Tag Archives: Kindergarten

‘Shake It, Shake It, Hillary…’, The Miseducation of an Impressionable Young Man

‘It’s because Donald Trump is Mayor!’

There’s some subtle humor in the phrasing, but it doesn’t overshadow his tone. Charlie is not a fan of our current President. We kept the election from the kids but we haven’t been able to control the fallout.

Charlie came home on November 8th having learned about the process of voting. Apparently they held a mock vote in his class. Kindergarten. Whatever. Best I can tell he heard the names of the candidates the first time that day. Being our child he felt a great deal of guilt when he found out that he voted for a candidate he wouldn’t have had he been better informed. Than a kindergartener. Again, whatever.

‘Now Charlie, we disagree with President Trump, but we don’t get angry.’ I say, obviously causing some confusion as I’m certain he has met me before this moment and is aware of my Tuck Frump t-shirt I wear on my demeanor at all moments of the day. That said, I’m here to teach. ‘We have a job to do. We have to be extra nice to people. We have to show people that we love them and care about them. Right?’

It’s not that often, but it’s a routine conversation by now and we are all familiar with our script. Some of the older kids at the Y dropoff informed him one day that his brown friends were going to be kicked out of America. Strange conversations are being had with kindergarteners these days. Lots changed since either of my turns in Kindergarten in pre-Reagan America.

Over the weeks following the election he became more militantly defensive of Hillary than I was. I certainly liked her enough, to paraphrase my favorite POTUS. But we fancy ourselves decent people and as such we believe in equality. Some people call this many things, one of them being feminist. I prefer to think of it as decent, but fine, feminist is a badge we men in this family will wear well if a woman so chooses to place it on us.

So you could imagine my shock when I heard Charlie dancing around the house singing…

‘Shake it, shake it, Hillary.’

On it’s face this may be the exact antithesis of what we hope for our boys. It sounds objectifying. It sounds dismissive. It sounds sexist. And it would be if, say, I were the one saying it. It wasn’t me. It was a six year old kindergartner.

I got one of those Google Home things for my birthday. It’s amazing and can change how everything in your home, née your life, works. It can apparently simplify everything from taxes to exercise, provide onsite security and clean your house at the mere utterance of ‘ok, google.’ This is what the commercial will have you believe. For our purposes however it’s mainly a voice operated speaker. It plays music. Still, a great value for such a magical thing.

One of the magical memories of our brief, though memorable courtship my wife and I share were our many weekend trips from the city up to our favorite hippy dippy slow food gourmet restaurant in Woodstock. We used to luxuriate on the rides upstate. After our meals we would drive home, not a care or pressure in the world. After having kids I’m pretty sure I remember life before as pressureless. One of the things we liked to do on these weekend trips was listen to cool radio. We dated in our 30’s so sometimes this meant NPR weekend entertainment. Other times it meant college radio. WFUV was a favorite. You could get it for about the last hour or so of our ride back to Astoria, Queens.

‘This is a Dead song. I don’t know who’s playing it, but the dead played it as well.’ I said.

‘Hmm. It’s good.’ She said.

We enjoyed after the song hearing the story of the song, what the meaning of the song was and all it’s somewhat obvious storytelling. The history of the song was fascinating as well. How different bands had come to it, earliest known playing of it and the songwriters story. I could have this all wrong. Whatever was said, we both kinda fell in love with the song. ‘Sugaree’ was the name and it was one I’d always known but never really heard. It was like we discovered it together that night.

So fast forward eight or nine years and it was nice to finally have our magical voice activated jukebox be able to whisk us back to that awesome time. It was a more than risqué song, but it was buried under melody and metaphor and adult knowledge, and none of the words in themselves were bad, so what harm could it do to have it playing while we raised two little boys. Besides, could do worse than the Grateful Dead.

Until your burgeoning little man starts singing a woman’s praises by imploring, ever so innocently, to ‘Shake it, shake it, Hillary.’

