The Day My Ego Trip Derailed

I remember one fleeting moment when the results on my kids’ first IQ tests came back – a screening at the mid-school to determine if they were eligible for advanced math placement. Both of the older kids qualified (the youngest was still a wee toddler fighting Darth Vader and not yet ready for the world of IQ tests and advanced math).

And when I found out both of my kids scored in the gifted range, there was this big moment of pride I had as a mom.

I reveled in the fact that my kids were advanced. Woo-hoo. My children were going to be valedictorians and doctors and admired and respected by their peers and their peers’ parents and their teachers and, heck, everyone else, too. When I went into teacher conferences, I’d be showered with accolades about how amazing my little geniuses were. It was easy street for me from that point forward, because my kids were going to do their homework on their own and make up new problems just for the fun of it. They would start (and finish) major projects the day they were assigned, seeing as my kids now had test results to prove they were too smart to procrastinate. They would love school and bask in the glory of their own genius. And I’d bask in the glory as well, since they were half of my genes. I mean, seriously, I helped make geniuses. How cool was I?

Yeah. I had a real “moment”, one I’m not in the least proud of. And, as you might suspect, my ego trip derailed with a phone call from the school brought me back to reality.

“We need to have a conference with you about your son.”

Was he up for some award already? “Sure. What time works for you?”, I asked.

“This afternoon. The sooner the better.”

It must be some big award.

It was most definitely not some big award. It was pretty much the opposite. I arrived with my younger son, light saber in tow. While he twirled in a corner of the room, the school counselor and several teachers informed me that my son was failing not one but every single one of his subjects. And not by a little bit. He was failing on a grand scale. As in zeros across the board, in every single class. Oh, except band. He had an A in band.

I left that room a very defeated mother. I had failed my son, and I wasn’t quite sure how to fix it. I’d dropped the ball and bought into the whole pop-culture assumptions about kids with high IQ’s.

When he arrived home, I was waiting. At first, I thought the whole ranting, angry mom routine was called for, but somehow I managed to stop myself. Instead, I asked him to sit down and talk with me. And I told him of my meeting, of the shocking news I’d received from his teachers.

To my surprise, a little smile tugged at the corner of his lips. It seems some teacher who, like me, thought that a high IQ meant that the understanding of all subject matter came easily, had chided him and embarrassed him in front of the rest of the class. We’d just moved to a new home across town, so these weren’t students who’d known him for years. These were new kids, and middle school kids at that. They’re like vultures when it comes to someone being different.

“He told me I was too smart to not know the answer to his question,” my son explained. “He kinda made fun of me for not knowing, so I decided to teach them all a lesson about just how dumb I was.”

“So you just quit doing your work?” I asked, incredulous at his logic.

“Oh, no. I did all of my work. Every problem. I just made sure I got every single answer wrong, and you know, that’s not easy. If you don’t really know the material, you can mess up and get an answer right by mistake.”

So my dear, sweet, smart son had purposefully chosen to do all of his work wrong. And not a single teacher noticed that the answers were all filled in, and that simple odds would tell you that some of them should have been correct.

But once your kid has zeros in all of his classes, convincing the school that your child actually needs tested for the gifted program, is, well, pretty laughable. And that’s what the counselor did when I asked her to begin the screening process.

“Are you kidding me?” she asked, almost offended at my audacity.

“No, I’m not. He isn’t doing well in his regular classes, and while I thought he would fit into the class better than this, he isn’t. So now it’s time to begin testing so that his needs are better met,” I said.

“I’m sorry, but gifted classes are for those kids who are doing so well that they need challenged more, not for students who are failing their classes. This doesn’t seem like a solution, since it appears this is more of a parenting issue.” Her smile was tight. “I can provide references if you would like to look into some parenting classes or family counseling.”

I waited a moment until I was calm enough to talk. “I believe that what I learned in college where I studied special education is that the definition of special education is to provide appropriate services for students whose needs are not able to be served in a regular education classroom. Gifted is not a reward; it is a necessity.”

Her tight smile never wavered. “You cannot imagine the number of requests I receive every year from parents who desperately want their child to be gifted. But the testing is rigorous, and it is the kids who are crushed when they are unable to make the scores that will make their parents happy.”

I actually laughed out loud. I couldn’t help it. “Are you serious? There are parents out there who would wish being gifted on their kids? They obviously don’t know what they’re wishing for, because as much as I wouldn’t change my kids since they’re amazing just the way they are, I promise you, being gifted is not a ticket to easy street. It usually means a whole new set of challenges and struggles to deal with.”

She looked genuinely horrified.

I opened my purse and pulled out a piece of typed paper. “This is my written request to have my son tested. I believe under state law, the school has 90 days to comply. Please let me know when the testing is scheduled so that I can make sure my son is prepared and rested.”

She didn’t wish me well as I gathered up my little Darth Vader and left her office. It was okay with me. I don’t I wished me well right then, either. I’d failed to see the signs and let my son dig a hole for himself because I’d assumed he was doing ok. Here’s a hint. Your kids are never doing ok. They always need you nosing up in their business and asking about grades and homework and friends and life. They need to be parented, no matter how awesome they are.

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