I was a bit of a nerd in school, so one of my favorite things is cultivating that nerdiness in others. I especially love getting kids to love learning. Plus, sometimes these children look up to me, which – I’m not gonna lie – feels amazing. Being seen as the ultimate authority on similes, homographs and dangling modifiers is such a rush.
Apparently I’m not the only adult with an imperative need to impress the twelve and under crowd. The library is constantly packed with people spewing their knowledge to those diminutive souls counting down the minutes until mom and dad rescue them.
Such was the case once again this particular afternoon. Trying to find an empty table, I circled the joint multiple times to no avail and finally decided that someone would have to begrudgingly share their claimed territory. That’s when I saw this little pipsqueak of a child. She was so small that her head barely cleared the back of her chair. Not to mention, multiple stacks of books covered the tabletop, hiding her tiny frame. I slowly approached and gently asked her, “May we share this table with you?” From the look on her face, I wasn’t sure if she understood the question. I was also pretty certain she was terrified of me. She slowly nodded her head. At that very moment, a gentleman walked up to our table. They didn’t look related, but he asked if she was okay. I then asked him the same question. Kindly, he also approved and so began my tutoring session.
Yet out of the corner of my eye, I kept watching this little girl fly through book after book. Given that she couldn’t be more than three years old – four tops – I assumed she was simply amusing herself with the pictures while a parent was surfing the nearby computers. About fifteen minutes later, she jumped down from her chair and proceeded to walk around to where I was sitting. She then patiently waited for me to finish whatever I was in the middle of saying. I paused and looked at her. That’s when she calmly asked, “What does ‘particular’ mean?”
I was shocked. I couldn’t believe this child was actually reading the book in her hands. I peered at the page to which she was referring; it was talking about a river. I tried to explain, “Well, particular means specific.” That didn’t help much. “Or it can be a way of saying that something is special. There’s nothing else like it.” From the way she was looking at me, I could tell she thought I too was special. Just not in a good way.
“What’s so special about it? It’s a river. All rivers are the same.”
“Well, you and I both have two eyes and two ears and many things that are the same, but we’re still special. No one else is like you, and no one else is like me.”
I began to feel a thin layer of sweat forming over my body. She wasn’t buying it.
“Or it can mean that they’re talking about only this river. No other river. Just this one. Does that make sense?”
“Not really, but okay.”
As she returned to her seat, the man from earlier reappeared. I then realized that he worked at the library. I must have looked completely dumbfounded because minus any prompting he informed me, “She can read at a third grade level. She’s read nearly all the books in the children’s section.” Oh… She’s one of those kids.
I tried not to feel like a total jackass and continued with my lesson. However, I was suddenly aware of this little girl listening to me. Whereas before I thought she was just another bored kid biding her time until her mom finally wanted to leave, I now knew that she was most definitely smarter than me and most likely judging me as I tried to explain proper semicolon usage to my student. I could hear the trepidation and self-doubt in my every word.
A few minutes later, she got up again and headed toward me. Please no…
“But I still don’t get it. It’s just a river. It’s not special.” Ugh. She was really stuck on this special thing.
“Special doesn’t always mean better than something else. It can also mean different. Not better or worse, just not the same.”
This answer seemed to somewhat pacify her. Encouraged that I might not be a total idiot, she then grabbed another book and promptly flipped to the page in question.
“I don’t get this. They misspelled ‘arithmetic.’”
I took a look. It read: “Why don’t mosquitoes teach math? Because they don’t know ar-itch-metic!”
“They didn’t misspell it, honey. It’s a joke. Get it? Because mosquitoes make you itch.” I then gave a hearty laugh to emphasize my point.
Realizing that she had mistakenly given me more credit than warranted, she silently headed back to her seat and buried her head in yet another book. I, on the other hand, decided it was time to look for another table.