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Little Wonders : Brilliant Children Sparkle, Standing Out From the Crowd, But Their Problems Are Special Too

November 09, 1989|SUSAN CHRISTIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jennifer Lindsay awoke one morning with a vivid dream still pirouetting through her mind. So she sat down and wrote a poem about it:

The Earth itself is a ballet performer.

Its stage is the solar system.

Its movements are slow but calculated.

In its own microcosm it continues the dance,

twirling and whirling on its axis. . . .

She is only 8 years old.

Her poem, "The Dance of Infinity," placed first last summer in the Orange County Fair's literary competition for children. Although a relative newcomer to the universe, Jennifer thinks in terms of eternal space and time.

"My dream started with the earth. Then the picture suddenly got larger and became the solar system, then got larger again and became the galaxy, then got larger again and became the whole universe. I felt like I was there, watching," she recalled. "I get a lot of ideas from dreams."

She illustrated her four-part composition with otherworldly portraits: bright blue and red planets circling the sun, the galaxy coated in its milky veil, stars sparkling in an endless sky.

Oh, yeah. The youngster can draw, too.

And beat adults at chess. And play Vivaldi's Third Movement on the violin while coolly staring you straight in the eye, as if there were no feat easier. And sing "Ava Maria"--in Latin, of course--with a voice so big, so womanly that it's a bit disconcerting to hear coming from her child-size body.

Trophies and ribbons abound throughout Jennifer's Fountain Valley home. She has won dozens of awards for swimming, her favorite activity. She has won chess tournaments and art contests.

She dances ballet. She roller skates. She karate chops. She does algebra. She speaks French a little. She reads English a lot. "I'm a readaholic," Jennifer proclaimed. "I mostly read mysteries--Nancy Drew books."

Is she bad at anything ?

Jennifer pondered the possibility. "Soccer," she solemnly answered.

"You've never played soccer," her mother, Gloria Lindsay, pointed out.

"I know. So I'm bad at it," Jennifer said.

"Prodigy" is not a label to be tossed about casually. "A prodigy is way off the graph--with 180 IQ points, or unusual creative skills that cannot be adequately measured using IQ tests," explained Justin Call, chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at UC Irvine's School of Medicine.

Whatever the definition, Jennifer surely approaches qualification.

As does Ruby Cheng. The Santa Ana 11-year-old already has earned a lifetime's worth of awards for her musical prowess. Ruby placed first in the Cal State Fullerton Piano Competition in 1987 and '88, and in the Cypress College Piano Competition in '87 and '89.

Her talent is almost as amazing to watch as it is to hear. She seems at one with the keyboard, her hands an appendage of the instrument.

"Look at her fingers," her mother, June Cheng, suggested. They would be exceptionally long even in adult proportions, but their elegant span is magnified sprouting from Ruby's small palms.

Ruby began developing her gift at the age of 5. Today she practices the piano three hours every afternoon, reserving enough study time to maintain her straight-A average at Hewes Middle School in Tustin.

"Occasionally I lose myself in the music," she said. "It's really nice when that happens. More than nice, it's beautiful. It's about the most beautiful thing you could feel--to hear yourself playing a perfect note."

Michael Toledano doesn't sing or dance or play the piano. He just talks like a college debate team leader twice his 10 years.

Politics are Michael's passion. "I'm a heavy Democrat," the Costa Mesa boy declared. "Since the time I've been alive, Republicans have been in the White House. In 1986 (at the sophisticated age of 7) I started seeing the way they handle things, and I don't like it. They're taking money that could help the homeless and using it to kill people more efficiently with the Stealth Bomber. I'm worried about the expansion of nuclear weapons that's been going on since 1945.

"I'm also worried about the San Francisco earthquake, but that's one thing I can't blame on the Republicans," he wryly added.

Michael intends to run for president someday, after first winning the Nobel Prize for finding an AIDS cure. "AIDS interferes with (a victim's) ability to fight off diseases," he noted. "It's like in chess--if the other guy hasn't lost any pieces and you only have a king, you've got no hope of defending yourself against an attack."

As one might deduce from his analogy, Michael is a chess lover. And, as one might deduce from his conversational skills, Michael is extremely bright.

Brilliant children might shine among the masses, but they have their own set of problems. For one thing, they are bored quickly. Until this year, when he started at Pegasus, a Huntington Beach school for gifted children, Michael attended public school--where he often languished in ennui.

He posed a rhetorical question: "I'm sitting in class and the teachers are talking about something that I learned three years ago and, I mean, am I supposed to enjoy it?"

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