All Children Can be Brilliant: Lucy’s Success Story
One father tells the story of his premature baby
When I talk or write about children, my theme is the core belief of The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential: that every child can be brilliant. And this time I have been asked to do something I love to do – share a little about my daughter Lucy Christine.
There were difficulties in the pregnancy from the start, and Lucy was born at 28 weeks. Four decades ago, that was an even more disturbing circumstance than it is today. It was, we were told, the borderline for survival, and the doctors warned us of the many frightening probabilities we faced. Friends at The Institutes talked to us about how we might best help little Lucy.
I don’t enjoy having my heart strings tugged by suspense and tragedy, and I don’t like doing it to anyone else; so, I will tell you the happy ending right here at the start: Lucy is a healthy and beautiful, brilliant young lady with a PhD and a wonderful career.
We had plenty of suspense and tugging at our heartstrings in the beginning. Lucy was tiny. Her whole hand was smaller than my thumbnail. She was kept in the Intensive Care Nursery at the hospital for eight weeks. We were only allowed to see her for brief times each day. But at the suggestion of The Institutes, there was a tape recorder in her crib with our voices playing to her when she was awake. We talked to her, we sang songs to her, and we read stories to her. I knew some children’s songs in French and German from my childhood, and I sang those. There were words in her crib there also: Mommy and Daddy on big white pieces of cardboard, carefully written in big red letters with marker according to the directions of the staff at The Institutes.
Lucy herself gets the full credit for one aspect of her early weeks: she was heroic as she endured all the special tubes and lights and needles and other medical treatments. I don’t even like to remember what she went through, including the unnatural separation from her mother. I’m sure you know how excited and happy we were every time we could be with her, and we praised her often for her courage.
As soon as we were allowed to hold her, we had a variety of things The Institutes told us we could do to help her. I remember especially “vestibular stimulation.” I held her in front of me, with her head in the palm of my hand and her whole body not even reaching to my elbow. I have forgotten the exact ways in which I turned and lifted her, but I remember that I followed the directions we were given.
We talked to her constantly, just as you would talk to an exciting new friend, confident that her brain was taking in absolutely everything. We explained as best we could what was happening to her, and all the plans we had for our life together when we could take her home. I made up silly songs to sing, including a revised version of “Rockabye Baby”:
Rockabye Baby, in a nice chair,
Mommy and Dad will always be there,
Daddy and Mom will watch over you,
And God is in Heaven, watching us too.
Before we were allowed to take her home, we had to be trained in resuscitation, and she had to sleep with an apnea/heart alarm to let us know if she stopped breathing. We had already built a crawling track, designed by The Institutes, and worked conscientiously on encouraging her crawling: sloped downward at first to give her the success she needed.
We had a wooden dowel for her to practice holding on to and supporting her weight. There was a black-and-white soft mobile hung just within reach for her to experiment with when she was lying on her back in the sun by the kitchen window. The house was prepared for learning to read, also. Word cards, made according to The Institutes suggestions, labeled the walls, ceiling, doors, refrigerator, microwave, thermostat, chairs, and anything else we could attach them to.
At this point the story becomes much like that of thousands of other children who have followed the program of The Institutes. When our second daughter was born in 1989, Lucy was amusing herself in the office of the pediatrician as we talked with him about the new baby, who had been born at full term. He noticed three-year-old Lucy looking steadily at a promotional flyer from a drug company which she had picked up off of a table. “What’s she doing?” he asked us. He didn’t believe she was reading until she read it aloud to him, including creditable pronunciations of the new drugs being promoted. Then he didn’t believe she understood it until he asked her, and she said: “It seems to be recommending a new way of treating some disease.”
We homeschooled both girls, and Lucy was reading at the twelfth-grade level by the time she was eight. She had fallen in love with King Arthur and started to read Malory’s Morte D’Arthur. “What do you want for Christmas?” I asked her when she was 13. “Thick books!” she replied.
Perhaps later I can share more about how she went on to become a National Merit Scholar, and to win a Trustees’ scholarship to Messiah College. After two years of outstanding work there, she applied to spend a term abroad at Oxford University. That’s where she is now and loving it. Her field is medieval history, and her e-mails are full of exultation in the joys of handling original manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, and the excitement of discussions about Mechthild of Magdeburg and whether there was a twelfth-century renaissance.
I’m not sure that any child can do what our Lucy is doing, but I must admit that I am pretty sure any child can, with the help of The Institutes.