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 +

Thursday, March 08, 2007

On being different in a conformist world

There are many things I could write about this topic, but today I will choose a single vignette which relates to the title. I may write other posts expanding this topic in future - indeed, I probably should.

We live in Singapore. In this city state, most people are Chinese - about 80 % roughly. About 14% are Malay and the rest are Indian with the merest sprinkling of Caucasian (rare enough so that in most circumstances I feel the odd one out). There are, of course, Eurasians, but not that many. My children come into this category.

Asians generally have straight black hair. Thus Singapore, being almost exclusively Asian, is dominated by an almost universal possession of straight black hair. This may seem like a minor matter, but visually, if you grew up in a culture with a more varied genetic heritage - such as London, where I did - you would find this uniformity strange. In my childhood, everyone seemed to have subtly different hair, across a wide range of possibilities. Here, in most cases, it is black and straight.

Fintan, three, however, is different. Being Eurasian, he has a mix of influences, and in his case, this mix has produced markedly curly hair. My hair has a slight wave. So does my wife's (unusually, for here). However, Fintan seems to have got a double dose of it - and has ended up distinctly curly.

How do the other children relate to this? Well, in one sense, not well. Fintan took to using a word about a year ago, that he had obviously heard at school. I didn't know what it referred to for a long time: but it seems it refers to his curly hair. He had clearly been called this. At first, he repeated the word, without any due gravity, but later it seemed to bother him. Curly hair is rather rare here and Fintan is probably the only child his school friends have encountered who has such hair. It might seem like a small matter - but it seems big in a country where everyone's hair looks the same - except Fintan's.

A month or two ago, I saw Fintan, after he had had a shower, patting his hair down. Clearly, once it is wet, the curly headedness abates until it is dry: it seems flat like everyone elses. I saw this and said: "Your hair is nice is different."

He shook his head.

"No. I don't want curly hair...I want to be handsome."

He is handsome, the poor boy. His mixed heritage has given him a rugged beauty few boys possess - and one day he will, no doubt, be a very handsome man.

I felt sad to see him so concerned about his hair. I cannot be with him, throughout his day, as he encounters people who have never seen such hair - but I can try to build up his view of himself so that he accepts his difference and, perhaps, one day, finds comfort in it.

Yet, each time he showers, he flattens his hair and is content with it for awhile - at least until it dries. Why can't people accept each other's differences instead of making an issue of them? Fintan wouldn't even be aware of his hair if other kids had not made it an issue. It is all quite sad.

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

Labels: , , , , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
posted by Valentine Cawley @ 10:24 AM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if this will make you feel better about Fintan's experience with his hair, but perhaps it will help to know that even here in the melting pot of California's Bay Area, kids make fun of each other's hair.

My daughter was a recent victim. She has very pretty, shiny, straight, brown hair. A few weeks ago, one of her little girl "friends" said, "My hair is black, but yours is the color of dirty blonde." My daughter was very upset by this comment but I assured her that it wasn't true and that the other girl is just rude and immature.

Perhaps you have some family photos of ancestors with curly hair. My kids are very proud of their family history--having hair like Great-Grandma gives them a connection to the past and bolsters self-esteem.

2:29 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for your shared experience...and your suggestion about how to make Fintan more comfortable.

It is funny how kids use such things against each other - instead of celebrating the difference. Pity really.

I hope that your daughter doesn't have to endure that kind of thing often.

I shall see what photos I can dig up...he might like that, being visual as he is.


3:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My daughter has naturally curly hair. I usually just put it in a ponytail. For special occasions, I will put it ringlets.

It's really a quite simple procedure for her hair. Minimal work involved. It's almost easier than the ponytail.

Based on the reaction she gets, you would think she was from another planet.

Complete strangers will come over and touch her hair. They either say, "I wish my hair was curly, it's just stick straight." or "How do you do that?" or "Is her hair naturally curly?" And it's not just one or two people, it's almost everyone she meets on that day. That's a lot of hair touching.

It got so bad recently, that my daughter asked for her hair not to be in ringlets for a long time - the attention made her terribly self-conscious. I think the hair-touching makes her the most uncomfortable.

So, even 'positive' attention to differences can be unwonted.


7:41 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for the opposite viewpoint.

I hadn't considered that a good reaction might be equally unwelcome! (However, it is an improvement on a negative reaction don't you think?)

Best wishes

8:58 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape