Monday, September 12, 2005

Signs of Intelligent Life

I’d been through this before and was skeptical. The first day of school Grace came home wild with excitement because her teacher had taken her aside to tell her that she was one of three top math students who needed to be challenged more. Given the facts that Northern Lights’ lust for homework knows no bounds, that “grade inflation” are fightin’ words, and that they offer courses known in some circles as “Fast Track to Nobel” the average soccer Mom might be wowed but I’m afraid I was less impressed.

The school is encouraging her to take a special pre-algebra course given at another junior high each morning where I would (get this) drive her through downtown traffic by 7:30 am, run the boys to their own school by 8:00, then run back to pick Grace up and take her back to the elementary school by 9:00. She wouldn’t be taking the course instead of 6th grade math, but in addition to her normal math assignments, effectively doubling the homework for a child who spent an average of three hours a day last year doing her after-school work. The thought made her tremble.

The whole thing reminded me of a couple years ago when we woke up and decided that maybe we ought to have David tested for developmental speech problems. Andrew and I were carrying on a conversation in the kitchen one Saturday morning when David rushed up the stairs from the family room in a breathless panic. He ran into the kitchen and began jabbering at us—and I quote—“beshwinklet detsar meshnakle bilowartumishickle pattman!” We stared at him while he waved his arms and gestured incomprehensibly, repeating one syllable after another that just wasn’t connecting to anything English. Finally he managed to get out “COME QUICK!”

We followed him down stairs to the family room where our well-used couch sat. This Salvation-Army-reject-of-a-couch sat too low so we had boosted it on a standing layer of #10 aluminum cans, throwing a slip cover over the whole thing. Lillian who was just learning to crawl had scooted under the slipcover and had wedged her little torso between the cans, unable to extricate herself but screaming mightily about the dark and dusty sub-couch ambience. When we found her all that could be seen of her was two stubby little legs sticking out from under the slipcover kicking and wriggling frantically—rather reminiscent of the Wicked Witch of the East actually—but after freeing our daughter, dusting her off and realizing that Lassie could have communicated the trouble more efficiently we took a second look at having David tested for speech problems.

After inquiries and phone calls and appointments I took him in for tests and they said . . . his speech was normal. In fact, not only was his speech normal but his motor and thinking tested off the charts. They said he ought to be in the gifted kindergarten program for goodness sake and treated him as if he was a budding genius ready to burst into differential equations at any moment.

The whole thing cracked me up, I mean you have to take it with a grain of salt—I’m sure most of what they said was just a technique to let parents down easy when their kid doesn’t qualify for the slow-kids program. If he doesn’t have special needs then say he’s a genius—that ought to cheer the mom up—I mean, who wants to hear that their kid is just plain average? I can picture it now. “I’m sorry ma’am, your child’s speech is perfectly normal, as is his intelligence and development in fact everything about him is, well, average. Nothing to worry about and nothing to get excited about. He’ll probably attend a decent state school with a solid C average then grow up to be a fine, very average adult earning a median income at a solid government job while living in a suburb of a medium-sized city and driving a brown Chevy Nova.”

Occasionally there are some strange and enigmatic indications of David’s brain power, there are moments when he’ll surprise me. It wasn’t long after the speech evaluation when David, Spencer and Grace dragged Andrew and I downstairs to the family room one Saturday to enjoy an off, off-Broadway production of Star Wars on the first leg of its south Anchorage tour.

Grace was Leia, of course, Spencer was Han and David was Luke. They presented their unique theatrical interpretations of scenes from the movie, starting with Leia’s Death Star rescue where Grace lounged on the couch uttering that memorable and poignant line, “Aren’t you a little short for a storm trooper?” (which, given the theater troupe, took on a new significance). Each line was delivered with perfect inflection and elocution imitating every cadence and emotion from the film—but giving the impression that somehow the Death Star had been taken over by Ewoks given their size and pitch.

The family room then became the garbage masher, with every pillow piled against the walls as Luke, Leia and Han climbed to the top and pushed their backs with all their might against the walls, bracing against the eminent collapse with a hobby horse and a mop. It was very dramatic.

But the real climax was David’s (I mean Luke’s) attempt to jump off of the arm of the couch with Grace in his arms in a faithful recreation of Luke and Leia famous swing across the Death Star chasm to safety. The two of them stood on the arm of the couch and before we realized what they were going to do he gathered her in his arms, she kissed his cheek “for luck” and he jumped off the arm into space. The jump nearly killed him, or maybe it was a seventy pound Leia landing on top of his smooshy Jedi body, but it was definitely curtains for young Skywalker. So much for “above average intelligence.”

Yes, I’ve been through this before, and flattering as it may be to think my child might be gifted I’m not ready to make the jump to light speed yet, and in my family “average” is open to a great deal of interpretation.


local girl said...

OMG! I think I would have had a heart attack if I saw my kids make a jump like that! LOL! Glad to hear no one was hurt. Kids will be kids!

Thanks for submitting this to the Carnival of Family Life!

Pass The Torch said...

Very funny post! Since I started homeschooling, I have a whole new perspective about "gifted."

Knowing how to change the toilet paper roll?? Now that's what I call intelligent.

Lisa said...

Great post. I think sometimes kids are put on the fast track too often. It would be better for their regular teacher to just challenge them a little more instead. Kids just need time to be kids sometimes.

Here via the carnival of family life.

Mert said...

Brown Chevy Nova! You really made me laugh... I could almost see the Star Wars production. :O) I agree, I was told that my 5 yr old is off the charts by her teacher, but her State testing came back just above average. Here from the CFL.

Rory said...

"Lassie could have communicated the trouble more efficiently."


Mommy the Maid said...

What a great story! I think that sometimes people put too much emphasis on children with advanced learning abilities and sometimes push them too hard. Even if they are above average intelligence, they should still be able to just be a kid. It sounds like your children are awesome at just being kids :D

TorAa said...

I read this post with interest and joy. I admire your way of communicating the "Star Wars" Theatre. In many ways, to my experience (4 kids myself - youngest though 29 now) it is very develloping for the child if they are allowed to play their own theatre, do their own intepretations and live it out.
I do think that's wiser when they are young. And later on: Let them join special education for what they are best at and like the most.
Our two youngest all the time played improvised theater for us, whether it was at home or during vacations. My God, how much fun we had.
We live in Norway, but our two youngest lives in USA, the boy married in SW Michigan, and the girl works in Florida.

Thanks for sharing

Desert Songbird said...

You've read me on TT; now I'm here via CofFL!

The Brown Chevy Nova comment had me snorting with laughter.

I loved the Star Wars production. This sounds just like something my kids would do (girl 11, boy 7). They're always acting stuff out like that.

Great post!

DigitalRich said...

Well done! Love your writing style- very fun to read.

We have four girls, and two of them went in for speech testing. Sounds like they spoke the same lanugage as your boy. Both tested fine, though Michelle and I thought the tests had to be wrong.

Sure enough, within a year or two their speech met, and now exceed, their peers. Both happen to have amazing vocabularies and do very well on spelling tests and in school overall. Weird.

Thanks again for the fun read.

Here via Carnival of Family Life

tiggerprr said...

Here via CFL, loved this! It gave me an interesting perspective on some stuff going on under our roof. :) I'm picturing that giant leap off the couch, hilarious.

I figure, as long as the kids grow up to have jobs where they can feed themselves and be happy rather than in jail, we'll have done an ok job.