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Me and My BIG MOUTH!

imageI have a booming voice. As a child my parents and grandparents called it a ‘stage voice’. I believe this was something that made me prideful. ‘Stage voice’ sounded so complimentary. Like I might someday find my calling in the theater. And that ‘theater’ in my mind was a 3-syllable word.

Well, in hindsight, I think it was a nice way of saying I was loud. Very loud. I’ve come to appreciate its usefulness as I’ve learned to modulate its resonance. I speak at a normal volume in meetings or on the phone or in conversation. I save the boom-voice for such times as it’s functional. Like the years I spent as a summer camp director and had to often address large crowds while outside. Then, a booming voice is like magic. It  cuts through the cacophony and retains it’s shape even in the open air. Now it is mostly spent getting the attention of two amazingly awesome little boys who occasionally need help coming to attention.

In the course of raising these boys it’s become evident that they are going to need to attend school. If for no other reason than we need them occupied so we can work in order to keep them sheltered, fed and amply supplied. Were it not for these things I’d be one of those hippie dippie’s that w0uld prefer them to spend their days in the woods foraging and exploring and learning by reading. I’d never follow through on these things as I’m temperamentally a conformist, mostly for the sake of ease. Still, the heart wants what the heart wants.

Dig a little deeper and there’s more to it. I had a terrible experience in school. I dropped out of kindergarten and dropped out of a master’s degree program, book ending my tortured schooling with decisive, empowered rejection. So last night as I was wandering through the halls of my kids school I was prone to flashbacks to crappy times in a place I didn’t want to be. I remember the physical discomfort that resulted from my constant self judgment. It was fun!

As the night went on, however, I came around. It is really a great school. We were all there as families engaging in some fun activities put on by the school. There were media projects and fun scavenger hunts and various games and activities. The scavenger hunt looked super intense. We opted for story time in the library. Charlie was used to it so he sat on the floor where his reading teacher was going to sit. His little brother was not so into that. He took off.

‘I’ll chase.’ I said to Karen.

So we were off. Thankfully there were screens computers made available across the room. It was GREAT! They had stories he could listen to on headphones while the pages of the book and the beautiful accompanying art was on the screen. He was excited to learn how to use the mouse. It never occurred to me the mouse would be foreign to him, but of course it is. He lives in a world of touch screens.

After a bit Char and Karen joined us and as they sat there something awesome happened. The very nice mom who I met at last weeks weekend of birthday parties was standing across from me and Karen. Karen was already friendly with her before we met. We got to chatting. About school, where we were from, what brought us to here, the challenge of neighbors. It was fantastic. We were speaking to adults. Adults who might become our allies for the next 12 years. Who knows, potentially even friends!

Then it happened.

‘Excuse me. Um, could you just be a little quieter? My sons trying to read me a story and I can’t hear him.’ said the mom sitting next to the computer next to the one Teddy was on. Right in front of me.

I of course said, ‘Sure, sorry about that.’ even though what I meant for that to convey was, ‘are you kidding me, this room, this whole building is crawling with kids and parents, making endless noise and running everywhere!’

So we finished up our conversation, wrapped up what might have been the start of a friendship with my tail between my legs and our ‘friend’ chastened and chased away.

Whatever. I actually feel sorry for her. She clearly didn’t appreciate that she was in the presence of one of the worlds great stage voices. Her loss… Back to viscerally hating being in school for me.

Surviving My Kids Friends Birthday Parties

I was sitting in a room full of 5 and 6 year old’s and their parents this past weekend. We were at one of Charlie’s friends birthday parties. It’s remarkable how much a 6 year old’s birthday has changed since I was a kid. Perhaps I went to one at a McDonald’s once. I don’t think I went to all that many kindergarten birthday parties. If I went to 5 that would seem to be a lot. Now we’re busy like I was during the summers of my late 20’s when I was  traveling every weekend to weddings of friends and family.

17022102_1224967080954027_8283132131191062470_nThis was our second birthday party in as many days from this one kindergarten class and it was at the same location as the first. It was one of those former retail spots made over as a kid-party factory, complete with monstrous bounce houses and inflatable slides. This one was particularly cool as it also had scooters and floor projected interactive video games. Ultimately a perfect place for a couple hours of fun. He loved it.

