THE SIDIS STORY
Sarah Mandelbaum Sidis, M. D.
Unpublished manuscript, 1950.
APRIL FOOL'S BOY
The first thing my April Fool's boy wanted from the great outside world was the moon. We stood at the window of the apartment together in the evening, with Billy in Boris' arms, and admired the moon over Central Park. Billy chuckled and reached for it. The next night when he found that the moon was not in the same place, he seemed disturbed. Trips to the window became a nightly ritual, and he was always pleased when he could see the "moo-n." This led to Billy's mastering higher mathematics and planetary revolutions by the time he was eleven, and if that seems to be a ridiculous statement I can only say, "Well, it did."
When Billy was five months old, we bought him a high chair, and we decided to have him sit at the table, though the King of England or whoever, came to dine. He had all his meals with us from the time he was six months old. He couldn't creep, and he couldn't walk and he couldn't talk, but he could observe.
He observed us eat, and we gave him a spoon, and he tried to eat like us. For two months he hit his ear, and his eye with the spoon, and sometimes his food landed on his head. This made him angry, he never liked not to have things go. And I would then guide the spoon to his mouth. But after about two months, lo, he hit his mouth. Such a crowing, such triumph! He crowed so that I thought at first he had burnt his mouth, but I looked and his face was radiant with success. After that he fed himself.
"See," said Boris, "he has learned to coordinate those muscles. In the same way he can learn to think, by using his mind. Keep on feeding him like some mothers do, and he will still be eating from your hand when he is three years old. A baby is never too young to start learning anything."
For the first year of his life, I laid on the floor and rolled with Billy and talked to him and laughed at him.
During those years, around the turn or the century, the feminists were beginning to beat their drum, but their thumping did not appeal to me. A certain hazy thinking in those quarters made it seem that to get a woman to college and to the polls, it was necessary to take her out of the home and away from the intimate tasks of bringing up infants.
The reasoning seemed poor to me. I thought there was no more important thing in the world for me to do than to start my baby off in the world. Boris always liked women and he loved his home, so he never belittled me as a woman or domesticity as a role. In theory, he thought that men and women, as men and women, differ not a whit in mental processess--emotional drives, tradition and training make the differences. He made me proud of myself by his pride.
Then I took what was left of the twenty dollars and went out and bought blocks, and books and a little globe for Billy. There were many blocks with letters on them and pictures of common objects of our lives. Billy and I had something to play with that winter as we lay on the floor.
The first word he said was, "door."
"Why," I asked him later, when he could talk and explain, "do you like the door so much?"
"Door moves. People come," he answered.
So with his blocks we spelled "DOOR." I told him it was a picture of the word. He liked the idea, and as fast as he learned to talk, he learned to spell.
I always left the words he had spelled on the floor until no one could walk in his room. Then we picked them up and started again.
Before he was two he would go gravely to the book case and pick out any book that a visitor asked for. This so amused and pleased them, that he soon took pleasure in opening the books and reading from them to his father and guests, and by the time he was three he read well.
When he asked me something that I didn't know, I would stop anything I was doing, and say, "Let's look it up." He would take down the child's encyclopedia I had bought him, and look it up together.
After we had done this a few times, he asked me a question one day, and then triumphantly said, "But you will say, 'Let's look it up!' and I can look it up myself!"
"That Is the last lesson I gave Billy. During the day he would go occasionally to his room and close the door and read. He never studied.
One day when he was about three I listened with astonishment from the kitchen to the purposeful slow thumping of the typewriter from his father's room. I didn't interrupt, and he brought me out a letter he had written. It was to a toy store, ordering toys.
"Now I am very old, like Daddy, because I can typewrite. Maybe I am a hundred years old," he told me.
He was delighted by my surprise, and proud to show me how he had pulled his high chair up to the typewriter when he found he couldn't reach it from his daddy's chair. "Won't Daddy be surprised!" he crowed.
His father's surprise was his greatest incentive.
I suppose one of the great moments of his infancy was when he sidled into the room early one evening after Boris had returned from a week's trip to Chicago. Company was there and Billy held a book behind his back until a lull in the conversation.
"Does anyone here happen to know any Latin?" he asked innocently.
"Yes, I know a little," someone replied.
"Here," said Billy, bursting with excitement, and thrusting a copy of Caesar's Gallic Wars into the visitor's hands. "I can read it, let me show you!"
[To be continued.]
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