Growing up Gifted

I originally “joined” social media looking to connect with other parents of gifted kids. I acted as a gifted advocate for many years. While my time with public school is coming to a close with my gifted child, my ideals are not. The following is my closing letter to my school district regarding gifted kids:

Braden taught himself to read at 2.5. I didn’t even know he could read to be honest. He was taking a bath and grabbed those foam letters to spell words on the tub ledge. That struck me as odd. How was he spelling words? By Sesame Street memory?

Later that evening I grabbed a Level One reader book and he just read it. He stumbled on one word.

He was my first child and even though at the time, it did seem pretty early, it didn’t seem especially remarkable for him. It was like he was destined to read that early so when he did, it was almost like, oh, right. 

Braden entered the D203 preschool program at Elmwood elementary school at 3.5. By this point he had been reading books for over a year. I didn’t really connect at the time how him being an early reader would affect his education as a whole. 

At a preschool parent teacher conference something was mentioned to which I replied “Oh, well he reads.” and the teacher replied “That makes sense because he’s always reading out the title of the book before I do and I was thinking that this kid must have every book under the sun.”

Part of that was actually correct. He consumed reading day and night. 

By the time Braden was in his 2nd year at Elmwood preschool, the teacher suggested he attend the Kindergarden enrichment class. Sounded great and that’s where Braden wrote his first book.

All my Little Ducklings. 

I was actually impressed that the system attempted to meet his needs and had no prophecy that his education wouldn’t always be as flexible and as supportive as this was. 

I’m certainly not going to go into great detail regarding the rest of his elementary years but I will say that it was much like a rollercoaster swinging between ok-ness and this is not good. 

In 2nd grade things were especially bad and we had a meeting with the school ast principal, the learning support coach and the teacher. You see, the first grade teacher had come up with a plan to support Braden in 2nd grade but for whatever reason, no one in 2nd grade decided to follow it. We were told at this time that he would “Even Out.”

I’ve never been blown off as a parent as much as I was by the principal at the time. I’m a pretty reasonable parent and all I wanted was the plan to be followed. My child had frequent twisted stress knots in his stomach from reading 8-10 hours a week while in school because there was simply nothing for him to do and part of the solution was already written out for them. 

There were definitely highlights: Ms. White, Mrs. Kainrath, Mrs. McLean, Ms. Mason. 

Struggles peaked in 6th grade when one teacher told us at a PTC that he raised his hand too much and maybe we could manage that. Another suggested that he wrote at a 3rd grade level and needed remedial help. This was 2 different teachers and by the end of the year, I had written to the school that we were holding our right to part time homeschool him for 7th grade. 

I gave Braden one month into 7th grade to decide if it was going to work for him. Turns out, Braden’s 7th grade academic team saved him and I will forever be grateful to them. Mrs. McGroarty and Mr. Schmidt were especially incredible as they saw Braden for who he was and supported him and his writing. Just having that support meant the world to us.

Then came the highschool whiplash. I had heard for years and years from the gifted community that “it gets better in high school” and they were right. 

Braden has won so many awards in highschool, they didn’t even fit on his college applications. (Most) of his teachers have ADORED HIM even if they don’t understand him or agree with him. He has had support, praise, and has been challenged in specific ways that just hadn’t been present before. 

Have there been a few hiccups? Sure, but we aren’t expecting perfection here and overall, his experience in high school is now where you have me as a D203 cheerleader, a completely awkward situation for me, if we are being honest. 

So why am I writing this? Well, this very very gifted student is now graduating from your school district. He’s onto a new path with new challenges and growth opportunities. We could not have hand picked a better college for him. 

I guess I’d like to challenge D203 with their perception of what they think are the gifted kids and how to support them. Not because you have PI/HM and PI+ programs to sort them into. Because these kids are in all levels of your system. They can be quiet or bold. They can blend in and stick out. They can be excelling and they can be failing. They are there when maybe you don’t see them and they shouldn’t have to wait until high school for things to “get better.”

I believe you can do this. We need you to do this. 

