Double Entendres: the Fourth Grade Boy Edition

In the carpool today, my short-sleeve-shirted son shivered in the back seat next to his two neighborhood buddies. It was forty degrees. He refused to wear a jacket. He refused to wear pants. It was a struggle to even get that child into shorts (“Why aren’t underwear used as regular clothes, mom,” he asked. “Just give me one good reason.”)

“Leo,” I said. “I want you to check the lost and found today for the sweatshirts and coats that have mysteriously vanished from our house.”

“Oh, I have them,” he said. “In my locker. And in my bag.” He was shivering.

“Well,” I said. “Grab a hoodie and put it on.”

The other boys, normally a tangle of chatter, fell suddenly silent. They stared at me open-mouthed.

“Dude,” the red-haired boy side-mouth whispered to Leo. “Did your mom just say ‘woody’?”

And the boys started to choke on their own laughter.

“What?” I said. “No. I certainly did not say-”

“LEO’S MOM SAID WOODY!” one of the blondes wheezed.

AND THEN THEY ALL DIED. They died and they went to heaven and they got booted out and were sent back to their bodies where they died again. They were weak with laughing. They were like hyenas trapped in the grip of boa constrictors. They laughed to death again and again.

“I CAN’T BELIEVE SHE EVEN KNOWS WHAT WOODY MEANS,” one of the other blondes gasped as he was slowly re-asphyxiated with hilarity. But then he came back to life. “Wait,” he said. “You do know what it means, don’t you?”

“Let’s watch Indiana Jones,” I said, popping the ancient tape into the more-ancient minivan VHS player – saying a silent prayer, once again, that the dumb thing still worked.

Because it was KILLING ME to keep a straight face. I might have died of it. I might already be dead.

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Today. In the carpool.

pied-piper-rats-andy-catling

This morning, the boys in the backseat of the minivan turned their conversational prowess to the subject of rats.

“I heard,” said the redhaired boy with an air of both authority and gravitas, “that if they are hungry enough, they will eat your face.” He let that sink in. “Your face,” he added, for emphasis.

“I heard,” my son said, “that they ate everyone on a pirate ship. Like a swarm of rats. Are there swarms of rats? I don’t know what you call a lot of rats. But they ate everyone. Pirates. Real pirates. And then they swam. ACROSS! The OCEAN! And found another pirate ship. And they ate them too. Real pirates. And I read that in a book. So it’s true.”

“Not everything in books is true,” I piped in. I don’t think they heard me.

“I heard,” said one of the blondes, “that a bunch of rats? One time? Swam all the way? To Antarctica? And they ate a penguin. Or maybe it was a penguin. Maybe it was a leopard seal. Are there leopard seals in Antarctica?”

“They couldn’t eat a leopard seal,” my son Leo said. “That is insane. Besides. Leopard seals have leo in them. So. Maybe it was a killer whale. Could rats eat a killer whale?”

“They’re called orcas,” the redhaired boy said.

Your called orcas,” said one of the blondes.

Your mom is called orcas,” said – oh god. One of them. I couldn’t tell which. In any case, I decided it was time to intervene.

“Rats are gross,” I pronounced. Because it is true.

“Well . . . ” Leo equivocated.

“There is no well. Rats are gross. They sleep on their poop and lounge in their pee. Their teeth are yellow and their feet look like aliens and their tails are too gross to be allowed. They are sneaky and evil and would eat us all if they felt like it, but they don’t have to feel like it because most of the time we are just garbage cans with legs and they get enough food from our stupid trash. Also? They eat trash. Gross.”

I might have strong feelings about rats. They may or may not haunt my dreams.

“They’re not, like, the grossest,” one of the blondes – a boy named Ozzy – said.

“Oh yes they are,” I said. there is nothing grosser.

“Well,” Oz said. “I am way grosser than rats.”

“My darling boy,” I said. “You are not anywhere near as gross as a single rat, much less a nest of rats. You are not even in the same league.”

“That sounds like a challenge,” said Oz.

I pulled the car in front of the school and the kids started tumbling out of the minivan.

“It isn’t a challenge, dear. It’s just a fact. When it comes to rats -”

“Well,” he said as he hopped out of the car. He turned to me and bowed with a flourish. “CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!”

“No. It’s just like -”

And the mob of miscreants from the barnhill minivan all started rubbing their hands and cackling with glee.

And I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to their mothers in advance. I have no idea what’s in store, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to be gross. Possibly grosser than rats.

 

I have been incredibly delinquent in blogging lately, and it’s silly of me, because THINGS HAVE BEEN HAPPENING! Good Things! Exciting Things! And I have much to say in the very near future. And I need to be blogging more regularly, because the fact is, it’s super fun.

I hope all of you have been well, and that your projects are going swimmingly and your families are healthy and your work is fulfilling and you are all on tracks for winning Nobel Prizes in Being Awesome. Smooches to all!

 

KB

In Which Voldemort Gets the Cheese Touch.

This is the expression on my face most days. Especially the eyes.

I think I’ve mentioned on this blog the fact that I, most days, haul a carpool to school filled with delightful elementary school boys. I use the word “delightful” here in its broadest sense, in order to include yelling, cat-calling, fake-swearing, bodily eruptions, poop jokes, gun jokes, penis jokes, fart jokes, farting penis jokes, something about boobies and light-saber-sound-effects. To rescue my thin grip on sanity, I decided a while ago to forgo any crunchy-mama prohibitions I may have had ever in my life regarding screen time and throw a movie into the ole minivan VCR.

(It is, I do believe, a certifiable miracle that the thing still works, as both minivan and VCR are about ten years old. And that thing gets hammered – hot in the summer, absolute zero in the winter, sticky drinks, stray kicks, and, once, projectile vomit. The thing keeps ticking. If it is a miracle, does that qualify my minivan for sainthood? If so, someone should alert the Vatican.)

Anyway, the kids watch movies on their way to school in ten minute increments, and I listen to said movies as I drive. E.T, Apollo 13, Star Wars, Newsies, Cats and Dogs, Galaxy Quest, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, The Dark Crystal, George of the Jungle, and basically whatever else I’m able to pick up at Savers for a quarter. I have become a connosieur of kid-movie sound construction and voice inflection. E.T., for example, is a thing of beauty – communicating more through silence than most films can do in hours of scene-building. The Phantom Menace, on the other hand, while bad to watch, is torture to listen to, and whoever is responsible should be in prison.

Today, they watched Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, or the end of it, anyway. They tumbled out of the car last Friday just as Professor Quirrell was about to remove the turban from his head. They climbed back into the car today shouting turn it on turn it on, despite the fact that they have all read the book and watched the movie approximately nine million times. They were beside themselves with anticipation. I pushed play, rolled into the road, and headed toward school. Here is a transcription of the conversation that ensued in the back seat.

