Is It Time to Move to the Island of Misfit Toys?

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"We're on the Island of Misfit Toys"
“We’re on the Island of Misfit Toys”

Those cute little misfit toys didn’t seem to like living apart from the boring, typical toys in the real world, but I would, and so might our geek children. There comes a time in the life of every geek parent when we seriously question whether it’s time to make a bold move on behalf of our “atypical” child. How do you know when it’s time to make an audacious change? Where’s the sign that tells you when it’s time to pull up stakes and move to the Island of Clever Geeks?

Maybe your kid is the smart one in his class and is having trouble making friends. Or maybe she’s really great at coding, but her school doesn’t offer any advanced coding classes. Or maybe you have a whole houseful of geeks who would really thrive in a city environment with easy access to spectacular museums, unique after-school classes, and enlightening cultural events, but you currently live in a remote, small town where the most exciting thing that happens all year is the agricultural fair. Should you, as a parent who is responsible for making sure your child makes the most of the gifts he’s been given, abandon your comfortable, routine existence and bravely move to another location to give your child access to more opportunities?

It’s not an easy call to make. Where we land when we begin to create our families often has more to do with work opportunities than anything else. We may live near our own parents, in order to access childcare or other support. We may live in the only neighborhood we could afford as young parents. We may have even chosen a charming location for our first home because of its safety or appealing scenery. But eventually, the little babies we produced grow into fascinating and fabulous young geeks with remarkable skills and mind-blowing talents. The rules change, and we must sprint to keep up with them. One day, we may wake up and wonder, “How did I get here? I didn’t sign up for this!” How far are we supposed to go to properly support and nourish a precocious or exceptional child in our care?

In the 1896 short story The Country of the Pointed Firs, author Sarah Orne Jewett muses about the turns of fate that set talented people to bloom in desolate places. One beloved character is a charming, affectionate, socially clever, elderly woman who lives her entire life on a remote, rocky island off the coast of Maine–so remote that her immediate family are the only occupants. She is characterized as a beautiful flower set to grow in a bleak place where no one will see her. Jewett wonders why this delightful woman is destined to be segregated from a world that would certainly be improved by interaction with her. Is it a test of some kind? If we are all challenged to make the most of our circumstances, could being blessed with a child with promise and potential, or with attributes that set him apart from his peers, simply be a test put to us from the universe? How far are we willing to go to pass it?

Geek parents face questions such as these when their intellectual child runs up against the ceiling of scholarly opportunity at his school, or when their creative child exhausts the resources around her and begins to shrink a bit from lack of stimulation. The unique child who craves unique experiences might find himself branded a “loner” when he lives in a small town, but might actually find his tribe if he were to move to a larger city. The bigger the population, the less rare your child becomes. Should you tough it out where you are, until she can leave for college and follow her own path, or is it incumbent upon you to subvert your own needs and comfort so she can thrive right now? Are you ruining him by not moving to The Island?

Parents of elite athletes must make similar decisions, often moving to distant areas of the country to be closer to Olympic-caliber coaches or training centers. But parents of geeks are not trained to look at their comparable situation with the same eye. Have you ever heard of anyone who moved just so their smart kid could have access to cool geek stuff? (It’s really educational and cultural opportunities that we’re talking about, but the vast majority of your friends will use the other terms when they judge you.)

Many geeks are actually gifted children. These bright and curious kids often live in locations where there are no gifted/accelerated programs available in the local public school. Private school can be an option, but not every private school offers a rigorous curriculum or accelerated pace of learning, and many are prohibitively expensive. The few “gifted” schools available are distributed far and wide, meaning most people don’t live near one. What happens when you are raising a gifted child, and you have no access to appropriate educational options? Should you homeschool? Should you move? How far should you go for your child? How do you know when it’s time to make the leap?

If you had the chance, would you move to the Island of Clever Geeks and live happily ever after?

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Speaking from experience, we moved to another state to access both better schools and the opportunities available in a larger city. Luckily, we were able to do so without changing jobs, and we’ve all been happier for it. Yes, we still get puzzled looks when we disclose that we moved 50 miles just for the schools, and I’m used to that. It’s ok with me if people think we’re weird because we prioritize education; in fact, I’m proud of that. However, if there had been more at stake, if we really had been forced to quit our jobs to make our children’s lives better, I’m not sure if we would have had the courage to do it. I’ve been fascinated ever since with the idea of how far parents will go to offer their children opportunities commensurate with their talents.

Is your child a rare flower set to bloom in a desolate place? How did you decide what to do about it?