Claretta Kimp wants you to understand this:
Yes, she gave birth to two child prodigies, and yes, they’re graduating from high school and college this weekend at ages 11 and 14, respectively. Carson, her oldest, is leaving Texas Christian University with a degree in physics and minors in Chinese and math. Cannan, the kid brother, will head to TCU next fall to study astrophysics and engineering. The first wants to get a PhD, the other wants to be an astronaut.
All that, Kimp concedes, is impressive.
But as a mom, her sons’ academic achievements rank low among her favorite facts.
“Yes, they’re smart,” Kimp told The Washington Post, “but that’s just a small part of who they are.”
The brothers, she said, are also best friends, study partners and big fans of their puppy, Klaus. They wrestle and laugh and hold the door open for women, just like their mother taught them. At home, Carson and Cannan do not fight, not even during their epic Star Wars lightsaber battles that make Kimp cringe. And don’t worry, Kimp tells the peanut gallery, their social lives are perfectly adequate. Their childhoods haven’t suffered.
“My boys have more social skills than most adults,” she said. “They are just normal little boys who do normal little boy things.”
It was their brilliance, though, that first landed them in the spotlight.
Four years ago, at age 10, Carson was admitted to TCU in Fort Worth and he began classes as an 11-year-old. On Saturday, he’ll become the youngest graduate in the university’s history.
Kimp, who studied early education and business at Southern Illinois University, said she converted the spare bedroom in their home into a classroom before Carson was even walking. At first, he played with blocks there. Then she started sitting him in a chair for class.
He was so excited to learn, Kimp said, that they created a set school day from 9 a.m. to noon. But Carson would blow through the curriculum she planned in an hour. By age 2, he was reading books with chapters, and at age 3 he told his mom he wanted to learn calculus.
Kimp home-schooled Carson until he was 5 years old and learning at an eighth grade level. She knew he needed to “get out a little bit,” she said, but she struggled to find a school that was willing or able to accommodate him. She finally found a small, private Christian school and cold-called the receptionist.
“I’m a normal functioning human being and I’m totally for real,” she recalls saying on the phone. “Here’s my situation.”
The principal eventually accepted Carson, and five years later he graduated as co-valedictorian.
Then the search for a school willing to accept a child started all over again.
Kimp said they visited numerous college campuses and listened to lectures about the Ivy League. But when it came time to decide, TCU bubbled to the top.
Ultimately, the decision was Carson’s. He told his mom that TCU “felt right.”
“TCU is our Ivy League,” Kimp said.
Physics professor Magnus Rittby, a senior associate dean, became Carson’s mentor and, eventually, his research adviser. Rittby knew how to ease Carson’s anxieties, push him academically and, most importantly to Kimp, treat her son like the kid he is.
“This experience at TCU would not have been possible without Dr. Rittby,” she said.
Carson faced challenges most college kids don’t. Federal financial aid forms, for example, didn’t include his age in the drop-down menu, and his mom had to drive him an hour and a half to school every day in rush hour traffic. Kimp walked him to and from class. And he had a 9 p.m. bedtime — 11 p.m. if he had to cram for a big exam.
Kimp eventually moved the family closer to campus, so their commute shortened to eight minutes. And the juggling act got even easier once Cannan started tagging along to TCU.
Because Kimp never wanted to make her sons feel in intellectual competition with each other, the divorced mom tried to avoid forcing Cannan down the same path as Carson. She wanted him to find his own way.
Cannan began on the traditional route, attending kindergarten with kids his own age. But my second grade, he was bored, and asked to be home-schooled like Carson, reported the Dallas Morning News. Kimp thinks her eldest son’s thirst for learning rubbed off on Cannan.
Even after she would complete lessons with Cannan, Carson would swoop in to help with homework, demonstrating on the whiteboard in their home how to breeze through complex math equations.
“They know that they are blessed to have a sibling and to have each other,” Kimp told The Post.
With both sons, she said she enjoyed “seeing the lightbulb moments.”
Cannan later enrolled in the same private high school that Carson attended. He went to the school to take exams, but mostly worked remotely from the TCU campus alongside his brother. Cannan even got to begin work on a research project with a TCU astronomy professor.
On Friday, he’ll walk at his high school graduation, and on Saturday, Carson will receive his college diploma.
And although her children are geniuses, Kimp chooses to measure her parental success in other ways.
Recently, Cannan and Carson were playing upstairs with their Star Wars lightsabers, gifts they got this year at Christmas. Made from hard plastic, they made a loud “whack!” every time they clashed together. Kimp listened from downstairs, waiting, she said, for an inevitable scream.
When it came from Carson, who had been thumped in the arm, she sat there for a minute to see what would happen next.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” she heard Cannan said. “Let me rub it for you.”
She sat back feeling satisfied.
“Okay, yeah,” she said she thought to herself, “I’ve done a good job.”
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