I remember the day I brought home a particular fifth grade report card. Mine, unfortunately.
It contained the usual dismaying news about my test scores – but also something else. Under “comments,” my teacher – perhaps grasping for something nice to say – wrote: “If Pat can learn to keep his mind from wandering, he has the potential to become a really good student.”
That was something like writing, “If Pat can learn to keep from falling asleep, he has the potential to become a really good air traffic controller.”
“Potential” seems to be one of the most frustratingly ambiguous words in the language. Adj. Capable of being but not yet in existence. It’s the word that means that any kid is capable of becoming a president, a ballerina or a getaway car driver. Or even all three.
But can anyone really predict what kids will be when they grow up – besides just grown up? It’s hard enough to predict which horse will win at Emerald Downs – although you can’t like the chances of any thoroughbred named “Lame Warrior.”
We are told that Einstein didn’t even speak until he was four – at which time he said, “Relatively speaking, I prefer the pudding.”
Thomas Edison’s teachers’ thought him quite stupid in his early years. But when he got older, a light bulb suddenly came on. He went on to create lots of other things – inspiring later generations of inventors – and thus making possible the Ronco Pasta maker.
Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard. Now that he can afford the tuition, maybe he’ll go back someday.
The point seems to be that there is no way of really knowing how things will turn out for anybody. Except – maybe – in the area of athletics. At least some people think so – and are willing to put money on it.
Just recently, the big-time soccer team Real Madrid (beware of imitators) signed a 7-year-old kid from Argentina to a contract. At that rate, he should be comfortably retired by the time he starts shaving.
Less than a month ago, a 9-year-old girl qualified for a world amateur golf tournament.
Her publicists say she has already made two holes-in-one in her brief career. I don’t mean to pooh-pooh her accomplishment, but my nephew has had three holes-in-one – which he achieved all in one day at Tukwila’s Family Fun Center. (I’ll wager that 9-year old girl didn’t have to get her ball through a windmill.)
Still, home genetic testing kits claim to be able to give at least a glimpse into your child’s athletic potential. You simply send in a sample of their saliva – along with several bucks – and get an assessment of their genes.
If the result comes back saying, “We think your kid has what it takes to become a major league baseball player” – it may mean that your kid’s spit indicates real sports potential.
Or it may mean that your kid is already secretly using chewing tobacco.
Pat Cashman can be reached at email@example.com.