Thursday, March 24, 2016

Caught Between a Leprechaun and a Bunny

I picked a grumpy Grape up from school on March 17th. As soon as he strapped into the seat, he demanded to know why "our Leprechaun" didn't leave him anything.

"Excuse me? We don't have a personal Leprechaun." (?!)

"Why not?"

"We aren't Irish."

"So?"

I exhaled. Softball line of questioning. I could deploy the speech about why we don't receive Chanukah gifts with a minor tweak.

I mentally prepared the standard "We can help our friends celebrate" spiel, this time filling the blanks with, "by wearing green and solving the shamrock-shaped maze your teacher printed out for you."

I figured he doesn't need, at such a tender age, to know about green beer. Though why so many educated people think celebrating Ireland by mixing food coloring into Miller Lite is good idea remains beyond me. Shouldn't they be raising their pints of Guinness in the direction of the Emerald Isle instead?

But I digress. Like I said, not our holiday.  I thought we were done when the Grape landed his knock out punch.

"[Kid in class]'s Leprechaun left him $100." The Grape paused for dramatic effect, before adding "And peed in his toilet."

"What? How would you know if a Leprechaun peed in the toilet?"

"He said it was green! Bright green!"

(Glee and giggles rose from the backseat—delight he'd steered his Mamma into bathroom talk.)

"That is disgusting."

"Yeah. Why don't Leprechauns know how to flush? And why didn't I get $100?"

At this point, I suppressed the urge to blurt, "Because Leprechauns aren't real!" and also, "Because some parents are overboard!"

I stopped myself. I was not mentally prepared to field challenging inquiries about Santa whilst speeding along the Mass Pike.

And if other families want to pour green food coloring into their commodes, I guess that's none of my business.

Before you call me a hypocrite, let me state in my defense: Among Christians, practicing, cultural, and all over the spectrum in between, Santa Claus has nearly one hundred per cent buy in. 

But Leprechauns leaving cash?

This was the first I was hearing of it, and all I could think was: Does every small celebration need to be about  cash and prizes  for kiddies?

Can't they draw a nice rainbow and shamrock picture and be happy?

Leprechauns, if memory serves, are greedy little trolls. They stash their gold. They don't like sharing. (The only way to get their gold is to steal it. Stealing is wrong. Irish friends, let me know if my first grade teacher bungled it back in 1979, and I'll print a retraction.)

This year, Easter arrives early.

And it's come to my attention that "Our Bunny" is lame.

Our Bunny traffics in chocolates and other sweets. It's fun, low key, easy.

Dare I say magical and sweet?
Easter morning 2015

We never speak of how the plastic eggs get on my mom's lawn every Easter morning.

He's got to know adults put them out there, right?

He's seen adults prepare eggs hunts in parks, every year of his little life.

He must know. He's six. He fools himself, because it's fun. It's part of the game. Like when he pretends to hear the Tooth Fairy (whole separate post involving recent violent destruction of a sink trap).

Yesterday, he asked me, his little face all serious, if it was "too late to write to the Easter Bunny."

I was not about to be pushed down a slippery slope. "We don't write to the Bunny. He does candy. Santa brings toys. You can save your wishes for Santa."

"If I asked for a play house for the yard would the Bunny bring one?"

"No."

The Grape's face started to crumple.

I tried to regain ground. "The Bunny doesn't have elves and a workshop. No transportation infrastructure. No fleet of sleighs. It's a one-rodent operation. Nothing like Santa. Besides, you love chocolate."

"Fine," he said. "I'm going to write to [Friend]'s Bunny."

If, next Monday, he comes home from school with reports of kids getting big ticket toys from Their Bunnies, I guess we'll have to spill the beans.

There's no "we don't celebrate" speech to bail me out of the Rabbit Trap.



Monday, February 1, 2016

Selling Out: A City Girl Moves to Wisteria Lane

A funny thing happened when I found myself with two days of free time right before Halloween.

I found a house I liked in the burbs.








