>[First I’ve just got to share my surprise and joy—I’m almost afraid to write these words—because just today I noticed that the worm is gone! Yes! I had gotten so used to him being here, that I’m not sure when he died. Maybe 2-3 days ago? Just today I realized that he’s gone. And that’s after having to close his two obnoxious pop-ups every thirty seconds or so while on the computer for a couple of weeks. So… what killed him? I’ve got two thoughts: the prayers of Holy Saint George and Archangel Michael—thank you thank you thank you (as Anne Lamott says)—and maybe, just maybe, my new subscription to Norton finally got him. I remember a couple of days ago that a security scan showed a “high risk” item that needed to be fixed, so I clicked on “fix now” and then rebooted my computer. I’m wondering if that’s when the worm died. Who knows. But just had to share my good news before getting on with the subject of my post.]
So… did you know that today, September 7, is national Grandparents Day? On Friday, I was invited to my Goddaughter Katherine’s daughter Mary’s first grade classroom to celebrate the day. See, Mary’s grandparents live in Mississippi and Montana, so when her teacher said to invite them to Grandparents Day, she had to choose a surrogate. And she chose me! Here we are, in her precious room, all neatly organized and colorfully decorated.
Then we did a few more pages of activities. One I loved showed three circles, which overlapped in the middle. On the left side, she was supposed to write down things about herself that are different from me. On the right side, things about me that are different from her. We had fun talking about how she likes dogs and I like cats, and she’s young and I’m old. And she’s short and I’m tall. And she has brown eyes and mine are blue-green. But you know, that was about it. The overlapping part of the circle in the middle, that showed all the things about us that are alike was quickly filled: we both LOVE the beach, swimming, dancing, music, and shopping. And we both have shoulder-length light brown hair and wear glasses. (She didn’t have hers on that day.) Oh, and we both like to kiss.
It was kinda’ fun to sit back to look at the diverse crowd in her room.
But then, the teacher said there were donuts and juice for the grandparents only … that the children had their snack earlier and should not eat the donuts. Well, something else that Mary and I should have written in the middle circle is that we both love donuts! So, of course I got extra helpings and snuck them to Mary when the teacher wasn’t looking. Okay, maybe I wasn’t being a good role model but gee whiz—who would serve donuts and not let the kids have any?
Mary showed me her journal. They write in them most every day. Her mom had told me she wasn’t liking first grade, so I thought this would be a good time to see what was going on. (She loved kindergarten.) She turned to a blank page and said, “You’re supposed to tell me what you want me to write on this page.”
“Well, why don’t you write two things: first, write what’s your least favorite thing about first grade.”
So, she wrote, “My least favorite thing is stess.”
“Stress!?” What first grader even knows what this word means?
Mary nods and look at her journal page.
“So, what does that mean, exactly? I mean, what does the word ‘stress” mean to you?”
Mary shrugs her shoulders. Then she says, “There’s just a lot of work. But I’m getting used to it.”
“Oh, lots more than kindergarten, huh? Are you nervous about making bad grades?”
“Are you nervous about pleasing your teacher?”
She nods again. “But I’m adjusting.”
Adjusting? Getting used to it? To first grade?
And then she confides a few more concerns, so I dive into my lecture about how she should be having fun learning about new things, and that she should work hard to please herself, not just her teacher or to get good grades. I told her to work hardest on the things that she was most interested in, then when she was running low on energy or enthusiasm, she could just do enough to get by in the other areas. That all of life would be this way—this trick of balancing the “fun stuff” with the other things that just have to get done. I’m still working on that balance myself, I tell her.
Next I asked her to write what she likes best about first grade, and she writes “friends.” Here’s her journal page. Three of her friends from kindergarten are in her class, and she’s making new friends pretty quickly, I think.
I met her teacher and complimented her on her classroom. She seemed very professional, but maybe lacking a little in the “warm fuzzies” department. My first grade teacher was like that. In fact, when she got frustrated with me for talking too much, she put masking tape over my mouth, stood me out in the hall and called my parents. Compared to her, Mary’s teacher seems pretty sweet. I just realized that I forgot to tell Mary that story. I’ll tell her soon.
And also this beautiful card she colored for me.
Later that same day, I was at her house because her mother was hosting our Memphis writers critique group that afternoon. When Mary and her brothers got home from school and the other writers left, we called my husband to come by after work for a glass of wine, and later for a spontaneous take-out supper. Meanwhile we got to know their new dog, Willow, who is really cute, for a dog. (I’m a cat lover, remember?)
But then I asked Benji (Mary’s older brother) how Fang was doing. Fang is Benji’s pet snake. Their dad, Hardy, said, “Hey, we haven’t introduced Fang to Willow yet. Bring him out, Benji.”
So Benji went and got Fang and brought him into the living room, where I HELD HIM (yes, I held a snake and didn’t faint or anything! He’s really beautiful and I petted his skin and talked sweetly to him and he’s never bitten anyone. Ever.)
Here’s Benji introducing Fang and Willow. Willow didn’t seem to notice that Fang is alive or anything. Pretty much ignored him. Which is probably a good thing, for both of them!
So a lovely day ended with supper on the coffee table in their living room, lots of tickling and giggling with Simon (he’s 4) and drawing with Mary and her markers, and a lively discussion of politics. Yep. I don’t think Hardy or my husband budged on their opposite opinions. And I’m fascinated by them both. Two really smart guys with completely different takes on many things. I’m listening. And yes, I know these things matter. Things like the war in Iraq and drilling for oil and pro-life vs. pro-choice and health care and all that. But I guess I haven’t spent enough time studying the issues over the years.
I think I’ve been too busy worrying about first graders feeling stress.