Like anyone else, my memory of childhood is a silvery haze of hotel suites, European cafes and equestrian trophies, yet one memory in particular stands alone as the most vivid and seminal moment of my youth: during third grade, Ms. Wheeler took my hand after lunch and led me away from the other children, off into the dark recesses of recess. Alone, she knelt in front of me and whispered softly, "I was up all night thinking about your spelling test, it was inspired. I couldn't put a grade on it because any letter I might add would only spoil its perfection." She turned away from me for a moment, toward the polo fields and lap pool. When she faced me again, I could see that she was crying. "Soren, you are the most gifted student I have ever taught. You can be anything you want to be in life, even President. Especially President."
First order of business: a million trampolines
It meant a lot to me, though for the honest encouragement she offered or the long kiss we shared directly after, I cannot say. Still, I attribute that one moment with my life-long pursuit of helping children. I volunteer as a tutor for a local private school teaching wealthy and beautiful children the intricacies of the humanities, and on Thursdays, fencing. I try to nurture their passions and confidence just as Ms. Wheeler nurtured mine; I tell them how they can choose any career they want, even leading the free world. The difference, however, is that I am lying. Being President is hard goddamn work and I wouldn't dare take anything away from the 43 men who have held the job by suggesting any of these kids could ever do it. In fact, as a demonstration of my reverence on this holiday, I want to introduce you to the 6 children I know who will almost certainly never be President.
Madison is in first grade and already an exceptional reader. She demonstrates good problem solving skills, diplomacy and, has proved on more than one occasion that she can drive a car in an emergency. In all respects, Madison seems like she is on the right track toward becoming an elected official. Then she opens her mouth.
I have never heard a more thorough butchering of the English language than the gibberish that falls between Madison's absurdly-spaced teeth. Her parents tell me it's a speech impediment but I know her well and remain suspicious that she's just lazy. Madison can remember every letter in the alphabet but refuses to say half of them correctly, and it's gotten to the point where she's either suffering from muscular dystrophy in her tongue or she's doing it intentionally to make me upset. I'm banking on the latter. I can already say with certainty that her flagrant disregard for the importance of discourse and her general insolence would make her a terrible candidate. The President has to be able to articulate points and orate confidently in front of the anxious eyes of a nation. How can she do that if she can't even pronounce, "Please, I want to go home," in front of one person?
I'm sorry, Madison, even if you started trying now, you could never be President.
Despite initial appearances, Kingsley comes from a broken home. He is a sharp dresser and a startlingly talented cello player (in the context of other nine-year-olds only, I can still destroy him). All and all, he is one of the most thoughtful and optimistic children I have ever met, but he is also a crybaby.
As I understand it, his father left the family sometime last year to live on a compound with yoga instructors, but judging by the number times Kingsley bursts into tears over completely non-related events, you'd think he left yesterday. After each one of his meltdowns he gets wistful and buries his face in his knees or stares out a window, like that's somehow going to bring his dad back. Kingsley's inability to move on from old wounds would really inhibit his ability to make rational decisions in the war room, with his finger on the button. He doesn't have the thick skin a politician needs when opponents bring up the dark pieces of his history. Plus he weeps so readily in public that I have to be embarrassed for the both of us, and no amount of yelling will make him stop. He is certainly smart enough to lead but lacks the social capacity to be a leader.
I'm sorry, Kingsley, until you learn to leave your baggage at home, you can never be President.
On the hierarchy of contributions to the human race, semiotics and philosophy are at the very top while math is crammed in somewhere at the bottom near Gore-Tex and meat slicers. Math is pointless, stupid and hard, that's why we invented calculators to do it for us. Yet for some inexplicable reason, Matilda is ready to throw her life away on the subject. She is a smart girl in all other respects and has the charisma necessary to be a commander-in-chief some day but her dumb obsession with soulless and confusing numbers means that she will never have the opportunity to by someone special. Ever.
A President has to make tough decisions in which there isn't always a black and white answer, she has to discuss treaties with foreign dignitaries, and command the strongest military in the world. I'd like to see Matilda try and do that with long division. She can't, she can't because math is infuriating and obsolete and even dangerous, probably. Also because she's just learning subtraction right now.
I'm sorry Matilda, no one wants to elect a math nerd to the best job in the world, you can't be President.
Bronx is curious about everything and particularly dinosaurs, which I'm willing to chalk up as a passion for history. He can throw a football 14 yards and shows tremendous steadiness and patience when firing a crossbow. Bronx's only real fault is that he's a cheater.
I noticed it first while playing wizards together, I cast a flaming magic axe into his head, but Bronx kept insisting he was not dead. Then, on other occasions I again noticed his refusal to play by the rules or flat-out lie, sometimes even cheating his way to victory during Chutes and Ladders or Guess Who. I suspect his propensity for cheating is a product of his childhood because his mother is just as likely to succumb to the same amoral impulse, particularly with an indecently handsome volunteer tutor. I'm almost certain her careless approach to fidelity has rubbed off on Bronx even though she promised me he couldn't hear anything through the walls.
I'm sorry, Bronx, your morals are too flexible and your past too checkered, you can never be President.
I can't say for sure what Noon's most valuable qualities are because she spends the majority of our time together organizing crayons in alphabetical order or peeling rubber cement off construction paper. She is so anxious about the exactness of everything she does that she will break down into a tantrum if I tie her shoes in single knots instead of doubles. Remarkably, her hygiene seems to be a blind spot to her compulsion and I can't mention it to her for fear of unleashing a new wave of fixations.
Her teachers assure me that it's normal for kids to get obsessive about various things, especially when they lack predictability in other quadrants of their life. To me it sounds like a convenient excuse to perpetuate eccentricity. Even at five-years-old, Noon is too far gone into crazy to fix and it's destroyed any chances she may have once had of holding the messy job of leading a nation.
I'm sorry, Noon, you are too psychoneurotic to be President.
A project I love doing with the children is planting different species of saplings and naming each after the child who planted it. Then I teach them the value of a metaphor over the next few months as the trees, like the children, grow before our eyes or fail to thrive in the environment and die. When the children ask me why some of the thriving trees aren't as tall or colorful as the others, I explain that in nature, some things are just destined to be bland forever. Cayenne, for instance, is fittingly represented in our tree garden by some scrub oak.
Where the other children are full of excitement for toys or sports or friendship, Cayenne is full of boring. She completely lacks a sense of humor and shows no interest in anything other than being pretty. I have tried to get an earnest response out of her in every way I can think of, including tackling her from high places in the hopes of at least seeing fear on her face. None of it works. A President has to be personable, charming and capable of showing a little passion, Cayenne has none of these traits.
I'm sorry, Cayenne, your complete lack of personality means you can never be President.
Thank you to each of the children in these photos. I hope we continue to enrich one another's lives.
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