live from the peace corner
"Dropped him off." My, that sounds breezy. Peeled him, struggling, off our legs? Wrenched ourselves from his grip and airlifted ourselves out of the classroom as soon as his teacher, Mr. Norman, swung in to relieve us? Whatever it was, it was fucking difficult.
Let me back up a little. We put in a bid last spring for Finn to go to an alternative school that we fell in love with, but came up goose eggs. On our list of preferences we'd put approximately one zillion schools ahead of the one to which he'd have naturally been assigned, because I happened to go to that particular school in 4th grade when we first moved to Seattle from New York, and it was the worst year of my schooling life. Holy smokes, it was shitty. Abysmal educationally, barely livable socially. And even if it had improved bunches in 30 years (whiiiiich...we'll find out that it hadn't), the sense memory of walking into that place every morning would have made me queasy.
But we didn't get assigned to any of those zillion schools, and Finn was headed to Olympic Hills. Aaa! We were ready to make the best of it. We were going to embrace the "local is good" paradigm, get involved, shine it up as much as we could. But aaa!
And then three weeks before school was set to start, we got a letter from the principal of Olympic Hills saying that since they didn't meet testing standards, they were legally obligated to give us the option to send our child to another school that did. We were given a list of three alternatives, and on that list was our #2 choice.
Sacajawea! Sweet little Sacajawea Elementary. Seattle public schools are going to hell in a handcart, but Sacajawea is one of the few in town that keeps getting better and better. "A gem in the rubble", said the Seattle Times. A gem! In the rubble, sure, but a gem! We'll take it.
I took Finn to check it out a few days before school began. They'd posted class lists on the door, so we'd find out which kindergarten teacher he'd be assigned. Kit Norman, Room 3. I imagined Kit Norman to be a sweet old lady, but then a fifth-grader and his mom rolled up to the door and we fell into conversation. The boy, Ari, said to Finn, "You got Mr. Norman! He's the best."
Finn got a letter in the mail that day from Mr. Norman, welcoming him to school, and telling him about all the cool stuff they were going to do that year. They'd learn to read and write, they'd learn about animals and dinosaurs and insects, they'd play math games, they'd learn about Asia, and collect pennies to help their communities, and go roller-skating and go to the theater, and on and on. I didn't even notice the letter in the pile of mail until late that evening, after everyone had gone to bed. I read it and my heart swelled. The good vibes of Mr. Norman practically flew off the page. There was also a little form for Finn to fill out - "All About Me" - which we worked on together the next day. Now Mr. Norman knows that Finn likes gardening and watering plants and he wants to learn about all sorts of different trees. Big leaf maples and Norway maples, specifically, if we could be so bold. Mr. Norman knows that Finn likes baking buttermilk biscuits and blueberry muffins, and that he likes to play both hide and seek and "running hide and seek". ("It's easy to make up a new game," explains Finn. "You just take one game, like running, and put it together with another game." Polo Monopoly! Synchronized Twister! Pin the Tail on Kevin Bacon! He's right, this is easy.)
Finn wanted to wear two different plaid shirts and a pair of plaid shorts to orientation. He wouldn't budge on the shirts, but I convinced him to go slightly subtler on the pants. A neutral windowpane plaid, at least. And he had me draw two hearts for Mr. Norman - a large one containing a smaller, smiling one. And then he drew an arm and a hand coming off the smaller heart, offering a spiky flower. Then he went into the garden and picked some clover for Mr. Norman, which we wrapped in a small jewelry box.
Finn's never been to school. No, wait, not true. He went to preschool for three days. There are a few reasons behind this, but this post is already fixing to be ten miles long. Things conspired against, let's just say. So kindergarten, which is already momentous for all parents and kids, is a little closer to jumping out of an airplane than it is to jumping off a high dive for Finn.
Orientation went okay, as well as can be expected. It's just an hour, and you're with your mom and dad, so how bad can it be? Finn was a little nervous and weirded-out, but he handled it, and eventually he befriended a little boy out on the playground, a great little guy named Ian. (Before then, he just wasn't quite connecting with any of the kids out there, and so he kept pasting a cheerful smile on his face and coming back to play with steady old Fred, who's Sancho Panza to Finn's Don Quixote. Meanwhile, I was thankful I'd brought enormous sunglasses, because seeing him out there tentatively approaching kids and then thinking better of it - and then standing there awkwardly, and then playing with forced wildness with Fred - made tears shoot to my eyes over and over.)
Mr. Norman wasn't what I expected. I'd pictured a gentle bear, some kind of cuddly nerd all grown up. Unsurprisingly, that wasn't the actuality. Mr. Norman is more the golden-boy type, like a camp counselor or tennis star or student body president. He's blond and grinning and brisk. And he's great. He announced to us all that he adores his job, he could never imagine himself doing anything else, and that he wants to give kids the best possible first impression of school, to make it as fun as possible. It's rare to get a male kindergarten teacher, and even rarer to get one like Mr. Norman, who really does give off terrific light.
When the first day came, we walked Finn into the class and saw that - miracle of miracles - his assigned seat was right next to Ian, his new friend. (I'll tell you right now that I am giving credit for this miracle to my dear departed dad and father-in-law. As soon as I saw their names next to each other at their little desk, I knew that the grandpas had a hand in this. It's just like them. And furthermore, I think there was some heavenly string-pulling for Finn to end up at Sacajawea, since when I went down to public school headquarters to enroll him there, they were puzzled in the extreme. Olympic Hills was not, in fact, on their list of schools that was required to give kids the chance to opt out. But since I'd shown up, they'd see what they could do. Strangeness.) (I love fairy tales and I'll love them until the end. I don't like to embrace a prosaic explanation if I can find one that gives me goose bumps.)
The wall was lined with smiling parents, and the kids all seemed bubbly and ready to go. As the time came for us to leave, Finn got more and more nervous and then began to cry. I signaled for Dave to take over, and then grabbed Fred (who was ready to enter kindergarten that very day, judging by his enthusiasm for the space) and ran. I made it out the door to the playground and out of view of the classroom window before I burst into tears. Holy fuck. I laughed while I cried, because there I was, the living cliche, the brand-new kindergarten mom beside herself. Dave followed in a couple of minutes, and reported that Mr. Norman had swooped in to comfort Finn and to show him to the "Peace Corner", a groovy little spot in the classroom with a tiny couch and books and a big peace sign hanging on the wall above a basket of stuffed animals. Ian had asked, "Is he crying?" and Mr. Norman responded sweetly, "Yeah, sure he is. It's his first time going to school, so it's a big thing for him."
We went upstairs to the welcome brunch for new parents, but I didn't see one single Bloody Mary available anywhere, so that was a wash.
Oh, man. This will have to be a two-parter. You might think, "Hey, Tina. We're fine with just this one part. You're really more his mom than any of us are, let's remember." But you'll have to bear with me. There's more to report. The rest of the first day, the overwhelming kindness of the other parents, and Mama Crying In the Playground, Round Two. I promise I won't go on and on about this forever. It's just that the first time you jump out of an airplane, your diary entry that night is a little longer than normal.
Okay, then. Off to pick him up from day two. Blow on the dice with me for day three, readers.
P.S. I thought of a solution for this whole thing. I think all of us Rowleys should become huge stoners starting right now. We'll just all smoke weed right before school. Finn, too. All of us. Fred, everybody. We'll just get wicked stoned first thing in the morning. (A Great Toking Sound.) "Heeeeey, Sacajawea. What's the word?" Roll into school, drop him off, roll out of there, no problem. Learning will be fun! Shh, I think this is a no-fail plan.