June 3, 2011

A Kinder Year

Less than a year ago – 46 weeks, to be exact – your mother and I held your hands and walked you to your classrooms on your first day of kindergarten.

There was apprehension and fear and even some tears. You were put in separate classrooms and would be apart for most of the day for the first time in your lives. I wasn’t sure if that was the right choice but the “experts” assured me it was and I put my trust in the fact that being out on your own would be a good thing for both of you.

It turns out, it was definitely the right thing to do. Both of you have grown so much as individuals over the past year. You can count beyond 100. You can read most children’s books with only minimal help. You can write complete sentences and short paragraphs with correct punctuation and proper capitalization. Your handwriting is better than mine. But best of all, you seem to have found a confidence in yourself that wasn’t necessarily there before.

Swee’Pea, you were so shy and quiet before entering kindergarten. I feared you would get lost in the crowd and wouldn’t get the instruction you needed because you wouldn’t demand attention. But that wasn’t the case. Instead, as the year progressed, you came out of your shell and talked excitedly of your exploits on the playground with your girlfriends and the little boy who lives down the street. You found a good friend who, thankfully, is an excellent student and likes to draw just as much as you do. I’ve enjoyed watching you cultivate this friendship by exchanging notes and pictures that you two made for each other. Having someone to be a partner makes everything so much less scary. I’m so proud of you for what you’ve accomplished.

A favorite memory of the last day of school was you telling me, along with mommy, that you won a prize for getting the most blue and green behavior cards along with the most books read over the year. The look of pride in your eyes as you explained this accomplishment was something I hope never to forget. And as I hugged you and asked if you were proud of yourself, your “uh-HUH!” in your little-girl voice made me squeeze you just a little harder.

As for you, Monk, you formed a strong bond with your teacher as I suspected you might. You are a rule follower and you really seem to love learning new things – which I’m sure made you a favorite of your teacher. You are a good boy who soaks in everything and enjoys all aspects of school. Your ability to do math and read stories is very impressive and I marvel at your willingness to read your sister a story in the morning after you’ve awakened. You’re a good brother.

My enduring memory of your kindergarten year is how much you loved performing in the kindergarten musical. You learned the choreography of all the classes’ songs as well as the lyrics. You would sing the songs you learned, in perfect pitch, many times over. Your musical ability has really shown itself at home where you have learned Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, Mary Had a Little Lamb and Row, Row, Row Your Boat on the keyboard we have in your playroom. You can start lower or higher register and play the songs perfectly. You’ve added in the chords to play with the melody and can even change the tempo depending on the percussion track you play on the keyboard. I’m very jealous you can do this and I hope it’s talent you continue to develop as you grow older.

Forty-six weeks ago, we watched you two board the school bus for the first time with Swee’Pea bursting into tears and TheMonk being nervously quiet. Yesterday, as you boarded the bus for the last time as a Kindergartner, the bus driver called out, “First Graders get on first!” And, Monkey, you froze in your tracks. Then, you smiled as you continued onto the bus and replied, “I’m not a first grader yet.”

Yes, you are. And it went by so fast.

May 5, 2011

Paging Doctor Dad

Two nights ago, Swee’pea came down with a fever. Like the good parents that we are we gave her a shot of ibuprofen and sent her to bed. She woke up without a fever but we kept her home from school in strict observance of the universal law that states you cannot send your kid to school until a fever has been gone for a minimum of 24 hours, 2 minutes and 13 seconds.

While the fever was gone, Swee’Pea’s appetite was not its usual self. And when I say not its usual self I mean that she no longer wanted to eat morning, noon and night and at 7:15 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. and 1:15 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Seriously, the girl puts away food faster than you can say “high metabolism.”

So because Swee’Pea hadn’t really eaten yesterday, it wasn’t a surprise that she awoke today starving. She was starving so much, in fact, she felt compelled to walk in and tell me as much – while I was in the shower. I promised that as soon as I was done washing the soap out of my eyes, I would feed her.

Soon enough I was busy making breakfast of cinnamon toast and yogurt with bananas – which she promptly inhaled. Only a few minutes later she announces, “Daddy, I feel like I’m gonna throw up.”

And with those words, my morning became… complicated. My mind raced as I suddenly had to make a decision and make it fast. The school bus was a mere 15 minutes away and any delay could cause us to miss the bus. I weighed all of my data: She WAS sick yesterday but currently had no fever. She just ate a bunch of food, possibly causing an upset stomach. She enjoyed her day at home with Mama yesterday that she could be angling for another one. Or she could be genuinely sick and about to puke cinnamon toast and banana yogurt everywhere.

