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Monday, 1.23.06: Gifted Children

We live in a strange era when it comes to children. As a class, they are ignored and deprived -- slashes in education budgets, slashes in child welfare budgets. Individually, they are adored.

I read the strangest article in The New Yorker: "Prairie Fire: the Life and Death of a Prodigy" by Eric Konigsberg (unfortunately not available online). It was about Brandenn Bremmer, child genius, who wound up shooting himself in the head.

Brendenn was an extremely gifted child whose family lived in small-town Nebraska. He was an extraordinary genius at everything he touched and his parents built their lives around him. They home-schooled him and the article goes on page after page about his accomplishments. Then he kills himself. The parents are so adoring that they can't believe the boy was depressed. They thought he somehow intuited that other children needed his organs so sacrificed himself for their benefit. Sort of like Jesus.

It wasn't till the end of the article that you realize he actually had sisters.

The story was sad yet disturbing. I couldn't figure out the author's point -- The New Yorker doesn't publish sob stories unless there's a larger message.

A misfit is a misfit.

Last night we watched "My Left Foot," a movie about another prodigy, the Irish writer and painter Christy Brown. Brown had cerebral palsy and grew up in a poor Irish family of 14 or so children, mother always pregnant, father always drunk and marginally employed. Far from being adored, Christy had to use every ounce of his willpower to be seen as anything other than a cripple. His family was loving and his mother attentive, but it was Christy's obligation to keep up with the crowd.

But come to think of it Christy also tried to commit suicide at one point, but he couldn't properly apply the razor to an artery with his left foot.

A misfit is a misfit, whether a cripple or an angel. Maybe the message is that parents are less in control of the wellbeing of their children than they ache to be.




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