How we’re spending our early, and extended, summer vacation

Hello, Blogosphere. It’s been a while. The last time we talked, the world was kind of almost normal. That seems like years ago.

I’ve been keeping busy over the past four months, or ten years, or however long it’s been since the good ol’ days. I am fortunate to have been fully employed. Keeping three boys academically engaged has been a challenge, one upon which my wife and I hope never to be judged.

Fortunately, our 7th grader has been more than willing to coach our 3rd grader and our 1st grader. Consequently, they are now all playing Fortnite at grade level.

Big Brother has been honing his basketball skills in the driveway. He can almost dunk on an 8.5-foot rim. The standard basketball rim is 10 feet high, so once he gains a foot and half of lift, he’ll be able to show the world how he can almost dunk.

I don’t know if the boy will ever get beyond almost dunking. I’m afraid he inherited my farmer’s legs. If you don’t know about farmer’s legs, try to imagine the last time you heard a sportscaster mention Old McDonald’s amazing elevation on his vertical leap. That’s all you need to know.

Buster and Big Man have been reading with me every day. Never have pride and pain worked hand in hand as they do on me when I listen to the boys read. Did you know a kid can read a word perfectly four times in a row and then be completely baffled by it the fifth time his eyes meet it? Did you know his slightly old brother can tackle a serious of four-syllable words with aplomb before being defeated by a single-syllable word with no phonic irregularities?

The reading is easy compared to the paperwork the school sent. It’s not particularly difficult work; it’s just hard to find motivation to do schoolwork when the TV is so close, especially when you’re sure there is at least one channel showing Sponge Bob, regardless of the time of day.

When you are distracted by the thought of missed cartoons, you make mistakes. When my children make mistakes on their papers, it is sorely aggravating to me. It’s not that they made a mistake, or even that they made it from carelessness; what drives me up the wall is the way in which little boys erase their pencil marks.

erasing

What number is this? Whatever number answers the problem.

I have three boys, and not one of them can erase a pencil mark worth a damn. They take two half-hearted swipes at the paper with the eraser and then write the new answer overtop the mangled result.  After the first attempt, I must assume they found the correct answer, because something in the tangled carnage of pencil scratches is bound to be right, at least approximately.

The big takeaway from the current situation is I should not be the one charged with educating my children. They don’t respect my credentials, and I’m not as engaging as Sponge Bob. That last part stings.

The stubborn contrarian doesn’t fall far from the tree

We had our spring parent conference with the boy’s kindergarten teacher last week. The good news is that the boy is doing well academically. As I often tell him, he’s too smart for his own good.

On the citizenship front, he’s not quite the hotshot he is academically. He’s getting better at focusing on his work, but he still has too much of his parents in him to be the most conscientious pupil. Like his mom, he’s a social butterfly, getting lost in chit-chat when he should be working quietly. He is too much like his dad when it comes to being a stubborn contrarian who knows it’s enough to be right – they don’t have to know why you’re right.

Even with the burden of his chatty, mulish genetics, the teacher likes having him in her class, so we ended the conference feeling good. But the most enlightening things were yet to come.

Outside the classroom, the kids’ projects were on display. For St. Patrick’s Day, each child had cut out a pot of gold, with coins labeled as things that were more precious than gold to them. As we walked down the line of these, the recurring words were, Mommy, Daddy, Grandma, and the like. It was sweet to see how the children valued their families. At our boy’s pot of gold, we squinted to make out the names on the coins. Don, Mikce, Leo, R-something – who were these people? They weren’t family members. They weren’t even kids in his class.

The teacher was still with us. Noting our confusion, she explained. “That’s Donatello, Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Raphael. The Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles.”

More precious than turtles?

It’s not that Mommy and Daddy aren’t precious; they’re just a little trite for this pot.

The way I’m going to spin this is that the boy doesn’t value cartoon turtles more than his parents; he just didn’t want to do the same thing all the other kids were doing. That’s plausible, isn’t it?

Next, we looked at a book called If I Were President. Each child did a page on which they wrote a phrase to complete the sentence, “If I were President, I would . . .” and drew an accompanying picture.

The book was full of compassion. “Help the world,” was the common theme, with variations toward “Make the whole world safe,” or “Help poor people.” The pictures were of the Earth or of a group of presumably poor people.

On my son’s page were drawn fighter jets and soldiers. It said the following: “If I were President, I would control the Air Force.”

My son (you may call him, Mr. President) is the big, blue guy. He is commanding the troops to put on their saucepans and scramble their brown jets to go save the world.

My son (you may call him Mr. President) is the big, blue guy. He is commanding the troops to put on their saucepans and scramble their brown jets to go save the world.

As I see it, he’s not limited by the naïve idealism of his classmates. If you want to protect the world, you need to formulate a specific plan for doing so, and that plan had better entail adequate air power.

This boy has as much compassion as any five-year-old, but he understands that caring goes a lot farther at Mach 3. I’m sure Don, Leo, and those other guys who are collectively my son’s favorite people would agree with me.