As I handed her a large bowl from the kitchen I did what most Dads would do (and it pains me to admit this) – I consulted Doctor Mom. We weighed the options and likely scenarios. We discussed contingency plans and how they would be carried out. We relied on our vast medical knowledge – Doctor Mom has watched at least two full seasons of Grey’s Anatomy while my background consists of countless MASH reruns and an embarrassingly weak moment of Doogie Howser fandom.

Based on that information, we rolled the dice and did what almost all of you reading this right now would have done.

We told her to suck it up and go to school. Mommy and Daddy have things to do.

April 3, 2011

Concerto in a minor

Every now and then, there comes a moment when a father must pass on to his son what knowledge he has gained in any given area. This is one of those times.

My son approaches me, looks me in the eye, and implores me to show him how. It’s as if he knows the wisdom and knowledge that I have stored inside me and he yearns to acquire this knowledge. I am the wise sage and as I ponder whether he is worthy of such knowledge, his earnest pleas fall upon my ears like a gentle rain and I am powerless to protest such an innocent thirst for knowledge.

I give gentle instruction by showing him how it’s done and then teaching him how to repeat my movements. I’m unsure if his little hands can sum up the power and coordination for such a dexterous move. He struggles and flashes a look of frustration at me as I work to assure him that the difficulty he’s experiencing is normal. After all, no one can learn something as momentous as this without fumbling a little in the beginning.

Verbal instructions soon become increasingly insufficient. I am forced to place my hand on his and guide him towards his goal. I show him how to cup his hand and where to place it for maximum effect. I position his other arm just so to maximize the angle. We practice a few times to no avail. He is getting more frustrated and I, while trying to exude an outer calm, begin to wrestle my inner emotions and doubt of his ability at such a young age begins to form in my mind.

I step back and as I do so, he gives it one more try.


His perfectly round eyes jerk up to meet mine. Wonder and excitement fill his face and as our gazes lock we both let out a scream of delight and joy! We slap a high five and a bond is shared between father and son that can never be taken away. I smile at him – proud of his accomplishment and the moment hangs there like stray bubble on a warm Saturday at the park.

Then, just like that, the moment is over. But the memory of my son’s first armpit fart will last a lifetime.

March 28, 2011

Reading about Pigs and other critters

We’re three-quarters of the way through Swee’Pea and TheMonk’s kindergarten year. So much has changed in these past several months that it’s difficult to keep up. The biggest leap that the kids have made, however, is in their reading skills. The best, and admittedly worst, part of this is that bed time stories are now being read to me.

Now, they don’t use the voices or bang out a Dr. Seuss rhyme like Maya Angelo, but they can downright read. Every night we pick out books like Harry the Dirty Dog, A Crazy Day at the Critter Cafe (a current fave), There’s a Wocket in my Pocket, Where the Wild Things Are and, most recently, Olympian and Dancing with the Stars winner Kristi Yamaguchi’s new book, Dream Big, Little Pig.

We’ve been reading our books with Swee’Pea and TheMonk taking turns reading books or, sometimes, pages of the book. I only correct maybe 1 or 2 words per page. They blow right through the books. And, I have to say, after we received an advanced copy of Dream Big, Little Pig, Swee’Pea fell in love with it immediately. I have found her reading it to herself in the mornings and I even found her copying all the pictures of Poppy the Pig with her pink crayons. I must admit, the book is fun and we’re definitely a fan.

We often talk about the meaning of the books we read and I try and reinforce the message through a brief discussion. The book, of course, is about finding what you love and doing it with all of your heart. Dreaming big is how you become great. For little pigs named Poppy or little girls named Swee’Pea.

March 24, 2011

Hands are for holding

Mornings are a rush. There are showers to take, clothes to put on, breakfasts to eat, coffee to drink, lunches to pack, teeth to brush, hair to comb, shoes to tie and jackets to don. It’s like herding cats. Only these cats will spontaneously put their underwear on their head, whine about their food and generally move slower than this father would prefer.

The phrase, “Let’s Go!” is uttered over and over. And it never sounds like an encouraging cheer. Instead, it sounds like an imploring plea of, “Let’s Goooooooo!” This is often followed by a “We’re gonna be late for the bus!” or a “I’m gonna make you walk to school if we miss that bus!”

But, invariably, we hop out the front door between 8:00 and 8:05 a.m. each and every school day. And as we open the door and the cool air hits our faces, we hunker down for the short walk to the bus stop. It’s at this point that I know we won’t be late and we relax and enjoy the walk. Swee’Pea and TheMonk pull their little backpacks on wheels that is often filled with nothing more than a completed book list and that day’s lunch and snack.

