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Within the first few months of Simon’s life, I read a part of What to Expect: The First Year that made me giggle. It was about how to recognize if your child is an Extremely Gifted Baby (EGB). To the authors’ credit, they approached this question (parts of the book are presented in question and answer format) with many qualifications about how hard it can be to tell, that all children develop at different rates, and that an extremely gifted baby may not grow up to be an equally extremely gifted child or adult. To their discredit, they then went on to enumerate the criteria for identifying the EGB so that parents inclined to brag wouldn’t lose any time exercising their rights.

I didn’t think much about the EGB until this past week when I stayed with friends in Boston. Let me tell you, I have seen the EGB, and I didn’t need a book check-list to realize it. The EGB in question is Fiona, my friends Cindy and Tim are her parents, and if anyone in my circle of friends was likely to have an EGB it was them. Tim has a Ph.D. in Ancient Near Eastern Studies and so is not exactly a mental slouch. And Cindy is the kind of person who excelled at school, went to an Ivy League college, earned two graduate degrees, and seemingly never broke a sweat. She’s also the kind of person who could decide to go to business school at the last minute, take the GMAT on about two days’ notice, and still pull off a near-perfect score.

Now back to Fiona. At eighteen months she speaks in simple but full sentences. She knows most of her letters. She knows some states. She can work a puzzle of the United States that does not have grid lines under the pieces to make it easier. Think about that: This eighteen month old toddler can do something most adults in the U.S. cannot. Cindy and Tim, bless them, seem to think this is all pretty normal and are not stage parents at all. So Fiona’s not being pushed into her development; she’s way ahead of the curve working at her own pace.

The funny part of all of this is what happens when I tell people. I’m not sure if it’s a measure of how competitive I am, how competitive people think I am, or how loaded any subjective judgment of anyone’s kid is, but whenever I’ve told people about Fiona I get one of several responses:

  1. “Well, she may not stay that way.”
  2. “I hope you’re not expecting Simon to be able to do this at the same age.”
  3. “Let someone else have the gifted kids; I just want mine to be well adjusted.”

I find this highly amusing, because fairly or not I translate these comments as:

  1. “Well, Simon may not really be that behind. So don’t you worry!”
  2. “Honey, Simon isn’t going to be that advanced. But don’t you worry!”
  3. “By not being gifted, Simon may do better socially. So don’t you worry!”

Um, thanks everyone. But really, I’m not competing or worried here. I do think Fiona is gifted. I don’t think Simon is. And that’s OK. Cindy and Tim will raise her to be solid and well adjusted regardless of how ahead of the curve she stays. And I’m confident Simon will be smart enough to be able to chose a career and excel at it. It’s all good. I’ve mentioned Fiona’s abilities not from a place of jealousy or envy, but simply from one of marvel.

Regardless, I think I’ve learned a valuable lesson. Wherever you live today, if you are middle class you must pretend it is Lake Wobegon, that magical place where “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.” Especially that last part.

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