With our enthusiastic “Go get’em” faces on, we waved our son onto the number 14 bus bound for Kindergarten. Maybe September allergies made my husband’s eyes water or maybe it was his relief that our child survived being stuck at home with me for the past 5 years. I contained my giddiness as I snapped that fateful picture of him waving back from the bus steps. We were each about to learn what going to school and developing new systems meant to us.
The little guy loved school. Early in the year, I paid a visit to him and his 17 pint-sized classmates in their new classroom. I wanted to meet his teacher and to gather context for my son’s random, and sometimes jarring, disclosures of daily happenings. I’d been told she ran her classroom as smoothly as a Barney episode and I agreed after seeing her in action. She was generous with her praise and commendably judicious with a spastic group of five-year-olds. I felt my heart burst for all their sweetness and hardships. I wanted to wipe the pizza sauce off their faces and tie all their dirty untied shoelaces. And then I had to leave. Better her than me.
Why was I surprised when the ridiculous quantity of paper began to flood our house? We got monthly activity schedules and cafeteria menus earnestly printed on green and pink papers followed by the “homework” sheets for the math and reading “clubs”. After a twenty-year hiatus, I had “homework” because it would take a herculean effort for my five-year-old son to list ten books we read in any given month plus their authors. Instead, he drew pictures for two books he liked. His reward was tattoos and bookmarks. I was rewarded with the return of these same drawings caught up in the paper river flowing from his “Dolphin” folder.
I absolutely loved my son’s drawings of primitive smiling suns and the stick people who suddenly had on pants because one of his bossy girlfriends proclaimed them necessary, although his stick figures soon returned to their original nakedness. And, of course, I liked the pictures where I was a part of the action. Sadly, only five percent of the rest of the book bag busyness consisted of these. Instead, I got glued, cut, colored, and constructed things of all sorts randomly based on holidays or nursery rhymes. Paper dolls tenuously perched on Popsicle sticks, sticker books, cereal cemented to construction paper, and drawings from his classmates. These barged into our home and tumbled out of his green backpack onto the kitchen table, sofa, and floor. And each and every loving one of these papers was suddenly and forever my responsibility.
If I had kept every one of these suckers, in twenty years I’d have ended up on one of those hoarding shows, walking between mountains of papers and being buried alive under them. And, left up to my son, each little scrap of paper he’d ever put pen, crayon, scissors, or marker to was precious enough to keep forever. So, I smiled and nodded as I placed everything in the basket on top of the refrigerator, the paper avalanche repository. I had a secret stealth plan called The Purge, the goal of which was to land all the papers worth keeping into an out-of-sight place in an orderly fashion because the opposite of an overwhelming landslide is doable chunks.
The three-step Purge system started with the placement of the papers in the basket atop the fridge. I then stealthily moved them to a drawer upstairs and, after being sorted essential from non, they would go into a portfolio in a closet. My theory was that if you were to mark the start and end of the monthly paper ocean with a ribbon marker in the basket, after a week I feel pretty sure the child would have forgotten about that hunk of stuff between the markers. There’s an official month of paper stuff to sort then. But out of sight means out of mind; I couldn’t let the child become an obstacle to The Purge.
Only when I was alone in the house, did I attempt to ruthlessly sort and cull this mess for the essence of my child. Parental wisdom must fight that guilty voice. One drawing of trees and kitties and a page of E’s are great but twenty of them are not. Into a paper recycle bag went the extras plus that which does not at all show the talents and charms of my child. I felt guilt-free when I pitched the gigantic paper penny, nothing against my man Abraham. And while I may have been kind and offered my in-laws the opportunity to take from the bag any art they may have liked, then Hi Ho Hi Ho off to the grey recycling container it went.
The final step was to create the holder for everything I’d culled. For his daycare artwork, I’d made a giant cardboard pita pocket portfolio and taped up the edges. It worked out nicely. Poster-board would work with packing tape seams. Certain well-known crafty people have made these attractive with fabric covered foam core and ribbon ties. I saved the pretty for later after I’ve mastered the simple de-clutter. This was the trench-work for the kindergarten homework clutter attack and it was all about biting off only as much as I could chew.
I visited his classroom again that year. His lovely teacher and I spoke about educational mandates. All the busy work is still proof to the parents and legislators that the children are learning. And conversely, the clubs’ homework proves the parents are working with and reading to their children. She said if she had her way, there would be two recesses for her kindergartners (and 7 years later she would finally get that when she taught my daughter in Pre-K). Maybe there are too many cooks in the educational kitchen substantiating the price of their ingredients, but they’ll never pay this magnificent teacher enough. In fact, she’d been saving his “special” work from his year in a scrapbook she gave us parents at the end of the year. Why was I doing any of this when she’d had it covered?
None the wiser for his mother’s devious deeds, my busy-brained boy continued to be overly stimulated as he dumped out his paper laden book bag. One day in March, he came home excitedly talking about Rosa Parks and Harriet “Tubb-s-man”. Apparently, he’d learned a lot about civil unrest and the Underground Railroad for black history month. They sang freedom songs, made paper buses, and discussed the mistreatment of the slaves. I was a little thrown by the sudden candidness of the subject and I commenced with a serious “discussion” about the ramifications of slavery and the inherent rights of all human beings to their freedom. After a long thoughtful silence, he said “Hey, I’ve got an idea. Let’s play slaves!” Nothing new there.
(This piece of creative non-fiction was one of the very first as I began to write on-line and Published on Divine Caroline, a writing site that gave me reason to write. I then began this blog a year later but never republished it here. This Kindergarten Homework’s grand edited revival.)
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