Suzanne Tobias

Kids and I have much to learn from each other

We’re having one of those dinner conversations where Jack starts out talking about math, which leads to Spanish, which leads to Europe, which reminds him of this awesome book about Ancient Rome, and hey, have you ever heard of a vomitorium?

“Not the place,” I tell him, shaking my head. “Look around. What are we doing?”

“Eating,” he says, then continues, unfazed, explaining a term I thought would be disgusting but turns out to be just “a passageway through which large crowds could exit an amphitheater.”

Who knew?

We’re at a strange and exciting place, the kids and I, that moment between past and future. They’re teaching me things every day. I try to keep up by reading aloud from the paper or spelling things for them, offering tiny tidbits of knowledge like peanuts held at arm’s length to draw a timid squirrel.

Jack’s new favorite books are a series called “Children’s Miscellany: Useless Information That’s Essential to Know.”

I’m not sure how essential it is to know that the supernova Zeta Thauri was so bright when it exploded in 1054 that it could be seen during the day, but my son loves to hold stuff like that over my old and pathetic little brain.

One recent morning he turned to a page titled “50 Easily Misspelled Words” and read the title aloud over breakfast. Like a dare.

“Fifty easily misspelled words,” he said. “Huh.”

Then he glanced sideways at me, knowing how this would go.

I looked up from my coffee because, being an English major and a writer, the phrase “misspelled words” always catches my attention.

“OK,” I said. “Shoot.”

“Acceptable,” he began.




“A lot.”


“I know,” Jack said. “Why do people always think that’s one word?”

We continued our breakfast spelling bee, eventually moving it to my bathroom so I could brush my teeth: argument, believe, calendar, changeable, conscience, definitely, embarrass, exceed.

I paused briefly on “judgment,” then remembered to drop the “e.” I spelled knowledge, leisure and lightning.

“Millennium,” Jack said.



“What?! What is it?”

“Two n’s.”


For the record, I also missed “occasion” and “questionnaire.” But as I told my son, three out of 50 ain’t bad.

“You said ‘ain’t,’ ” he said, smiling.

“Pop culture reference,” I told him. “You know, ‘Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad?’ Meat Loaf?”

He stared back at me blankly, no doubt wondering how this conversation had evolved into loaves of ground beef with onions and spices.

Sigh. The boy has so much to learn.