They were tiny, in the beginning, as children are. Tiny and innocent and selfish and sharing all in one. They corrected each other’s grammar, helped each other up the climbing wall in the gym, listened patiently and without judgment as yet another fellow tot rambled on about bugs, or space travel or endangered species.
They were each exceedingly smart in their own way, with IQs well-documented by anxious parents. And most sported emotional radar deeper and more sensitive than the average child. Their eyes spoke volumes, even when their mouths weren’t moving.
All of this combined made them “different.” In neuropsychologists’ terms, it made them “gifted.”
In my eyes, it made them the most beautiful tiny humans on earth. And possibly the ones best suited to save us from ourselves.
My sons had the extreme privilege of going to a small school for gifted children. It sits, nestled on the edge of a forest preserve, with a bell tower and a reflecting pool. It is the kind of school my parents never could have afforded to send me to. When I say “extreme privilege,” I mean it. And I did not let my boys forget that this school was a gift I paid for dearly. I wanted them to enjoy it, but never take it for granted. We are not wealthy. Choosing this education for them meant giving up vacations, shopping, certain kinds of cars, etc. Ah, our First World problems, you might say. And you’d be right. But I did feel the sacrifices. And I feel I owe you, friend, complete transparency—judge me or not.
The very thing that drew them all to the school—intelligence and giftedness—is not what turned out to be their saving grace. Don’t get me wrong—they challenged each other to new heights of achievement in the best (and on occasion, the worst) possible ways. What became so very remarkable was that they showed us—their parents and teachers–how the world could be. In a best-case scenario, they did not see differences of faith, skin color, economic status, as material.
One of my favorite pictures from this time is my youngest in a yarmulke, the cap worn by Jewish males. There he was, my little supposedly-Catholic-but-really-agnostic boy, comfortably seated in the synagogue, yarmulke and all. And next to him sat an atheist, a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Muslim, a Christian. All were there to support their friend, Noah, at his Bar Mitzvah. All of them fast friends. All of them completely different colors and faiths. All of them blind to the fact that the world thought this should matter. Yes, they were still young enough to be that sheltered. They were in what we affectionately call “the Bubble.” It’s a protected space where the harshest rules of the world do not gain entry. It’s a place where special talents are given the time and safe haven they need to grow.
My sons’ former school is the Bubble. When a child graduates and moves on—whether to Andover or Eaton, public or parochial high school—we say they have left the Bubble. And leaving the Bubble is not something that’s easy to do, let me tell you. I know, as I’ve watched my two sons struggle to do it.
The Bubble is a place where you can talk unceasingly of your fascination with arachnids, and no one will mock you. Instead, they’ll probably ask you questions about this passion. And then they’ll say to adults who might look askance: “That’s just Luc. He likes bugs.” Case closed. Where you can be the girl who asks for extra math homework, smiling as it’s piled on. Where physical education focuses on fitness and your personal best, instead of how big you are and how menacing you can be on the gridiron. Do they learn football? Sure. But they also learn cricket, and yoga, and how to coach fellow students who might be just about the worst athletes they’ll ever see on any type of playing field. Talk about building character.
It’s an environment where kids give presentations on their faiths. And where no one judges the boy who has declared himself an atheist. Instead of arguing the differences, there is an interest in and acceptance of them. So, even as differences become apparent—as these children mature—they are not sources of conflict. They’re simply—well—there. And those differences are not as important as what unites these kids—a love of learning, a sensitivity to the human condition, a desire to make their mark on this world for the greater good.
In a week where matters of import are being decided in my country’s elections, where we are still reeling from shootings based on skin color and religion/ethnicity, I long for the Bubble again. I’d give anything to be heading back into the school lobby, to sit by the fireplace in the main hall and witness the happy buzz of students whose minds and hearts are afire with good things.
Alas, we’re not there. We’re here in the middle of the mire, in the “real world.” But here’s where I wax hopeful. On my Facebook feed, I see a few dozen graduates of the Bubble, courtesy of their parents’ proud posts about them. I see some of them in college, studying abroad. Some at Ivy League institutions, some at small liberal arts colleges, others heavily into math and science pursuits. I see high schoolers who are killing it at music, drama, debate. I see them volunteering at soup kitchens and sleeping in the elements to raise awareness for the homeless.
While their achievements are impressive—again, they are not the saving grace. What brings tears to my eyes is the beauty these now-not-so-tiny souls bring to the world. Instead, the takeaway is their blindness to skin color and ethnicity as a defining factor for anything. It’s their belief—no, actually their life experience—that proves those of different faiths can work and play together peacefully. That whether you like bugs, or math, or space travel, you have a place here. You do you, brother. Right on, sister friend.
I don’t think this experiment worked because of intelligence, or sensitivity, or giftedness. I think it’s what can happen when parents allow their children to rub shoulders with people who are different than they are. I know this won’t work in all instances. I know that education and class do play a role. I’m old school enough to believe manners are manners, and should transcend socioeconomic status—as should basic respect. I truly don’t care what your skin color or ethnicity is—I’m an equal-opportunity critic of bad social form.
I envision my sons and their classmates as the tiny bubbles that form from a larger one. If you’ve ever used a bubble wand, you know what I’m talking about. They are tiny bubbles launched from the mothership. And I’m praying they bring others into their way of enlightened thinking, versus bursting at the pressure as they try to spread a new way of being in the world.
Just a few thoughts from me as we vote this week to determine what kind of bubble—if any—my country will be.
Here’s hoping the wind picks up, taking these beautiful bubbles to all corners of the earth. We sure could use them right about now.