Tuesday, April 24, 2012

To The Toppermost of the Poppermost, Johnny.

Rolling Stone Interview, 1971:

Jann Wenner: Do you think you're a genius?
John Lennon: "Yes, if there is such a thing as one, I am one. When did you realize that what you were doing transcended -- People like me are aware of their so-called genius at ten, eight, nine. . . . I always wondered, ``Why has nobody discovered me?'' In school, didn't they see that I'm cleverer than anybody in this school? That the teachers are stupid, too? That all they had was information that I didn't need? I got fuckin' lost in being at high school. I used to say to me auntie, ``You throw my fuckin' poetry out, and you'll regret it when I'm famous, '' and she threw the bastard stuff out. I never forgave her for not treating me like a fuckin' genius or whatever I was, when I was a child. It was obvious to me. Why didn't they put me in art school? Why didn't they train me? Why would they keep forcing me to be a fuckin' cowboy like the rest of them? I was different, I was always different. Why didn't anybody notice me? A couple of teachers would notice me, encourage me to be something or other, to draw or to paint - express myself. But most of the time they were trying to beat me into being a fuckin' dentist or a teacher. And then the fuckin' fans tried to beat me into being a fuckin' Beatle or an Engelbert Humperdinck, and the critics tried to beat me into being Paul McCartney."

Craig and I noticed evidence of above average ability in Luke at a very young age. It didn't matter that his feet turned in when he walked from being a double footling breech baby. It didn't matter that he couldn't properly pronounce his "R's" and "L's" until he was 9. (Doctors uniformly told us his feet would be fine and he could run, and that he'd grow out of the speech impediment without speech therapy. And they were all right.)  Luke is a very, very different child.

Luke said that today is the 4-year anniversary of his YouTube channel, Bechteloffices, where he's been posting the results of his creativity (even if not all of his videos are magnetically entertaining to his family). To date, as is statistical evidence on his channel, he's had 1,444,344 video views. Almost a million and a half. He's been honing his film making crafts since he was 8, even when he had a shitty camera and trouble keeping steady. He'd write out elaborate spy plots and his dad and I were usually the co-stars of his early movies. Now he's all high-tech and doing stuff like stop-motion animation with Legos. Check out his new video intro:

What did we do, as parents, to foster knowledge in Luke? Certainly, we had no idea of his capacity for knowledge while he was still sleeping in his all-John-Lennon decorated nursery (seriously, Carter's came out with a licensed Lennon artwork for kids, mass-marketed by Yoko's authority, nursery set, with accessories and stuffed animals, and we had it ALL. It was pure coincidence that I, as a Beatlemaniac, got to have a Lennon artwork nursery for my baby, born in 2000. Good timing.)

We did what all the new-age parenting books said to do, like read to your baby aloud while he's still in the womb, play music over the pregnant belly, typical stuff. But once he was born, and we were given this tiny human being to bring up, we applied our own parenting philosophy, which was this: We will never treat him like a baby. We will never treat him as if he's lesser than we are. We will speak to him as if he were a peer, not a moron. We never once had to say to him the oft-heard, typical parental request, "Use your words!" to get him to convey a thought or emotion to us. He talked early and just bloody spoke up.

We played music of all kinds when he was a baby, but he was only soothed by FUNK. I played that baby more Parliament/Funkadelic and "Superfly" and "Shaft" music than I could even stand to try and get him to go to sleep, when the lullaby CD's did nothing to soothe him. Essentially, we read to him virtually constantly, and by the time he was 2, he had memorized easy books like "Goodnight Moon" and would recite them to us as we read them, night after night.

It was amazing as he grew into toddler-hood. He enjoyed the PBS shows (like the wretched "Caillou," which I bought VHS tapes of in French, thinking somehow he'd pick up French, though neither his father nor I understood it) and the Baby Einstein series, which he found funnier the older he got. But what COMPLETELY absorbed him at age 2? The show "Win Ben Stein's Money" on Comedy Central, hosted by the actor/economist Stein and co-hosted originally by Jimmy Kimmel. It wasn't visually stimulating, bright or colorful. Craig and I liked it for it's sardonic humor, and it was admittedly a HARD GAME SHOW. But Luke went through a long phase where we'd have to record episodes (since new ones were on after his bedtime) & he'd sit, transfixed, as if he remotely understood half of the content of the show. Early in 2002, Stein came to Chicago and after I emailed him telling him what a big fan our TODDLER was, he agreed to a private meet and greet with our family. Ben Stein couldn't get over how "good looking" he thought Luke was at the time, but it took a while for Luke to process that Ben Stein WAS Ben Stein. That the image on the television was an actual person. We tried to get Luke to repeat his never-ending catchphrases at home, "MORE BEN STEIN MONEY!" and "BEN STEIN NOW!" but he was, for once, speechless.

