Thursday afternoon, we went to Nolan’s Early Childhood Screening appointment. I guess I’m not sure how this works in other states, but here in Minnesota, all children are screened at the age of three by their school district to prepare them for Kindergarten. They check vision and hearing, standard doctor appointment stuff, but also their verbal abilities, fine and gross motor skills, etc. The goal is to intervene and help kids as soon as possible - refer them to speech therapy or an appointment with an optometrist - to catch potential problems sooner rather than later.
I wondered as we drove if I should have rescheduled Nolan’s appointment. The twins had done theirs at his age, but they seemed more mature. Maybe I should have waited six months or so. He was smart but was he really ready? I thought of his energy, his defiance. Would he even answer the teacher’s questions? I prayed the next hour or so would go well. If nothing else, I figured we’d be directed to a therapist.
I sat in the hard, blue plastic chair across the room filling out paperwork as Nolan copied the teacher as she stacked blocks, drew a circle and some lines on a page. I listened as he quietly told her all about the yellow car she handed him with the red wheels that were circles and went vroom. My shoulders relaxed; it seemed to be going well.
It did go well. It went very well.
“He scored a 23,” the educator told me as we went over his score sheet afterward, “He only needed a 14 to pass. I’ve almost never seen a 3-year-1-monther do so well.”
I stared in disbelief at the paper, noted that he scored far past what he would have needed even six months from now.
“His cognitive abilities are impressive,” she told me, “He was able to do things even the four-year olds I see have trouble with. And he is very verbal.” (Yeah, tell me something I don’t know.)
The day before, Wednesday afternoon, I had knocked gently on Tyson’s office door. I try not to bother him during the day. I usually only knock on the door if I need to raid his office for a fresh roll of tape or some batteries.
He opened the door and I put my head on his chest and started crying. I could sense his surprise. (We can both probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve cried in our eight years of marriage.)
“I’m so...tired...of parenting Nolan,” I finally told him.
That morning Nolan had tried every single ounce of patience I had and even a couple extra ounces I didn’t even know were there.
“Nolan, don’t go in the sandbox right now, it’s too muddy,” I told him. About twelve times. (Along with a few other variations such as “Keep your feet on the sidewalk” and “Show me how you go down the slide instead.”)
“Leave the chalk in the bucket,” I told him. Only to find him a few minutes later sending stubby piece after stubby piece down the slide.
“Put the chalk back in the bucket please,” I said. He defiantly looked away. I touched his cheek to make him look at me. “I told you before not to take it out. Your consequence now is to pick it up.” It took a few minutes, but he did pick up a few pieces from the rainbow pile on the ground, now wet from the morning dew and still-melting snow. Half-heartedly. I found him eating pieces of chalk not long after.
These were not isolated incidents in an otherwise calm morning. This was all in the same eight-minute span. Previously he’d also waved a stick around and hit two people in the face, taken off both his shoes and socks at the park in the 42-degree weather (one landed in a puddle), and refused to throw his granola bar wrapper in the garbage at snacktime. As Mad-Eye Moody would say, the boy needs constant vigilence!
It wasn’t an unusual morning, either. It was just the latest in nearly three years of days that had gone just the same. Three years of attempting to balance his needs for high energy and high socialization without burning myself out in the process.
The drive home from the screening appointment was very different from the one there. I kept glancing back at him in my rearview mirror, his big, bright eyes searching the sky for airplanes as they so often do, munching on some bright orange crackers that were leftover from his earlier snack.
Who are you? I kept thinking. His score was high, higher even than Caden and Brooklyn’s when they completed their own screening just two years ago. I was just hoping you would pass and now I feel like my world is upside down.
It’s not that I didn’t think he was smart - he is. But Caden and Brooklyn’s high scores for the same screening weren’t a surprise for me. They’re the ones I’ve always been concerned with pushing academically. Nolan with all his energy — I’ve just been concerned with trying to keep him alive.
As I drove I thought of my prayer for him every night, Lord please just channel his energy into good, and I wondered at the blue-eyed boy in the backseat, babbling about PJ Masks and oblivious to all of my thoughts.
“So how’d it go?” Tyson asked as I made dinner that night.
I looked at him, wondering how to answer. “It went fine. He passed,” I finally said.
He sensed the hesitency in my voice, “Just barely?”
“Tyson, he more than passed. He scored even higher than Caden and Brooklyn did.”
“Oh,” Tyson’s eyes widened and he laughed, “I just hoped he would pass. Awesome!”
I smiled even as my mind continued to swirl, wondering what to do with my trouble-making, energetic, clever little boy.
Thursday night, I sat at my kitchen island and Googled what to do with him. I researched energetic three-year olds and smart three-year olds, and didn’t find much help. It’s not exactly like there’s advanced preschool. (Also felt like the world’s most obnoxious parent for Googling “gifted three-year olds”.) I read about engaging him in as many activities as possible, to give a direction to his energy and focus his high capacity for learning. This at least explained why he’d excelled in dance class all year.
It also gave credit to the theory I’ve had in my head for awhile, that he was smart but bored, and his energy and constant search for attention was the outward manifestation of the intelligence buried inside.
I rubbed my forehead as I searched for programs and activities - anything - for three-year olds which were either a.) nonexistent or b.) combined with the two-year olds. I sighed and gave up for the evening, relieved that I had at least signed up him for three mornings of preschool in the fall.
Over a week later and I’m still thinking about that screening appointment, still feel a little as though my world has been turned upside down. I’ve told some relatives and friends how well his screening went and have mostly been met with the response, “Yeah that doesn’t surprise me”. Maybe because they’re further removed from the day-to-day challenges than I am, of parenting a little someone with such boundless energy.
I feel the weight of the responsibility - even more than before - to watch over him, push him, protect him. To work even harder to engage and advocate for him. If I can help him channel his energy now, guide him, direct him, parent him, love him. If I can find him the right activities, teachers, coaches, so that he can thrive.
He burns so brightly already. I want him to shine. I want everyone to see just what he can do.
Tyson has been playing a game with Nolan lately, taking inspiration from the book Dear Zoo.
“First God sent me an Emily,” Tyson tells him, “But I didn’t want an Emily. So I sent her back.”
“Then God sent me a Logan,” Tyson continues, “But I didn’t want a Logan. So I sent him back.”
Tyson continues on, listing off the names of Nolan’s friends and sending them back. Nolan’s smile grows bigger every time.
“Then God thought really hard and he sent me a Nolan,” Tyson finally says, “And he was perfect. I kept him”
Perfect. We’re keeping him. I’m going to watch him climb some more.