When we first returned to the United States from Greece, I was forced to meet with a child psychologist to be placed in school. The idea was that during our little meeting, he could assess my mental abilities, and then route me into the class I was most suited for. This being an era of greater trust, the child psychologist and I met alone while my father sat outside reading The Iliad.
The first part of our meeting went rather well, as it consisted of me putting together a puzzle, matching various shapes to each other, and putting blocks through holes. The psychologist took notes while I thought about lunch.
The next part of the meeting was our interview, and this is when things started to get a little rocky.
“Who are your friends,” the psychologist asked.
“Well,” I said, carefully, “my best friend is Anna. But I also like to play with Yannis, Aristeides, Dimitrios, and Eleni.”
“Ah. And what do you do?”
“Sometimes we play in the back yard. When my father is not working, he takes us up to the castle. We also like to go out on the fishing boats,” I said, in the casual mixture of Greek and English that we used at home. “When the carousel at the beach is working, we ride that. And on Saturdays, we go to Church. Nikolos says that the priest uses wine from Turkey in the services, but Evadne says he is lying.”
“Ah. Do you, er, like to go places with your parents?”
“Sometimes my father and I take the ferry to Athens. The last time we went he bought me honeycomb and we went to the Acropolis.”
The conversation went on in this vein for some time, as I patiently explained daily life in rural Greece to the psychologist, rattling off lists of my friends and what they did. I talked about the spring lambing, fishing with dynamite, visiting the Roman hot pools on Corfu. He took copious amounts of notes, and seemed a bit dense to me.
Finally, he called my father in.
“Well,” he said, “I think your daughter is basically as intelligent as other people her age. She certainly has a lively imagination! But she does have some communication difficulties and you may want to consider taking her to a psychologist to work on that.”
“Communication difficulties? Really?”
“Well, she uses a lot of made up words, and has some strange nicknames for her friends.”
“Ah. Yes. Well, you see then, I think it may be you that has the communication difficulties,” my father said.
“Well, you see,” my father said, gently ushering me to the door, “she speaks Greek, and you don’t.”
The child psychologist was sputtering as the door opened onto the bright August day, and he followed us out onto the porch while my father opened the door of the Volvo for me.
“But…wait,” the psychologist said.
My father turned politely in his direction, with the utterly disinterested expression that he reserves for conversations with the truly stupid.
“Is there a problem?”
“But…I mean…you didn’t disclose that in any of the…I mean, how was I…”
“Well,” my father said, “why didn’t you try asking her? Or was the obvious question ‘do you speak a language other than English’ absent from your little checklist of questions?”
And with that, he slid into the car and we drove off to go get lunch at Goody’s.