Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A genius is born not made

The day our son was born, Fabrice whispered to my ears, "I think we have gotten ourselves a little smart fella."  The proud Daddy claimed that he saw a smart look in the eyes of our newborn!  Fabrice must have been delusional, I thought.  The infant was heavily sedated by the epidural and pictocin, he could not possibly show any signs of intelligence.  However, knowing that bragging is simply incomparable with Fabrice, I have kept his out-of-character remark in mind.  The next few years following his "genius" son's birth, my observations have proven Fabrice wrong, time and time again.  Since our Niuniu - 

- did not care to learn any letters even at age 2;
- had no interests in puzzles at any age (the Daddy just told me today that he stared to play with the 12- piece one and he is almost 4!!!);
- is still in diapers at night, occasionally, he even puts diapers on himself at nap time (he had been diaper-free in day time ever since he turned a little over 1, just for the record);
- cannot draw straight line, shape, pattern, or anything, really;
- ignores constantly our teaching attempts;
- still cannot tell the difference between people's size, color, or age;

All in all, he demonstrates no sign of super intelligence.  

Zhuzhu, on the other hand, has always been the smarter one between the two of them.  She -

- could tell the difference among people (height, look, smell, and color) at 4 months;
- walked without assistance at 10 months;
- knew A-Z and was able to sing songs with words at less than 20 months;
- was able to hold the urge of pee and poop at 3 months, diaper-free at day at around 16 months;
- was able to solve simple (8 pieces) puzzle at 16 months and complicated (12-36 pieces) ones at 2;
- had accurate memory of places and people at 18 months;
- understood and spoke 3 languages at less than 2;
- was able to draw many shapes and objects at age 3;
- had sense of color and beauty at younger than 2;

Sure, she is just a typical girl.  I heard this before.

But not according to child psychologists.  This summer and fall, Zhuzhu and Niuniu were both evaluated, sequentially, by two different child psychologists to determine whether they were gifted kids, as part of the process for the enrollment of a Encore Program - an enrichment program for gifted and talented students.

Why are we bothered to have them evaluated for the Encore?

Let me explain.

Neither Fabrice nor I believes our kids are gifted.  Don't get me wrong, we don't think the kids are retarded either.  We simply take a passive approach to parent them.  As long as we feed them, dress them, and drop them to school on time, everything else would fall right into places.  The Daddy is a big fan of keeping our kids to be kids.  We are also strong believers and supporters of public schools: we rather have them learn less than more at young ages so that they won't be under challenged later in Metro Public Schools.  Additional important idea behind our passive parenting approach is to let the kids to have a chance to look for their own inner drives.  Curiosity comes within - if they don't ask, we don't answer.  We fully expect that they learn how to cope with their imperfections along the way without the need of special interventions, such as this "gifted program".

In addition, both Zhuzhu and Niuniu grew up in the daycare owned by our University.  They started as full time infants at age of 5- and 3 months, respectively.  They have played with and learned from the other kids who are mostly high achievers - well, being the kids of high achievers, you see.  Apples do not fall too far from the tree?!  Naturally, they often come home surprising us with the vast of knowledge covering Disney Princesses, Star War Characters, and Super heroes...   

All these are to say that The Encore was naturally out of the realm of our knowledge.

However, it turns out that we don't live in a big bubble.  Kailyn and Elena, two classmates of Zhuzhu in "the Explorer" preschooler class, have introduced her Ballet lessons last fall.  These two girls started to becoming ballerinas like, oh, 1 and half year earlier than that.  Zhuzhu and Elena were in the Sunshine toddler's room together (from 1.5 to 2.5 years old) and good friends then.  Later Zhuzhu was singled out with Marie to joined Rainbow preschooler class (for 3-4 yr olds), whereas Elena was left behind and then was advanced to Annex toddler room (for 2.5-3.5 yr olds) with majority of the original Sunshine room friends.  Poor Zhuzhu might have been separated with most of her toddler friends too early.  She had hard time to adjust to the Rainbow room (our daughter requires high level of acquaintance to feel comfortable).  Last Fall, Elena and Zhuzhu both finally were advanced into the Explorer together, however, to Zhuzhu's advantage, she had plenty other friends from the Rainbow class.  Thus, Elena was closer to Kailyn who was also a new comer than to Zhuzhu.

Okay, I know this is too long to tell you why we came to know Encore.  I get to the point now.

Zhuzhu since then clearly was feeling rejected, because she often would answer my question of "How was your day?" with an answer of "Kailyn and Elena did not want to play with me.  They were not nice to me."  Our poor precious already experienced jealousy at that age.

All these is to say that it's not surprising Zhuzhu would want to join Kailyn and Elena at the ballet lessons and everything else they were doing.

In the early Spring, Kailyn's Mom kindly told me the Encore finally informed her that a specialized in child psychologist finally would evaluate her daughter soon.  She said they had waited for such opportunity for the last 5 months.  She was excited since they just got a definite "test" time.  She is a professor in psychology of our university and I certainly would not ignore her recommendations.  Thus, I relayed the news to Fabrice yet he could not care less about the news.  But I acted on it few months later and got our application forms filled all up at the end of the Spring.

