My gifted 9-year-old, Jimmy, stomped off the bus and pounded his way up the drive. As I watched him make his way through the door with Tony, my 7-year-old, skipping happily behind him, I imagined a cartoon bubble over his head filled with black scribbles. He slammed open the door, took one look at me, and collapsed on the couch in tears.
Most children have first words somewhere in the neighborhood of "Ma" or "Pa" or "Da." Jimmy's were "I love you." At 9 months, he could crawl over and undo any device I had to keep him out of the cupboards. At 18 months, he could hold a conversation with adults in complete sentences. I learned not to do anything in front of him I didn't want him to learn. He picked it up after one viewing. Being a first-time mother, I didn't know that children didn't behave this way normally. My training as a teacher helped me identify school-age children, not toddlers, as possibly being gifted. Adults who met him were amazed at his verbal abilities. I had no idea. When Tony came along and exhibited the same abilities, again, I thought nothing of it. The countless questions drove me batty, but I figured that's what kids do.
However, when Jimmy turned 3 and started preschool, I realized the great divide between him and his peers.
Peers can sniff out a child's weaknesses, and giftedness reeks to the heavens. That particular day, Jimmy had been stung by the resentment his peers felt toward him.
I walked over to him and brushed a few stray hairs off his forehead.
"What's wrong, buddy?"
"Ricky called me a nerd!" he wailed, and buried his head in my shoulder.
My first instinct, as any mother worth her salt will admit, was to hunt down that scoundrel Ricky and berate him. Then common sense kicked in and I felt terrible. Jimmy's heart was broken and mine was following suit.
"Why would he do that? I thought he was your friend," I said.
"I knew the answer to something no one else did. My teacher called on me, and I didn't even have my hand raised. Then Ricky called me a nerd!"
I wrapped my arms around him and hugged him tight. We sat that way for a little while before an idea occurred to me.
"Go get a drink and a snack and try to calm down. I have to look something up real quick."
He sniffed and wiped his tears and trotted off to get his snack. I went to the spare room and booted up my computer.
"Who is that guy?" he asked with a milk moustache gracing his face.
"This guy is what we called a nerd when Mom was a kid."
"Oh," he said with a furrow between his brows.
"Do you know what he grew up to be?"
"The richest person in America," I said, having no idea he had recently been deposed to second richest, but who cares? I made my point.
"What?" he said with eyes wide.
"Yep. Billions of dollars belong to him."
"Wow. I wouldn't mind having billions of dollars," he said with a smile.
I typed in "Barack Obama" next, and Jimmy said, "I know that he is the president, Mom." He rolled his eyes at me.
"Did you know that he is also a nerd? He's the leader of the free world. After knowing about these two guys, who wouldn't want to be a nerd?"
"I'll say. I guess it's good to be a nerd, huh?"
"It's all in the way you look at it, bud. Ricky meant it as an insult, but these nerds had the last laugh. I can guarantee it."
He smiled and walked away.
The next day, I paced the living room floor, worrying a groove into it, hoping that my son would come home happy and not miserable. I heard the squeal and hiss of brakes. I ran to the window just in time to see Jimmy run off the bus and down the drive. I braced myself for tears or an angry tirade. He slammed open the door and said, breathless, "Can I play outside? I don't have any homework."
"Sure. But how did it go with Ricky today? I take it he didn't call you a nerd again."
"Yeah, he did. I just slapped him on the back and told him I am a nerd. I also told him I'd be happy to employ him later in life," he said with a smile. I smiled back and waved him out the door.