When Aliana closed the front door, she watched the parents back out of the driveway and head down the street. She looked at her cell phone for the time and grinned. She only had about an hour with the kid she babysat for before bed. Then she could have the night to herself for another four hours or so.
It wasn’t that she didn’t like hanging out with Matthew. He was a good kid. He was funny, smart, and creative. They always had a good time playing games and working on arts and crafts projects. However, it was a Thursday night. Alianna didn’t normally agree to babysit so late on a school night but she wanted the extra money for her prom dress. That was two months away and she knew she needed to get a dress before all the good ones were taken.
Her parents were less than thrilled with her babysitting late on a school night when she had a huge test in chemistry the next day. Aliana made a deal with her parents that she would study hard for the test the moment Matthew went to bed. Whether she would retain a lot of the information or not, she wasn’t sure. However, her parents couldn’t say that she didn’t try.
Chemistry wasn’t Aliana’s strong suit in school. In fact, she was pretty sure she was failing the class. She had gone for extra help after school. She just didn’t understand anything her teacher said though. Aliana would ask a question and her teacher would answer in riddles. When Aliana asked for clarification, her teacher would roll her eyes and repeat the exact same answer leaving Aliana to nod and agree and pretend she knew what was going on in the class.
She even went to the tutoring center and got help from two other science teachers and a couple of students who worked at the center. It wasn’t something Aliana could wrap her head around. Chemistry wasn’t her strong suit and she had come to terms with that. She wasn’t going to be using chemistry in her life anyway. She knew she’d be writing or doing art for a living. She didn’t care too much for science experiments unless it was something simple and fun with Matthew.
Aliana didn’t have much hope she’d pass this chemistry test in the morning. It didn’t matter how much she studied. It didn’t matter how late she stayed up babysitting. She wasn’t going to do well regardless.
She made her way into the kitchen where Matthew sat at the table doodling on a piece of paper. His bowl of soup was pushed to the edge of the table showing he was done with it as though he were at a restaurant. Aliana picked it up and tossed it into the sink. She’d do the dishes after Matthew went to bed and before studying.
“How’s it going, Matthew?” she asked, sitting down across from him at the table.
Matthew looked up from his coloring and grinned. It was almost as though he had just realized she was there even though they had greeted one another before his parents left. He sat up and pushed the paper toward her.
“Look at what I did.”
Aliana grinned. “Wow, look at what you did,” She repeated impressed.
Matthew’s paper was filled with black lines, swirls, and shapes overlapping one another making an interesting picture. The white space in between made art as well.
“I picked up my black marker and kept gliding it across the paper. I tried not to pick it up so I could let it keep making shapes.”
“That’s very clever of you.”
“Do you want to color it in?”
Aliana took her phone out of her pocket and checked the time. “Sure, but you need to get ready for bed in about 45 minutes.”
Matthew frowned. “But you just got here.”
Aliana forced a smile. She reached for a red marker. “I know, I’m sorry. I just arrive when your parents tell me to.”
Matthew sighed. He grabbed a blank piece of paper began to make new lines with his black maker.
“Normally I’d let you stay up a little later than what your parents say but it’s a school night.”
Matthew chuckled. “Yeah, I know. I get it.”
Aliana smiled. She was grateful to have such a good six-year-old to watch over. He had his moments for sure, but for the most part he knew what was going on and was always well-behaved. He knew the difference between right and wrong and he respected his parents as well as Aliana no matter if they were giving him what he wanted or not.
“Hey, I have school tomorrow too. It’s not just you that has to get up early in the morning,” Aliana said. “I have a test tomorrow morning.”
“A test for what?”
Matthew looked up at her and Aliana stuck out her tongue in disgust. He giggled before looking down at his paper again.
“Chemistry is a type of science right?” he asked.
Aliana nodded her head.
“Science is good. Why don’t you like it?”
“It’s not that I don’t like it,” Aliana said, “it’s just that it’s confusing to me and I don’t fully understand it. I don’t think I’m going to do well on the test.”
She actually didn’t like science at all very much but she didn’t want to tell that to Matthew. He enjoyed science and she wanted him to enjoy it for as long as he was able to. Matthew loved school overall and Aliana wanted that to last for him. She knew people tended to dislike school as they got older because they have a better sense of the world and no one likes homework or projects or even sitting in a classroom for seven hours straight. She didn’t want Matthew, barely out of elementary school, to already start not enjoying his time at school.
“Did you study?” he asked.
“I have been and I plan to keep studying once you go to bed.”
“Did you go for extra help?”
“And you still don’t get it?”
Aliana looked up from coloring. Matthew stared her down. She shook her head. “Chemistry is hard. You’ll understand when you learn it… though you’ll probably learn it with ease.”
“Chemistry is the periodic table, right?” Matthew asked.
Aliana narrowed her eyes. “Yes,” she said, wondering where he was going with this.
Matthew smiled. He jumped off his chair and ran from the kitchen and into his bedroom. Aliana waited patiently wondering what he was doing. She looked at her cell phone again and realized he needed to start getting ready for bed soon.
After a few minutes, Matthew came rushing back to the kitchen with a small binder. He put it on top of the table over the paper Aliana was coloring in.
“What’s this?” she asked.
Matthew smiled. He sat back down in his own chair while Aliana opened the binder. She immediately laughed.
“You have coloring pages of the periodic table?”
“Is that what your test is on?”
“Part of it, yeah,” Aliana said.
“Use that to study,” Matthew said. “If you notice I colored in the squares according to their element. H2O is blue and I used a darker blue to make waves.”
Aliana nodded. She had noticed that. That would be easy to remember, even though it was already common knowledge that H2O was water. She didn’t want to say that to him though.
“Copper I colored in using the color copper. Same with Nickle,” Matthew explained. “Sometimes you need to use your imagination to understand something. Even something as complex as science.”
“Matthew, this is awesome.”
“Take it with you. You can bring it back later.”
As a thank you, Aliana let Matthew stay up for an extra fifteen minutes. As soon as he was in bed, she flipped through the binder.
Of course, not everything she was currently learning in Chemistry was in the binder, but she found it funny that he had coloring pages of the periodic table itself plus coloring pages of the various elements explaining each one. If her chemistry teacher had given her these coloring pages, then she would have no problem understanding anything at all.
Aliana never once opened her chemistry textbook or notebook to study her notes. She studied the coloring pages Matthew had let her borrow.
In the morning, when Aliana received her test packet, she smiled at the first page. It was a blank periodic table, something her teacher didn’t tell them about the test. As her class groaned collectively about the surprise extra page, Aliana picked up her pen and began to fill in the boxes. She didn’t memorize where the elements went – she memorized which colors were in which box. By remembering the colors and drawings, she remembered the elements and where they went.
If she passed this test – which she now had full confidence that she would – she was going to take Matthew out for ice cream this weekend.