My parents expect great things from me. You know, parents. Thinking their little baby is so special, the unique little masterpiece. Saying that their child will become President. They’re blind. I know I probably should be grateful. Some parents don’t direct their attention to their child. Sometimes there are so many children they just don’t have time to tell them that they’re special. Sometimes there are no parents. But I have parents.
I should probably back up. In fifth grade, we had a math competition. All of my friends were doing it, so I decided to enter as well. While I was taking it, I was surprised to see how slow my friends were, how agitated they looked. I breezed through it, and after ten minutes, I was done. I got a perfect score. I didn’t fully understand later that night what was going on. After all the phone calls telling my parents that I had beaten all the high schoolers at the math competition, gotten a perfect score, and finished in ten minutes, the world started to change for me.
Suddenly as soon as I got home, I had to study. I tried telling my parents that I knew most of it. They didn’t listen. I memorized the capitals of every country. I learned every fact about wars there possibly could be. I learned about authors and their books. I entered more and more competitions, and that was when the money and attention started to fly in. Hundreds of dollars for the child prodigy. I was the little girl who knew everything. Teachers started to hold me back in class to talk to me until I had to interrupt them so I wouldn’t be late to my next class. My parents didn’t let me hang out with my friends anymore. You need the time to learn, Kylie. This is for your own good. I tried to protest then, tried to tell them that I could learn and have fun, but they didn’t listen. I entered in more and more competitions, getting more and more prizes, having my name in the newspapers. All I wanted to do is just curl up in a ball and cry. I had the IQ of a college professor. But I didn’t want it to be my life.
“Kylie. Put your soccer ball away. You need to study.”
“I already know pretty much all of it.” I bobbled the soccer ball with my knees, breaking my record of eight. I kicked the ball into my makeshift goal, then trotted out of the hot sun to the porch, where I grabbed a lemonade that my mom had put out for me. I ignored the book of countries’ capitals. “Besides, I read this article that exercising helps your brain. It relaxes your nerves, and gets your brain working. And I should be still practicing soccer. Especially if I want to make the team.” I had been practicing all summer. I wasn’t going to let my mom ruin my chances of making the soccer team. I had already made the callbacks for tryouts. I was so close. She couldn’t stop me.
“About the team…”
“What, Mom,” I said, exasperated.
“I don’t think you should commit that much time to soccer. I looked at the practices, and they’re Mondays and Tuesdays. And with the game on Saturday… well that’s a lot of time, Kylie. I don’t think you’ll have time.”
I rolled my eyes. “Of course I’ll have time.”
“No, honey, what about all the competitions? You need to study.”
“I still have time to study every night.” I was starting to get annoyed, and a little worried. Would she take the only thing that brought me joy out of my life?
“And it looks pricey…” My mom bit her lip. She was just grasping for straws now.
“I can pay for it with the money I win from the competitions, and with my allowance.”
My mom sighed. “I didn’t want it to come to this, but I think you’re getting distracted. You almost missed a few questions last competition, you’re only studying for an hour a night, and with soccer… I looked at the call backs…”
Busted. She knows.
“Anna’s on the call backs.”
“And I looked in your texts.”
Whoa. What? She can’t do that. Right? Did I give her my password? Oh, right.
“It looks like you’ve still been texting your friends… quite frequently.”
Okay. I need a good argument. “You know, my friends actually help me learn, and keep my spirits up-”
“You’re not getting out of this, Kylie. Phone. Now.”
I grunted unhappily, fighting back tears. “And you won’t get it back until after the competition. And no, I’m not letting you tryout. It’s a distraction, Kylie, one that’s bad. Do you want to become like those muscular people who don’t know anything?”
“That’s a stereotype.”
My mom sighed, brushing back a wisp of hair. “The point is, you need to stop getting distracted. This gives you time to do two hours a day of studying.”
A tear slid down my cheek. “You can’t make me! I won’t compete! You’re taking all the fun out of this!” I slammed my cup down, spilling lemonade, and stormed upstairs to my room, fuming. They never understood. They never listened. Someone knocked on the door. They knocked again. I sighed. “Come in,” I said, my voice cracking. It was my dad.
“I heard what happened,” he tried.
“Yeah.” That was all I said. There wasn’t really a good answer for this.
“Did I ever tell you about how I wanted to be a writer for The New York Times?”
