I recall being on a camping trip to Oregon with my parents when I was about 13. My sister – my usual travel companion – was traveling with her high school marching band to a competition in Portland, and we were essentially following her to see the performance. She was on a bus full of her rowdy friends, and I was alone with my parents.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved my parents. I was not a rebellious teen by any stretch. But I think the contrast between my situation and my sister’s was aggravating to me. I wanted to be the high school student on the weeklong field trip. I remember feeling restless I’m sure I was difficult and cranky on that trip.
One night at the campground I excused myself and went to bed. My parents stayed up talking and I could hear their conversation. They were talking about me. Of course they were talking in hushed tones, so I listened even harder. They used the word “precocious”. It was being used to describe me. And I had no idea what it meant. I didn’t have a dictionary and the internet didn’t exist. Those were the days when questions like that burned in your brain until you could get to a library. Today I would Google it and be done. Instead, I had to lie in that camper imagining what this proclamation meant.
Precocious. I knew it couldn’t be a good thing, because I wasn’t being a good thing at the time. I surmised that it was a criticism. I also concluded that I’d probably earned it. I didn’t dare ask what it meant, because they’d know I’d overheard their conversation.
So I stayed awake, staring at the ceiling trying to figure this out.
I’ll bet it means ungrateful. Or snotty. Or maybe it means disrespectful. Arrogant. No, it probably means immature. Yes, that’s probably it. Immature.
But wait a sec. My parents actually loved me. Come to think of it, they didn’t sound angry when they said it. They were calm. Sort of reflective. Maybe “precocious” means sad and lonely. After all, I was missing my sister and I was suddenly hating being the youngest and having to be alone when I was used to having a ton of kids around.
My parents were very wise. I felt as though I’d been defined and I was desperate to know the verdict. It drove me nuts not to know what that word meant.
For the rest of the trip, I tried to be less “precocious”…whatever that was. I tried to be grateful and respectful. Humble and mature. I tried to ignore my aching for my sister’s companionship. I was determined to have them say to one another, “Why look! She’s really not at all precocious, is she?”
Of course in retrospect, I see that I certainly was quite precocious, what with my psychoanalytical reflections in the camper that night, trying to decipher a relationship between that mysterious word and my complex adolescent behavior patterns. Precocious indeed.
I’m starting to think it’s a “youngest” thing. I was always interested in catching up with my 6 older siblings. I envied their freedoms. Their drivers’ licenses, their bedtimes, their allowances… They were all smarter than me. Funnier than me. Even louder than me. (And that’s saying something.) And I was always trying to measure up. Being “the baby of the family” had its advantages, but the grass seemed much greener on the “older” side of the fence.
Our youngest daughter has always been quite precocious herself. She has Google, so she knows what it means. When she was very young, she used to act like an adult. It was a hoot-and-a-half to listen to her. The most hilarious part of it was realizing she had been absorbing every single thing she’d heard an adult say, and was now stringing it all together into an adult persona for herself.
When she was only four years old, she would pretend she was on the phone with a friend. Brilliantly, she would create a complex, one-sided conversation with this imaginary girlfriend who was a mother-of-two across town. A couple of times I was working on my computer when this started, so I typed every syllable. Priceless.
“Hi, Amy.” Pause. Shaking her head. “…I can’t. I have the bay…” She’d been interrupted by her imaginary friend. Pause. Sympathetic listening and solemn nodding. “Give her some lay-per-ture. Oh no! We’re out?” Then she would turn to me and covering the receiver, she would convey, “That’s leg medicine that makes your leg feel better.” Back to her friend. “Oh, OK. Well I’ll be home soon.” A pause, then she would burst out in this plastic “HA HA HA HA!” Do I really sound like that? Then she would pause again, and offer her friend some advice: “Tell them they have to do their homework first, then it will be OK.”
Eventually she would hang up, and fill me in on her friend’s troubles. Finally, she would call another friend and inquire after her.
“Charlotte? How’s your leg? Bad? You had another accident? Your knee’s better but you had another accident? Ohhhhh. Oooooo. That hurt, didn’t it?” She would turn to me again and fill me in on the skinny about this friend, covering the receiver, of course. “She dropped her glass and she burned her foot with the coffee in it and the sharp part stabbed her foot.” she conveyed to me in low tones. “Now she has a Band-Aid on it.” Back to her friend. “I hope I can see you. I will get it and make it better? How terrible is that! Maybe 9:30 sharp No? – 10:00? 10:10. Not good? You don’t know what it is yet? Well, I have the candy for the stocking. Don’t worry, I’m about to start sorting the laundry. Just wait, Honey. Go buy a velvet dress that’s only $22. OK. Bye-bye, Honey.”
She’s 15 now. Every bit as precocious. Plans ahead. Persistent as all get-out. She is possibly the most disappointed of our kids at their parents’ dim wits. Her frustrations in the world are usually related to those things she cannot control. Feels familiar. Even so, she is full of fun, energy, and love. I hope one day to catch up with her. Intellectually.
The acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree.