Odd #18: The Not-Quite-Right Amongst Us

by teresalaynebennett

photo of blackened electrical outlet

I promise it will all be made clear. Trust me.

You know how some kids get labeled early on? They’re either so obviously brilliant, they’re hailed as the next discoverer of something, maybe even something as amazing as penicillin. Or it’s the opposite; family members resign themselves to the unpleasant fact that this one might be an embarrassment to the whole clan, not to mention a drag on all of society.

But, of course, sometimes kids get labeled incorrectly. Einstein comes to mind. In fact, you’ve probably heard of or personally know someone who didn’t walk or talk on schedule who still turned out to be successful. Everything was pretty much okay their first few years and when it wasn’t, they decided to speak out about it: THEN they started talking. Or they were born uber-efficient; If others will bring me things, why should I crawl or walk to get them? They didn’t start walking till they wanted something no one would bring them.

An Unfortunate
Labeling Story

This is a true story, just so you know. And for once, I’m not the one learning the lesson the hard way. It’s about a dear friend, who shall remain nameless (his initials are B.O.B.), who did indeed learn a very jolting lesson in the hardest of ways.

When my friend was all of seven, his grandfather decided his grandson was old enough for his own knife and gave his grandson a penknife. Did I mention Grandpa did this without consulting Grandma or the parents of his grandchild to ensure they all agreed he was old enough to do only marginal damage with a small knife? Furthermore, Grandpa’s only instruction was: “Now don’t go sticking this in an electrical socket.”

The next day, after having had 24 hours to recover from his mysterious propulsion across his grandparents’ living room, my friend studied the blackened outlet he’d created. Paying attention to the rest of the room, he discovered there were four more! Would they all produce the same effect, or was it just THAT one, I wonder? Only one way to find out.

After regaining consciousness from his second propulsion across his grandparents’ living room, he overheard Grandpa say to Grandma, “Ruby, that boy AIN’T RIGHT!”

And he wasn’t. He was SO not-right. He was so far above not-right that he is now an eminent immunotoxicologist – one of handful in our nation. Yep. Definitely not your average kiddo. The makings of a beady-eyed, experimenting scientist were already in place at the ripe age of seven.

You’ve been paying attention; it sounds a bit like I’m bragging, doesn’t it? I am. Having no impressive credits of my own, I like to brag about my impressive friends, and I absolutely love throwing out long words like immunotoxicologist just to watch people’s faces. I especially like knowing his humble beginnings.

Is there a pay-attention point
to this bald-faced bragging?

Of course: it’s hard to predict where sticking a knife into an electrical socket or any number of other, not-right behaviors will propel a child. Could be just an embarrassing toss across a room and a lifetime of similarly self-defeating behaviors – OR a preview of the child’s propulsion into an exciting profession that benefits thousands.

You just never know.

So spend a little more time and effort paying attention to and encouraging the young ones around you, ESPECIALLY the not-quite-right ones. If they end up like my friend you, too, could have some fairly impressive bragging rights. Then you can do what I do: exercise your bragging rights to liven things up a bit at dull parties. (This one is one of my best stories, always getting plenty of laughs. Sometimes I reveal my friend’s identity, and sometimes I practice discretion. It’s a judgment call, you know.) 

©2016, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: ”As he was a late talker, his [Albert Einstein’s] parents were worried. At last, at the supper table one night, he broke his silence to say, 'The soup is too hot.' Greatly relieved, his parents asked why he had never said a word before. Albert replied, 'Because up to now everything was in order.'" – Otto Neugebauer

(Neugebauer is a mathematics historian.)