“Well, I did.” My dad sighed. “But they didn’t accept me. They didn’t think my writing was good enough. So… I’m a bus driver now. But that doesn’t have to be you. You have an easy path to freedom right now. You know so much. Mom and I are just trying to make sure you use that knowledge to help you later in life. I don’t want you to have a failed career, trying to do something you’re not. You can’t make a living out of soccer, and you’re just going to get hurt if you try. I don’t think you can do it, Kylie.”
That was the wrong thing to comfort me with. I fought back a few tears. My own dad was saying I couldn’t do it. But I was going to prove him wrong. My dad patted me on the back. “So just because you can’t do your dream doesn’t mean you can make the thing you’re amazing at your dream. So get excited! You can win competitions with your eyes closed, and you can make a living out of it! I can’t be more proud to be a dad of the smartest kid in the world.”
“I’m not the smartest.” If I was, I would have found a way to play soccer.
“To me you are. I’m your dad. It’s what dads are supposed to do. So are you ready for the competition?”
“Sure…” I groaned.
“You aren’t.” He threw me the capitals book. The shiny red book fell on my lap. I sighed, and with a look at my dad’s pleading eyes, I opened the book.
At the competition, my parents were more nervous than me. They drew their mouths into a thin line, hands shaking, eyes wet, and hugged me as tight as they could before sitting where the parents were directed to. People mingled around in the room, a mixture of adults and children. They had beards and pierced ears, football jerseys and eyeliner, pony tails and lipstick, wrinkles and sandals. But even though everyone looked different, they were all glad to be there. They laughed and talked and bit their fingernails. I walked to the table with no one there, in the far corner. There I took out my neatly sharpened pencil, and looked out of the window. There was an open field there, with trees surrounding it. I could just picture myself practicing on that field, with all my friends, laughing, and kicking the ball, feeling warm breezes on the back of my neck. I wished I was there.
I forced myself to pay attention to the man at the podium, reading the instructions. He had small spectacles, and a curly mustache. The man looked ancient, and I found myself suppressing giggles as he spoke softly, his voice as wispy as his mustache. I somehow managed to quench the giggles, but a grin was still on my face when the paper where I would write the answers was passed around. I wrote my name neatly, and prepared all my knowledge in my head. I would do fine. I would ace this, win the prize money of fifty dollars, and get a perfect score. I glanced back at the beckoning field. Then I remembered my dad saying that I wasn’t good enough to play soccer. A raged feeling filled inside of me. I was tired of doing all these competitions that I didn’t want to do, having to study for two hours every day, I was tired of it! And if my parents wouldn’t listen to words, I would show them how I truly felt.
The wizened man read the first question. “What is the capital of Peru?”
The answer sprung to my head, but instead I wrote Ottawa. After a little while, he read the second question. Then the third, then the fourth, and so on. I sometimes wrote the correct answers to throw off suspicion, but mostly I just blindly wrote answers that were wrong. It felt reliving to not be the kid who knew everything. Instead I was the kid who chose her life. I was the kid who knew who I wanted to be in the world, and wouldn’t stop until I had met my goal.
As I passed my paper in, I could feel my parents eyes on the back of my head. They were still on me as they read the winners, and still on me in the silent car ride back home. But as we pulled into the driveway, they finally spoke. “Kylie, can you tell me why you didn’t win?”
I wasn’t a liar. “Because I didn’t want want to win.”
My dad gasped, his face turning red, and my mom squeezed his hand tightly. She took a deep breath. “Honey, you’re so good at it though. It’s an easy path to success.”
“But is it an easy path to my freedom? Or am I going to be stuck in a job that I don’t want to do for the rest of my life? Dad had a dream. Even though it didn’t work out, you still tried. Now let me try. Let me fulfill my dream. I can still do the competitions. I can still study. But studying things for two hours every day, well I don’t want to do it. I want to follow my dream, and I know I can make it work. I like the competitions, but I don’t want to do them for the rest of my life. I’m a teenager. I need my freedom.”
I had somehow forced the words out of my mouth, and for once, my parents hadn’t interrupted me. Instead, they hugged me.
With tears in her eyes my mom took a steadying breath. “I should have realized what you want to do is apparent. You follow that dream. And I love you. I’ll pay for the soccer. And you can have your phone back. Hang out with Anna as much as you like.”
“I’m sorry that I didn’t listen to you, Kylie. I wish I had. Follow your dream. But still study, and do those competitions, okay? You can do this.” I hugged my parents. A huge weight had been lifted off my back.