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Intensity and Giftedness

I could write a different post about intensity and giftedness every single day of my life.  If you are a gifted person yourself, or the parent of a gifted child, you could probably write those posts too.  Intensity is the dual edge sword of giftedness. It is what leads you to practice, practice, practice, and also what can lead you down the path to crazy-town.

I apologize in advance for the obnoxious naval-gazing aspect of this post, but if you are interested in my thoughts about living with intensity, here goes…

Here’s a little gifted boy from my family; my grandfather, pictured here as an insanely young Eagle Scout. As part of his work towards this honor he earned 36 merit badges even though only 21 were required at the time. Intense?

My grandpa was also an accomplished violinist and musician, a member of the San Diego Symphony, and a music teacher. While looking through his high school yearbooks a few weeks ago, I noticed that he was elected concert master of his school orchestra and performed as first violin, as a freshman. If I had to take a guess, I bet you that there were 10,000 hours of practice behind this, driven by Grandpa’s intense love of music.

If you are a regular Teaching My Baby to Read follower, you might recall my son’s adventures over Christmas break, when he first decided to learn piano. Bruce spent six hours a day, practically chained to the piano, for three days in a row. There was crying, giddy laughter, six-year-old swearing (Piano playing if for fart-heads!), and a lot of begging on my part for Bruce to choose a different activity. From December 20th to December 22th he learned 33 songs, and completed half of Piano Adventures Primer Level.

When I told my mom about how frazzled I was from Bruce coercing me into being his piano teacher, Mom let loose an evil laugh and replied “Karma is a b—- , Jenny.” She was referring of course, to my own multiple childhood trips to crazy-town.

When I was uninformed, I thought that intensity only impacted gifted people in their academic pursuits. Now as an adult who has read about Kazimierz Dabrowski, I know that intensity can manifest itself in the Psychomotor, Sensual, Emotional, and Imaginational realms of personality and behavior as well. Now for the aforementioned naval-gazing:

When I was seven years old I engaged in a months-long, endless assault on my parents to subscribe to the Disney Channel.  It culminated in my grandparents purchasing the subscription for me for Christmas. What freaked my mom out, was that instead of just whining for what I wanted for a week or two like a normal second grader, I relentlessly approached her with well thought out arguments, statistical analysis of our family’s television viewing habits, and reliable forecasts of how the education and entertainment value for our whole family would be bettered if we only had the Disney channel.

Then there’s the time when I was about 9 and earned Pioneer Girl’s Highest Honor Award, completely through my own efforts and determination. This came as quite a shock to both of my parents, who are Atheists. (Pioneer Girls is a Christian organization.) At the awards ceremony the head leader announced that no girl had ever done that before in all her time serving at that particular church. I hadn’t realized this when I had first began doggedly cranking through the activities in my Pioneer Girls Guidebook. I just thought memorizing Bible verses was fun!

Even as I grew older relaxation has always been a particular problem for me, because I have trouble relaxing without relaxing intensely.

Here’s a needlepoint it took me three years and three boyfriends in high school and college to finish because the project was so large. It was also the beginning of my battle with carpal tunnel syndrome. I wouldn’t stop needlepointing when I was in pain, because I wanted to finish.

The obsessive gardening and 1500+ bulbs in my yard are contributing factors to my tendonitis. You see, I can’t just use gardening as a relaxing pastime; I have to garden intensely.

Then of course, there is my latest hobby, which would be blogging…  Let’s just move on.  🙂

If you can imagine what type of teacher I was, then you can probably guess that I was very passionate about teaching. I stayed up late, working hard, then working harder, to become a better teacher. I’d wake up in the morning, worrying about my students. I spent half of my summers working in my classroom. I couldn’t work 40 hours without working 60, and then spending my vacation, working some more. This is very reminiscent to me of Bruce’s current first grade teacher, who must be an example of Karma coming back to me in a good way, because she is so wonderful.

Being an intense child?–Extremely difficult!  Parenting the intense child?–Even harder! Putting your child in a classroom where the teacher is still there to answer your phone call at 5:30PM? –Awesome!


  1. Jen says:

    I would say Nate is very “Intense” but I’m not sure about gifted. I have in the past referred to him as “manic” one second a perfect calm child and the next having a break down about not having the right size cracker for his cheese! Spirited may be the best term. Thank you for this blog. I have not heard the term “Intense” used before. 🙂

  2. Donna says:

    I wish there was a “like” button for this post. Ah, intensity…I know it well and after your post I can admit that I knew it well in myself before I ever had kids and know it in my own father as well. I never really looked at it that way before. Ha! Someone, I think it was Dr. Ruf, told me “you get the kids you were meant to have.” At the time, I thought it was just a restatement of the “Mother’s curse….I hope you have a child just like you.” LOL

  3. Nicol says:

    I am very familiar with the intense problem solving skills. We took a trip to Venezuela and Olivia (4 at the time) didn’t want to go. She figured out a way for her to stay home with the neighbors and have use of their spare bed in the basement. She had a whole process getting to this point and presenting it to us. In the end, she still came with us to Venezuela and she was happy with that decision.

  4. jengod says:

    Great post. I knew some of this stuff (thanks to a great therapist I had in my 20s who addressed some residual gifted-child issues) but your posts always help me put some weird stuff in my personality into context. Thank you!

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