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July 06, 2009

How do you explain grad school to an 8-year-old?

Saturday, July 4.

I was at the beach, sleep-reading (there really should be a word for half-trying to read while drifting off to sleep under the sun, lulled by the sound of the waves... somnolection? any suggestions?), when a little girl interrupted.

"Excuse me. Can I borrow your cell phone?"

My first, decidedly non-parental instinct was suspicion. Was it a prank? Would she run away with my smartphone as part of a dare?

Then I realized she might actually have a valid request.

"What's the matter?"

"I'm lost, and I want to call my parents to try to find them."

"Of course! What's the number?"

I called, but no one answered. I left a message.

"Don't worry," I tried. "They probably can't hear the phone ring, but they'll call the minute they get the message. We'll try again soon."

Didn't seem to be helping. She stared into the sand, silent.

"Kids get lost all the time at the beach. I'll make sure you'll find your family..."

"My parents are going to be worried," she answered.

I assured her that as soon as my boyfriend was back from his bike ride, she and I could take a walk to find her parents. I just couldn't leave everything all alone in the sand, though, so I asked her to hang around for a few minutes. Mr. A was on his way back.

She agreed.

To pass the time, and to make her more comfortable, I suggested we build a sand castle. While we (mostly she) assembled a small heart shaped hill, I tried to make small talk.

That's how I got to know Gigi, a really cool third-grader-to-be.

She gave me the scoop on slumber parties: the in thing this season is green nail polish with sparkles.

She told me her favorite subject in school is art, and she proceeded to draw a picture in the sand of a xylophone, whose name she couldn't remember. But she knew it's a sort of piano sort of drum thingie. That's what she plays in the school orchestra, she said, and demonstrated in the air.

After about 10 minutes, I tried calling again, but no answer.

Then I asked her about her family, if she has brothers or sisters.

I asked her about cell phones. Does she have one? (I thought all kids today get cell phones when they turn 2. Where was hers?)

"My dad won't let me have one."

"Really? How come? Does he think it's bad for kids, or did you talk too much and he took it away?"

"No. I lost my old ones." Here she paused, embarrassed, and lowered her voice to a near whisper. "I've had five."

"Sorry, I can't hear you. What did you say?"

"I've had five," she repeated.


"Five, no, six. I lost them all."

"How did you do that?"

"I just forgot where I put 'em."

I asked her about the internet: Does she use Facebook or MySpace?

"I have a MySpace, but I only used it once. My sister Facebooks."

Eventually, she asked me one question:

"Do you have a job?"

I wondered how to phrase my chosen career path. "I started my postgraduate education in 2002. I think you were learning to differentiate between peepee and poopoo around then. Since then, I have been reading lots of books and journal articles, and typing many, many pages, in hopes that one day I will earning a degree that certifies I have attained the highest level of study in one field. Which basically means that I now know a little more after than I did when I was starting out. Basically I'm a professional student. Also, unemployed. Real life is scary. Learn a trade, kid."

I figured this was not the time to explain grad school to a frightened 8-year-old.

Instead, I told her I'm a writer.

"I write stuff, and post it on the internet. Like, if I have an idea, or want to find out the answer to a question, I will do some research and then tell a bunch of people about what I found."

She nodded.

Mr. A came back and sat with our stuff while I took Gigi for a walk to find her family.

"What color is their umbrella?" I asked.

"Blue with white trim."

Less than a minute after we started walking, she pointed to a group of people.

"That's my aunt!" she exclaimed and bounded over. They were about 50 feet from where we'd been sitting.

I made sure the aunt noticed her, then waved goodbye, but she never looked back.

Gained: Interaction with a member of generation Z.
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