Archive for September 30, 2012

Overheard: “Dad, NOBODY goes to bathroom in school.” (Parenting a Middle Schooler: The Joyful Saga, pt. 2)

I work at home, so I’m aware when Gavin and Maggie return from middle school — I can hear them scurrying to the bathrooms. It’s a sprint. The quickest gets the bathroom off the main hallway, while the slower one hustles upstairs.

I’m not kidding. This is often the scene when they get home.

How often? Oh, hmmm, let me see, by my calculation . . . EVERY SINGLE DAY!

I ask, “Don’t they have bathrooms in that school?”

Gavin is politely dismissive. “Dad, NOBODY goes to bathroom in school.”


Could that be possible?

I decided to do a little research. So I staked out the main access road from the middle school, and lo, it was true. I saw students under heavy backpacks making the long trek home, like water-retaining camels filing across the open desert.

They all had to go, every single one of those kids. You could tell by the short quick strides and the crazy eyes.

No wonder they don’t learn anything in school these days. How can our children concentrate on multiplying integers when they sit with legs crossed and teeth clenched, thisclose to catastrophe?

If we want to improve test scores, maybe there’s an easy, low-cost solution in these days of fiscal belt-tightening: Make ’em pee, that’ll help with their learnin’.

Back in my day at St. Frances de Chantal Elementary School in Wantagh, Long Island, we were required to get on “lavatory line” twice daily. Everybody. No options. We stood outside in the hallway — “No talking, Mr. Preller!” — and went into the big, cool bathroom five at a time. It smelled of vomit, ammonia, and urinal cakes composed of naphthalene and para-dichlorobenzene (both later found to be hazardous to our health, like the asbestos in the ceiling). After lunch, we lined up again. We were like dogs they took for walks. It worked. We did our business.

And we learned, boy, did we learn.

I used to think it was because of the discipline of the classrooms. Those no-nonsense nuns. The golden ruler. But maybe it was the lavatory line.

Oh, wait. Hold on. Hear that double-flush? My kids are home!

Thanks for listening.

Note: I found this illustration in cyberland.

It’s by Greg Clarke, and I love it.

Music Video Friday: Teenage Fanclub

I don’t know how I landed on this song, except that it always makes me happy — and Teenage Fanclub from Scotland is one of my all-time favorites. Here they are doing their Byrds-influenced, harmony-dripped jangle. Have a great weekend.

“I Don’t Want Control of You,” Teenage Fanclub, from their great CD, “Songs from Northern Britain.

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Cross-Eyed Maggie: Same Photo, Reenacted

This is one of my all-time favorite photos of Maggie, here with her good friend Zoe (left). Taken some time ago in Cape Cod, I believe. These two hooligans have been hanging around with each other since Year One, and they are still nothing but trouble.

Zoe’s mom put together a quick reenactment, which is pretty funny if you ask me. It might be cool to really go all out with the details, really try to nail this thing . . . but that would require effort. Maybe when they hit High School in three years we can do it all over again.

A Few Snaps from a School Visit

I had a great visit to Thomas Middle School, north of Chicago, a couple of weeks back. First-class all the way, the administration, teachers, students, everybody. They even sent me a bunch of photos from the visit. Here’s a few . . .

The day began with two large presentations, 450 students each, grades 6-8. All 900 students had read my book, Bystander, over the summer.

This photo gives you a little better sense of what I was looking at in the, er, cafetorium (my favorite word!). In this shot, I talk briefly about my love of the vanishing art of marginalia. Or, perhaps, how reading feeds the writing. (That’s a new shirt, by the way.)

I also had the opportunity to meet with two small groups for Writer’s Workshops. I enjoy when I get the opportunity for this kind of thing, because it’s less about me, more about writing, and more about the kids. Small and intimate. I love that moment when we get to hear what they’ve written — when what’s inside is brought out into the light. The boy in this particular photo laughed to himself the entire time he wrote. Giggling, scribbling, snorting, writing. He was not a “serious” writer in the tradition of Samuel Johnson. When it came time for volunteers to read aloud, he could barely get through his piece without cracking up. Were there farts in his story? I think there may have been, yes. Possibly some projectile vomiting, it’s hard to recall. But I loved that he was laughing, enjoying himself. It was fun. As a writer, the worst thing you can do is be boring to yourself, because if that’s the case, you’ll surely bore everybody else, too. This boy made us all laugh because he began first by making himself laugh.

I also got to sign books. How to do you spell that again? Is that Sarah with an “h”? Oh, really? Three r’s? Okay! A great school, and a great day. Thanks again, Marc Goldstein, for making it happen. I’m grateful.

Overheard: “I don’t know, ask Mom.” (Parenting a Middle Schooler: The Joyful Saga, Part 1)

To be clear: I love my 8th-grade son. I’m proud of him in a thousand different ways. He’s terrific; he completes me. It’s just that . . .

I kind of want to kill him sometimes. I mean, if it were possible to do that and still have him be alive . . . later on, just not now, exactly. Sigh. It’s complicated. I just . . . arrrrggghhh!

Is that so very wrong?

Anyway, about the overheard comment. It was spoken directly to me. My son (we’ll call him Gavin because that’s his name) and I were in a car and I was trying to find out what kind of sandwich he wanted. That was the sum total of my agenda: I wanted to buy the boy a sandwich, but I didn’t know what kind of sandwich, exactly. So I asked.

And the asking of this question annoyed my son. Okay? I was irritating my 13-year-old kid by asking him what kind of sandwich he wanted.

Add this to the topical list of things he didn’t, and doesn’t, “feel like” talking about. Sandwiches.

For more atmosphere: We were in the car and I was driving to the Soccerplex at 8:35 on a Saturday morning. I could have been in my bathrobe, reading The New York Times, sipping coffee, but I was not, no. Gavin had to ref two soccer games so I was driving him across town. Twenty-five minutes, there and back. I planned to return to pick him up at 11:30, when I would then shuttle him back home, he would get dressed for baseball, and we’d rush to Line Drive Field for the baseball game — which I would help coach for two and a half more hours of “my” Saturday (“my” in quotes, oh yes).

Because the boy would be hungry and hurried, I offered — at my wife’s suggestion — to stop first at Subway before picking him up, in order to deliver to said son a sandwich of his own devising. A small treat for the young prince.

It was at this point I asked, “What kind of sandwich would you like?” — much in the way a footman on “Downton Abbey” might inquire, say, about the precise hour Master would care to depart for the afternoon quail hunt.

Yes, love this show.

Yet my question irritated Gavin. He’d already been over it with Mom. So he rolled his eyes, grumbled, groaned “I don’t know,” and suggested that it might be easier if I asked someone other than . . . the eater of the sandwich!

And you know what? I didn’t bite. I didn’t offer any of a half-dozen responses that sprang to mind. Nope. I shut up, drove the car, asked Mom, bought the sandwich, picked the boy up, limo’d him home, coached the game, etc.

Thank you for listening. Is my time up already?