Parenting a gifted child can provide all kinds of experiences that border on the surreal. I'll never forget the night that I had to work hard to keep my 20 month old from explaining the facts of life to a six year old acquaintance. It was like something from looking glass land.
Artemis was a very verbal and articulate baby. She tended to be quiet when in a crowd, so many people would assume she wasn't yet able to speak, until they heard her start to chatter on a favorite topic. My husband and I got plenty of raised eyebrows and astonished looks, no matter what she happened to be saying. In addition to being precocious, Artemis was also quite petite, which made her look even younger than she was.
Most toddlers are combining a few words at 20 months of age, or perhaps making short sentences such as, “ Daddy go now” or “play ball!” The typical 18 month old has a receptive vocabulary of about 200 words, and an expressive vocabulary of 68 words. Understanding of spoken language precedes active output, so there is a discrepancy between the words a young child understands and his ability to produce those same words orally at an appropriate time. Many adults may have the ability to get the gist of what someone is saying in another language, without actually knowing enough of that language to produce spontaneous conversation. This is exactly how babies acquire language. They gradually build receptive vocabulary and turn it into expressive vocabulary. By the time they are 24 months old, the average toddler has an expressive vocabulary of 200 words.
I mention all of this just for comparison's sake, so you can appreciate how most parents would not find themselves in such a predicament. Most kids at 20 months old are not well acquainted with the facts of life, and even if they were, they wouldn't have enough words to actually explain the whole concept. It is most unusual for a child that age to be aware of the mechanics of sex and reproduction, and they would need to be quite advanced to comprehend the data. Having the ability to repeat these facts to any casual passers-by put my daughter in a very unique position. But, as my friends know, my kids are pretty far from what most people call “normal”!
Artemis was reading a bit when she was one, though I don't think she was fluent until she was over two. One of her favorite things to do was to examine the prenatal development chart I'd received when I was pregnant with her. The chart had drawings and facts, and she soon went from that to browsing my slew of pregnancy and childbirth books. I was studying to be a La Leche League Leader at the time, so I had them out frequently. She pored over them for hours, and I answered her questions matter-of-factly as they arose.
Now on to our incident: My family was attending a holiday party at the home of some close friends. My husband and I had three children in tow. It was a very festive affair. I spent some time talking to a visibly pregnant friend, who confessed that she and her husband were deflecting questions from their six year old, Tommy. The boy wanted to know how that baby started growing in Mom's tummy. They didn't want him to know the answer at this point, and so down the rabbit hole we went! Artemis knew Tommy from other activities, and had a very favorable opinion of him. He was a handsome and charming “big boy” from her point of view. I'm sure that she would have relished his attention if she had an inkling that he wanted that particular information.
I did my best to keep Artemis away from both Tommy and his mother that night. I didn't want to let the cat out of the bag, and I knew it wouldn't take much to get Artemis started on one of her pet topics. A child of one has few qualms about discussing the mechanics of human reproduction, being too naive to find it either humorous or gross. My tactics worked, and we still enjoy giggling over our thwarted one year old sex-ed instructor.