The day I dropped him off at Pre-Kindergarten for the first time, when he was 3, he was left crying at the window watching me crying to the car. His teacher, my friend from childhood, Jenni, assured me he'd be fine. Soon into the semester, she took me aside and asked me when he started reading independently, and I honestly couldn't answer her question. Craig and I didn't teach him how to read. (Coincidentally, I taught myself to read when I was also 3.) "Because HE CAN READ," Jenni said, "And he UNDERSTANDS it," she said, meaning he comprehended what he was reading and wasn't just looking at words and reciting them. He had to be taught how to write, naturally, for that was a skill set beyond his parents' technical capacity. Emotionally, he was very much in his own age group at the time, and had his requisite tantrums and naughty times, and potty training took forever, but instead of just chastising him, we spoke to him logically, and he got it. 

After Ben Stein burned out, and Luke had seen all of the "Star Wars" movies, he moved on to science fiction and fantasy. One of his Christmas presents when he was almost 4 was Craig's collection of vintage "Star Wars" toys and action figures, and he knew who all the characters were...which, as seen below, he anal-retentively aligned between the cushions of a chair (because he has his mom's Polish OCD's):

...and he became obsessed with watching "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart, which he found hysterical, re-enacting it at his cardboard desk in a shirt and tie...

He was already in his big-boy bed, and I'd re-decorated his room with moons and stars as the theme, Van Gogh paintings, Craig mapped out the solar system on the ceiling of his room with glow-in-the-dark stars, planets and moons, and memorabilia from the first real novel he read by himself, Antoine de Saint-Exupery's "The Little Prince," which he completed by age 5.

He was writing fiction stories at that age, and like Lennon, poetry. Unlike Lennon's Auntie Mimi, I kept the original compositions he created that I thought were of particular artistic merit while inevitably tossing out the rest of the weekly work that came home.  He was always making up little songs, though he didn't get an electric guitar until he was 8, which he still can't play (someday...). He still makes up songs with melodies and rhyming words, increasingly more mature, but doesn't always write them down.  I've always let him tinker on the drums and he can create a beat and stick with it, but he doesn't have the opportunity to play my drums often. (I figure if I can teach myself to play drums well enough to be in a band, eventually, if he's interested, he'll get into it. I think rudimentary drum lessons are utterly and completely worthless wastes of money, unless you plan on joining a marching band. Then again, he learned how to read music in elementary school and I still can't, so he has an edge over me already.) He paints well, but not exceptionally at all. He is better at digital arts and computer arts than the traditional disciplines.

Still, emotionally and socially, he was, while intellectually above his peers, he was the age he was. There was the annoying "Blue's Clues" phase....

A political activist, he campaigned for Kerry over Bush, though at the time of the photo, he was interrupting my viewing of "Rosemary's Baby."

And so on, and so forth through the years. He's held himself to a very high standard in school this whole time (as we have, too, as his parents) and gets his work done at a pace unlike anything I've ever seen, and it's accurate. He does well in arts and sciences, combined. He has Bible verses to memorize for school that he can look at twice and remember the whole thing, photographically. He does math equations far better than I can ever claim to. (If I have to take statistics for grad school, you-know-who is going to have to help me.)  He usually doesn't study for tests, even though I tell him to, or he'll look over material again for 5 minutes, commit it to memory and go from there.

Craig and I are constantly on this-year's-teacher to keep him engaged and busy, with increasingly challenging projects, and he's getting better at doing his work more laboriously slowly and neatly, though my observation is that once his head gets going, his brain fires at a frantic rate (which concerns me as a manic-depressive).  This summer, I put, on his reading list Kant's "Critique of Pure Reason," since Einstein read it at his age, and Susan Sontag's "Illness as a Metaphor," both of which made his teacher go "Whoa, sister, slow down!" He'd much rather play Call of Duty than read philosophy, but that will not stop me from continuing to foster in him the gifts God gave him. 

His counseling psychologist wants him to have a battery of tests taken, including emotional/social development and an IQ test. Having spent a considerable amount of time with Luke alone, and observing him with his parents, she's said that he's "not just really bright" and will score "off the charts" for IQ but may score lower on an emotional level (hey, he walks around the house honking a giant stuffed walrus that travels between homes and goes to De Kalb when we visit my brother). The psychologist, who's helping him work through the difficulties he's faced in life thus far, is pointing us in the direction of some summer programs Luke could take for gifted children (he's already done science in college at the local community college-that was when he was around 6 years old).  