I also, of course, loved that he loved it and was super appreciative of the family hosting it for giving such a fun experience to our boy. But it’s an awkward place for me. I’ll write more about that in a short while, I’m sure. It’s really worthy of milking for some laughs when you see me, a 43 year old dad to two, so socially petrified that I’m stuck staring at my phone trying hard not to look creepy to all the other, seemingly more socially gifted parents sitting in small groups chatting away. It’s just strange. And I’m not the only dad to end up this way at these things. So UNCOMFORTABLE. But like I said, you’ll get some laughs out of this in a future post, I hope.

Back to the room of kids, eating pizza and drinking juice. They sit there so confident. I recognize this confidence. It’s not social confidence. By 5 or 6 you start to see some self awareness and self consciousness start to sneak in as they observe there classmates and occasionally wonder if they are doing it right. Whatever ‘it’ is. No. This is the confidence in exactly what is shaky inside me. Confidence that those grown ups, as present and attended to as the muffled and ignored teachers and parents in the old Charlie Brown cartoons, are all knowing, never wavering, able to know exactly what to do and how to do it. It’s a blind confidence. Never questioned or examined by the kids. Its exactly the opposite of what I feel at the moment.

Should I sit down? I should sit? Shit, did I make the mom sitting next to me uncomfortable? I should introduce myself. Shit. Of course I just introduced myself to the woman I exchange pleasantries with everyday and of course we know each other. I should stand up. Shit. Did she take that the wrong way? Do I, do we have an enemy now? I’m not eating. Damn it. Should I stand by the wall or hang by the door. I just don’t want to look like a creep and everything is making me look that way. These are my thoughts while my child sits there, assured and confident because I, who knows all and controls all, is present.

I don’t know how all the other parents feel but I have to imagine I’m not the only one that has these moments where it all becomes so clear. We are all doing the best we can. It’s a blend of planning and reacting. It’s a combo of following in footsteps and improvising. It’s intuitive and learned. We all want to do well. There’s never really a time when you know whether or not you are. You win moments, sure you handled something perfectly. Those moments are followed by other moments and that goes on forever.

As much as anything this makes me realize how much of my own life was and to some degree, will always remain a fabrication of my own misunderstanding of what my parents were and what they were doing. And there parents and there parents for as far back as we go. Structures we rely on make it possible and we’ve been fortunate enough in recent generations to have stable structures. It’s hard not to feel a little off balance when so much seems so fragile.

Before I know it Charlie’s asking the nice lady in the party factory uniform for seconds of ice cream cake. Some folks are leaving, getting gift bags, saying thank yous and finding coats. I’ve actually had a nice conversation with another parent, a mom of one of Charlie’s good friends. Everything is back to normal. I know my script and am ready to dad.

‘Yep, time to go, buddy. Did you say thank you? Don’t forget to say Happy Birthday.’

Picture Day on Mamalode

Today I’m looking back and projecting forward as I look at my son on Picture Day. Click the link to see my story on Mamalode.

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Picture Day 

Today is picture day. You are wearing a new blue button down shirt and we packed a more durable, comfortable shirt in your bag for you to wear at after school. I have my suspicions as to whether you’ll change, though. You are so proud of yourself today and you know you are handsome. It doesn’t occur to you to be bashful, to quell your pride. You smiled this morning and you were excited. Today is picture day.

Picture day is a day for us too. It’s a day to get a snapshot of you in Kindergarten. A chance for us to attempt earnestly to do the impossible. To capture you as you are now, to freeze you in this moment. We do it so we can share this moment with the wide world of people that love you. To capture and disseminate your joyful boyishness so that even a tiny bit can be transported across space and your Grandma and Koba and Nana and Papa can hold this part of you from hundreds of miles away. So they can put you on the fridge and look at you whenever they wish. So they can show their friends and your relatives, ones you don’t even know yet, how well you are doing. So they can feel pride. Not only in you, but in us.