“Shhhh!”

You shhh!”

“We’re missing it.”

You’re missing it.”

“Cheese touch.”

“Wait. What movie is this again?”

“Harry looks like he has to fart.”

“HE DOES NOT.”

“Cheese touch.”

“You’re squishing me.”

“You’re squishing me.”

“Cheese touch.”

“Why do you keep saying that?”

“Look.”

At that very moment, Voldemort, stuck on the back of the doomed professor’s head, instructs Quirrell to take the Sorcerer’s stone from Harry. But when he touches Harry, his hand burns up, thus showing that Voldmort cannot be touched by the boy wizard.

“Harry Potter has the cheese touch.”

The boys nearly peed themselves laughing.

“Now Voldemort has the cheese touch. Lookit him! Cheese toucher.”

“DON’T TOUCH VOLDEMORT HE TOUCHED THE CHEESE.”

“Voldemort smells like a fart. Like cheesy farts.”

“Cheese farts are not as bad as sausage farts. Sausage farts are THE WORST.”

“I’m kinda hungry.”

“Don’t let Voldemort get the Sausager’s Stone.”

“It’s the Sorcerer’s Stone.”

“No. It’s the Sausager’s Stone. IT HAS THE POWER TO TURN MERE METAL INTO SAUSAGE.”

“Quit saying stuff like that. I have to pee.”

“Harry Pee-ter and the Sausager’s Stone.”

“I MEAN IT.”

“If it could make me defeat Voldemort I would totally touch the cheese.”

“You already touched the cheese.”

“I AM VOLDMORT. I AM THE CHEESE. AND THE TOUCH. I AM THE CHEESE TOUCH.”

By the time we reached school, I was weak with laughing. And hunger too, as I had forgotten to have breakfast before I left in the morning. When I got back to the house, I went straight to the fridge to grab something quick before getting to work. A nice, square slice of cheese.

Cheese touch.

My Eight-Year-Old Son on Junot Díaz: a transcription.

Sometimes, my kids will throw bits of the world at me – tiny nuggets of information hoarded and hidden for later, possibly aggressive, use. They are like squirrels gathering acorns for the sole purpose of hurling it at my head when I least expect it. For example, here’s a conversation, in its entirety, that I had with my son this weekend.

LEO: Mom. Is Junot Díaz a writer?

ME: (stares for a long time at my son, trying to figure out how the hell he knows who Junot Díaz is) Um. Yes?

LEO: Okay. (balls up hands into little triumphant fists) I knew it!

ME: Why the sudden interest in Junot Díaz?

LEO: Do you know him?

ME: Who?

LEO: Junot Díaz.

ME: No.

LEO: (looking truly sorry) Oh. That’s too bad.

And then he left the room. And I was mystified.

Five minutes later.

LEO: Did Junot Díaz write This Is How You Lose Her?

ME: Leo.

LEO: What?

ME: How do you know who Junot Díaz even is?

LEO: (a long-suffering expression) Everyone knows who Junot Díaz is. Gosh, mom.

(Five minutes later)

LEO: Mom. Who’s your favorite writer?

ME: No idea, honey. A lot of writers are my favorite writer.

LEO: Is Junot Díaz your favorite writer?

ME: (I am absolutely going nuts at this point) What is up with your recent Junot Diaz obsession?

LEO: (ignoring me) Junot Díaz is my favorite writer. I think he should be your favorite writer too. I think you should write like Junot Díaz and then you can be more famous.

ME: Hmmm. How do you mean.

LEO: On the first page of This Is How You Lose Her, there are three swear words. Three, mom. Real swears. In a book. A real book. 

ME: Who taught you to read, anyway? No more reading.

LEO: (ignoring me again) If you write like Junot Díaz, then you’ll probably get way more famous. Swears, mom. Real swears. In a book. I didn’t know it was allowed. And if you are more famous then I can have an Ipad.

ME: I see. Cogent arguments, my son. I’ll take them under advisement. And remind me to lock up the books.

LEO: You can’t lock up books mom. They’re escape artists. Everyone knows that.

Later, I was cleaning up his room and I found my copy of The Stand under the pile of hard-worn shorts and tee-shirts and socks. And The Arsonist’s Guide To Writer’s Homes in New England.

LEO: Mom. What does Arsonist mean?

ME: Someone who arranges flowers for a living.

LEO: Are you sure?

ME: It comes from the latin word arse, which means delicate flower.

LEO: I don’t think that’s right. Are you tricking me?

ME: Go to your room.

If the house catches on fire, I have only myself to blame. And also my son. Obviously, I instantly rid my house of any hint of Chuck Palahnuik from my house. And Clockwork Orange has to go. Mr. Burgess and Mr. Zola as well. And everything Russian. I can’t tell if my son is transfixed by grownuppy books because he wants to be like his parents, or if he is actually up to something.

What am I saying? This is Leo. He is clearly up to something. I must now plan for a book-free household. It is clearly my only option.

If I have more children, I am for sure not teaching them to read. And that’s final.

 

On Vanishing, Precious Things.

Lake Nokomis Beach, remaining its awesome self.

I had the best day today. I am sick with grief. Both are true.

It is Friday. I am covered in sand. And I am sunburnt. The sand will flow away down the drain and the sunburn will fade and fade. I am trying to hang onto something. This day. This afternoon. This sunlight and sand. Children in the water. The smell of sunblock. The screech of their voices. The shimmer of skin. Their hard-muscled bodies launching into the sky.

And I am getting ahead of myself.

My daughters left just before lunch to do a bible study with their grandpa (it is one of his great joys at this stage of his life: those two beautiful girls; the mysteries of the Universe bound in text and paper; the certainty of limitless love) and my son and I were left to our own devices. We had already had breakfast, made banana bread, explored the storm damage along the swollen creek and looked for frogs.

“I’m bored,” Leo said the second the girls left.

“Let’s walk to the beach,” I said.

He looked at the sky. It was still gray and damp with a little bit of post-storm chill lingering in the air. “Really?” he said. Then he shrugged, slid into his swimtrunks and we walked to the lake.

(I am trying to cling to something precious. I cannot hold on. It vanishes the moment my fingers clasp around it. I am grasping at smoke; I am trying to snag starlight with a string.)

We were the only ones there, save for three lifeguards who lounged on the grass reading novels. One sighed as we arrived, hoisted himself off his blanket and summited the guard chair. The sky was gray. The lake was gray. A mama duck shepherded her bright-tufted babies through a red-buoy obstacle course. Leo eased himself into the waves.

“It’s cold,” he complained.

“Come in if you’re cold,” I said.

“No. I like it.”

The water at his knees. His trunks. His belly button. The water lapping his shoulders, then his neck, and then he was swimming, every once in a while shooting me a gleam of teeth over the wave.

“Do you see me mom? Do you see me?” A spurt of water. A joyous splash.

