The Power of Perception

My mother says I tested at 130 in the ’60s when I.Q tests were de rigueur, but I don’t put much stock in that. And, if she is correctly pulling up that specific number for this particular child — who could keep track with six little geniuses — I think it was a fluke. I’ve since read about how unreliably biased those tests were — culturally skewed in favor of little white girls, possibly from the Eastern Seaboard with Sicilian roots.

I don’t feel so smart. While others quip astute remarks, I’m wandering the side tracks, digging into the nuances of what was just said, or wondering why they pronounced that word in that way or trying to picture Aleppo on a map. I miss a lot of conversation in this way.

I think my mother assumes her children are all smarter than she is, just as my brother James believes everyone is older than he is, or how I perceive everyone, nearly everyone, as shorter and younger.

Mom, like me, married a smart man. Men who are quick in their mind, and don’t forget dates and details like we do, or flounder down side roads. Live your life around smarter/taller/older people, and you will feel dumber/shorter/younger. It doesn’t matter how much brighter they are. It can be only a tiny bit.

 

I saw the horse standing behind the steel panel run outside his stall, watching me approach. With a piercing, steady gaze, he commanded me to look up. I stared at the royal arch of his neck, his alertly pricked ears, and nodded.
Inside the barn, in a chilly, cavernous arena with one whole wall paved in mirrors, my friend was riding her young dressage prospect. The instructor stepped towards me, smiling. “What a magnificent horse,” I said, nodding over my left shoulder. “How tall is he?” She laughed. “Oh, he’s only 16 hands. But he has a big ego.”

 

And so we perpetuate illusions, fooling both ourselves and others by acting the part of long-held assumptions. Because my mother assumes I’m smarter than she is, she lets me throw my weight around in disrespectful ways. She refuses to argue. Rather than go toe-to-toe, she’ll tell a story, or even break into song as any simple-minded person might do. She knows I don’t mind it when she drifts. I find it charming, and often, we both sing, or laugh about what she thought she heard me say.

Eventually, my mother and I leave the conversation with our world views intact, me feeling smart and well-informed, she thinking about how wonderful it is to sing to her daughter with the high I.Q.

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