Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Did you know that a 97% isn't good enough?

Last year my son's school held a talent show and my sweet, shy child decided he just had to be a part of it. I'll admit I was surprised by how adamant he was about participating, but you better believe he had my full support.

He's a drummer so I figured he'd drum. But no, he decided he wanted to do a magic trick. He went online and found a trick he liked and left it at that.

Meanwhile, I was getting emails from the talent show coordinators asking about costumes, props, specifics with regards to the timing of each act.

"Performances can be no longer than two minutes," they wrote. Two minutes! Are you kidding? I didn't think my son's act would go longer than fifteen seconds.

As the rehearsal approached I encouraged him to come up with some sort of act or script. He resisted me at first, but finally came around. It went something like this:

Hi! I might look like a regular 2nd grader to you, but I actually have very magical powers. In fact, I have the ability to make cup floats in mid-air. Want to see? (At this point we're hoping the audience starts clapping in desire.) OK. Here goes. And then he does the trick.

We come up with a costume (jeans and a dress shirt, just like the magician online) and props (sparkles that will shoot out of the floating cup upon its magical take-off) and then practice the hell out of the act.

On the day of the rehearsal I can tell he's nervous, but he's also pumped up. When we get there they have him go backstage to wait his turn. I ask if he wants me to go with him but he says no, so I take a seat in the audience.

First up is one of my son's classmates. I actually know her pretty well because I had been reading with her once a week since the start of the schoolyear. Hmmm. I wonder what her talent is. (Probably not reading.)

Oh wow. I had no idea that she could hula-hoop while playing the violin.

OK. Start it off with a bang, right? Not everyone can be so, well . . . talented.

But the next kid (a third grader) sings opera . . . in SPANISH! ("We spent the summer in Barcelona," she explains.) Her younger brother (a kindergartner) comes out next and sings an ENTIRE European pop song. (Truth be told it got a little long. Plus, I watched their parents as this brother and sister act performed, mouthing the words and praying for a no mistake kinda night. Their angst was a little disgusting and I can't say I wasn't slightly nauseated by the sight. Yet their wee ones did not disappoint.)

At this point I'd started to see a pattern . . . it was a REAL TALENT show. Crap!

How was my son going to get up there with his rinky dink magic trick? But I couldn't stop him from trying - from taking this huge step to break out of his introverted shell.

They called his name and he came out on stage. His face was really, really red and I noticed he was literally shaking. He walked up to the microphone and said, "I'm in Mrs. Calvo's class." And then he just stood there. That's it! I swear to you!

I don't know why, but when things like this happen I start laughing. Uncontrollably. I heard the coordinator saying with panic, "Is his parent here? Where's his parent?" And I felt myself heading up to the stage to grab him, but tears of laughter are streaming down my face.

By this time his dad and my fiance had arrived so the three of us took our crying, shamed son out in the hall and tried to soothe him. My fiance asked, "How many kids tried out today?"

My son replied, "11."

"And how many kids are in your school?"


"So you were one of the 11 kids out of 600 brave enough to even try?"

(See why I'm marrying him?)

"I guess so," my son acquiesed.

The thing is, here on this fair island on which I chose to park my family, this kind of situation is not unusual. Kids here are talented. In fact, a 97% is not considered high enough for a child to be considered gifted. No, a Mercer Island child must score 98% or higher on whatever goofy gifted standardized test they are given (in 2nd grade!) in order to determine whether they are smart enough to qualify for the gifted program. That's a lot of performance pressure for 7-year olds! And I'm pretty sure that in other cities around the world those who only scored a measly 97% would still be considered gifted.

As the test date approached I worried about having my son tested. He is a July birthday so he's one of the youngest in his class so I wasn't sure if it'd be fair for him. Plus, for some reason the whole idea of the gifted program was leaving a bitter taste in my mouth. I called my mom to hash it out.

"All my friends were in the gifted classes in high school but I didn't get in. It was crushing," I whine.

"You did too get in," my mom counters.

"No I didn't. Mrs. Newman and Mrs. Kiaer didn't think I was good enough."

"That is so untrue! You were accepted and were taking the classes. But one day you came home from school and told me you'd quit! I called Mrs. Newman to get you back in but she wouldn't allow it."

"Really?" I'm totally shocked at this revelation. "I don't remember that at all. All these years I thought I just wasn't as smart as my friends."

"Jen, you were President of Eta Pi Epsilon (Syracuse's Women's Honor Society) and graduated Magna Cum Laude."

Good points.

I hang up with her and wonder why I quit. I know I gotta figure it out before it is time for my son to test.

There's a real focus on learning
You're teamed with kids that are serious about school
You're encouraged to challenge yourself
It is cool to be smart
Kids in the program might also choose Lego building over a baseball game
(I'm sure there's lots of parents that could tell me lots of other pros but this is my list, dammit, and that's all I'm willing to name)

You're with the same kids year after year
There's a lot of pressure to be "gifted" and not just a kid
There's also pressure to do more and learn more than is expected of the "regular population"
Homework is piled on - more work for my son = more work for ME
There's a lot of competition amongst classmates - this competitive spirit becomes habit and can stick with you until the day you die. And let's face it, it can be really unbecoming.

Clearly I wasn't excited about the whole deal, but I didn't want to shortchange my son. In an effort to keep my own prejudices from getting in my child's way I decided to leave the decision up to his teacher. She said, "Yes, he should absolutely take the test."

So I signed him up figuring the test was just a test - it certainly didn't mean we'd need to make a decision on the program.

Then I forgot to send him. (Oops. I was in skincare school at the time and more than a few balls got dropped.)

So on the "My Parents Flaked Out the First Time Day" he finally went in and took the test.

"How did it go?" I asked in the afternoon.

"It was fine, but the kid next to me kept spitting."



"What do you mean."

"He was spitting everywhere."

"Did you complain to a teacher?"

"No. I asked him to stop but he kept doing it."

"Why was he spitting?"

"I think he had a cold and it was making him spit."

"Did it bother you? Were you able to concentrate?"

"Not really. Can I play Wii when I get home?"


I just want my kid to be happy. To have fun. To fit in. To feel good about himself. To be able to relax when he gets home at the end of the day and not be a stressed out THIRD GRADER!

Good thing he only scored a 76%.

And no, he didn't perform in the talent show either.

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