Of course I see you. You’re the only kid here.

We planned to stay for an hour at most. But the sun came out and the day grew steamy. And then kids from the neighborhood showed up. Kids that I have known since they kicked in their watery worlds within their mothers expanding middles. Kids who I love as much as my own. And their mothers, who I also love.

An hour became two.

Then three.

Then three and a half.

The children covered themselves in mucky sand. They wrestled in the mud and grass. They washed themselves new and clean in the water. They swam out to the diving dock and plunged into the deep again and again. They were bright birds, slippery fish, creatures made of fire and water and star. They were magic things.

Do you see me?

Of course I see you. You have swallowed the Universe. My eyes are your eyes and my skin is your skin and my heart is your heart. It will be so until you go into the wild world and leave me behind.

(I am grasping at vanishing things. Each moment is like a bead of water on sun-soaked skin, each ghosted remains scattering like dusty pebbles on a dry, dry river bed.)

I smiled and waved and swallowed a sob.

On the walk home, he took one step for every two of mine. He was barefoot, shirtless, holding his towel to his shoulders like a cape.

He asked about different kinds of rocks. He wanted to know the difference between a paleontologist and an archaeologist (he wants to be both when he grows up). He told me the story about a flying dog who fights crime and who shows up in his dreams most nights. He wondered about june bugs. He wanted to know if he could go to college with his two best friends. He wondered if it was possible to hold your breath for a year.

We scanned the sidewalk for lost pennies and priceless artifacts. We estimated the weight of dinosaur bones. I rested my palm on his thistledown head. He let me keep it there. He smelled of sun and algae and sunblock and boy.

“Did you have a good day, buddy?” I asked.

“I had the best day.”

“The very best?”

“Of course. I always have the very best day. Don’t you?”

I wound my hand in his hand and held on tight.

“I do believe I do, buddy,” I said.

And I swallowed a sob.

Bevies of Boys

Here’s the thing about winter in Minnesota: we complain about it (and, thanks to social media, we now complain to an international audience), but secretly we love it. We love the challenge, we love the beauty, we love the thrill of the ole Man vs. Nature-type conflict. We love the elemental, primal pain of the freeze of skin, the bite of wind, the soul-crushing squeak of a boot against the ice. We love it.

Here’s the thing about this last winter: even people who love the winter got sick of this dang winter. It was the dinner guest who would not leave, the bar patron who nurses his beer until five a.m. It was the guy who raises his hand at the end of the meeting and goes on to ramble for an hour before someone shuts him up. It was the pitbull of winters – the jaws locked, and it did not let go.

Until Friday.

At this time last week, I was shoveling thick, heavy, pitiless snow.

By Friday, I looked out my window and there stood my son surrounded by nine other boys from the neighborhood. All were holding a bike or a scooter, or some kind of wheeled implement of motion. All were sweaty, filthy and smiling. And none of them was wearing a shirt.

For the next sixty hours, the street rang with the calls of boys. (Girls too, but the girls on my block are quieter than the boys. Which is not to say they are quiet – they aren’t. But those boys are friggin’ LOUD.) And it was glorious.

Now here’s the thing about my neighborhood. First of all, it rules. I love everyone on my block. Knock on a house, and a writer answers the door – or an artist or a graphic designer, or a builder, or a small business owner, or a social worker, or a teacher, or a free-thinker, or whatever – and offers you a beer. There are front-yard bonfires and massive easter egg hunts and random coffee-klatches that last for days. A collection of smart, deep-thinking, widely read, independent, creative people, and I love them all. And the kids! Crowds and crowds of kids. They run from yard to yard, tangling in alleys and livingrooms, crowding into the playhouse in the back, running wild in the field behind my house. They make discoveries in the creek, make plans under the bridge, and build new worlds in the trees. There are twenty-seven kids living on my block (and two more on the way), and it rules.

The boys shed their shirts on Friday and didn’t put them back on until the start of school on Monday (with protests). They are drunk on spring. They are high on sunshine and dirt and mud and water and skin and one another. Tomorrow, for May Day, the temperatures will drop, and the snow will fall – in great gushes – once again. No matter. The game continues. The shirts will shed. The boys have declared their Summer Reign, and they will not be vanquished.

Every time I see them howling outside, I think of a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, called “Epithalmion”. Here’s a bit of it:

“By there comes a listless stranger: beckoned by the noise
He drops towards the river: unseen
Sees the bevy of them, how the boys
With dare and with downdolphinry and bellbright bodies huddling out,
Are earthworld, airworld, waterworld thorough hurled, all by turn and turn about.”

Happy Spring, everyone!

If those boys would stand still for five minutes, they’d write a damn good novel.

Leo and his friends are careening up and down the stairs, a cloud of knees and elbows and supposedly-brushed teeth and glinting blonde hair. They are making engine sounds and laser sounds and sounds of exploding nebulae (which, being a big dork, I did have to explain to them do not make a sound in the vacuum of space, and they looked at me with blank eyes and continued with the swan-songs of doomed stars) and six-shooters and race cars and TNT disasters in abandoned silver mines.

They run down, and someone yells, “I’m Pete Petowski and the world will be mine in forty seven seconds MINE I TELL YOU!”

They run up and yell, “BEWARE THE POWER OF MR. JIBBLYKINS!”

And, “I do so have cyborg eyes.”

And, “I’d rather go the the dentist than kiss a girl.”

They run down and someone asks, “If you kill a zombie and then infect it with a new zombie virus is it a half-zombie or a double-zombie?”

And, “Can zombies be pirates? Can they go in space?”

They run up and yell, “I ALREADY GOT YOU WITH MY LASERS. YOU ARE SO OUT!”

Only to be returned with, “Well, I used my laser-blockers. So.”

And as the game continues, I catch little bits as they float down the stairs.

“We each get sixteen superpowers. I call having the power to beat every superpower. Which one do you want?”

“Which would be better: an outerspace circus in space, or an underwater circus with squids and octupuses and sharks?” “Or both?” “You’re right. Both.”

“Oooo! Zombie fingers!”

“Okay, fine. We all speak fluent Wolf.”

“Toe jam is just the nice way of saying toe poop. No one likes to believe that their toes can poop, but they do all the time.

“They sent an army of miniature cyborgs hiding in cereal boxes. The attack will happen at breakfast!”

“I don’t need any weapons. My fingernails were implanted with lasers when I was a baby. That’s what everyone does on my planet.”

“No matter what, I have a second brain.”

“You’re right. Your farts really are grosser than mine.”

“Baby dinosaur? Well, of course.”

“Donuts ARE TOO dinner food.”

“It doesn’t matter if we guard our ice castle with polar bear armies or not. NO ONE CARES IF WE TAKE OVER THE ARCTIC CIRCLE.”

“We have to stop Dr. Nimblenuts and his atomic EXPLODING ANTS!”

