Jane was happy that school work would begin soon, formal schooling that is. Jane was already enrolled in a math course and a physics course with the University of the Free Mind, ones which would have challenged a younger Alex who’d been nominated for the Nobel Prize in physics twice and the Fields Medal in math once. She told Alex and Malena they were “fun” but was more interested in music.
Currently that was salsa music. She had traced its history and was building an impressive library of music in several salsa genres. She was spending a lot of time learning to read music and play the piano mode of a 61-key electronic keyboard. It was hooked up to her computer so that she could see the notes she played.
This was a great learning tool. Also, she could record those notes if she wanted to compose short snatches of music. And eventually longer ones. Kinds of music like sonatas had an overall structure which you could plug musical passages into. So did kinds of music like rock, jazz, and so on.
Nor were her concerns just intellectual or artistic. The pool in their back yard was good-sized as residential pools went: 20 feet wide by 50 long. It was 10 feet deep at the far end and two feet near the house and so could accommodate most ages of children. Every month from April to August the Kuznetsovs threw a pool party and eight to ten families came, a custom dating from the time when they’d raised their children.
So far Jane had been around for two of the parties and so had met several of the neighbor kids her age. Every Wednesday she and her friends had their own pool party, a practice Jane had organized. Malena usually and Alex occasionally was poolside at every one. If they had to go into the house Jane always came out of the pool and oversaw everything. She’d taken life guard training online and then at the Caltech’s nearby Braun Athletic Facility and took her duties very seriously.
Then the last Wednesday in August the Polytechnic School of Pasadena began its Autumn Session, an event Jane very much looked forward to with both happiness and fear. Would people like her? Would people hate her?
She voiced her fear at dinner one night.
Malena said, “Truthfully? Both. That’s the way we humans are, I’m sorry to say.”
Alex said, “You are lucky in your nature. You like people and show it, so most people like you back. It’s instinctive in you, from what I can see. You CAN make yourself more likable by deliberately adopting tactics that tend to make people like you, but that’s a dangerous path. It can become an intellectual game and diminish that caring soul you have. You become a puppet master and your life can take a sick turn.”
Her parents were silent for a time, eating and giving her time to absorb their words.
Jane ate and thought. Finally she nodded her head and gazed at Malena. She could sense her foster mother wanted to say more.
“It helps to do two things. One is to study hate and why people are that way. You can better recognize the symptoms, which are sometimes subtle or deliberately hidden. That way you can be prepared for attacks. These attacks include subtle insults and undermining comments, not just the obvious attacks you see in so many movies, such as physical violence. Sometimes people will undermine you behind your back while presenting a friendly front.”
Alex said, “The other thing is to develop coping behavior. This can include counter-attacks, physical or non-physical. We dislike suggesting this, but realistically it’s sometimes necessary. There are other kinds of coping behavior and we’ll teach you what we know about them. We know some, but we are hardly expert social engineers in this field.”
Jane was finished eating and was finishing drinking her iced tea. She nodded understanding.
“Thank you. It makes me feel so much better to see the big picture. Now I can study it and work out how to deal with it.”
“That’s our girl!” said Alex.
“Yes, I am. And you’re my adults!”
Malena’s and Alex’s two oldest of three children had gone to one of Pasadena’s four high schools. Malena, though a principal at one of the Glendale high schools to the west of Pasadena, had known the schools well enough to be happy their children went there. Their youngest, a boy, had been more academically inclined and advanced and so they had sent him to Polytechnic School on the southern border of CalTech. A private school, it was very good and more flexible in the courses students could take to graduate.
Still, Jane’s case would require special handling. Three weeks before school started Malena met with Polytechnic’s academic counselor.
Virginia Casey was a mid-forties café-au-lait woman of black Brazilian descent, dressed in a light blue suit of what Malena thought of as business casual. She welcomed Malena with a professional smile and invited her to sit. She addressed Malena as Dr. Powell but told Malena to call her Virginia.
“Thank you, Virginia. Please call me Malena.
“Now, we were happy with our son Gregor’s time at Polytechnic–“
Signaling “parents of alumnus”: big past and possible future donors. Virginia smiled back, signaling she knew very well the game Malena was playing.
“I hope he’s doing well.”
“Just finished architectural school and debating partnering in a start-up firm or going with an established firm.
“The reason why I’m here is that we’re fostering a young girl with exceptional circumstances. These will require a somewhat unconventional course of study.”
“We pride ourselves on treating every student as an individual.”
Signaling “We’ll make allowances but don’t push us too far.”
“Two years ago she was abandoned with no memory of her past, though she spoke a foreign language no one could identify.”