We also take these pictures so that we, your mommy and daddy, can travel through time to right now. It’s important. We dress you in your finest and we do your hair especially carefully. I think you may have even had your first encounter with hairspray this morning. We do it as it is our wont. We want you to look your finest and be happy. So we can find this picture a few years from now when you are perhaps a bit self conscious and less open to us combing your hair. When you try to comply and smile, but when that smile is put on, something to think about and not so much your default facial expression. We will come back in time to this picture and the others like it to remember who you are inside, at least the part of who you are that we first met. We’ll always see that part, even after you’re convinced it’s not there anymore. We’ll know it’s just dormant. You will never look like you do now and that’s important to memorialize, but you will feel this way again, but it will be tempered by life and what it teaches you.

Innocence is highly overrated. But it is also a real and wonderful part of being five and while you are a more mature boy everyday and while we love that you can be quiet and contemplative from time to time, there is something we will miss about this time you are rapidly graduating from where you are earnest and honest with us and yourself by default. You haven’t gotten too caught up in fitting in. Too caught up in trying on identities you conjure. Instead you look at the camera proud because you are handsome, funny, smart and loved and you know it. And so do we.

We’ll know it when you are away at college and going on adventures to find yourself. When you are busy developing and defining your purpose.  We will look at this picture and the others, the ones from every step on the way and we will be recognizing ours. We will see all that went in to getting you to picture day and take pride in us, all of us, for doing what we did together. We will still be doing it, but it will look a lot different than it does now, all of us smooshed together, experiencing it as one and interpreting it individually. There might be times when these interpretations are deceptive and we struggle to stay positive. You may need to distance yourself and we may reactively hold tighter. You’ll surely have to push us away someday, just like we will surely have to nudge you along from time to time. It will all be from love, but it might not always feel that way. When it doesn’t these pictures will help.

They’ll help you too. You’ll look back and remember vividly some things. I remember my mother wetting the comb and working with my cowlick. Trying over and over to supress my hairs natural desires in an attempt to look my best. Licking her thumb and cleaning the smudges from my cheek. I remember the brown bags we used for lunches that my father would sit at the table at night and decorate. I’ll remember the joyful pink elephant sitting under the lone palm tree on the tiny island on a lunch bag that I used repeatedly that I loved so much that he made for me. It’s another framed talisman from a time gone by that I cling to, though after my many adult moves I can’t say I know exactly where it is. I’ll find it someday, probably too late, and when I do I’ll cry tears of love and joy.

Hopefully when you look back, from a great distance and see your picture you’ll see love. The love and time and unabashed joy we took in giving you what we had. In doing our best to make sure you were taken care of, that you knew you were loved. Because when we look at them, when we travel through time and space to see the you you are now it will be with joy. It will be with love. It will be with longing for the time we had with you and the many journey’s you are surely going to take.

I Hate School

img_3083I hate school.

I hope you won’t but I fear you will.

Let me be clear. I don’t fear you will fail at school. You are INSANELY smart and I suspect you will soar at school. My fear is that school will fail you. Will turn your attention from satisfying and stirring curiosity to simple and attainable achievement. That a fire you carry will dim in order that the oxygen it would have taken to be stoked from a flame to an inferno will be otherwise deployed to satisfy the wishes of others. It’s hard to stay away from that. You’ll spend lots of energy pursuing that which you may be unsure of to pursue the expectations you are handed. A little of that is okay, good even. But only enough to learn that you aren’t here alone and you are accountable to others. Beyond that my only wish is that you find that which excites you and you pursue it without fear, embracing the failures that come from trying new things. Staying true to yourself will make most failures tolerable and some downright necessary. Just remember that failures are not end points. They are merely spots on the journey.

