We did not need an official testing process to reveal to us what we knew from the time that our son was very young - that he was a gifted child who was not only precocious in his reading and other cognitive abilities, but whose mind worked in totally different ways from the minds of ordinary children.
He was tested at the age of five at the urging of his two pre-school teachers who wanted to advance him to first grade after only one month in kindergarten. We were told by the psychologist who met with him, "I received answers from him that I have not received in twenty-three years of testing children." His suggestion: Keep David where he was, with his peer group. "Sure you can skip him to first grade," he told us, "you can also skip him to second grade. It doesn't matter. Wherever he'll be, he will sit in the corner and read encyclopedias." We kept him where he was.
Today, many years later, we believe that we made a mistake. Many educational psychologists no longer believe that skipping a child one grade is socially problematic, and being pushed ahead one year might have at least put him in a more appropriate intellectual peer group. David is not "one of the guys" anyway - his interests are vastly different. He would rather sit at the computer or read a book than join Little League or go rollerblading. He dropped karate but is studying painting and film.
What was one of the answers David gave his tester at the age of five? When asked what lights up the sky at night, rather than answer the moon or the stars, he replied, "Fireflies."
David's little brother, Mitch, once brought a Lego kit he had assembled to David for approval. David barely disguised his disdain. "You put it together according to the instructions, " he reprimanded him. "Of course I did," answered Mitch, baffled. "Mitch," explained David, with great patience, "Nobody ever created anything great in this world by following instructions. If everyone followed instructions, we'd still be living with machines from a hundred years ago." Mitch drank in his words thirstily.
Several weeks later, I overheard Mitch telling a friend of his that his grandparents would be coming to visit, and they would be bringing him a new Lego kit. He then glanced at David with pride and added, "And we'll put it together - not according to the instructions."
It is not easy raising a child who walks to the beat of a different drummer. I've gotten used to a kid who is often accused by teachers of being in another world ("...but he has a wonderful imagination", they add kindly), who reads way past midnight, whose favorite outings are to the art museum and the university library, who experiments with plants, paints and my new espresso machine.
I get through hard days by thinking: This child, like the fireflies, will one day light up the world.