“More than okay.”
“What is it?”
“I’m not going to tell you. But it assures me that both you and Charles Wallace will be able to do pretty much whatever you like when you grow up to yourselves. You just wait till Charles Wallace starts to talk. You’ll see.”
–conversation between Meg Murry and her mother in Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time
I find this phrase of Mrs. Murry’s telling: When you grow up to yourselves. Grow up “to” yourselves, rather than simply “grow up.” What does she mean?
I think she means that, while both children are intelligent, they are still children. Their adult selves will realize the implications of the gift of profound intelligence: the responsibilities, the joys and benefits, the need to use their lives to help—not harm—society, and how to handle those who don’t understand them. They will be able to separate who they are as individual people from what they do as intellectually gifted people.
Right now, Meg is a young girl who doesn’t know who she is. Being told her IQ wouldn’t tell her who she is, nor who she will be. It’s just a number. And one number cannot express the full measure of a person’s intellect, much less the full measure of a person’s self.
Mrs. Murry tells her just enough—you’ll be fine—to counteract the lies of those at school who believe Meg is stupid because she doesn’t “do” math the “right” way.
She does it her way because she’s brilliant and understands it at a different level than her teachers. This doesn’t endear her to the teacher or administrator, who don’t appreciate her abilities in math nor her inability to explain herself. (That’s a different post.)
It might be tempting for Mrs. Murry to hop in her car, drive to the school, and chew out those dimwitted, clueless teachers. Because, obviously, if they’ve scolded her brilliant child, then they’re at fault.
Never mind that they are authority figures and therefore should be respected for their position, even if they haven’t earned that respect with their actions. (A lesson that Meg, in her immaturity, hasn’t yet learned.)
Never mind that often, we have to jump through seemingly pointless hoops to do something. (Another lesson Meg hasn’t learned. Sometimes you just need to roll your eyes, jump through the hoop, and do it the “right” way, no matter how frustrating that is, because that’s how you move forward to a place where you can do it your way.)
Never mind that Meg is still a physical child. She isn’t an adult, and she doesn’t need her mother to allow her to act like an adult (minus the average adult’s life experience) in this situation. She doesn’t have the life experience to put this one incident in a broader perspective.
It’s a bit like what a literary agent has written about extremely young wannabe authors; they may be terrific, gifted writers, but the majority of teenagers don’t have the life experience to write a publishable novel. It can happen. But it’s highly unusual.
(I’ll second this as a short story submission reader. The young authors like to tell me how old they are, and some write good stories compared with their same-aged peers. But how can a sixteen-year-old compete with a someone who has been writing professionally longer than the teen has been alive? So, young writers, keep writing, keep submitting—it’s good practice—and keep learning. Then, when you do have some more life experience, you’ll be ready for whatever story you want to write. Okay, that’s enough advice from Granny Laura.)
Recently, I’ve been kicking around this idea:
With personal gifts, it’s a blessing to find success at an older age versus a younger one.
The more I’ve read about “gifted children”—so-called prodigies and such—I find something sad about many of them. It’s a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, there are astonishing achievements.
On the other, for some, their “giftedness” overwhelms their existence. Their gift is their entire identity. They aren’t allowed to be children because the surrounding adults focus on “the gift” to the exclusion of all else and the child doesn’t have the maturity to separate “who I am” from “what I can do.” This can lead to a number of negative outcomes.
But if, like Mrs. Murry, the parent allows the gifted child to be a child, to be cherished for who she is (no matter how odd she appears to others), to struggle from the cocoon of immaturity and emerge into adulthood all the stronger for having struggled—if the parent does that, the child has a chance to grow up to her self (who I am) and to separate it from her gift (what I do). That’s eventually what happens to Meg.
As someone who doesn’t have a Meg-sized intellect (and definitely not a Charles Wallace-sized one!), it’s still interesting to think of the ways I’ve grown in my abilities. For example, I don’t think I was ready to write a novel until I was thirty. I’d tried before, once as a teenager and once as a new college graduate, but the stories were weak.
I wasn’t ready until after my diagnosis with bipolar disorder, two pregnancies, secondary infertility, a miscarriage, any number of medication changes and bipolar swings, and all the things that happened during my twenties. Looking back at that first draft of that first novel, I torn between cringing and laughing. Really? Did I really write that? Did I really think that was going to work?
Yeah. I did.
I know better now. Why? More experience, both in life and in novel-writing. I’ve grown up to myself, as Mrs. Murry phrases it, and I’ll undoubtedly keep growing more in the future.