July 29, 2013

My Kid Isn’t a Genius & I Couldn’t be Happier.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before:

I am the mother of the sweetest, most amazing four year old on earth.

I never knew it was possible to love someone as much as I love her.

Motherhood has changed my life in ways I never expected.

The above is 100 percent true and is similar to what a lot of mothers say. However, there is one thing about my daughter that is true that may take many by surprise: she is not a genius and I couldn’t be happier about that fact.

Most people don’t say outright that their kid is a genius. In fact, true geniuses are actually very rare. However, spend time with any parent and they will probably spend a good deal of time boosting about their child’s achievements: He’s so smart. He could read by the time he was three. She is excelling at her (French, Chinese, etc.) lessons. Harvard better watch out!

I don’t begrudge parents who brag about their kids. If I did, I would be an enormous hypocrite since I brag about my daughter all the time. However, while my little girl is bright, I do not think she is a genius, nor do I chose to participate in what I call ‘The Sport of Competitive Parenting.’

When my daughter was born in 2009, there was little that I knew about this world. I happen to live in a academic town with a high standard of living. It’s the sort of place where this sport thrives. Before I had a child, I had heard a little bit about these competitive parents. I remember one incident when a co-worker’s wife dropped by with lunch. They had just had another child and have given him a rather unusual moniker. (I thought it was just a tad eccentric. My husband was far more biting and said it sounded like the name of a Welsh train station.) Anyway, when I asked if he was named after a relative she informed that, Oh, no. They had purposely chosen the name to distinguish him from all Samuels, Williams, and Jonathans that would be applying to various elite schools.

I thought she was kidding. She was not.

When I became a parent, I learned she was far from alone.

It seemed that no sooner had my daughter been born I was asked if we were going to send her to private school and if so, which one. Where I live, there are more private schools than you can shake a stick at and each one has a certain reputation. As I learned, the reputations have far less to do with academics and far more about the parents who chose to send to their kids to a particular school. (i.e., Academy X attracts “old money types” whereas Academy Z is for the nouveau riche.)

When asked, I admitted that I hadn’t even thought of schools. I wanted to spend as much time as I could getting to know my daughter. Many seemed to understand that, but then asked if I was going to enroll her in various enrichment courses. I assumed that they meant when she got older, but they meant now as a newborn. I was floored. Wow. People really did this stuff? Really?

As it turns out, my daughter had her own plans. She was about six months old when her father and I noticed she could not sit up without support. She hit all her other milestones precisely on time, but not this one. She tried to do so, but kept toppling over.

Worried, I mentioned this to her pediatrician who gave us a referral to a developmental pediatrician. Luckily, I didn’t have to go far. There was an excellent one at the University of Virginia which is literally five miles from the house. However, the waiting list to get an assessment was several months. In the meantime, as her peers when on to walk, she wasn’t even crawling. We didn’t go to any enrichment classes. It wasn’t my choice so much, but hers. When she was in large groups of other kids, she would see her peers crawling and walking and try to imitate them. As her mother, it hurt me more than it probably hurt her to hear her wails of frustration when she could not do what they were doing.

Therefore, instead of classes and playgroups we tended to spend most of our time either at the house or at the park. She did socialize with other children, but most of the time it was just the two of us.

I shared the fact that she was officially delayed with a few friends and a few told me that if given the choice, they would rather have a child who was physically delayed than one with mental delays. While I understood their point of view, and I would be a liar if I did not fear the worst, I can honestly say that I did not consider such a diagnosis the worst thing on earth. Learning she had a terminal illness would be the worst—not this.

Finally, the day came for her to see the doctor. Before we actually met with her, we spent the day at the children’s hospital where she underwent a series of tests designed to assess both her mental and physical abilities.

The official diagnosis: she was a perfectly normal, healthy child who happened to be a late walker.

As I later learned, both her father and his two brothers had been late walkers as well. In her case, she happened to inherit her father’s body type. She has an extremely long torso and like many people with “long backs,” the muscles at the base of her back are weak. Thanks to some physical therapy, she finally learned to walk when she was nearly two years old, and by the time she was three, she was officially caught up with her peers.

Friends said I must have been relieved by the diagnosis and truthfully, I was. However, I was also relieved to learn that her intelligence was normal and she was not a genius or prodigy. Don’t get me wrong, had she been, I would not have been upset, but I remember thinking how nice it was she could be her own person and learn what she was interested in without me or a specialist telling her what she ought to like.

Like any parent, I have many hopes for my daughter. I want many of the same things for her than all mothers want. However, I don’t want her to feel she has to be a “genius,” speak several languages, excel at a variety of things or get into an elite college in order to make something out of her life. I happen to be a graduate of not one but two “elite” universities. I know better than most that academic success does not equal happiness or success in life. If she wants to go to Harvard, her father and I will do our best to help her achieve her goal. However, it has to be something she wants and not something I or anyone else wants for her.

In the end, she did end up going to a private school, but we went with the area Waldorf School because I appreciated their educational philosophy and approach to let kids be kids. We looked at other schools, too, including one where the headmaster thought we should have a “goal” to have her reading by four years old. I was polite and stuck around for the rest of the tour, but I knew it wasn’t for us—especially when she asked, “Well, don’t you want her to be in the honor’s classes in high school?”

No, I honestly don’t want that.

I want her to be in the classes that are best for her. Maybe that will be the honor’s classes or maybe it won’t. In any case, I am far more flattered when a fellow parent at the park remarks on how kind and gentle she is with other children or her teacher says she has a great imagination and shows good manners without being prompted to do so.

That’s more important than early admission to the Ivy League.

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Ed: Sara Crolick


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