“NO memory? Such amnesia is rare.”
“Very. There’s no evidence she suffered any physical or emotional mistreatment or suffers from any deep-seated trauma. She’s generally a happy and cooperative girl but won’t let herself be pushed far out of her comfort zone. She’s a bit of a leader, but from example and enthusiasm not from any coercive actions.
“She picks up languages easily and quickly becomes fluent. You may know that Alex and I are enthusiastic salsa dancers and like to go to the more ethnic events. We bring Jane whom we’ve taught to dance. She became expert very quickly and we allow her to dance with adults though we keep very close eye on that activity.”
“She became friends with the children of adult dancers. Soon she was speaking Spanish fluently. It helped she already had some exposure to that language during the two years she spent at the Marymount orphanage before she came to us. She informs us her next language should be something harder, like German. Or better yet Russian or Chinese.”
“I’m beginning to get a feel for her personality. A propos, we teach Mandarin Chinese here at Poly.”
“She already took online courses from the University of the Free Mind–“
“Useful but California doesn’t give academic credit for those who pass those courses.”
“But California does recognize the California state-administered qualification tests. Here are her scores on the lower school courses she took.”
Malena passed over a manila folder she’d brought with her. Virginia took a form from a desk drawer and began to fill it in. Malena waited for her to finish.
“A little uneven but we could accept her at a general grade 11 level. She’d need to take grade 9 and 10 history and civics courses. But she has no science or math courses.”
“That’s where you will need to be extra flexible. You see, Jane is a math and science prodigy. She’s passed CalTech’s basic physics tests for graduation with an undergraduate degree. Ditto chemistry and biology. With the highest grades. She and Alex, whom you may recall is a twice-Nobel nominated physicist, argue about physics all the time in words I don’t even recognize.”
Virginia nodded. “Sounds as if previous learning has begun surfacing. An encouraging sign. Perhaps her memory of her forgotten life will begin returning too.”
Malena had considered that but Jane had said she took the Free Mind courses and they were all so easy they were almost boring.
“I certainly hope so. But here matters get even more difficult for you. At CalTech she is TEACHING a seminar in math. To Fields and Nobels winners.”
“That sounds even more as if she’s regaining her memory. Although…” She stared over Malena’s head.
She shook her head. “The matter is simple. We get it enough for our other exceptional children. We administer the state’s math and physics qualifying exams and the state accepts those as qualifications.”
Jane had passed the Free Mind tests for those subjects so she should have no problems with the state’s tests, rigorous but less so than the Free Mind tests. She had also passed the equivalents of High School First and Second Year English and Spanish. She told the counselor that and the woman made notes on the form she was filling out.
“Now,” Virginia said. “She’ll need to take a year of English, World History, and Human Development.” That last was on serious subjects: sex, drugs, violence, social bullying, personal relationships, and so on.
She filled out a few more boxes on her form.
“She could take a second year of Spanish. The online courses from the Free Mind are pretty good on theory, but a bit weak on practice. She’d get that from our classes.
“Still, you say she wants to learn another language, ‘something hard’? We teach Mandarin Chinese here. Think she’d go for that?”
Malena smiled. “More than go for it. She has firmly told us she WILL take a difficult language.”
Virginia smiled back. “‘Happy and cooperative’ you said. And apparently we can add firm in her opinions.
“Now about art–
“Here is where it’s best to consult with the student to select courses and extracurricular activities to match their tastes and talents. You’ll bring her in for the usual academic counseling the week before school opens?”
“Of course. Our schedule is entirely flexible. Whatever fits your schedule.”
The woman consulted her calendar, filled out an appointment slip, and handed it to Malena. She glanced at it, nodded, and tucked it into her purse.
“The last item is physical education. In addition to core conditioning, we encourage students to participate in a sport. For those we want to consult the student. But what would be your guess Jane would like?”
“I can only guess.”
“That’s why this form has yes/no/maybe.”
Malena took it from the woman and a ballpoint pen, then marked it with Yes, Maybe choices.
Summer: volleyball, tennis.
Winter: soccer, basketball.
Spring: softball, swimming/diving.
She handed it back, along with her slate computer ready to show Jane playing soccer.
Virginia put the paper into Jane’s folder on her desk and resignedly took up the slate and pushed the Go virtual button.
She soon sat up and watched all three minutes. Near the end when Jane did an upside-down goal kick she exclaimed quietly.
“Wow. We’ve got a star on our hands. If Jane wants to play soccer. Did she say why she did that upside down kick?”
“It was fun. And it had geometric advantages. Starting high it was harder to intercept.”
“Physical AND smart. Your Jane has an interesting future ahead of her.”