On Discovering My Daughter Was No Longer Smart

We need to make sure that our daughters are valued not just for their appearances or their grades, but because they are good people.

Recently, amid tears and pleas for me to just listen and try to accept it, my daughter came out to me…as having an average intelligence.

She was right to be worried. I behaved no better than the average homophobe who has a child come out as gay.

I started by doing what every other parent does when faced with what they feel is a tragic truth: I went into full-blown denial. “No, I don’t believe it. You have just been going through a rough time managing your anxiety. You are a Beisner, for crying out loud!”

I could have wrung my own neck when I saw the look on her face in response to that. It was clear that I had just plucked her heart out of her chest and broken it into tiny pieces.

I backtracked, “Look, you were in the gifted program. You went to a top tier college at 16. Yes, you have been through some tough stuff, but you are not dumb.”

She got up and walked out of the room. I deserved that, and much worse. My intellectual prejudice was inexcusable.

By the time she came back, I had experienced a belated moment of wisdom, but it didn’t mean that I was entirely done with denial: “You know we love you and we will always hold you in unconditional positive regard. So, why don’t I shut up and you tell me what is going on?”

She reminded me about the serious medical situation she had been through just after she started college. One of the possible consequences of the situation was that it could cause a significant reduction in intelligence. Any fear I had over it was set to rest when her neurologist gave her a quick once-over and said that she seemed utterly unaffected.

What none of us realized is that he was looking for the signs of normal intelligence. He did not realize that my daughter’s IQ was Mensa-worthy, so when he tested her and she came up “normal,” he did not realize that this was a drop of at least 30 IQ points for our very smart daughter.

But my daughter knew something was wrong. And it became her horrible, shameful secret. She had spent years vacillating between denial, which involved castigating herself for laziness, and despair that she had lost what she built all of her self-worth on: her intellectual ability.

When we were raising Cassie, we almost ignored the fact that she was stunningly beautiful and concentrated on her intelligence. We praised her when she thought things through, when she came up with great ideas, and even when she found ways to detract guys just interested in her for her appearance. We were proud that in a southern town where girls wore stilettos and dresses to school, our daughter’s uniform was kick-ass boots, T-shirts, and a biker jacket.

Cassie’s identity was her intelligence. Yes, all those other kids could laugh at her for not bowing to beauty conventions. She was OK with that because she was smart and well-read. She knew she would soar.

When she started to recover from her condition, we encouraged her to plunge right back into her academic work. I introduced her to mentors, used my connections to get her into great classes, and in general acted as if nothing had happened. She dropped the mentors, failed the classes, and crawled into a black hole of depression.

So I got her therapy. I found her the best psychiatrist in our state, and managed to beg and plead enough to get her onto the doctor’s case list. And then, when Cassie still seemed frozen in anxiety and depression, I went to a coach to try to figure out how to help her.

What I did not realize was that my aggressive work to “fix” my daughter was reinforcing her fear that having a “normal” IQ made her broken and unacceptable in our family. All the times I comforted her the way I wanted to be comforted, by intellectualizing a problem, made her feel alone.

Even time with our family, which has been thriving on political and philosophical conversation for years, was upsetting to her. She just wasn’t interested in things like that anymore.

Cassie recently changed her major to one that does not demand a lot of reasoning skills but plays to new strengths that she has found within herself. She is actually happier being normal, now that she has accepted it.

And still, I find myself staying up late at night, searching for ways to “fix” her. There are a ton of natural health, alternative, and even traditional medical therapies that she has yet to try. On days when my denial is strong, the only reason I don’t push her to try them is that our insurance coverage is limited.

Am I giving up on my daughter if I follow her lead and accept that her condition truly did steal 30 IQ points? I don’t know.

What I do know is that she needs to initiate any further treatment, not me. And that is why I will not disclose the nature of her illness here—I’ll be too tempted by the responses telling me how she can be restored.

I am certain that I cannot afford to send the message anymore that being “average” is the worst thing a person can be. And frankly, I am not the only person who needs to get over this form of liberal elitism.

We need to rethink how we parent. We need to make sure that our daughters are valued not just for their appearances or their grades, but because they are good people. We need to make sure that our sons know that they don’t have to be smart and strong for us to love them.

They need only be good and kind.

Lynn Beisner writes about family, social justice issues, and the craziness of daily life. Her work can be found on Role Reboot, Alternet, and on her blog: Two Parts Smart-Ass; One Part Wisdom. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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