In September of 2008, Thor was 3. That is, he was 37 months old. We’d been having a lot of fun for the past year, learning colors, and numbers, and letters, and symbols, and as you can see in the video linked here, we did a lot of Q&A.
That is, Thor would ask, “What is this, Mama?” And I would say, “What do you think it is?” or, “I don’t know. You tell me.” And he would tell me.
In July of 2008, when Thor was 35 months old, or very nearly 3, I enrolled him in a pre-K program. The director of the program explained that they would be doing a little aptitude test to determine class placement, and I said that was great.
I did remember to explain that Thor only talked when he felt like it, and that he did have a propensity for pretending he was yet unable to speak. I did not remember to explain that he was already a mischievous literalist (like his mother), and that he enjoyed watching adult heads explode.
When I got back to the school that afternoon, the director met me at the door. I mean, she was waiting for me to arrive and met me at the front door to usher me into her office. She was concerned. Worried. Afraid. I thought something terrible must have happened.
She thought something terrible had happened.
She produced Thor’s aptitude test with genuine and sincere upset. She knew I had told her he knew his colors, and his numbers, and his letters, but when they had quizzed him…well…she passed the aptitude test over to me.
Thor had made a 0 on his test.
She said, “He couldn’t tell us any of the answers, Mrs. B. He didn’t know any of them. And he kept asking the teacher to tell him the answer.”
I laughed. And I laughed. And I laughed. And she drew back and eyeballed me.
I asked, “How did you administer the test?”
“We ask him the questions, and he provides the answer.”
“How did you ask him the questions?”
“How did you word the questions?”
The director called the teacher into conference with us. The teacher said, “I would say to him, ‘Thor, do you know what this is.’ He would say, ‘Yes,’ and I would say, ‘What is it?’ And he would say, ‘I don’t know. You tell me.’ He couldn’t get any of them right.”
Then, I laughed some more and explained how that particular boy’s brain worked. “He’s playing with you,” I said. “You have to word it differently. Say, ‘Tell me what color this is,’ or ‘Let’s play a game–pretend I don’t know, and you are teaching me.'”
They were skeptical, but brought the boy back around and when I asked, “Thor, tell me what color this is,” he complied. They agreed to retest him. He made a perfect score.
A huge chunk of my identity has always been tied up in the label Talented and Gifted. I was special because I was Talented and Gifted. I got to do better and more because I was Talented and Gifted. A huge chunk of my neuroses have also always been tied up in that label, and my stresses, and my fears. Without that label, how would people know I was worthwhile? How would they know I was smart? Or good at anything?
I know, duh. But when you’re six, and you’re being told This Is What You Are, you think that thing which you are is what defines you. Six isn’t really old enough to grasp nuance.
Of course I wanted a smart child. I wanted an interesting child. I wanted a curious, busy, interesting child, who could reason and learn without problem. I wanted a Talented and Gifted child.
I got Thor, who turned out to be everything I asked and more, in ways that I cannot even describe.
I got a smart, funny, curious, busy, intense, compassionate, dramatic, rational, delightful, sardonic, merry little man, who reasons and learns without problem. He transcends labels. If you’re around him for five minutes–no, if you look at his face, you can see it in his eyes. He is sparkling with brilliance.
I was afraid that when he got into school, I was going to panic over Talented and Gifted labels. I didn’t want to put that on him. I didn’t want to burden him with my desire for branded, approved, stamped on confirmation of intellect. I didn’t want him to ever feel like he was competing with another child for my approval. I wanted him to be defined by what he thought and made of himself, not what others observed, or standardized tests said about him.
When he took the T&G test in Kindergarten, he got bored and just started coloring in dots on the scantron. He told me this after the fact. His scores came back with a sad note telling us our child was possibly a turnip.
It was hard for me. I mean, clearly, my child is not a turnip. But I wanted a label that would tell the world, “My child is not only not a turnip, but he is also better than a good segment of the population.” *I* think he is better than a good segment of the population, but I am his mother. That’s my job. I’m supposed to think he’s the best. I wanted a scantron to agree with me!
But, I let it go. The kid does very well in school, he has friends, he is pretty much universally loved and adored, or at least appreciated, and he’d get another chance at the T&G in 3rd grade.
About a month ago (after a school conference wherein his intellectual praises were sung to high heaven, and his placement in T&G all but guaranteed, pending the scores of his standardized test) Thor announced that he had taken the T&G and that it was awesome, easy, and a lot of fun to take. “Oh, but I messed it up,” he said.
“How?” I asked.
“I didn’t fill in the bubble for the practice answer, so my answers were all off.”
“Did you get to retake it?”
“No, the teacher who gave us the test said we couldn’t redo it, so I just left it.”
And we got his scores in this week.
“Dear Thor’s Parents, How lovingly you have disguised your turnip as a boy. You dress him in boy clothing, you comb his little greens down like hair, you pack him away with a lunch daily. However, your child is, in all actuality, a turnip. We highly suggest you get him some special help because his test scores indicate that he is entirely unable to communicate, understand, or learn. Sincerely, The Standardized Test People Who Are Not At All Turnips”
Oh well. That’s why we have a membership to the Perot Museum.