Everyone believes their child is the prettiest, the cleverest, most gifted, most angelic being to ever emerge from the womb. “Look at those big blue eyes, that button nose. Smell him, smell him,” they urge as they wave their child in front of you. And, like the idiot you are, you smell the baby, nodding enthusiastically, telling them it’s the nicest smell you’ve ever smelled, that it isn’t like the other babies, it’s a special baby imported straight from heaven, delivered by storks, a genius in waiting, early frontrunner for World’s Most Incredible Baby 2022.
Buoyed by your words, they dream big, envisaging a career in the movies, on the telly, in the halls of one of the great American universities, the kind of life that only the best babies can look forward to. This lasts a while, a few months, maybe a year, until one of two things happens: their baby hits a difficult spell, becomes an ungainly toddler, an ugly duckling; the photos dry up, its dressed in big hats and buttoned up coats all year round, its early promise now nothing but a distant memory. Or, worse again, it proves itself to be nothing more than a run-of-the-mill average baby, capable of counting to 11, maybe 12 at a push, writing its own name, but wholly incapable of learning Spanish and enjoying the works of Shakespeare at two-years-old.
Being a somewhat backward nation, a race of people who dislike high achievers and anyone who’s even remotely successful, we reserve particular condemnation for gifted children. We think they’re smug, up themselves, maneens, the kind of kids who should be sent out to play for a month, fed a daily diet of hopscotch and rounders till they start behaving normally. If you insist on being a clever child then keep it to yourself, don’t tell anyone, least of all your friends.
Last month a report from the Centre for Talented Youth, Ireland (CYTI) found that our most intelligent children would rather lie about their talents than be ‘outed’ by their peers. Fearing a negative reaction from other children, of being accused of bragging, Irish kids are twice as likely to lie about their academic abilities as their American counterparts, all so they can fit in.
Speaking of America and the propensity of its people to champion their own cause at every available opportunity, a two-year-old from Kentucky has just become the youngest member of Mensa. Isla McNabb’s latent abilities were first spotted by her parents when she began spelling out three and four-letter words with her Lego bricks, and displaying the reading abilities of a six-year-old. Naturally, little Isla was taken to a psychiatrist for an IQ test, because, what else would you do? And the findings placed her in the top 1 per cent of the country.
Granted, this is America – most Irish two-year-olds would be in the tenth grade over there – but still, Isla is clearly cleverer than your average baby, even if she’s still being potty trained. The likelihood is that by the time she’s five Isla will have bypassed their versions of primary and secondary school and will be enrolling in Stanford or one of those Ivy League colleges (equivalent to Fourth Class here) and be primed to challenge Trump for the presidency as soon as she hits 35.
Meanwhile, back here, our clever clogs will still be dumbing down for all their dummy friends, pretending to be thick to try and impress a girl or a boy, flunking their classes to annoy their parents and vowing to squander their smarts in the pursuit of art or some other fatuous nonsense.
As ever, we need to find some middle ground. As Irish people we need to be a little less mean-spirited, a little less jealous and a little more encouraging of children, other people’s children, who’ve been blessed since birth. At the same time let us use America, not for the first time, as a cautionary tale. Should your baby make good its early promise, start solving the Countdown conundrum while you’re still rearranging the numbers, don’t freak out, don’t panic, just introduce them to a few Penguin classics, tell them about a fella called Albert Einstein, let them express their intelligence freely and without judgement.
And if one of the thick, ugly children says anything, advise your little marvel not to associate with riff raff where possible.