I do. And if I need to have a second glass of Malbec to make sure the first one didn’t get sidetracked on its way to healing my psyche, I will and I do.

Because of my inherent gifted intensity, everything can easily be at a forte all the time. Life (and music) is more fun, interesting, and satisfying when there is a variety of dynamics and tempi; so I am actively trying to vary my dynamics and speeds. It’s not perfect, but generally I’m happier now than I have been in years. I’m sure a great deal of that is because of the increasing maturity of my boys, but I also know a lot of it is because of the hard work I’ve been doing for me. I can no longer live my life at the fortissimo volume and prestissimo speeds I have been (for you non-musicians, that’s super loud and crazy fast). I refuse to be held hostage by my gifted intensity any longer, with its demands of higher, faster, louder. Instead I’m working on a deeper interpretation, on more dynamic contrast, on a greater loveliness of life.

For me, in this stage of my life, that is worth pursuing.

Oh, those intensities 

“Ok, you finish up here in the kitchen, I’m hitting the couch with my wine and iPad to write. I have a blog post due in the morning.”

“What’s the topic?”

A wince, a sigh, a muttered curse.


And the laughter rang out from the sink behind me. 

It’s a good thing I love my husband, because with the mood I’ve been in lately…

I’ve had a headache and random vertigo since the end of September, when I got slammed with something (jury is still out as to exactly what) that made the world spin around my head like a whirling dervish. The change from summer to fall has kicked the SAD into high gear. The just ended election cycle here in America has thrown my emotions and resiliency into a tailspin. And I am 99% certain that I’m deep into a midlife crisis. I am a real $@#&%*^%# joy to be around right now, I tell you. 

Intense much? I am an overachiever in this area. 

“Insanity is hereditary, you get it from your kids.” But parents also get something else from their kids. Perspective. If I hadn’t had the sons I do, I doubt I ever would have learned about gifted intensities. I likely would have gone my entire life thinking I was just overly emotional and feeling bad about that. Instead, I know it’s just how I’m wired and that I’m in the thick of positive disintegration (and, for the love of all things holy and green, CAN I PLEASE GET TO THE END OF IT ALREADY?). Doesn’t make living it any easier, but at least I know what’s going on. 

In the interest of ongoing self-care (look! I can be taught! Le gasp!), I’m taking an indefinite hiatus from Laughing at Chaos. I plan to continue my scheduled writing here, as I do honor my responsibilities. But I need to respect that little voice within that started off whispering and is now screaming at me to back off and figure ME out…or else. My inner intensities refuse to be set aside any longer. And as a parent, I want and need to model to my boys (who are at that critical growth age) how to learn about and care for oneself. I learn from having them, they learn by watching me.

Gifted intensities, man. They ain’t for the faint of heart. 

When passions collide


The focus of An Intense Life this month is “Nurturing Gifted Kids’ Passions.” Well, if I wrote about that, I’d just say “allow all the tech into the house and shut the door,” and I’ve already covered that this month. Easy peasy with my boys’ passions. Tech and programming and hacking and boom, done. But me? I’m a different story.

Growing up I did a little bit of this, a little bit of that. Always played in band, but dabbled a little in basketball and photography and swing choir in middle school, softball and a year of theater in high school. College and grad school I was too focused on survival to do much more than study and practice. But once out of grad school? The dam gates burst. Suddenly I had more brain space and time to investigate anything that interested me, and investigate I did. And so, for the last 17 years, I’ve struggled to balance my passions. There is just so much that interests me, so much I want to do, that I often end up frozen, paralysis by analysis.

I’ve at least managed to whittle my main passions down to two. Flute/teaching and writing/gifted advocacy. And while it may look like four different areas there, nah, it’s really two. I teach because I play and I play to be a better teacher. I write, not nearly as much as I’d like, or on all the things I want to write, but it has led to me doing more gifted advocacy. They both take up a significant amount of time and energy, but I can’t give either one up.

There was a time when I closed my flute case and didn’t open it for 18 months. It could have been stolen out from under my nose and I wouldn’t have known. And at the time, I’m not sure I would have cared. I was burned out, and in retrospect I really did need that time away from it. But now I can’t imagine my life without playing and teaching. I love it. Teaching inspires and entertains me, and playing allows me to be the dramatic extrovert I’m not in my day to day life.