School made me horribly self critical. I don’t know why but it did. As you prepare to head out for your first day you are so much more prepared than I was. Still I find myself regressing. I sat with your mother last night and it all came out. I’m horrified and angry that you are heading to school. I had a miserable first few years at school and as a result I learned how to be liked regardless of whether or not I was remaining true to myself. I lacked confidence and swam in conformity. As much as I could. My heart and mind were free, but under wraps. All that time and energy spent hiding me made me wonder if I was worth anything.

img_3078If anyone ever laughs at you or says something critical about who you are ignore them. Seriously. Hold on to your kind heart, smart head, unique tastes and your loving and weird family.  If you do you’ll see these clowns for who they are. Okay, there was a tad more anger in this sentiment than intended. Truth is most of them are scared and excited and wanting to hide in a corner unnoticed while also wishing to have all the attention possible. Growing up is confusing sometimes. The only power anyone has over your opinion of yourself is the power you grant them. Don’t give it. Hold firm. You are weird and wonderful and unique and perfectly flawed and loved. Find the people that are engaged in the things you want to be doing, regardless of what anyone else thinks about them, and sit with them. If it takes weeks or months or years, I don’t care. Stay where you want to be, don’t go where you’re ‘supposed’ to be.

I love you so much and for one of the few times since meeting you I’m shaken. It caught me off guard. I’ve been spouting the ‘I hate school’ gospel for over 35 years now. But I didn’t realize how much I feared it until I was seeing it through your eyes. Seeing it from a perspective of a protective dad. Seeing it as someone who is certain that school worked in reverse, at least for me. It killed enthusiasm, stoked self-consciousness, raised fear and followed through on it. I know this won’t happen to you, so why am I now thinking thoughts I haven’t thought since I was your age. Feeling scared that kids might make fun of your stuff. Hoping to god you aren’t picked on. Feeling a visceral concern that you have the wrong hair or wrong shirt or wrong glue sticks and you’ll react like I did.

This is your journey and I have to check out of it. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but this part of me, I have to protect you from it. Maybe when you are older we can talk about it. When we are two adults. Not now.

You really are going to do amazing things. You’re going to LOVE school! YOU are going to make friends today that will be your friends for the next 13 years and probably for the rest of your life.

YOUR LIFE. I’m sorry if I forget that at times.

Kindergarten Rotation

2016-05-08 13.56.34‘Don’t get too excited, Charlie’ said Miss K., his pre-school teacher.

‘I’m gonna be too excited. My heart is gonna burst out of my cage.’ He replied. He was beaming. I realize this could be read in such a way as to think he might be expressing something of great concern. He wasn’t. It was a rebuke. Think of it more like, ‘I’m gonna be super excited and you can’t stop me. I mean seriously, I can’t stand still. I’m bouncing out of my shoes. You don’t get too excited!’

Today was kindergarten orientation.

‘Where are you going with your daddy, Charlie?’ The daycare director asked, with a wink, prompting the response she loved and she knew I would as well.

‘Kindergarten rotation!’ Orientation, rotation… Close enough and I ain’t changing it.

I have mixed feelings about my boys entering the school system. On the one hand I hate it and on the other I dread it. So, you know, mixed.

My feelings come from a place, they aren’t just anti-everything, white male suspiciagression. I actually failed at school. A lot. It’s okay. I’ve overcome my shortcomings and had enough bursts of effort to actually attain a bachelors after about 10 years of mostly not trying. While I don’t have my first dream job, pro basketball player, I have a version of a dream job and I’m working on a second, writer.

When we got home to meet mom and head out to the school he started to wonder what was going to happen. Like, what actually was going to happen. I immediately tried to hide my fears and anxiety by over talking. It’s not something I have to work at, in fact I come to this tactic quite naturally!

‘You’re gonna love it. You’re gonna go into a classroom with all the other kids and play. I guess you’ll play. Honey, they’re gonna play in the room right? We’re gonna go in a different room and meet all the other mommy’s and daddy’s and the nurse.’ I said, anything but nonchalantly.

It came out all wrong because I didn’t believe it. I mean I believed the details but the enthusiasm wasn’t there. I was starting to think back to my first few months of kindergarten. All the tears and nonstop screaming I did. I mean it was a lot. I generated a river of tears that was remarkable for it’s persistence. I was my own little Lake Tear of the Clouds building the mighty Hudson of toddler sorrow that I rode to the principals office everyday for months. She tried everything a nun has in the quiver to get me to calm down but it didn’t work. Eventually she just started giving me lollipops to shut me up for a bit while she continued to work but it was of no use. I’d just blurt out again when I was sent back. Some days must have been worse than others as I was occasionally sent home with my mother who’d cuddle me and play with me the rest of the day, when she wasn’t tending to my little sister.

