Monday, January 7, 2013

My Daughter, My Hero

My daughter amazes me.

She is extremely talented in several ways.  She's an amazing artist.  It comes to her naturally, things that I never got right even though I took art in public school for several years.  She was born seeing all the layers of color in the every day world around us, and since childhood she has incorporated this talent into her art.  She sees the color in white.  She can correctly put one hundred different hues of a color in order, with no mistakes, in record time, and she does it for fun.  She remembers color, something I was told is not possible.  For my daughter it's possible.

She's an amazing musician.  When she was seven, she started taking guitar lessons at a local music store.  Her first instructor was a nice enough guy, but she was quickly losing interest.  She played Twinkle Twinkle Little Star at her first recital.  At the end of that year, I called a musician friend to look for an instructor who might make it more interesting for her.  I was told there was only one instructor in the area, and she gave me his name.  Rex Willis, music professor at the local university, took her as a student and at eight  she began playing classical guitar.  She was good at it, and good at it without practicing for hours a day.  She played for the next six years, and then quit as suddenly as she had begun.  Recently she picked her guitar up again, and in a day it all began coming back to her.  She plays beautifully.

The girl has language skills.  As a tween, she used to co-write adventures with friends as characters they created from the world of Neopets.  Neopia, I think it's called.  She learned to read seemingly effortlessly at the age of four, and used to devour books from the library.  In the early years, I would get twenty books from the library each week, the most one could check out.  She would sit and read them all, one after the other, in a single day.  The fact that she recently graduated cum laude from university is due in no large part to her exceptional talent in language arts.

And this talent is not confined to English only.  She also has foreign language skills.  I started teaching her Spanish when she was in kindergarten.  She grew bored with that by late elementary and wanted to learn Japanese.  Though it took a few years before I actually found her a tutor, she did not become discouraged and give up on that dream. She also taught herself some Russian and studied codes, including gypsy codes, online.  Probably the most unique part about her is how she put her language and analytical skills to to use by coming up with her own code. She kept her diary in code starting in middle school, a complicated written alphabet that looks to me a lot like Tolkien's elvish.  It's hauntingly beautiful.  I thought she had created an entirely new language, but it is all English, just in code.  Still, it's very impressive and she worked with it continually, changing and evolving it several times through the years.

All of these talents and interests are pretty darned impressive, but her innate talent is not why she is my hero.  Her character is why she is my hero.  She is a better person than I am in so many ways.  My hat is off to her this morning, and I want all of you to also know why I am in awe of her.

She does not back away from hard things.  While her many talents are impressive, every day things have not come easy to her.  Her large motor skills were always lagging behind other children her age.  Yet even though physical coordination does not automatically come to her easily, as it does for so many of us, she has not backed down from physical challenges.  She joined ROTC as a sophomore in college, worked hard to earn a spot at field training, and passed.  This was incredibly challenging for her, and yet she took it on and worked hard, really hard to earn her top score of 90 on her physical fitness tests.  She also was part of a mime team at church in her teens.  She swing dances, something I am not coordinated enough to pull off myself.  Because it was difficult for me, I never tried very hard to learn to dance.  Even though it is very difficult for her, she has kept at it for several years.

She works hard to accomplish and achieve many things the rest of us take for granted.  When she went to college, finding her way around campus was far more difficult for her than writing a paper.  In her freshman year, she lived on campus at a small school whose entire campus took up only one city block.  Her sophomore year, she transferred to the big city university and lived off campus.  I did not appreciate at the time how much courage and determination this took, because I shrugged off her difficulties with spatial awareness.  I scorned her when she confessed to me as a middle school child that she couldn't find her way around our neighborhood.  I accused her of not paying attention to her surroundings and being stuck in her head, when the opposite was true. She has always had to seriously concentrate on her surroundings, because she sees everything.  Where my brain ignores so much of what I see and helps me naturally focus on only the important features of the landscape, she sees everything.  If I were her, I might very well never leave my home.  But she did leave home, and successfully made her own way in this world.  Her senior year she moved even farther off campus and got a place of her own, with no help from her parents  That may be common for most of us, but it was bold and audacious for my daughter.

Driving falls into the same category. Now that I am finally starting to understand how her brain works, my admiration for her grows daily.  She was not eager to get the keys to the car as a teen. It was just one more way the world (and I) blew her off as weird.  She is not weird.  She is careful and thoughtful. She waited until she was ready to take on the challenge successfully before stepping out to earn her driver's license.  She resisted a lot of peer pressure to start driving before she was ready.  When she finally decided she WAS ready, she passed her driver's test on the first try.  I didn't pass my driver's test on the first try, and I have an easy time navigating my way through space.  I do it effortlessly.  She works for it.

In fact, my daughter does perseverance unlike anyone I have ever known. She does not stop until she has accomplished what she set out to accomplish.  The recent undergraduate degree she earned, in spite of all she has going on to accomplish everyday living, is a testament to her diligence. She graduated, cum laude, with  a Japanese major, an aeropspace engineering minor, and she did it in only four years.  It took serious daily application of effort, far more effort than we regular folk will ever know, over those last four years.  She accomplished it with honors.

But of all the character traits she has that I admire, it is her loving heart that I most appreciate.  She is kind, tender-hearted, and forgiving like no one else I know.  Since coming to realize how often she has been misunderstood, unappreciated, criticized and even ridiculed unjustly, the love that she shows everyday amazes me.  I am in awe of her loving heart.

