Portraits of the artist as a 1st grader

As of noon yesterday, the school year is officially over. Truth be told, we’ve been phoning it in for a couple weeks now. Even though this June has been cool and wet, the sun still stays up late, and that’s enough to make it feel like summer vacation.

Besides, with all the field trips and special events that end the year, it’s hard for anybody to concentrate on homework or any straggling, late-year tests. The birds in the trees say it’s summer, and who should know these things better than them?

The boys have spent the last week cleaning out their lockers and desks. Our house looks like a paper recycling plant with a year’s worth of schoolwork dumped from their backpacks in daily doses. Most of this rubble of their educations is going straight to the real recycling plant, but there are a few gems that merit saving.

Big Brother is old enough to realize that if he throws it out at school, he doesn’t have to carry it home, so most of the reams of school-year detritus are supplied by Buster. In 1st grade, you dutifully bring it all home, hand it to your parents, and it becomes their problem what to do with it. Your problems are over until fall.

Of all the things Buster brought home in the final cleanout frenzy, this is my favorite.

Nothing quite captures the melancholy passage of time and turns it into a model prisoner like regular self-portraits from elementary school. Here are a few highlights:

He came into 1st grade with the maniacal smile of a comic book villain. He was also suffering from a lack of sleep, or maybe pink eye. The colored pencils had not been distributed yet, so it’s hard to tell.

By December he’d gotten his color back. A few months of solid rest made him bright-eyed, and even perhaps a little dilated. In preparation for a cold winter, he’d grown a nice pair of warm eyebrows.

Now, at year’s end, he looks like such a nice boy. He might be a little dizzy, but the end of a long year will do that to you. He’s been crowned and earned a star, which are both great confidence builders for a six-year-old. I struggled to figure out what “6 set” meant for a while before I realized it was his disordered spelling of “best”.  He is the best 1st grade graduate. I wasn’t expecting this, but I’m extremely proud to learn he earned that honor. I’m sorry to all the other 1st grade graduates that they did not win this award, but 2nd grade, and another chance, is right around the corner.

But for now, enjoy the summer, and maybe help Mom and Dad bundle up papers for a trip to the recycling center.

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Thumbs up for thumbs out

His preschool classmates know him as a mild-mannered boy. They would describe our Big Man as a happy, friendly kid. They would be shocked to discover he has a demon.

Big Man’s demon descends upon him when he is tired or worried, when the stresses of a four-year-old assail him. His demon presents itself through the opposable digit on his left hand. Big Man has an addiction. It resides in his thumb, which he can’t keep out of his mouth in time of stress.

As an infant, Big Man used the combination of thumb-sucking and hair-twirling to earn renown as our best self-soother. To this day, he recovers quickest from upset and is far less likely than his older brothers to become a career criminal out of pure stubbornness or chronic opposition to authority.

We haven’t made concerted attempts to end the thumb-sucking before because we wanted to let him work it out by himself. Besides, he looks so relaxed and contented with his thumb in his mouth, I’m tempted to take up the habit myself. I always carry a couple thumbs with me; if I could turn just one of them into an instant Chill Pill, the work day would pass much more pleasantly.

But thumb-sucking is not a good look for Kindergarten, which is only a handful of months away. Kids can be cruel about perceived babyish habits. Even though his brothers have burned the midnight oil attempting to harden him to the mockery cast at the thumb-sucker, it’s getting time for an intervention.

Yes, it’s a tasty treat, but it’s also very useful for making gestures.

Mommy offered him a reward if he didn’t suck his thumb for a whole day. He was more than equal to the task through the daylight hours. Even his hawking brothers couldn’t catch him with his thumb in his mouth.

Everything difficult to endure is more difficult to endure at night. You know this if you’ve ever listened to the Blues or endured something difficult past sundown. At bedtime, Big Man asked me, “Did Mommy say I couldn’t have my thumb at going-to-sleep time?”

Mommy was out, and I didn’t know the details of their contract, but I’m always wary of backsliding. “I think she doesn’t want you to use your thumb at all,” I told him.

His eyes fell. Tears came. Going to sleep without that calming thumb was the ultimate challenge. “I don’t know how to do it!” he cried.

I hugged him and gave him encouragement. “Put your hands under your pillow,” I advised. He got angry. “I told you I don’t know how to do it!”

He went through all the stages of grief and a good many symptoms of withdrawal before I got him quiet in the bed.

