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, September 15, 2007

Natural hairstyle and individuality

As regular readers will know, Fintan, four, has curly hair. Yet, we live in Singapore - a "Land of the Straight-Hairs", as I call it. Basically everyone, apart from foreign visitors, has straight, black, flat hair.

A few days ago, Syahidah took Fintan to the Science Centre, in Singapore. This is a kind of interactive Science Museum - though not as extensive as the Science Museum in Kensington, London, that I remember from my childhood, it is still worth a visit, particularly for children.

While wandering around the exhibits, Syahidah noticed two children who looked rather surprising: they both had curly hair.

"Look Fintan!" she pointed them out to him, "They are like you."

He looked and he saw and then he spoke a little disenchantedly, "Yeh, but who is the father?"

His arm picked out a man far away across the room, amidst the bustle of many people coming and going - a curly headed man. How he spotted the man in such a crowded, busy, poorly lit, room is a marvel - but being sharp of eye is typical for Fintan.

There was too much separation between the children and the "father" so Syahidah watched him for a while. Soon enough she saw him close the gap between them and interact with the kids: sure enough, he was the father.

This was one of the only occasions that Fintan has ever seen another curly headed person. Two things are interesting here: first, he was very quick to scan the environment and link the distant curly headed man as father to the nearby curly headed children. But also, it is telling, perhaps in a sad way, the conclusion he drew from this: that those children had reason enough for their curly hair - but he did not. You see neither his mother nor his father have curly hair - but we both have slightly wavy hair. It seems that two genetic doses of "wavy" is enough to make hair curly.

Why do I write this? Well, Fintan feels set apart by his appearance here, in Singapore. No other child of his acquaintance looks remotely like him. He doesn't look Malay (but is half-Malay), he doesn't look Irish (but is half-Irish), he doesn't look Chinese (but speaks it a little), he doesn't look Indian (but occasionally eats their food!). He has no real visual affiliation with any of the basic groupings of Singapore. Being of two different racial lineages, he looks only like his brothers. Allied to this disparity of race, is his hairstyle - abundant, never straight, curls, with plenty of natural body - and this makes him feel marked out from his fellow children. That feeling is unlikely to ever leave him, unless we live somewhere else.

Even Syahidah's attempt to make him feel that there were others, by pointing out the curly-headed children fell flat - because the father's appearance made it clear where their appearance comes from: Fintan has no such understanding of his origin. He cannot say to himself: "My hair looks like Daddy's" or "My hair looks like Mummy's". The fact is, it looks like neither's. Perhaps, then, he feels a little unanchored, a little set adrift. He needs to be moored to the facts of his origin - in a comprehensible visual way - but, owing to his mixed genetic lineage, he cannot really have that. The admixture has obscured his origins - and made something new.

Yet, I am happy for him that he is different. He is different in many ways - and not just hair. He is very much himself and unlike any other. In time, I think he will come to appreciate that and learn to be content with the way things are. It is just that, at four years old, finding common ground with one's fellow youngsters is a big social issue.

I look forward to the day when he is happy to be a stocky, curly headed, half-Irish, half-Malay, handsome man!

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and nine months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and two months, and Tiarnan, nineteen months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 11:07 AM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello, and to Fintan,

I understand how you feel! Not only was my hair RED, which was different, but it was long and my mother dressed it in a different style each day, before school. One day I had it curly from wearing curlers the night before, and the next day she wrapped it into 2 "Princess Leah" buns on either side of my head. Kids asked why my hair changed all the time. Additionally, my name was unusual. While I appreciate and am thankful I stand out with my hair and name now, it wasn't so when I was younger. I wanted pre-made stickers with my name on it, and labels, and keychains. I wanted a bear with my name on it too. There were items for names like: Cindy, Sharon, Jennifer...but nothing for me. I asked my parents where I got my name (how they came up with it) and found out there had been a dog with my name and my mother decided to name me after the dog. How's THAT for anticlimatic?!

THEN, I wished I had been named Jennifer. Now that I'm older I'm SOO thankful my parents gave me this name.

I can only imagine how sensitive you feel about being the only one with curls. Imagine me too, your parents can tell you how it would look, with "Princess Leah" buns or knobs on either side of my head in kindergarten and first grade. Believe me, I was the ONLY one any kid ever saw with THAT hair-do!

I had been so proud of them, until I got on the bus and kids mocked them. But I don't recall taking them down.

Later in life, I suffered another "slight" in difference of appearance after I was a teenager and had not "developed" certain features that I wished to acquire. When I was young, I played with Barbies and thought I'd look like one when I grew up. Not so. My gym teacher said to me, sympathetically, "Oh, you're still growing". I wasn't. I didn't grow anymore in that regard. I was teased by boys who said I'd look like a zipper if I stood sideways and stuck out my tongue. Then later I had boyfriends who told me I would be so much better looking if I bought certain things to "enhance" my deficit.

When I became pregnant, I got what I'd always wanted. My appearance changed and you know what? Those "things" I had lacked are not all they're cracked up to be. I realized all this time I had been fortunate to have a body that was sleek which allowed me to run unencumbered, sleep on my tummy at night with ease, and wear more daring clothes without appearing immodest.

I hope when you are older, you too will realize it's good to be different. And you know what Fintan?

About my red hair...all the kids teased me about it, until I was in high school and THEN, suddenly, all the girls in my class were dying their hair, of all things, RED. THEY wanted hair like mine! I remember sitting in History class and looking around at the former blonds and brunettes, 3 or 4 of which had added copper highlights or red hue to their hair, and realized my perceived curse was a gift.

7:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And Fintan,

Also take comfort in knowing you will have new choices when you're older. IF you then still wish to look like everyone else, you can always dye your hair black and straighten it. By the time you are old enough to make this choice, you may like your curls

7:30 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you so much for your open comment. I am sure that your life story will be a help to Fintan - and I will make sure that he gets to read it.

There is too much conformity in many societies. I think difference, of all kinds, should be celebrated. Then, perhaps, all children will feel that they are accepted (because they are).

It is funny that you should mention that the other pupils in school dyed their hair red - because, you know what some girls do in Singapore? They put waves in their hair! Now, isn't that making them a bit like Fintan with his natural curl?

It seems that, once people reach a certain age, they want to be what they are not. How funny.

Best wishes to you, wherever you are.

7:55 PM  
Anonymous Shikin said...

Hi Fitan,

You know what! I have very curly hair myself! im 25, WAY older than you.. had *Only* curly hair all my life and you know what?! I LOVE IT. Because i am different than others. My sister, my mother, my dad all have different variations of curly hairs. Even my boyfriend does but he keeps it short. Hehe. I guess I get the hair from the variety of races that I inherit. Im part Bugis, Indian, Arab-African. I do not look Malay or Indian. people mistake my sis and me as being fairer African-Americans though. Lets embrace being different ok dear! (I would pass you a pic of my hair if you want too! eheheheh) Plus, people with straight hair always want curls! trust me! ahahahah

4:25 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you Shikin for being kind enough to share about your curly hair. I will make sure that Fintan gets to read this. By the way, Fintan is part Bugis, too...

Best wishes

6:22 PM  

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