“You’re right. A penguin army would be awesome.”

“Is there such thing as chocolate salsa?”

“Let’s say we were separated from our families and raised on a remote island by ninja spiders.”

“My boots have levitation upgrades, but they’re on the fritz. That’s why this leg can’t come off the ceiling.”

“You can too build a space ship from bottle caps. My dad told me.”

“Fine. I’m King. You’re President and you’re Supreme Ruler. And I’m also the Pope.”

“It is not a dumb game at all, Ella. We’re whales. Flying whales. In space. What’s dumb about that?”

“Well, on this planet people’s butts are on their heads.” “Actually, our planet is the only one where people’s butts are, you know. Where butts go.”

“It would totally be good if everything was flavored like raspberries. Raspberry cereal. Raspberry milk. Raspberry bacon. Raspberry pizza. Raspberries. They’re delicious!”

 

I’m sitting here, trying to finish my Sasquatch story. Instead I’ve been listening to these kids for the last hour. It’s more entertaining than the teevee.

What’s distracting you from your writing today?

 

In which some Cub Scouts take me down a notch or two.

Last night, I had my career, my integrity, my professional efficacy – nay, my very Self – called into question by a bunch of rowdy, eight-year-old Scouts.

Usually, my darling husband (eagle scout, voyageur, jack of all trades and man for all seasons) is in charge of taking my son to Cub Scouts, but last night he was doing his duty as a Princeton alum and was interviewing a young, bright-eyed, starry-futured applicant, and I, therefore, was in charge of The Boy.

So, with his neckerchief and his badges and his belt loops, his official uniform shirt and Wolf Cub seed hat, we set off into the slushy wasteland of Winter Minnesota and walked into the chaos of a Scout meeting. The boys were running around, jumping on chairs, wrestling, hitting balloons in the air, play fighting, engaging in fart contests, taking flying leaps across tables,  and so forth, when my son suddenly said to a group of boys, “That’s my mom. She’s an author.”

The boys were not impressed.

“A real one,” Leo clarified. “She writes books. Lots of ’em.”

Now, I wrote about this a couple months ago when my kids expressed their very strong aversion to allowing anyone (and, specifically teachery anyones) to know that I wrote books for a living. Because it’s embarrassing, apparently. And it makes teachers assume things about them (wrong things, my kids said). Fine. So you can imagine my surprise at my son’s sudden blabbing about my chosen carrer.

The boys stopped their playing and regarded me.

“Is that true?” one boy said. He had very tall, very curly brown hair.

“Yep,” I said.

“Real books?” another boy said. His hair had been shaven close to his head, what was left was as dense as moss. “Like with words and pictures.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Some have only words. Others have words and a few pictures. Others have  words and mostly pictures. It’s a mix.”

“Like what?” another boy said. This one had glasses.

“What pictures?” I said.

“No,” said the big boy with the short, dense hair. “What books?”

“Well,” I said. “I wrote The Mostly True Story of Jack.”

The boys gave me a blank look. “I’ve never heard of it,” said the boy with tall hair.

“Well,” I said. “You’re pretty young. It’s mostly fourth and fifth graders who read that.”

The boys all crossed their arms and gave me a look that said, yeah. tell me another one.

I changed the subject. “Did you guys have a fun time at Winter Camp?”

“Did you write The Magic Tree House?” asked boy-in-glasses.

“No,” I said. “But I wrote a book called Iron Hearted Violet.

“That one has a dragon in it.” Leo said.

“OH!” said the boy with mossy hair. “Is it How to Train your Dragon?” his eyes were wide and bright. He glowed.

“No,” I said.

“Oh,” he said, crumpling, his face sinking into a skeptical expression.

“Did you write Goosebumps?”

“Alas, no,” I said.

Dr. Seuss?”

“No,” I said.

Stink?”

I sighed. “No.”

There was a long pause. The boys looked – well, not mad; just disappointed.

“You’re not a real writer, are you?”

I gazed at the ceiling. Because, you know? It’s not like I didn’t agree. This thing about legitimacy verses fraudulence, this assumption of the fakery and poseury? This is a thing that I fight every day. It eats me up sometimes. And I’m not alone. Hell, it might be eating you up. Right now. Every day we have to fight against it in order to return to the page. And, for my part, I’m not always successful.

“I think I’m probably not,” I admitted. Leo, I could see, was disappointed. I didn’t blame him. I was not nearly as impressive as he though I would be. I’m sorry, I mouthed at my son, but he wouldn’t meet my eye. “Let’s go make cupcakes,” I said to the boys. And so we did.

And it was wonderful. I got milk on my shoes and flour on my butt and egg in my hair and batter up my nose and a large chunk of frosting in my purse (that part remains a mystery; my purse wasn’t even in the kitchen; the boys have assured me they are blameless; they told me with wide eyes and angelic expressions. Little stinkers.). Later, after the boys ostensibly washed their dishes, some of the parents stayed behind to re-wash the dishes while the rest of the parents and Scouts went upstairs to the scout room to discuss the upcoming pinewood derby.

Twenty minutes later, the Scouts came thundering down the stairs.

One of them held – I swear to god – The Wee Book of Pee.

“Did you write this?” tall-haired-boy said.

“Yes,” I said.

“I TOLD YOU,” Leo said. “DIDN’T I TELL YOU?”

The boy looked at the book, examined the name and pursed his lips together. “I like that book.”

“We have that book in my school,” glasses boy said.

“So do we,” moss-hair said.

“WE GO TO THE SAME SCHOOL,” glasses said.

“I don’t” said tall hair, “but we have it too. In the library.”

“It’s part of a series,” Leo said. He was beaming. He was sparkly. He could hardly stay in his shoes. I was astonished. “But it’s the best one. I told you she was a real writer.”

“Are all of your books about pee?” another boy said. He was shorter than the others, with very large, brown, solemn eyes.

“No,” I said.

“Well,” he said, his voice very serious, “they probably should be.”

Sometimes, a book saves us.

We had a rough day in Barnhill-Land yesterday. My son – good-natured, enthusiastic, vigorously naughty, and incredibly creative – pulled out all the stops in the carpool. He and the neighborhood miscreants (all wonderful, beloved boys; all prone to lapses in judgement; we grow, we stumble, we fall, we grow some more), in the back seat of the minivan, started in on a whirlpool of naughty talk.  It was like they were all competing for the Jerk-of-the-Year award – and it’s only January. Bad words. Inappropriate jokes. Bathroom talk. Penis jokes. Pretending to flip off the driver (my neighbor; 250-pound ex-farmer; bad move, boys). And then actually flipping him off.

And it descended.

And they got mean.

And they got nasty.

At one point my neighbor turned the car around and started back for home. At the possibility of facing their mothers and generally being ratted out, they changed their tune instantly.

