Picture a playground from your childhood. Do you naturally gravitate towards the monkey bars or jungle gym intent to climb as far as you can or do you grab a ball and head to the hoops or grab some friends for a friendly game of kickball?
I head for the swings.
Whether I was in a in a quiet mood or a raucous one, the swings were the first place I’d race to once we were set loose on the playground. I either sat and moped or just sweated the time away hanging out with a friend or alone, or I was pumping as high as I could full of energy and excitement intent on grabbing the sun or stars.
The swings became a metaphor for my life.
I was raised in a home that taught me fitting in was how you made your way in the world. People liked people who fit in, didn’t make too many waves, worked hard and earned respect. Those people knew how to swing properly. Instead, I’ve twisted and turned my way on the swings, alternating between being too little or too much.
Mary-Elaine Jacobsen calls those extremes collapsed or exaggerated in the realm of giftedness. Being gifted meant that I didn’t quite fit in as a child though I never knew just what the alternative might be. I drifted the day away content to lap up the sunshine on my swing twirling in circles or making marks in the dirt. Spinning without direction. On those days, I was collapsed.
Other days I exuded happiness. Swings were where I went to escape. It was my connection to the sun by day, almost as if on the wings of a bird basking in freedom with bursts of momentary escapes from earth. I longed to reach as high and as far as I could. In those moments, I believed I could fly. My swing was a starship by night, reaching far into the galaxy. In those moments, I was alive. I could be whomever or wherever I wanted. I exaggerated myself to be myself.
Why, as a child was I in such dire need of escape? Why did I truly feel free basking in the sunshine, yet still tethered to all that is earthly? I felt both lost and secure at the same time on my swings. I felt as though I belonged.
Why do we as gifted both feel earthly and otherworldly?
As I grew up, I still swung to extremes; though not always on the playground. I was both introverted and shy, afraid to raise my hand in class (as I was told that boys don’t like girls who are smarter than them) and extroverted and loud, forever saying the “wrong” thing at the “wrong” time to the “wrong” people. I never did receive my copy of the Rules of Life. I tried recording many of the rules along the way only to discover that people often broke the rules and lived to tell about it. Me, I wasn’t always as lucky.
I sought attention or validation for my hard work, but was told I was a braggart or a know-it-all. I kept my head low and still was told I was pushy or that I didn’t do enough. I alternated between being proud of myself and being ashamed; always swinging to extremes. In new situations, people either seemed to love me or hate me; often I didn’t understand why.
Life was easier on the playground.
As I’ve become the teacher, the guide, the mother, and the discoverer of my own inner world, I’ve come to see the magnificence of those swings. I’ve come to appreciate that I can be in both worlds and that’s truly a blessing that most people never acquire. I am otherworldly; but only now can I revel in that knowledge. On some days, it’s a well kept secret only in my mind, yet sometimes I also find others who also like to sit on the swings or swing beside me trying to reach those stars.
Either way, my world is pretty perfect, no matter where it is.