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, November 01, 2007

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Some things only gain meaning through parenthood. Halloween is one of them. What would Halloween mean for a person, were they not parents and able to see the dressing up and tricking and treating through their children's eyes? Little, I feel...but with children it becomes a magical night.

This evening, our neighbourhood, in Singapore, celebrated Halloween. The evening began at the home of the Reverend Jim Blumenstock and his wife, Karen, whose daughter Ella is a friend of Fintan's. They had made a wonderful effort to theme the party. Spooky spiders clung to walls and littered the path to their home. Ainan actually jumped at the sight of them as he came out of the lift and saw them. Bats, too, flew across the walls.

The party even had themed food. There were cupcakes made in the shape of black spiders - and boy did they look ugly. I said as much to Jim and he remarked: "That's a compliment." Indeed, it was. They had succeeded in making them look thoroughly unpalatable. I offered one to Tiarnan (twenty-one months) and he looked somewhat uncomfortably at it, staring as if not quite believing what I was offering and spoke, emphatically: "!" It was funny. Apparently, he is not going to be eating too many spiders, then.

The party had parents and children, from babies to about seven or so. There was that camaraderie that comes from having a shared experience - parenthood - that made the atmosphere a convivial one. Indeed, so comfortable am I with being a parent and so used to others being parents, too, that I have somewhat forgotten what it was like to be otherwise. That time is long gone - and not really missed.

In the spirit of the evening, Karen had put together a squeamish task for the kids: finding a spider in a bag of goo. The "goo" was actually overdone pasta - and the children had to put the hands into the bag and hunt around in the mess to find the spiders. They really got into it, though a few declined out of fear.

Karen and Jim were very generous with the kids - and everyone got a box of chocolates to take away and some sweets. They also laid on some monster pizzas for the adults (apparently they were "New York style" - which seemed to mean that they came in pieces larger than the average house.) In the Singapore tradition, they rather overcatered, having enough pizza to last each adult a week. However, their generosity is appreciated.

Then we left the Blumenstocks for the trick or treating. In Singapore, the kids are usually rather mild and no real "tricking" seems to occur. It is all a case of treating. The kids traipse from house to house and receive sweets from the occupants. What I find interesting is how much effort the occupants of the homes made to engage the children. I am not sure whether this is common elsewhere. The houses that were treating were, in Singaporean fashion, pre-designated - meaning a list had been made of which houses wanted to be visited. These houses were each dressed up in a themed fashion. Cobwebs would hang across entrance ways, spiders and ghoulish heads would adorn walls and hang from above. One house in particular had boldly posted warnings of the dangers of entering and had ethereally lit witches sitting at its entranceway - which really spooked Tiarnan who looked most appraisingly at one, lest it prove dangerous. I only think he had the confidence to do so because he was clutched in my arms.

The winner for the evening of Most Spooky House, however, went to a Korean lady who did something most effective, yet understated.

Unlike all the other homes, no spiders adorned her walls or hung from the ceiling. No cobwebs gathered above. No apparitions beset one on the way to the door. There was nothing to indicate that she had made an effort at all. There was just a simple sign on the door. It read: "Knock hard!"

Tiarnan knocked, but not hard.

The door opened and there stood before us the most strange looking of women. She had long flowing black hair which had been combed forward to hide her face. Her features could not be seen apart from her mouth. Over this she had placed mirrored sunglasses. She addressed us in a long, drawn out ghoulish voice - the kind of voice one imagines dead people might use if they had a mind to speak. She also moved rather slowly, which only emphasized the spookiness of her presence.

Tiarnan grew tense in my arms.

She had a bowl of sweets in her arms. She offered it.

He reached out, slowly, carefully and picked one up.

She continued to speak spookily.

He held the sweet up to her, as if to say: "I have taken the sweet, I have done my don't be so spooky anymore."

She didn't relent. She reached out to him with a clawed hand. "Are you scaaaarrrreed?" She asked, in her oddly Japanese sounding voice.

He didn't answer, he just looked, unable to tear his eyes away.

He sure was.

We left, after thanking her.

Shortly afterwards, we bumped into Syahidah who had become separated from us with the other boys. She went to the house we had just come from to show Fintan and Ainan...Tiarnan, however, hung back, his hand across his chest in the local symbol for "scared". "Tacot" (I will have to check the spelling) he said, which is Malay for "I am scared." He said it several times and wouldn't approach her home again.

So, both Tiarnan and Ainan got a scare that night...the only one not to was Fintan, who is of the more robust variety, in many ways.

The funniest house, by contrast, was one in which the residents had dressed their dogs up: one as a vampire, one as a devil, with flashing red horns. Hilarious.

Oh, did I mention that I was the only adult in costume? I went as a vampire, dressed in black with a red cape. Syahidah had powdered my face for that authentic undead look. It was toned, down, however, compared to the year before - because then it had been rather too authentic. Children had blubbed on seeing me, so "undead" did I look! (Thanks to Syahidah's make up skills). This year I went for a milder look and not a one child seemed to mind. They rather enjoyed it, in fact: a better result, then.

Apparently, the adults never dress up, here - but I was never one for paying too much heed to what others do. I thought it more fun to join in with the children. Ainan and Tiarnan were rather comic looking moustachioed dandies, that could have been vampires with very little trying, but it wasn't specified. Fintan was a pirate, in full regalia.

At one moment, as I walked with Tiarnan, he turned to me and said, most endearingly, while tapping my caped shoulder: "Vampire!" He seemed quite proud of his daddy. His expression made me smile. Perhaps he would remember me as vampire, that night. It was a good evening.

Happy Halloween, everyone, everywhere.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and eleven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and four months, and Tiarnan, twenty-one months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, 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 @ 1:04 AM 


Anonymous Bee Yong said...

An interesting and touching account, that I enjoyed reading! This is the first time I heard of people in Singapore actually celebrating Halloween.

Happy Halloween!

8:53 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I think this is because we live in an area with lots of expats: it is they who have brought this tradition from elsewhere. I was unaware, however, that it wasn't generally celebrated in Singapore. That is a pity because it is quite fun for the children.

Thank you for your well wishes.

12:32 AM  

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