‘The Little Blue Engine
by Shel Silverstein
The little blue engine looked up at the hill.
His light was weak, his whistle was shrill.
He was tired and small, and the hill was tall,
And his face blushed red as he softly said,
“I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”
So he started up with a chug and a strain,
And he puffed and pulled with might and main.
And slowly he climbed, a foot at a time,
And his engine coughed as he whispered soft,
“I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”
With a squeak and a creak and a toot and a sigh,
With an extra hope and an extra try,
He would not stop — now he neared the top —
And strong and proud he cried out loud,
“I think I can, I think I can, I think I can!”
He was almost there, when — CRASH! SMASH! BASH!
He slid down and mashed into engine hash
On the rocks below… which goes to show
If the track is tough and the hill is rough,
THINKING you can just ain’t enough!’
The above little poem, by an author whose words and work I have loved and read over and over to my own children, speaks volumes to me as a ‘Parent-who-keeps-trying-and-sometimes-it-aint-enough.’
No one really knows what to expect when we decide, or are surprised into becoming a parent. We see those around us, some experiencing exquisite joy in their kids, others, experiencing excruciating pain… what we all would like/hope for is to become a good enough parent that their happy times, and our own will outweigh the darker times enough that their own lives will take on meaning and purpose.
I say this because there is no darker place than a life that feels it has no reason to be, and in our troubled times, and for both our children and ourselves it is easier than one thinks to feel this way.
The thing is, parents, and in this case parents of the gifted, (parents everywhere really, but this is, in fairness a blog dedicated to the gifted), often feed that need of ‘reason for being’ by becoming extraordinarily well educated about bringing up kids, and in this case gifted, talented and 2E kids. Our purpose for living may zero in on this one task. Sometimes we are so focused in our need for assimilating information in this one area, we become almost more expert than the experts themselves.. in our quests, our searches, our drive to find meaning and logic in/to our own individual parenting or kids styles/way of being/existing..
And then, being island people (and we are often island people) in our immediate communities, and sometimes not given as much credit for our self devised learning, we seek to validate this by gaining some sort of accreditation…. validation.. a piece of paper os some sort.. proof.. that we do know what we are talking about…
So.. off we go, study those 3-6 month correspondence courses (often the only ones we have time or the space for).. do brilliant work (often at three o’clock in the morning.. when hopefully the rest of the family is asleep… or not…. ).. and gain some accreditation.. (this around our other familial, job, or other professional commitments..) others of us go on to attempt more serious qualifications, building on rusty memories of by -gone- university days..,lived experiences and accreditation for …. well… life-lived-advocating-supporting-keeping all in one piece-and still surviving gifted kidsness…. compilations.
Some of us are lucky.. a space opens,, and we are allowed to gain that elusive MA.. or letters after our names.. others of us.. gain a Cert.. than a PGDip…and…. life throws us a spanner.. we fall short, don’t quite make it to the elusive letters-that-mean-you-made-it…. (and many of us pull up our boot straps and try again and again… )… Amazing efforts, incredible struggles and should never ever be made out to be small. However, in truth at times, it is seen as so.
This is difficult enough if you are a person, who perhaps had a previous profession, or a career before you left off had kids, and then decided to try and take a new direction, at least, once people find out you had had an ‘original career/profession’ they may step back with the disrespect and dubious looks.. the laughter behind the hedge/hands, and say.. oh well, now then, that’s ok, we know they are sound ’cause they have done it before… ‘
Harder still is if you are someone who gave up even the beginnings of a higher education, for any number of reasons, but most particularly to raise a family, became a p.a.r.en.t and then attempt to go back and take a plunge into further education, any education, certificated or higher learning… and god forbid they attain a place on a graduate program, not having completed a primary degree, on the sole merit of evidence.of.life.long.learning… Even if you do receive A1’s and A2’s on all the work that you do.. HEY, you are still a.person.without.a.primary.degree… so…. somehow not.quite.legit in so many people’s eyes. And so begins the feelings of imposter syndrome… what a way to acknowledge a lifetime of effort…
I ran across an extremely gifted dad the other day.. had dropped out of first year psychology course as a young man, and as a house husband, and then divorcee, had brought up/homeschooled 3 gifted children, working nights as a computer trouble shooter. I cannot tell you the details of what other skills and background he had, what certs he had done/used, or other, but, I know he told me that he that somehow he had attained a place on a graduate program in psychology, having gained a renewed interest in the area through bringing up his kids, Through his background and evidence.of.life.long.learning (no completed primary degree). He had worked hard. He had been top of his class. His grades were by far better than most of his classmates with.primary.degrees. Three months before he was to complete his course, he burned his thesis, and walked away. The rumours, the chat going round the class, vague whispers, suspicions ‘he never did that himself, how could he, no primary.degree.. only a mature parent.. ‘… outside acquaintances ‘sure, there goes poor Fred.. thinks he’s going places.. with the family and all.. ‘ He had convinced himself he was no good, it wasn’t worth it and no one would believe he had done the work himself anyways, so who was he kidding ? Self imploded. Self distracted.. Fred is back working nights..
I’m annoyed, and horrified.. Fred (and this not a real name) surely spent at least as long if not longer in a ‘real’ environment of learning as the primary degree people. We all know that bringing up gifted kids brings us into direct contact with the research world.. the world where we read copiously of books on parenting, teaching and yes many many child/teen and then young adult books on psychology.. we research articles, talk with experts, practice on our children and negotiate with schools…. this alongside any other learning we do in general… surely this is valuable/should be valued.
Surely at least as valued as sitting in a classroom or library learning theory with spot opportunities for supervised practice, if not more.. He saw value in their degrees, and wanted to be part of their world, why, could they not value and accept, see the value of his. Why did they seek to discredit his experience, spreading rumours of false endeavours lighting the light of doubt in himself. Creating an ‘imposter’ who subsequently thought of himself as such.?
And you know? I bet Fred is not alone, I bet there are others like Fred out there.. unsure, tottering, but willing to believe in themselves again.. fragile.. easily shattered.
The thing is, that parenting does bring a certain kind of wisdom with it that is accessible in no other occupation.. and bringing up gifted kids although exhausting, does have a way of making a person strive to keep their brains sharp.. they have to to keep up with the kids… so .. it has often been my experience that any professional (in this case I’m talking psych’s ) who has had their life ‘enhanced’ by the advent of parenthood, has been made better for it. A good thing. Worth.something
People like Fred, shown respect, encouragement and possibly praise for having survived and brought up a gifted family (especially on his own), could do /become an asset, a knowledgeable and tried and tested one. An asset that would give back to the gifted community or were the same scenario in another discipline give back to that one…
However, he won’t now.. Fred, very gifted and talented Fred, will not become a professional, the professional his young self believed he would become.. and why? Because the Fred of today, no longer believes he is Fred.. Fred believes he never was Fred.. Fred believes he is an imposter.. Fred, the Fred that was .. is Dead..
All because.. some group of primary.degreed.people killed.his.dream