Sunday

It’s been a week of firsts and almost-firsts for the Boy. Yesterday, it was soccer. He did not want to play, pure and simple. He was fine with the races, the drills, the silly games. But when it was time to scrimmage, he panicked. Eventually, he got up his courage and went into the game, but there was a long period of waiting, watching, and fussing — just a bit.

Today, it was Cub Scouts. “We’ll start by making some slime while we wait for everyone to get here and settle in,” the den leader said. No go. He absolutely did not want to do anything but bury his face in my belly. He finally joined in, but as with soccer, there was a moment of hesitation.

Back home, we were in the familiar territory — swinging, bouncing on the trampoline, playing with the dog.

A spendid Sunday, like so many others.

Polish Mass Sunday

Sunday

Sunday

Sunday Lazy Sunday

First Day 2017

The Boy started kindergarten today. It was for him a big adventure, to say the least, but we really didn’t realize the extent of it until it was time to start getting ready for bed. The thought of going back to school tomorrow sent him into a tear-filled panic. We couldn’t figure out what it could be. At one point he talked about how long the day was. At another point, he explained that the teacher won’t let him run his hand along the wall as he walks down the hall.

“She said there might be staples sticking out!” he sobbed. “I like touching the wall.”

So all in all, I think it was just the overwhelming nature of starting a new school with new kids and a new teacher.

For the Girl, the change came after school. She’s a part of the school safety patrol, which is really a great honor for her because no one applies for the positions: it’s simply through teacher recommendation. Since she has chorus and news crew in the morning before school, she had to sign up for the afternoon crew. And anyone who’s ever worked in public education knows what dismissal looks like on that first day. My first day at my middle school over ten years ago now, dismissal lasted until five in the evening because of assorted bus problems. For the Girl, it wasn’t nearly so ridiculous: she was there for forty-five minutes. Still, it must have been tiring.

Tomorrow we do it all again, but everyone is so tired from this first day that I’m surprised anyone is still up.

Approaching Strangers

On Tuesday, we begin my eleventh year teaching eighth graders. The kids I taught that first year are now in their mid-twenties, with jobs and families of their own. I think back to that first year and wander about some of them.

Samuel (not his real name), who had so much potential but was placed in a class that encouraged him to show his less savory characteristics. I think he could be a good defense attorney — not intimidated by anyone with a strong sense that justice is paramount. His sense of justice and fairness were a little skewed, but that’s fourteen-year-olds for you.

I think of Sarah Beth (also not her real name), who spent the first week or two in a daze because of an ADHD medication mis-dose and became such an energetic, focused leader in the class when all the details got sorted out. I can see her as a project manager, juggling a million different things and using her sweet but forceful personality to get things done.

Then there’s Requan (also not his real name). Last I heard, he was arrested for assaulting his mother. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s in prison now, and that’s tragic. I worked with him one-on-one a lot, trying to help him learn to control his anger and his impulses. He looked me straight in the eye like a man when I spoke to him like that, and there was a dim light in his eye that suggested he really did want to change. I still wonder if I could have done more.

This time eleven years ago, they were all strangers to me. I knew nothing about them, not even their name. Within a few weeks, I could predict their responses to certain things.

This time eleven years ago, the new batch of strangers I’ll soon be meeting were toddlers. Truth be told, so was I in the classroom. I had nine years’ experience as a teacher by then, but it was my first year as the primary teacher in an American classroom. It was all a little much, that first year — all the bureaucracy and paperwork, all the behavior issues I’d dodged, by and large, in Poland. I lacked experience despite my experience, confidence despite my confidence, and above all, resources. It’s a strange to admit it, but I honestly found myself wondering, “What exactly do I teach these kids?” Sure, there were state standards, but like any such documents, they lack specificity.

Now, I have experience, confidence, and I know just what to teach them — and often it’s not in the standards for eighth grade because so many read at below-grade levels. But there’s one thing that never changes: I’m always just a little nervous about this year’s kids.

This Year’s Kids Are Different

Every year, I heard the same thing. Probably every teacher hears it from their colleagues in the grade below them: “This group — whew! Prepare yourselves!” That makes those teachers sound horrible cynical, but in all fairness, we all feel that way at the end of the year. Frazzled and exhausted, we’re ready to get rid of the kids no matter how much we love them. I know this because every year someone says, “This group coming up!” I end up thinking, “Well, they weren’t nearly as problematic as your comment suggested.”

This year, though, I’ve heard something for the first time: “This year’s kids are different. You won’t have nearly the same issues you’ve had in previous years.” The careful part of me wants to be, well, careful — not get my hopes up. Expect the worst and all that. But after meeting them during open house tonight (they’re still strangers: “You know I’ll just forget your name by tomorrow,” I said countless times), I think there might be something to that.

We can always hope.

Animals

We’ve added another animal into our family, and now four or so weeks on, we’re all finally settling into some kind of rhythm of normalcy. Clover is still full of surprises, to be sure, but we know each other much better at this point. We know that if she’s chewing on something she’s not supposed to, it’s usually enough just to give her something designated for chewing. But every now and then, the rhythm skips a beat, we are less than vigilant, and Clover gets a hold on something she’s not supposed to have, like an inflatable rubber ball.

