The Teacher

I wasn’t one of those moms who cried the day she sent her kid off to kindergarten. I was excited about the adventure that I knew was ahead for Sean.  I expected joy and it has been delivered in abundance.

But now that the school year is about to come to an end, I am beginning to feel a twinge of sadness, maybe the same sort of sadness that the other mothers felt in the fall.  I am not ready for this sweet season of half day school to come to an end.  For the past three years, we’ve enjoyed living in a small, safe bubble at this school and now that bubble is about to burst. And I’ve got my fingers in my ears waiting for the inevitable pop.

The leaving is so hard.  If only we could just stay a little longer, we surely would.

We’ve been visiting a lot of schools lately as we try to figure out where to send Sean for 1st grade. So yesterday, after we got home from school I told Sean about the school we had visited that day and how we really liked the 1st grade teacher.

“But I really like the teacher I have now,” he said.  He quietly dropped his chin to his chest and made that long face he makes when he is trying not to cry.  He tried to blink back the tears but they rolled down his cheeks anyway.

I didn’t have any wisdom to offer him, so I just reached across the table and touched his hand.

He wiped the tears from his face with is forearm.  “Wouldn’t it be nice if the teacher always went with you?” he whispered.

I nodded.  I pulled him across the table and into my lap.

And I thought to myself that a good teacher always goes with you, in some small way, wherever you go.

Intro To Pumpkinology 101

Last week Sean’s kindergarten teacher asked me if I’d be willing to come up to the school and lead a couple of 15-20 minute classes on pumpkins. I know my way around a pumpkin and it sounded like fun, so I said sure, why not.

When I arrived at the school,  the teacher gave me a 10-second overview of the lesson plan, three pumpkins and a knife. Then she blindfolded me, spun me around three times and pushed me towards my classroom.

The lesson plan was this:  She would send three or four children at a time to my room where we would list on a whiteboard all the characteristics of a pumpkin. Then we would read a short book on how a pumpkin starts from a seed, grows into a pumpkin, and then the seeds from the pumpkin return to the ground where more pumpkins grow.  Oh I’m sorry.  I just gave away the ending.  Hope that doesn’t ruin it for you.

Anyway, after the book, the children were to explore the pumpkin.  They were to put their hands in, on and around the pumpkin, they were to experience pumpkin slime and become one with the pumpkin.  At which time I would send them back to the teacher covered in pumpkin guts and she would send me three more unsuspecting children (insert scary maniacal laugh).

If I’ve learned one thing as a mother, it is this:  managing children is a lot like throwing a party.  Any possible thing that can be done ahead of time, should be done ahead of time.

With that thought in mind, I decided that I would cut the tops off the pumpkins before the children arrived to my room so that I wasn’t faced with wielding a knife while a small crowd of 5-year-olds tried to “help”.  But the pumpkins the teacher had given me were as hard as bowling balls. The knife that I had just wasn’t cutting it.  Cutting it!  Ha!  I crack myself up.

About time this, another teacher, Ms. Danielle, happened by my room and saw that I had worked up a bead of sweat trying to cut the top off a pumpkin.  She did not point and laugh but politely asked how it was going.  I said, not so well and I jokingly asked her if she happened to have a chainsaw.  She said, no, but she did have a hacksaw.  I laughed and then I noticed she wasn’t kidding, so  I said, “Dudette? Seriously?”

Ms. Danielle slipped away and quickly returned with a hacksaw.  I immediately had a series of thoughts: 1) Ain’t it great living in Texas!? 2) Mental note to self:  Do not tick off Ms. Danielle.  3) Wow, she’s got her own hacksaw!  4) If she keeps a hacksaw in her purse, I wonder what she has under the car seat?

Side Bar:  If I were lost out in the wilderness with someone, I would pick Ms. Danielle over Bear Grylls because for one thing, she carries a hacksaw and that would be useful. And two, she seems pretty pragmatic.  I’m sure she would not get naked and jump into a freezing cold river for demonstration purposes as Bear likes to do.  And three, being a woman, she would ask for directions and we wouldn’t get lost in the first place and we would go shopping instead and we would not have to eat bugs because we could just go to Starbucks or Panera.

There for a minute, I thought there was point to this post, but apparently I was mistaken.

All in all, I think the Intro to Pumpkinology class was a success.  No one threw up or fainted or suffered any permanent psychological damage other than three small pumpkins.

The Trail Head

Last week, I started putting the positive spin on how exciting it was going to be to get back to school, to see the teachers and the other kids.  But my five-year-old was not buying it.  “Sean!” I enthused, “You are going to be a kindergartner! You are going to be one of the big kids of the school! That’s a big deal!”

“You see Mom,” he said slowly and diplomatically, “Here’s the thing.  I’m not that big on kindergarten. I would rather just stay home with you.”

“But you see Sean,” I said, “Here’s the thing. I like you a whole lot better when you go away for a couple of hours.”

No. I didn’t really say that.  Even if it is somewhat true.

