Purposes of a No. 2 pencil

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Dusty classroom, nervous chatter, small students drumming their fingers lightly across the rough wood of the old school desks. Test day meant filling in tiny bubbles with the mark of a brightly colored mustard yellow pencil and gently blowing away any excess of the pink eraser shavings. Test day meant trying to cram your entire first and last name in the small spaces provided (in all my years of schooling, my name never, ever fit) taking a deep breath, and hoping for the best. Test day meant orange slices, graham crackers, and knowing that summer break was on the horizon.

I remember wanting so desperately to succeed at these tests that only accurately measure what you remember on a given day. Yesterday you may have remembered more or less. But all that counted is what you could recount and regurgitate to add your score to a slew of other scores so people with high heels and thick beards can tell you whether or not you pass or fail.

In our little school, however, we view the purpose of a No. 2 pencil quite differently. A pencil is used when you want to sketch a quick drawing of how the cat looked this morning when he enjoyed his bowl of food that you secretly brought in the kitchen.

A pencil is used when you want to underline your favorite passage in a book that you just cannot put down. A pencil is used as a sword for your action figures, to cross off items on your to do list, to write a thank you note to your grandmother for the sweet Christmas gifts. So when our homeschooled child participated in a first-grade practice exam, I was nervous for her. I was anxious for her. I sharpened those pencils for her and even put the sharpener in her purse.

All those former ounces of 6-year-old perfectionism came bubbling to the surface.

But what a first grader is required to know is not rocket science. It is not pre-calculus, it is not life altering.

What she saw was a fun opportunity to meet new friends, show off her Hello Kitty purse, and fill in bubbles with those 25 dangerously sharpened pencils her mother packed for her.

And she did just fine.

Who I was in elementary school, who I was in college, was not measured by a Scantron machine.

My friends did not love me because of my ACT scores.

And so will life be for this generation. We will be remembered for how we love and serve others when no one is looking. How we pray for the sick, help the needy, offer our pencil to the person who watched theirs roll under the desk in front of them.

The degree hanging in a cheap cedar frame on our walls, the money that your bank account holds, or the home with too much space and too little time to clean it will matter not.

Today, we are closing the books for a few and inviting some sweet friends over to play. We are enjoying life and learning from it, one handwritten story at a time.

Christie Elkins is a Campbell County native whose columns appear weekly on the Lifestyles page of the LaFollette Press. She’s a mother of three and a full-time blogger at www.mywalkwitheden.com