I gave birth to a small, grumpy old man. Wrinkled and scowling, he looked at me with a face that said he was already bored. He screamed at me for months, complaining about the food, refusing to sleep in the unacceptable accommodations provided for him until he was finally able to articulate himself verbally. Which he did. In complete sentences.
I knew my son was smarter than your average bear early on. He memorized books before he could read, then later remembered the name of the author and asked for those books specifically. He made connections that were uncanny between illustrators. He remembered facts and names and dates and events. When he did start to read, he became an encyclopedia of facts. He can tell you the biggest, smallest, shortest, longest, oldest, youngest of just about anything. He is a keeper of random knowledge; he is a walking trivia game; he is Ken Jennings. He quotes National Geographic and uses the phrase, “did you know” at least 20 times a day. He memorized the preamble to the Constitution, just because. He has read more books as a ten year old than most adults I know have read in a lifetime. I’d love him to be wrong about something every once in a while, but he’s not. He proves his answers, too. With annotated references.
The problem is, I’m not as smart as my son. Oh, I’m smart enough. I’m fairly insightful and well read and quick on the banter. But I have no memory for names and I butcher fact recall every time. I screw up the punch lines to jokes and I have bruises from tripping over my own tongue while trying to talk. I can’t remember the words to songs, or who sang them. I’m a nightmare at trivia and crossword puzzles. There’s brainy and then there’s me. Whether it was out of sheer determination or self masochism I’m not sure, but any success I’ve had isn’t because of brains, it’s because I have always worked hard to prove that I’m smart enough not to eat the paste.
As for my son, the downside of being brilliant is that Success came easily and early on, sweet talking and making him feel invincible and overconfident. What hard work? The answers are just there for the taking, all stored and organized and at his fingertips when he needs them. Until one day…..he won’t know the answer. He will need to work for it and he won’t know how. When Hard Work demands his attention, it will be unnatural and he won’t speak its language. Hard Work will be standing there at the door, yelling at him in a foreign tongue, spitting in his face with each ugly word and he simply won’t understand. Where is the sweet lyrical lilt of Success whispering in his ear? All he will hear is the guttural chain-smoking chortle of Hard Work with his cabbage breath and stained teeth, breathing down his neck.
Hard Work is in my contact list. I wouldn’t say we are friends, but we’ve traveled together before. He’s the guy that you hitch a ride with to get back to college after break; you don’t like him, but you tolerate him for the ride because you have no other choice. Then, when you get out of the car you vow that next time you will plan ahead; buy a plane ticket, buy a car, invent a time travel machine that will land you in your parent’s living room one day later just to avoid riding in the car with him again.
Most of the time Hard Work will take you back to Success, but then again, he might drop you off with Failure for awhile too. Failure likes to watch you fall after he trips you; then he’ll offer a hand to pull you up and give you a beer to make sure there aren’t any hard feelings. It’s not personal, it’s just another day for him. Then he’ll slap you on your back and send you on your way back to Hard Work. “Chin up,” he’ll say, “you’ll find Success eventually.”
I’m waiting for it to happen. The moment when the brilliance isn’t enough to get my son to Success and he will need me to help him drive the 1972 jalopy that Hard Work rides in around town. I’ll help him figure it all out, from the sticky brakes to the gear shift that grinds in third and he’ll finally realize that I’m brilliant, too. I can make Hard Work work for me now. I can negotiate with Failure, and I’ve realized that the sugary sweet talk of Success isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. I will be the wise one, and he will revere and honor me….or he’ll roll his eyes and learn to laugh at himself, throw the car into gear and take off with Hard Work for a short joy ride.
In a year and a half he’ll be in middle school none of this will matter any more. By then all children think that their parents are idiots, so I’ll just blend in with the rest of them. Until then, I’ll keep running out of the room to Google the answers and hope that no one notices. Hard Work didn’t teach me that one; Common Sense did.