Even if the principal is just humoring me in getting the children lined up for gifted testing, the school is doing a bang-up job of making us feel special about it. Letters came home yesterday indicating that my signature was needed to proceed with the testing. That was fine. There was then a very impressive chart of what the requirements are for children to qualify for the program (99th percentile on several indices, 96th percentile on a couple of others), and a fill-in line to indicate the source of the referral.
Remember how the principal told me that the kids had already been referred by their teachers? Both sheets said they’d been referred by “parent.” That would be me, I guess, the pushy yankee bitch who thinks her children are SO SMART.
It was the next part that really tickled me, though.
A second sheet accompanied the first, and this one had some impressive long name like “Referral Assessment Observational Outstandingness Characteristical Inventory” (the brains, the children get them from me) and asked for the person filling it out to “check off the traits that best describe the child.”
There are then about 50 different phrases, grouped into subsets of three to five apiece, all of which describe every child I’ve ever met who no longer drools on themselves involuntarily. The instructions weren’t really clear, either, because at first I thought it meant to pick one phrase in each group, but then I decided it meant that you should just check off anything that sounds like an apt description of your kid.
I checked off every single item on Chickadee’s sheet, and then every item but one on Monkey’s. (For Monkey, I didn’t feel I could check off “demonstrates keen sensory awareness” when he is, after all, diagnosed with a Sensory Processing Disorder. Duh.)
These items were things like “Works at a problem until a solution is found” and “Is able to switch strategies when the current one proves not to be correct.” Are there really people who read through these and go, “Nope, sorry, young BillyBob gives up immediately, either that or he done just keep slamming his head into that there wall until there’s nothing left but a bloody stump, oh well” and then are honest about that? I mean, I felt like my answers were honest—they do, in my estimation, demonstrate all these “key characteristics”—but I couldn’t imagine a child who doesn’t, and then I couldn’t imagine the parents of such a child coming clean about it.
After the check-off-these-things section there were a few open-ended questions asking for examples of activities in which the child has demonstrated extreme or unusual aptitude or initiative, and this was where I had a hard time coming up with things.
The truth of the matter is that I have NO IDEA what’s unusual, when it comes to my kids. None. When Monkey was a baby and then a toddler I believed—I swear before God this is true, and I’m embarrassed about it but here I am telling you anyway—for YEARS that he wasn’t very bright. Oh, he was cute and wonderful and charming, but I figured he was of utterly average intelligence.
Do you know why I thought that? Because Chickadee had come first, and Chickadee spoke in complete sentences when she was one and I thought THAT was average. Even once I was far enough along in parenting to realize that she is perhaps, shall we say, gifted in the area of MOTORMOUTHNESS, I figured that Monkey’s relative slowness to speak meant he was just… average.
Plus, let’s face it—the kid used to climb up on things and fling himself to the ground and then cry when he got hurt. Over and over. It was only natural to conclude that might not have been born with a very impressive brain.
Anyway, perhaps you can imagine my surprise when Monkey started outrunning Chickadee in funny little ways, like that he memorizes EVERYTHING and forgets NOTHING, which means that he can glance over the 12-page Lego instructional pamphlet for building a combination race car and forklift and then go dump out the Lego bin, set to work, and present you with the picture-perfect vehicle in about three minutes. Or when it became apparent that he’s some sort of weirdo Sudoku savant.
The point is, I think they’re both bright (now, anyway), but I still don’t have a very good grasp of what’s merely impressive vs. what’s truly astonishing. And though it may surprise you to hear that I have even a tiny reticent bone in my body, while I have no problem checking off sentences, I felt a bit stumped by a two-inch empty space in which I was supposed to catalog the children’s greatest intellectual triumphs.
What if I picked the wrong thing? What if what I thought was great was just average, and what if I was foolishly overlooking something stupendous because to me it’s run-of-the-mill?
Chickadee wandered into the office while I was filling out the paperwork, and I actually involved her in a brief discussion about it by asking her what sorts of things she thinks she does that other kids her age don’t do. She had some good suggestions (like that she taught herself cursive in first grade because she was bored and wanted to be able to read the notes I sent in to her teacher) (I did leave out the part about how she was mostly motivated by nosiness) and I finally picked a few things and wrote them down.
“Now what are you going to put for Monkey?” she asked, craning to look over my shoulder.
“I’m not sure, yet. Go play.” I knew where this was going, and it would not be good.
“But what sorts of things, Mama? Tell me!”
“Wellllll…” I thought maybe if I threw her a small bone, she’d stop. Proof that I’m not very bright, myself. “He’s pretty good at Sudoku. I might put that down.”
Her mouth drew downward in displeasure. “Well I’M good at Sudoku! Put that down for ME!”
I sighed. “Yes, honey, you are. You’re both good at it. I think he may actually be just a little bit better at it than you.”
“No,” she shook her head emphatically, “We are JUST EQUAL. I am just as good at it as him!”
I should’ve agreed. I should have. I know. Instead I just grabbed that little knife and twisted it, because the competitiveness, it DRIVES ME INSANE. “Well, honey, I think you two are about the same at it. But he’s almost two years younger than you. Therefore, he is better at it than you are, because AT HIS AGE that’s considered a greater aptitude.” She glared at me. “Listen, Chickadee, you are BOTH really great at LOTS of things. YOU are much better at writing than he is. He is SLIGHTLY better at Sudoku than you are. It’s not a competition. You’re different people with different strengths.”
She stomped off. Clearly I just don’t love her, or something.
For the remainder of the day Chickadee tried to weasel out of me what I’d written on Monkey’s sheet. I kept telling her that it was none of her business. She kept pleading. She told me she’d tell Monkey what I’d written for her. (Of course, this meant I overheard her telling him, “I can do square roots, you know. You don’t even know what a square root IS.”) I told her that was her choice, but that I didn’t want to talk about it any more. Five minutes later she’d be back to it.
Finally, we were in the car on the way back from an errand when she started back in again.
“FINE! OKAY! I will TELL you what I wrote! Will you leave me alone afterwards?” She swore that she would, and I took a deep breath. “I wrote that Monkey can fly, and also that if he concentrates really hard, he can make himself invisible. ARE YOU HAPPY?”
In the backseat, Chickadee gaped at me, and Monkey burst into delighted laughter.
“MAMA!” screeched Chickadee, “You did NOT say that!”
“Yes I did,” I answered.
“It’s true, you know,” Monkey interjected, all serious. “Sometimes I really am invisible.”
“You are NOT!” Chickadee huffed, furious with both of us.
“Well,” he continued, cheerfully, “maybe you haven’t noticed. You know, because you can’t SEE me when it happens.”
“Well… well…” she sputtered. “YOU can’t spell antidisestablishmentarianism! And when you can’t read something you CRY!”
He thought about this for a moment. “I’m better at Sudoku than you are.”
Yes, I’d say they demonstrate that unusual initiative the school is looking for.