Old friends expressed shock—the pigs are flying and they're making snow in the fiery pits kind of shock—that I, avowed city slicker and nervous driver (but excellent parallel parker, if I may say so myself) would even contemplate such a measure.

Most of my friends with children had made The Big Move. But me? With pickets and wisteria?

Heck, yes. And a yard, and room for guests, and a great public school system. And (gasp) a playroom.

Buying a house would mean selling the condo, which would mean showing it to prospective buyers. Which would mean we'd need to purge.

R., thrilled at the prospect of an old house with endless projects, sprang into action and rented a storage unit, before I could wrap my head around the scope of the purge and change my mind.

I spent a week boxing books, photos, and large or babyish toys for storage and donation. The Grape protested as I banished items he hadn't looked at for over a year. We sent the bikes and skis away, cleared out the crib. We wondered briefly why we stilled owned a crib. Or three strollers.

I called the realtor.  He came over. In the ten minutes it took him to walk from his place to ours, I realized my week-long purge wasn't going to cut it.

Did I mention I wanted to list the condo the following week? We had to, or we'd miss the fall market and vanish into the Holiday Vortex of Sales Doom.

I had a paper bag ready when the realtor rang the buzzer.

If you're going to make a person hyperventilate, I figure you might as well be gracious about it.

The condo was 1400 square feet, roughly 1375 of which were covered in toys, art projects, building blocks towering into cities with mass transit systems arrayed over days and weeks.

The other 25 square feet were reserved for snow gear. This is Boston, after all. 

"You need to purge!" he decreed. "All the toys need to be out!"

"All?"

"ALL."

I followed him around, made mental notes. "Everything off the counters, expect the Kitchen Aid mixer. That I will allow you to keep."

Apparently potential buyers like to picture themselves baking cakes.

"Move out the pets," he ordered. "Get rid of the nightstands. Rake the front garden. Touch up the paint. Edit the stuffed animals. Put something smart but noncontroversial on the coffee table: Georgetown magazine or National Geographic. Nothing political. Vacuum the common hallway. Wash the windows, inside and out. Remove the plants. It's like the little shop of horrors in here."

"I like the plants. Plants are good for your health."

"Get rid of them, and edit the books."

"I already did. I sent nineteen wine boxes of books to storage."

He rolled his eyes. "Send nineteen more."

He marched around and pointed at photos and dishtowels and extra chairs. "This offends me, that offends me. That," he said, pointing at a scratching post frequented by Lucy the Kitten,  "THAT I can't even talk about."

R. rented a second storage unit. He moved the little shop of horrors to his office. I drove the fur kids to camp at my mother's. We washed windows. As the light streamed in, we wondered how we hadn't thought to wash the outside years before. What was wrong with us?

"Everything must go!" I realized I sounded like a street hawker advertising a liquidation sale, as I rendered our closets avalanche-free.

Prospective buyers apparently take a very dim view of suitcases falling on their heads when they open the alleged walk-in closet.

Not that such a thing happened to the realtor during his initial visit. And if it did, I had the sense to offer him an ice pack before the lump on his head swelled too much.

The Grape pouted about the temporary removal of his toys, but even he admitted in the end, "The apartment looks tremendous."

It did look a lot bigger, with the 1375 square feet previously dedicated to toys freed up for adults to walk through. The realtor was happy. "The place looks great," he said, unable to hide his shock.

Pleased with myself on the eve of the open house, I decided to tackle the last item on the realtor's list: touch up the trim.

I ran around with white trim paint and made the baseboards sparkle. I consulted the clock. One hour to school pick up. Perfect. I could touch up the bathroom vanity doors. They looked a bit tired.

I found the can in the laundry room that said "vanity." I dabbed a little on the largest scratch on the vanity doors. It looked kind of dark. Inexplicably, I kept dabbing. Maybe it would dry to match. I knew it wouldn't.

Maybe it was the paint fumes, but I kept dabbing at dings and scratches with the wrong color until the darn thing looked leopard spotted. I had to leave to get the Grape. I left a frantic message with the painter, "I did a bad thing."

