The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The difficulty of parenting a prodigy child

Prodigies present their parents with unique problems. One problem is communication with them, in their chosen area.

Ainan is a scientist with a specialist interest in Chemistry - but with other areas developing, too. As his father, and only scientifically aware relative, I have a great responsibility: providing him with someone to talk to, about his chosen subject area. Now, this wasn't such a big problem when he first started investigating Chemistry - but, as the months pass, and he gallops along, I find that he has already surpassed me, in his chemical knowledge - indeed, he did so some while ago. How then, am I to communicate with him?

Well, I have one advantage - and that is many years of general scientific reading and education. I have an understanding of many scientific concepts - and the ability to learn new ones rapidly. In this manner, should Ainan make a scientific observation or proposition, I am able to evaluate whether it is scientifically reasonable and feedback my thoughts on the matter. Yet, there remains a problem: his reading is becoming ever deeper and ever more technical and with it, his knowledge. There is no doubt that he now knows more Chemistry than I ever knew, despite the fact that I took Chemistry up to the end of my first year at Cambridge. Ainan is outgrowing his father's scientific knowledge - at least in his area of interest. Outside of that area, his scientific speculations and understandings are becoming ever more complex - and so, perhaps, one day, I will wrestle with the same problem outside of Chemistry, too.

This developing situation of which I speak will occur with any parent of a prodigy child, to some degree. If the child is truly prodigious, then they will outgrow the parent, in their chosen area, unless the parent is a practising, ever learning and growing professional in the area of the child's expertise. I am not. I am a generally educated scientist, but don't practise as a professional Chemist (though I used to be a Physicist).

So, what do I do? I try to keep up with his reading so that I can provide him with a sounding-board for his thoughts; a scientific confidante. I am able to do this at present, for my scientific understanding is very broad - and I learn new concepts quickly, allowing me to talk things through with him.

One day, though, I know that I alone will not be enough for him. One day, he will speak and I will have no means to understand. Should that day come, and Ainan have no other chemically trained person to talk to, he will be alone, in the world, in his thoughts. I hope to forestall that day by re-teaching myself Chemistry (after all, it is two long decades since I studied it) and by learning Chemistry I never knew, just to keep up. Yet, how much longer can I run along behind him? Can I keep pace with him, so that he has someone to relate his thoughts to? His mind is younger and fresher than mine, so I labour at a natural disadvantage. My mind will slow as his grows strong. Clearly, there will come a time when I cannot converse with him as he might wish - unless I make as much an effort to become a well-versed chemist as he does.

This, then, is the situation of all parents of a prodigy child. As the child grows in their discipline, they grow further apart from the parent, until the day comes when parent and child can no longer converse. Is it not sad, that victory in the child's growth, inevitably leads to a kind of mental division from the parent? Yet, that is what every parent of a prodigy unknowingly seeks, in trying to help their child grow. They seek the day when parent and child can no longer talk, and be understood.

There is a kind of irony in that, that I am not sure I am comfortable with - yet, I try to enable my son's progress, knowing, even as I do, that I am taking him to a place of which, he will not be able to speak to me.

How strange is life, that victory should also be a kind of defeat.

Good luck Ainan. If you ever read this, know at least that I tried to keep up.

(If you would like to read more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and three months, or his gifted brothers Tiarnan, thirteen months and Fintan, three, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 10:03 AM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

How strange. I just had a dream about this. I still don't know what it means but here it was:

Well, okay, first a little bit of background. I was at a tea shop a few months ago (in real life) and there was a boy with his parents inside. There was something strange about this boy. The way he looked at me was very strange. I sensed a kind of rage. And there was something in his face that was very adult. I felt like he was seeing right into me, and found something that wasn't "good enough". This was striking to me, and it seems to have been burned into my subconscious. It has been marked as significant occurrence and a mystery.

Somewhat more recently, it struck me: If that boy is extremely gifted, it would explain the entire incident. Maybe its just my imagination running away with me, but it does seem to explain the "adultness" in his face. And the rage didn't feel like an evil rage or a violent anger. He didn't seem to have a sense of being wronged or any bitterness. The rage seemed more like a power inside, a frustrated power. It seems to me that "a rage to master" might be what it was.