He woke up his old, happy self in the morning. I don’t know if he had to take a quick dose of thumb to fall asleep. It didn’t matter. His bedtime tears told us he was giving it his best shot, and that’s all we needed to know.

Summer vacation is where the heart is

With two weeks of school left, the boys’ minds are in summer vacation mode already. Nobody wants to go to bed at night, nobody wants to get up in the morning, nobody wants to get dressed, and certainly nobody wants to go to school. The boys learned a lot at school this year. I don’t know where they learned how to phone it in, but that’s one life skill they seem to have down.

“Hello. Nursery School? I’ll be working from home today. Just pile the macaroni on my paper plate next to the glue and I’ll get to it first chance I get.”

Big Brother has a project due in a week. He hasn’t started it because maybe school will get over for the year without anybody noticing his wasn’t done. And once he moves on to middle school, they can’t touch him. The statute of limitations for fourth grade ends at the elementary school door.

Now that the weather has turned nice, it’s hard enough to corral all these open range rustlers into the house at bedtime, let alone get them into their beds. When you do get them all herded inside, they’re sweaty and grimy. Baths are nobody’s favorite, but a bath is five minutes that can be stretched into 20 when a boy needs to stall bedtime. Being clean is a small price to pay for that.

These boys have never owned a sense of urgency about getting ready for school in the morning, and the waning school year has lifted them to new heights of lethargy. Nobody’s in a hurry to get out of their pajamas, and when they do, Buster and Big Man would rather run around throwing underwear at each other than put on clothes.

Do they care that helping Mommy overcome all their morning tomfoolery puts extra pressure on me to get to work on time? Short answer: no. Long answer: not in the least. This morning I told them they were going to make me late.

“And then you’ll get fired,” Buster replied.* “And that will be good for you ‘cause then you’ll get to stay home all day with us.”

I could ride bikes all summer long with the kids.

I don’t know what Buster thinks he’s going to be doing at home all day when school’s still in session, but I think he’d learn quick enough he doesn’t want to spend his summer in the company of a ne’er-do-well who can’t hold a job. Clearly, he hasn’t thought about where he’s going to get a summer’s worth of popsicles when the gravy train stops rolling.

If I keep working, I will definitely miss out on lots of fun this summer. There will be the incessant fighting over bikes, scooters, and video game controllers. Being there for all those precious moments would put the cherry on top of unemployment. We could probably even afford metaphor cherries. They’re a dime a dozen with my blogger discount.

I’m going to try to make it through these last days of school without fulfilling Buster’s prophesy about getting fired, but this is only because I don’t know what’s good for me.

*You just earned yourself a summer reading program, my friend.

Kindergarten spring exhibit

It’s that season again. Spring parent-teacher conferences mean it’s time to get the official assessment of your Kindergartner’s progress since November, and more importantly, admire his artwork.

Kindergarten artwork is always instructive for gaining insight into the minds of five-year-olds. This piece tells of Buster’s limitless imagination, and rudimentary spelling.

rich man

Get ready to sell all your stuff. He’s in the market for everything.

It’s the Kindergarten equivalent of “If I won the lottery,” and just like everyone who’s ever won the lottery, our kindergartner would attempt to buy everything.  Lottery winnings have never succeeded in buying everything, and I doubt a pot of gold would either, but then I don’t have any better idea of the price of everything than he does, so maybe a pot of gold would just do it. I guess it would depend upon the size of the pot.

On the other hand, I’m glad he’s got an open-ended shopping list, because I’ve got lots of stuff lying around the house I’d like to sell him, starting with a playroom full of broken toys.

a sweet penalty

Two minutes in the penalty box never looked so sweet.

This holdover from Valentine’s Day seemed odd at first. It’s the only image of a hooking penalty I’ve ever seen captured in a heart cutout. Art critics could spend weeks speculating on the deeper meaning of this piece. The kid has never played hockey or even paid attention to a hockey game on TV. He doesn’t skate and he’s never touched a hockey stick that was taller than him and not made of plastic.

Looking at it from a hockey perspective is probably the incorrect view. At a basic level this is an image of one guy jabbing another guy with a stick. That’s something every five-year-old boy can relate to. I wouldn’t be surprised if the artist imagined the jabbee to be the jabber’s older brother. Therefore, he had it coming. What kindergartner wouldn’t admire a photo snapped at that moment of triumph when he whacked his brother with a stick? The only shame is that he couldn’t find a photo of a good, solid slashing penalty.

Oh well. There’s another whole year, and half of 1st grade, to find a more romantic, major penalty picture to put inside the next heart.