I got lucky. He was in the neighborhood. After he was done laughing at me, he used his magic paint-color-matching computer gadget to determine the correct color. I spent the eve of the open house re-painting the vanity. Four coats. Okay, five.

I wish I'd taken a photo of those leopard spots, but that's my sole regret about the process.

The condo sold, to a lovely young couple with a dog. I hope they'll love the park across the street and the neighborhood and the restaurants as much as we did, but for us, it was time for a new chapter.







Monday, August 31, 2015

Summer Camp Wrap Up

Earlier this summer, we shipped the Grape to camp for two weeks.

He would've stayed longer, but the camp books up in the dead of winter, and R. and I weren't going to pony up for more than the minimum stay, before we determined whether our cab-hailing, museum-frequenting kid did well in the wild.

Or the water. (The thing that first caught my eye about this place was the fact that the kids swam twice a day, every day.)

We wanted something out in the country, where he could swim and tramp through the woods—an old timey, totally unplugged camp experience, the kind of place where "indoors" means a covered porch. 

He was five, we couldn't very well send him to the woods of Northern New England armed with some stationery, a can of bug spray, and two dozen pairs of underpants with his name scrawled  inside the waistbands.

This meant taking a bus some twenty miles west of the city.

"It's a reverse commute," R. and I assured ourselves. "There are three adults on the bus. He'll be fine."

Making the bus meant leaving the house with a lot of gear, as well as a camp nurse approved lunch, no later than 7:10 a.m.

In a few short days after school ended, the Grape had become accustomed to sleeping until almost nine. I had to drag his sleeping body out of the bunk every morning.

It was a lot like trying to haul a fifty pound suitcase from an overhead bin, while standing on a ladder.

We would run, frantic, through the park and up the street and past the laundromat, exactly like the folks in the Mo Willems picture book Knuffle Bunny, only with a greater degree of urgency, because if we missed the bus, I'd be in for hours of driving, and part of the point of this exercise was to secure a block of time to finish my third novel.
Note the utter lack of urgency on the part of the Grape on his way to the bus.

I'm proud to report we never missed that bus.

But all this did happen:

He almost capsized under the weight of his backpack the first day.

When the dad who caught him mid-fall suggested I hang a counterweight on his front, I decided to nix the sweatshirt and sweatpants.

The first two afternoons, he came home with both his pants and underwear on backwards.

One of the moms at the bus stop told me that was very good. She explained that her kid wore his wet bathing suit all day, because he didn't want to change clothes. This particular child was signed up for eight weeks.  I saw a lot of Desitin in their future.

On the third day, the Grape wore his swimsuit home, having lost three full changes of clothes, who knows where.

My repeated inquiries as to the location of his clothes and other swimsuit were met with an indignant, "It's not a cubby. It's a crate!" As if that was somehow the crux of the matter.

I think that was the same day he earned an award in tennis, and I didn't believe him, because his school P.E. teachers claim he possesses zero hand-eye coordination.

Moments after he convinced me of its probable existence, the Grape discovered the tennis award had gone missing on the afternoon bus.

He nearly lost his mind.

I had to call the camp and have the person in charge assure the Grape that he would be reunited with his ten-cent pin major achievement award.

I know, I know. They need to learn to deal with disappointment, but maybe not at the same moment I'm about to receive foreign house guests.

While I had the director of the little kids' section on the phone, I asked if the camp might launch a search for the Grape's three sets of lost clothes.

"No problem," she said.

They sent him home on day four bearing two huge plastic bags, full of the belongings of other children in his group (an assortment including a wet towel, a thermos, and a pair of brand new shoes).

We continued in this fashion for the duration of the camp session. Exasperating? Mildly.

Ultimately the little hassles didn't matter, because the Grape had the time of his life.

The camp issued a shirt to be worn the first day. The Grape wanted to wear it every morning, because he was so thrilled and proud to be going to camp.  Who wouldn't be? The place was a slice of kid heaven. He learned to swim (HURRAY!).  He made new friends. He went boating. He climbed a rock wall. He even caught a fish.
The Grape with his "lucky" rod and a perch (?). I suspect the campers have been catching and releasing the same fish for years.

