Do you know how hard it is to describe William on paper?
I know. The irony. You'd think it'd be easy for me. After all, I call myself a writer. Not only that, but I've been describing him here on this very blog for three years now. But think about how many thousands and thousands of words I've used over the course of the past three years. Now imagine trying to condense all that down onto a five- or ten-page questionnaire.
And I've had to do a lot of that recently. For example, I just signed William up for a speech and language development study at Vanderbilt. The study is designed to examine young children who stutter and compare them with children who don't stutter. As a non-stutterer, William will participate in two sessions, of which the first one is this Thursday. In preparation for the study, I had to fill out a long questionnaire filled with questions about his health, his developmental history, and his personality.
I got stuck on one of the questions on the form. The question read "How would you describe your child's personality?" I sat there and gnawed on the end of my pen for a few minutes before getting up to find David to ask him how he'd describe his son's personality. We ended up with "friendly, extroverted and bossy." (I probably could have also added "stubborn, wiggly, affectionate and funny" to the list, but I figure that the study administrators will find all that out in due time.) Wow. Three words. Is that William? Is that enough? Is that accurate? Should I have crammed in, in teeny tiny letters, "stubborn, wiggly, affectionate and funny"? And yet, do they really need seven words to describe a person who's three?
I also recently filled out an application for the the local school system's gifted program, which is called Encore. The Encore program begins as early as preschool, and one of William's teachers suggested that I look into applying for him. So I did. I filled out a lengthy application, as did William's teacher, and we submitted them last week to the school system for review. I guess if they think he merits an assessment, we'll hear from them.
As I anticipated, the Encore application included pages and pages of questions about how he solves problems, how he interacts with people, what his curiosity level is like, etc. And the whole time I was filling the form out, I kept thinking, "Well, I'm doing the best that I can to tell you what he's like. I hope that's okay." But the reality is--and I hope the people who read the forms get this--my perspective is so limited, so one-sided. I have no idea if his approach to life is normal or not. I don't know if what he's doing constitutes gifted behavior or just normal three-year-old behavior. I don't have anything to compare him with. He's the only kid I have. Something that I might consider pretty normal might be amazing--and vice versa.
And not only that, but it felt weird to even be applying for the program because in some way, I felt like I was bragging about my son, and I don't even know if I should be doing that. I mean, I think he's smart, but who knows if he's "gifted," you know? I was once labeled "gifted" as a child, but I have to tell you, I don't feel particularly gifted as an adult! But I guess it's not up to me. Hopefully, the decision will not depend solely on my ability or lack thereof to adequately depict my son in all his complicated glory on paper. Maybe I should have added a coda: "I used to think I was pretty smart, but now I'm second-guessing everything I've written here, so maybe you should just meet William and then tell me what you think."
And hopefully, they will. I'm sure they understand that a parent's perspective is just one perspective and not the end-all, be-all--that a child is not just what or who his parents think he is. Even from someone like me; I'm a journalist, and I've been trained to view things as objectively as possible when reporting on them. But it's hard to be really objective about your own child.