All I (Don’t) Know

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.

img_0893I 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.

 Too late.

 “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.

15 Responses to All I (Don’t) Know

  1. Hilarious! I’m so glad I can’t be humiliated by grandchildren. I used to be able to spell. Used to know how to multiply. How soon until I forget how to tie my shoes? Last night, we went to the movies with some friends & started talking about other movies afterwards. Most of the conversation was along the lines of “That movie…I can’t remember the title…with Robert DeNiro. Or maybe Shawn Penn…no, maybe someone else.” It took 4 people & one smartphone to recall details about various movies.

  2. Your grandchildren are adorable, smart and love to tease. Teasing one another is acceptable; bullying isn’t. Teasing with love is a way to show your interest in someone else and encourage interchange. It allows us to defend ourselves in creative ways. Bullying is a power play. It suppresses and stifles because it engenders fear. I have hope for the future. It’s embodied in these young people. Encourage them to keep learning as much as they can. Even if one day they can spell better than you.

  3. Hilarious! Scarey. Our grandson is nearly two. If he turns out even close to your little geniuses, I’d better go back to school NOW! And, I agree, children like these offer hope for the future. Lord knows we need it.

  4. I was in the spelling bee at Saxe. (Junior High, for those of you not raised in New Canaan.) Suddenly I wonder, perhaps you were in the auditorium, Lynne. Heck, you were probably on the stage with me, brainy kid that you were. Anyhow, I made it through the first round, but then in the next one I got tripped up on the bipartite word, “knick knack.”

    (If I misspelled it again, please don’t tell me. I was so bummed out by my failure that I never looked it up afterward to learn the correct spelling.)

  5. My latest educational discussion with Lili (the 12 year old entertainer at the party) was about the Roman Empire. So, now having failed to assist her with Math beyond the basics, I must admit that she knows far more than me In the history department. But, it’s wonderful to learn new things again – especially from the mouths of our grandchildren. Treasuring the fact that she still enjoys my company!

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