The wheels on the bus…


The boy was in the backyard climbing on the swing-set.  He was perfecting his latest daredevil move: sliding down the slide on his face, and singing the “I like getting dirty,” song he’s been working on for a few months.  Aside from variations in pitch and pronunciation; I, like, getting, and dirty are the only words in the song.  What it lacks in lyrical depth, it makes up for in enthusiasm.  There’s a dance that accompanies the song, its no “Electric Slide” or “Hustle” but I do it with him on occasion because it’s infectious; think one-man Conga Line with some hip gyration for added flair.

“Mommy…uh…hey, I’ve been meaning to ask you…do you think you could, uh…push me on the swing?” I wasn’t in a push-you-on-the-swing kind of mood.  I was quietly brooding, trying to figure out why in the hell I was asked to attend a parent/teacher conference for a preschool student.  “No, buddy.  You can do it yourself,” I said from the comfort of my chair on the porch.  “Pwease?” “No.” “Prwetty pwease?” “No.” “If you don’t get out herwe an push me on the swing, I’m going to come in there and lick your arm!”  After I stopped laughing and composed myself, I again, firmly answered no.  I did so on general principle.  I can’t have him walking around, thinking he can threaten people with arm-licking to get his way his entire life.  I’m only half Sicilian.

Because he is my son, he made good on his threat.  Angrily climbing down off of the swing-set, he stomped into the screened-in patio on the back of our house and licked my left elbow.  He looked at me and grinned, pleased with himself.  He was more than a bit surprised when I laughed, stuck my finger in my mouth, and then inserted it into his ear.  “You can’t out-gross me, son.” I said sternly.  I thought about putting him in a headlock and giving him a noogie, but I figured I’d save the heavy artillery for another day.

“So, why does the director of the school need to see me?” I asked, figuring it was as good a time as any to try and get some information out of the little guy.  “I don’t want to talk about it.”  “Did you get a sad-face?”  “Not exactlwy.”  “Did you call someone a name?” “No, but that Geno kid is a piece of crwap.  He threw Legos at me durwing ciwrcle time”  “It’s not nice to call someone a piece of crap, dude.” “Wright, poop.  I’m sorwy, Mom.”  “He hit me in the eye, though.  That makes him crwappy, wight?”  “Did you tell Ms. Patty about the Legos?” “Nope, I sat on his face and pwetended to farwt.” “It’s not nice to sit on someones face and pretend to fart,” I said, marking that down on the mental list of things I can’t believe I’ve ever had to say to another living creature.

I was sure the meeting had something to do with the faux flatulence, that and his refusal to actually do anything academic in school.  I’ve been spoken to about his lack of interest in the curriculum, my answer to that has been “he’s four, this isn’t Harvard” every time.   The school does not agree with my approach. I don’t care.  I didn’t enroll him there to learn how to execute polynomials and recite the Preamble to the Constitution.  I sent him there so that he would socialize with other snotboxes his age and…maybe eat some paste.  I thought he’d learn the correct words to “The Wheels on the Bus,” and not the ones I threw in because I couldn’t remember (the bums on the bus go glug, glug, glug is surprisingly not a verse in this popular children’s song, not even if you pantomime lifting a bottle of Night Train to your lips).

I know there’s a lot of people that feel that early education is paramount to success.  I agree with them…sort of.  Well, I used to agree with them…until my four year old came home with a homework schedule…then I started to feel like these people had lost their fucking minds.  Homework? In preschool?  Are we trying to make everything about school suck from the very beginning? What happened to singing and breaking your arm on the monkey bars at recess?

