I have never enjoyed trivia. Never. And yet, the slightest mention of trivia, the most innocent of trivia questions, and a crazy competitive sweat breaks out in my soul. Every sense, every particle that is me, is at the ready. I must not only answer the question correctly- I must answer it first. I don’t care if it’s Jeopardy™ or Juicy Juice™… if there is a trivia question involved, I am poised as a puma ready to pounce with the answer.
It’s usually about this time, whilst I’m visualizing myself as the sleek black jungle cat, considering the loss of my habitat and the recent initiatives for localized farming to lessen logging destruction and protect my home that three people call out the answer to the question and toast their genius.
Wait! What just happened??? Now there is a question I can answer quickly: I have never enjoyed trivia. Never.
Sitting at an unintentional trivia night (that’s right, last week, at a small evening out with friends we randomly selected a location which happened to be hosting a trivia night… Puma! Prepare!) It was there that I had a revelation about what I need to write about: the very thing I can’t do, the thing which I am sure to fail at miserably, the thing which makes me feel as ungifted as they come… is the one thing upon which I choose to focus all of my attention.
That reminds me of every gifted and twice-exceptional child I’ve ever met. What is it about their failures that make them so keen to focus their passion and energy upon them? Why is it that kids who are so astonishing and have so much to offer the world spend so much of their energy on the one thing which makes them feel less than someone else?
My daughter attends a public school and is in the gifted and talented program there. She has many classmates who not only excel but are literal phenoms at gymnastics. My daughter encompasses many glorious things, and we encourage and participate in as many as possible, but gymnastics is to her what trivia is to me: an annoying reminder that we can’t do everything perfectly. I put her in gymnastics to boost her confidence but she holds herself to her classmates’ standard. Every week she tries so hard to make her legs stretch and her body move gracefully. I watch and wonder when she’s going to stop, look around, and say, “What am I doing here?” (At which point my desperate need to answer every question put forth will kick in and I’ll try to be first to help her with an answer; of course, both she and my husband will be in the car, problem solved, and waiting for me to finish combing through my mind library for the right parenting advice for the moment).
I ask myself what it is about trivia which makes me so keen to do well at it. I don’t really care if my friends know that I have the answer and I am pretty secure in what I know and what I’ve learned; so why does it matter? I certainly try to not let the questions get to me. I try to sit back and appreciate the fact that someone else immediately knew that queue is the only five-letter word from which you can remove four of the letters and it sounds the same. I try to appreciate that trivia is not my bag. I try. And I fail. Again.
I found a letter from 1976 from our family doctor to my parents. In it the doctor informed them that they should cherish and celebrate any small achievement I made in my life. That learning and activities would be difficult for me and talking might never happen. He sounded so apologetic and so certain. He also suggested a speech therapist and I remember her very well. She chain smoked and fed me peanut butter when I answered any question. I remember spending the entire session trying to get peanut butter off of my palette as she asked me question after question, “Is this a tree or is this a tree? Will you say tree? Do you like trees? Have you seen a tree? Have you heard of a tree? Does a tree make a sound if you run from my office and bang your head against it?”
I still hate peanut butter, but not as much as I hate trivia. It seems obvious why I feel that way about questions and answers, but my daughter doesn’t have a traumatic event to tie to her drive for perfection. I wonder how much of my issue was this misguided effort by a well-intentioned therapist (it was most likely a tongue and mouth strengthening exercise) and how much is actually the gifted and twice-exceptional child clinging tightly to something, as they do all things, and finding it difficult to be wrong or quiet or different or less than or unbendable or stupid.
What can we do to make it better? Our kids are going to have these strong emotions attached to their failures as surely as I will give my friend the evil eye for saying Gene Wilder’s character is from Poland without the two hours of thinking and processing I need to say it. I will toast her achievement and reminisce about how Wilder really does resemble my father, who is Hungarian. Still, Poland makes the most sense since Wilder’s family came from Poland in real life and it is more easily recognizable than Hungary when it comes to scenes from the Holocaust. He played a Rabbi in the role and it reminds me of another film and how long it has been since I’ve seen it. Wait. What was the question??
As parents, and especially as educators, if we could remember that these running dialogues make answering questions a sweat-filled trivia game for the gifted kids who don’t process and respond as quickly, it could go a long way in classroom confidence and emotional security. Let them write the answers down… give them a few hours (yes, really). Accept that they may not have the answer that day at all. Imagine how it feels when the verbal kids DO have the answers. Imagine how it feels to think you don’t have the answer because you don’t have it fast enough.
We need something new. Maybe send them outside to run around and think on it. I feel as though quiet and processing deserves its own accommodation. Something different. Something which says, “Hey, we know you have the answer, you just hate trivia.” Let them answer it on their own time so it doesn’t feel like a contest. Remember that sometimes the best things take a little simmering. Sometimes it’s as simple as giving them a clipboard, a pencil, and the shade of tree.
A tree? A tree. A tree which makes no sound.