I debate IQ tests and standardized testing in general, though Luke scores at a post-high-school level on most of his achievement tests. Hell, I was measured as having an IQ of 162, but I flunked all my math tests up until college, when I took Math for Non-Math People. The gang at my old job widely considered me to be stupid, incapable of performing simple tasks that were all left-brain oriented. Luke is one of those rare individuals who is left and right-brain equal, as I've said before. He's a science geek who loves to blow stuff up and do experiments, but he has to capture them all on film and meticulously edit the sequences for videos on his YouTube channel. 

When he gets to college, I will encourage him to abandon much of what he's learned up until that point and to follow his bliss, instead of conforming to a more practically acceptable career path. His father promised to have the birds/bees talk with him, while I'm taking on the less daunting task of explaining evolution to my raised-Creationist parochial school son, though I'm more medically capable than Craig at explaining the mechanics of sex and he knows his evolution better than I do. 

Has Luke had a perfect life? Is he a perfect kid? Hardly. His folks divorced. He had to visit his alcoholic mother in rehab when he was 8. He's seen drug-fueled horror at home with me and drunkenness, and me being overtaken by my own mental illness, impressions so ingrained in his brain that he still, close to 13, brings up. He's lived with a physically and mentally sick parent who is his custodial parent and has a constant fear that I'll die. He's toughed out economic hardships with me, especially. 

He's on the heavy side, and has been bullied for years on end at school and made fun of (though he's the tallest AND biggest kid in class, currently at 5'3"), which has been hard for him. He is made fun of because he's atypical. He prefers the company of older kids and adults, or to retreat to himself, though he has a couple best friends. It's my personal opinion that he's teased so incessantly because he is so different than his peers, as God designed him and we raised him. (He intends on losing a big chunk of weight over the summer, which will require diet modifications and lots of bike riding.)

He can be a real pain in the ass sometimes, too. He's sloth-like. Messy. He plays his music too loudly. He tells me to fuck off (in context, correctly, but still, how rude!)  He harbors in him MANY of the personality traits of his mother, which is both good and bad. (The sloth comes from Dad.) But he won't turn out to be a "fuckin' cowboy." That much is certain. 

Where is Luke headed? To the toppermost of the poppermost, in whatever way he sees fit. God gave him unusual talents, and he should use them to His glory and be thankful for them. I'm thankful every day that God blessed Craig and I with such a kind, sensitive soul in our lives, who just happens to be really, weirdly, super-smart.

Until then, he's still at heart, just a typical 12-year old kid who likes to buy gadgets like the "TV Be Gone," a remote that can randomly turn televisions on and off virtually anywhere. Watch this prank he pulled on Craig's crazy mother. Follow your bliss, Luke. Follow your bliss, ya punk.


Paul Cienniwa said...

Lennon's comment is extremely arrogant. What does that make a parent's!

America: where all the children are above average.

Sorry, cousin, but a big problem in our culture right now is that everyone thinks that he's the exception. The parents of my college students all gave birth to geniuses. Parental humility would create better citizens.

Andrea Miklasz said...

I disagree that all parents think their children are above average. I know plenty of parents who think their kids are just average, or perhaps slightly above average, but despite our lineage, Paul, you don't really "know" Luke. You'll get to know him this summer.

Yes, Lennon was arrogant. That whole interview with him was arrogant, as that was the place he was at emotionally at the time. He had some growing up to do. He said harsh things about the "stupidity," let's call it, of the other Beatles. But I think Lennon WAS a genius personally.

I'm sorry if the blog appeared boasting about my exceptional son. He can't walk on water and he can't raise the dead, and he's a mouthy, lazy little son of a bitch sometimes too.

It was a better blog than the one I'm still developing about Dick Clark and my hatred towards New Year's Eve. Have mercy, I'm in a depressive state as manic depression goes.

Vanessa Ueltzen said...

You make some excellent points both about his top notch mental ability while still recognizing that social/emotional functioning is right in line with the average preteen. The only point I will correct you on is that the new girl in his class is 6", making him the second biggest kid in his class :) Sorry for the lack of challenge as I figure things out this year, let me see if I can put something together summer reading wise for him. Love the honesty, as always!

Andrea Miklasz said...

Oh, that's right, I forgot about the 6' tall girl!!!!! :)

Don't apologize for the lack of challenge. Every teacher he's ever had we've pushed for extra work and challenging tasks for him to do. You're doing a great job with him!!!

Anonymous said...

As the parent of a "gifted" kid myself, I totally get how hard it can be to find ways that challenge your child intellectually without isolating him socially or turning him into a type-A stress-bucket relentlessly driven to achieve. An artistic outlet -- film, it seems, for Luke -- is indispensable.

Andrea Miklasz said...

Luke's therapist pointed us towards some park district activities for gifted children, as well as some independent classes he can take over the summer. She said it'd be really good for him to spend time with kids who are of the same intellectual capacity as he is. His dad and I agree. Film making has been his outlet for everything for years. I love that he has that to fall back on...

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