I fell into writing in 2006, when I started a blog on a whim. Thankfully I’ve gotten better over the years, with one book published and another in progress. I’ve thought about giving it up, walking away from the blogging and the gifted advocacy, but I can’t. When I get into a groove, writing is satisfying to the point of ethereal bliss. And while it’s tough sometimes, I love talking to parents of G2e kids.

So my two big passions are a balancing act. Both take a lot of time, energy, and focus. On any given day it’s one or the other. And on Tuesday nights, it’s flute, because I have rehearsal at the same time as the weekly #gtchat, and I don’t miss rehearsal unless I’m puking in a bucket. (No, seriously, in five years I’ve only missed two rehearsals, both because of “please shoot me I’m so sick” illness). I hate it when my passions collide, but it happens.

What this has all shown me is that it’s ok that my boys have only one passion right now, that it’s more than likely they’ll discover a whole world of interests when they’re older, and that I’m modeling the balancing act they’ll need as adults.

Poor kids; guess I’d better improve my balancing act.

Keep calm and close the basement door


You know, and I know, that when a gifted kid develops a passion in something, it is more all-encompassing than the norm. It’s not unlike Willy Wonka’s candy factory; it’s in every nook and cranny and in every detail of their lives. It becomes them.

So I should be grateful that my sons’ passions are not things like snakes or arachnids or making rocket fuel or international travel. I’m a little tweaked that their passions aren’t in the kitchen, but whatever.

Tech. Computers. Programming. Hacking. Building. Rebuilding. Tinkering.

This is my basement:


If, like me, you like things neat and tidy and “a place for everything and everything in its place,” then this picture probably has you rocking under your desk. This is a horrific mess.

And you know what? I don’t really care. For the most part it’s out of my sight (unless I’m on the treadmill, which you can’t see here), and it rarely oozes upstairs. The boys go downstairs and they work on computers. They tinker with aging servers that friends have given them. They program their Raspberry Pis. This is their maker space.

This is their Willy Wonka tech space. Their passion in every nook and cranny.

And I get to close the basement door.


Back to school for parents too


Well, we’ve been back to school for a month now and it is kicking me in the teeth. The boys are fine, both are rocking their individual educational setups (a homeschooling sophomore, a 7th grader at the local and awesome public middle school) better than I could have ever imagined. It’s me. So far this school year has been brutal.

When we think of gifted kids heading back to school, we tend to think of things like “will he be appropriately challenged?” and “hope she and her teacher are a good match” and “oh please oh please trust me when I say that he needs recess for his sanity and yours.” I think we forget about the parents sending them off.

I feel as though my many, many years of advocacy for my oldest son sets something off in me when school comes back ’round in the fall. Even though things couldn’t be smoother right now (lights a candle, says a prayer, turns around three times), I still get on edge. Add to that the early and fast-paced mornings and more students in my flute studio and the fact that I am the executive function for the entire household, back to school is mighty rough until about Halloween.

So all you other prematurely exhausted parents? Promise me that you’ll take it easy this school year. We can’t keep running a marathon at a sprinter’s pace. Care for your kids, but remember to care for yourself, too. That’s the best way for everyone to hopefully have a great year.


Back to School Pop Quiz


Welcome back to school, everyone! So good to see so many bright and shiny faces! I know we’re going to have a wonderful year, and I can’t wait to get to know all of you.

But first, please take out a Number 2 pencil, put your devices in the Bowl of Integrity on my desk (yes, just like at Trivia Night at the local watering hole), and strap on your thinking caps. It’s a Back to School Pop Quiz!

