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, November 26, 2011

How children see the world.

Children have two eyes, just like you or me...but they don’t use them the same way. What children see, in the world, is often markedly different from what we do, as adults.

Recently, I had the opportunity to take my children to a film set. It was outdoors. Now, I fully expected my two youngest kids – Fintan, 8 and Tiarnan 5, to be most interested in the actors, the cameras, the whole paraphernalia of film-making...but no: what they did instead of stand in awe at all these things, was to proceed to dig rocks out of the ground. Yes. They found the local rocks of much greater interest than the other matters proceeding all around them.

At one point, Tiarnan ran excitedly up to me:

“Daddy,’ve got to come and see!”

His excitement was acute. What great wonder had he found?

“We’ve found yellow soil and red soil!”, he announced.

I suppressed a smile and followed him to where he led.

He pointed to a hole in the ground which he and Fintan had created by the simple expedient of removing a rock. Its imprint remained. There, sure enough, were seams of red soil – and yellow soil – both colours rich and deep.

I looked interested and smiled approvingly and left them to their interest.

Later on, I took them to see a fight scene amidst the rocks of a quarry. After the scene was over, I asked them: “Could you see the battle?”

Fintan looked a little awkward.

“We couldn’t because of the Sun,” he began, trying out his first excuse, then he looked down and across at Tiarnan. “We found some rocks...”, he trailed off.

“We were digging up the rocks!”, confessed Tiarnan.

It was funny to see their odd enthusiasm for the local rocks. However, upon reflection, I understand it. They had never been to a quarry before. All their lives they had lived in relatively manicured environments – but here, in this quarry, they were faced with a raw, rough, brutal landscape, with strange rocks jutting out of the ground. They had never seen anywhere like it. Now, they had seen people before. They had seen cameras before. They had seen fight scenes many times on TV before. What they had never seen, however, were rocks like the ones strewn all around them – nor a landscape so desolate and lifeless. To them, that was the true wonder of this “film set” – the very place it was set in.

The funny thing, though, was that the only two people to really appreciate the location, deeply, were my two little sons. They saw in each rock, something wonderful, something strange. The adults, however, just saw awkward bumps underfoot to be avoided. Not one adult did what my sons were doing: taking a close look at the rocks, their shape, their form, their substance. In a way, I suppose the only two people who came to a full appreciation and understanding of this uncanny landscape were my two little sons: they are the only people who really studied it, at all.
The adults, on the other hand, were focussed on the human things and the technical things – on their acting, their costume, their make-up, their motion and emotion, the camera work and the lighting. The actual nature of what lay underfoot was ignored by all except my sons.

So, that day, there were two sets: one that the adults saw – and one that my children saw. My sons saw the place as it actually was. The adults saw it, in another way – as a backdrop to their filmed events.

It is funny to reflect that, in a very real way, only my sons actually attained a real grasp of their environment. Everyone else just took it for granted – and labelled it, reflexively, as “rocky landscape...enquire no more”.

When they got home, I asked my sons what the best thing about going to the film set was:

“The rocks!”, they both cried out, at once.

They had learnt something – not the lesson I had thought they would learn - but they had learnt something about the world. I had, inadvertently, taught them another set of lessons, altogether, than the one I had hoped to teach them. Or should I say, they had taught themselves lessons other than the ones I had hoped they would imbibe. I think that their lesson was a better one to learn – for it arose from their own interests in the world and what is important in it, for them. They saw what they wanted to see and learned what they wanted to learn. They picked out what was newest, strangest and most unusual for them – and that, unexpectedly for me, was the rocks underfoot. In so doing they taught me, too, to realize that my world and the way I see it, is not theirs. They have their own view of the world and their own categorizations of what is important and worthy and what is not: actors are not, rocks least to them, at this young age. I have come to understand that I mustn’t assume their view on things – I must observe what turns out to be their view – and to anticipate, in an open way, that this may be very different from my expectation. This, however, is good. It is refreshing to see that their view is different to my own. That is a good sign, for it means that they are growing up in an environment that allows them to nurture their own viewpoints – some families probably don’t do that.

I am left with a funny thought. In years to come, should I ask them about that film set visit, they will most probably not remember any of the things most people would remember from a film set experience – but they will be able to tell me about the types of rocks they found there. That is a delightfully quirky thought.

Posted by Valentine Cawley

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 11:50 PM 


Blogger David said...


I've been enjoying reading back in time about your family. I read your blog a few years ago when I first learned of it, but then lost track of it. My wife and I had our first baby last month, so I have a renewed interest.

Regarding this post, did this experience inspire you to take your boys on more outdoor or wilderness type activities?


8:19 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Firstly, David, congratulations both on your marriage and your first baby: both are great adventures, filled with the unexpected.

Thank you for your kind words about my blog. I am glad you enjoy it.

Yes. We did take our sons on more outdoor adventures - particularly trekking/hiking in challenging terrain. They always enjoy that - and put myself (though not my much fitter wife) to shame, with the pace they can keep up, despite every natural obstruction, no matter how steep or overwhelming.

Fintan, has in recent months (since we finally succumbed to getting cable TV...we had had no TV in the house for three years), taken to watching all the nature shows he can find. He is most absorbed by them, and regales me with details of the animal's lives and ways. I rather wish I had got cable sooner. I feared they would become addicted to rubbish...but no, he has become addicted to shows about nature!

I wish you well on raising your first baby. It is an education in itself...for both child and parents. If you have a second child, you will be much better prepared next time around.

Best of luck!


1:42 PM  

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