So I washed the shirt every night, and promised to sign him up for next year, even though the 7:15 to 4:30 absence every day had started to feel really long (to me—he was fine).

He'll be a year older. By then I'm hopeful he'll remember that the flap belongs on the front of the underwear.

And if he doesn't, who cares?






Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Whys of Summer Camp

Mama guilt drove me to do it.

As a kid, I spent my early summers outdoors.

We were either  on the beach in Rhode Island, or in the woods behind our house, or at my mother's family's cabin, near Lake Saimaa in Finland.

It was rustic. There was (and still is) an outhouse involved, and a well, where we kept things like milk cold in a bucket at the end of a long rope, because nobody wanted to mess with a gas refrigerator.

We foraged for berries and mushrooms, and out grandfather set traps for lake fish, because that's what good Finns do in the summer.

The road to the cabin featured boulders and compact car sized pits. If we had too many people piled into the car, a 1970 Skoda, it would get stuck.

So my brother and I (and any visiting children past toddling age) were kicked out to navigate the last mile or two on foot.

"Beware of moose! And poisonous vipers!"my grandmother would admonish, as we clomped away in our rubber boots, stamped "Made by Nokia in Finland" on the insides.

My brother and I ran semi-wild, our feet always dirty, and our bodies always smelling faintly of pond water or salt or Noxzema, or some combination thereof. Many days, our swimsuits never dried.

The Grape has none of this.

Sure, being a city kid has its perks. He can hail a cab, and he handily navigates the neighborhood at rush hour on his bike. He's been to the symphony and various museums. He frequents playgrounds that would've blown my mind when I was his age, when I was easily impressed by a single swing hung from a tree limb. He can explain how to get from Point A to Point B on the subway, even if it involves changing lines. He sees and hears a diverse range of people every day.

But one day last fall, after a soaking rainstorm, the trees on our street hung low.

The Grape said, "It's just like the woods."

Except it wasn't. These trees were in evenly spaced planting squares, and our feet were on the pavement.

I hit the Internet and signed my city boy up for the campiest day camp I could find within a semi-reasonable driving radius of our home.

I wanted the Grape to swim, and go boating, and tramp through the woods, and hang out outdoors all day, as far from a screen or a classroom as practicable.

We went to an open house. It poured that day. The Grape wailed in the backseat that I was the meanest mother ever, and he could not believe I was doing this to him. "How can you just send me away with strangers in the middle of nowhere? What kind of mother are you?"

He carried on as if I was about to abandon him forever in some Deliverance town.

R. and I reassured him that we signed him up for the minimum time, two weeks. He could do anything for two weeks. Nine days, really.

The Grape turned his gaze towards the heavens, or at least at the roof of the car, as if wondering how he received such clueless twits for parents.

We pulled into the camp. The Grape saw the beach and the boats and the rock wall and the tidy rows of tents.

His eyes boggled.

"I get to go here?"

R. and I exhaled. The place felt magical, like a throwback to an unplugged time, even in the rain.
A slice of kid heaven in Sudbury, Massachusetts, even in a downpour.

We took the now bouncing, smiling Grape on the tour.

A little girl in our group asked the guide, a college age counselor, "Why is that pile of rocks over there?"

The counselor looked confused for a moment.

"It's nature," he said.

"Not art?" the little girl pressed.

"Nature," our guide said, more firmly.

R. and I exchanged a glance: we were definitely doing the right thing.

Or were we? It was twenty miles away. There was a bus to contend with, and we didn't have the most stellar experience with school buses last fall. There were so many belongings to organize, and the Grape's backpack nearly outweighed him.

I didn't sleep a wink the night before his first day. What if he got bullied on the bus? Was he too little? Were we crazy to ship him so far away? What if he lost his lunch? What if he didn't make any friends?