The thing is, I remember this from childhood. Bad energy. Bad air. And how it felt bad too, and kind of sick, and yet, upsettingly, vaguely exciting as well. Like violence on television – you don’t really like it, but you watch it again and again. And it grosses you out, but you can’t look away. And I remember how it fed on itself. And how, once it started, it couldn’t stop. The fights with siblings. The way my classmates and I would raise our hackles and turn on Substitute Teachers (the kid who could make a Sub cry was always held in high regard). Neighborhood squabbles. Playground nastiness. Mean girl stuff. Group divisions, carefully laying down who was in and who was out. I remember feeling the air change – how it would get heavy and thick, like the sky was pressing down – and either being the target of the nastiness, or standing by and saying nothing, too fearful to step up.

I know that sometimes kids will be aware of themselves behaving badly, but once it starts, they feel powerless to stop it.

They aren’t powerless, of course. They have all the power in the world. They just need to be taught. And that’s our job.

There was, yesterday, a flurry of emails between the parents. Yesterday afternoon, it was my turn to drive. I re-arranged the seating order, I got all the kids buckled, and then I pulled the car over. And rained fire.

“The adults who love you,” I told them, “are able to see your Best Selves. When you show your Worst Selves, it hurts us very much. Jeff loves you, and each of you hurt him today – either by your words, or by not standing up to your friends and telling them to knock it off. It hurt me, and it hurt the rest of the adults too. And it hurt you too. And you know it. Each of you was hurting this morning.”

When we got home, I had Leo own up to what he had done, and I had him write a letter of apology to our neighbor and deliver it in person. He didn’t want to do it. We talked about manning up.

Once we got to the other side of that, we talked about consequences. I’m a big believer in having kids take responsibility for their own behavior – and part of that is taking an active role in their consequences. Leo’s consequences are much harsher than I would have levied. But they are authentic to him. And they matter to him. And, what’s more, he knows what he did wrong, he doesn’t want to do it again, and he wanted to make amends.

By suppertime, we were emotionally exhausted, and spent.

“What if I stay bad?”  Leo asked.

“You won’t darling. You will make choices. Some will be good and some will be mistakes. You’ll do your best to fix your mistakes. You’ll try to heal the things you break. Just like everyone else.”

“But what if I break?”

“Then you will fix you. Just like everyone. Everyone you see is broken. Everyone you know has mended cracks and parts that will never work right again. It doesn’t stop us from learning and loving. We mend, we heal, and we love the broken places. I have lots of broken places. But I still have a responsibility to work and love and build. And so do you.”

He was, last night, a shadow of himself. He was crumpled paper and shattered glass. The reality of being such a jerk to a person he loves and respects had devastated him. I hugged him, and he started to cry.

So I built a fire in the fireplace. I canceled my plans for the evening. I sent him upstairs to brush his teeth and told him to bring Treasure Island back down to me. We sat, he and I, under his Batman blanket next to the fire, stories of misplaced loyalties and loudmouthed squires and bloodthirsty pirates and the creaking hull of the Hispaniola spinning around us. And Jim, the cabin boy – brave, trusting, fatherless, full of big plans and adventuring. And John, the cook – broken, beaten, scheming, and yet, in the end, redeemable, and capable of that One Good Thing.

We read and read until he fell asleep on my shoulder, his little arms wrapped around my waist. My broken, brilliant, beautiful boy.

We are all mended cracks and creaky gears. We are broken smiles, broken hearts, broken minds and broken lives. We are hack-jobs and cast-offs and wobbly legs and gouged surfaces. We are soft edges, scuffed corners, ungleaming and unvarnished, but pleasant to hold and comforting to touch.

And we are lovely, and loving, and loved.

 

All I Want, In My Whole Entire Life Is A Whale Best Friend.


My son, from time to time, has requested a whale best friend. He’s been wanting this since he was two years old. Indeed, it was one of his first requests.

A whale best friend, he says.

Who talks.

And flies.

And does magic.

Also, when pressed, he would like this magic, flying, talking whale best friend to also go in space. “Because,” Leo assured me, “everything is better in space.”

Alrighty then.

There are things, in parenting, in life, that we simply cannot provide. I cannot give my son a best friend – whale or human, magic or not, talkative or taciturn, on earth or in space. These are things that he must find on his own.

What’s funny is that I wanted a whale best friend as well, when I was his age. Though not in space. Which makes me wonder: is the random oddity of my imagination hereditary? Or am I contagious? And if I’m contagious, is the fact that I put my odd little imaginary constructions into books and disseminate them like germs upon an unsuspecting public (and children! I send them to children! Will no one THINK of the children) constitute a health risk?

Are the writers of stories all secretly imaginary bioterrorists?

Perhaps we are. I’ve already blogged about my callous disregard for my role as Corruptor of Youth, and I meant what I said. But perhaps my role in the world is more nefarious than I earlier admitted to. Perhaps I am, even now, at work at something so insidious that it defies description.

I am writing a story.

Two of them, right now.

And copyediting another.

The two I’m writing may never be read by anyone other than myself. I may yet contain this contagion. We’ll see. I haven’t decided yet.

But VIOLET is a done deal. I will release it into the world later this year. In fact, I’ve already infected my kids, who have gone on to infect the kids in their classes with their games. Just yesterday, Leo was playing a game that involved a one-eyed dragon. “It has a foul temper,” he told his friends.

You see? It’s spreading already.

Stories, I think are organisms. They viruses – injecting themselves into the cellular framework of our imaginations, replicating themselves, making themselves new again and again and again.

My stories were told to my children before they were ever written down. My children turned them into games, and involved other children. And thus the story replicates.

I have not, at least to my knowledge, written a story about a whale best friend. Not one that flies. Not one that talks. Not one that does magic. Not yet.

Perhaps I should.

Or, perhaps I should wait until Leo is older. Perhaps it is his story. And perhaps, if he is lucky, it will infect the world.

A Mighty Fortress Is My Butt….

This morning Leo decided to sing some songs.

Cordelia was not amused.

“Jingle butts, jingle butts,” he sang as I handed him his hot cider. “Snow got on….my butt!”

“MOM!” Cordelia said. “Make him stop singing.”

I hadn’t had any caffeine at that point, and was only vaguely aware that I even had children. I struggled to find a gap in the press of clouds.

“Cordelia,” I said. “Your brother is just singing Christmas songs. Lighten up.” She stomped away. “Leo, I said, resting my forehead on my fingertips and waiting for the kettle to boil. “We’re having Silent Breakfast today. The quietest kid wins a million dollars.”

Leo, knowing full well that I am, was, and always will be, full of shit, began to sing. (though, bless him, quietly. In his sweetest voice.) “Silent farts. Holy farts.”

“MOM!” Cordelia said.

“Leo,” I said. “There’s no such thing as holy farts.”

