This happened before the election, when I wasn’t so worried about the country. My daughter and son-in-law claimed they still have only a three-year old girl and a six-year old boy, but they lied. They suddenly have nine kids, maybe more. I know this because my husband and I spent several days taking care of them and we could tell. Here’s what really wore me out, though: the first grader is reading subversive chapter books that our kids weren’t reading until at least fourth grade. Books by highly suspect authors like Beverly Cleary. And worse, Andrew asks questions about what he reads. A lot of questions.
I know what you’re thinking. Big deal. Well, try this example: Andrew, reading out loud to his little sister, reads “hydraulic pressure,” without even hesitating. Then he looks up and says, “How would that be different from how a piston works?” (So not only can he read hydraulic pressure, but the boy has a working knowledge of how a piston works. I have absolutely none. I blame his engineer father for this one.) Having discovered my intellectual deficiency, Andrew persists and gives me one chance to spell chameleon correctly. Since I’m not allowed to consult my iphone, I am a dismal failure.
He senses my weakness and stomps on it. After a rousing spelling bee while they are on the swings, Andrew and his sister, who repeated spelling words after Andrew rather than me since she wanted to get them right, each conclude that Nana did not get a gold star and Andrew did. Andrew awards second place to his little sister. I’m informed that I’ve come in last.
He changes to another academic subject, which at first I think is a good thing. Or perhaps merciful. Wrong. While he and his sister are jumping on their trampoline and watching them is putting me into a state of acute orthopedic-injury anticipatory anxiety, Andrew wants me to give him “times” problems. He means multiplication. By me, notice I don’t mean “we,” since my husband has now slunk off into hiding. (He also failed spelling.) He might have been carrying a bottle of gin with him, too. But okay, although I might have failed algebra a couple of times, I actually know the multiplication tables so I stop sweating momentarily. Until I make the mistake of explaining that to multiply by ten, you can just add a zero. Add two zeros to multiply by 100. Knowing I’d be in personally treacherous mathematical territory if I continue, I decide to be smart and stop. I am thrilled that I have finally impressed him with my brainy magic.
“Nana, how many groups of 100 are in a billion?”
“Don’t you two want a nice snack?” I parry. “And let’s have a test: what’s ten times ten?”
“O-N-E. H-U-N-D-R-E-D,” Andrew spells it slowly, for the benefit of the dim-witted, as he and his sister jump in continuous circles. There’s a big net around them that does not reassure me; I recognize a canny threat: do I want another spelling bee?
Using a crayon and a coloring book on the patio table, I take a stab at figuring out how many damn groups of 100 are in a billion. It’s a good thing I can spell D-O-O-M.
Since we’ve come home though, I’ve had time to think. Even though a lot of my brain cells have already committed preemptive suicide in dread of long division, I’m proud. There’ll be history and science coming. I take hope for the future where I find it, starting with intelligence and reason and love. Such love.