This Saturday I took somebody else's shift at the tutoring center. Two hours with a delightful little girl who is full of spunk and has magic in her eyes. She once told me her favorite books were, "This one about One Direction" and Charlotte's Web. We wasted five minutes talking about books before we got back to work. She has wealthy parents, she lacks nothing, and clearly still believes the world is a fantastical place.
And she is 7.
This Saturday when I showed up, she was right on time, as usual. But as she stumbled in the door, still in her polka-dot pajamas, her face was crumpled with almost-tears. The supervisor stood in the doorway talking with her mother, and then she came on through.
"She's not feeling well today," the supervisor told me. We both smiled and nodded, knowing it was probably caused by too much Valentine candy.
We worked for fifteen minutes. She read with tired enthusiasm, often stopping to yawn and rub her eyes and hide her face in the book. Nobody likes to come to tutoring on a Saturday morning, but she's usually not this obstinate. When the supervisor walks back through the room she asks if my little friend is still feeling badly, says that her mother has come back just in case, and in another moment she has gone home again, but now with a smile on her face.
I wonder if she faked it, because she was so happy to go. I get sort of irritated because this was an extra shift, and my student on Thursday cancelled as well. It seems like the little girl just doesn't want to be here today. But then I remember. She's seven.
And I remember being seven. I remember how simple and pleasant my life was--the thrill of checking out a pile of books from the library. Chasing the neighbor boy for a kiss, for no reason. Playing with dolls for hours. Collecting acorn tops at recess. Going to Alki Beach with my parents. Having a cake with rainbow chip frosting on my birthday. Seeing The Lion King in theaters.
I remember the things that upset me--my favorite winter boots not fitting after two years. Not being able to have any pets in our house. Scary attics. Scary basements. My big brothers teasing me. Not being allowed to stay up past my bedtime. Always wearing out the knees in my pants.
It seemed impossible, after remembering, for her to have faked it. Because when you're seven, you don't know how to manipulate people yet. You know what makes you happy, and what makes you sad, and maybe you know how to get what you want but you'r not that good at lying yet. Personally, I didn't start faking sick until middle school.
So I just smiled and wave goodbye to the little girl and her mother through the office door. She should enjoy seven while she can.