“Anyone who’s holy farts holy farts,” Leo said in an infuriating holier-than-thou voice. “That’s what holy means.”

“Well, I’ve had enough of it,” I said. “Move on.”

The kettle boiled. A miracle! I poured the water over my tea bag and set the timer.

The timer in my head rattled against my skull. Which would come first, I wondered? Tea? Or an exploding brain.

“A MIGHTY FO-ORTRESS I-IS MY BUTT,” Leo bellowed. “MY BUTT IS SU-PER A-A-AWE-SOME.”

Cordelia erupted in a sound that was curiously similar to the sound that cartoon characters made when their faces turned red and their ears erupted with steam. In fact, I can’t say for sure where the sound came from. It might have actually been from her ears. Indeed, it might have been steam.

“MOM,” she said. “Punish him. Please.”

“I’m not punishing anybody,” I said. I poured the whole milk into the tea. Tea! I am saved!

Leo,” I said. “One more song and you’re sleeping in the garage tonight. And I’m giving all your toys to the neighbors.”

He didn’t hear the second part.

“Wait, really?” he said.

“Yes,” I said. “Really.”

“And you’re not going to change your mind.”

“Not at all.” I said. Should I have been curious about his sudden enthusiasm? Yes, ladies and gentlemen. Yes I should have.

“YESYESYESYESYESYESYES!” Leo shouted, jumping out of his chair and punching his fists in and out.

“What?” I said.

“I GET TO SLEEP IN THE GARAGE?? AWESOME!!!!!!”

“But–”

“THIS IS THE BEST DAY OF MY LIFE!”

And he ran upstairs to pack a backpack and find his sleeping bag. Cordelia watched him run up the stairs.

“Oh sure,” she said. “Just reward him, mom! FINE!”

“But-” I said.

And she stomped up to her room and slammed the door. I could hear her rustling around. I assume she too was packing a bag. I decided not to notice.

And it was quiet. And the tea eased its way inside of my skull, disabling the dynamite lodged in my frontal lobes. I pressed my fingers against the curve of warm ceramic.

Apparently, my children will sleep in the garage tonight. I hope Child Protective Services doesn’t mind. It was, after all, their idea. Well, really it was my idea, but I am, as I mentioned before, full of shit. I wasn’t gonna make him. But now he says it’s the best day of his life. So I’m stuck.

With these thoughts I drank my tea. I let it slip its way down my throat, into the solar plexus, into the heart, like a prayer.

“A mighty fortress is my butt,” I sang quietly to myself. “My butt is super awesome.”

And you know what? I really meant it.

LEO’S MOM!

Yesterday, I had to take The Boy ™ to the eye doctor to check on some tracking issues that were making reading a struggle. The good news is that he doesn’t need glasses nor does he need any kind of therapy. The bad news is that the reason why he gets so physically exhausted when he reads is that his whole body is working to keep his eyes in alignment.

“Since he’s able to keep his eyes pointing parallel on his own,” the doctor said, “then he is doing exactly what he needs to be doing to train his muscles. Give him lots of praise when he reads, make sure he knows that he’s tired because his body has to work extra hard, but with daily practice he’ll get stronger and stronger, and opt for bigger type and books with pictures for now, and don’t be in such a hurry to put the kid in chapter books. Let him be a kid. With kids books.”

Then he paused and thought about that for a moment.

“Have you noticed,” he continued, “that there are some AMAZING children’s books out lately?”

Why yes, I said, a faint smile on my mouth. I may have noticed a thing or two about it. And I may know a few of the folks making those amazing stories, but that’s another post.

Anyway, Leo, after a long day of eye tests and exercises, performed admirably and with distinction. I was honestly bracing myself all day for the moment that he crawled into the duct work, or reduced a hundred-grand-pricetag bit of equipment to smithereens. Or called the therapist lady a poop-head. Or whatever. But no. He was a perfect gentleman – conversational, gentle, serious, with a couple well-placed jokes that were actually funny. It was as though someone took my child and replaced him with somebody else’s perfect child.

Anyway, we headed back to school in the middle of the day. I parked the car, took his hand and walked across the parking lot. A classroom window pushed open and a kid’s head popped out.

“LEO’S MOM!” the kid yelled.

“Yes?” I called back.

“ARE YOU BRINGING LEO BACK TO SCHOOL?”

I looked down at Leo, who shrugged back at me. “Well,” I called back. “That’s what it looks like.”

I could hear a teacher’s voice in the background saying step away from that window at once young man. But the kid persisted.

“LEO’S MOM LEO’S MOM! WHERE DID YOU TAKE HIM?”

And before I could say to the doctor the kid yells “LEO’S MOM ARE YOU GOING TO VISIT OUR CLASS.” And then two hands grabbed the kid’s shoulders and pulled him out of sight.

We went into the building and a group of first graders were walking down the stairs.

“LEO’S MOM!”

“HI LEO’S MOM!”

“LEO’S MOM, DID YOU SEE MY SHOES?”

“LEO’S MOM I HAD A CUPCAKE! LAST WEEK!”

I smiled at them and continued to the office. There was a kid sitting on a chair with a huge bandage on his knee.

“LEO’S MOM, I SKINNED MY KNEE.”

Another kid was leaving with her mom.

“LEO’S MOM NEXT WEEK IS MY BIRTHDAY.”

I signed Leo in and walked down the hall to his class. I saw a kid with a bathroom pass – one of my first graders on my Lego League team.

“HI LEGO LADY!” The kid said, running over and giving me a hug. “I MEAN LEO’S MOM!”

And a realized a few things.

1. My son has made me famous.

2. My son, being the loudest human in the world, has trained the kids in his school to be just as loud as he is.

3. The rest of the school, assuming that I must be quite deaf at this point, feel the need to shout at me to make sure I can hear them.

4. Because my son is fun, they assume that I am fun as well.

This last one, alas, is a fallacy. Just ask my kids. I am not fun at all. I am the enemy of fun. This was told to me last night – at bedtime – with great enthusiasm, with gusto and relish. “Mom,” my kids informed me. “You are the fun-killer.”

Still, to these kids at school, I bear the fun of my son on my forehead like a seal. I am the Fun-Bringer. I am LEO’S MOM.

(so there)

My kid is made of rubber. Or titanium. Or self-healing plastics.

Tonight, as the sun set and the light waned and the sky leaked orange and gold all over the lake and the whole world shone, Leo and I walked back from his Tae Kwan Do class. Or I walked. Leo rode his scooter. It was a beautiful evening – warm and breezy and lousy with birds. Dry leave skittered across the park as the shadows deepened and darkness spread around us. Leo zoomed ahead, a brilliant flash of white in his uniform, his brand-new orange belt (and oh! he is so proud!) glowing in the growing dim.

“Be careful,” I called.

“I’m always careful,” he called back through the swirl of leaves.

