“I have a sweet tooth, and sugar makes me hyper,” said my granddaughter Sarah, age four, out of the blue.
Sarah and I were seated side by side in folding chairs outside the garage at her house. Facing us in another chair a few feet away was her sister Maddie, the seven-year-old, busily writing a lesson plan. We were playing school.
At the time, I was grandkid-sitting while Mom and Dad were Christmas shopping.
“Actually,” Sarah continued, “I have two sweet teethiz — one here and one here.” She carefully touched the dimple on each cheek by way of illustration. “That means I get twice as hyper.”
I nodded solemnly. “Wow, you have two of them,” I observed. “Do your parents know?”
“Yes, they know. They told me about it.”
“All right, class!” Maddie interrupted. “Settle down! Everyone take your seats!” Sarah looked over at me and shrugged.
“Today, we’re going to learn about caring for pets,” said Maddie. She spoke with a robust, effortless air of authority, having been schooled, as it were, in proper classroom procedure for lo, these several years.
Sarah also played her role correctly, for the same reason. I did my best to follow their lead.
Using a stuffed dog as a prop, Maddie demonstrated the correct way to pick up, hold, pet, and feed your pooch. Then she had us repeat each lesson, to prove we were paying attention. We were, of course, graded on our performance.
Next, Maddie administered an oral quiz, beginning with me.
“Rocky, name five breeds of dog,” she said, holding her pad and pencil at the ready.
Ha, I thought, this is too easy.
My dog Paco is a Border Collie, so I said, “Number one: the Border Collie.”
Maddie wrote on her pad, then looked up. “Okay, that’s one,” she said.
Maddie and Sarah also have a dog — a Treeing Walker Coonhound named Lola. “Number two: the Treeing Walker Coonhound,” I said.
Maddie wrote that on her pad and looked up. “You have two points so far. Go ahead.”
“The Miniature Schnauzer,” I said confidently.
She looked up in surprise. “The what?” she said.
“Miniature Schnauzer,” I repeated.
“Never heard of it,” she replied. “You now have two right answers and one wrong answer.”
“Hey, no fair!” I said. “The Miniature Schnauzer really is a breed of dog, honest. I can’t help it if you don’t know that.”
“Okay, new rule!” she said. “Name five breeds of dog that I’ve heard of!”
Indignantly, I said, “Bishon Frise!”
“Wrong again. Now you have two right and two wrong. If you get three wrong, you fail the test.”
“Okay, okay, let me think.”
Hmmm, I mused, Maddie is a smart kid. She must be familiar with all sorts of dog breeds. I just have to choose wisely.
When she was younger, her other grandparents had a couple of Dachshunds. “Okay,” I said, “Number three: the Dachshund.”
“Good,” she said, writing on her pad. “Now you have three points. Next.”
My brother Lee is partial to Chihuahuas. “The Chihuahua,” I said — and immediately feared that Maddie might not know what the little things are called.
But she did. “Correct again,” she announced. “And number five?”
By then, the names of all sorts of dog breeds were swimming in my head, but all were terrible choices — Shar-Pei, Malamute, Airedale, Lhasa Apso, Yorkie, Pomeranian. Why couldn’t I think of a simple, familiar breed?
Then, to my great relief, my brain unfroze.
We live just 20 miles from the University of Georgia, home of one of the most memorable, and to me, most mortifying slogans in the world of higher education: How ’bout them dogs?
“Number five: the Bulldog,” I said.
“That gives you five points. Very good,” said the teacher.
Before long, Maddie ran out of teaching material, so she turned the class over to Sarah. They traded chairs.
Sarah donned the mantle of authority as easily as Maddie had, although her lesson plan was less comprehensive. By then, however, the novelty was fading, and the class broke up by mutual agreement.
Five minutes later, we were lined up on the couch watching Blu and Jewel face off against the evil Nigel in Rio.