Top of His Class

When Milo was 5 we had him assessed by a child psychologist.  It took several hours over many days. Milo didn’t complain, it felt to him like play. He enjoyed the puzzles and word games.  When the results were in, my husband and I sat down in the psychologist’s office. He gave us the diagnosis of Sensory Integration Disorder, and explained the various levels of anger and frustration management, and other benchmarks that Milo hadn’t hit.

“As part of this kind of comprehensive assessment, we gave him a standard IQ test.”

My husband asked, “And?”

“Well, he’s extremely bright. Do you want to know the number?”

Simultaneously, my husband said, “Yes, please,” and I said, “No, thank you.” And then I said, “Okay, he has a number, you know it and my husband wants to hear it, so go ahead.”

The man said the number. And again, simultaneously my husband’s head relaxed backwards and he let out a sigh of happy relief, while my head collapsed into my hands and I muttered, “Oh fuck.”

I have never known intelligence to correlate with happiness.  Or stability or even with success.

That might be because I was raised with some privilege. I went to an expensive private high school where a substantial number of graduates went on to the ivy league.  I went to a private college famous for its eccentric geniuses.  And I got an MFA with writers now in possession of literary awards and Guggenheim fellowships. Witty? Yes. Charismatic? Yes? Accomplished, engaging, successful, prolific. . .but happy? Not so much.

My husband grew up in the first generation in his family to go to college. Intelligence — gifted programs, high test scores, science fair ribbons — this was the most dignified and  esteemed way out of a soul crushing job and into a world of possibilities.

When my husband thinks that my daughter is paying too much attention to the culture of beauty, he gives her a pep talk about all the things he’d rather her be than pretty, and he always, ALWAYS starts with smart. I start with compassionate. Or generous.

Milo’s personality consistently impedes his academic performance. For a smart kid, he only does okay in school. My daughter does better. I once told Milo’s 3rd grade teacher that she ought to go easier on herself, and not worry about how much Milo is learning.

“Do you think Milo will finish 3rd grade knowing what he needs to know?”

“Yes, of course.”

“I get that good teachers can’t bear NOT to teach, but, if you could ignore him a little more, he’d give you a little less trouble in terms of behavior.”

Milo can’t bear to be corrected, even by the most subtle and caring corrector.  The combination of his low self esteem and his perfectionism make taking instruction excruciating for him and a minefield for the teacher,  coach, parent or therapist offering the lesson.

Milo reads for pleasure. He is intellectually curious. He has spent the summer trying to make the better paper airplane, design the perfect crime scene, bake a marshmallow muffin, tell a joke that makes people laugh, dive off the high board. School starts in just over 2 weeks. I met with the principal at Milo’s school about his teacher, the other kids in his class, their parents, his EC, his IEP, his IA and passing the EOGs.  I’m not anxious about this alphabet soup, but he is. School is completely fraught for him because it’s hard. The work is hard, the play is hard, the requirements of civilization are hard for Milo.

Milo knows he’s smart. He knows. But it’s never made him happy.


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