My Christmas break has been fraught with arguments, yells, and occasionally the slam of a door. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had a wonderful holiday. Living with gifted children is just this way.
I grew up in an argumentative family, so I’m used to and prone to it. My husband did not. His house might’ve had frosty silences, but other than that it was pretty cordial.
There are two kinds of people, I think. Those who tell stories and expect people to stay quiet until the end and those who start stories and expect people to jump in with connections and, dare I say it, arguments against each. and. every. point.
In Paris in 2002, I nervously approached the apartment door of a couple who had invited me for dinner. I came bearing Vouvray for my hosts. They ushered me in and exclaimed that my offering was, “too much! We are embarrassed to take this beautiful wine when we are serving chicken.” It was the best damn dinner I’ve ever eaten to this day. Olives and chicken thighs perfectly braised. Three kinds of cheese, each with a story about the cow, or sheep, or goat who delivered each perfect creamy bite. As soon as the cheese and fruit arrived, the woman lit into me.
“America is so stupid,” she said. “These non-profits are ruining their country! The way you must pay for health care. It’s an embarrassment.” She threw her hands in the air for effect. Thank God I’d grown up arguing. I came up fighting.
“Baloney,” I said right back at her. “If there was a perfect system, someone would be using it. I hear you wait months to get an appointment for a Gynecologist here. You could be dead by then.” She sat back in her chair, popped an olive in her mouth and howled with laughter.
“Well, pair-haps,” she said. “Eet’s possible I don’t know every-sing about America.”
I was identified as profoundly gifted when I was just five years old. I don’t talk about it much. My mother rejected the gifted program run by Hunter College. She didn’t think it was elite enough. Like most gifted people, I’ve got way too much information running through my brain. It hurts me and it helps me. It certainly makes me an excellent debater. I’ve also learned, like my gifted peers, that if you say something with enough confidence, people believe you.
One of the things I’m fond of saying is, “You want gifted children, until you get them.” They are difficult to be sure, but they are excellent playmates if, like my woman-friend in Paris, you love a good argument.
Gifted children can be like little French citizens. They state their case and never sway from the facts. They refuse to give up. Just when you think it’s over, they say, “I forgot to tell you…” Rolling your eyes won’t help either. They don’t care if you’re bored. They barely care if you’re listening. They just want to get it all out.
If you replace the words “Gifted Children” in this cultural primer written for American students about France, you’ll get a good understanding of the culture inside my own house.
Expect a fair amount of behaviors that you would consider “aggressive” in social and professional interaction, and try to avoid taking what you perceive to be criticism or aggression personally: it is just a social game. The French love arguing so much that they will sometimes indulge in it purely for fun, even though they do not harbor any strong feelings towards one opinion or another. What really matters is out-arguing the other—a social form of the rhetorical disputatio which has also been kept alive in education.