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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Vastness of father’s ignorance inspires child to stay in school

Big Man graduates from preschool tonight. It will be a proud and happy moment for his parents. Proud because it’s another step completed on his journey to becoming a man of substance. Happy because it means the end of tuition payments. Big Man is learning on your dime for the next 13 years, Dear American Taxpayer. He’s a public school boy now.

That’s not to say we’re turning him completely over to you. We will continue to work with him to master riding a bike and tying shoe laces. And we’ve already done all the nasty potty training stuff. All we really need you to do is teach him Calculus and whatever other sundries he needs to get a full college scholarship. We’d like to make a habit of this not paying tuition thing.

Buster’s preschool graduation day, two years ago. He is currently pursuing a post-Kindergartenal degree in Homework Evasion.

Big Man is mentally prepared for Kindergarten. He’s a boy full of curiosities, who is slowly being disappointed to find his father does not know everything. He is coming to understand that his pathway to knowledge runs through Kindergarten, and then high school. Any information gleaned from Daddy is supplemental at best.

The other day, for instance, Big Man and Daddy were observing a Roly-Poly (a.k.a. Pill Bug) in its travels along the length of a twig. “What do Roly-Polies eat?” Big Man asked Daddy.

I could probably see what it’s eating if I knew which end the mouth was on.

“I don’t know,” Daddy naturally replied. Daddy knew the fascinating fact that Roly-Polies are crustaceans, but he didn’t know the mundane facts of what they eat. Children never ask the right questions.

“How do you not know what Roly-Polies eat?” Big Man asked. (“How do you not know?” is becoming one of his standard questions as he discovers how many basic curiosities Daddy is unequal to.)

“How do you not know?” Daddy asked in rebuttal.

“I never went to the high school,” Big Man asserted. “You went to the high school, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” Daddy confirmed. “I went to high school, but not to the one where they tell you what Roly-Polies eat.”

Big Man shook his head at yet another of Daddy’s maddening ignorances.  “I’ll ask Mommy.”

Now, Mommy is pretty smart, but her knowledge of bugs revolves around how to neutralize them before they bite, sting, or burrow into an ear canal. “Mommy may not know,” I told him.

“What?” Big Man asked in exasperation. “She didn’t go to the high school either?”

If we have many more of these conversations, Big Man may become convinced he is the first generation in his family to graduate preschool.

And since he’s in the first generation of his family that didn’t jump straight into Kindergarten, that little son of gun would be right again.

The case of the missing chicken, and other family conspiracies

If you know children, you know people who aren’t very good at keeping track of things. Our boys are always asking if we know where their wallets and piggy banks are. After Big Brother’s last baseball tournament, Buster and I had to walk from the parking lot all the way back to the farthest diamond to retrieve some LEGOs he’d left on a picnic table. Even such precious things are difficult for children to keep.

On Friday, Buster had a baseball game. My wife brought home chicken tenders and burgers for a quick dinner before we went to the park. Everyone ate all their food, but after the game Buster came home thinking he had saved a strip of chicken for himself. He was distraught to find no chicken awaiting him. His disappointment turned to tears, then anger, as he accused everyone he found of throwing his intended post-game feast into the garbage.

On Sunday, Big Man went grocery shopping with me. He had a birthday dollar and was allowed to spend it on candy. He picked out a little box of those taffy strip type things. He ate some after lunch, but soon lost track of the remainder.

Meanwhile, proving she can also be a kid at heart, my wife looked for some leftover biscuits she’d made the day before. She wanted them with dinner, but couldn’t find the dish. “Did you guys eat all my biscuits?” she asked us.

“Don’t you remember? You served them at lunch,” I reminded her. She never loses sight of her piggy bank though.

After dinner, Big Man remembered his candy, but he could not find it. “Somebody took my candy!” he announced.

“I think I saw some on the floor by the coffee table,” I told him.

He went to look but came back just as much a crime victim as when he left. “It’s not there. Somebody stole it!”

Before this turned into a courtroom scene between him and his brothers, Mommy went with him to look again. They came back with the remaining candy, retrieved from under the coffee table.

Mommy shook her head. “You kids always think somebody’s taking your stuff, when you just can’t keep track of it. Buster thought somebody threw out his chicken. You think somebody stole your candy.”

Big Man folded his arms and gave her his best Too-Big-for-my-Britches look. “And you think somebody ate your biscuits.”

“Did you hear what he said to me?” she asked me.

“Yup,” I replied. “He nailed you on that one. As the boys would say, you just got roasted.”

You got Roasted! (It’s a more literal definition for chickens.)

 

The beasts awaken

Mommy’s new job means she leaves the house each morning before we four boys wake up. Mommy is the big winner in this new reality, because none of the men she leaves behind wake up pretty.

The first to wake up is Daddy. He is not a morning person, but he has seen enough dawns to realize the world wasn’t designed for night owls, and he must suck it up, even as he bounces off the bathroom door frame, which he walked into sideways.

After Daddy showers and shaves, he wakes up Big Brother. Big Brother is also not a morning person. He knows 7 a.m. is a horrible time to wake up. This makes angriness a constant part of his morning routine. Big Brother shuffles to the bathroom to assemble his many complaints for the day and do an inventory of all the aches that, in a just world, would keep him home from school.

Next to rise is Buster. He is less of a non-morning person. This is not to say he won’t be in a bad mood in the morning, it’s just that he is equally likely to be nudged into surliness in the afternoon or evening. Buster often wakes up by himself. He gives Daddy a nice hug, and it all goes downhill from there. Making him brush his teeth could be the thing that sends him into a funk. Or it might be the criminal lack of donuts for breakfast. Asking him to write out his spelling words before the test is a surefire way to send him into a spiral of grunts and foot stomping.

Children who study their spelling words can win handsome plaques. Or maybe it’s for clean teeth. Probably not a donut-eating award. Image: Harris & Ewing

Big Man is the wild card. Sometimes he wakes up early and sometimes he pushes sleep to the limit. Big Man is unlikely to be angry. He’s just very sleepy. Even when he gets up early, he often drags his blanket downstairs to curl up on the floor. He likes to stay in his pajamas, regardless of where he needs to be. He takes his time about getting around to breakfast. Big Man’s saving grace is that when he puts up a stink, at least he argues using English words instead of grunting his rebuttals like his caveman brothers.

Of the four, only Daddy shows any urgency about getting people where they need to be on time. The poor, hopeless man struggles against the current of chronological apathy every day, and every day it comes near drowning him in tardiness.

It is a maelstrom of his own making. Who gave Big Brother a nature that recoils from the rising sun? Who gave Buster the expectations of a prince in the robes of a pauper? Who gave Big Man the English language, to spout in endless explanation of why it’s not yet the right moment to put his shoes on, instead of just putting his damned shoes on?

I don’t know. Maybe it was Mommy.