DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am not one of those parents who sees genius in her child's every action and utterance, and my husband and I have not been drilling our son with flashcards since birth; nor did we begin playing Mozart to him when he was in utero. But, we have an exceptionally intelligent second-grader whose teachers tell us that he is performing at least at fifth-grade level. He just turned out this way.
We are careful to avoid talking about his accomplishments and abilities in front of other parents for fear that we might sound boastful. However, he goes to a school that encourages parents to spend time in the classroom, so many of his classmates' parents have seen his work and are comparing it to their own children.
Other parents will ask what my husband and I have "done to him." How old was he when he learned to read? Does he use a computer at home? How much TV is he allowed to watch? Some even ask me for advice on making their children better readers or stronger in math, as if I would have any idea what to advise them!
They will ask what my son's scores were on tests and will not take, "Oh, I'm sure he did just fine," or "I don't remember" for an answer. One father told me that he had to know because he'd promised his daughter a dollar for every point she "beat" my son by on a math exam!
The mother of one of his first-grade classmates told me today that she had requested that her daughter not be placed in my son's class this year because "she deserves a chance to be the best for once."
When I am flabbergasted by their insensitive comments about my 6-year-old, I am afraid of sounding defensive or rude. It is even more awkward when they ask these questions while my son is standing right there.
Being vague doesn't seem to help -- these people want specifics. Even turning the conversation toward these parents' own children and how they like their teachers or what accomplished artists or athletes they're becoming doesn't seem to work. How can I answer politely and make it clear that I won't have my little boy discussed as if he were some sort of exotic specimen?
GENTLE READER: They won't even be deflected by your handing them opportunities to brag about their own children?
You do have some hard cases there. Miss Manners is afraid that the poor things really do believe that if only they can wrest your parenting secret from you, their children will be as bright as yours. No, they will beat yours, because these parents will apply twice the dosage you do.
All right, then, you'll have to tell them, although not in front of your son.
The secret (you should say in a conspiratorial whisper) is to fool your child into believing that his accomplishments are entirely his own, because he, not his parents, is responsible for developing his abilities. Once parents let on how much they have invested in his success (you should warn), it's all over. So you refuse to keep track of the very things they ask, and that is your contribution to your son's success.
You may be doing these people a service. Miss Manners is as aware as you that it will not change the children's innate intelligence. But, in the unlikely event that some parents try backing off, they may free their children to take responsibility for and pleasure in doing their own work.