I realized Handsome Son was – what’s the best word: different, not normal. No, neither of those. I realized he was a bit unusual one day in Grade 3 when I was driving him to school.
Somehow, we started playing a math game. Arithmetic, really.
“OK, smartie pants,” I said using my best trash-talk, reverse psychology, I-dare-you voice, “what’s nine times nine?”
There was only a moment of hesitation.
I had to nod in grudging admiration. Surprise, but admiration. We didn’t do flash cards or anything like that at home. I had no idea where this was coming from.
He quickly dispatched 10 times 10.
“100,” he said with an eye roll, his version of trash talk. As in, come on, bring your A game. So I did. He nailed 11 times 11 – 121. And 12 times 12 – 144. Now I was surprised. And running out of numbers I knew.
“What’s 13 times 13?” I said, with no small bit of ha, gotcha in my voice. They didn’t teach that one in school. At least, they didn’t when I was a kid.
Before I thought about it I blurted out the next one, 14 times 14.
There was one problem. I didn’t know the answer. As I signaled to make a turn I started doing the mental math. Four times four is 16, carry the one and add that to…I had it.
“196,” came the answer from the passenger seat at the same moment, then the smile. He was right and he knew it.
“How did you get that answer?” I asked, stunned.
He head tilted to one side and he gave me a quizzical look.
“It just is.”
HS is now in his second year of a PhD program in nuclear physics at a university in Ontario. When I tell people that, their response is always the same.
“Oh, he must be smart.”
My response is always the same. He is, and so is he older sister, who banished him from the kitchen table when she was battling high school math because he kept blurting out the answers.
Math was never her thing. Beautiful Daughter was a talker, and a reader. Looking for work one summer during university, she talked her way into a reporter’s job at my hometown newspaper. Turns out, she’s a natural storyteller.
“Your brother could never do that,” I told her one day.
There’s a prejudice that still seems to exist among some in the education system. The ‘smart’ kids takes sciences. They’re good at chemistry, biology, physics and – if they’re really smart – math.
When they head off to post-secondary education, college or university, they take sciences.
I had a student sit in my office one day and say practically that very thing.
“The smart kids…” she began. I cut her off. She had just completed a four-week internship at this very newspaper, earning an excellent review for her efforts.
“Describe what you did every day at the paper,” I said.
She talked about coming in at 9 a.m., getting an assignment and spending the day hunting down people to interview, then writing the story. Doing it all by 5 p.m. And that was a quiet day.
“How many of the ‘smart’ kids in your high school could do that?”
“None of them.”
- Rick MacLean is an instructor in the journalism program at Holland College in Charlottetown.