Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Critical Mom's Guide to the Fifth Grade Boy

He's not a little kid.  You're reminded of the day he turned three: when you picked him up from day care, he categorically refused to sit in the stroller.  It took half an hour to do a two-minute walk, since every neighbor's yard had to be invaded, flowers sniffed and occasionally beheaded, dogs provoked, sticks swung at hedges, glittering objects, some of them broken glass, examined and even bitten into before Mommy managed to get there (running and panting since she was carrying the baby sister in a snugli).  You began to appreciate the effort that would go into protecting him as he got older. 
And now it's not drugs, sex, alcohol that you're worried about, although the occasional flasher appears on the tram, it's impatient girls and dumb teachers.  The population of both is dramatically on the increase.  One of the good things about elementary school was that you could always point to Gymnasium (the academic high school here) as So Much Better or tell them Things Would Seem Different Later.   But now he comes home from school saying "This girl keeps poking me in the shoulder with a pencil when I'm trying to read during recess.  Why does she do that?"  And I advise him that she likes him.  Irked, he replies, "Why can't she keep it to herself?  I liked a girl in third grade, and I KEPT IT TO MYSELF!"  I suggest that he will feel differently in a few years.  And now his brother has the same problem:  "The girls.  Pointing and giggling.  Hee hee hee!  He looked at me!  He looked at me!"  A terrific mimic, he wriggles and tosses his head like Hannah Montana and I get the picture.  They'll be all over my kids, those girls, in just a few years.   The dumb teachers are way ahead of me trying to get them ready.  They do sex ed in third grade here.  We did it in sixth, and back then it was the Disney black-and-white Story of Menstruation and you could hardly tell what was going on, except that the voice-over lady thought it was bad, and wouldn't ever stop until you were in your fifties.  As I recall she took "Mother Nature" to task for pulling a fast one.  Our biology teacher, the stereotype of the schoolmarm, came upon a chalked image of a condom, labeled "condom" that the young, cool teacher had drawn on the board, and said, "What's that?" But my younger son got, in third grade, "a horrible book, Mommy, ugh, tickling breasts and hairy penises! I don't want to read it!  I've got a stomach ache."  I took a look at the book, clearly geared toward adolescent girls and not pre-pubescent boys, called his teacher, and told her nine-year-old boys don't like to read about foreplay.   She took on that voice you use with the impossible child, the "now, now," voice.  She was the kind who thought eight and nine year olds like to hear about "the baby growing within me!"  Which is of course the last thing they want to hear.  What they want to hear is:  "I'm your Mom away from Mom!  And if you happen to notice that I'm getting ah, this slightly overgrown belly, well--let me take the whole class out for ice cream!"  But now it's worse:  his brother had the teacher the kids started to call the "Old Aryan."  The Old Aryan, a dandruffy guy in his fifties,  was talking about Hitler's notions of Aryanism, and pointed to a blond haired blue-eyed boy as a German and a good example of "Aryanism."  But then the old Aryan singled out a boy of Russian and Turkish descent who has brown eyes and brown hair and said, "Now, he's not an Aryan German."  My legally-minded kid is taking notes, and has warned his fifth-grade brother, who has yet to meet the Old Aryan and has gleefully announced that his teacher had told his class that it was THE WORST CLASS IN THE SCHOOL and that IN NINE YEARS OF TEACHING she had never seen such a bad class.  And if there was one more peep out of them they'd each write 1,000 words on Why They Should Keep Quiet When The Teacher Is Talking.  "And Mommy," he added, "she was almost up to threatening 3,000 words by the time the class was quiet."  I advised him that my class had also had the distinction of being THE WORST CLASS IN THE SCHOOL--we'd actually taken over the assembly hall on the last day of classes to sing "Teach Your Children" to the whole school.  What?  Oh, that old song, he says when I sing it, and turns on Bravo Hits.


  1. Love it! This is great stuff. The Old Aryan is something else. We've all had crackpot teachers -- some just idiots, others truly malign -- and the best story I've ever seen about a benevolent crazy one is the tale by Charles Baxter: "Gryphon." Read it and you'll be so glad you did. (He, btw, one of our best short story writers in English. Right up there with Alice Munro.)

  2. Wow. Thanks. I love Baxter's criticism--did a doozy on _A Thousand Acres_, the awful re-write of _King Lear_, and he knew exactly why I didn't like it but I could never have put it the way he did!