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 +

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Children and pet animals

When I was a boy - oh so long ago - we had a pet cat. Just one. Yet, being resourceful, this pet cat one day turned into a pregnant female. Then we had many cats. Though that was several cat generations ago, there are still cats to this day, descended from our very smart sole kitten, of my childhood days, at my parents home.

Now, there is a dog, too - a large Sicilian Corso: dramatic, powerful, watchful. A good dog to have around if you like giving intruders a nasty surprise.

Yet, here, in Singapore, where we now live, we have no pet animals. We live on the top floor of an apartment block (the "penthouse") and thought it cruel to have a conventional pet, in such restrictive surroundings. It would not be fair to the poor animal to be cooped up in a small space all day. In my mind, I compare the spacious surroundings of my childhood, with apartment living and just can't see a pet as part of it.

However, my children love animals. They seem to have an affinity for them which just won't go away. They engage with animals much as frustrated mothers-who-can't-be engage with other people's little children: with love, affection and just a little sadness. It should not be this way - but I just cannot see the run-of-the-mill animals living in a top-floor apartment with comfort. So, we have a pet-free apartment.

Yesterday, Fintan, who is the prime animal lover in our household, came up with his own solution. I came home to find a large collection of very small (for the most part) snails, in front of my apartment door. At least one had come upon a fatal accident (perhaps a mis-step by someone entering the house) - but the others were lively enough, moving around in what, no doubt was a panicked run, for a snail, as they sought more familiar territory than the stone tiling outside my house.

Fintan, Ainan and Tiarnan were all captivated, in their various ways, by the snails. Fintan, simply had a fascination for them; Ainan saw them as a scientific phenomenon to be observed and learnt from - and Tiarnan thought they were yukky: "Eek!" he said, when he saw them, his face wrinkled up with disgust.

What I thought most telling of my children's attitude to other life-forms, was seeing Fintan, walking around later in the day with the biggest of the snails perched on his hand. He had brought into the house to play with and was not at all squeamish about its slimey form. He was very careful not to hurt it and invariably moved it about by picking it up with its shell. At one point, he wanted to show its form, pointing out the various parts to me and showing what happened when he prodded it in various places - gently of course. "Don't hurt it!" I said. "I am not." he reassured calmly, placing it down again.

They spent quite some time playing with their "pet" snails. They even tried to put out some food for them: I noted delicately sliced banana laid down in the midst of the snail colony. That evening they put the snails on a stairwell. Ainan asked me to buy lettuce - which I duly did. And he placed what he considered a generous sized leaf out for them to have something to eat in the barren landscape of the stairwell.

Seeing all this made me a little sad that they did not have a household pet to play with. Clearly, the urge to "mother" an animal, to nurture a pet, to play with one and learn from one, was strong in them: so strong that they even made snails from the garden into pets.

Perhaps a reader of this post, will have some suggestions as to child-friendly pets that live comfortably in top-floor apartments, without being messy or smelly to have around (we have got three kids, so that is messy enough already!).

If anyone has a really good suggestion, based on actual experience of what that particular pet is like to have around, we might just get a pet to satisfy those pet-rearing instincts of my children.

(If you would like to read of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and eight months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and one month, or Tiarnan, eighteen months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, genetics, left-handedness, College, University, 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 @ 10:16 AM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you considered reptiles? I fondly remember a pet lizard (Carolina Anole) I had as a child. He lived for seven years and became quite tame. He would sit on my finger and I could hold him up near a fly on the window and ZAP! he would nab it with his sticky tongue. He would also lick drops of honey or tiny bits of banana off a toothpick.

My family lived in an apartment, so a small pet that lived in a terrarium was ideal. These lizards may be too fragile for young children to handle, but I suppose that depends on the child. I was about eight years old when we first got him.

We also had a tortoise (much more rugged than a lizard) which we kept outside and fed dandelions.
We had a garter snake, too.

Reptiles are quiet, small and not as stinky as small mammals! Fish are nice, too (we have fish right now) but you can handle reptiles.

9:44 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Reptiles? That sounds interesting. Like you say, they have the advantage that the kids can handle them. (Fish wouldn't like that much!)

Thank you for your suggestion. I will take my kids to a pet store and see whether they like the look of a lizard.

I appreciate your insight into what lizards are like to have around - and how to raise one. That helps.

Best wishes

10:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A lizard IS a good idea! When I was young, I had a guinea pig that I loved, and later I had a parakeet. I can't remember how it was with the guinea pig but that he ran around the house and could be held too, but the parakeet was very tame and ate out of my hand. He would give kisses too and liked to ride around with me wherever I went. They're not smelly, but they are a little messier because you have to change the papers (bird seed gets around). When I had my parents babysit him for a week while I was on vacation, he died. Birds can die of a broken heart--they won't eat and get anxious. Parakeets seem to be pretty smart, but are smaller than a parrot and don't need as much room. The other thing, if you get one--like any bird, they may fly into a window or mirror and hurt their wings. Some people clip the wings so they can't fly around as much, but I couldn't bear to have that done. At some point, the bird flew into something and injured one wing and couldn't fly straight and would hit other objects too. Really, more than anything, though, the parakeet wanted to be around me. If you get one, they'll be attached to you,if you get two, they'll be attached to their partner. I was attached enough to my parakeet to sew him a christmas stocking and feel depressed when he died.

12:35 AM  
Blogger anon said...

Heya again,

I'm an animal lover myself and grew up with a number of dogs and cats over the years.

Upon moving to Singapore and into 'apartment-life' though, I've had to satisfy myself with smaller pets. Fortunately, I have found equal, if not more, joy in rearing hamsters.

If you go down this insanely obsessive route, I recommend dwarf hamsters, as I've found from personal experience that they are the more odourless of the species. Other hamster enthusiasts might disagree of course.

All the best!
Joanne :-)

4:36 AM  

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