Kindergarten’s first hard lesson: It’s a morning people’s world

I’m waiting for the Kindergarten grind to catch up to my son.

His preschool was only three hours in the afternoon. Kindergarten runs all day. Like his old man, he’s more inclined toward being a night owl than a morning person. We’ll see where that gets him after a few months of having to get up early every day.

We worked on adjusting his sleep schedule in the buildup to school, but there’s nothing like the real thing to make it hit home. So far, after a week of school, he still must be forced to go to bed at a reasonable hour. He gets up in the morning without too much fuss, though it’s clear he’s not happy about it. Welcome to my world, kid.

There have been no reports of him nodding off in school, which makes him a better man than I was at that age. When I was in Kindergarten, I came home at noon. That, and the modern curriculum, makes his current situation more comparable to my first grade experience.

In first grade, my day went like this: get up at 4 a.m. for a quick bowl of Cream of Wheat before going to milk cows; get to school 15-30 minutes late, smelling as little like the barn as possible; chocolate milk and a cookie at 10; fit some learning in before noon; peanut butter sandwich and random Hostess product for lunch; sleep at desk until awakened for bus ride home.

Sleeping school

Where was this school when I needed it? I could have been first in my class.

I’m not sure what my class did in the afternoons as I was rarely with them in consciousness. I don’t remember falling behind, so maybe it was just a recap of the morning’s work. For all I know, it was free play all afternoon, or maybe the teacher led them in games of Let’s Shoot Spit Wads at the Sleepy Farm Kid. I was blissfully ignorant of the goings on around me, which makes me pine for the days when I could put my head down and fall asleep at my desk. The work day would go so much smoother if I could still sleep in that position.

Desk sleeping

“Arrgh! How do they expect me to sleep at such an uncomfortable desk?” (Image: Bayard Taylor)

By the second grade, I was staying awake all day. I’m not sure how that happened. It seems impossible that I could go to bed even earlier than I did in first grade. Maybe I matured, or maybe the second grade teacher made a habit of kicking my chair in the afternoons. It could be that the specter of cursive writing made it too hard to relax.

With all the stuff they throw at little kids in school these days, I doubt it’s a good idea to take the afternoons off anymore. If Kindergarten does start to wear my son down, we still have room to adjust his bed time. That should help him get through the day, but I don’t think he’ll like the idea at night. Hopefully, he’ll be too tired to raise a stink.

Top academic priority: study the playground

My son’s new school is about a mile away from our house. His new school is the one in which he will attend Kindergarten. He calls it his new school to differentiate it from his preschool, which was his old school.

He likes to visit his new school. There is a big playground alongside and I guess he wants to familiarize himself with all the equipment, to give himself a jump on his classmates in September. It’s important to know which is the best slide in those pivotal moments when the other children are making a confused rush toward the playground. Otherwise, you could have to wait your turn or something.

Climbing the ladder

A school is only as good as its playground.

Yesterday, I was home with the boys. As a special treat, I loaded them both into their wagon and started pulling them over the long trail toward the new school. It wasn’t very hot outside, if you weren’t pulling two kids in a wagon. The unencumbered pedestrians we saw looked rather comfortable. But comfortable is a relative term for a beast of burden.

Halfway there, I realized that I hadn’t brought the little guy’s diaper bag. We had already climbed one of the two big hills along the way and I was damned if I were going to backtrack for a diaper. Diapers are subject to arcane rules of chance, mandating that if you go out of your way to have one with you, you will certainly not need it.

I discussed it with Toddler Boy and we agreed to roll the dice and keep going. Mr. Kindergartener concurred, though his vote was merely ceremonial.

At the school playground, the boys exited the wagon. I had earned a moment of relaxation, but what a parent earns and what he collects are different quantities. A four-year-old can run surprisingly fast when aimed at a slide-sprouting sculpture of yellow metal.

Where's the best slide?

Practicing racing the other children to the best slide.

A one-year-old can be stopped in his tracks by an interesting array of wood chips, a used straw, an unfortunate bug, or really any number of common things seen under the new light of the playground.

Examining mulch

A piece of mulch unlike any other.

It is no time for relaxing when one must herd the cheetah and the sloth into the same swath of savannah.

Our play time was limited. Building clouds made a storm appear imminent, and a toddler always makes a storm imminent when he lacks fresh diapers.

As I built up a nice froth pulling the boys home, my son said, “Daddy, I’m not sure I want to go to Kindergarten.”

This was unusual. He’s been excited about it so far. “Why not?” I asked.

“I don’t know if I want to follow all their rules.”

This is a boy after my own heart. Many times I have contemplated calling my supervisor: “I won’t be in today because I don’t think I want to follow your rules. You’ll see me when I’ve developed a better attitude.”

I couldn’t argue against his point, so we went home.

Elementary school

The dismal house of rules just beyond the playground.

My wife got home soon after. “Guess what we did?” my son asked her. “We walked to my new school.”

We did?

I let it go. Mom was home now, so I could grab a few minutes to myself to relax. I did what I normally do with these precious moments. I went outside and mowed the lawn.