And once again, I'm not sure if these are accurate intuitive guesses, or just my imagination running away with me. But either way, this boy ended up in my dream:

So in the dream, I'm in the boy's living room, trying to keep up with him. He is a math prodigy. I don't know anything about math. Its probably my worst subject. I can feel his rage, his frustration at needing someone who can show him something new in his subject and understand what hes thinking. I feel his need for a companion who can come with him into his world. I felt his rejection of me because I cannot give him these things.

And for some reason, I was ALSO on instant messenger in the dream - at the same time - multitasking. I use I.M. a lot (and have conversations with multiple people at one time) so this is not that weird to me. And Ainan was instant messaging me and he wanted the same thing (he wanted me to keep up with him) - but I couldn't keep up with him either, because I don't know much about chemistry. And I certainly couldn't keep up with BOTH of them.

Now, when I was reading your blog today, I became aware of this strange residual feeling that I had to give Ainan what he needs... I knew it was because of the dream... or possibly because the dream brought that feeling to the surface (I don't know why this is still haunting me yet. It was a pretty vivid dream.). I was startled to come across your post. I don't know why my dream put me in your shoes... but for whatever its worth, I understand what its like to feel this way.

- Kathy

8:27 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

What a beautifully written post, Kathy. You will write a book, one day, I feel.

I think the way you look at the world allows you access to a certain insight: a very useful characteristic.

It is a funny dream...and very apt, except for one thing: Ainan has an intensity about him, but I wouldn't describe it as "rage" - he is much too cool for that!

Thanks for sharing your intense dream.

Best wishes

8:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"What a beautifully written post, Kathy. You will write a book, one day, I feel."

Oh... um, thanks. :D I have already written five books worth of material plus a big collection of poetry and some short stories, but I haven't tried to publish anything. I have a really bad case of impostor syndrome that makes me feel like my accomplishments are worthless and I don't deserve success... causes me to come up with reasons why I cant have what I want, which prevent me from taking action. Its a mess. I will fix it. I'm just waking up to it recently. If you know anything about this please tell me.

"Ainan has an intensity about him, but I wouldn't describe it as "rage"."

Oh, it wasn't Ainan that I dreamed had a rage inside him. It was the other prodigy character based on the boy I saw at the tea store.

Though, if you imagined how Ainan would be if he didn't have such an understanding dad ;) if he wasn't taken seriously, if he wasn't allowed to experiment or use science equipment, if he was stuck in the normal ho-hum classes, then you would probably be imagining the sort of rage that I (thought I) saw in that boy's eyes.

Oh! I figured out why I had this dream, I think. I have a friend who... has an amazing intensity inside him. I sense a power, and a rage inside him, too - like the "frustrated power" rage I described.

He has a lot of problems. Brilliant but crazy. One of my favorite things in the world is to give emotional support. I love psychology. I love helping people. Most of the time I'm pretty good at it, but with him, I failed. I just couldn't come into his world often enough - too much potential to trigger bad places I have been in before. We haven't had a conversation in months. I have been feeling uninteresting and inadequate... like... I feel like whatever research tangent he's on, I cant provide anything interesting, so I guess I feel that I am boring to him now, lol.

And he told me once that when he was a kid, he had a gift for math. (Somehow this went away when he hit puberty). So I think that the prodigy character from the tea store was really him.

I really wish he would talk to me. I feel like... I am really really stifled, and I desire to be around others who have a lot of power inside. I feel meek, because even though Ive got all this capability, I'm acting like a wuss and not doing anything with it, because of this stupid impostor syndrome. I'm full of self doubt and insecurity. Just to see the intensity of that rage of frustrated power in his eyes again would be nice, it would be an inspiration. Now my eyes are tearing. I miss seeing him a lot.

I feel sticky and lumpy and impotent, like a ball of wax, but he is like a fire, and I'm dying to be ignited. I fantasize that his piercing eyes can see through me and shatter the glass ceiling of lies, that film of make believe that I wear pretending to be normal. I want to be free. I feel like I'm designed to run with the wild, intense and mentally powerful, but I am all alone.

- Kathy

12:05 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

One day, Kathy, you will meet that intensely powerful person that you seek - and then all will click into place. It is just a question of being aware of the people you meet until you chance upon one who that essence you seek.

Don't feel that you are an imposter...clearly you are not. Take out your books, look at them, perhaps polish them a little...and try to get an agent. You never know what might happen when you do. You might walk into a bookshop in a few years and see your own work staring back at you. That would be great for you.

Best of luck

3:41 PM  

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