By DeeDee Corbitt Sauter
“My daughter is gifted, you know.” She whispered in my direction in a voice that was not really meant to prevent people from hearing what she had to say. I did not know her name. In fact, I only knew that my son was in the same preschool class. I looked around. No one else was making eye contact with her. It was me. She had decided I cared enough about her daughter that I needed to know this information—that or she decided to tell me because I was closest to her.
“Which one is she?” I whispered back. I really whispered. I know how to whisper.
She pointed to a cute blonde-headed girl who was wearing a red plaid skirt. The girl was sitting on the edge of her chair, tipping it forward so that the two back legs of the chair were just off the floor. Her mouth hung open and saliva had begun to dribble out of one of the corners of her mouth. (I am not sure if the drool was by accident or that she just enjoyed it, and I must confess: my son, at one time, enjoyed a strong spittle string occasionally.)
The child was not looking at the teachers; her eyes were crossed and it appeared as if she was trying to stare at the crayons she’d inserted into each of her nostrils. I wondered, in what area is this “gifted”?
As if she had been reading my mind, the mother leaned toward me and spoke, again using a voice meant to draw attention. “It’s the arts. She can draw amazing things and people. She loves crayons as you can see.”
Does she draw with her nostrils, I wondered. As the little girl leaned further forward in her chair, the crayons swung like a rainbow pendulum. And then, all of a sudden, she lost her balance and fell to the floor. She never uttered a word; she simply gathered the dislodged Crayolas and climbed back to the seat. Neither of the teachers moved. This had obviously happened before—and frequently.
Of course, I have no idea if she was or is gifted. I still think the age of three or four is a bit early to determine much of anything. It’s clear, though, that I am in the minority. By the end of that preschool year, every parent—with the exception of just one— had discussed with me the importance and brilliance of his or her child. And that one individual happened to sit next to me one afternoon before the class was dismissed.
“Oh, God,” she moaned quietly—so quietly I could barely hear her. “Will he just get his fingers out of his nose? What could be so fascinating?” She looked me. She pointed to an adorable blonde in the back who was cleaning one of his nostrils using his fingers—not crayons. When he was finished, he stood up and just spun in large circles. I watched the teachers corral him back to the rug area.
She sighed and smiled. “He’s an idiot at times, but he keeps us amused.”
What? He is not a booger pulling genius? He is not practicing to be an astronaut with his spins? Are you serious? He’s a normal kid? Other than my son, this James was the only other child in the class who did not display overt and amazing talents. Regardless of his lack of obvious intellectual aptitude at the age of three-and-a-half, I soon discovered he was the nicest child in the class. Our children played together well, with great imagination, and they were well behaved.
I have been listening to parents tell me about their academically gifted children for years. From first grade on, I have been surrounded by children who are on the far end of the bell curve; those not identified by the school system as remarkable have simply fallen through the bureaucratic crack, overlooked because their child presents as “normal.”
I bet that the parents of underachievers or those whose children have learning disabilities wish for a chance for the academic mundane. My eldest son is now in fourth grade. Annually, I am still informed of the budding brilliance around him. But, I am simply still looking around for the real gifted child! No one ever tells me how well behaved their child is. No one ever mentions that their son opens the door for people or helps women with strollers or removes his ball cap at the restaurant table. And I have yet to hear how a friend’s daughter responds with “yes, sir” when talking to adults, or of a child who carries the groceries into the kitchen from the car. I have only met a few children who excuse themselves and wait patiently if they want to speak while adults are talking. I want to hear stories about how your kid stood up for the underdog at school, and not how difficult it is with peers in earshot. I seek the tales of the child who does not punch his friends because that is the cool thing to do. I am still waiting to be regaled with anecdotes of the child who comes when called or cleans his room without being asked… Wait. I am now simply out of control! Oh, these fantasies I weave!
Just remember: academic excellence will open doors for your progeny; manners will keep them open.
DeeDee Corbitt Sauter is a resident of Prince William County. Her column, “Tambourines and Elephants,” appears monthly in Prince William Living.