I kept my head down.
My first-grade teacher was really letting me have it in front of the entire class.
Our assignment was simple enough: Punch holes all around the periphery of two pieces of construction paper. Then, we were to sew the two pieces of paper together by weaving a strand of yarn in and out of the punched holes.
What a bunch of stupid bullshit, six-year-old me thought, though it was probably closer to: Golly gee, all this sure seems silly!
So, I started to skip a hole here and there.
This is so much faster!
Once I figured out how much more efficient the shortcuts were, I went nuts and started skipping entire corners.
All the other kids’ yarn was perfectly sewn in and out of each hole like they were supposed to.
Mine was a hot freaking mess vying to be among the shittiest child artwork anyone had ever seen.
The teacher was PISSED. Excessively so, I think. And she was making an example of me—the newest kid in the class.
I braved a glance away from the floor. There, peering through a window into the classroom, were two girls watching me get scolded.
I made eye contact with one of them. We held each other’s gaze for a moment.
Then I grinned at her.
Hi, Girl I Don’t Know. We can’t be good all the time!
We’ve been friends ever since.
Oh, Shit. Now I’m the Parent
My five-year-old son started kindergarten less than two weeks ago.
The first week, he was “caught being good”—something that awarded him praise in front of his classmates and a special trip to the principal’s office for recognition and a small prize.
I thought it was adorable. I was really proud of him and told a handful of people about it.
Then this week happened.
He’s had not one, but TWO, notes sent home this week by his teacher because of poor behavior.
“I’m writing to let you know that your child has been making poor choices this week. He talks excessively to other kids and sometimes has trouble keeping his hands to himself,” the note said.
I bought him a new toy after picking him up Tuesday. He had told me he’d been good all day.
A fib, it turns out.
So, I had to take his new toy away. He was pretty upset. Which is the desired effect when you want to teach your children there are consequences to being little shitbags in school and then lying about it.
He earned his toy back by being good in school yesterday.
I enjoy positive reinforcement much more than making him sad.
I wrote his teacher back Tuesday night, so she knew where I stood:
I made it clear that both my ex-wife and I were on the same page as far as reinforcing following directions and respecting the rules of the classroom, and that we would do everything we could to support her efforts. But I did mention that our son is still trying to adjust to a new life without both of his parents at the same place at the same time, which I don’t think she knew about.
I don’t want to make excuses for him. But I also think this has adversely affected him—even more than I’d originally feared. And it’s still pretty fresh.
He has some anger now. Anger previously unseen. Which is why I spend as much time laughing with him as I possibly can.
My friends and I liked to laugh. We liked to have fun. And I don’t regret even one second of that.
There was this one kid who came to our school in fifth grade and moved after eighth grade. But during those four years he was at our school, he was one of my best friends.
He had a massive crush on the girl who was universally considered the most attractive in our class.
One day, we heard a rumor that she knew about his crush on her.
“She KNOWS,” we’d say dramatically, before laughing hysterically.
If we couldn’t speak because class was in session, we’d just mouth the words: “She knows,” while pointing to our noses for effect.
For almost an entire semester, he or I would write the word “NOSE” on the blackboard before class started every day. Sometimes our teacher would erase it. Sometimes he wouldn’t.
That always made me laugh.
I don’t think that I’ve ever been bad.
But I’ve always been mischievous. And I don’t intend to stop.
Do As I Say, Not As I Do?
I try to set a decent example for my son. I do.
But I don’t know how to shut myself off sometimes. I’m kind of a clown. My ability to display maturity as a 34-year-old has been questioned on several occasions—both at home and at work.
Here’s what I tell my son:
- Listen to your teachers. They’re in charge. Use your ears. Following directions is important.
- Be nice to other kids. You can’t have too many friends.
- It’s important to learn. That’s how you make money so you can buy food and toys.
I expect him to have good manners, treat people kindly and respect his teachers.
But just between you and me? Do I really care that he’s inclined to share private jokes with friends and build those social bonds—some of which may last a lifetime—even when the teacher wishes he wouldn’t?
In fact, I kind of like it.
Because that note from his teacher? That could have been written about me.
And, while I have plenty of things wrong with me, I’m not unhappy with the person I am today.
As his father, I can’t stand by silently if he’s blatantly disrespectful and insubordinate.
But if this life has taught me anything, it’s that there may be no resource more precious than friends.
I’d be nothing without them. As an only child, my friends WERE my family.
And now I’m looking at my young son. A little me. A child of divorce. And at exactly the same age. He’s also an only child.
I have a better sense today of what’s important than I’ve ever had.
And while my son will never hear me encourage him to goof off or be disruptive in class, it is my belief that the most-important life skills we learn in grade school are socialization and how to make friends.
And near as I can tell, he is off to a pretty good start.
Go get ’em, little man.
We can’t be good all the time.