So, I’m standing in my driveway the other day when the 7-year old neighbor girl four houses around the cul-de-sac comes scurrying down her driveway, tennis shoes a-fly, and banks right on to the sidewalk heading my direction. Her little hand clutched a bright yellow personal walkie-talkie, the kind that all the moms and dads are using these days to stay in touch with their neighborhood-roving kids. I knew she had a couple of BFFs (can 7-year olds have BFF’s?) on the street right behind ours and figured she was heading over there for a visit. As she got closer to me the pattering of her feet abruptly slowed and she screeched to a halt. Seriously. I could swear I heard this little screech sound.
And then this sweet little girl and I had an exchange of words which simply and profoundly altered the next couple of hours of my life.
“Hi Mister Glenn.” Big brown eyes, head tilted slightly to one side. Complete innocence.
“Well, hi right back at you, Miss Megan. So, who are you going to see today?”
“Just one of my girlfriends. You don’t know her.” Spoken with absolute certainty. Which made me laugh out loud.
But before I could respond, she jumped in first.
“Glenn, what are you?” And she spoke it fast, like whatareyou, the words run together in a burst.
Now, if someone else had been watching me at that very second, I swear they would have seen my head snap back. Not much, just maybe a half inch or even less. But I know it did. And that’s because the words caught me totally off guard, not what I was expecting at all. What am I?
I opened my mouth to ask for clarification, but then the walkie-talkie squelched and the electronic voice of Megan’s mother reminded her that Annika was waiting. Megan used her thumb to press a button and spoke into the banana yellow unit, “K, mom.” Then she scuttled away without even a goodbye. And I didn’t offer one myself because I was suddenly caught up and captivated by her question.
What am I?
What. Am. I.
In somewhat of a trance I walked through the garage and stabbed the button to close the door, then grabbed a bottled water from the fridge and wandered over to the couch where I plopped myself.
What am I?
Well, she knows I’m a husband, married to my wife Nancy. And that we don’t have any kids in the house because ours are already grown up. Ah, but she does know I have children. And I’ll bet she knows I have two and that they’re both daughters, because when she was little Kylene babysat for them a few times. Would she remember that, though? I think she was only 2 or 3.
But she knows of my older daughter because they share the same name. Aha! And even though my grandkids Jaxon and Ava are 2 and 4 years younger than her, they’ve all met each other a few different times. So, Megan knows I’m a grandpa and a dad and a husband. That can’t be what she was wondering.
What am I?
Could it be a culture or race thing?
The latest family to move into our little 11-home streethood are straight over from Australia and their accents are wonderfully thick — Crocodile Dundee, shrimp-on-the-barbie thick. Add them to the rest of the cul-de-sac and we have an East Indian family on the corner, then Chinese, then us, Chinese, Anglo, Chinese, Megan’s Anglo family, another Anglo, Chinese (but I just saw a moving truck in their driveway this afternoon), the new Aussies, and one last Anglo family on the other corner. And by Anglo I mean the standard European Caucasian mongrel. Like me made up of four equal parts Scottish, Norwegian, English, and German. Or my wife half-Italian, half Polish.
And she’s a first grader in an elementary school populated by immigrants from easily 25 different countries in every corner of the planet. So, maybe they’ve been talking about cultural heritage and diversity. At first grade, though? A little young? Yeah, probably not. Especially when it’s so difficult to know where the pendulum has swung this time: are we celebrating our diversity or our harmonious commonality?
What am I, though? What was Megan asking?
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking it’s pretty obvious, aren’t you? That it’s a no brainer. She wants to know what you do for a living, bozo. What your job is. Well, I thought of that. But you see, the thing is, she already knows what I do for work, or at least has enough understanding of it that she wouldn’t ask.
For more than 20 years now I’ve worked in educational publishing, textbooks for most of that time, but with an increasingly more dominant shift to digital technologies. And all of those two decades I’ve worked with the elementary grades. Which means I have a garage full of samples and promo items, which means every K-5 kiddo in the streethood has had access to reading books and math books and science books and big books and decodable books and picture books and coloring books and chapter books and audio books and video books. They know I’m the man who sells their school its books.
And as for my writing . . . well, her parents have both read my book and they talk with me openly about the others in process. But it seems a bit of a stretch to think a first grader would ask about that, unless of course I’d authored her favorite new Betty Gets a Bunny book.
So, what am I?
I’m type AB positive. I participate in a European-based sport called orienteering (think map and a compass in the woods). I’m very happy on a lounge chair near a pool. In the sun. Preferably in Hawaii. I love Shakespeare and think that Gwyneth Paltrow — scratch that, this is a question from a first grader, after all. I like to grill out. I can’t wait for Olympics track and field. And the Tour de France (see my post about last year’s race). I travel a lot for work. I take a daily drug for gout. I met Dick Van Dyke once. I’m a UW Husky alum. And a Sammamish Totem. And I voted for the other guy.
But she’s seven years old.
Glenn, what are you? After 90 minutes of deep ponderation, I set up a camp chair in my driveway and waited for her return for dinner, anxious to find resolution. Then, as she approached from around a bend in the road, I waved to get her attention. Not that she could have missed me, stationed as I was five feet from the sidewalk. I’d already phrased the question in my head and had practiced it under my breath a few times, just to make sure it sounded right. But once again, she beat me to it.
“Hi Mister Glenn. I’m a Sagittarius. That’s a man who’s half a horse and has a bow and arrow. What are you?” She spoke with a charming matter-of-factness, as though the establishment of her zodiacal placement in the universe was both wondrous and mundane. Magical and routine. And I suppose it is.
“Well, kiddo. It just so happens that I’m a Sagittarius, too.”
And then it was her head’s turn to snap back. And her face beamed. And her doe eyes sparkled. And she was off on a tear, forgetting to even say goodbye, the yellow walkie-talkie pressed to her mouth. “Mom, mom, over. You’re never gonna believe what Mister Glenn is.”