Kate's high school social life has taken off this year, so Saturday night I found myself offering to take a neighborhood babysitting gig she couldn't follow through with.
"I don't know why they even hire a sitter for Emily," Kate told me. "That kid is brighter than any adult. Last time, she showed me how to knit using only my bare fingers."
Last summer, Kate and I had taught ourselves to knit using a "Knitting for Teens" book we bought after hearing a radio show where guest Dakota Fanning had discussed her hobby of knitting on movie sets. We figured if a ten-year-old could knit a scarf, then dammit, so could we.
Our little neighbor, Emily, is nine. I think she and Ms. Fanning would be fast friends.
Saturday night arrived. Feeling bad that Kate had bailed on her, I flew into Former Art Teacher mode and showed up at Emily's front door with a Mary Poppins-sized bag of tricks that included yarn, watercolors and polymer clay.
"Oh, you can just put that right there," Emily chirped at me, peering over her glasses. "Would you like some balloon animals? Let me get my pump. I'd be glad to make you some!"
Emily produced an air pump the size of a pogo stick and quickly twisted a length of balloon into a perky poodle. "Voila! You may take him home!"
While I was still blinking and trying to figure out how the poodle was formed, Emily started setting up the board game.
I had not played the game of Life in at least 35 years. No problem. Emily would re-teach me, advising me on which real estate dealings and insurance purchases would be the most lucrative.
For my Life career, I drew the Artist card, appropriately, earning mere chump change to Emily's dual career of Professor and Tech Specialist. Emily managed to fill her plastic minivan token with several daughters, win both a Nobel and a Pulitzer prize, and flip a Victorian mansion. I bagged a deadbeat hubby and childlessly meandered through Life, winning only a local art contest before retiring to my pathetic little log cabin. Emily pulled out a huge calculator and began totaling the money.
"Oh, guess what, Mrs. B.—you won!"
"Emily, honey, you need to check your figures. There is no way I could have won."
Emily gave a breathless performance to rival that of her star twin Dakota Fanning. "Nope. The calculator doesn't lie!" She hummed happily as she neatly collected the game pieces.
She squinted down at her watch. "Okay, my bedtime is at nine. We have ten minutes left to draw cartoons before I go brush my teeth. I usually do a bit of reading before I drop off."
Something in my highly competitive self was at a loss to react to this tiny child who had just entertained me with balloon animals and let me win at a board game. The tables had turned. I had been supplanted, then surpassed.
I decided to dazzle her with my mad cartooning skills.
"Oh, you're doing very well," she cooed.
"Thanks. I'm a professional artist, you know."
Perhaps I only imagined that this tiny nine-year-old smirked politely as if to say, Yes, that's why your ancient minivan hasn't been fixed and you can't afford to update your house. I'm sure she didn't mean to make me feel inadequate.
Aftering a few minutes of doodling, Emily held up her masterpiece. A stylish cartoon worm, wearing sunglasses, exclaimed, "Hey! Who turned out the lights?" to a squid who retorted, "What?"
"Get it?" Emily pointed enthusiastically. "Earthworms are blind, and squids are deaf!"
"Oh, of course!" I nodded, wishing I had actually read the stack of Smithsonian magazines piling up in my den.
With a cheery "Good night!" my time with little Emily was done. I busied myself with a book until the parents arrived.
I hope they go out again soon. I'm dying to learn how to finger knit.