Thursday, February 03, 2011

Original Post September 20th, 2003

Friday was "Take Your Parent To School Day"
at Fees Middle school.

No, I do not attend the school myself.

I had promised my youngest brother Luis that I would accompany him on the mystical journey that is a half-day in the sixth grade. I do not have my one o'clock Italian class on Fridays. Thus, I had no excuse for not going. My mother works as a teacher herself, and from what I understand it is frowned upon for a teacher to leave a group of thirty first-graders alone for even a day.

My older brother I know wouldn't go, my sister is in Mexico, and my younger brother is in the Army. But what kind of excuse is that, really? "Lousy brother, running of to fight in Iraq, sticking me with Luis, make me get up all early on my day off," I grumbled.

But I was curious. The rest of my siblings and I had all gone to school pretty much together, so I always caught wind of their antics. But for the littlest Lopez, Middle School and indeed, school in general, was a solitary struggle. I remember Middle School as being a critical time for me in developing my personality. It was a time when I learned to defend myself with my keen mind rather than my fists. (Although, had my mind been a bit keener I might have realized that if I just kept my mouth shut and stopped insulting the larger kids who already didn't like me I wouldn't have had to worry so much about defending myself.) But I digress...

The Plain-Waffle Blues

I arrived at my parent's house to pick the boy up. He was already dressed and waiting for me. We both partook of waffles. Luis ate his plain. Mine were garnished appropriately with butter and syrup. We finished eating and were on our way.

We arrived to his first class 10 minutes late.

"Heh heh, it's all coming back," I thought.

Luis was sent to the office to report in for being tardy. While he was doing that, I sat in the classroom and acted like I had had nothing to do with it (another skill I learned in Middle School.)

When he returned, it was time for "Writing."

The Blue Chalk Blues

Luis is in several adapted classes so that he can receive more attention from his teachers. I too, knew this pain. I was in an very low math class that I lovingly referred to as "Adapted Math." It wasn't that bad though. I made the best boxes and "learning wheels" in that entire class. Of course, that was in High School, not Middle School... but I digress yet again.

The boy was working on alphabetizing words. He was doing okay, but then he hit the words that begin with the same sets of letters, in this case, "snare," "snort," and "sneer." His teacher spent some time trying to make him understand. Then I took over and spent some time trying to get him to understand. But he wasn't grasping it at all, it seemed. I was getting a bit frustrated, and so was Luis.

"Insanity," said Albert Einstein (not the florist, the physicist) "is performing the same action over and over and expecting different results." (I'm probably slightly misquoting that, but I have never been very good at translating German. (The quote I read was in English, but the latter is still true.))

I spied a chalkboard that someone had deviously tried to hide by hanging on the wall. Fortunately, I have read "The Purloined Letter," and ever since I have been excellent at finding objects hidden in plain sight.

"May I use the chalkboard?" I asked the teacher.

"Of course you may," Teacher replied.

After choosing the blue piece of colored chalk, I furiously began to write the group of words down on the board. As I had begun to suspect, the problem Luis had been having was not with the words per se, but it lay in that he was confusing the order of the beginning sets of letters. After getting him to cross out the letters that were the same, he could then focus on the "a," the "o," and the "e." He arranged them with little difficulty.

We completed the rest of the assignment like that. He got a 100% on the paper, and you know, I like to think that it was my 100% too.

The Blue Shirt Blues

The next class we went to after that was P.E. (Physical Education, which always sounded kind of dirty to me.) While the kids were changing, I waited patiently with a few other parents. One of them was a really odd guy who kept making jokes about computer tech at his work who was also the boss' son. From what I understood he fried a couple of very expensive computers and the guy assured me that it was all really very funny.

It's strange to meet people that are over forty that you are pretty sure nobody likes.

We were all herded down to one of the smaller gymnasiums by two whistle-wielding gym teachers. Once inside, all the children ran around like mad for a minute and then settled into a pretty tight formation of columns and rows. I was impressed. (My Middle School had little numbers painted on the ground for us to stand on, and even then we would have trouble.) The gym teachers led them in a series of stretches. The class was co-ed, and standing there awkwardly while a bunch of 13 year-old boys and girls did jumping-jacks without fail conjured up the image of a very envious Phill. I immediately lost it, and had turn away so that the kids wouldn't think I was laughing at them.

After stretching, they played a game called "Pac-Man" in which a few kids in blue shirts were the ghosts and the rest of them were the Pac-Men. Luis was given a blue shirt and thus was a ghost. An incredibly slow ghost. If the arcade game had had ghosts as slow as that, I could have beaten it with one quarter. The Pac-Men kids could only move along the lines painted on the gym floor, though, so my snail-paced pal managed to tag out a few, and you know, I like to think I managed to tag out a few, too.

The Spelling Bloos.

Luis had another class which was basically English. He had a spelling test, a journal that he had to write in, writing exercises to do, stuff like that. I guess that first class he had was more to reinforce some of the skills he was learning in other classes.

The boy cracked me up in that class. They were all reading The Pinballs by Betsy Byers. I saw it on their desk. "Oh yeah, The Pinballs! They're called that because they get bounced around from place to place, right?" Luis was surprised that I knew. He was even more surprised when the tests were handed out and the first question on it was "Why are they called the Pinballs?" When I told him I wasn't going to help him with his test, he wasn't so much surprised as he was pissed.

I passed the time by re-reading The Pinballs, which I hadn't read in at least nine years. The book was old even the first time I had read it, having been written in 1977. But I enjoyed it then and I was enjoying it now. The book is about three previously-unfamiliar kids who are all placed in the same foster home. A couple things jumped out at me while I was reading in that class. At one point, the sassy, street-smart, rebel girl states that she read that "Someday everybody will be famous for fifteen minutes."

Was this pint-sized punk foretelling the arrival of reality television and it's strangle-hold on prime-time television? This name-calling Nostradamus?

Maybe it was one of those self-fulfilling prophecies.

But what struck me the most was that throughout the majority of the story the kids are just waiting. Hoping and waiting that their respective parents will appear and all their troubles will melt away.

It reminded me of that time in life when all you can really do is wait. Wait and hope. I know I wasn't conscious of it, but 90% of the time when I was a kid I always felt that I was just waiting for things to happen to me. Now that I am older, I realize, it should be just the opposite. I should be out making things happen. But I don't, of course. I've just gotten so good at waiting.

And it's nice to be good at something.

When the tests were all finished, I was not surprised to see that Luis had just made up answers to the reading test. I was pleasantly surprised to see that he had done pretty well on his spelling test. Indeed, throughout the day I had been continuously impressed by what he was capable of. Which is either bad of me, or good of him, depending on how one might choose to look at it.

The Boozeless Blues

The final bell rang, signaling the end of our truncated school day. I drove Luis back home and dropped him off. On my way back to my own house, I stopped to fill up on gas only to discover that my driver's license was missing. I had taken it into the school with me, along with my bank card. The bank card I still had, which was a relief, but I could not find my ID. Perhaps it had slipped out of my pocket when I had been sitting in those little chairs. "Oh well," I sighed, "Maybe it's for the best."

I try to be optimistic. If by some freak chance there is a kid somewhere in that school who looks like me and finds that ID, he's probably going to have a pretty wild weekend.

The End Blues