In retrospect having grown up and lived as an adult for some time now I actually think I was consistent, always tears all day everyday and some days the adults just had had enough or were having a bad day and decided today was a day I needed to go away. I’d have never been allowed to go these days. I wouldn’t be five until the week of Thanksgiving. Not that this understanding of why I’d handled it the way I did would ever make the older kids stop singing, or chanting actually, ‘kindergarten drop out’ as they skipped around me that summer.

Charlie was so excited to even be at the school. He’d been hearing us tell him, for years now, how one day he’d be one of the big kids who got to the ‘big kids’ school. Never mind that when he gets to the ‘big kids’ school it will be a shock to him to find a (half) school day lasts two and a half hours as opposed to the 9 hour ‘school’ day he’s had to this point at his daycare, this is the big time. When we got there, in the mass of moms and more dad’s than I’d assumed would be there, and overexcited 5ish year olds, it became a tad scary for Charlie and he clutched our hands.

‘I bet you can’t walk all the way around on the wood and not fall off.’ I said, pointing to the boarded border of the tree around which a group of kids were busy playing/slash burning off some of their excitement to be here, kindergarten, the destination so many were surely looking forward to in the same way that Charlie was, hearts bursting. He of course could and was excited to do so and even brushed up against some kids. Who knows, one of these kids might be the best friend he has through high school. Maybe his first love is in this crowd. Sworn enemies. Everyone needs a good, harmless nemesis and I had already spotted several that would fit the bill.

He was immediately back between us holding both hands asking if we could stay with him. Of course we can, I was thinking. And we will. We won’t throw you to the wolves, your our guy and we’ll never let these people kill your enthusiasm, destroy your curiosity and make you obsessed with GPA’s and other meaningless signs of conformity that surely spell your demise. Don’t you fret buddy.

We lined up, as is one’s natural inclination in the halls of a building designed in the classical American architectural tradition of grade schools, as a family. Hand in hand. With other families standing in the same familial posture both in front of and behind us. As I stood in the hall, a 42 year old man who could hardly be described as anything other than confident and self possessed in any normal setting, my heart raced.

The line moved swiftly and the parents in front of us were very cool. Far cooler than I in my standard issue button down and Khaki’s. It was a workday after all. I made the dad chuckle with one well placed punchline. Something about a prison that worked on the honor system. I don’t really remember what the setup was. In hindsight it had to be that I, holding Charlie’s hand and silent and ready to start sweating, was staying perfectly silent so as not to draw any attention, particularly the kind that felt palpable in the air of the school hallway, mocking attention, and had been listening intently to this obviously comfortable dad being cool and hoping I could say something that made him laugh. Thank god there was an opening and I had something.

Charlie meanwhile shouted, ‘It’s a classroom!’ That exclamation mark is not misplaced. He shouted it as if he’d found the final golden ticket. Immediately I grasped his hand a little tighter. God forbid we make a scene. I’m as disgusted as anyone else is at this behavior, stifling his natural and understandable excitement. Although I do believe I may have failed in my attempt to prepare him for this day if the thought of there being a classroom in a school was such a surprise. I judge myself horribly and constantly for my temperamental disdain for expressions of exuberance and excitement. Honestly I do. I’m like that scene in the birdcage where Robin Williams while choreographing implores his dancer to be flamboyant and expressive.. Fosse, Fosse, Fosse… Martha Graham, Martha Graham, Martha Graham.. but on the inside. On the outside, stay still. I’d have NAILED that part. And I’m not even a dancer!

2016-05-08 13.56.37Before too long we were at the front of the line, he had wiggled free and was gathering with all the other little boys around the box of Lego’s, ready to invent and build and make friends and laugh and play. Just like we wanted him to. I was faking it and thankfully he was making it.