Monday, 29 November 2010

Prodigy not progeny

Over the last 18 months, I’ve noticed how quickly progeny can turn to prodigy. Last week, at a singing group, I had to stifle a snigger as we sat round on the floor, waiting for a sing-a-long to begin. ‘What are you doing?’ a mother asked her baby son as she dangled him by his armpits in front of her and he bounced on his bandy legs, much like any other baby. ‘You’re not supposed to be walking, you’re only six months old!’

I should probably stop here when it comes to relaying baby-boasts, as I wouldn’t wish to offend anyone by singling out the genius of their own child. So here is a boast of my own. A few days ago, I went to my daughter’s nursery to have a conversation about her progress. I perched on a miniature chair at a miniature table and her keyworker presented me with a fat folder: ‘Elizabeth’s profile’, she stated, making her sound more like an inmate than a toddler. 

Before I could examine the endless pages of tickboxes, the keyworker turned to the back. ‘Here are some examples of Elizabeth’s work,’ she told me jabbing with her finger. ‘Look at that!’ There before me was a page covered with circles. Coloured circles, interlocking, spiraling, offset. Circles just like the ones she draws at home. All the time. ‘Yes, she loves drawing circles,’ I say, ‘We have reams of them at home.’ There’s a pause. ‘They’re very good,’ the keyworker tells me. A small prickling of pride as I realise I’ve missed something. ‘So are you saying these circles are… unusual?’ I probe. She nods in the manner of one whose charge is small children. ‘Very. It’s VERY advanced. We never get Buttercups doing this, only Poppies.’ The woman indicates to the circles again and looks as me as though I’m an idiot. And who am I to pour scorn on the genius of my daughter’s circle-drawing?

I leave the nursery feeling I’ve just come away from parents evening, reflecting on the report a stranger has imparted to me about my own still-almost-baby-daughter. ‘Ya ya ya,’ she sings. I push her home, wondering if premature circle-drawing could have any kind of connection with developmental conditions. Must google, I note. Later that day, I notice my daughter seems not just to be drawing circles, but living in a world of circles. She draws them constantly – on paper, in the air, in response to the sight of a bus, a CD, the car, a teacup, beaker, washing machine… It is beginning to look not just clever, but abnormal.

The next day, I’m in a cafe with friends and our children. Someone asks how the nursery assessment went.  ‘Apparently, B is very advanced in the art of circle-drawing,’ I reveal, trying to sound casual. Cue boasts all round. ‘X is able to read a whole book himself,’ boasts one. ‘Y is talking in full sentences, unlike his friend who’s six months older,’ boasts another. And there we indulge ourselves in a self-congratulatory flood of ‘Really?’s and ‘Clever girl/boy!’s

So much more than progeny. Prodigies all round.

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