Spring 1998

“I’m really enjoying  your little girl,” I assured Nguyen’s mother. “She’s brilliant, especially for one so young.”

But instead of  glowing with maternal pride, as I  expected, the mother flinched as if I had slapped her.

“Oh, but  we want her to be smart like an adult,” she protested..

During my first session with Nguyen, I had asked her some questions about what she liked so that I could customize my lessons to her interests: favorite games, stories, music, pets — all the things eight-year-old girls love to talk about.

“What games do you like?”

She thought a minute and wrinkled her tiny nose. Her silky, blue-black hair swished around on her neck.

“What about t.v.? Have a favorite show?”

To that last question, Nguyen’s China-doll face clouded over. She shook her head hesitantly.

“No t.v. I not allow.”

“I see,” I said. “Okay, then, what about when you get home from school?”

“I have to do  school work.”

So, I thought, let me see if I get this. You’re  eight. Only a child. Yet, your parents are forcing your feet to rattle around in adult shoes.  No dolls, no games, no t.v…no little-girl daydreams.

But when her parents picked her up at the school library, I held my tongue.  Still, it made me sad. Nguyen was a genius-in-the-works, but even Einstein must have had more of a childhood than this little girl had known.

Later, when I got home, I was so haunted by my student’s answers that I sat down at my computer. From there on, my thoughts gave my fingers free rein over the keyboard until they created the following poem:


Please don’t rush me into your world, yet,

lest you disturb a genius at play.

My toys, trivial to you, are learning tools

shaping me into the woman

I am destined to become.

With tea set and baby dolls,

I will follow your lead

when I become a model wife and mother.

Stories you read to me today

will inspire my writer’s mind tomorrow,

and crayon scribbles on my walls,

tomorrow’s works of art.

Simple games and puzzles —

hands-on training for problems posed by Life.

Yes, Childhood is the best of Teachers,

but I can be Her student

only once.

** Kim Kathleen Terry **


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