My older kid’s 18th birthday is tomorrow. In January, my younger son will turn 16. The thing is, I’m not the kind of person who looks backward a lot. Sure, I remember when they were babies (okay, I remember the screaming and the legos and the giggling), but I don’t have photos hanging on my wall or propped up on my desk. If I want to look at baby pictures, I have to go dig them out. The photo up above? I haven’t set eyes on that one in maybe ten years. It’s from 1995. Jeremy was 1 year old.
The surest way to grieve the past is to focus on it incessantly. The first thing that usually pops into my head when I think about the boys being little is all the times they almost died. Which, just, no. I’m not going to focus on that. Maybe it’s different for other parents. Maybe their kids don’t have allergies or heart defects or possible Marfan’s or that brain damage incident or whatever, but I’ve had all too many close calls with the great black hole of grief to ever go poking at the beast on purpose. I want to focus on the good stuff. Usually that’s the stuff that’s happening right now in front of me.
Both of my kids are crazy intelligent. I don’t really know how to explain what this is like. It leads to unexpected conversations and sometimes devices that scare the shit out of me being left on the steps and the odd sensation of knowing that they can solve math problems in their head (how do they do that?). A lot of people talk about having intelligent kids and everyone (according to the articles I read) wants intelligent kids, but many of them, when faced with the reality, pretty much are like: WTF. Hey kid, why won’t you follow the directions on the box? Why is it so hard for you to listen and do all the stuff everyone else does at your age?
Smart kids are difficult. Directions are boring. Putting things together the way you’re supposed to is boring. Toys with instructions are boring. Games are infuriating and boring (until you figure out how to reprogram them). These kids do weird shit like talk when they’re six months old or not talk at all until they’re four years old (then they speak in complete sentences with multisyllabic words that most adults don’t use or understand). They’re BORED all the time. School is usually BORING BORING BORING and “I’ve already read the entire textbook and this class is pointless now, Mom” by the third week of September.
A lot of people have bright kids. Not many people dodge school officials and psychologists like I’ve had to for the past sixteen years because really smart kids are kind of … not normal. Doctor’s charts have been a source of hilarity in my house for years. I’ve had to read up on my college statistics class so I could understand what the hell outlier meant. The funniest thing about all of this? No one believes you. Smart kids are supposed to get straight As. Most of them don’t. Smart kids are supposed to just be brilliant, easily, in totally predictable ways. They’re not.
Smart kids hate having to learn how to do things that are tricky, like riding a bicycle or tying their shoes or using a pencil (though scissors can be mastered at age one year). That stuff that requires muscle memory and practice is torture. Smart kids can intelligently discuss physics and the socio-political jokes from The Daily Show in their early teens, but learning how to grocery shop? Not so much. Smart kids figure out how to fool their teachers in kindergarten, but butt heads with their eighth-grade homeroom teacher. It’s kind of weird and cool and terrifying, at the same time.
As a parent, I have learned how to roll with most of this. I harp on the important things: don’t forget your epi-pen. Don’t expect the world to make sense. Learning that people act irrationally most of the time is, perhaps, the hardest thing to teach them. I even stumble over that one, still.
It’s weird, though, getting to this point. A parent of kids like this must be hyper-aware of the things society expects from children at certain ages, and know how to either hide their kids’ peccadillos or not give a shit, depending on the situation. My job has been to keep them away from the “specialists” and do-gooders, so that they can figure out who they are without the labeling that seems so prevalent these days. I wanted them to be bored at the right times. Slotting kids like mine into piles of activities makes them crazy (and me, too) and doesn’t help them figure out how to calm their racing brain at midnight enough to sleep.
I worked hard at showing them how cool it is to learn new things on their own because I’m convinced that public education, in many cases, is intent on stifling that urge. Jeremy reads the same books I do, the kind of books you don’t get to crack open in school until you’re in college or beyond. Zachary doesn’t like to read (which everyone thinks is at odds with being smart, and really isn’t) so I spend a lot of my time talking to him about online gaming and the internet and watching hilarious videos that he sends me and discussing the ethics of a modern society versus hunter-gatherer cultures among other things.
I spend a lot of breath forcing them to relax and take a break and not to worry so much about school. I have never been so convinced as I am now that education in our society and a love of learning is mostly incompatible. Public education teaches to the average and to the below-average. Gifted education? Hah. It’s a joke. It mostly consists of piling more BORING projects that require colored pencils and poster board on top of the regular classroom work.
All of this is to say one thing: I HAD NO IDEA what I was getting into. Dear everyone who wants a baby: the pitter patter of little feet thing is a LIE. Sometimes they crawl. Sometimes (like Jeremy), they never crawl, they roll. Sometimes they BREAK THEIR CRIB (Zachary did this. I’m not kidding) or figure out how to flip over their pack-n-play. They take apart their plasma night-light. They invent their own language and would rather go to a museum than have a birthday party.
My kids did NONE of the things everyone told me they would do. But you know what? I don’t mind. They’re the most interesting people I’ve ever met. I can’t wait to see what we do together tomorrow.