Reflections inspired by a German class for second graders

Our eldest is beginning an after school German class today. This is not the sort of news that normally makes one reflective, but here I go anyway.

In a perfect world, I should be the one to teach my kids to speak German. Implicit in that perfection would be my knowing how to speak German. My father spoke German, fluently. In the perfect world I mentioned, he would have taught it to me when I was little. I would have soaked it up, and it would be as natural as English to me.

In the imperfect world that formed me, my father did no such thing. He was a teenager during the Second World War, living in the USA and speaking German as smoothly as his immigrant parents. Not surprisingly, something in that combination convinced him not to speak German to his children.

I took German as a freshman in college. It was either a language or Math, and I felt done with Math. I picked German. Maybe something in my genes would mold it to my tongue more securely than the high school Spanish that had always merely swilled about in my mouth before dribbling down my chin.

German 101 supplied me the worst grades of my academic career, if you discard the high school Geography class I nearly failed because I was too busy protesting the methods of the high school Geography class and the methods of high school in general.

The edition I used didn't have such a lovely cover, which is probably why I wasn't inspired to do better in class.

The edition I used didn’t have such a lovely cover, which is probably why I wasn’t inspired to do better in class.

After freshman year, I transferred to a school that required no more Math or foreign languages out of me, which was good since I was done applying myself mathematically and I had no aptitude for foreign languages.

In fact, I was a pretty lousy student overall.

As the undergraduate years rolled by, it became clear that I was a poor classroom learner. Yet, for the very best of reasons (I couldn’t find a job), I attempted graduate school.

Graduate school taught me only one thing: there is nothing like higher education to suck the life out of a subject matter you love (or thought you loved).

I thought I loved History, until I tried to pursue it as a graduate degree. Apparently, it was something else I loved, an academic Cyrano de Bergerac, hiding in the bushes, feeding enchanting lines to the deceitful mouth of History. History itself is mind-numbingly boring; they taught me that in one semester of graduate school.

Since I’d learned everything I needed to know about History, I determined I didn’t require more than one semester of grad school.

That was the end of my formal education in German or Math or History or anything. Abrupt, but okay for a rotten student.

My son is excited about his German class. I hope that excitement lasts. I hope he’s a good student. I hope he inherited his mother’s love for school.

I hope he goes on to become much more than a grad school dropout who can’t even speak German.

One day in Berlin

I have a new favorite author. So far, he only writes short stories, but that’s fine with me, as he has already established himself as a favorite visual artist of mine. The kid is multi-talented.

Here is one of his latest literary offerings.


Since the original may be difficult to see, I’ll type it out:

One day in Berlin there where [sic] nine people playing football. Then uncle Bob acsadentliy [sic] therw [sic] the ball at a ponty [sic] fence and the ball went pop! They went to a store but the footballs were all gone. Then they went home to look for a pump and patch but the stuff was lost. They where[sic] in bad luck. Then they went to Jakes house and they played catch. the end

In honor of discovering this new talent, I will now hold an impromptu book club meeting regarding this work. Let’s dig deeper into the text.

There’s a surprising amount of mystery surrounding this episode. For example, why is it set in Berlin? Well, actually, that’s not so much a mystery if you have followed this artist and seen the pickelhaube and Prussian flag requests in his Christmas letters to Santa, like I have. Berlin is the capital of Germany. That says it all.

Were they playing American football or European football (soccer)? We can’t be sure, but the fact that uncle Bob threw the ball indicates that, unless he was goalie or was throwing the ball in from out of bounds, it was likely American football. Also, the fact that he threw it at D-fence, or in German, Die-Fence, indicates he probably owned a cardboard cutout of a picket border which he took to NFL games.

Also, all the footballs being gone from the store lends evidence to it being an American football, as the German sporting goods shops would less likely be out of soccer balls.

Who misplaced the pump and patch? This is the question a father asks every time something goes flat. No one ever takes responsibility, and no one ever will.

Did Jake have another ball at his house, or did they make the best of things and play catch with the flat ball? I like to think Jake demonstrated admirable character development by showing his eight comrades that inflation is just a state of mind. The world thinks you can’t play catch with a popped ball. You can submit to that kind of limited thinking, or you can change the world. Way to go, Jake! You are a true football hero.

Sometimes the answer to great problems (global strife, world hunger, playing sports with an uninflated ball) are all about shifting the perceptions of the major players.

This is an uplifting story of human triumph. It shows that you can do anything your mind allows you, like playing with a popped ball, or even hyphenating and splitting single-syllable words onto multiple lines.

I think I’m going to be a fan of this guy for a long time.


Poop your Butt!

I wish three-year-olds devoted as much effort to learning their letters and numbers as they do to perfecting potty talk. If working poop into every conversation were a preschool subject, Buster would be at the top of his class. He’s not as much into the alphabet or counting, although he can count to 19, by 19s, but the numbers in between 0 and 19 are white noise.