And in the darkest hours of the morning: GAH! What if he drowns?

I did what any reasonable Mama in my position would do: I flipped on the lamp and woke up R.

"WHAT IF HE DROWNS?"

"He won't drown. These people know what they're doing."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes. They would be out of business if they drowned people's kids. Now go the f--- to sleep. You need to get up and make the nut-free lunch in two hours."

Next post: How it worked out...


Saturday, June 6, 2015

I Got Pantsed at the Grocery Store

The Kindergarten teachers, like the preschool teachers before them, warned me this would happen. As the the school year draws to a close, the kids go "a bit berserk."

Kids who normally cycle through the full range of human emotions every ten minutes accelerate that rate. The Grape can manage a full laugh-cry-meltdown-whine-bounce-off-walls-cackle-like-lunatic cycle that takes 90 seconds from start to finish.  Lately this phenomenon continues on endless loop.

The roiling emotions, I understand, may be coupled with whackadoo, out of character behaviors.

Yesterday, the Grape pantsed me in the grocery store checkout line. (I guess that should teach me to appear in public in yoga pants.)

Pantsing was so far beyond the Grape's normal repertoire of stunts that it took me a second to process what was happening, another second to re-cover my posterior.

The cashier politely averted her eyes.

Naturally, there was a college boy (also laughing) behind us in line. I could see the thought bubble over his head: Which aisle for condoms?

Unfortunately I couldn't stop laughing whole time I attempted to explain how wholly unacceptable I found the Grape's behavior. You try saying, "We do not ever pull Mamma's pants down in the grocery store," with a straight face.

If the child is to change schools come September, the berserk level goes on steroids. Last spring, Kindergarten loomed like some inexplicable, ephemeral concept, like Heaven, for example. The Grape acted like a victim of demonic possession for months.

At least this year, the Grape can trot down the corridor and peek at the brave new world of First Grade with his own little eyes.

Fair enough. Many adults don't handle looming change and uncertainty well. Of course five-year-olds have difficulty processing their bittersweet emotions once the calendar flips to June.

The Grape told me he was both happy and sad about summer vacation. Happy, because we get to go the beach with his cousins, and he can go camping with Grandpa. Sad, because he wouldn't see his kindergarten pals every day. He added that he'd miss the kindergarten teachers a lot, which tells me they've done a terrific job.

I guess it's now up to me to do a better job wearing real pants with belts. Or longer tops.




Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Most Dreaded Subject Line for Parents of Young Children

No email subject line strikes fear in the hearts of parents of young children quite like "Head Lice."

These emails invariably arrive late in the day—maddening in timing, ambiguity, and precision all at once. Also it's impossible to read one without feeling itchy.

"Dear Kindergarten Parents,

We have a confirmed case of Head Lice in the classroom. Please be aware our school has a no nit policy!

Have a great evening!

Best,
Teacher"

"Best," as Samantha quipped years ago on Sex and the City, is the worst. In this case, it means your evening plans are shot to hell. It means 837 loads of laundry and hours of combing.

The first time one of the Head Lice greetings hit my inbox, I remained calm and called the school.

And scratched my itchy head while I sat on hold.

The Grape, they assured me, had checked out nit free.

Which of course meant nothing, seeing as the whole problem with Head Lice is they spread. They've got strong little legs, and they lay eggs like it's their job. Which I suppose it is.

To make matters worse, I'd just spent the day on a field trip with all 32 kindergarten students.

I'd encouraged them to cram in closer for a group photo.

I'd ridden the bus for forty-five minutes each way with these kids.

I'd laughed as they literally piled all over each other on the playground.

It was five p.m. when I saw the email. I'd arranged to meet an old friend for an early dinner. I was still dusty, sweaty, and utterly unfit to be seen in a nice restaurant. I'd banked on having thirty minutes to clean myself up.

Now I had to de-louse the Grape.

I did what any reasonable adult would do.

I panicked.