That was a lie, of course.

And we talked about the gathering birds, and their plans for migration and southern skies. And we talked about other animals that migrate – whales specifically.

“I would like my best friend to be a whale,” Leo said.

I told him that sounded like a fine idea.

“I would like my best friend to be a whale AND I would like to be able to speak Whale.”

I told him that it probably wouldn’t be too hard to learn how to speak Whale, provided he studied very hard and practiced every day.

“I would like my best friend to be a whale AND I would like to be able to speak Whale AND I would like my whale best friend to be able to fly.”

“A flying whale?” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “A flying whale IN SPACE.”

“A flying whale in space?”

“Yes. That I can talk to.”

“That’s a tall order,” I said.

He shrugged. “When things are hard, you just have to work harder,” he said. Then he whizzed away, his uniform glowing in the dark.

And I thought about this. There is a purity – a marvelous purity -in the association of action and consequence that little kids possess. For them, cause and effect are simple, straightforward and unambiguous. I do a thing, and it bears a result; end of story. When I do a good thing, the result is good. When I do a bad thing the result is bad. When I work very hard at something, the result is something very cool that not many people achieve.

Like a flying whale best friend in space, for example.

And I’d like to tell him the world works that way. I wanted him to live in that kind of a world. Hell, I wanted to live in that kind of a world. I wanted to tell him that if he worked very hard he really will have a flying whale best friend in space. I WANT that to be true.

“Be careful,” I called as he hit the turn and flew down the hill, the autumn-bright trees crowding their limbs together, making it hard to see. “Be careful, honey!”

Because he thinks that careful people can’t get hurt. Because he believes in the power of his own body.

And I didn’t see him fall right away. It happened fast, and it was dark. I called out. I reminded him that there are bumps and ridges in the path. I told him that the world was dark and the road was dark and that things will trip us up that we will never see and that even careful people get hurt sometimes.

He didn’t listen.

And he fell.

A flash of white against the dark torsos of the slim trees.

A glowing riot of arms and legs, pinwheeling against the sky.

And the boy flew, feet over kettle, over his scooter and onto the ground.

And oh! My baby!

And oh! Your arms!

And oh! Your legs!

And oh! Your neck!

And oh! my baby, my baby, my baby!

He made no sound.

“LEO!” I shouted. And ran over the dry, dry leaves.

Leo leaped to his feet. He looked at me. His crooked teeth flashed in the dark – a disembodied grin.

“That….was…..SO AWESOME!”

He picked up his scooter and ran back up the hill. “I’m TOTALLY doing that again!”

Evening in BarnhillLand

So here’s the thing: I’ve got a really weird job.

Not that I’m complaining, mind you. I’ve had lots of jobs in my life (lots and lots and lots of them), and I discovered along the way that I’m, well, ill-suited for……pretty much everything. And I’m not whining and I’m not being annoyingly or fishingly self-deprecating. These are just the facts.

I’m overly chatty, I can’t type for crap, I’m disorganized, I’m surly with folks in authority, I’ve got poor attention to detail when working on other people’s projects, I bristle at wasted time, I fall asleep in meetings and I am not a team player. I’ve been fired from eight different waitressing jobs for consistently writing down orders – not what people wanted, but what I thought they should have. And once for spilling a $300 bottle of wine down my shirt. I nearly came to blows once with a district official over a reading curriculum that I absolutely refused to use in my classroom. (Because it sucked). (She told me that I’d be lucky if a single child passed their state reading test. I told her I didn’t care because the tests in Minnesota at the time were the laughingstock of the nation – which was true.) (79% of my kids passed – one of the highest stats in the district. So I told her to suck it.)

Anyway. I work very hard when I’m on my own. In the world – in the real world – I’m sorta….vague. My husband says this is adorable. I think he’s being nice.

So I have this job instead. This writing job. This live-in-a-world-of-my-own-making job. And….well it’s weird, isn’t it? It’s a weird job.

But another weird part of my job is porous division between the imagined and the real. Particularly since my real life is written in the language of hyperbole, and synched to the rhythm of hyperbole and painted with hyperbole’s brush. Every day I must comfort a daughter whose life, apparently, is over, and another daughter whose leg is falling off and must stop a son who has decided to destroy a house (that part wasn’t hyperbole at all, though. That bit was real). Also, the little boys who daily invade my house, are constantly threatening to explode.

In any case, it’s an odd bit of vertigo that happens, when my head is still in the story, still sitting on the shoulders of runty, foul-mouthed gods who are – as we speak – creating universes, and smelling the sulfury breath of easily annoyed dragons who have no hearts in their bodies, or looking up the gory details of shoulder wounds or armpit wounds, or inventing the masonic structure of an ancient castle – then figuring out how to destroy it…..and then – THEN – be interrupted by my panicked children because the toilet, apparently is overflowing. Or the bank’s on the phone, and they’re pissed. Or I’ve forgotten to meet a friend for lunch. Or the email that I thought I sent I only sent in my mind. Or whatever.

In any case, I’m terribly grateful to my children for keeping me in this world. I don’t know what I’ll do when they grow and move out. Maybe I’ll have to hire kids to hang around the house and distract me from my work. Or maybe I’ll fade into the pages of a story and you’ll never see me again.

Right now, with my head in VIOLET, that feels like a possibility.

In fact, all day, I felt partially-faded. Like Frodo when he had the ring on too long. I was translucent-faced, cellophane-bodied, eyes made of smoke. And I would have continued like that – a half-existence, a half-life – had it not been for Leo.

I was hunched at my computer, rewriting a scene for about the nine-thousandth time, when Leo tapped on my shoulder with two fingers.

(and really hard, I might add. I think I have a bruise.)

“Mom,” he said. “Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, MOM!”

“What!” I yelled. Honestly, I only heard the last MOM. “Why are you yelling?”

“Mom,” he said. He was red faced, red lipped, eyes bright as full moons. “GUESS WHAT?”

“What?” said. Thinking: This better be good.

“What happens, when every person on earth burps AND coughs AND sneezes AND farts….. AT THE SAME TIME?”

I pulled my hands from the keys, cracking the knuckles. I brought my fingertips to my brow and pressed at the headache that I’m sure was there all day, but I was only just noticing (does this happen to you too? Do you feel separated from your body when you spend all day at a story? Or not even all day, but three or four hours? Sometimes I forget that I have a body at all.) Leo waited. He bounced on his toes. He was thrilled.

“I don’t know, honey.” (I secretly did.) “But I would love it,” (a sigh, a long, slow, long-suffering sigh) “if you would tell me what happens – what really happens – when all the people on earth burp, cough, sneeze, and fart at the same time.”

Leo smiled with all his teeth. “THE WORLD EXPLODES!” he said, jumping up and down.