So then, Tuesday morning, we set up the tripod and took some pictures of our tiny tribe to mark this milestone.  And then together, AD and I drove Sean to the first day of what we hope will be a long and distinguished academic career, the trail head of a lifelong path to learning.

When we pulled into the parking lot, Sean unbuckled himself, grabbed his backpack and sprinted to his classroom never once looking back.  Whatever misgivings he had about going to kindergarten last week had vanished. Somewhere in the parking lot he became big on kindergarten.

When we finally caught up to him, he was already in his classroom and in the swing of things.  We peeked in the windows and watched him for a few minutes.  His posture was attentive, his hand eagerly rocketing up to answer questions we could not hear; not one stinking thing to indicate that he wasn’t comfortable and confident.  So we left. We were not needed here.

All in all, it was a rather anticlimactic milestone given that he is returning to the same school he’s been at for the past several years — he knows the drill, he knows the teachers and many of the students. Nothing new with which to contend.

When we got home, I got busy taking care of a some things that I had put off all summer and Antique Daddy got busy having himself a good sloppy man cry.

I guess it was not an anticlimactic milestone for everyone.

Everything I Ever Remember About Kindergarten

Sean begins kindergarten shortly after Labor Day. And like every other mother in America who is sending a child off to kindergarten, I can’t believe this day has arrived so quickly. It seems like just yesterday that we found out we were expecting.

I guess I should be reflecting on the past five years and how they have slipped away so quickly, but what I find myself thinking about is how the past 45 years have slipped away so quickly.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was in kindergarten.  When I look at my kindergarten class picture, I can name nearly every student, the teacher and even the school principal.  I don’t think I’ve ever forgotten one single detail of my life, which in many ways is unfortunate, because there are many events which would best be forgotten.

Here is everything I remember about kindergarten:

I was in the afternoon class.  There were 30 kids in my class and one teacher — no aide like they have now.  The teacher’s name, God bless her real good, was Mrs. Kelly. According to the class picture, she had a first name and it started with “B” but no one ever knew what it was.

PhotobucketMrs. Kelly was probably about 25 or 30, but in her picture she looks much older.  In 1965 everyone looked about 20 yeas older than they actually were. That was the style. I remember one time I called her “mom” by mistake and I thought I would die.

In the spring, Mrs. Kelly took the entire class on a walking field trip to the IGA which was half a block from school. We had to cross a set of defunct railroad tracks and a busy two-lane road to get to the store.  And just now I’m trying to imagine doing that with 30 5-year-olds and it gives me the shivers.

For reasons unknown, just before we got to the railroad tracks, Jean Ann D. freaked out and tried to run away.  Mrs. Kelly sprinted after her and chased her down.  I could not believe my eyes.  I was a compliant child and it would never have occurred to me to do something like that.  I distinctly remember wondering why on earth would anyone do such a crazy thing? Who doesn’t want to go to the grocery store?  When we got to the grocery store, the store manager opened a box of Capt’n Crunch and let everyone have a handful of cereal.    That pivotal moment cemented my deep and abiding love for Capt’n Crunch.

Mrs. Kelly broke her leg during the school year (maybe chasing after Jean Ann) and so she sometimes sat in the front of the class with her foot in a cast resting on a chair. She read “Make Way for Ducklings” and  “Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel” – still two of my favorite children stories.  I liked the way she held the books out to the side while she read so we could see the pictures.

PhotobucketOne time Mrs. Kelly called me to the front of the room and pulled me up on her lap and felt my forehead.  She said I looked  like I didn’t feel well.   I had a fever and she called my dad to come and get me.  It made me feel special to sit in her lap.  I took note of it because I don’t think other than that one time, she knew I was in the class — not too surprising given the class size and the fact that I didn’t do anything crazy like run away.

One time Mrs. Kelly brought out a box of percussion musical instruments. Everyone picked one and we all marched around the room banging on whatever lame instrument we managed to grab.  I wanted the triangle, but never got it and I certainly never got the tambourine, even after Mrs. Kelly made everyone trade instruments with someone else.  I remember feeling mighty ridiculous marching around the room banging two sticks together.  Consequently, I never took band.

There was a little pretend grocery store set up in the classroom and sometimes we would get to play grocery store, my most absolute favorite activity.  I loved the tiny toy cash register. Everyone wanted to be the cashier. For many years thereafter, it was my dream to be a cashier.

Photobucket

One time just as the bell rang and the class was being dismissed, my boyfriend Jerry got a nose bleed.  The teacher had him lie down on the floor with his head tilted back.  All the students ran out of the room to go home, even the teacher was out in the hall.  Jerry started crying so I turned back and stayed with him in the empty classroom, kneeling down beside him as globs of blood dripped out of his nose and down the side of his face.  I was a compassionate angel of mercy even in those days.

