Fear is characterized as an emotional response to a perceived threat. It is a basic survival mechanism occurring in response to a specific stimulus, such as pain or the threat of danger.
It seems basic enough. But what happens when you have a child who is in constant fear? A child who is afraid of words, afraid of sounds, afraid of vibrations, afraid of lights, afraid of failure and afraid of success. All of these fears perceived to be real, concrete, and surely dangerous.
This is my child.
She said her first word at six months, and took her first steps at eight months. She was this curious little bald baby, walking long before others her age, and people would marvel at her. She was so bright, so curious, so happy and so calm. So fearless.
Diagnosed as gifted at the age of 4, we were ecstatic. How lucky! A smart kid! It doesn’t get better than this. I remember waving her test results in front of a coworker. This coworker, who has a gifted child (now adult) said, simply, ‘I wouldn’t wish a gifted child on anyone.’ I couldn’t believe that. I could not believe those words came out of her mouth, and I perceived them, at the time, to be brought on by jealousy. Maybe she was mad, because now someone else had joined the elite club of being the parent of a gifted child. The story wasn’t hers anymore.
Now I know. I think I understand.
My child is gifted. She can read at a university level, and my child is six. She loves math. Her math skills are superior to mine. Intellectually, my child is ready to take on the world.
My child is gifted. At the age of three, she would lay awake at night, crying inconsolably, because what would happen to her if she grew up, and couldn’t find a job, and would end up living on the streets? My child, at four, was so angry with her friend one day. ‘Mama! She wants to play princess, and I am so tired of playing princess. I want to play homeless!’ We would go to the mall, and instead of heading to the toy store, my child would sit on a bench, and ask me to pretend to offer her shelter and food because she had nowhere to live. A few months ago, she woke up at 3am, rigid with fear, because she was so afraid of taking a drink of alcohol as an adult, then becoming an alcoholic, then losing her friends and family, and finally, then death.
My child is gifted. She yowls and claws at her skin when putting on a shirt with an exposed seam. She cries and cries, because it burns her skin. When you scrape your knife across a plate, her little hands fly up to her little ears, and she winces and clenches her teeth. If you play music that has a synthesized voice, she runs out of the room and pleads with you to turn it off. She is so afraid of pain, and this is pain that we can’t see.
My child is gifted. She understands death. Her Papa, who she was so close with, she was like his little shadow, had her sat on his knee on a Thursday morning. By Sunday afternoon, he was dead. Warm hugs one day and gone the next. My child was two. She understood the concept of death. That one day you are present, your heart beats, you can love and kiss and hug, and in no time at all, all that’s left is an empty chair where you used to sit. Because of this understanding, my child cannot be alone. She is filled with fear when she senses that no one else is in a room with her. You can hear panic in her voice when she calls you, even if you’re just one room away. My child is six.
Last week she was reading a book. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, the book decided to have a scene that was gruesome. It was real, it was concrete, and it was surely dangerous. Tossing the book aside, hysterical and crying and rocking and shaking, my child fell apart. She fell apart because she saw some random words, on some random page, in some random book, on some random day that made her feel fear.
My child is gifted, and my child is afraid. I think I understand.