Going potty at the appropriate time and place is a big deal in a preschooler’s world. As such, poop is an important word to know and use in the development of good hygiene routines. That’s where it ends for the grown-ups, but for the three-year-old, the word poop is an expressive cornucopia.

And in those rare circumstance when poop doesn’t quite fill the bill, butt usually works as a good substitute to bring the point home.

For instance, Buster might offer his impression of Mommy or Daddy giving an ultimatum this way: “If you don’t pick up these toys right now, Big Brother will poop in his pants!”

This is not the conventional ultimatum, in that it involves his brother providing the negative consequence, but even this third-party ultimatum meets the minimum requirements: there is a demanded action and a consequence for not acting. I certainly don’t want Big Brother to poop in his pants. I don’t want anybody in the house to poop in their pants. When it comes down to it, I don’t want anybody anywhere to poop in their pants, if that’s an option.

Where the threat fails is in the fact that Big Brother has not been consulted, and the method of enforcing  the threat is news to him. Big Brother will balk at his role in the proceedings, which may lead Buster to call him a butthead. This is tough on Big Brother as he is sensitive about what part of his body he carries atop his neck. Buster seems to have thicker skin than Big Brother. He is also more ruthless with the trash talk, which leaves him in better shape to endure the times when sibling rivalry goes verbal-nuclear.

Butts are not just a conversation piece. Sometimes they are real and can be a menace to society. One day, I came home to find Buster dressed in his Batman outfit, looking for bad guys to vanquish. He ran over to me and announced, “Your butt is the Joker.” Without giving my butt a chance to profess it’s innocence, he punched it in right in the proverbial nose. I was just happy I was facing the counter at the time because some villains can take a punch and some villains can’t.

Uh-oh! Looks like Batman stepped in something when he started accusing innocent butts of being arch-villains.

Uh-oh! Looks like Batman stepped in something when he started accusing innocent butts of being arch-villains.

I can stand a butt punch from a crime fighting three-year-old as well as the next guy, but that doesn’t mean I should have to. I sat Buster down to have a long talk with him. Within minutes, our heart-to-heart devolved into a discussion about . . .

                                                                                                                  you guessed it . . .


You can almost smell the love

It’s not quite time for the children to get up for school yet. They still reside in the happy world of dreams, peaceful angels in their slumber.  In the sleepy darkness before dawn, they have no inkling of the battle raging in the house around them.

Daddy is ready to leave for work. Showered and shaved, he has even applied the coating of lotion to his hands and face that Mommy insisted he start doing because she doesn’t want him to dry out like the old prune he is.

He steps into the bathroom where Mommy is drying her hair. He gives her a kiss and a “Love you,” then turns to leave, thinking he has escaped it this morning.

“Did you spray?” Her question freezes him in his tracks.

“No,” he sheepishly admits.

And then the chase is on.

It all started . . .

in the after-Christmas, clearance section of Target. Mommy found two half-priced gift boxes of scented items – one for Him and one for Her. Having both a Him and a Her in their marriage, Mommy deemed the pair of boxes a good bargain. They were lotions and perfumes (I guess men’s perfume is called cologne, but I don’t know much about it), the kind of gift that says “You were at the bottom of my list and I was long past being thoughtful by then. Also, you smell bad.”

perfume for manly men

Smelly enough for a woman, but made for a man. Say it with your deepest voice: “Cologne. “

Mommy was within her rights to pay half-price to smell the way she wished, but Daddy protested buying perfume to cover up his traditional Head & Shoulders scent (he still needs to shampoo the sides of his head). Daddy’s protests were in vain.

It actually all started . . .

decades ago on a dairy farm. Coming out of the barn, the boy Daddy learned the way to coexist with polite society was to divest himself of stink, not to purposely apply stink to himself. Nobody ever ran away from a farm kid they couldn’t smell. If he had nothing else going for him, at least they couldn’t blame him for smelling like air.

It also started . . .

in an upper-middle-class, suburban school, where the young Mommy’s friends wore designer clothes and had leisure to discover their own signature scents. They all smelled like something different, but none of them smelled like air or Head & Shoulders. None of the good ones did, anyway.

It ends this way.

Daddy runs. Mommy grabs the spray bottle of worldly man scent and chases him. After a moment, Daddy gives up his foolish hope of escape. All his flight will do is wake the children. He allows Mommy to shoot him a few times.

Mommy breathes deep. “Oh, you smell so good!” she says, dreamy in the eyes. But it’s nearly time for the children to wake, so she sends Daddy off to work to delight the nostrils of other people.

Daddy drives off to work, wondering if there isn’t a better time of day for the war to end.