Saturday, December 03, 2005

They say her first word was, "Money."

Although my first word was not money, it did top out my top five first words. I'm sure I was trying to say, "Mommy," but it always sounded like money.

One of the inherent traits of my personality is a fascination with numbers. During my school years, I was in the advanced math classes and I adored, absolutely ADORED calculus. Sick, right? I would have continued with my math tradition in college, except for the fact I was scared of the math program at the University of Minnesota and the notion all the teachers spoke to the chalkboards in languages resembling broken English.

But as a child, oh, how I loved math. Dana tells stories about how her kindergarten teacher was shocked to see how she could read; my teachers were stunned by how well I could add and subtract. One of my favorite games as a child was to count pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters.

When I was three, I had a friend who lived across the street. Her name was Amy and I've mentioned her before. I do not remember which post it was, but I did talk about her before. Amy was two years older than me and I suppose I tried to understand her level of intellect because she was my b.e.s.t. friend and lived the closest to me.

One of my early memories is of a time playing at her house. They had a nice one level rambler with a basement full of possibilities. Amy had THE best Barbie toys. I remember the Barbie house/hotel that actually had an elevator with it. We would play for hours with this. One of the other "toys" Amy had was a chalkboard. With neither of us being in school quite yet, we still tried to play teacher.

As a three-year old, I would try to "teach" Amy things. Her parents had just gotten home from the grocery store and I asked them, politely because I was a good mannered kid (most of the time) if we could use the receipt to play with. I wanted realistic prices.

They obliged, shaking their heads in that "kids are strange" way. In the basement, I had Amy sitting in her desk and I would write out math problems on the board.

For example: if you buy four bananas at $0.15 each and also a gallon of milk at $1.50, how much would it cost? Yes, I knew the answer was $2.10. No, I didn't figure out tax.

After a while, we went upstairs to play with her parents. They had a jar of change and I started counting it. This is when they decided to test me. Her parents, Barb and Terry, gave me various bills and asked for change. This is when they realized I could make change for a twenty dollar bill.

Immediately, Barb ran to the phone to call my folks. Mom answers the phone to hear, "Did you know your 3-year old can make change for a $20?!?"

Mom's answer, "Yeah. Can't Amy do that?"

This may have been the clue to my parents that this is not typical 3-year old behavior. And an indication of my future career in the banking industry.

Joni, a friend of my mom's and a really cool woman, was sometimes put in charge of babysitting me. These days were always fun, primarily because Joni's idea of babysitting was to go bar hopping in Waterloo, Iowa in the afternoons. I enjoyed these afternoons and thought nothing of it until I was much older. One of the bars, the Embassy*, had a video horse race game. I also remember playing poker. I understood that a flush beats a straight, but that a full house was better than a flush.

While at these bars, my main talent was to find any grandparent in the joint and pretend they were my own grandparent. "Grandma!" I would cry and hold out my arms for a hug. This worked wonders. Mom and Dad never had to pay Joni to watch me. I would get enough nickels, dimes, quarters, and bags of chips bought for me to last the afternoon. Also, Joni would get to raid the pile for a drink or two.

During one of these afternoons, I was sitting with a pile of change. At the tender age of three, I knew this pile was about $8. It was a large pile. A man, thinking he was sly and he could teach a child a lesson, said to me, "I have this $20 bill. I'll trade you for your pile of change." He taunted and honestly thought my reaction would be, 'But this pile is larger.'

Not quite. My response was to look at my pile of change and back at him. I said, "Deal."

He was a good guy and held up his bargain, walking away and shaking his head, muttering, "I can't believe I just got scammed by a toddler."

In elementary school, my favorite activity was timed tests in addition and subtraction. When we got to multiplication tables, I still had a blast. Long division was fun and high school proved great times of doing problems that involved the front and back side of the paper to solve.

Understanding the value of money and how to count at an early age made me a bit unique and has followed me in life. I am known to many as a "math geek" and Dana jokes that I do algebra problems for fun. My skills at calculus are not what they were in high school, but sometimes I have the urge to purchase a math textbook just to work problems.

And, to leave you, I have a joke that Dana found. I actually think of it more as an English language joke, but some may take it as a math joke:

"Friends don't let friend drink and derive."

*The Embassy was one of the bars my mom served/bartended at for years. It was one of the first gay-friendly bars in Waterloo, partly because of my mom. The community found out that she didn't care who touched who, as long as the crowd kept controlled. She found it to be profitable and many of our family's benefits were from this group of patrons. Mom worked at one other bar, but we didn't frequent that one as often, since it was in a less-well-off part of town. I remember visiting the Embassy years later and was still recognized by the bartenders. Other than the video games (which were actual gambling games) and the bags of pretzels, I always enjoyed the "kiddie cocktails" I could get and playing pull-tabs. Yep, a classy beginning for this girl.