Thank you for your time,

Jennifer Hajer

When Life Hands You Flowers

When the pandemic struck, we didn’t have any masks in our house. I was on FB when a local dry cleaner posted they were sewing masks for a donation. I got in my car and drove immediately over there. I grabbed 2, stuck a $20 in the jar, and left.

I took the flower one for myself, naturally. I wore this really basic mask until we were able to get better fitted ones. After we did, I left this mask hooked on the shift gear in my car (everyone did this right?) Soon, it became somewhat obscured with other masks being layered on top of it. And still, it was there besides me for 14 months.

About a month ago I decided to take a pivot after my other consulting work sort of stopped with the pandemic. Friends and family often consulted me regarding garden design and ideas. I always helped as talking to people about flowers is apparently the sweet spot for my ability to people at all in life. So I started low key offering garden designing.

Once I realized that maybe I was going to have more interest than I knew, I put up a website at to sort of explain things before they contacted me.

The requests kept coming.

One day I was getting ready to visit a new garden client and realized that I was down to the last mask on the shift gear. The OG flower mask that saved the day over a year ago when the future seemed so uncertain.

I grabbed it happily and thew it on the hood of my car until I gathered my things for the next appointment. Once I was gathered, I went to grab it off the hood and then saw it. I looked closer and could not believe what I was seeing.

Sometimes a pandemic hits and it’s terrible and awful and uncertain but it also hands you flowers to let you know things will be ok.

All the things my son didn’t do to get into college

Layer a college admissions process on top of online schooling during a pandemic? 

Sure. Sounds great. 

The college admission process is chaotic during a “typical” year and this year amped that up x100. Was it still a stressful process? Yes. But some things made it easier. 

Here’s some of the things my son didn’t do to get to this point in his life. 

He didn’t listen to people. 

Braden has a strong sense of self and purpose. He took the high school classes he wanted to and not what was strongly recommended to him by others. He dropped AP courses after he learned more about their (to him) sub par curriculum. He took unweighted courses instead of more “rigor” AP because they were more fulfilling. He didn’t follow guidelines of 4 of everything- english, math, science, language and social science. His end transcript is just so perfectly HIM and isn’t that what it should be? 

He didn’t center his success or self identity around grades, gpa and test scores. 

He didn’t make high school the end all be all to his life and education. This isn’t how we wanted to raise him and when he wrote this piece for his high school paper? I knew in my soul I had done one parenting thing right. 

He didn’t put “safety” schools on his list. 

Every school on his list (and it was small) was one he would have attended. 

He didn’t go “Ivy Hunting.”

Many students, especially this year with test optional, applied to every prestigious school they could. I guess that’s fine if you like a lot of extra work to gamble on black. 

He (we) didn’t hire out a college consultation service. 

First of all, I completely understand why people do, it can be an enormous task to take on when it’s your first child going through the process. I even looked into it at one point but for the cost of them? We just couldn’t justify that. Did he really want or need a perfectly polished and coiffed college application anyways? No.

He didn’t have anyone outside our house edit his essays

His father and I read them over. Scott for grammar, me for overall tone. In the end the essays were 100% my son and not washed over with a vanilla bean for wide mass appeal. Hell, his common app essay was “Why I don’t like writing prompts.” Were there a few things that maybe his dad and I would not have said or written? Sure, but we weren’t the ones portrayed on the application. 

If my son’s writing doesn’t appeal to a college, then they should not accept him and he should absolutely not go there. 

He didn’t oversell himself. 

I hear this might be a midwestern trait but he didn’t overinflate anything he did or accomplished. Maybe to a fault, but again, that’s who he is. 

In the end my son got into his 1st, 2nd and free tuition option choices. Like I said, he had a small list and would have gone to any single one of the schools so we are thrilled for him. What will he study? He’s 18, so let’s give him some time but he’s looking at political science and music which is exactly what he said in 9th grade. I originally started writing on the internet (9 years ago!) because his educational journey so it felt right to bookend it with this post. I can’t wait to see how his next few years develop. He will be attending the University of Chicago in fall of 2021.