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 +

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Surprised by Forty Years

On February 10th, my father arrived from the UK. We took him to the Botanic Gardens during the day, for lunch and, in the evening, he came to visit us at our home.

For me, the day was about his arrival. He had never been to Singapore before. He had not seen Tiarnan, before. So, there much that was new about it. It was warming simply to see him again, after so long.

We took him on a tour of our condominium estate, showing him the grounds, and the amenities. My wife seemed determined to show him every little thing. She even did what I thought she should not: she opened the door to the function room. I tried to warn her - I was going to open my mouth to ask her not to go in there, since there were people in there. I found myself standing in the entrance to a room filled with smiling people: "Happy Birthday!", they all shouted, as one, throwing strip-like confetti on me.

I was utterly dumbfounded. Without any expectation of it, I found myself in the middle of a surprise birthday party, in my honour. I couldn't speak. I must have looked so funny standing there, my eyes wide, my mouth no doubt parted, as confetti fell all around me.

Long minutes seemed to pass, but perhaps it was no more than a minute. I managed to squeeze out a "thank you", at last - but it was difficult. I really didn't know quite what to make of it.

One reason for the effectiveness of the surprise was that my fortieth birthday is actually on February 14th...and it was the 10th. Yet, I think I would have been surprised even if it was the 14th. My wife, who had arranged it (with the help of some friends), had let no hint of what was to come, out in the weeks before it. I had had been given no idea.

Never in my life, before, have I been surprised by a party. It was a strange feeling to suddenly be in the middle of one's own party - without having known anything about it. It was touching, really, that all these people had convened to give me a surprise.

There were friends from all aspects of my life present - and I am thankful to all of them for coming - and for not letting me know, in any way, that it was to come.

The evening was spent meeting, greeting and reacquainting.

One odd moment occurred when a woman wearing what was basically a bikini showed up. She quietly walked over to the corner of the room and put on some music. Then she began to sway to the music in a style I recognized: she was belly dancing. Syahidah had once taken me to a "Belly Dancing Ball" - and noting that I had enjoyed it, she had laid on a belly dancer. The dancer was really rather good. She danced with a rhythmic grace and a natural enthusiasm that spoke of her love for what she does. The dancers I had seen before, often betrayed a "by the numbers" approach - but she did not. There was a fluidity to her movements that gave them a distinct elegance. She danced a couple of pieces and then urged audience members to come up with her and join in. Sportingly, they did.

It turns out that the belly dancer taught dancing - and she proceeded to show the brave volunteers how to belly dance. Some were good at picking up the movements - and the others were at least brave enough to try. It was notable that all - and I mean all - the initial volunteers were women. None of the men wanted to give it a go. The dancer, Stephanie, asked me to join in - but I was too self-conscious and too sure that I wouldn't do a good job of it - so I declined. That didn't stop her asking me again several times. She also asked all the other men. None of them obliged. Finally my wife approached them all, one by one and whispered something to them (what I don't know). One by one, they stood up and walked to the front forming a circle. Finally, I joined them, too, to the cheering of all.

We danced - not well, perhaps - but we danced. All the men belly danced together, to the sounds of middle eastern music - with one true belly dancer among us. It was hilarious. It was also rather liberating to actually overcome one's initial hesitancy and dance. I rather think, though, that belly dancing is an art of much skill and not easily acquired in an instant.

Belly dancing was interrupted by a singer, who sang two songs - one of them being La Vie en Rose. She had a powerful, well-modulated voice that pitched each piece very well. She too loved what she did and sang with passion. She was, in fact, the very same singer that I had remarked upon in a prior post about singers in Singapore.

The atmosphere created by her voice was most intense: everyone was utterly silent and focussed on her.

Again, my wife had noted my enjoyment of such music - and had arranged for me to be sung to, by the very singer that I had noted was good.

I found the music moving - but more moving still was the fact that it had been arranged for me, by surprise. Nothing like it had ever happened to me before.

The food was generous, plentiful and varied - and so too was the conversation. There wasn't time to speak to everyone as fully as I would have liked to - but I am grateful that everyone who attended came. By doing so, you all become part of a permanent memory in me, for the day I was surprised to be forty.

I would like to thank all who came, for doing so, and for surprising me in the way that I was. I would also like to thank my wife for arranging everything - and Andrew and Zurina Bryant for turning up so early to help set everything up. I am also thankful to Hanisah and Shima who also helped everything turn out so well. If anyone else contributed to the success of the event, and I am unaware of their contribution (which is altogether possible), my thanks go to them, too.

Of course, I must thank Stephanie for her dancing, Karen for her singing - and Hawk for training her to sing so (he helped with the particular songs sung). Thank you.

It is funny how I was expecting to be 40 for so long, but then ended up being surprised by it.

I now have a much better memory of it than I could ever have expected. The oddest - and sweetest - thing about it was that my father attended my 40th birthday party. That I could never have expected, given that he and I now live on different continents. I have many reasons to be touched by that day - and I remain so.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and one month, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and seven months, and Tiarnan, two years exactly, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, 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 @ 12:01 AM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Valentine,

Happy Birthday! It was a touching account of your birthday party. You have such a wonderful wife.

Now I know why you are named Valentine :-)

Bee Yong

12:11 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for your well wishes Bee Yong. It is good to discover that you are still a regular reader.

I will relay your opinion of her, to my wife (and I quite agree - everything about the day was very thoughtful of her).

Yes: the secret is out. Now, you know the reason for my naming...

Best wishes to you - and a Happy Valentine's Day.

9:35 PM  

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