“How was your day?” I hate that question. It fills me with so much anxiety about having to give a concise statement about my experience that I panic. I have too much to say. So much that it is overwhelming. I want to tell you, but I cannot find a place to start. I want to let you know that I am ok, but I have so much to say that I fear you will find me ridiculous. Everything matters to me. I have a response to every single thing that anyone says. So I worry.
I worry you won’t understand that I am just curious or that I am just interested in how something can be so outside of my belief. I am so upset that no one seems to pay attention to the things I find important. And I don’t know how you’ll react if I really let myself answer the question without censoring myself. Can I yell without you getting mad? Can I say I am confused without sounding stupid? I want to make you proud of who I am but I can’t figure out how to tell you in a way that makes sense. I feel very lonely. Rather than deal with all of this, I say “I’m fine.”
Nothing shuts down a potential conversation quicker than the word fine. The letters O and K. The person who asked the question (in my case my wife, but in the families I work with it is typically the parents asking) can’t tolerate “fine” when they wanted so much more. It is frustrating. “How can my gifted child who has the brightest smile, the quickest wit, and the ever expansive ability to talk (perhaps incessantly) about their passions have a $%&*ing day that can summed up as fine”. We know the truth is far more complex and vulnerable.
NO child, no human being wants to stop at “fine, O.K”. But that may be all they can offer you at the moment. The reality may be that your brilliant child has so much to say that it is overwhelming. Their reactions are so strong, so elaborate that to express it all in a MEANINGFUL way would be so much work that they cannot bear the load. To delve deeply into every thought would overload the listener and the speaker. The cheap way, the fix, the bypass is to submit to “FINE”. And in an attempt to be amicable, we accept it. We pretend that “fine” can define the inner world of the gifted child (and gifted adult), but when we do that, the true nature of the gifted individual is denied.
The gifted child’s struggle is between the ability to have impressive insight but the inconsistent ability to express their thoughts in a normative manner. The word “fine” is a shield, a crutch. Unfortunately, there is little training in how to use one’s exceptional experience to create meaning for the individual and the world they inhabit. When a gifted child says that their day was fine, they are searching for a way to say more. They need expert instruction in how to make sense of their thoughts and their world so that they can interact in a meaningful way beyond “fine”. With training, the gifted child can become secure in their ability and answer the great question—“How was your day?”—to the benefit of all.