Generally, I don’t like surprises – except the time Lori proposed on our vacation to Vancouver and I sobbed like a girlie girl while Lori reconsidered the prospect of spending the rest of her life with someone with bloodshot eyes and snot running freely from her nose and she hiccuped “Yes” over and over.
I am not a pretty crier.
So with the first week of first grade under our belt, I was feeling pretty good that we’d had no surprises – no for-the-love-of-god-I-do-not-want-to-get-up-this-early meltdowns, no couldn’t-get-to-the-bathroom-fast-enough incidents, and no omg-you’re-kidding-if-you-think-I’m-going-to-sit-still-for-that-long interruptions. The most stress I’d experienced was figuring out how to break it to Nick that he was no longer allowed to wear his signature colorful socks – seriously, I had to start buying him girl socks because the colors on the boy socks were too muted for his tastes – thanks to his Catholic school uniform.
So imagine my surprise when I opened his homework folder and found a pink slip listing various cafeteria transgressions. Nothing major – smashed bananas, knocked over thermoses – the impulse-control actions that come with his age and the transition from “summertime and the living is easy” to “fall and the learning is hard”.
“FOR THE LOVE OF CHRIST IT’S THE FIRST WEEK OF FREAKIN’ SCHOOL!!” started the non-stop lecture as we drove home. Gabe and Olivia stopped head-bopping to their Elmo CD as Lori and I gave Nick the lecture of a lifetime. Catholic school does not play when it comes to good behavior (or uniforms, for that matter), and we had to nip this thing in the bud. Eyes locked on him in the rearview mirror, I launched my opening salvo.
“Did you or did you not smash Justin’s banana?”
“I…um…I…uh…I don’t know…I…uh…(swallow)…I don’t remember…”
“You don’t know or you don’t remember?”
“I have here a document stating that the defendant did in fact smash said banana, as entered into the record as Exhibit A. I also have 3 witnesses placing him at the lunch table at 11:37am.”
“You wanna dial it down, Perry Mason,” Lori whispered.
I sighed. Yes, the 20-minute this-is-unacceptable-behavior cross-examination had reached the point of diminishing returns. I had to keep remembering that I was talking to my end-of-a-long-day-tired son and not a hostile witness. And we hadn’t uncovered why he had done these things or how we were going to fix them.
At 6, he wasn’t going to get to why
I was tired…
I had a lapse of judgment…
I had a sugary snack before lunch…
I was frustrated with something that happened an hour earlier…
But my job as a parent was to help him figure out how to make things better.
Sadly, in this first week of school, Nick was close to becoming “that kid” – the one that parents warn their kids about as they kiss them goodbye, the one that makes teachers take a deep breath before plastering a smile on their face when they seem him. He now had a story attached to him…
Like the kid who dropped trou on the playground – and showed everyone his wanker.
Or the kid who spewed vomit on his classmates – and the altar – during school mass.
Or the kid who clotheslined his archenemy – and sent him to the hospital.
After dinner, Nick and I sat down at the dining room table, four notecards before us.
“How do you think Justin felt when you smashed his banana?”
“And what do we do when we make someone feel sad?”
“We say sorry.”
“That’s right. So we’re going to write your friends sorry notes.”
While not as painful as our marathon Valentine’s Day cards session last year (“Nick, all you have to do is write you name 15 times. How hard is that?!”), it did take longer than I expected. And while we didn’t finish any homework, we still got our writing and spelling practice in. Nick thought carefully about each sentence before writing it down, and unsurprisingly, and took delight in his task as he made new discoveries. (“Hey Nana, I didn’t know “squished” had a Q and a U together! How cool is that?!”)
When at last we had finished, he licked each envelope – “Nana, they taste yucky when you lick too many.” – then carefully placed them in his backpack.
“Nick, I am very proud of you for writing those letters.” I hugged him close, knowing that this simple age required only a simple solution…that as he got older, his problems would not be so easily solved. “How do you think your friends will feel when they read your note?”
Yes, or disappointed that it’s not actually a birthday invitation, but whatever.
“And how do you feel?”
He paused before speaking, which made me feel a tad more confident that he was checking in with himself instead of giving me the answer he thought I wanted to hear.
“I feel good.”
“Excellent, sweetie. Me too.”
One week down, 36 weeks to go.