My son brings home a cookie he made at school that looks like it fell off a truck.  It’s supposed to be for Christmas, I think, because the white frosting and red sprinkles have glommed together in a way that should have a police line cordoning off the area.

One morning before school, my son entertains himself with a stray puff of goose down.  He realizes the goose down can ride the wind of one of our electric heat throwers, and so he carefully ministers to its flight, running around it and blowing on it to keep it afloat on the hot air current.  He has incredible insights and questions, the kind of halting questions you wouldn’t even think to ask.  “When was the first math problem?”  That’s a good question – the dawn of math.  He’s always wondering what the first of something was, when it began, concerned with origins.  Math is difficult; his old man failed Calculus twice and dropped out in the third round, so it’s not hugely surprising the kid is already getting frustrated over subtraction.

His reading and writing skills are stellar.  His interests vary from day to day, but he’s enthusiastic about everything.  About buying everything, for one thing – he shops in catalogs on the living room floor, lying on his stomach, his feet sticking up.  He wants to play the drums, he wants to be an X-ray doctor, he wants to throw clay pots.  Seven is a truly special age.  Contained in seven is the innocence and enthusiasm of early childhood.  He is just a little boy, bright and full of energy, completely forgiving and almost always in the moment, yet he is becoming a young person, and worries about things he didn’t before.  He can turn the tables on his parents, he can sense what he does not have, and his traits are forming more distinctly.  It’s the dawn of reason, so they say, and it will likely take many years from now before he learns to look beyond reason and acquire faith, though in some ways, he already has it.

jude throws knuckles

“I’m not jokin’,” said the brown-haired kindergarten boy.

My son, removing his snow clothes, looked over. “You’re not jokin’ about what, Porter?”

The boy blinked. “…I’m not jokin’,” he said again.

Moral: kids repeat what they hear.


Later that same week, I pulled up into the parent’s queue and sat idling, waiting for the kids to be released. I hadn’t quite made it up to the little corral where they contain the buggers until each parent opens the car door and sucks them up, when one of the teacher’s aides came walking up to me in the car, toting my son, Jude, by the hand.

I got out of the car.

“What’s up?”

“Jude struck another boy today,” she said. Her cheeks were apple-red. It was cold, but she was also flustered, I could tell. “He hit him once and left a red mark on his cheek. Then he hit him again and left a scratch.”

I looked at my boy’s fingernails. “I’ll have to trim those,” I said.

“Please, for us.” She said.

For us, I thought. What an odd phrasing. Then I asked, “Who was the little boy?”

“I can’t tell you that,” she said, “but, Jude knows.”

So, I apologized profusely and promised we would have a long talk about it, my son and I.  All the while though, I was thinking, she can’t tell me who the other boy is? Double odd.

But that’s the way things are today. Everybody is protected by some law or act or another. There’s no one-room schoolhouse anymore. It’s a compound of little potential lawsuits running around.

As we drove away I asked, “Jude, who was it?” He was remorseful, crying a little. No jury would convict him. “Porter,” he said.

“Why? Why did you hit him?”

“Because I was reading a book and he came over.”

Oh, makes sense, I thought. “But why did you hit him?”

“Because I hit him with my hand, with my fingernail.”

“No, Jude, that’s not why, that’s how. What made you mad?”

“Because I was reading.”

“What else?”

“I don’t know.”

“Jude, you don’t just hit someone because you are reading. If so, the subways of New York would be a constant brawl. Did you want to read by yourself?”

“Yeah. I wanted to be alone.”

Ah, I thought. Let the healing begin.

Moral of the story: Interrogate your children like they are a prisoner of war.


That was Friday. It was MLK weekend, so school resumed on Tuesday. I didn’t make a huge fuss over the event during the weekend break. I figure too much attention brought to a negative thing only makes a kid think, wow, look at all the special attention I’m getting when I do something bad. But, I didn’t ignore it, either. Here and there we’d talked about it, as part of normal conversation. Then I sprung it on him Tuesday morning when we got into the classroom that we were going to apologize to little Porter (who is, incidentally, about half a foot taller and at least fifteen pounds heavier than my son.)

“Jude, can you tell Porter you’re sorry?”

Porter, I saw, didn’t have a visible mark on him. Both young men were amenable to to the concilliatory exchange. Jude said, “I’m sorry I hit you, Porter.”

Porter was sort of half-smiling, looking around, probably thinking of red balloons and plastic toy horses. He said, “Thank you, Jude.”

And it was done.

Moral of the story: kids are quick to forgive.

secrets of the five year-old mind…REVEALED

I thought it would start out a certain way.  That’s the way it goes – you scenario-ize this sort of thing, but it never really happens exactly the way you imagined or planned it.

I thought the big yellow school bus would come and pick him up, like it did little Forrest Gump at the end of Forrest Gump, and that, however unlike that scene, I would cry a little bit, the tears dripping into the cup of coffee perpetually stuck to my lips in the morning.  I would wave goodbye to little Jude as he trundled off on the bus, and that would be that.  But, it didn’t start that way; it started with my bringing him to school on the first day and walking him into the classroom.  And there’s a curious side note there – how the way we often start something, the details of the way in which we do it, especially when it’s the beginning of something significant – tend to be the way we continue to do it day after day.  Almost half a school year later, I still park in the same Visitor’s spot in the parking lot every morning and go inside with Jude and spend just about the same amount of time, and we hug and kiss, and then I go.  Once or twice I did tear-up a little bit as I was driving away ; it’s just all so darn sweet, relieving, and joyous.

Other things have progressed just the way you’d think they would – the things you’d see in yet some other movie about child-rearing, or read in a book, or have heard from another parent who joined the club before you.  For instance, every night Jude calls me back into his room after being tucked in bed to tell me “one more last thing.”  (And that’s exactly how it feels, too – from morning until night he is a tiny juggernaut of inquisition, statement, demand, and insanity.)  Last night he called me back in, and there he lay, staring wide with wonder into the darkened ceiling asking, “Daddy, why do we bonk our heads and lose all our membries and moo like a cow?”

What’s interesting is the rich, internal life the child begins to develop, the individual story they begin to have – things you find out about from other people.  Like, the other day I was dropping him off at class and one of the teacher’s aides said to me, “Jude is really good at math.”  Cool, I thought, good to know. And then there’s yesterday morning – as I’m leaving, after scooping him up and kissing him goodbye, the teacher tells me that Jude’s show-and-tell the last couple of days has been a dissertation on “Why My Daddy Is My Best Friend.”  Now, that’s heartwarming.  But I don’t think it’s always going to be these little tidbits of good, cuddly news.  I realize that, in time, the reports I’m going to get will be more along the lines of, “Today, Jude tried to light a classmate’s hair on fire using two stones for a flint.”  In which case I’ll think, Cool.  He’s resourceful.

So, no – it’s never going to be exactly how you thought it would go… but, with the surprises and the unexpected laughs – it tends to be even better.