''Were schools held in caves when you were little?'' the kid asked me.
I tousled his hair. ''My, aren't you the clever one.''
''Ow,'' he whined. ''Leggo.''
''Sorry. A lock of your hair must have snagged on my ring.''
''You're not wearing a ring.'' He squirmed out of my grasp. ''So did they have school back then or what?''
''Some days it felt a lot like 'or what,' but most days, it was pencils, books, teachers' dirty looks - the usual.''
The kid scratched his head. ''What were pencils for? Science experiments?''
''For writing. Did you think I used chisels and stone tablets?''
I rolled my eyes. ''Oh, sure, we rode our dinosaurs to school every day and left them to frolic in the fields. We fed them when our teacher, Oog, let us out for recess. Mine, Rex, was wonderful at eating geography homework. He had a sweet tooth for the Andes, and found Iceland refreshing.''
The kid nodded. ''That's what I thought.''
''C'mon, I made that up. I'm not that old. I rode a school bus, just like you. I sat a classroom desk inside a brick building, just like you. I did my math problems on my fingers, just like you.''
''Why didn't you use your calculator? Every cell phone has a calculator app.''
I pinched the bridge of my nose. ''We didn't have calculators. Or cell phones.''
''How did you watch YouTube?''
''There was no ... Look, kid, we learned how to add numbers in our heads. We used paper and pencils ...''
''We pretended they were styluses and iPads.''
''Oh. So was it hard taking notes on your laptop with all the kids crowded into the same room?''
''I do not date back to the one-room school house. Is my beard that white? Never mind. Sure, some of us kept notes on our laptops at quiz time. But we tried not to let the teacher catch us. One kid wrote his test notes on his arm. He got caught. Not many kids had tattoos back then. Especially not of the Pythagorean theorem.''
The kid shook his head. ''I guess you didn't need computers back then. There wasn't very much knowledge back then. I bet you didn't have history classes, right?''
''You wanna be part of history?'' I practiced my mathematics. By the time I counted to 10, I decided to go for 20. After that, I'd run out of fingers and toes. ''Look, kid, don't you have a back-to-school sale to get to?''
''I'm supposed to be shopping with Mom right now. She makes me try on clothes. I hate it.''
''Now that, we have in common. When the bags of hand-me-downs came from my cousins...''
The kid wrinkled his nose. ''Ew.''
''It wasn't so bad. It's not like I had to wear Cousin Cindy's dresses or anything. There was the year of Weird Cousin Waldo's checkerboard slacks. But it built character. That's what Dad told me, anyway.''
The kid mulled that over. ''Maybe I better get to the store and help Mom pick out clothes.'' He took off on a run.
I think the kid learned something.
---- Shop for Cole's latest novel, ''Bash and the Chicken Coop Caper'' (B&H Kids, publishers) at bookstores. Shop for Cole at firstname.lastname@example.org or on the Burton W. Cole page on Facebook.