Along the walk we notice many things. We notice new gopher holes in our neighbor’s lawn, snails making a run for it across the sidewalk, newly fallen leaves, brightly colored trash and the occasional roly poly.

But what I notice is how big my kids are becoming.

Which is why, as we walk along in the solitude of the morning, I smile to myself when Swee’Pea reaches up to hold my hand as we walk along the sidewalk. Or when TheMonk continues to hold my hand after we cross our one and only street along the way. I smile because I know one day soon – too soon – my kids won’t want to hold Daddy’s hand anymore. Someday soon, I’ll have only the faint memories of holding hands smaller than mine and wondering where the time went. The cruelty of parenthood baring it’s teeth.

Yes, I’ll try to hold onto these memories because someday it’s all I’ll have. Well, that and underwear on the head.

November 10, 2010

Everything she’s learned is not enough to pass Kindergarten

I am tucking Swee’Pea into bed and we begin to talk about school. She must have been thinking about this because all of a sudden she launches into a conversation that must have begun in her head. “But Daddy,” Swee’Pea begins, “I am going to miss Fabian when he goes to first grade.” Since I can see the flaw in her logic, I point out that she too will be going to first grade along with this little punk boy.

“Nuh-uh! Fabian already knows all his kindergarten words and all of his first grade words and I don’t know all of my kindergarten words yet!” She says this with all of the certainty that only a five-year-old can muster. In her mind, she is certain she will remain in kindergarten for possibly the rest of her life.

As her mother and I assure her that she is plenty smart (her first parent-teacher conference showed that she’s already one of the best in her class – at least that’s how I heard it) and that whatever words she doesn’t know she’ll learn before the end of the school year.

Swee’Pea, as we kissed her goodnight and shut the door, remained unconvinced, I’m sure. But I’m sure she’ll forget all about this in a short while. Now if only she’d forget about this Fabian kid…

November 3, 2010

Our Morning Ritual

Every day I walk you to the bus. Before that, I make sure you’re dressed, feed you breakfast, pack your lunches, and get you out the door in time to catch the bus.

But walking to the bus in my favorite part.

It’s really the only time of day that it’s just us. Sometimes you hold my hand. Other times you run ahead and point out little things that only 5 year old’s can see. A dried up worm. A hummingbird. A snail that has climbed the side of a house.

Our walk is only about 2-3 minutes long but I savor every second. When we get to the bus stop, we are usually one of the first ones there but soon enough there are over 30 kids waiting for the bus.

Kindergartners board first and you two are two of three or four kindergartners that ride the bus. As the bus arrives I say good morning to the bus driver, kiss you both on the cheek and turn you loose to board the bus and you get on and sit in the first seat on the passenger side, oftentimes with a neighborhood girl who Swee’Pea is friendly with.

It is then that our real ritual begins. TheMonk turns to look at me and starts making silly faces. Not to be outdone, I’ll make silly faces back as kids board the bus around us. We stick our tongues out, we make antlers with our fingers, we roll our eyes and contort our faces, making each other giggle. I savor this moment because I know one day soon you won’t want to make silly faces at your daddy. But I’ll take it now.

And I know the other parents see us. I have never spoken to another parent about our routine so I don’t know what they think. I do know that some of the kids on the bus like it because, along with Swee’Pea’s occasional silly face, her seatmate will join in along with the kids in the first few rows on the passenger side of the bus.

But it’s TheMonk who loves it the the most. And as the door closes and the bus begins to pull away our silly faces turn to finger waves and we make eye contact until the bus is too far to see.

And then I turn to head back to the house to begin my day and I smile at how the day has begun. Dried up worms and silly faces.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

November 1, 2010

The Truth Shall Set Him Free

The children are huddled closely around their teacher. They are seated with their legs crossed on the multicolored rug as the teacher sits in a chair and shares the days lesson. Today, the subject is Honesty.

The teacher begins to speak of the importance of telling the truth. She explains how telling the truth builds trust and goes on at length about how when someone doesn’t tell the truth, they lose trust of those around them.

She looks out into the group and sees 22 pairs of eyes staring back, listening intently. She glances at each young, impressionable face before settling her eyes on TheMonk, who’s eyes are glistening with unshed tears. She quickly asks TheMonk what’s wrong.

Lips quivering, TheMonk begins to tell his teacher a story that shows how he has taken the lesson about Honesty to heart.

“One time, when I was four, my daddy asked me to pick up *sob* my toys and… *sob* and… I told him I did… *sob* but… *sob* I DIDN’T!!!!!”