  1. I am excited to be back to school. T/F
  2. The one thing I am most looking forward to this year is:
    1. Learning all there is to know
    2. Discovering this year’s fundraiser
    3. The new cocktails I’ll concoct to survive the year
    4. Summer Break 2017
  3. The one thing I am most dreading this year is:
    1. Homework and the accompanying battles
    2. This year’s fundraiser
    3. The After-Schooling to feed my child’s insatiable brain-maw.
    4. The second and third jobs I’ll need for #2 and #3.
  4. If Wilson is traveling west on a scooter going 10 mph and Minerva is traveling south on a hovercraft going slightly faster than it takes for a watched pot to boil, what are the pink elephants drinking when they show up at the inevitable meeting we’re going to have about your child? Bonus points for naming the song playing on the ISS at the time, including artist and language.
  5. Please diagram this sentence: Your twice-exceptional child does not test well enough to meet the qualifications for the gifted program at this school; too bad, so sad.
  6. Fill in the blanks:
    This year, I hope my child ___________ and ______________, despite the _________ and the __________. I know the _____________ can be a real ____________, but it’s really in the best interests of the _____________. Ultimately, it’s the _________________’s responsibility that ________________ gets a fair and appropriate education, and _____________, _______________, and ________________ should do well to remember that. ___________ _____________ ____________ ______________ _____________ _______  _____________ _______________ ____ __ ____________ _______________ _________!!!
  7. Are you a robot? Please type what you see in the image below: __________________
  8. Thought experiment: Zombies have come and education as we know it is kaput. You still have a G2e kid. Please demonstrate “now what?” using either interpretive dance, modern art, or twelve-tone serialism a la Schoenberg.
  9. Your teacher is tired of making questions. So if you’ve made it this far choose #1 to get this one correct. Peace out.
    1. YASSSSSS!!!!
    2. Wait, what, really?
    3. That’s it?
    4. Can the whole freaking year BE THIS EASY?
  10. Let’s have a great year! Please write any concerns you may have in the space below:


I’ve decided I’m not so much a procrastinator as someone with entirely too much on her plate. Every day I work my way through the day’s tasks, and every day at least one thing gets shoved off to the next day. I put off working on things that need the most concentration until such a time that concentration is possible and suddenly it’s crunch time and duct taping the children to the roof is a viable option.

This is why my last post here on An Intense Life is not only a day late, but a few hours shy of the blog’s new direction. Not what I had planned, but what happened. I had wanted to write on parental expectations, instead am typing with my thumbs on a iPhone about procrastination and how I’m not really a procrastinator, I just have procrastination thrust upon me. Or something like that. Blended with perfectionism and topped with chaos a la mode, we have a tasty smoothie of why I often have a hard time getting things done.

Regardless, I wanted to take the time to thank Christine for the opportunity to write for An Intense Life. It has been a joy and a privilege to be a contributing writer this last year or so. To work with someone whose work I appreciate and enjoy has been delightful, and I look forward to seeing how this site grows in the future.

So while my post here was pushed off until nearly the last minute, it was finished. Someday I’ll teach my sons how to determine what can be procrastinated postponed and what can’t, but as that would push something else off today’s list, I guess it’ll just have to wait.

Back to school already?

This month marks a significant milestone in my parenting life. It ranks right up there in the top five, where things like potty training and out of a carseat live. And it has caught me by surprise.

For the first time in…carry the one…nine years, I’m not dying for my sons to go back to school. Ever since A was a preschooler and off to the World’s Best Preschool, I’ve counted the days and hours until Back to School. Heck, when A started kindergarten I practically poured margaritas in the parking lot, no I’m not kidding. There was much rejoicing that day.

Summers were long and painful…before this one. They were full of bickering and loooong afternoons and praying I got through another day without leaving them out in the woods to be raised by wolves losing my mind. I never hated summer until I had high-intensity kids. There was one year where I was ready to send them back an hour after they started summer break.

I can’t tell you exactly what was different about this summer. I made some plans with the boys, but not nearly as much as I would have liked to have planned. I know things are different for us as a family, and that probably had a lot to do with it. Three years ago we were all hurting as my husband struggled through a difficult job situation, on top of us trying to manage an incredibly intense kid. Two years ago we moved cross-country and dear god I will never move again with children living under my roof. Last year we were all still reeling from my husband’s job change on top of being new homeschoolers. This year? No major life changes.  That plus sheer maturity (what little of it there has been) on the part of our sons and we had a very relaxed-ish summer. Not perfect, by any stretch, but I’m not quite ready to let it go.

So Back to School came up on me a little suddenly this year. Our school-going son has his school supplies and class assignment and everything ready to go. Our homeschooled son…well, I haven’t planned a whole heckuva lot and we start on Wednesday too. Thankfully what little is ready can be started immediately and the rest added as I figure it out.

Summer passed in a blink this year, and not once did I pine for the first day of school. This is a first, and I’m a little sad that it only took nine years to get to this point.

My own worst enemy

I really am my own worst enemy. I’ve kinda known that for a long time, but it’s really hitting home for me lately. For the longest time I thought I just couldn’t say no to other people when they requested something of me, mainly my time and effort. Turns out that wasn’t exactly true. I do say no to others, and it gets easier every time I do. I just can’t say no to myself.