“Well,” I said. “Let’s hope that never happens. Next time you need to fart, be sure to tell us, so that we don’t accidentally do it at the same time, okay.”

And then we went outside to go spider hunting. Because I had been outside of this world for long enough. And it felt good to be running around the back yard – my real yard of my real life – with my son for a little bit.

The story will just have to wait its turn.

You see? This is why we can’t have nice things.

https://kellybarnhill.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/squirreltinpeanutbutter_kal78.jpg?w=300

My son, home from school and starving, went into the kitchen to get himself a snack. He opened the cupboards, pulled out our gigantic container of peanut butter (I buy it by the barrel), grabbed a bowl and sat down at the table. He started unscrewing the lid.

“Young man,” I said. Leo stopped, unaware that he was being watched. “Just what do you think you’re doing?”

Leo pulled the lid off the peanut butter and laid it on the table. He leaned over the open top and breathed in the scent of it. He smiled. “I love peanut butter.”

“And?”

“I wanted a snack.”

“I see peanut butter and I see a bowl,” I said. “Aren’t you missing something?”

Leo stared at me.

I stared back.

WHAT?” he said, exasperated.

“This is not how we eat peanut butter,” I said primly.

“FINE,” he said, stomping over to the silverware drawer. “I’ll use a stupid spoon.

“Well-” I began.

“Crazy moms and their crazy spoons,” Leo muttered.

“Actually, I meant-” I said.

“When EVERYBODY knows that peanut butter tastes better with fingers.”

Then he shoved a heaping tablespoon – actually, it was so heaping that it was closer to a third of a cup – of peanut butter into his mouth and rolled his eyes at me.

“THERE,” he garbled. “HAPPY NOW?”

Farewell, Kindergarten!

Today is Leo’s last day in Kindergarten.

Just looking at that sentence makes me fall into grief.

Yesterday, in celebration for their hard work as Kindergarteners, the parents were invited for a Recitation and Ice Cream Social. Now, at Leo’s school, the concept of a recitation is nothing new. It’s part of their School of Oratory curriculum, and they learn how to speak in front of a group, how to communicate effectively, how to make eye-contact and etc. But this was the first time they spoke in front of parents, so it was a big deal.

What’s more: they were reciting poems that they themselves had written. As part of their unit on insects, each kid learned everything they could about a bug, and wrote a poem about their bug. Leo chose spiders. “Why spiders,” I asked. “Because spiders are awesome,” he said.

To get ready to write his poem, he wanted to look at every youtube video ever made that had a spider in it. Like this one:

“I like to know how they move,” he said. “Also how gross they are.”

I arrived a little early with my assigned contribution (caramel syrup; on sale), and was greeted with the requisite Kindergarteney hugs (Look! It’s Leo’s mom! I love Leo’s mom!). I always get hugs from Leo’s class. This is partially because they think I’m funny, but it’s mostly because they love Leo. Because he is funny.

There was a little podium in the front of the room, set up on a small wooden dais. One by one, the Kindergarteners walked up, took the podium, recited their poems, and bowed.

Then, it was Leo’s turn. Leo the class clown. Leo the constant performer. Leo who was sent to the principal’s office during his first week as a Kindergartener. That Leo. He stood up, took the stage, paused to gaze at the audience and made a silly face. The other Kindergarteners thought it was hilarious. He took the podium and cleared his throat.

The Awesomest Spider
By Leo Barnhill

The Spider will leap to its prey
it will quietly creep.
The Spider is big.
The Spider dances a jig.

The Kindergarteners erupted with cheers. It was, as far as they were concerned, the best poem that had ever been written, or would ever be written. Leo bowed, then raised his hands in a two-fisted Victory sign. The crowd went wild.

And then, as his piece de resistance, he lifted his shirt, exposed his bare belly and chest, and rolled his stomach muscles like a belly dancer.

He was escorted out of the room.

Later that day, as he played at the playground and I sat on the bench, decompressing (did I wish for a gin and tonic? Or two? Why yes, ladies and gentlemen. Yes I did.), fifteen different Kindergarteners came up to me and gave me a hug.

“Thank you for putting Leo in my class,” one kid said.

“Leo is my favorite friend,” another kid said.

And last, the kid who gave me no less than four hugs that afternoon, motioned for me to lean down so she could tell me a secret. “Leo,” she whispered, “is my hero.”

“Mine too,” I whispered back, as my son, oblivious to our conversation, scooped up handful after handful of playground woodchips, and shoved them in his pants.

Infinity Bottles of Beer on the Wall

photo

My son, at six fifteen this morning, started signing a song:

“INFINITY BOTTLES OF BEER ON THE WALL, INFINITY BOTTLES OF BEER. IF ONE OF THOSE BOTTLES SHOULD HAPPEN TO FALL INFINITY BOTTLES OF BEER ON THE WALL.”

Which, actually, I thought was rather impressive. Here he is, a young lad of six, who understands the mind-blowing nature of the infinite. If I hold nine marbles in my hand and someone takes one away from me, I no longer have nine marbles. Leo gets this. He has sisters. And they are constantly taking his stuff – which can be described in the equation below:

(my stuff) -1 = (less stuff that is now mine)

or

(my stuff) -x = tantrum, where x=anything greater than one

This is all common knowledge.

So for Leo, at six, to come to grips with the concept that the infinite is infinite, where 1+infinity= infinity and infinity-1=infinity – – I can honestly say that it took me well into my high school years to truly grasp that.

(Okay, fine, that was a total lie. I still haven’t grasped it.)

Anyway, there was Leo, in his room, ten minutes later IF ONE OF THOSE BOTTLES SHOULD HAPPEN TO FALL.

And then, later, at six forty-five: INFINITY BOTTLES OF BEER ON THE WALL.

And at six fifty-two. YOU TAKE A MILLION DOWN AND PASS THEM AROUND, INFINITY BOTTLES OF BEER ON THE WALL.

And so forth.

Finally, at seven oh two, I’d had it. “LEO!” I roared. “You need to think of a new song.” He was already dressed for school, and was looking particularly angelic in his pile of legos as he gazed back up at me.

“You don’t like my song?” he said.

“No,” I said. “I really really don’t. I didn’t like it at six fifteen, and I didn’t like it a six thirty, and I don’t like it now. If you really need to sing, please think of something else.”

“Okay,” he said.

I nodded and sighed, spinning on my heel and going back into the hallway to my room. And somewhere between the moment when I found my pants (which were bizarrely shoved under the bed) and before I found my favorite tee-shirt, Leo was belting out a whole new song.

“INFINITY BOTTLES OF REEDS GINGER BREW ON THE WALL, INFINITY BOTTLES OF REEDS GINGER BREWWWWWWW.”

Stupid infinity.

http://t1.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcR-nM-B7tj3_xE9lHXnrFjBOV8xtRydVFandbKpJbN1aVlK34tw