I’m not proud of it but I have to admit that sometimes I unconsciously mine my children for signs of genius.
Last night Ella and I were sitting in our local Italian cafe waiting for Fi to finish her dance class. It’s a pokey little place with red checkered tablecloths, scenes from The Godfather on the walls, and Sinatra playing in the background. We’re regulars there and Ella loves telling the waitress, “I’ll have the usual, please.”
It’s one of the rare times during our week when we can just sit and talk, and I can ask her about what she’s learning at school. Right now their school is rehearsing for their musical, a Greek opera. I personally would have thought a Greek opera would be over-the-heads of 6 to 12 year-olds, but surprisingly they seem to love it. Ella is a nymph and Fi is a river goddess. For the past few weeks, at every playdate I’m seeing kids play games like, “Barbie goes to Hades,” or “Hide and Seek with Zeus” – so all the Greek myths are filtering down into their little psyches.
There was a man sitting at a table near us, reading a huge book – I mean it might as well have been The Book of Kells, or Encyclopedia Brittanica, it was that huge. And since the tables are close together, you can kind of hear what everybody’s talking about so I was worried that our pat-a-cake games would annoy him. Ella was teaching me how to play Concentration 64 – you pick a category and list as many things in that category until you can’t think of anymore things. I was sure she was going to pick ‘Animals.’
Ella began: ”Concentration (clap) 64. No repeats (clap). Or hesitations. I’ll start (clap). You follow (clap). Category is: Greek Gods and Goddesses.”
I was chuffed that she picked such a big category. I mean – she’s 7. I didn’t learn about Greek mythology until I was in high school.
Does this mean she’s a genius? Does it?
I often have these: But-clearly-this-means-that-my-child-is-a-genius moments. Don’t you? I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only parent who does this, who unconsciously mines their progeny for signs of genius. On the flip-side, I also have moments I call: But-clearly-this-means-that-my-child-has-<insert-latest-therapy-term-here> moments - so really, it all balances out, in the end.
We started the game. I pretended to run out of gods immediately because I wanted to see how many she knew. I figured she’d know three or five of them.
She listed: Hera, Demeter, Hades, Poseidon, Ulysses, Athena, Persephone, Aphrodite, Apollo, Hera, and Hermes. Not only that, she knew each character’s backstory – for example, that Poseidon is “the man in the water,” Demeter is Perspehone’s mom, and Apollo is the dude with the wings on his feet.
I was astonished, quite frankly.
I thought – clearly, this child is a genius.
I wished someone besides me had been there to witness it, the genius that is my seven-year-old.
Really, though, it’s Montessori. She’s learning this stuff through music and the arts, and stories. She isn’t learning about it so she can get an A on a test or to please me or to complete a scheduled module in a workbook – she’s learning it organically, out of joy and creativity and some hard work.
The man with the book got up to leave. As he passed our table he stopped and said to Ella, “Can I ask how old you are?”
Ella: “I’m seven. Can I ask how old you are?”
Man: “It’s okay – I’m 68.”
Ella: “You’re very old.”
Me: “Ella!” (I’m always saying “Ella!” in a somewhat shocked tone.)
Man: “You’re right, it is old. So how does a seven-year-old know so much about Greek mythology?”
Ella: “Well, I’m a nymph in the musical at school.”
Man: “I see.”
Ella: “And nymphs know a lot about gods and goddesses. But you can learn about them in books, too. Books are a good way to learn things, you know.”
Man: (tapping his book) “They are indeed.”
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