A week ago, I found out that my cousin shot and killed someone, and then died. I have not seen my cousin in almost 12 years. But, I’d heard from him last October. He texted me out of the blue. I was almost as shocked that day as I was last week when I heard the news.
My cousin and I were fairly close as kids, our parents both divorced around the same time, so our Dads spent a lot of time together. Thus, so did we. I always remembered him as being extremely intelligent, way more than any other kid I knew, yet soft spoken and shy. One day when we were all snow skiing together, he fell. I was right by him and asked if he was ok. He yelled at me “Yes! I’m fine.” I remember thinking that he wasn’t very good at people loving him, but I still did. I didn’t realize the significance of this ability until last week.
When he texted me in October he sent a photo and a message that said, “Big love to you!” I didn’t recognize him or the number so I thought it was a stranger. Our messages went like this… I said, “Wrong #?” He wrote back, “Your cousin loves you. Sorry hope it didn’t freak you out. Spreadin the love today.” I said, “No way!” He said, “Yahh? We had whip cream fight in Hawaii when we were little. Now you know it’s me. Who else would know that? I love you and hope the kids are doing well. There’s so much to talk about I’m texting from work but I guess my half ass attempt to get back in contact is better than none..” I said, “How are you? Thanks for the text! That’s awesome. I didn’t recognize you. Yes, I remember you EATING the whipped cream, smartest one of us all if you ask me.”
Then I sent him a photo of me and the boys. He said, “My god, you are a beautiful family! You have to be as proud as can be” I said, “Yes. Thanks, they are sweeties. Brannon, my 6 year old reminds me of you. Uber creative, thinks way outside the box, and kind of a stinker sometimes…:)”
Those were the last words between us in the physical world.
When I heard what happened to him, I was so stunned, not only because of his actions, being such a gentle soul, but also because I’d compared him to my own son.
By some miracle, I had been invited to a meeting the school district was hosting two nights later. As I listened to their talk about asymmetric development in extremely intelligent children, the tears flowed freely. They were talking about my cousin, and my son. In one of her statements the woman said, “If a child who is highly intelligent is not taught social skills, they will eventually have difficulty in that area, which will then effect their emotional growth and physical growth. If this goes on indefinitely, you will have a Ted Kaczynski on your hands. He had an IQ of about 168 and no friends.
In the last week I’ve learned something that is crucial for all parents to know about. Social development is not something that is just learned by being thrown in with other children. It must be taught. There is a difference between discipline and teaching as well. And, if you have a child who is very smart intellectually, but who may be very introverted or have fits like a two year old when they are asked to do something they do not wish to do, then you need to learn about this topic. It is VITAL.
The deep sadness and grief of losing my cousin, along with the fear of my own child having issues in the future caused a ground level shift in my awareness about parenting. I’ve changed how I am with him.
Two nights ago I was reading to the boys and I stopped abruptly and looked at my watch. It was past their bedtime so I said, “Time for bed.” But Brannon would not accept that. He screamed, “Mommy! You didn’t read the last sentence!”
In the past I would have said, “You do not talk to your mother that way.” And a fight would have ensued. He would have been mad, getting him in bed would have been a struggle and I would have been exhausted.
But not this night, I knew that these kids have a HIGHLY developed sense of fairness. And I realized he thought this was not fair. So instead of my old ‘discipline’ I said, “Sweetie, I’m not trying to be mean or unfair. I just noticed it was past your bedtime and so I quit reading so we could go to bed on time. I’m happy to finish the sentence but I need you to talk to me in a way that is a bit softer so I don’t feel upset or angry.”
I watched him for three minutes while he fumed, I could literally see the steam coming out of his ears. Normally I’d have pushed him to ‘do it now.’ But this time I just sat there while he made the connections on his own and then… I heard, “Mommy, will you please read the whole last sentence?”
I smiled, let out the breathe I was holding and said, “Yes, of course. Thank you for asking me in such a nice voice.” I finished it and he went to bed without another word about it.
I’m learning this parenting thing. I hope. I also hope that I can turn this tragedy my cousin had into a blessing that goes forward into the world.
My cousin was very smart. He had a very high IQ. He took four languages in High School and got straight A’s in all of them. However he did not graduate because he refused to do work in any other classes. And he had a very hard time making close friends. So, a man who could have been a professor at a university never even got the chance to go to college. And a truly gentle soul ended up with a tragic ending.
We did not have the knowledge or tools back then that we now do to help these kinds of kids. Please spread the word about this topic. It is important for our and our kids’ future.