Wednesday, November 30, 2005

That IQ Number

Phill is a member of a writing group that meets every other week. This was his prepared writing sample. He let me read it. Below this is my contribution to the discussion regarding our own number and that of our first daughter. We may face this again with our second daughter.


I have my own cross to bear now when it comes to smart children. I remember a friend’s piece about her son and how pride was the one sin that she thought was her personal down fall. She was determined not to let the number slip in casual conversation (now matter how high it actually was). Now I too have an IQ number to bear. Only mine carries two generations of added burden.

My mother once told me that she stopped feeling like a failure the day she got my IQ score. Ever since she’d dropped out of college, she’d felt that she was less than she should have been. She finally told me the number after I got my first doctorate degree and was well on my way to my second. She said they scared her when she came to get the results because there were so many people in the room. It was the highest score in our city, and there were educational options for her to consider.  I’m still not sure what that says about High Point North Carolina. At eight years old my parents signed me up for the summer camp for the gifted and talented and the once a week music class by the same name. That was all they could afford on our side of the de-segregation line – the one that resulted in all the poor white kids being bused into black neighborhoods so the rich kids wouldn’t have to be bothered. The money didn’t move either.

Now we’ve had Inwe tested at the age of 3 and 11 months, and she’s in the same ballpark in terms of IQ. We will be sending her to a private kindergarten a year early because she’s already ahead of the rest of kids in her preschool class even though she’s the youngest. We’ve soul searched to make sure that it’s not us pushing her, but its not. Her teachers are encouraging us - it’s her being vibrant and interested in everything. She remembers everything, integrates everything and can recall everything at will.

I look back on my life and know that my parents had tremendous expectations for me. But theirs’ were nothing compared to my own aspirations, so I never felt pressured. Quite the opposite, I was guilty of coasting through course work I found to be dull, making up my GPA in others where I felt like there was some challenge or that were just more interesting. My whole lifetime report card is a series of As here, clusters of Bs there, an occasional C and even an F in German when I miscalculated and missed the drop/add date. I turned it on and turned it off, based on some internal meter that told me it was okay not to be the best at every moment of every day. I knew that I was beating the academic and socioeconomic odds and somehow had the grace not to sweat the little things.

I want Inwe to be able to do that.  To find a rhythm in her life that lets her be special and gifted but also to be happy and capable of enjoying the moment. To understand that failure is part of the path that leads to success. I want her to have boy friends that can hold their own in a conversation (without being twice her age) and I want her to have friends who feel at ease with her.

Both Sarabeth and I were loners in our childhood. We both took that test. We both had those kinds of scores and we both walked through our adolescent lives in a bubble. We went through the motions; we had friends but not close ones; we dated but not seriously. In the end, we simply grew up before our peers, for lack of any other option. It doesn’t matter how many IQ points you have, there’s really no way to solve this problem.

If you put your child into too elite of an environment, they feel like a freak and eventually they rebel - or they become somebody you wouldn’t want to grow up as. If you leave them in the main stream you get the growing up in a bubble problem. Either way, they don’t fit in and they’re smart enough to know it.  I think our approach will be to make sure she has a family that can step up to the plate and give her meaningful interaction for as long as she is willing to engage. Hopefully we will be able to keep up with her… intellectually as well as physically.

I want her to have a place. To have people with whom she can commune. I want her to someday grow up and leave it when she’s ready, because she has something and hopefully someone that offers her a future full of promise. I don’t want her to have to make her way as I have – out of sync. Accelerated in some aspects and retarded in others. As I look back it on it now, there were so many chances for failure and personal misery. It seems complete and random chance that I ended up in the happy moment I have now. And yet, according to that IQ test, it was supposed to be a slam-dunk.

My friend can worry about pride. I’m worried about my daughter’s happiness. Her IQ score is harbinger of many things and not all of them are to be regarded as good. I wouldn’t change her, and I certainly couldn’t be prouder of her. I will try to save her from some of the trials that I have endured because of that number.

After reading what Phill had written I began typing my feelings and memories. Forgive the narcissistic post, please.

Don’t call me a loner, Love. Please. I wasn’t really. I just didn’t “get along well with my peers.” That’s a quote from an evaluation I got on my report one year. I was eight or nine and every Tuesday dutifully went to the funky, creative, out of the box Program for the Academically Talented Student (PATS).

“What’s a peer?” I asked my mother.

“An equal, the other kids you attend PATS with.”

“Umm, I may go to PATS with other kids, but there aren’t many I would consider my peers,” was my reply to my mother. I responded that way because there were big differences in the students who went to PATS when I attended. There was group of girls who were there because their parents had enough money to give them that leg up in academics. These girls were not my peers. I quickly figured out that they were shallow, obsessed with materialistic goals, and nowhere near as intelligent as me.

Another group was the geeks and freaks; the kids that no one understood, but who were actually smart and made the classes fun and interesting. I found a few friends in this group, but I wasn’t like them either. I was at least as smart as them, but I didn’t enjoy the fringe culture that they embraced.

What was my group? The kids from the low- to mid-income families who were really smart and also had to scrap for every bit of information they could find. We latched onto the PATS teachers instead of each other because we didn’t share many life experiences. The teachers were our friends. The teachers were my peers, not the other students.

At my mainstream elementary school I felt out of place when it came to the academics. I once stopped filling out the answers to a division pre-test after realizing that no one else was working on the worksheet. I at least had buddies as we had been together since kindergarten. Even at PATS, where it was supposed that I would fit in better, I didn’t. I couldn’t. My choices were kids who found my clothes, shoes, and hair barrettes lacking or the freaks with their fringe culture or the kids in constant competition for more information.

I suppose I want what Phill wants—companionship for Inwe. I want her to have real friends that understand her mind as well as her emotions. That’s why we will spend the money to send her to a private kindergarten a year before the powers-that-be say she should attend. I’m not worried about the boyfriends yet. That is too complicated to predict or to build up hopes. Phill won’t understand that. He won’t know that she may want the “dumb jock” for a break. He can’t see that he was once one of the freaks that I wouldn’t have considered when I was younger. Choosing a mate has less to do with a girl’s mind than we females like to admit. However, that’s another subject.

1 comment:

Manateechik said...

I find this post fascinating. It's like the "what may have been my life if I didn't have a mental illness that incapacitated me half the time." Very interesting perspective, thank you for sharing.