Earlier this year my husband and I had an important milestone as parents: we reached a moment where we couldn’t teach our son anymore. Only in chemistry mind you, but considering he was only 3 at the time, it was a big deal. He was reading adult level books, flipping through text books, and watching university lectures on youtube for fun. Not only that, but he had an obsessive need to talk to someone about his new interests, and it wasn’t enough for him to talk at us- he wanted someone to be able to offer insight to him too. I remember feeling awful for him. Imagine your favourite thing in the world. Now imagine having no one to talk to about it. Now imagine being 3. How isolating is that?
I’m very fortunate in the way that I am a SAHM with time to spare on worrying about my kid and access to the internet. I was able to find other moms of gifted children, read their blogs, and join forums that are for parents of gifted children. I was fortunate that I even knew to look at giftedness. There have been many times throughout the past 2 years or so that I’ve reached out to the knowledgeable parents on these forums, but this was my most urgent.
SOS. I’m out.
On not one, but two, of these forums, it was mentioned to me to look into a mentorship. It’s basically tutoring, but it doesn’t sound quite as crazy. And there isn’t really an endgame in sight- it’s not about earning an A on the next term paper. It’s just about getting together and learning about science. Sure, it sounded a little extreme for a preschooler, but we were out of options.
Even then, I knew I was so fortunate that I even knew where to look for help. I was so fortunate that people took me seriously enough to make that suggestion. I was even luckier that our local university took me seriously enough to put me in contact with a student to fill the position of mentor to my son.
It’s been 8 months now, and it was the best thing that ever happened for my son’s education. I remember seeing a total change in him after 2 meetings with his mentor. He was happier, he wasn’t quite as obsessive with the periodic table. He chilled out a little bit in a very positive way. Sure, 3 year olds change so often that any number of things could have had that effect, but after this long it’s still the highlight of my son’s week.
And I’ve learned a lot about him in the process too. For one, it gives me insight into just how amazing his big ol’ brain is. That the things he says to me throughout the week aren’t actually gibberish, they’re science. It also reminds me how little he still is- seeing him fidget in the ginormous chairs, getting excited over the colours of the crayons. He is still my baby! And it also reminds me how preposterous our situation must look when a student or professor walks by to see this little boy sitting and learning Avogadro’s number. But I don’t think anyone who sees him doubts that he wants to be there. Unless it’s the last fifteen minutes of the hour, you can see that he is totally engrossed.
I still feel trepidation talking to people about his science lessons though. I’m worried that they’ll think I’m a pushy mom, or say something negative about it and spoil it in my son’s mind. He looks up to his mentor like a big brother. For a whole hour he has someone’s undivided attention that is capable of challenging him in a subject that he loves. And that’s priceless.
I’m so happy I didn’t dismiss mentorship as something that would only be beneficial for when he’s older. I’m so happy that I didn’t limit him by his age. And I am so thankful for the people who have helped us along the way. Not only the people on the message boards, the university, and his mentor, but others too. Friends that have given him textbooks and science equipment. Librarians that have suggested books and reassured me during times of crisis. Even his teachers at school, that while their hands are tied by the school system, have recognized his abilities and tried to understand him. And let’s be honest, for anyone who thinks I’m crazy but has kept it to themselves! This is what is working for us. And that’s all we can do as parents.
We can only find something that works and stick with it until it doesn’t anymore. And then, we find something else.
So why does my son have a mentor?
Because we couldn’t teach him anymore.
Because it was the only thing we could do for him. Programs wouldn’t take him.
Because he wanted one. And not only that, he needed one.
The first time he met with his mentor, it was like he had been born in a land where no one spoke the same language as him, and finally, for the first time, he met someone he understood. And understood him. A lightbulb went off. Bells dinged. And eventually, it satisfied his need to learn about chemistry enough that he was finally able to let other things into his life. Yes, he still loves to build periodic tables and write out the elements, but he’s perfectly happy to pursue other interests as well. To me, it’s much healthier to give him an appropriate outlet for his interests so that he has time to pursue other ones than to force him to spend all of his time working it out on his own. But that’s just me.
Yes, our situation is an extreme one, but I think that’s what’s great about the internet. Those of us in extreme situations are able to find our people. We can take solace in the fact that there are other crazy people out there. And in addition to that, we get to learn about those who are different and understand why they do the crazy things they do. This is just one of the many crazy things we do, and we’re not the only ones. But sometimes, I don’t have time to explain it all. Or, I feel awkward explaining it all. So here it all is, out in the open.