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, July 20, 2011

The price of agelessness.

Everyone would like to be ageless – or so they might think to themselves. However, agelessness comes at a price.

Now, anyone who has ever viewed a photograph of my wife, Syahidah, cannot but be struck by how young she seems. Yet, she is much older than people think. The fact is, though, that she hasn’t aged since I met her: she got stuck in her late teens and seems essentially unchanged, since then. Fourteen years have passed, since we met but not one of those years appears on her face or body. It is as if she were a latter day Dorian Gray (though without the dissolute behaviour!)

Of course, this strange stasis leads to much confusion.

A few days ago, Syahidah took her three sons, Ainan, 11, Fintan, 8 and Tiarnan, 5, to the cinema to see the latest Transformers film, Dark of the Moon.

As she queued up to buy the tickets, Syahidah overheard an enthusiastic voice behind her –
“Look at her! Isn’t she a good sister, to be taking her brothers to the cinema!”

A quick look around revealed no-one else but Syahidah who could be described as a “sister” with her “brothers”.

Syahidah was too embarrassed for words, even though this kind of comment had been heard before.

She bought the tickets and took her “brothers” into the film.

It would be funny, were it not the source of much puzzlement on the part of others. You see, those fourteen years have seen me change, whilst Syahidah has stood still. So, now, the apparent age gap between us seems greater than it was, when we first met – yet, of course, it is the same, to the very day. What makes this situation more acute, is that it is Asians who judge Syahidah to be so young. How young would she seem to Caucasian eyes? No-one but myself and her immediate family know the truth: that Syahidah stopped any outward aging, in her late teens and looks the same now, as she did then. Yet, people who see her now, mentally subtract the age of her children, from her, now, and conclude that she must have looked much younger in the past: not so. She looked the same when I met her, as she does now. I can’t help but wonder what strange things people think, when they appraise her present appearance and make such age calculations. They have no idea how wrong they are.

Of course, I do wonder how long Syahidah will maintain this stasis of appearance. Her great grandfather was famous for not having aged much (relatively speaking, that is) – despite reaching 104. So, it seems, she takes after him. If this carries on, the day might come in thirty years time, when people think she is my granddaughter!

I am left to wonder how much our sons will inherit this curious attribute: are they going to be seemingly ageless, too? Will they look like spritely teenagers, well into their thirties? How odd it would be, for them, if this turns out to be so. We shall see.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 7:13 PM 


Blogger Cass said...

Hello, Mr. Cawley

I have seen a picture of your wife and she does seem very young, like in her early twenties.

Something similar happens to me. I'm currently 21 years old, but I look 13 or 14. I still haven't met a single person who thinks I look my age. Even the principal at my school thinks I'm younger.

Sometimes people don't take me seriously because they think I'm just a child, which is quite annoying.

Why do people have to equate age to knowledge? Shouldn't a good opinion or thought have its own merits?

I have met grown people who have the most ridiculous opinions and young people with an astounding clarity of mind.

10:28 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi Cass,

I understand the troubles you have over your appearance: those are very familiar!

Although, it may cause problems now, you might find your youthfulness beneficial when you are 40 and look twenties...and all around you are complaining of middle age.

Many who have seen my wife in person, would not consider her to be as old as you estimate her to be.

You are right that youth does not exclude thoughtfulness, nor age necessarily include it. A thought should be judged on its own merits - and not on the appearance of the thinker.

I wish you luck on being accepted for who you are, and not for whom you appear.

Best wishes.

10:41 PM  
Blogger kartina said...

would you care to show a picture of your wife then, and now (side by side)? extremely curious!

7:30 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi Kartina,

I am not presently able to upload photos (you may have noticed their absence, in my posts). Furthermore, photos of her in her teens are located in another country from the one we now reside we would have to get some.

I appreciate your idea. My wife might be embarrassed though!

Kind regards

10:48 PM  
Blogger heartistsmuse said...

How interesting; if it's not too forward: does she have any siblings that exhibit a similar pattern of ageing?

