It was clear from the start: My daughter was a genius. Within minutes of landing in her new world, she figured out where we kept the best food. But that wasn’t what convinced me. Even in my gushiest new-father daze, I knew that breastfeeding is instinctive. And it wasn’t what happened days later, when I held her by the armpits and let her feet dangle onto the coffee table. She couldn’t stand on those jelly legs, but she did move her feet in a succession of steps. Someone less objective might have said it proved a precocious eagerness to stride into a bright future. But I knew the motion was reflexive and would disappear in a few months.
Soon, however, I began to suspect that she really was different. It was nothing that could be measured. I saw it more in the way she would focus on things with an analytical gaze, like a baby scientist, then respond with an all-accepting grin. Of course, I considered that I might be projecting my own aspirations onto my daughter. People are like that. Everybody’s mother made the best spaghetti; everybody’s dog is the smartest. But then I discovered it wasn’t just me. My wife noticed it, too.
And our convictions only grew along with our daughter. At 4 months, she was able to grab and hold onto a pen. Could Jane Austen do as much at a similar age? Soon she added the ability to throw. Tennis or baseball? I wondered. But then she switched back to the arts, displaying an impressive musical comprehension. Gurgling along in joy, she took to everything I played, from zydeco to Pygmy chants. But classical music seemed to resonate best. Piano or violin? I wondered. On the other hand, what if she suddenly took to the harp?
We passed that stage some time ago. Now 2 1/2, she has a toy piano she can bang on when she wants to, which isn’t often. She liked my tin whistle for a while, but mostly for the sound it made against the fridge door. She’s still fond of pens, though, and can scribble her way through a whole stack of papers in less than a minute. She can throw a plastic ball pretty far, too; once in a while, she even catches it. All of which means that my daughter is pretty normal for her age.
So what happened to her genius?
I don’t think it went away. What changed is the way I look at it. I stopped trying to gauge her future on my limiting scale of grown-up success. She’s a child; she’s special. Her future is boundless. They’re all geniuses at that age. They’re all the best, just like everybody’s mother really did make the best spaghetti.
What changed me?
It might have been the birth of my second child, a boy. He’s only a few months old, but you can already see that he’s got the shoulders of a pro hockey player.