Bear with me. The title is a point.It takes a story to get there. (If you know me well, you’ve may have heard this story before. I might tell it too much.)
I was in second grade when I was pulled from class for a special lesson in the little room where the nurse usually sat. I don’t remember how long it took. I do remember sitting one-on-one with a nice woman who probably wasn’t as elderly as my memory makes her (every adult is old to a seven-year-old.) She asked lots of questions, I answered, she made lots of notes in her notebook, and I admired her neat handwriting. Making letters on paper was a huge frustration for me at that time. J and G were particularly vexing.
It was a break in routine, a chance in scenery, a new thing, and I was (and remain) a big fan of the New. The vibe was relaxed, and then, as now, puzzling through unknowns has an intrinsic appeal. It was fun.
It was a test, of course. This was a time when diagnoses of learning challenges were just getting a foothold in educational psychology (thank heavens) and the first pilot classes for “gifted&talented” were being designed. I was being evaluated for inclusion in a new program.
Even if I’d caught on, I wouldn’t have cared. I reached puberty before testing-testing-testing became the marching cadence of the educational system. Before a child’s every unsteady advance in knowledge and development became grist in a statistical mill. As far as I was concerned, tests were things done in class on paper. I wasn’t in class or holding a pencil, therefore it wasn’t a test. It was a bunch of riddle games.
I knew the names of lots of objects, I could read the words and knew which ones went with other ones. I could put together blocks and take them apart, I could add and subtract numbers and so on. It was all very easy. At one point she cut a hole in a piece of paper and asked, “How many holes?”
“One,” I said, thinking, of course. How silly. Couldn’t she see that?
Then she folded the paper in quarters and cut a hole through that. “How many holes now?”
Now, imagine me facing this nice woman I’ve been playing with for a couple of hours, only now I’m wondering Is she stupid? Good, peaceable, middle child that I was, I said, “One.” But in case she didn’t understand, I added, “I can see it there. I watched you cut it.”
This is where it gets significant. She looked at the paper, looked at her notes, looked at me. And then she thought. She didn’t write down my idiot answer and move on, although she had every right to do so. She thought. And then she asked, “How many holes if I unfold it?”
Four, of course. And I told her so, a little worried because she seemed relieved by the answer. That’s the only time I remember asking if I’d got it right. She said it wasn’t about right, and she liked it both ways.
I think about that test now and then, whenever I catch a glimpse of that befuddled expression in someone’s eyes. That was the first time I understood that some questions might have more than one right answer, and the first time I realized I don’t always see things the way other people do.
That lesson took a lot more repetition before it stuck, but all it takes is a blink and a head-tilt to remind me. One hole or four? It depends on how you think about it.
Tea: Irish Breakfast. Yes, I’m boring.
Steep: 8-ish minutes