I procured the special shampoo and the evil metallic nit comb, forced the Grape to shed all his clothes on the patio, and refused to admit him to the house until I'd treated his head. (This all seemed reasonable at the time. In my defense, it was an extraordinarily warm spring day.)

I asked Siri to find me a photo of a nit. I held the phone next to the Grape's head, barked at the poor little guy to hold still.

There was something small and white. Dandruff? It really, truly looked like dandruff, but I wasn't about to take chances.

I know about Head Lice. I got them at school (twice) at age five.

The first time, I got shampooed with awful insecticidal liquid. It came in a brown prescription bottle, smelled like industrial solvent, and was dispensed to my frazzled mother by a frowning and judgmental pharmacist.

I remember it burning.

I had long hair. It took four hours to comb.

The second time I came home with Head Lice, I got the horrible shampoo again.

I also got a tragic home haircut and spent the rest of the school year looking like the Dutch Boy from the paint can—a drastic esthetic my mother inexplicably saw fit to commemorate with a Woolworth's portrait, which still, equally inexplicably, hangs in a place of honor in my late grandmother's living room.

I was not getting a boy haircut, but I had twenty minutes remaining to get turned around and nit free.

I hauled a bucket of warm water and the modern, pleasant-smelling special shampoo outside.

The Grape went along with it all until he realized I was proposing al fresco hair washing. He started to whine. He appealed to logic. "My teacher didn't see any on me!"

Lila the Dog and Lucy the Cat wandered onto the deck to see what the fuss was about.

"Siri!" I demanded, as a fresh terror gripped my soul. "Can dogs and cats get head lice?"

It took her a minute, but she was certain they could not.

Thank God.

The poor, naked Grape protested, cried that he wanted to come indoors. He was so very tired and he didn't like all this combing, and he was so, so, so hungry, too. And the towel I had wrapped around him was soaking wet.

"STAY ON THE PATIO! I WILL GET YOU A CRACKER!" I yelled.  "NO! YOU CANNOT COME IN THE HOUSE AND MOMMY IS LATE AND STILL NEEDS TO SHOWER AND PUT ON MAKEUP AND YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW BAD IT WILL BE IF LICE GET IN OUR HOUSE! YOU STAY OUT THERE OR ELSE! AND BY THE WAY, THIS SHAMPOO ISN'T NEARLY AS BAD AS WHAT MOMMY HAD TO ENDURE AS A KID,  SO FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, JUST WORK WITH ME HERE!"

The Grape burst into tears. Loud tears. It was not a proud parenting moment for me.

My neighbor, an innocent and childless bystander, who happened to be walking his dog in the alley below, heard the whole exchange. He gave me a strange look. He didn't appear concerned enough to call social services, but I got the distinct impression he walked away thinking we might deserve a reality show.

I decided I had to cancel on my friend at the very moment a text arrived from her: "You won't believe the day I had. So happy to be going out. See you soon!"

I couldn't bail. I hate when people bail.

I texted back: "Head Lice. Need Wine. 15 minutes late. So sorry!"

She responded immediately, offering to cancel. Nonsense, I told her.

R. arrived home.  For twenty minutes, I combed what I now believe were pieces of the Grape's scalp through his wet hair while R. examined mine, strand by strand. We probably looked like an ape family picking at each other. Every stitch of clothing the Grape and I had been wearing went into the washer. R. and I congratulated ourselves on dodging a bullet. I told R. I probably should go apologize to the neighbor, explain it was a louse emergency. He advised leaving well enough alone.

I made it to my dinner, half an hour late, with wet but (hopefully) nit-free hair.

My friend declined to hug me.

We got the Head Lice email again this week. 

By now, the parent community has enough louse-based war stories that everyone has a suggestion.

"Drench your hair with olive oil and sleep with a shower cap over it," is the best one I've heard. "It suffocates the buggers."

That's hot, right?

It's not like there aren't a million blogs bemoaning the fact that adult time becomes non-existent in households with little kids.

Now we are supposed to sexy ourselves up with shower caps?

I'm going out right now to buy them for all of us. Just in case.


