I’m Glad It’s Easy For You!

I started reading at the age of two and a half when my parents lied to me about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Now, what you don’t understand is that I invented the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I must have, because they were all I ate as a young boy. (Smooth peanut butter, grape jelly, GTFO you heretic if you want strawberry.) Morning, noon, and night, I ate PB&Js.

One day, my parents took me to a restaurant. “PEANA BUTTER!” I yelled.

“They don’t have those here,” Mom lied, placing the napkin over her smoldering lap so as to obscure the fact that her pants were on fire.

“They do!” I pointed to the menu. “Right under the grilled cheese! Peanut butter and jelly!”

There was a full stop.

They made me read the rest of the menu.

And then, for the next year, at the age of two-and-a-half, tiny Ferrett went on a reading tour where people would hand me newspapers and I would read people stories about Richard Nixon. It was astounding.

I never thought much of it. People just learned to read at the age of two and a half. After all, I did! And I had no brothers or sisters to show me another experience, so in my mind, all children read newspapers before they were three.

At around four, I started to think my godchild was a little dim.

“Why isn’t she polishing off the copy of Goodnight Moon I bought?” I asked.

“She doesn’t read yet.”

“Nonsense,” I said officiously. “She’s at least reading words at four. That’s how children work.”

They told me children didn’t, really. Five to six was the average age.

“Yeah, whatever. Have you tried yet? My parents read bedtime stories to me every night. I know you’re reading her stories now, but maybe step it up a notch. Hold the book closer to her face. She’s behind schedule.”

Took me a startlingly long time to realize that this reading was, in fact, a real strength of mine. I went to a speed reading class with my dad, and outread several of the graduates in my initial test. My brain’s just wired for reading. It’s a quirk. I didn’t do much to deserve this, but here it is.

Yet for years, I was completely unaware of my superpower. Oh, I knew I read fast, but I assumed that anyone who put the time in could be as good as I was. And if a parent couldn’t get their kid to read by, say, three and a half, they just weren’t trying hard enough.

I was kiiiiind of a douche.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s great that I read well! The error is going, “Well, I’m good at this, so if *you’re* not good at this, it must be because you don’t want to be good.”

Aaaaand no. Some people are just better at other things than others.

I’m a depressive. I’ve worked hard to learn how to function while I’m depressed.  But occasionally people tell me, “Well, if you really wanted to be cured, you’d have fixed that by now!  Look at me!  I’m fixed, and now I never get depressed!”

I wonder whether it’s ever occurred to them that maybe, just maybe, they cured a much lighter depression than I have, or have different strengths to cure their depression that I lack.

Maybe they’re me yelling at a two-year-old to get his shit together, baby!

Know what else I’m really good at? Patrolling my own boundaries. I don’t do things out of guilt. I’m largely immune to social pressure. As a result, I don’t have many asshole friends or relatives – if you bug me too much, I’ll stop hanging around you.

But again, I understand that this was a natural gift – I didn’t wake up one morning and go, “I’ll work on strengthening my self-confidence!” No, it just bugs me when people do that, so – shrug – fuck ’em.

Yet with all of that, I can understand that this is a strength of mine, and other people don’t necessarily have it. And I can suggest ways that they can improve their ability to self-protect without sneering, “Well, if you’re letting your layabout uncle mooch off of you, you just don’t care as much as I do about these things!”

Truth is, I don’t care. It’s sort of instinctual, like a lot of strengths. I know a lot of people who are in fabulous shape who get runners’ highs and feel good after exercising – and I never have, despite years of running 5 and 10ks. I know a lot of people who have no problems making friends, but they’ve never felt any anxiety about meeting people ever.

Lots of people have strengths they don’t even recognize because it doesn’t occur to them there’s any other way to be. I’ve always read peanut butter and jelly. Jane’s always felt better running a 5k than eating a cake. Harry’s always looked forward to parties full of strangers.

If they’re not careful, they assume it’s that way for everyone.

And then they become douches.

Fortunately, one of my other strengths is “recognizing that my strengths aren’t shared by everyone.” Which means that I don’t use my positive aspects to bludgeon other people into feeling worse.

Yeah, some people put way more effort into reading than I ever will and won’t be as good at it. That doesn’t make them lazy, or not caring. It means they’re not naturally gifted in the lottery that I won, and I’d be a gigantic dick if I just said to them, “Well, have you really tried?”

Some of them haven’t, of course. There are, despite what folks tell you, lazy people out there. But I can start from the kinder attitude that maybe they are trying, because if they’re expressing frustration then it’s probably a big deal to them, and not using my superiority as an excuse to deepen their feelings of inadequacy.

That’s not a natural strength, by the way. I obviously worked for that one.

2 Comments

  1. Gayle
    Nov 2, 2015

    Sometimes I think we’re the same person. I started reading at around 2-2 1/2, and am also largely immune to guilt trips. I used to think I was the only person I knew who could read as fast as I do, although that may be because it’s treated more as a freak event than a superpower by the other people in my life. 🙂

  2. Denise Webber
    Nov 2, 2015

    I taught myself to read at 3. I assumed everyone could read. I was the youngest in my family, so we all could read. That’s just the way it was. Until I got to kindergarten, and none of the other kids could read and they were all 5!

    5 and still didn’t know how to read? Were they all stupid?

    I resented the time the kindy teacher had to take out of our day teaching all these other kids to read. I found kindergarten supremely boring. Though I did have access to lots of books, books way beyond my actual age.

    I was an insufferable little shit, words and English and writing always came easy for me and I used to look down on those who could barely read their name, let alone spell it.

    It wasn’t until I got to high school and was confronted with maths and failed utterly and dismally to comprehend anything more complicated than fractions and basic integers, and being surrounded by people who were so much better at it than me.

    Then I started to realise that everyone has their own skills, that me being excellent at words and other people not didn’t make me a better person than them.

    I’m still not sure why I am able to charm a room full of people and why some people would rather spork their eyes out than submit to the fresh hell that is social gatherings. But those same people would think it very strange that I can’t walk across glass floors or use glass stairs, and that a glass elevator would most likely bring on a panic attack.

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