Smarty Pants 

Every mommy’s brain comes equipped with a special horror reel, a continuous mental movie of precious moments gone wrong, like the time little Jimmy drank Drano, or the night Jane’s prom date stood her up.

Every mommy’s brain comes equipped with a special horror reel, a continuous mental movie of precious moments gone wrong, like the time little Jimmy drank Drano, or the night Jane’s prom date stood her up. In my friend Denise’s case, the reel features the moment she was told that her 3-year-old son didn’t qualify for Encore, Metro’s program for gifted students, which starts in preschool.

“Everyone in my playgroup had their kids tested,” Denise told me at a neighborhood block party, “and about half of them got in. When I found out Robbie didn’t make it, I lost it. I mean, I completely lost it. I called my husband crying and told him I was a bad mother. It was horrible.

“But I’m sure your daughter will get in,” she said quickly. “You’re having Punky tested, right?” I looked down at my 3-year-old, who was busy probing her belly button for hidden treasure.

“Yeah,” I said hesitantly. “I guess so.” I wasn’t sure if Punky’s wild imagination and disturbing ability to use curse words properly qualified her as a bona fide brainiac, but if they did, she’d get to go to preschool for a year free of charge and I’d get a small respite from the “But why? Why? But why? Why?” game. It was clear what I had to do.

The Encore packet arrived in the mail two days later with about a dozen pages of forms to be filled out both by me and by one of Punky’s teachers. I laughed wryly. I was Punky’s teacher, and her current studies included a visual history of the Gilmore Girls (or the Elmo Girls, as she calls them) and memorization of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Somehow, I didn’t think that would look so good on paper. Then I remembered my good friend Amelia, who also happened to be Punky’s Sunday school teacher.

“Thanks for coming over, Amelia,” I said gratefully when she showed up at my house a few weeks later to “observe” Punky and fill out the teacher forms. We spent most of the time gossiping before realizing the forms were going to take a long time to complete.

“Look, this is really too much,” I told her. “Why don’t I just do this part? I’m sure it’s just a screening tool to keep future Bob Clements out of the program.” I grabbed the forms and began haphazardly circling numbers, giving Punky a bunch of high ratings, along with some medium ratings for good measure. I didn’t want to seem too braggy. At the end of the day, I sent everything in and got a call a few weeks later to bring in Punky for testing.

“You are not going to go all Denise here,” I whispered to myself out in a hallway the next morning, while a psychologist gave Punky an achievement test inside her office. “It is no big deal if Punky doesn’t get in.”

“She did really well,” the psychologist said brightly, emerging from the room. I exhaled as I listened to Punky’s scores. She really was smart. Maybe even Mensa material. I started to get excited, envisioning the cars and homes she’d buy me with the millions made from her brilliant career as a biochemic instatularapular psychophysicist.

“Now we’ll just give her an IQ test,” the psychologist continued. Punky put her head in my lap. “Mommy, I’m done,” she whispered. “I want to go home now.”

“Just one more test, Punky,” I whispered. “And then we’ll go home.” “No,” she said. “I already took a test. I’m done.” I barely managed to convince her to go back inside the psychologist’s office.

“She just missed the cutoff,” the psychologist murmured when she emerged 30 minutes later. Punky shuffled out behind her, looking wan. “And when it’s this close on the IQ test, we look at the teacher evaluation score of the form you sent in.” I perked up. “Unfortunately, her teacher only gave her a 22. And she has to have a 30 to qualify.”

And that was my very first horror movie moment. When I replay it now in my mind for the 1,647th time, I can tell you for sure that there was blood running down the classroom walls and the psychologist’s head was spinning like a top as I stared, speechless, at the 22 on the form, the result of all those numbers I had glibly circled weeks ago.

I had an immediate urge to drop to my knees and confess, but my mom friend Kelly had told me that this was the moment the Encore psychologists dread. Some parents burst into tears. Others spew curse words. I imagined my sobbed confession might just take the cake.

“I did it, I did it!” I imagined myself sniveling. “I filled out that damned form! I freaking ungifted my daughter!”

Instead, I laughed a little, packed up my things and left. Did you really think I’d publicly admit that I filled out the teacher form? Please.

I’m not that stupid.

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