So many of the comic book super villains have their evil hearts explained because they suffered injustice and loss and could not get over it.  We humans resonate with that, because we understand the concept of having a breaking point. We understand it because the world is full of bitter, angry people who can not get over the injustice they suffered. We ourselves all have a hard time with moving on from heartache and pain.  While all of us have been misunderstood and falsely accused, few of us have known such experiences on a daily basis.  My daughter has.

Honestly,  if I sent this to you, the odds are good that you have misjudged and rejected my daughter.  Aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents have all been angry at her or rejected her for what appeared to be resistance, apathy or rebellion.  In a new situation, she needs more sleep and more time to adapt to unfamiliar surroundings than neurologically typical people.  Because of this, people misjudge her as lazy.  It takes a lot of concentration on her part to master all the visual stimuli her eyes and brain see, and the quietness she exhibits while she is concentrating has been judged as being unfriendly.  The fact that she is never at ease or relaxed in these stressful situations means that her relatives call her weird, and say she has a personality problem.  With rare exception, though all of our relatives are Christians, self-righteous condemnation has been the most common gift my daughter has received from her relations.  I include myself in that number.

The rest of the world is no kinder.  People are expected to behave more or less the same with very little variation allowed among us.  We call it "normal". When someone's neurology puts them outside the norms, whether that is in the form of great talents (which  my daughter has) or in ways that make life more difficult (which my daughter has), this world is not at all welcoming.  You would think that with such amazing talents, she would be lauded and encouraged to develop her talents to the fullest.  That rarely happened. The cattiness and jealousy people have expressed over her talents hurt just as much as being misunderstood and rejected for her social difficulties.

And yet, she loves.  My daughter loves.  She loves God who created her and is the closest friend she has ever known. She doesn't love religion so much though, as it has never been a place of comfort and welcome to her.  But she has a rich and full spiritual life with the One who never casts out those who come to Him.

She loves and forgives those who have rejected her.  Painfully, she has learned that pursuing relationships with jocks and other haters will always be a waste of effort.  The extra effort she puts in to keep up with such people is not even noticed, much less applauded.  Yet she herself is not a hater.  She is welcoming to all, only later weeding out the people who prove to be more harm than good to her.  Love tempered with wisdom, you could call it.  I  greatly admire her for managing to keep her love alive.

So, just so you all know, I am very proud of my daughter. In fact, she is my hero.  I admit she is a better person than I, and I am lucky to have her in my life.


  1. I am amazed by this. She sounds like a fascinating person and I'm glad I read this. Since accepting that I am a single mother and starting my life over, I have been watching the differences and similarities between myself and my other family members, and the rest of the world. I've realized that I take in a lot more than most people do at a glance, not as much as your daughter for sure, but enough that I can't handle being in a crowded area very long, and have serious difficulty locating items I've put down absently. (With three small children my atmosphere is always cluttered.) My family, especially my mother, will always view my withdrawn social behavior as either grouchy or uppity. They will always view my inability to keep track of my things as laziness, and my refusal to acknowledge the clutter around me as sloppiness rather than survival. But the funny thing is, once I realized that those interpretations are incorrect, they no longer bother me.
    What I have also realized is that I can develop ways of coping that work for me, and decrease the irritation to those around me. I just can't use the same ways they do. And I enjoy the process of learning these ways. It feeds my love of research. And I think my daughter may be an awful lot like your daughter, although at 14 months old it's hard to say. But she is obsessed with music and color, with the process of where things belong, and with scribbling. I haven't seen a child her age hold a pencil properly before, although I'm sure they're out there. She rarely smiles, and I'm convinced it's not from crabbiness as most people assume, but from the concentration required to absorb, analyze, and categorize all she's taking in. I can relate to just enough of her apparent skills to feel inadequate at guiding her. Which I guess is better than imagining myself more competent than I am.
    Anyway, thanks for posting this. My hat is off to your daughter; and as someone blessed with a good internal compass, and the ability to backtrack accurately, I feel deep sympathy for those who lack it. Since it's the only way I find my brain some days. :) I wish her the best in life. Maybe someday I'll get to see her artwork.

  2. Aw, thanks Mrs. Searching! Your daughter does sound like my daughter at that age. In all her baby pictures, her face is place, but those eyes you can tell are taking in everything. Like you wrote:

    "She rarely smiles, and I'm convinced it's not from crabbiness as most people assume, but from the concentration required to absorb, analyze, and categorize all she's taking in."

    I wish you and your daughter all the best. I respect you so much for having the courage to strike out on your own. It was a brave decision. Kudos.

  3. this is beautiful, why as moms does it take us so long sometimes to get it. I have 2 daughters and I pray they can love as your daughter loves, and that I can love as I am called to with all their different needs. God has created our children with special talents and gifts that he wants to use for his glory. this has made me more aware and mindful of how I need to talk to my girls. happy your daughter has been able to make it and been given such will and determination to get through this life that others can make cruel. funny you mention family members that are Christians yet act without the love of God. We all fall short and must rely on his Love daily!

  4. If only I had a nickel for every time someone has excused religious cruelty with some variation of "we all fall short"- LOL! I would have at least enough money to pay for a nice weekend at a resort. n_n