Meeting Robert E. Lee

When I was in 1st grade, I got up at 4:30 every morning. I put on my barn clothes, and after a quick bowl of Cream of Wheat, went off to milk cows with my parents. My teacher was also my neighbor, so when I put my head on my desk in the afternoon for a little nap, she let me rest. It didn’t harm my education. In fact, I often revived the technique during my college years to get through boring lectures.

I sometimes slept through the bits of free time we were given, but when I didn’t, I discovered two things that shaped my life.

The first was a puzzle of the United States. I practiced that puzzle until I could put it together without having to consider the pieces. The entire world became a puzzle to me; I studied maps until I could put the different colored pieces together in my mind. Unfortunately, this never helped me in a Spelling Bee, where I always found myself sitting down after the first round. Geography Bees weren’t a thing yet.

The second was a book: Meet Robert E. Lee, hardly the reading material you’d find in a 1st grade classroom these days.

I expect 1st grade book collections have changed since 1973.

It’s hard to pinpoint when love affairs begin, but the fact I remember this hints that it had something to do with kindling my interest in history. I wanted to know more about long-gone people and the lives they led. More than that, I wanted to read.

I checked out of the library a book called Rogers’ Rangers and the French & Indian War. It was a middle school book, and despite my not comprehending it very well, I read the whole thing. It inspired me to play French and Indian War games in my Cap’n Crunch – the yellow pieces were the French and the Crunch Berries were British. The milk was a reminder that I had to get up at 4:30 next morning.

I doubt this cover will be featured on the front of next month’s Scholastic catalog.

Why do I mention these things? Partly, it’s because I don’t have anything more interesting to mention this week. It’s also because all our boys will be in elementary or preschool next year. I’m hoping each of them will find something in school that makes his little synapses crackle and fires him with a hunger for knowledge.

It would be nice if whatever excites them inspires them to read, but maybe they’ll learn in different ways. The boys like maps and Big Brother has revered Mr. Lincoln since he was three, but it doesn’t have to be Geography or History that sparks them, though it would be nice to raise children with an appreciation for what came before them.

Speaking of what came before, I’m grateful General Lee lived a fascinating life that drew me into the past. I’m happy his team lost, but I don’t think he would harm today’s children any more than he harmed me. Rogers’ Rangers on the other hand, those guys were rough, firing off all their long words at a 6th grade reading level. They almost took me down.

 

 

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.

Pictures at an Exhibition: First Grade parent-teacher conference

The results of the First Grade teacher conference were similar to the results of the Kindergarten conference. The boy is doing pretty well academically, especially in reading and writing. He’s okay in math, but he sometimes gets a little frazzled by the clock during the timed quizzes.

The surprising news is that he actually knows how to tell time. At bed time he acts like the clock is some mysterious Nordic Rune that is beyond hope of translation. Ever since Daylight Savings Time began, he places no trust in clocks anyway, with their new trick of sending him upstairs before dark.

Like last year, we gained insights into the workings of the boy’s mind through his creative work.

For Valentine’s Day, the kids put together a book called, “Love is . . .” Here’s our boy’s page.

distant kiss

With enough practice, you can kiss them and still not violate the restraining order.

The longer your lips are, the more discretion you have about how close you want to get to someone you love. If the combined extendibility of the kissing individuals’ lips is greater than 6”, you can completely avoid intersecting your personal spaces.

This picture shows a great leap in maturity, as he would have been kissing a Ninja Turtle last year.

For their 100th day of school, they made a book about what they would do with $100. Hence:

football gloves

I have no idea what anything in this picture has to do with football gloves.

Why would he want to spend $100 on football gloves? You might even wonder what football gloves are.

Football gloves are worn to help catch the ball in wet weather. The boy and his friends play football at recess. Apparently, one of the kids has such gloves. Therefore, he desperately needs football gloves. I told him he should learn to catch first.

On the back of the $100 page is this.

Old boy

You can tell he’s old by his gray hair.

In 100 years he will be a 106-year-old boy, still with prominent red lips. He will have huge, misshapen hands (no doubt maimed from not having football gloves), gray hair, and no feet. The loss of feet is lamentable, otherwise he’s a good looking 106-year-old. Even the kids whose nice dads bought them adequate sporting goods won’t hold up much better than that.

Hanging on the walls were cutouts of George Washington the kids had made for Presidents’ Day.

wooden teeth?

“With all these splinters in my gums, I may never smile again.”

All the other Washingtons were smiling. When the teacher asked our boy why his was not, he replied, “Maybe he’s embarrassed about his wooden teeth.” He gets credit from me for being half right.

With the cutout was a familiar page. We’d seen this question last year.

presidential to-do list

If Washington is not too big a man to sell snow globes, neither is our boy.

Some things never change. He still holds the philosophy that the President’s primary duty is as Commander In Chief of the armed forces. He still would not be reluctant to use the armed forces, or for that matter, lead them personally. This year he’s added a new layer of sophistication. Armies are expensive. Not wishing to raise taxes or cut social spending, he’s discovered the perfect solution. He’ll  open a gift shop, just like he noticed Washington did at Mount Vernon. Now that’s learning from the master.

Kid catcher

When I was a much younger man, I had blond hair. Now my hair is one part dark, one part gray, and one part gone – these parts are neither equal nor listed in decreasing order. In my young, blond days, I would sometimes let my hair grow long. It would get very curly on the ends. Historically astute friends compared my locks to those of Lt. Col. (a.k.a. General) Custer.

doppleganger

My hair twin. He was brave, warlike, and a heavy greaser. I am none of these things, which may explain why I have outlived my hair.

During one of my Custer periods, I worked with a Native American woman. My historical doppelgänger notwithstanding, we got along well. She made dream catchers and one day she presented me with a very attractive dream catcher as a gift.

If there were any irony in this hand-made Native American craft being given to the look-a-like of General Yellow Hair, it did not stop me from accepting the gift. To this day, it hangs over my bed.

It works pretty well at catching bad dreams. Unfortunately, it does nothing to stop children from coming to me in the night. What I really need in my room is a kid catcher.

The other night, Big Brother woke us up to announce that he’d had a bad dream. I know he has his eye on my dream catcher, but he’s not getting it. I earned that dream catcher by proving that all guys who look like Custer aren’t jerks to Native Americans.

Custer's dream catcher

It used to be a bit more ornate, but time and curious children have taken their toll.

I was too tired to endure him climbing over me, so I moved over and let him sleep on the edge. That’s when I remembered how much I hate the middle. There was no hope of rest between two such interpretive sleepers as my six-year-old and my wife.

I was saved from this spot by the silhouette of Buster, back-lit by the hall night light, standing still in the doorway. Whether he’d had a bad dream, or was merely plagued by too many toddler worries on his mind, he did not say.

As Big Brother gets less creepy about coming into our room in the night, Buster picks up the slack. Buster silently hovers in the doorway, a mini shadow of the human form. The mere vibe of it, spurs everyone to full wakefulness.

Since there was no room for a fourth in our bed, Mommy got a brilliant idea. Both kids should sleep in Big Brother’s bed and keep each other company. “Would you like to sleep in Big Brother’s bed?” she asked Buster.

“No,” he replied. “Sleep with Daddy.”

Her great idea wasn’t a total flop. She somehow used the momentum of it to get Big Brother back into his own bed, even without the company of Buster.

But that still left us with an extra human in our bed. Buster tossed and turned as he thought his deep thoughts, and so did I, even though my thoughts were comparatively shallow.

We do have a kid catcher in our room after all. Mommy and Daddy have always called it by the wrong name: our bed.