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03/16/2010

Kinder bender

Yesterday on Twitter I said about Charlie, "It's hard to take seriously the rages of a child whose underpants are on backwards."  And so it is.  Do you know how hard it is to keep a straight face when your howling kid is standing there with Elmo on his junk?

And yet I worried for a moment, once I'd posted it, that it would seem I wasn't taking his feelings seriously.  And then — I think too much — I thought, Wait a minute.  I don't always have to.  As this phase wears on, I'm finding that sometimes it's more important to keep my sense of humor.  Sometimes instead of engaging, A fine SUNNY DAY to you, too, juvenile pelvis! simply serves everyone better.

Yesterday was one of those days.  Charlie's preschool called us and asked us to pick him up early because his behavior had been so rotten.  I'm still not entirely clear on what happened.  It seems that he was busily working on a project of his own, and the time came to move on to a different activity.  Charlie preferred not to.  And hilarity ensued.

So I paused yet again in my application for that MacArthur grant — at this rate I'll never finish my large-scale felt and pipe cleaner model that depicts the freaky-ass mating ritual of the North American maize weevil, which would be disastrous if I hadn't already composed an anatomically correct concerto for jug band illustrating same — and went to get him.  He immediately showed me the project he'd been working on, a weather forecasting station.  It was a rather elaborate affair involving an old computer keyboard; several musical instruments; a battered metal pie pan aimed carefully at the southern sky, the better to receive satellite transmissions; an entire set of scaled-down metal cookware, teapot present, short and stout; and an oil-soaked pyre for burning any junior heretics who dared to predict an eclipse.  (It is possible that, blinded by my son's searing intellectual magnificence, I just imagined that last.)  Anyway, it was pretty cool, and he was very proud of it, and I felt a surge of sympathy for him.  Of course he hadn't wanted to move on to another activity.

Which is not to say he shouldn't have had to, or that we gave him a pass on it.  It was charming and funny and sweet and impressive and heart-melting and sad, but it also unsettled me somewhat.  Which brings me to my point.  I am flat-out terrified of kindergarten.

Now pay attention.  I'm going to make it easy for anyone who wants to misinterpret my concern.  Just cut and paste the following into the alternative forum of your choice:

- - - - - - - - - - - - - Clip- - - -  CLIP 'N' SAVE - - - - Clip- - - - - - - - - - - -

Every sparkling facet of my special, special snowflake is purest crystalline perfection.  He's smarter, more sensitive, and more deserving than other kids, most specifically yours, and this is due entirely to the patient, conscientious work of his parents, who have tirelessly shielded him during the whole of his brief life from unwholesome influences like television, weapon play, and high-fructose Wal-Mart.

 - - - Clip STOP RUNNING OW STABBED LIFE'SBLOOD EBBING Clip- - -

Glad we got that out of the way.  Now that I've stated what I'm not saying, I can talk with frankness about what worries me.  It's not that Charlie has already mastered the kindergarten curriculum, although he reads at an advanced level and will natter on happily for minutes on end about, say, the structure of the human eye, usually when he's trying to forestall a disciplinary action.  ("I think an apology would be nice, Charlie."  "But I was trying to tell you about the ciliary muscle!"  On and on and on until all I want to do is throw myself under that Magic fucking School Bus and instruct Ms. Frizzle with my reedy dying breath to back over me one more time, juuust to make sure I'm dead.)  He knows a lot, but still has plenty to learn.

And it's not a fear that his particular talents will go uncultivated.  Although the very idea of homeschooling makes me twitch with such violence that I think TypePad just automatically opened a trouble ticket asking one of its engineers to track my location, travel here swiftly, and slip a spoon into my mouth lest I bite clean through my tongue, Paul and I have always understood that we'd be supplementing Charlie's school education at home — just like any caring parent does, just by showing an interest.  ("Cones and rods?  Well, if that don't just beat all!  Now tell me again what that open-close big-little black middle eye-hole's called?")  I think that'll be okay.

It's not that he's socially immature, although he is, being as five-years-old as they come.  In fact, he has some strengths that comfort me.  We're told by his head teacher that he finds it easy to relate to all of his classmates, whether they're rogue meteorologists challenging his prognostications with more sophisticated equipment — damn those uppity bastards and their schmancy Lego theodolites — or regular old goofy-assed kids who fill buckets with mud and dump them on each other.  This is a relief; I was afraid my own awkwardness would be passed down genetically.  Now I can apply my energy to instilling it manually, with the most up-to-date open source version.

And it's certainly not a fear that the regimentation of just-plain-school will crush out his specialness like a cigarette butt under the toe of...someone who just finished smoking it.  Or someone who's bad with metaphors.  I hear this concern a lot, the notion that the less individualized approach of public school can't accommodate a particular child's style.  And I understand where that comes from better now, having had the chance to observe a child closely who has, as a teacher once drily observed, his own agenda.

But in Charlie's case, I think certain selected aspects of his specialness kind of...need to be quashed.  They're not all positive.  I'm not going to catalogue my kid's specific weaknesses here; he'll already hate me for the underpants back at the top.  Instead I'll just say that if public school will teach him, as Paul and I haven't yet managed, that he's never the only important person in the room, hey, crush that bullshit out.

So I'm not worried about that.  Instead, I'm kind of worried that they won't crush it fast enough — that the slaughter, since I'm such a kickass metaphor...er...ian...person, won't be a single swift stroke of the sword, but an amateurish hacking.  That the adjustment will be agonizing.  That the trouble he has shutting down the weather station — in a school where emergent curriculum is the watchword, in a small class, with teachers who've had a good relationship with him for a few years now — will only be magnified in a setting where he has no such advantages.  And that it'll be a painful, messy, second-guessy kind of thing, instead of the thrilling new start he's currently imagining.

We have a meeting in a couple of weeks to get him registered and to talk about what we should expect.  That'll give me ample time to get good and frothy about it — I mean, make a comprehensive list of questions to ask and concerns to mention.  If you've been in a similar position, which is to say concerned that your own special snowflake was about to get run over by a bus driven by a MacArthur Fellow in Elmo underpants, or at the very least felled in its icy prime by a metaphor gone totally gonzo apeshit, I'd be grateful for your advice.

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