Family Man™: Real Geniuses?
By Gregory Keer

Singer-songwriter Jessica Harper has a song called “My Baby Is a Genius.” In it, she playfully boasts about her child’s brilliant observations and talents. “Move over Einstein, his genius is genu-wine,” Harper croons.

xtIndent style="TEXT-INDENT: 0in">I have two geniuses who live with me. As I say that, I wonder if it’s OK to show delight in my sons’ successes. There are some parents you want to smack when they prattle on about their children’s grades or achievement scores. And I have felt uncomfortable sharing the results of Benjamin’s report cards because I don’t want to seem like I’m bragging. So I will walk that line between sheer happiness and utter bragging by saying that, while my wife and I take credit for laying the foundation, there are many factors at work in the playgrounds of our sons’ brains.

xtIndent style="TEXT-INDENT: 0in">It’s not just that our children are smart – they love learning. They suck it up like the last slurps of rainbow sherbet in the ice-cream bowl. For this, their teachers deserve medals for turning our sometimes attention-challenged kids into knowledge junkies.

xtIndent style="TEXT-INDENT: 0in">Case in point: After his last day of kindergarten, Benjamin asked, “Can I do a few more pages in my math workbook?” My first reaction was, “Who is this nerd? What kind of kid comes home on the first day of summer vacation and wants to do homework?”

xtIndent style="TEXT-INDENT: 0in">Then I saw him figuring out equations I didn’t bother with until I was 9. He kept going for 45 minutes, counting on his fingers and marking numbers with surprising precision. It dawned on me that, to Benjamin, this was one thing you did on summer vacation. This was fun to him. Rather than flash forward to a kid walking the high-school halls wearing a pocket protector when he should be playing baseball, I said to my wife, “Let’s send Mrs. Renetzky a bigger gift.”

Whereas he used to clam up about what he did in school, he couldn’t wait to discuss “Zero the Hero” and the “star word” lessons he learned from Mrs. Renetzky. When I complained to her that he would throw a tantrum when we’d ask him to practice his reading, she worked with him until, one day, she said, “Have you heard this kid read?” That night, Benjamin read more words in A Bug, a Bear and a Bed than I thought possible. Where we had trouble leading him, his teacher showed him a path that seemed like the road to a carnival.

Aside from Mrs. Renetzky, he had instructors who taught him language and cultural studies, dance, music and science. Benjamin now wants everything explained and pontificates on all he knows. Sometimes I’m uninterested in the details of earthworm development, but who am I to stop this brainy freight train from chugging?

Brainiac No. 2

Speaking of runaway trains, there is Jacob. Only 2, his job of keeping up with his older brother is made easier by the women of his daycare. Sarah and her co-teacher, Efrat, show Jacob how to sing, create art, turn somersaults and make friends. They also applaud his mental sharpness.

“Your son never lets me forget anything,” Sarah recently said. “If I mention our schedule earlier in the day, Jacob reminds me: ‘First snack, then songs, and now a game.’”

Of course, Wendy and I do warrant some share in their glory. After all, we let them watch TV. As a result, Benjamin talked everyone’s ear off at the zoo the other day. How did he know so much? “Stanley,” he said matter-of-factly about the TV program in which a little boy learns about the animal kingdom from the “Great Big Book of Everything.” After Benjamin rattled off facts on snakes and monitor lizards, his friend David finally said, “I’ve heard enough, Benjamin!” It’s clear that the nerd in my child has no idea that his enthusiasm for information isn’t always entertaining conversation. But, I have to admire his ability to use what he learns.

Mutual Inspiration

Of all their influences, there may be nothing greater than the effect they have on each other. Benjamin models such studiousness that Jacob begs for his own pencil to scribble as his brother writes numbers and words. While Benjamin looks over a book, Jacob will dump out half his bookshelf for us to read. Jacob even inspires his brother to read to him, thereby advancing Benjamin’s new skills. Also, to help his brother start his own piggy bank, Benjamin now adds up the coins to balance out their take of the house’s loose change (which involves me emptying my pockets at the end of the day and one of the kids snatching up the money like Swiper the fox).

As Benjamin heads off to first grade and Jacob to preschool, I’m prepared to drink deeply from the well of their love of learning. I know that, with the help of their teachers and their own drive, they will push their little minds toward greater heights. And I expect they’ll have me singing their intellectual praises for decades to come, whether anyone wants to hear them or not.

Gregory Keer is a writer, teacher and father of two boys. He can be reached at  or at his Web site.