I tried to comply with the school’s demands…really, I did. I sat with him every day and argued, my side of the conversation went something like this: “Write the letter “E”, buddy.  Like this…ok, get the marker out of your mouth…write on the paper, not the dog…please stop stabbing the paper.  I’ll get a new sheet of paper. What sound does the letter “E” make? No, not “moo”…close. No, not “butt” either.”  Wash. Rinse. Repeat.  Through many afternoons with the alphabet and evenings with beer; I determined that my son wasn’t ready to put pen to paper.  I learned that I can still write the hell out of the letter “E” and he learned that whining drives mommy insane and makes her eyes bulge out of her head.  I did this until I got the most poorly written note I have even seen, sent home from Ms. Patty.  It said “I’ve been having so trouble with him focusing.  Just keep practice at home.  Sometime it take some time. :)” It was written on a school bus shaped note, someday I’m going to frame it.  Apparently Ms. Patty has mastered the ability to write her letters, but has not yet grasped the concept of focus, herself.  I was going to correct it and send it back with a note of my own that said “He’s four.  What’s your excuse?”  I decided against it,  I didn’t want my son to be treated unfairly because his mother is a smart ass.

I stopped forcing the issue, I wasn’t going to make him hate school and I certainly wasn’t going to teach him that he could screw around for 6 hours and I would eventually give in and do his homework so he wouldn’t get in trouble.  A lesson in accountability lasts a lifetime, a collage of pictures of things starting with the letter “E” only lasts until the dog eats it.  You could argue that it’s my responsibility to push him to excel, and one of the things I need to do in order for him to succeed is make sure he does his homework. You could also argue that with the right amount of tutelage, you could teach a goat to hum the theme song to “Indiana Jones”. My response to both of these arguments is you can push all you want but…the student has to be ready and willing.

It’s not that he can’t sing the alphabet song or point out the fact the “Chevy” starts with “C”…but beyond that, he simply doesn’t give a shit.  This is totally ok with me, he’s got plenty of time.  Everyone learns at a different pace.  I think forcing a child to behave in a manner that exceeds their maturity level is a very bad idea, I am aware that I am in the minority here.  Sure, I could yell and threaten, and my kid would learn to please me out of fear, that’s not how I roll.  I’m not trying to raise a weasely, Yes-man.  I’m trying to create a man that can think, act and live in an manner that is satisfactory to his standards.

When I showed up for the parent/teacher conference there was no mention of the Lego incident. Educational catch-phrases were thrown around, I hate catch-phrases, regurgitating the stupid thoughts of someone else discounts what the messenger is trying to communicate.  As I expected, the conversation centered on his disinterest in school.  They had given him an assessment test and meticulously written down all of his answers.  As I reviewed the results, I couldn’t keep myself from laughing.  The director of the school was not amused.  It was obvious to me that my boy was toying with them…because he thinks he’s funny.  I’m not sure how funny I’m going to find him at 16, but right now…he’s hilarious.  They asked him what sound a pig makes and he barked.  They asked him what 1+1 equaled and he answered “boring”.  It was implied that I was doing a poor job of exposing him to the world around him.  My mind wandered to a conversation the boy and I had recently as she gave me parenting advice.  I shook my head, but I wasn’t listening…there’s no need to absorb advice you have no intention of taking.  My son’s voice declaring “Mitt Wromney is a goofball with funny hair,” floated through my head.  If I’m doing such a piss-poor job of exposing him to the world, why is my boy giving me unsolicited opinions on a GOP candidate?   There’s not a lot of politics being talked about in my home, especially of the Republican variety.

“If he doesn’t learn these things now, he’s going to do poorly on the Kindergarten entrance exam,” she said, I finished the statement in my head with “and that will send him straight into a life of crime, trailer park living and face tattoos.”  There was no way she was going to get me to take this seriously.  This experience is supposed to be fun.  I thanked for her time, and told her I would continue to work with him, but I wasn’t going to stop trying to make learning enjoyable and appropriate to him and his personality.  I added that if necessary, I would hold him back a  year to make sure he was mature enough to go to Kindergarten. You would have thought I said I was going to feed him a steady diet of paint chips and take him to visit Charles Manson on our next family vacation.  “You can’t do that, it’ll effect his self-esteem” she declared.  “Right,” I said, on my way out of the door

When my son came jumping down the hall after school was over I asked him how school was, “borwing” he answered.  “We learwned about the Jungle, that place sucks. Therwe’s no Monster Trwucks or anything.”  On the way home I reinforced the school lesson with a little Guns  N’ Roses “Welcome to the Jungle” and Steve Miller’s “Jungle Love”.  “Ms. Patty didn’t tell us about the music in the Jungle, that would have made school awesome!”

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