TheMonk, clearly distraught by the thought of losing his Daddy’s trust, spills his little heart out to his kindergarten teacher like some elementary school confessional. She huddles down and assures him that all little boys and girls make mistakes and that she knows he would never do that again.

TheMonk accepts this explanation and dries his tears as the lesson continues. Of course, at the end of the day, at dinner, when Daddy asks him “What happened at school today?” he replies with his usual…


September 28, 2010

Star Student, Star Sister

The note comes home from school along with all of the flyers, teacher newsletter, last week’s homework and slightly crumbled blue card signifying another good day at school. The note is in an envelope addressed “To the parents of TheMonk.” Now, if you’re me, when you see an envelope coming home from school addressed “To the parents of TheMonk” you immediately think the worst. You begin wondering how long the timeout your kid is going to have and how TheMonk will look awfully funny being in the timeout spot sporting the stubble of a prepubescent teen.

But then I actually open the envelope and it reads, “Congratulations!” Your child [Insert Name Here] has been chosen to be honored for [Insert Reason Here] Effort. Please attend our awards ceremony this Friday. Signed, [Insert Teacher's Name Here].

So there it was. Not two months into school and TheMonk was already getting recognized for his “Effort.” Nevermind that this is the same kid that gets distracted putting his underwear on in the morning. Apparently, at school, this kid is all about the effort.

As I am basking in the knowledge that my son is the hardest working kindergartner on the planet, what is equally glaring is that there is only one envelope. No envelope arrives addressed “To the Parents of Swee’Pea.” We wonder how the news that TheMonk will be recognized and she will not will go over. Will she pout? Cry? Whine that “it’s NOT fair?!”

We walk over to TheMonk and Swee’Pea and tell TheMonk that he will be getting an award. After explaining what an award is to a slightly confused little boy, we turn to Swee’Pea and explain that whenever someone in our family gets special recognition, that we are all very happy for that person. Swee’Pea agrees that it’s very cool that her brother will be getting an award. There is no jealousy or anger evident and she tells TheMonk “good job!”

Fast forward a few days to an auditorium crowded with camera-laden parents and a room full of wiggly elementary school students and names are called up one by one to receive their awards. Finally, the principal announces TheMonk’s name and a certain someone lets out a very loud, “WOO HOO!!!” I’ll admit it wasn’t my wife. And this would be a great story if it was Swee’Pea, but it wasn’t. I’ll leave it up to you to guess who it was. But I’ll tell you this. The second loudest clapper was a little girl cheering for her brother while in the audience surrounded by her classmates.

At least, I’d like to think that’s true. I was kinda distracted yelling out “WOO HOO!!!”

August 25, 2010

The Ups and Downs of Homework

If I had homework in Kindergarten, I don’t remember it. I don’t remember bringing home copied packets of paper asking me to trace the letter P or color apples red. This is perhaps because I’m so old that photocopiers didn’t exist in schools and we, instead, were sometimes given much more labor-intensive mimeographs that reeked of the intoxicating aroma of blue ink.

But now, thanks to the age of high-end photocopy machines, homework packets arrive at home on Monday. Eight pages of tracing, writing, drawing and coloring that must be completed and returned by the next Monday so the cycle can start all over again.

While Swee’Pea and TheMonk are in different kindergarten classes, they bring home an identical packet each week. The routine is now set. After a short break once they arrive home on the school bus, Mommy breaks out the packets and the kids sit down at their Ikea table and Ikea chairs and begin their homework. The goal is to get the homework done no later than Wednesday so they can relax on Thursdays and Fridays. This means 2-3 pages of homework that generally last about 30 minutes. It usually goes something like this:

TheMonk sits down and hammers out each page as if this is his sole purpose in life. You tell him how many pages he has to do and he won’t look up until it’s done. There is no debating. There is no bargaining. The boy has a job to do and he’s gonna do it.

Swee’Pea, on the other hand, isn’t such a linear thinker. She might start on a project but the moment she has difficulty, she shuts down. She pleads. She whines. She announces over and over and over again just how much she does not want to do this homework.

And over the last few weeks we’ve come to realize that it’s best not to argue with her about this. If she doesn’t want to do it, she won’t and there’s no use in getting into an argument with a five year old about how failing to draw a picture of a banana will send her to a life of poverty and crime.

And 9 times out of 10, after she’s had a little break or even eaten dinner, she’ll suddenly announce that she wants to finish her homework. And she does so without complaint.

I’m sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere. Something about letting kids find their own way or the most valuable lessons kids learn are the ones they teach themselves.

All I think of is, “Twelve more years of this?”

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