I, too, do not look my age; but rather than a plateau, I've always lagged behind, with the difference between myself and my peers becoming more apparent each year. I find it to be a great source of frustration, not necessarily because there's anything inherently wrong with looking young, but because the response it generates invariable segues into awkward and repetitive scripts (given my regular encounters with shock when I tell a person my age). I'm more accepting of my youthful appearance, now, than I was when I was fourteen and looked only ten, however its gotten no easier to deal with - especially since the gulf between perceived age and chronological age continues to widen. I've been identified as a gifted individual and have a TREMENDOUS passion for knowledge and learning; the effect, however, seems much more extreme coming from someone who behaves as I do whilst looking almost a decade younger. Some of my college professors, I think, have been threatened by me and I wonder, occasionally, if I looked more like the young adult I am - or older still - to what degree these tensions might be mitigated. I almost wonder - in a sudden flight of fancy - what would happen, theoretically, if I sent a older-looking student to all of my classes the first week of school to ask the same questions and make the same comments. It would be interesting to see if, and how, the response would be any different. It's strange to experience ageism based on... well, age, perhaps - but also on presumed age versus actual age.

In any event, musings aside, thank you for writing; I always enjoy reading.

1:11 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

What you are experiencing, Heartistsmuse, is jealousy. They assume that your appearance is an accurate indicator of your age - and are jealous that you show such mental ability in that context. They see you as superior to them - and resent it.

I am sure that if an older seeming person presented the same questions, there would be less of a reaction - perhaps no resentment at all, in fact.

Yes. My wife's siblings do look younger than they are - but they are not as extreme, as her. she is the most extreme case in her family. By the way, her mother looks young too, to an odd degree.

Best wishes to you on finding acceptance for who you are.

6:46 PM  
Blogger mattiewarner said...


Im not sure what to write except I too do not age.

I seem to be alot like your wife, when I was 15 I looked around my age some thought I was a bit younger but nothing drastic. Now it is 10 years later and I appear exactly the same as I did then.

I have not seemed to age at all, and more puzzling, I had kidney problems when I was 15 but shortly after my 18th birthday I had a scan and the doctors said it was completly healed like nothing was ever wrong with them. They could not offer an explaination.

I think the more frustrating thing to not aging is having the comments 'don't you look young' and 'no!! you cant be that old!!)

The worring thing is not knowing when I will catch up, I see people I went to school with looking like adults and yet here I am still looking like im 15 years old. How old does your wife look? has she aged at all?

6:53 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you Mattie for having the courage to write. It is very interesting to hear from you and I would like the chance to correspond, if I may - so please provide an email address in another posting (which I shall not post to keep it private for you).

No. My wife has not aged since I met her when she was 18 - but even then she looked younger than she was. She is not appreciably different from the day I met her - almost fifteen years ago. Her mother too is unaccountably young seeming - though I think my wife's case is stronger still.

Do not think of your agelessness as a misfortune. It will prove to be a blessing in the long term, if you can maintain more of the characteristics of youth, long term. Still, you must look after yourself and don't convince yourself into having the outlook that teenagers often have - of being functionally "immortal". Take the best care of yourself that you can, despite your youthful appearance.

You should try to find friends who accept you as you are. As for strangers...don't worry what they think. I have given up doing so. Can you imagine what people think of my wife and I? I am an Irishman in my mid-forties...and she looks like an eternal teenager even though she is only ten years younger than me. Sometimes we get incomprehending reactions. This can't be helped and really should be ignored. It is not healthy or helpful to worry about what people think. The same, I am sure, applies to you.

I doubt that you will ever "catch up" with the appearance of those typical of your age. My wife does not change from year to year. She is not "catching up". I think she is likely to persist in this manner for much of her life. She had a great grandfather - who lived to 104 - who hadn't changed much either.

Maybe you will be lucky and you will have a long and healthy life. I hope you do. Please allow me to correspond with you. Perhaps we can learn something about why this is happening by comparing my wife and yourself.

I am glad to hear from you. Thanks for your comment.

7:57 PM  

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