Actual Reality vs. the Lies the World Tells You

I and my sons are all 2xE. That is shorthand for two times exceptional aka "twice exceptional." In other words, we all are gifted in some way and also disabled in some way.

People who are 2xE have enormous difficulty trying to figure out how to make their lives work. One of the reasons for this is that they routinely hear two kinds of lies from people. The first is "That isn't hard. You should have no problem doing that." The second is "You can't do that. It is impossible."

Over the years, I've done a lot of reading, talking with people and observing. I have concluded that 2xE people have a tendency to run headlong into their limitations by smacking into them at about 100 miles an hour. Finding their limits tends to be a terribly painful process that costs them dearly. When things go wrong, it can take years for them to recover.

One of the issues 2xE people run into is that if they are known to be smart, people don't want to accommodate any personal limitations they may have. They act like you are being lazy or neurotic if you tell them you are having trouble doing something. So, 2xE people are sometimes pushed by other people to perform until they simply can't anymore. People don't back off until such a person breaks down and can't perform at all.

I chose to walk away from a National Merit Scholarship, drop out of school and go live a very private life. This allowed me to substantially reduce the amount of exposure I had to social pressure to do things the way other people felt would work.

So, I went and did the wife and mom thing and hid my light under a bushel to the best of my ability. I was vulnerable and needed to be able to take care of myself. I also needed to be able to sort out how to walk a path that makes sense for me. Because the advice I get from other people concerning what is or is not realistic is basically crazy talk at least 99 percent of the time. I absolutely cannot rely on it. I have to find my own path by feeling out my limitations.

Fortunately for my sons, I managed to give them better rubrics for finding their own limits. So they have generally experienced life as a 2xE person as less painful than I have -- and I actually have had kind of a cushy existence compared to what many 2xE people appear to go through, because I have long played defensively.

One of the most important things I did for them is that I respected their preferences and their right to choose. If they wanted a good night kiss, they got one. If they didn't, they were free to decline it. I also tried to make healthy food available that I knew they liked, but I did not try to control what they ate. I let them choose and decide, within certain limits.

For example, my oldest got to pick whatever horrifying sugary cereal he wanted, but he couldn't get a new one until that box was finished. There were other healthier breakfast choices available to him and he could eat those if he wished. But he could only have one box of Calvin-esque "Chocolate Covered Sugar Bombs" in the house at a time. He could eat as much as he wanted of it, whenever he felt like it, but there was never more than one box of cereal of that sort available at any given time.

The summer my oldest son was two, I bought him a colorful pair of shoes and his grandmother sent him a coincidentally "matching" winter coat. He insisted on wearing them together all summer.

I rolled my eyes. We were in Germany and the summer was fairly cool that year. But I told him "Don't zip it all the way up and don't put the hood on. Half of your heat escapes through your head. If you do those two things, you should be okay."

His eyes lit up and he put the hood on and off repeatedly a few times. I face-palmed, but he liked testing what he got told. He didn't just accept whatever I said and I was generally tolerant of his quirks.

Years later, this paid dividends because he knew how to keep himself warm on the playground in winter in Kansas. He was routinely the last kid to go in at recess on the coldest days, and he did so without ending up sick from it.

Another incident from the summer that he was two is that he stubbornly and pigheadedly wanted to climb the ladder to the slide BY HIMSELF. He would have a fit if I touched him at all and tried to help.

Again, I had a pretty strict policy of trying to respect his boundaries. So, I accommodated him in his quest to do it himself, but also did my duty as a parent and found a way to keep him safe, in spite of what a stubborn child he was. That summer, I spent some weeks making myself into a human safety cage while he climbed the ladder to the slide.

I wasn't touching him, but if he slipped, I could immediately catch him. He was willing to tolerate my positioning myself around him so I could catch him, so long as I didn't touch him at all -- until he fell. It was fine for me to catch him when he fell.

This allowed him to climb until he was exhausted and began to slip without actually ever disastrously falling to the ground and seriously hurting himself. It let him run into his own physical limits at the metaphorical 100 miles per hour without it being some horrible catastrophic experience.

He has told me that when he was an older child, because of being allowed to safely hit his limits at age two, he knew when he was getting dangerously tired on the playground. He knew when he needed to quit.

He witnessed other kids go in only after they had hurt themselves. They didn't know how to gauge when they were getting too hot, tired or thirsty in the desert in Southern California. He did.

Twice exceptional people seem to come in two varieties: Those who have been broken from too many incidents of smacking headlong into their limitations and those who make everyone else crazy because they just won't quit, in spite of repeatedly hitting the wall and ending up in a world of hurt.

Because they were raised differently, my sons have found a way to find their own limits without smacking into them so very hard. Raising them created a feedback loop that also helped me figure out how to find a path forward, in spite of the difficulty that the entire world lies to me and either vastly overestimates or vastly underestimates what I "should" be able to do.

My sons are good at giving me useful feedback, but everyone else is wrong about what I can and can't pull off. Listening to their opinions inevitably leads me astray.

Though, when I stop to think about it for a minute, perhaps this is more generally true than the framing of this piece suggests. This is perhaps a more obvious and exaggerated issue for 2xE people, but it doesn't actually seem to be unique to them.

There are far too many people that are held back from their potential by bad advice or whose lives are a ruin because they had no effective means to find their limits, so they just ran headlong into trouble until they crashed and burned. The entire world could stand to do a better job of helping all people test actual reality to find their own limits instead of listening to opinions that so often don't really fit their particulars.


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