Child Robot
Originally uploaded by rustedrobot.

I had planned to write today about my long weekend in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, a town that I’ve been wanting to visit for some years now. I love towns that get most of their support from large university populations, for that’s where you’re sure to find cheap food of varying quality, great music scenes and little boutique stores that don’t smack of Wal-Mart and Lowe’s. But that’s not what I’m going to write about. If you want more information on Chapel Hill, I highly recommend you just go visit – there’s plenty to do and see and it’s well worth your time.

Instead, I’m going to share a story of a little girl we met on the plane ride home yesterday. In short, you really do meet the damndest people sometimes. Steph and I took Southwest Airlines from Raleigh up to Manchester, NH and even though our intinery said “direct,” it wasn’t a non-stop flight. That’s one of the little (annoying) quirks about Southwest – if you stay on the same plane, but stop 14 times, it’s still a “direct” flight.

Regardless, our “direct” flight stopped in Baltimore, which gave us the opportunity to move up near the front during the switchover. We got up to the third row and planted ourselves nicely, anticipating a nice, quick exit off the plane when we got to New Hampshire. Since they always let children traveling alone on the plane first, it came as no surprise that a small girl, probably about 11 or 12 years old, took the third seat in our row (the window).

We didn’t really know one way or another if this was her first flight or if she was nervous, so Steph and I engaged her in some conversation that might help her take her mind off the idea of traveling alone. We quickly realized she was perfectly fine. For the next hour and fifteen minutes, we were treated to a very robotic-like conversation where the little girl was very careful to pro-nun-see-ate every word to utter perfection and a display of level of politeness and grammar that is extremely rare these days in adults, much less children.

The girl was a sixth-grader, on her way to her grandparents house in Massachusetts and she proceeded to tell us that she had seen all six Star Wars movies five times each. She showed us her Queen Amidala dolls, of which there were four and also let it be known in no uncertain terms that she was addicted to Star Wars. She had a 635 page book with her, including a bookmark that actually had a timer on it. Yes, a timer. She could press a button when she started reading so she could gauge how long she had been reading. When she stopped, she could set it again so that she knew how much time had elapsed since she stoppped reading. “I love HUGE books,” she she told us proudly.

Stephanie, clearly much better at general conversation with pre-teen girls that I am, then asked her about school and what she liked to study. I predicted very quickly in my mind that she would say “reading” and almost immeadiately after that thought entered my head, it came out of her mouth. I could have never predicted the next subject, though.

“I can’t take this class until eighth grade I think, but I really like anatomy,” she said, then added “most of all I like studying the human brain.” As you might imagine, it came as no surprise that she wanted to go to medical school. Her mother was also a doctor, so she very matter-of-factly told us that she’s already read through her mother’s adult anatomy books at home.

It wasn’t long at all before we were being methodically schooled on the many different sections of the brain and where they were located within the skull. Steph, impressed, jokingly said “wow, it looks like you’re ready for medical school now!” The girl looked at us, nary a smile on her face and said “Yes. Except for the cerebral cortex. I don’t know much about that part yet.”

I couldn’t help but laugh to myself. Here’s this little girl, on a clear path, obviously intelligent, well-spoken, painfully polite and yet I found myself wondering if the poor little thing has ever had a fun day in her entire life. I couldn’t, for the life of me, picture her screaming with glee on a roller coaster. Instead, I pictured her sitting on it expressionsless, pondering the effects of kinetic energy or what formulas to use to calculate the gravitational effect of the roller coaster car turning upside down.

Alas, a smidge of humanity became evident when we found out that she did actually have a best friend who was also coming to visit in Massachusetts during her vacation. Thank god. Unfortunately, all I could imagine were the two friends sitting at the library, engrossed in discussion on the complexities in the Middle East or the latest studies on the impact of Pharmaceuticals and prescription drugs in the healthcare business.

Truth be told, she’s probably a regular, intelligent kid with a keen interest in learning who may have been a little guarded talking to two people she’d never met. And I’m pretty sure she has her share of fun. I hope. It also gave me a little hope in the next generation, after all the articles I come across about how the next-gen are nothing but a bunch of pre-stoned kids whose eyes are constantly glazed over in classrooms because video games and the internet are dancing in their heads.

Time will tell, of course. We may very well have been sitting next to a future president or leader of the medical world……