Maybe can’t isn’t appropriate, especially since I’m locked in a death match with that word. I don’t. I don’t say no to myself, or rather, I say yes to far more than I have time and energy for. This is how I find myself with a multi-level to-do list and the feeling that life is just passing me by as I desperately check things off in an attempt to control my surroundings.

My husband and I attended the SENG conference in Orlando this past weekend. I went last year and it was good. I learned a lot, met so many people, had a great time. This year, with my husband also in attendance, it was life-changing. While I have notes upon notes to review and digest, one line from the very last session I attended has been ringing in my ears ever since.

Is what I’m about to do going to get me to where I say I want to go?

The part that shouts the loudest to me is the “I say” tidbit. Remove those two words and reread the sentence: Is what I’m about to do going to get me to where I want to go? It has a different flavor, doesn’t it? The “I say” intimates a goal has been set, people have been told, something is on the line.

I say a lot of things. I say I want to exercise (I currently do not, and feel it with every staircase I face), I say I want to write more (right now writing is something that gets pushed to the end of my daily life because I feel selfish when I do), I say I want to dive in and enjoy summer (or what is passing for summer in Chicago this year; slippers and sweaters in July is WRONG) I say I want to read The Hobbit with my boys (see earlier line on the varying degrees of my to-do list, imagine the time involved with that, guess if we’ve been reading). I say I want to do a lot of things, very few of which get done because I say I want to do a lot of things. There’s a heartbreaking irony right there.

Is what I’m about to do going to get me to where I say I want to go?

Because there are so many things I say I want to do, few of them have any urgency or importance. I run into this with my sons and their piles of treasures; if every single thing is the most important thing ever, then nothing has any importance. Pick and choose, dude. Pick and choose, Jen.

In less than two months I have a birthday that ends with a zero. By the time that date rolls around I no longer want to be my own worst enemy. I want to pick and choose the most important things to me and focus only on those. I want to have time to think and play and enjoy my life guilt-free.

It’s time to say no to myself a little more often, and yes to a more satisfying life.


For such a tiny word, it sure packs a wallop.

Half a gazillion years ago I had a dear flute student. For her Sweet 16, her mom put together a scrapbook of sorts, full of pictures and memorabilia and letters of advice from favorite teachers. She asked me to contribute a letter, and I was honored to do so. Now, this was long before I did any writing, probably six or seven years before I fired up my blog, so I really struggled to get out what I wanted to say. What could I possibly say to a 16 year old, when I was maybe only a dozen years older? It’s not as though I had a whole lot of life experience to pass along.

I finally settled on the theme of What If. Together those are two of the most powerful powerful words in the English language. They are full of possibility and hope and adventure. Those two little words inspire, encourage, and push us to greater heights. I really wish I had kept a copy of the letter I wrote, but this was some fifteen-odd years and at least four computers ago, so it’s lost to the ages.

What If we build the schnafoodle to connect to the whoozit, program it to gafliddlyfoink, and set it to work while we’re sleeping? What If we say yes to the things we usually say no to, and vice versa? What If we provide appropriate academic interventions for gifted students, because fair is everyone getting what they need?

The yang to What If‘s yin is If Only. If Only. Is there a word pairing more frustrating than If Only? I can easily berate myself into a pulp with those two words. If Only I knew what was going on with my son I could fix it and we could all finally live in something resembling familial harmony. If Only I had another six hours in a day I could finally get everything done and relax. If Only I hadn’t given up my career, or had any kind of career now, then maybe I would worry less about the future. If Only I hadn’t made the decisions I did back in the day, maybe then things would be different (and better) now.

If Only, If Only, If Only… Dangerous words, those. They’re full of despair and frustration and anger, the very opposite of What If. And yet they’re the words that hold me hostage to myself. They grab me around the neck and squeeze, usually late at night as I’m trying to sleep. If Only is the invasive plant of the soul, choking out any hope of What If setting down roots to grow.

What If. If Only. Two two-word phrases that can lift us to great heights or drown us in our dark thoughts. Opposite sides of the coin we all carry in our mental pockets, one defined by possibility, the other by despair. What If we made the conscious decision to set the positive roots, and let the invasive If Only die off?

What If?