The Brownsons were a family of achievers. Achilles, the father, was a medical doctor specializing in brain surgery. His wife, Eulalie, worked as a professor of linguistics. She focused on attempting to reconstruct the language of the ancient Etruscans.
Determined to create and rear children who were as proficient as their parents, or even more so, Achilles and Eulalie spent a great deal of money on their first child, Anemone, who eagerly lapped up learning as well as learning laps in the swimming pool behind their rather substantial house.
When Anemone was four, her brother Isadore joined the family of achievers. From the start, Isadore took to games and books and educational toys of various kinds. For a time his mother, the professional linguist, thought that Isadore was born speaking ancient Etruscan, but then she decided it was just precocious babble. Sometimes, in fact, Eulalie wondered whether she should continue studying Etruscan or move on to Hittite or perhaps to Baby Babble. In any case, she had few people to whom she could communicate her linguistic concerns.
Anemone and Isadore grew in height and in the depth and breadth of their learning. The Brownsons, according to their peers–who were few–were and had the perfect family. All was well, as Anemone studied Italian at the age of eight and Isadore worked on German when he was six. Then everything changed.
Eulalie discovered, to her surprise, that she was pregnant. Not to worry, she assured herself and her husband. The child, whether male or female, would no doubt be as accomplished as their first two. By the time this child was three or four, Number Three would no doubt have absorbed Italian from Anemone and German from Isadore and begun his or her own independent study of Latin and Greek.
Then the Brownsons had a surprise. Eulalie was pregnant with twins. This prediction was confirmed one winter night when a boy and a girl emerged. They were small and lively and healthy and not quite cute, but they would be in due time, their parents assured themselves.
For some reason, Eulalie insisted on calling the twins Jack and Jill.
“Why such ordinary names?” asked Isadore the brain surgeon.
“I don’t know. It just came to me that these two should be called Jack and Jill.”
Eulalie the linguist got her way. After all, she had gone through the trouble of giving birth to twins, so her husband thought she should have a say in naming them.
Anemone and Isadore often recited the nursery rhyme about Jack and his sister Jill to the twins. They used English on these occasions. On other occasions Anemone spoke to them in Italian, Isadore in German, and their mother in what she hoped was ancient Etruscan or a variant thereof.
The twins had a nanny, since the Brownsons were totally busy with their careers. The older children had a well-educated governess to oversee their studies until a suitable school could be found. Eulalie often lamented that a suitable school might never be found, but her husband assured her that Greta the Governess would guide their children through history and geography and mathematics and perhaps, eventually, the Swedish of her native land.
Then something odd happened. As Jack and Jill grew older and Nora the Nanny was no longer needed, Jack and Jill tended to ignore the educational efforts of their parents and the governess. The twins spoke only English. They stared at those who attempted to speak to them in Etruscan or German or Italian. Their father the brain surgeon attempted to teach them the names of the bones in the human body as well as the parts of the human brain. Jack and Jill just laughed at the funny names.
They showed only the slightest interest in books and puzzles and mathematical formulas. When no one else was watching, they played video games, because they did have access to smart phones and tablets and computers. “When no one else was watching” meant the middle of the night, after Greta had gone home and everyone else in the house had gone to sleep. These nighttime adventures online led to sleepiness in the morning, and Jack and Jill often dozed off during their lessons, which they found not only boring but useless in their world of fantasy and games.
Greta the Governess was afraid she would be blamed for the twins’ lack of erudition and what seemed to her to be their constant desire to take naps during lessons. Greta was afraid to suggest to Drs. Eulalie and Achilles that the young twins might have narcolepsy, a disorder the name of which she found after typing “sleepiness” into a search engine.
This situation continued for some time. Then one night Eulalie had insomnia. On her way to the kitchen to get some warm milk, she heard laughing coming from the twins’ bedroom. Slowly and quietly she opened the door and peeped inside.
There they were, her twins Jack and Jill, wide awake and playing video games.
“Jack! Jill! Why aren’t you asleep? You shouldn’t be playing video games in the middle of the night. You shouldn’t be playing video games at all! It’s not what we do in this family.”
Jill smiled at her mother. “Mom, it’s so much fun, and this is the only time we can play. No one will let us play games during the daytime.”
“Of course not. Those games are useless.”
Both twins started to cry.
Then Eulalie had an epiphany. As she gathered her twins into her arms, she began to wonder why she had insisted on giving them such ordinary names. Maybe that was why they liked video games. Hadn’t her own studies and research convinced her that people were different and needed to pursue their own interests?
“Tell you what. We will give you an hour each day to play your games, if you promise to sleep during the night. You need your sleep. You know that, don’t you?”
“Miss Greta thinks we have narcolepsy. Whatever that is.”
“Does she, Jack? Well, I will have to disabuse her of that notion.”
In the following weeks, during that precious one hour a day, Jack and Jill taught their favorite games to Anemone and Isadore while Greta read Swedish mysteries. And when they all grew up, the four Brownson offspring and their governess formed their own highly successful company, Brownson Games, Inc., featuring games in English, Italian, German, and Swedish. There was no need to produce any diversions in Etruscan.