Is summertime a microcosm for how we really want to live our lives? I think about vacation, the fluidity of lazy mornings or afternoons, the flexibility in our schedules – staying up because the sun goes to bed late. We plan adventures and take risks. Our days are filled with creativity, and we’re motivated to be more active. There are lessons parents and 2e adults can learn from summertime experiences that we can bring into the rest of our year.
My husband and I are experiencing a tiny taste of empty nesting. Our three kids are off delving into passions and interests away from home. So, when we found out that our beloved Tigger’s cousin had a litter of ten standard poodle puppies, we planned a long weekend around visiting them. While our hearts are still tender from the loss of our beloved Tigger, we know we aren’t the type of folks who can go long-term without a canine companion. So off we went. This long summer weekend vacation provided us with ample time to think about the good and important things in life, the things that fill us up and keep us going and make us grow. I started to think, how can we have more of these experiences in everyday life? How can I translate my experience to help parents of twice exceptional kids, and 2e adults, gain perspective on what’s important?
With these in mind, gaining perspective and focusing on what’s important, here are two important lessons I learned during our vacation.
We spend a lot of time thinking about others – sometimes, we need some time to focus on ourselves and trust ourselves to do what’s needed when it’s needed.
Twice exceptional people are pleasers and empaths. They want to do things for others, and they want efforts recognized but are often frustrated with a lack of understanding or appreciation for their talents. In some instances, this causes the 2e person to try harder, more, louder, or more intensely. In other circumstances, this causes the 2e person to back off, shy away, and withdraw. In both scenarios, the 2e person isn’t getting what they need because they are relying on someone else to give it to them. Okay, how does this apply to my recent weekend away? Let me tell you.
On one of our days, we decided to go on a hike. We were near the Appalachian trail in the Shenandoah Mountains. We decided to do what our guidebook called a “moderate hike,” but the ranger warned us was a “strenuous” hike. She even described her experience as “holding on for dear life” even though she isn’t afraid of heights.
Oh boy, I thought. I don’t want to disappoint my hubby, and I’ve been exercising, but I also would prefer to see tomorrow! We decided to start, and if either of us (read: me) felt uncomfortable, we’d just turn around. It was a strenuous vertical hike. We took breaks along the way to drink water and catch our breath. We concentrated and stretched our limbs and focused on each step. It was a GREAT hike! What a metaphor for life! We had to rely on ourselves. We had to focus and let everything else fall away. We had to be smart, stay hydrated, and we even laughed along the way. Determination and trust in ourselves and our bodies allowed us to overcome challenging obstacles, and boy did it feel great when we reached the summit!
Parenting twice exceptional kids and being a 2e person in the world is a lot like taking a long hike. It’s strenuous and beautiful. There are challenges – physical and mental – you might even feel at times like you’re being attacked (mosquitos!). Along the way, it’s hard to notice the beauty all around you. You’re focusing on your steps, which way to go, and maybe even on how the person in front of you is navigating the path. In the end, it’s important to realize that the more you fight moving forward, the longer you hold yourself back. Take breaks. Stop and literally smell the roses. Step carefully, but don’t be afraid to pause and consider your next move.
We decided to take the longer, less steep path back (protecting our middle-aged knees!) We cruised. We were feeling great and kept up a strong speed. After about an hour of our two- and half-mile descent and having no idea how close we were to the trail exit, an enormous and very loud thunderstorm erupted. Here we were, breezing along, when a completely unexpected obstacle presented itself. We had no control over what would happen next. You better believe we started running as huge drops of water soaked us through and splashed all around us. We abandoned our metal walking sticks and high-tailed it back to the car. Luckily, we were only about ten minutes away when the storm erupted. As I was running, I kept thinking to myself, there’s really nothing I can do right now but run. There’s no reason to fret or freak out. That won’t serve us. We just powered through on autopilot.
This, too, was a great metaphor for the 2e parent and adult. Sometimes you must rely on yourself. Sometimes you just have to forge ahead and trust your instincts that you are doing the best that you can in that moment.
Even when your heart feels broken, you can still find love.
The second lesson we learned on our trip was the depth and breadth of human capacity to connect and feel love. When we approached the door to the home where the ten standard poodle pups were born, we were greeted by a beautiful and protective mama poodle. Once she found out we were friendly, we were led to a pen where the poodle pups were sleeping. As we approached, they started to yip and whine – each one wanting attention. They literally fell all over each other, tumbling backward as their six-week-old bodies tried to adjust to the gravity of their excitement. Half the litter was apricot, and half was black, reminding us of our two dogs, Rosko (black standard) and Tigger (apricot standard).
Coming into this visit, I did a lot of thinking about how I might protect my heart or how I would handle seeing these puppies who were literally born on the day our Tigger passed away. Only because my spiritual self felt that perhaps it was a sign, or fate, or maybe meant to be, did I allow myself to see puppies so soon after Tigger’s passing. I even warned our breeder that I wasn’t sure how I would react.
The heart is an amazing organ. If we allow, there is a never-ending and boundless love within. It doesn’t mean I love Tigger any less that I found myself enraptured by these puppies. It doesn’t mean that I’m “over” the loss of our incredible dog. It means that when we allow ourselves to open up, when we give in to our natural proclivity, when we let go of the things that bind us, the most remarkable emotions and experiences present themselves.
We visited those puppies three times over a four-day span. Each time I felt trepidation until we pulled into the driveway, and then I couldn’t wait to get out of the car! Sometimes I literally closed my eyes and breathed to move through the intensity of my feelings and reactions. Overall, I felt a reaffirming of life and love and all that is gorgeous in this complicated world of ours.
Parenting 2e children and being 2e bring multi-layered emotions as we navigate complex pathways in life. Emotions are deeply felt, and moments to pause and reflect are hard found. We forget to focus on silence, beauty, or nature. We often feel like we are hiking the strenuous path, and even when we experience the rare “easy path,” unexpected storms pop up. Remembering to live life while navigating life is an important skill that takes practice. Summertime is filled with opportunities for adventure, and it is these journeys and escapades that allow us and our children to grow and gain self-confidence.
We can’t always find litters of puppies to play with, but we can remember to do things that help assuage our complicated lives. Find those things that make you feel connected and bring you joy, so you can calmly approach the challenges you face. Accept your path when it’s strenuous – taking careful steps while remaining present, and enjoy when you are coasting, because you never know what lies around the corner. Remember to spend time doing things that bring you peace, or make you feel that glow, or allows you to settle your mind so you can lift up your head and notice the beauty all around you.