Don’t be a Puzzled Penguin

In the past six months, I’ve learned more about being a first grader than I have since I was a first grader. Part of each of my days is spent in first grade, learning to read and do addition and subtraction. Part of each day is spent in third grade as well, learning to read a little better and do multiplication and division.

There are a lot more parents, like me, in first grade this year than there were in the 1973-74 academic year. As I recall, it used to be mostly little kids, but now parents are having to figure out how to use all the many online tools that make the remote learning elementary school go. Fortunately, we all have a six or seven-year-old nearby to help us.

It’s kind of a vicious cycle, but in order that we don’t get too frustrated, we call it a symbiotic relationship: Big Man wants help with his homework; before I can begin to help him, he must teach me how to use the online platform that jealously guards this day’s homework inside its electronic labyrinth.

It can be taxing, but we’re getting through it together. Our two heads combined are enough to graduate one of us from first grade. I just hope it’s the one still full of potential.

Along the way, we’ve have had some adventures and met some characters. One of the noteworthy entities I’ve met in electronic first grade is the Puzzled Penguin. The Puzzled Penguin shows up occasionally on one of the arithmetic applications.

I first met the Puzzled Penguin when Big Man and I encountered a math problem that went something like this:

                The Puzzled Penguin thinks 7 + 5 = 10 + 3. Is he correct?

Before I had even finished reading the problem, Big Man announced with certainty: “Nope, he’s wrong!”

I was amazed at the speed of his calculation. “Wow! How’d you do that addition so fast?”

“I didn’t add anything.”

“Then how do you know he’s wrong.”

“Easy. The Puzzled Penguin’s always wrong.”

“But why is he wrong?”

Big Man shrugged. “Because he’s dumb?”

“I mean why is he wrong in this case?”

“Because he’s still dumb?”

I put the screen squarely in front of him. “Okay. Do the math and tell me why he’s wrong.”

He gave me an exasperated look. “I already told you the answer. Because the Puzzled Penguin is always wrong.”

As he was speaking, Buster entered the room. “Oh, the Puzzled Penguin,” Buster mused. “I remember him. That dumb bird is always wrong.”

The only thing we learned about arithmetic that day is that penguins are consistent.

Believe me, we’ve tried to help him.

What’s your superpower

Our two elementary school boys are going through a Superhero phase. Big Man often asks me, usually when I am working, what superpower I wish I had. He wonders about the ability to fly or to turn invisible, but tops on my superpower wish list is the ability to make children turn silent when I am working. I will never attain this power fully, but there are times when I have come close, through my secret weapon of the computer tablet, loaded with video games.

Even the good guys need to use their powers for a touch of evil when they need to catch a break.

Big Man, being a normal Superhero of six, sometimes falls asleep watching TV. These occasions make me wish I had the superpower to be 20 years younger, when I could carry a heavy sack of potatoes up the stairs without wheezing.

One morning, after he had been carried, unconscious, from the couch to his bed, Big Man announced that he had teleported from living room to bedroom during the night. This was concrete evidence he was a genuine Superhero. Teleportation is a bona fide superpower, and people possessing superpowers must be Superheroes. This is especially true of children. It’s all in the Superhero employee handbook.

Way back when Superheroes knew how to play outside, some of them even teleported into their beds from the baseball diamond.

This is his superpower now: he can teleport, with certain caveats. The first caveat is that he can only do it when asleep. Caveat 2 is that he has no control over the destination of his teleportations, except that they most often end in his bed.

Caveat 3, which he has not yet encountered, is the weight limit on teleported matter, and the age limit on the fathers of those who may use this superpower. When he gains a few more pounds, or his father gains a few more years, whichever comes first, his teleporting days are over. Until then, he is free to teleport in ignorant bliss whenever he falls asleep in an inconvenient spot. In the coming years, he will have to wake up and climb the stairs himself, unless he chooses to meet the new day in the same awkward position he left the old one.