One day, my dad was late picking me up from school.  All the other kids had gone home and I was the last one left. The school was eerily quiet and I was beginning to get concerned.  In those days, I thought a lot about becoming an orphan and made plans about what I would do if I became an orphan.  Once I heard the word orphan and learned what it meant, I could not think of anything else. As I waited for my dad, who might not be coming for me, I imagined my exotic life in an orphanage.  As I waited,  I didn’t cry, because it would have taken more than being orphaned to make me cry. Nonetheless, I was relieved to see him when he finally showed up.

My dad took me to school every day in his car, known as Clunker #2, which he had hand painted primer gray.  And every day before school, and I do mean every single day, he fixed me a boiled hotdog which he impaled with a fork and served up with a splotch of ketchup on a plate.  After a nutritious gourmet lunch, I would crawl up onto the bench seat of Clunker #2 beside my dad while he drove me to school. Because I was fiercely independent, I always jumped out and ran into the school by myself, never looking back.

The year I was three, I got a maid’s outfit for Christmas which included an apron, a hat and all the tools of the trade. One day I decided that I should like to wear the maid’s outfit to school.  Dad put his foot down on that one.  I threw a fit, but he stood firm and sent me back to my room to change. That was one of the few times in my life that my dad has said no to me.

Everyday before getting in the car to go to school, dad would make some clumsy attempt to make my course thick dry frizzy bad hair presentable.  He never succeeded, but he will certainly get a star in his crown for trying.

Jeannie S. wore a leg brace. Her parents owned a gas station.  Billy R. had braces on both legs and some sort of medical problem and my mom would have long telephone chats with his mom.  Brian M. had a spot on the middle of his nose and it was terribly cute.  Laura G. wasn’t quite right and was known to bite.  Rhonda D. used to roll up on her back during nap time and pull her panties down to her knees and then pull them back up as she rolled back  — another thing that would have never occurred to me to do.  There was so many new things to learn at school.   Cassie B. was the cutest girl in the whole class. She was also the cutest girl in high school.

One day, towards the end of the school year, my mom let me walk the 3/4  mile home with Jerry.  I don’t know if one of the moms followed us at a discreet distance, but not in ten million years would I let my 5-year-old walk a mile home down a busy road. Not in twenty million years.  It was a different time.

After graduating kindergarten, 13 of us went on to Catholic grade school together through 8th grade and then we joined up again with most of the rest of the class in high school.

I still get together with Jerry and some of the other “kids” every couple of years and have dinner and wax nostalgic.  There’s something kind of cool about getting together with  people who share a history, people who are rooted in the same soil.

Sean is a lot like me. He compliant, forgets nothing and loves to play grocery store. In a week, he’ll begin making his own kindergarten memories and he’ll meet people with whom he’ll share a certain history.

And maybe if he’s really lucky, when he’s my age, he’ll still be connected to a few folks who occupied the same sweet kindergarten time and space.

Movin’ On And Draggin’ Feet

As I was driving Sean to day camp yesterday, we got to talking about the upcoming school year.  I was hoping to stir up some enthusiasm for kindergarten.

In his dream world, he does not go to kindergarten but stays home and builds forts in the den with me all day. And eats popsicles for breakfast.  In my dream world, he trots happily off to kindergarten for a few hours while I get a few things done.  And then comes home and builds forts with me in the den. And then later we watch Deadliest Catch re-runs and eat Ritz crackers on the sofa.

I am always convinced that something fabulous is waiting for me just around the corner.  It is just my nature.  It always knocks me for a loop when my rose colored glasses fog over, yet still, I just can’t wait to see what’s next.  I look ahead and expect good things.

My child is unlike me in this regard.

In this regard, slap some whiskers on that boy and he is his father.

Instead of being excited about all the new friends he will make, about enjoying all the privileges of being the oldest kids in the school, about the awesome smell of new school supplies — he was dour.  He does not care for the forward motion of the universe.

In his defense, I will say that his pre-K class was a golden little tribe. They were all especially bright and a uniquely cohesive little group – a dozen good eggs.

“I don’t want new friends,” he said, looking out the window.  “I want my same group.”

“Well, I know,” I said.  “Those kids will still be your friends, but you are going to get even more friends! Isn’t that great?!”

“No.”

“Make new friends, but keee-eep the-uh oh-weld! One is silv…”

“Mom stop it.”

“Why do things have to change?” he asked. “I like things the way they were.”

“Well Sean, that’s just how it is.  Get used to it.  The world and life and circumstances are always changing. Things never stay the same for very long.  The world moves forward and never back.”

Silence.

“Sometimes you say you wish I was a baby again.”

“You know what? That’s true. Every day I wish that. Just a little bit. I look at you and can’t believe you are my four-pound baby. But at the same time, I love the boy that you are now!  And I am excited to see what God has in store for you, how you will grow and what you will become.  I’m convinced that something wonderful is waiting for you in kindergarten – more friends, more fun, more challenges. You just have no idea how awesome it will be.”

“What if you never moved on before you went into Pre-K? You’d have never been part of the Blue Group. Wouldn’t that be sad?”

“I’m just not ready to move on.”

“Yup. I know.  But there is good stuff ahead. Trust me.”

* * *

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”  1 Corinthians 2:9