“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Albert Einstein
My husband M and I were poster children for traditional education. We both learned to read easily, and were able to handle math without any difficulty. We were linear thinkers – all our thinking fit comfortably within the educational box of our time. We had an unpleasant teacher here and there but emerged from our early education emotionally unscathed and well prepared for the demands that college placed upon us.
We imagined that K would follow a similar path. Knowing how important early exposure to reading was, I started reading to her at 2 weeks old. I would have started earlier but in the flurry of last minute packing, forgot to bring any books when we went to get her in San Diego. By the age of two, K had an incredible vocabulary and all sorts of interesting stories to tell.
But K’s thinking didn’t fit comfortably inside any box. When she was 3, I scolded her once by saying “When I tell you something is unsafe, you have to listen to me.” She replied, “I do listen to you Mommy but sometimes, I have to listen to me.” Her first year of pre-school was unspectacular. One of her teachers thought she was charming; the other found her frustrating. M & I knew we had to consider other options besides the nearby public school that had been our previous plan.
Fortunately, we found a Montessori school which was comfortable with both in and out of the box thinkers. On her first day of pre-school there, her teacher told me “This is a fabulous kid and she had a fabulous day.” To this day, when K and I battle over homework, I hear that wonderful woman’s voice. It reminds me that although we may not be having a fabulous moment, I do, in fact, have a fabulous kid.
K didn’t learn to read easily and although she understood math concepts, things like math facts were a struggle. Yet, she was surrounded by people who knew how awesome and smart she was. She acquired an incredible work ethic and she never gave up. Ultimately, the reading came. Once she started doing basic algebraic equations, math facts had more meaning and began to stick.
Now in 8th grade, K attends a public charter school. The middle school’s focus is on “expeditionary learning” which we thought would be a good transition from Montessori to a more traditional program. She is happy there and doing well. M & I went to K’s “Student Led Conference” last week. Unlike a traditional parent/teacher conference, the student runs these meetings. K talked to us about her love for Social Studies and Science and the things she was working to improve in ELA (English Language Arts) and Algebra. She showed us a Medieval Manor she had made as part of a group project.
At this point, her teacher interjected. She told K, “Your group created an awesome Medieval Manor but what I really want to compliment you on is your ability to work with other people. You have an incredible ability to talk with other people and work well with everyone. Of all the 8th grade kids I’ve worked with this year, I have to say that you are the kindest. It’s really refreshing to see and I hope that you never lose that.”
Working well with people and kindness. It wasn’t graded on her report card and I’m sure the upcoming standardized tests don’t have a module on it. Yet, I was as proud of that comment as I was the day K read her first chapter book. In all honestly, prouder.
As an adoptive parent, I know that I had nothing to do with K’s beauty but I always wonder about my impact on her personality traits. Some of her language is definitely mine – the excessive use of “apparently” is just one example. Her inability to cross against the light – mine. Interest in manga – not mine. The kindness? I’d like to take credit for it but K has always been a special kid. Even as a very young child, she would stick up for other kids and stand up for what she thought was right. So, I think that one’s a combo. She was born with an innate tendency for kindness and empathy and we managed to keep it going. Us and all the wonderful educators K has met along the way, who recognized her for the fantastic fish she is and left the tree climbing for the monkeys.