We have a new system in our house where the kids earn “stars” for good behavior. When they remember to clear their plates from the table, use good manners, display patience or cooperation, they are rewarded with a star on their star chart. Each star is worth twenty-five cents. When they’ve accumulated a bunch of stars, they “cash in”. I cross the stars off the chart, and pay them quarters to put in their savings banks.
All this to say… we’ve been going through a lot of quarters in our house lately. The most recent batch of quarters isa shiny new roll, straight from the bank, featuring pictures of American landmarks. Since geography is an obsession for G, he’s beenfascinated by this particular group of coins. The other day, he was sitting at the table, sorting through his latest group of quarters. All of a sudden, he calls out, “I know this one! It’s from my Atlas!” He stood up with such force, he almost knocked over his chair. He ran to the living room, all the while repeating, “I know this one! I know this one!”
Moments later, he returned to the table, hauling the enormous, 250-oversized-page Atlas we have on loan from the library. He dropped the book on the table with a massive thud, and began thumbing through the pages, all the while squeaking excitedly, “I know this one!”
From where I sat across the room, the image on the quarter looked like New Jersey. G has been able to identify all fifty states by shape for well over a year (and all the countries in the world for over six months), so I wasn’t paying close attention. However, what happened next took my breath away.
After flipping pages furiously for a few minutes, G stopped on a map of the Pacific Islands. He pointed at a tiny inset of the island of Guam. “I know this one!” he shouted. I came a little closer. Sure enough, the image on the quarter matched the image on the page. How did he do that?!? He hadn’t used the index or any knowledge of geography to find the map. He was relying on visual information only. Clearly, he had memorized every image in the entire Atlas, and was able to track down the picture of Guam when he encountered the image in another context. It was absolutely astonishing. As the enormity of this newfound discovery sunk it, I felt chills up and down my body.
Several hours later, we’re sitting at dinner. David has just come home, and I’m bursting to tell him about our son and his phenomenal brain. I launch into the story with great enthusiasm. G gets caught up in the telling, and leaves the table to retrieve the Atlas, so he can show dad the picture of Guam. He’s still chanting, “I know this one! I know this one!” as he proudly stabs the little image of Guam.
David is as awestruck as I was, and it feels great to share the excitement with someone who cares as much as me.
“Isn’t that AMAZING?” I crow. “That book is 250 pages long! He must have a photographic memory!”
Throughout the whole exchange, S had been sitting silently and observing. But that was the last straw. She burst into tears and fled into the living room, hurling herself on the couch in a ball of frustration and fury.
I felt like I was on a seesaw. At one moment, elated by the discovery of a truly unique gift of one child… only to come crashing down when confronted by the completely justified anger of the other.
I followed S into the living room, where she was now sitting with her arms crossed tightly. Her expression was furious, and she fixed me with a fuming glare. “You always make such a big deal about G!” she spat the words at me. “You never say stuff like that about me.”
Her accusation hit me full force. She was right. All throughout her childhood, S has met milestones effortlessly. She’s had big accomplishments (learning to ride a bike, performing in a gymnastics show, getting 100% on a spelling test, etc.)… but they’ve been the kind of accomplishments I know are coming. I’m proud of her, and I’m not stingy with praise. G has his share of everyday accomplishments as well, and I express my pride in generous compliments.
But S’s accusations were accurate. In the midst of the everyday accomplishments, G occasionally has these moments that knock my socks off. Sometimes, he’s been struggling so hard to do something and he finally does it and I just melt in the joy of FINALLY seeing him take that next step. Other times, he does something totally unexpected (like memorize an entire Atlas), and I just can’t contain my amazement because it’s something I’ve never seen any kid ever do.
But either way, it’s not fair to S. S is a completely amazing, totally unique, perceptive, smart, enthusiastic and talented girl. My job is to make sure she knows that.
I can do better.