Monday, May 14, 2018

Genius Children

All parents have had those moments. The moments where, against your better judgement, you come to believe that your child is “extraordinarily gifted.” They say or do something that you convince yourself is unparalleled in the entire history of human development. You are cautious, and even preface your declarations with, “I know I am not entirely unbiased, but…..” and then you proceed to lay out your case for intellectual sainthood.

A week ago, my five-year-old son and I were reading his exhaustive encyclopedia of Marvel Superheroes. We were discussing the origin story of The Incredible Hulk and when we got to the section about anger being the catalyst for transformation, my son seemed to retreat into deep self-reflection. He asked me to re-read the passage again, with special emphasis on the part where Hulk returns to Bruce Banner once his anger subsides.

Without a word, he rose from the couch and disappeared into his room. After several minutes of searching, he emerged with a Little Golden Book about The Avengers. After manically flipping through the pages, he finally stops and turns the book toward me. Pointing accusatorily toward the illustration of The Avengers, he observes that The Hulk is pictured with a smile on his face. How, he demanded, could Hulk’s anger have subsided to the point that he was smiling and yet he still had not returned to Bruce Banner? This book stood in clear defiance of the parameters outlined by the Marvel Encyclopedia.

As he stared at me expectantly, I mumbled something about there probably being a time-delay since The Hulk might be momentarily pleased with something without fully being devoid of anger. This seemed to temporarily pacify him and we were able to move on, but I could tell that he wanted to dig deeper into it.

That evening, as I was relating the scene to my wife, I could barely contain my glee. After all, think of the cognitive horsepower necessary to discover and questions such a seemingly insignificant discrepancy. I began to worry that the specialists may want to start him at Princeton before he is ready. How would he handle being away from home at such a tender age? One of us would have to quit our jobs to accompany him to the inevitable television interviews and TED talks.

When I woke up the next day, I got my future Macarthur Genius Grant recipient a cup of milk and went back to take a shower. Still glowing from the forthcoming accolades from the academic community, I walked back into the living room and heard the sound of laughter.

Following the source, I found myself in our guest bathroom. What I found was my son and his younger sister knelt over the toilet bowl with their heads barely visible. I immediately demanded to know what was going on, but both of them had become incapacitated by giggles. Certainly, given my son’s recently demonstrated cerebral acumen, this was the gleeful conclusion to some sort of breakthrough experiment.

When the laughter finally subsided, he explained to me that when he “went pee-pee really hard” into the toilet it made bubbles. Upon discovering this, he had invited his sister into the restroom to see which one could pop the most “pee-pee bubbles” by blowing on them within a given span of time. He indicated that the “pee-pee bubble game” was already one of his favorite things.

Somewhat dejected, I made a mental note to cancel the calls to Good Morning America. When I rejoined my wife in the bathroom, she asked what the noise was and I barely had the heart to explain that our son had invented a game that revolved around the creation and popping of urine bubbles.
In hindsight, I obviously fell into the trap that all parents are subject to. Certainly there had been warning signs that “Pee-Bubble-Pop” was on the horizon. Just a few weeks prior, I had received a note from his teacher asking us to address the fact that our son had repeatedly referred to another young man as “fart-poop.” I had managed to keep a straight face the following morning while looking a grown woman in the eye and assuring her that we have “addressed the fart-poop.”

I cannot help but think that God had some hand in the juxtaposition of my son’s Hulk revelation and the toilet-bowel incident. Several years ago, he had exhibited a trait (which I cannot recall the exact nature of) that I had interpreted as a sign of his accelerated intellect only to have it canceled out within the hour as I had to implore him to stop licking dried paint from the sidewalk.

The truth is: I am thankful to be his father. He is every ounce a 5-year-old boy, capable of both great leaps of cognition and prodigious use of bodily-function terminology. If he is ultimately categorized as extraordinary, I hope it is for his courage in the face of injustice, his integrity in a world seemingly devoid of it and his kindness to those who have no reason to expect it. In the meantime, I will work tirelessly to perfect my ability to say "fart-poop" with as much gravity as such a situation requires.

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