Perhaps his true superpower is being a sound sleeper. Even when I have to tussle his body into a totable position, he is not roused from his teleportation. The more I think about it, the more I think being a sound sleeper would be an excellent superpower. With all the miniature Superheroes fighting crime, peace, and quiet in my home, I think I’ll choose this as the new superpower I wish I had.

It was supposed to be just a game

Getting all their schooling from a computer screen has not deterred our boys from their desires to play video games for the remainder of their waking hours. In an attempt to wean them from unnecessary screen time, we have tried to interest them in board games.

This strategy is fraught will peril. They are willing to play board games, but only if a parent participates. For some reason, they are too uncomfortable around these ancient relics to confidently manage them alone. They need someone who understands the old ways to guide them.

This is unfortunate. Though I spent many hours playing board games as a boy, I find I have almost no patience for them anymore. Also, sitting on the floor is not nearly as fun/manageable as it once was.

We have a Monopoly game in the closet, which I hope we never get desperate enough to open. I can’t imagine sitting through an entire game of Monopoly at my time of life. I’d have to resort to the trick my brother used to do when he was losing and “accidentally” overturn the board.

I have played my 1979 version of The Game of Life with the younger boys a few times. If you ignore the more tedious rules and aren’t too meticulous about every little monetary exchange, you can bang out a game in 30-45 minutes.

Look at those happy 70s parents. I wonder what they were trying to distract their children from.

This is the first time I’ve played Life since boyhood, and now I notice different things about the game. For example, even for 1979, the salaries were outdated: Doctor’s salary – $20,000.

The remarkable thing about the game could be a mere coincidence, or maybe Milton Bradly knew the score better than we give him credit:

Every player must get married, but the number of children each player accumulates is pure chance. In the games we’ve played so far, I have chanced to fill my little green car with children. In fact, I’ve collected more children than there are spaces in the car. Some of my children have had to sit on their older siblings’ laps, which they could do without being taken into foster care in 1979. I assume the newer versions have minivans and Child Protective Services.

In my car crammed with sardine children, I have never finished the game without ending up in the poorhouse. Buster, on the other hand, who the spinning wheel has never blessed with more than one child, has ended each game as a millionaire.

That’s my overloaded car in the Poorhouse parking lot.

This is an interesting lesson.

I wonder. If I had learned Milton Bradley’s one-child-limit lesson in 1979, instead of 2020, would I be able to contemplate a day when I could retire to someplace other than the poorhouse?

Oh well. In the game of life, children cost money. It’s too late to give them back now. Besides, I’ve come to adore them all too much to do anything but let them drive me up the wall and directly into poverty.

Cherished historical figured pulled from his pedestal

For his 7th grade Language Arts class (what we old people used to call English), Big Brother keeps a reading log. Fortunately, he gets to read whatever books he wants, because he is not an eager reader, and is not particularly fond of fiction. He does the best the with history, so he has been reading a book about the American Civil War. For those who did not go to school in the US, and those who did not pay attention during their US schooling, it’s important to the forthcoming incident to know that the American Civil War lasted from 1861 to 1865.

Big Brother was getting close to the end of the book, last I checked. This morning, as all the boys were getting logged into school (wrap your heads around that, old people), I asked him if he’d finished.

From his classroom on the couch, he replied that he had.

“How did the Civil War end?” I asked.

He gave the standard reply of any 12-year-old who doesn’t want to be quizzed about schoolwork: “I don’t remember.”

“Really?” I asked. “You just finished it yesterday.”

“You already know how it ended,” he told me.

“But you just read the book,” I insisted.

From his classroom, on the loveseat, Buster (3rd grade) piped up in his brother’s defense. “But you know the most about history,” he told me.

“Yes, but . . . “

Big Man (1st grade) cut me off. Sitting in his classroom on the recliner, he forestalled my argument and closed the case in Big Brother’s defense. “But you were the one who was in that fight,” he told me, just before all three boys broke into a peal of laughter.

I just got cut down by a six-year-old.

Can you blame me for being a proud father?

I’m the guy in the middle. The one holding the gun.