Bundle I: A smart, empathic, curious little girl with an abundant imagination and an artistic flair. She loves to read and revels in her identity as “the reader”. She doesn’t make friends, friends make her. At 9, she will excel at something given the right circumstance…which is usually a gradual raising of a bar that she doesn’t see.
Bundle II: A smart, enthusiastic, curious little girl with a stubborn determination and the hand eye coordination necessary to obtain it. Ever since she was born, she’s looked up to her bigger sister and tried to surpass her. And now, at 6, she is. Give her a bar you think is too high, and she’ll still find a way to climb over it.
Bundle I is in third grade. She reads at a tenth grade level and loves math. She has a great circle of friends her own age. She regularly engages in fantasy play. She isn’t into sports, except karate. She’s a perfectionist: that is to say that if she isn’t good at something, she doesn’t want to practice it. She just wants to be good at it. She learned to talk later than other kids, but when she did start talking all of the words were extremely well articulated. Same thing with walking: if she wasn’t going to be good at it within a few days, she’d just wait until she was coordinated enough to try it. This strategy has served her well, for the most part, since eventually her brain does catch up with her expectations and it all comes together in the end. But it does make the pace slow going.
Bundle II is in kindergarten. Nominally, that is. She’s been doing first grade work for the better part of the year and claims it is “easy”. Asked if she wanted to skip ahead to second grade next year, the answer was an enthusiastic “yes.” (The school agreed). Meanwhile, her gymnastics coach suggested that she join the 7-9 year old group rather than the 5-6 year old group for the summer. Normally, when kids are excelling in one area, they are still not excelling in another…but Bundle II is socially well adjusted, athletically talented, and excelling academically all around. And ever since she was born she’s been like this. Up and walking at 9 months. Talking at 10. Not exceedingly well, mind you. Coordination and articulation was never the point in Bundle II’s head. Getting to the next milestone has always been the point. Winning the game. Mastering the skill. Impatiently waiting at the finish line, waiting for everyone else to see that she actually did cross the tape.
So there it is. All kids are different, we all know that. What works with one kid doesn’t necessarily work for another. And I’m certainly not complaining: both of my kids are intelligent, well adjusted kids, they both excel at school. But seeing the first born getting outshone by the second born before they’re even out making their own names for themselves makes me cringe. I was the first born, and there are certain rights, responsibilities and expectations when you’re the first born. For one thing, you’re the first to do things. The first one to ride my bike, the first one to take calculus, graduate high school…etc. You also carve your niche before your siblings. I was the athlete, the writer, the pilot…My brother became the singer, the baseball player, started to run faster than me, eventually, even grew taller than me….but he did it when he was supposed to. He didn’t for instance, figure out how to ride his bike before I figured out how to ride mine. And by that I mean: he didn’t figure out how to ride his bike when he was 4 1/2 at the same time that I was learning how to ride mine at 6.
But that’s what Bundle II did.
My brother didn’t know how to spell the words on my third grade spelling list when he was still in first grade.
But Bundle II can.
I actually put off letting Bundle II learn to downhill ski because Bundle I was so proud of her own new found ability to swoosh down the mountain that I didn’t want her little sister to upstage her by swooshing faster and sooner and harder. And I know that she would.
I figured out early on that Bundle II was more athletically gifted than her sister, and that was just fine. But lately with this academic revelation, watching her spout out things with ease that Bundle I still has to think about, I wonder where this little superhero kid came from. Like was she switched at birth by alien beings of superior strength and intellect? Will she need to assume a secret identity? Does she go solve crimes in the dead of night when we think she’s sleeping her room?
And how do we keep her from being old before her time? How do we keep her sister confident and happy to learn at her own pace without judgement while at the same time challenging the younger one with an increasingly higher bar? How come no one put this dilemma in the troubleshooting tips of the parent’s handbook?
Writing all this out it seems to me that it’s a little silly to complain about having two intelligent kids, one of whom is apparently gifted. We should all have such problems, right? But there it is: I don’t mean “gifted” in the MENSA sense. There’s tons of literature on how to deal with a child who excels in one area. There’s tons of debate on whether or not it’s a good idea to skip a grade or not. But there isn’t any road map on what to do if your youngest is getting older faster than your oldest. And that’s just it. Bundle II just gets things faster than Bundle I. All things. And once she gets it, she goes on to the next thing and gets that too. And that was all fine and good until she started getting things Bundle I didn’t get. And Bundle I isn’t stupid. She sees the writing on the wall, too. And there I am, playing defense in a game no one told me I was going to play. And it’s all fun and games…until someone gets hurt.