Not Smart

As the first day of school approaches, one local author explores the difference between scholarly and smart.

“My child just isn’t very smart!” 

So lamented a friend of mine over coffee.

“I mean, compared to my other children, this one just struggles. The others make straight A’s with no effort but everything seems so hard for this child.”

I couldn’t help but feel bad for the child because I’m “not smart” either, at least compared to my family. I think a better description, though, would be “not scholarly.” I think I’m plenty smart.

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But my family … Lord have mercy, they are some scholarly people. If you need an obscure literary reference, find yourself wanting to decline a verb or conjugate a noun in Latin or don’t know your predicates from your participles, these are your people. Mama can recite poetry by the volume and has read every book written since the Gutenberg Bible was hot off the press (and a whole lot of works that preceded it). Daddy speaks a gazillion languages and knows every fact about banking, finance and the economy there is. And my brother can tell you the history of the world since it was a dust particle right up until yesterday, along with approximately 347,926 fun facts that even the most mothball-smelling history professor doesn’t know.

I like to get my toes done. And draw pretty pictures. And write a few stories for laughs.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not smart.

A lot of pressure comes with being part of a scholarly family. A lot of nodding and smiling as if you understand. A lot of trying to remember things to look up after dinner. Then you forget the thing after dinner.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not smart.

It just means I have different interests. I’m not bookish like they are. My mind doesn’t work like theirs do. School was a struggle for me, just like my friend’s child. History is a blur. Science is a mystery. And math is a complete catastrophe.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not smart.

Give me an essay to write, and I shine. Projects? Hell yes! Let’s build Mount Vesuvius! Art class should be every class as far as I’m concerned.

If you need someone to take your complicated task and get it done on time and under budget, I’m your girl. Convoluted minefield of red tape? Bring it on. I’m a human pair of scissors. Need a way out of that delicate social situation? Miss Manners is my Pythagoras. Call me.

Why? Because I’m smart. Smart about a lot of things that don’t get written down in scholarly books, like how to make the impossible happen, how to keep all the balls in the air at once and how to get along.

I wasn’t a straight-A student by any stretch of the imagination. (Ask Mama about the time she had to go retrieve my nail polish from Mr. Helmsing, my econ/government teacher at St. Paul’s who’d confiscated it during study hall.) I’m sure my parents fretted over whether I’d ever get into a college, much less graduate from one. “Why won’t she turn down that blankety-blank Madonna and study? How much eye shadow does one person need to apply before she reads ‘The Odyssey’? Maybe the heat from the hot rollers has affected her brain. For the love of all that is dressed in a power suit and sitting in the C suite, will she ever manage to get a job?”

I’m glad they worried about me. And I’m glad they wanted me to learn. Be educated. Be smart. But here’s the thing. Straight A’s are not indicators of smarts. Managing to make your way in this world even though it feels like everyone, including you, thinks you can’t. Now that takes smarts. And, despite not being able to remember who Menelaus’ brother was or how to find the square root of 64 or that Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, third Marquess of Salisbury, was the prime minister of England, I managed to turn out all right, thank you very much.

And so will this child.

Born and raised in Citronelle, Atkins shares stories about growing up and living in the South in her book, “They Call Me Orange Juice,” and at her blog

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