Mommy, where’s my vertebrae?”
I actually looked around the room to see who spoke those words. There just had to be a ventriloquist with a tiny little voice somewhere under the bed. No part of my mind could grasp the idea that my 18 month old daughter just asked: “Mommy, where’s my vertebrae?” The words were so clear, and the concept so fully formed, it was obvious to me she’d been able to think in highly developed terms for a while. She’d just waited until I could handle it.
I didn’t answer. Maybe if I pretended not to hear, she’d pretend to be a ‘normal’ baby-girl and we could fake it until… “MOMMY, Where’s my VERTEBRAE?” “Justine, where did you learn that word?” I asked. “I heard it on tv.” “Oh. Your vertebra are in your back.” I playfully rolled her onto her side and tickled her spine to emphasize the location of each vertebra. Although she laughed, the balance of power in our relationship changed right then and there. By demanding instruction so early in life, she challenged us to provide intellectually stimulating experiences on a consistent basis.
My older child, 22 months her senior, is also gifted. His ability to sculpt objects from any material stopped many a bystander when he was a tiny boy, and his eye for form, color and movement allowed him to distinguish the work of Lautrec from that of Degas, or Monet or Vincent VanGoh by age 7. He could sight read and identify the continents and planets in the solar system by age 4. Growing up in Washington, D.C. allowed me to spend countless hours in the free museums, and eventually take my kids there too.
Part of the joy of motherhood has been watching my babies grow into very interesting people. Sometimes I wonder if I did enough for them. Other times I feel that I sheltered and fussed over them too much. At times I wonder if creating a deep well of knowledge for them set them apart from others in a bad way. After all, I too had been that kid in the ‘hood who always had their hand up in class, and who “tried to talk white.” Sigh…
As for Justine, she began to max out in the public school system, getting all As and occasionally rankling teachers who themselves did not have perfect recall or full mastery of a particular subject. To honor our commitment to her, we enrolled her into a private college preparatory academy. She performed well and she’s a now a college student.
The pain of being ridiculed by classmates has faded for me, but my son had to hide his intellect for years in order to fit in with his friends. When Justine went to a private high school, her old classmates all dropped her friendship, and the mothers and some school faculty gave me such a hard time. When did a high IQ disqualify someone from being ‘down?’ What rule said you can’t have a challenging school experience and still have ‘flavor?’
The achievement gap between urban schools and suburban schools is alarming, and parents should not be forced to resort to private school education in order to find a challenging curriculum for their children. Instead of improving schools, Bush’s No Child Left Behind initiative created new nationwide graduation requirements without funding for instructional support. In that context, the requirements have become penalities that may prevent scores of children from receiving diplomas. We must push the new administration to reverse this trend immediately, and whether Barack Obama wins the election on Tuesday or not, his education and achievement, and that of his wife must serve as an inspiration to us to push our babies to succeed.