Soon, Summer sneakily arrived, Zhuzhu started to become agitated, easily.  Her classroom was having frequent changes: friends went and new friends came.  Some of her old friends joined Summer camps in their future "big kids" schools, others took the chance to take long vacations.  Due to high demand of this daycare, each graduated kid was immediately replaced by a new comer.   It broke my heart when Zhuzhu at that time period would come home humming, "We love you, Lauren, oh, yes, we do..." her class dedicated this song to every graduate on their last days.

Other than the song she sang, she would also came home with various requests or complains, "Mommy, could you sign me up for Summer camps?"  "Marie has gone to New Orleans for a vacation.  I never get to have fun!"  "Elena went to Germany for a month, where are we going to go this summer?"  "I really don't want to be the last one to leave the class!"  "Kailyn and Elena get to go the Encore and swimming lessons together, I have got nothing.  It's not fair!"...  

We did not plan for summer vacation, so, told the kiddo to suck it up.  Life isn't always fair.

In the mean time of dealing with Zhuzhu's anxiousness, we also need to deal with her "giftness".  Sometime around mid of the June, we heard back from the Encore and had Zhuzhu scheduled for the test.  The psychologist informed me that Zhuzhu did not want to open up to her.  She said eventually Zhuzhu did answer her questions.  Then she showed me the following scores:

75% on reading;
91% on Math; and
80% on science/social studies

Good scores, right?  That was what I thought too.  

But these translated into an overall 0 for educational performances (required score is 10 or higher), 10 for creativity (required score is 16 or higher).  

Our daughter was not smart enough to make it in the Encore.

I was shocked and immediately asked the psychologist whether she could re-test our Zhuzhu since she was EXTREMELY shy!  But the psychologist said, "Mia did not do badly on the test, she is still better than average.  She just needs way better than average to make it.  You can always have her reevaluated later."  Then showed me the way out.

I must admit I did not doubt her competency at that moment.  But I certainly suspected the fact that we were an hour late on our appointed test time had imposed extra stresses to our sensitive daughter.  

The Daddy was calm, however, "I think the test score was acceptable."  He tried to make the sense of it to me.  "What, you mean Kailyn and Elena are smarter than Zhuzhu?" I cannot believe it, he was trying to tell me that our daughter was not the smartest in the world!  "Well, I don't know, they may well be.  Look, we've never prepared Mia for such task.  Kailyn and Elena's parents may have taught them more at home."  Alright, let's try to be objective then.  I should have known better and I shouldn't need a standardized test to tell me how smart my kids are.

But I was absolutely bothered by the lack of words to break the news to Zhuzhu.  Who knew parenting can be so challenging?!

The following weeks we tried very hard not to mention a word about the Encore, nor the test, to Zhuzhu.  Luckily, it was on summer break, Kailyn or Elena had not much chances to talk about it in front of Zhuzhu either.  Now she has been admitted into a private elementary school*, which disqualifies her from the Encore.  We are glad that until today Zhuzhu has not found out the fact that she did not pass the screen test for the Encore!

Having experienced the rejection by the Encore, we had decided not deprive Niuniu of this opportunity.  Thus, sometime in the mid of Sept, we had Niuniu evaluated.  Since he was only 3, his examine was done in another school by a younger, prettier, and friendlier psychologist with whom he immediately fell in love.  Yes, you guessed it, his test results were excellent:

89% on reading;
99% on math; and
88% on science/social studies.

These scores translate into the following: 10 on educational performance and 30 on creative thinking.  He was immediately referred to a comprehensive IQ exam, which eventually defined him a genius (IQ=139) and he started the Encore few weeks after that.

Now, where I stand?  Am I happy to know this?  Honestly?  Yes and No, but mostly it made me thinking.

If I believe that a genius is supported by his genetic makeups with which one is born, how do I explain the difference between our 2 kids who share 99.9% of the genetic makeup but do "not" share a similar level of intelligence?  They do, I believe, but Zhuzhu's test results could be skewed by her personality whereas Niuniu's could be inflated also by his superb expressiveness.

Zhuzhu is a mini Daddy, a stereotypical introvert*, appearing quiet and shy in public.  But she demonstrates strong 9 of the 9 types of intelligence.  Niuniu, on the other hand, is a mini me who lacks types 5, 6, 8, and 9 intelligence.  Maybe that is exactly why he is a certified genius - exceptionally deficient in some areas yet extraordinary great in other areas.  In other words, he can be dumb but appears smart because he is so eager to tell others what he knows!

Basically what I am trying to say is that one's fates can be sometimes determined by standardized tests.  And this is just the beginning for our kids.

The Daddy said, "She'll be fine.  She has years to grow out of her shyness."  To which I responded, "What if she will be rejected by another Academic Program that selects by standardized test scores?!"  I reminded him that many ivy league schools have minimal required test scores.  But the Daddy was not bothered at all, "None of us went ivy league schools, but we are happy, aren't we?!"

Told you that between the two of us, he is the smarter one!
* One of the primary reasons that we (alright, I) have decided to send Zhuzhu to a private school was because her introvercy.  The daycare manager (a great educator) and Ms. C (Zhuzhu's favorite preschool teacher) both strongly suggested us to do so.  They were worried about our girl would be treated as one of "the grey zone kids" in the public schools.  For the record, the daycare manager did not think that Niuniu is smarter than Zhuzhu either.    

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