“Dad and I were talking about you taking classes at the university with me. There’s a program for kids like you.”
“Kids like me? What kind of kids?”
I must have looked bewildered. “What does precocious mean?”
“You know the Mary Poppins song, don’t you?” Mother started singing mid-verse: “If you sing it loud enough you’ll always sound precocious. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!” She grinned broadly.
I was 8. Even at 8 I knew that to have a mother break into musical theatre tunes mid-sentence is unusual and so, so un-cool. I may not have dared to roll my eyes visibly then, but they’re half-way in the back of my head even now.
“So it means smart?”
“That’s right! You’re my smart girl so Daddy and I think you should take classes with other smart children.”
This was a new program being piloted by a small office within the university Department of Education. I was part of the charter class, a group of children who had never before and probably never would again be described as “alphas.” To be successfully enrolled, the child had to test two or more grade levels above the given subject and have a parent who was employed as faculty or a teaching assistant. We were nerds among nerds engendered by degreed nerds, and too young and cloistered to be threatened by a panty raid.
My first class was English literature. I was stunned. There was an entire class…focused on reading…and these teachers thought it is work? Miss Stark began the class with a syllabus. (What a bummer there’s no page in a scrapbook reserved for a child’s first syllabus.) Except that she wasn’t accompanied by a carpetbag, a coloratura singing voice, or Austrian stepchildren, she seemed just like Julie Andrews complete with a page-boy haircut.
Miss Stark began the round-robin introductions. This may be the only time I didn’t suffer anxiety during an ice-breaker. I was too young to know better.
“Share your name, which city you live in, what your parents do, and how many brothers and sisters you have,” Miss Stark prompted. I took notes in my journal in case there was a test later.
Marlee: Tempe, divorced parents, law professor and attorney, four siblings.
Eli: Mesa, dad teaches religion, mother works at church, eight brothers and sisters.
Ravi: Scottsdale, engineering and mathematics, one sister.
Jennifer: North Phoenix, dad in real estate, mother teaches chemistry, nine brothers and sisters.
In this mix, I was unique but I was not uncommon. It was comforting.
We were given three books to read that semester: Welcome to the Monkey House, Le Morte D’Arthur, and The Stories of Ray Bradbury. Any yearning I have for romantic love, every notion I have for right or wrong, every hope I have for humanity’s salvation can probably be traced to those three books.
After introductions, we were told to get into cohorts so we could begin reading and discussing a short story. I got up from my desk and approached Miss Stark.
“May I have a note to get a drink of water?”
Miss Stark smiled. “We’re on a college campus, dear. You don’t need my permission.”
My time had come.