How to make your kid a smartass

Teach him Roman numerals.

It started out innocently enough. There’s a children’s song, “18 Wheels on a Big Rig,” by a band called Trout Fishing in America. The entire theme of this song is counting to 18 in different ways: forward, backward, even numbers, odd numbers, and Roman numerals. On paper, you wouldn’t think it amusing, but when you hear “vee, vee eye, vee eye eye, vee eye eye eye, eye ex…wheels on a big rig,” I challenge even the most jaded parent not to laugh.

So, upon witnessing his mom and dad busting up over this song playing on his “XM Kids” station one day, Marcus had to ask. “What’s vee eye vee eye eye?” Not wanting to let a serendipitous educational opportunity slip through our fingers, we conducted an impromptu lesson in basic Roman numerals right there in the car.

To my surprise, Roman numerals are actually quite ubiquitous in our world, as Marcus’ flossing of this newfound knowledge proved. Movie titles, books, instructions, business signs, billboards… he noticed them all and took full advantage of opportunities to validate his knowledge with me. Star Wars DVD covers are apparently a great self-teaching tool – episode “eye” through “vee eye,” make for fun flashcards with mnemonic cues built right in. Bad guy Anakin is on 3, Darth Vader on 5, the “Jedi version” of Luke on 6.

When Marcus turned five earlier this year, he discovered a new application for Roman numerals. When you’re a cute five year old, people will talk to you. And at some point in the conversation, they’ll ask, “how old are you?”

On one such occasion, Marcus held up 2 fingers.

“You’re only two? You’re older than that!”

With an impatient sigh Marcus replied, “You don’t know Roman numerals??”


He’s done this on three separate occasions now, and each time, it even catches me unawares. Getting punk’d  by a toddler is something most people find endearing, even as victims. People laugh and are invariably impressed with this kid’s knowledge and wit. I’ll give him 3 more years before this type of “clever wit” evolves into something that prompts the simple response, “Brat.”