Which she promptly pops with her pin-sharp puppy teeth. And so she has a new chew toy.

Our new openness to new animals might get carried away if we’re not careful, though. We’ve had a black stray cat wandering around our house lately, undoubtedly drawn by our compost. We’ve made friends, then determined that the poor thing is pregnant.

What else can you do but temporarily — “Temporarily, kids!” K and I have both reiterated — adopt the animal. We’ve been feeding her while we confirm that she is indeed a stray. Monday, we take her to the Humane Society. In the meantime, we argue about what to call her for the next couple of days: Midnight or Nightmare.

Infinity

Driving home from Mass today, the Boy and I somehow got into a discussion about infinity. I can’t remember how it came up or even who brought it up, but there we were, discussing one of the great paradoxes of life and math.

To try to explain it to him, I talked about numbers: “You can count on and on and on and on,” I said. But this didn’t seem to support what I said earlier, about infinity having no beginning or ending.

“But it does have a beginning,” he protested from the back. “When I count, I say, ‘1, 2, 3, 4, 5.’ You start at one.”

I tried dipping into the topic of negative numbers to show him that we really could start anywhere.

“Negative numbers? Like 5, 4, 3, 2, 1?”

Throwing Away

It’s much simpler to dump now and then sort later. Much later. That is what E has been doing with his toys — cars, action figures, blocks, and the like — for some time now, until all four of his main toy bins are hopelessly mixed. Last night, we decided that we had to get things under control, organized. I suggested it while putting the Boy to bed; he readily agreed.

This morning, then, we got to work by dumping all the bins into a pile.

“That sure is a lot of toys!” said the Boy.

“Perhaps too many,” I suggested.

“Yeah, maybe too many.”

We began sorting, making little piles of action figures, cars, train tracks, blocks, and more, and I suggested that we might want to get rid of some of the toys.

“Yeah, maybe the broken ones.”

He insisted on throwing them away himself.

We made a deal with the cars: for every one car he gets rid of, he gets to keep three cars. That of course means he cuts his cars by twenty-five percent, which would be significant. I didn’t think he’d agree. I thought he’d fuss about the suggestion, but instead, he went along with it quite willingly. He selected trailers for which there were no longer trucks, cars that were, in his words, for babies, and a few cars that just looked like they’d seen their best days. He was thoughtful as he culled his toys and surprisingly mature about the whole process.

Perhaps not so surprisingly: he’s always imitating L, K, or me, always trying to be older than he is, always talking so seriously about such things as he sees K and me discussing important matters. He wants to grow up. He wants to be a man. The worst insult I can give him is to suggest, when he’s fussing and crying over some trifle or other, that he’s acting like a baby.

“I’m not a baby!” he protests.

“Then why are you fussing like one?”

The answer is always the same: “I don’t know.”

In the end, we got rid of two bags of toys. Broken cars, trailers with cars missing, mysteries (What is that? And what did it go to?) all got dumped into the trash bin. The rest we took to Goodwill.

It was a proud little moment for K and me, to see our little man realizing that he’d outgrown some toys, that he had more than he really needed, that he could live without them.

Changing

The Girl has a love/hate attitude toward her hair. She loves it because, well, she just does. I say she hates it because she really doesn’t take care of it. On our days off, if K or I didn’t remind her to brush her hair, she wouldn’t. At all. And yet it literally took us years to talk her into cutting her hair the first time.

This time, she went even further — just to the shoulders. Her concern: can I still put it in a ponytail? Our concern? Will it be easier to brush out tangles?

The unexpected side effect: a hair style that almost perfectly reflects her personality: a bit silly, a lot of fun, and simply, sweetly alluring.

Growing with the Pup

Having a puppy is like having a newborn in the house — that’s what we’d heard. There is a certain amount of truth in this: Clover requires a lot of time and attention. And like a baby, she can’t be just left unattended. But the attention is easy to give: she’s such a sweet puppy, always eager to get a belly rub or a scratch behind the ear. Eager to please. Genuinely remorseful-looking when corrected. Or is she just playing us? Probably a bit of both.

And she’s so curious. Those two things combine to torture our cats. Bida tends just to hiss. It’s all it takes after a snoutful of claws a couple of times. But Elsa runs, and so what does Clover do? Chase her, of course. Isn’t she just trying to play? It’s not just Elsa and Bida, and that’s a little worrying. There’s a little black cat that comes around often enough, and Clover tried to make friends with her, to no avail.

She remembers the encounter with Bida that left her with a slightly bloody ear, so she kept her distance.

The Boy is having a bit of trouble with her, too. She’s still trying to herd him, and the herding is getting more intense. She nips at his shoes, chases him when he walks in the room — the tail is always wagging, but like Elsa, the Boy is starting just to avoid her at times.

Unless there’s a toy to play with, like a stick.

Still, despite it all, we’re all pretty much wrapped around her paw.

How could we not be?