Monday, May 18, 2015

The Red Shirting Question Resurfaces

Here were are again, like our own family's version of Groundhog Day.

The end of the academic year looms and we are faced once again with the breaking news that the Grape is the youngest kid in his class.

His teachers probe our opinions carefully, as if fishing for a splinter with a needle.

We sit around the tiny table in the tiny chairs. They lean across the thoughtfully curated spread of art projects and barely whisper: "Do we want to 'loop' him?"

The Grape is scheduled to enter first grade at age six years and three weeks.

There are no other Boys of Summer in his kindergarten class. In the kindergarten class across the hall, there is one. Perhaps two, but I think only one.

The kindergarten girls have more widely distributed birthday demographics than their male classmates, but they're all older than the Grape, too.

This data point interests me, because it's the girls with whom the Grape has forged deep friendships. One of his besties will actually celebrate her seventh birthday in June. So what we have is a young boy who plays best with older girls.

The Grape likes the "girl" games: elaborate, often drawn out, imaginative play scenarios and role plays. They build little worlds in their corner of the classroom or recess yard. He's got laser like focus and a marathon attention span for this type of play.

Whether at home or at school, he still lives very much inside his imagination—something I'm in terror of stifling with too much didactic learning.

I cringe when the handwriting sheets come home, and in fairness, our school doesn't do a lot of this.

Apparently I'm not alone.

The New York Times ran a brilliant piece yesterday by David Kohn, singing my song: Send children to school young. Very young. But don't make them do much in the academic sphere except learn through play and natural exploration until age seven or eight. Because it's going to backfire. Not for everyone, but for too many of them.

I firmly believe that if you crush the love of learning early, you will almost never be able to rekindle it, especially with the limited resources available to most public school teachers in this country.

I'm afraid that the national conversation about universal preschool (VERY GOOD) will lead to younger and younger children bent over desks, resigned to dull tasks, as if they're some sort of midget medieval scribes (VERY BAD), instead of socializing, playing, imagining, exploring, reading, running in circles like banshees outdoors, and resting.

The article didn't open the attention deficit can of worms, and I'm not a pediatrician.

But to me, it's common sense that if a significant number* of otherwise healthy kids need to be drugged to get through an elementary school day, the problem isn't with the kids, it's with the structure of the school day.

I, for better or worse, can't decide national education policy. I can only decide the Grape's plans for next year.

The Grape hangs in there with the older kids on the more academic side of kindergarten. He loves "making books" and he likes math. He likes exploring new subjects like nature and the solar system with his classmates. He loves music and art and going to the library. I'm certainly not against academics; I just believe they shouldn't make up the bulk of a young child's day.

The class hosted a sweet event this winter, where parents came in and everyone made a book with his/her child. The Grape came up with "The Dog Who Wanted to Ski." I admit I helped draw the dog's crossed skis, but the rest is all Grape:

"They went to the green circle but the dog's skis got tangled."

He got the thing done and turned in on time. From that I infer his attention span for a high-focus task is the creation of four pages plus a cover. Seems reasonable to me.

Most importantly, the Grape wants to go to first grade.

That's where his friends are headed, and we've explained that there's more writing and reading and less free play (though thankfully first graders go outdoors for recess twice a day).

He claims to understand, but I'm skeptical.

But not as skeptical as I am of keeping him back.

In my book, the only thing worse than more didactic learning is a re-run of the past year's didactic learning.

We aren't "looping" (or red-shirting) him this year.

I'm sure we'll have to field this question next year. I have no idea how we'll feel about the jump from first to second, but my thinking is that we keep him with his class as long as he's happy and keeping up.

If and when he asks to be kept back, or he cannot handle the material, we'll "loop" him then.

What I'd really love to see is all the little ones freed from their desks for most of the school day. 

Unfortunately, the Let Them Play More trend has about as much chance of catching on as our dog has of learning to ski.

* The actual number of kids on drugs for "attention disorders" is hard to nail down. Various sources use various methods and yield various stats. But all sources agree the number of cases is trending steeply up.