Dr. Natasha Gray
Manhattan professionals assume their children are "gifted and talented"—the Educational Records Bureau reported to my friends, the Kimble-Coopers, that their daughter Alexa was not. The results of her Early Childhood Entrance Exam revealed that Alexa was average. The Kimble-Coopers had shaken the DNA dice and thrown snake eyes.
Peter answered the door in jeans and bare feet. He greeted me whispering, "We just got Alexa's entrance exam results, and it's not good." Behind him I saw Valerie curled in an armchair with a glass of wine. It was a school night and I had hoped for a relaxing evening. I saw Peter and Valerie about a few times every year. Occasional companions are a necessary category of friends when you are single and in your fifties.
I did get that jolt of energy I do when friends are in a crisis. I don't compliment myself that it was compassion. It might have been the lift that comes from those little shifts in status that occur between friends. I was up; they were down. Or the thrill of being given a chance to show off my competence. Or perhaps it was cruelty, since I never liked Alexa nor the way my friends raised her.
Then Alexa ran into the living room. She was a sturdy five-year-old in polka dot leggings whose belly strained against her Dora the Explorer T-shirt. Generally, I enjoy dumb kids. They're soothing, like cows and cats. And you can depend on them to write funny history papers. The only original essays I read are the products of confusion and ignorance; Napoleon was a famous Irishman and Louis XIV wore women's wigs. Anyway, but as I said, Alexa was annoying to be around. She had a heavy, aggressive quality like the worst of the Hapsburgs.
"Watch me climb Daddy Mountain!" she demanded. I obeyed. Peter patiently held her hands as she walked up his legs. The expedition completed, she asked if I had brought a gift. I had. A Groovy Girls' sticker book. "Isn't Sarah nice to always bring you presents?" Peter asked. Alexa mumbled thanks as she scampered off with her loot.
In fairness, the parents were to blame for Alexa's worst qualities. They kept stimulating her mind. The stimulus was a piece of wood with a nail hammered through it the ancient Romans used to prod cattle. Peter and Valerie assaulted little Alexa with questions:
"What color is the napkin?"
"That's right! Now what shape is the napkin?"
"Close, Alexa, what shape is like a square but longer?" Blank stare from Alexa until one of them blurted out, "It is a rectangle. A rectangle is like a square but longer."
Alexa lived in a perpetual pop quiz. No wonder she was a biter.
"I just can't believe it," Valerie said shaking her head, "Alexa isn't above average in anything. Isn't everyone above average in something?"
Peter suggested the test might not be accurate. "Regardless," Valerie said gamily, "We need to focus on what we can do." "Loving Alexa," Peter answered with that misty-eyed glow people affect when talking about their children. Valerie's face froze in disgust "Love was never in doubt. I am talking about education."
They looked at me, the teacher, anxiously. Here was my chance to be an oracle, "Send Alexa to public school and spend serious money on a first-rate tutor. Tutors are the educational equivalent of steroids. And don't fret! I know, we are told that smart people run the world. In the past, jocks ruled—knights and Mongol horsemen. The twentieth century has been the revenge of the nerds: Stalin, Pol Pot, Bill Gates. But in the twenty-first century, mass consumerism by billions of people all over the world means that average people finally have their shot at power. All Alexa needs to do is come up with one good idea for a reality show and she is set for life. Average people will rule. Believe me, just look at George Bush."
Dr. Natasha Gray received her Ph.D in History from Columbia University in 2000. She enjoys her work as a teacher in New York City.