“My son’s impulse control was a disaster,” my friend told me. “He couldn’t not push a button, run the water, poke the red ant.”
I was sympathetic. “My son was incapable of sitting still while someone talked to him.”
We were chatting about the days when our children were young—back when we both realized that homeschooling was the ideal choice for them. But even in homeschooling circles, we came under a lot of pressure because of their behavior. Some people saw our children as problems. Every piece of advice or bit of “encouragement” they gave us could be summed up in one sentence: Please fix your kids.
Neither my friend nor I really believed that our children needed to be “fixed.” As my friend put it, “Problems may be hidden talents.”
And I was reminded of a book that has nothing at all to do with homeschooling or parenting. Here’s a back-of-the-book kind of summary, I hope without too many spoilers:
Hidden Talents by David Lubar is the story of Martin, a teenage boy enrolling in a last-chance reform school. Martin is mouthy and knows how to push people’s buttons, which is why he’s been expelled over and over from regular schools.
He soon makes friends with a motley assortment of guys who insist they’re falsely accused of whatever landed them there. One says he’s not an arsonist, even though he’s always starting random fires. Another says he’s not a plagiarizer and cheater, even though the reader gets glimpses of his schoolwork that exactly mirrors what his seatmate writes. Another is not a thief, although his room is stuffed with objects that don’t belong to him.
What they don’t realize is that their problems stem not from criminal tendencies, but because each possesses a supernatural gift that he’s never learned how to control. Martin is the one who solves the puzzle about his new friends. Well, part of the puzzle. After all, Martin has his own problems, doesn’t he?
As I revisited this book, I realized why it struck such a chord with me. My own children’s “problems” weren’t criminal in nature (nobody was lighting random fires), and they weren’t due to supernatural abilities (who needs a levitating toddler?). But in the way that fiction can reflect and enhance a more mundane reality, my children’s quirks did point to unique talents and personalities.
Fortunately, my friend and I both figured out what wise parents know: an unconventional child is not defective. We chose not to discipline them into conformity, but instead guide and correct them into maturity. In the process, we bore the brunt of social disasters, personal catastrophes, and disapproval from people who thought they were better homeschoolers and better parents than we were.
But we also learned to understand who our children really are.
My son can’t sit still and listen to somebody talk to him because his mind is going in several different directions at once. He can listen to a video, play a game, and finish his history assignment all at once. My friend’s son, whose impulse control was overpowered by his need for knowledge, can’t not learn how computers work. He immerses himself in the subject, and he’s the resident expert on all things digital and cyber. Both young men are heading toward adulthood (somewhat unevenly, let’s be honest) with their curiosity and senses of humor fully operational.
Looking back on those early years, I have a much better perspective of what we were going through. Some of my kids’ “problems” faded away with time. Some are issues that we still deal with. And many were embryonic talents, ready to break surface. In the nurturing environment of homeschooling, we can give our children the warmth and space they need.
Not to be fixed.
Photo Credit: iStock.