Wednesday, November 09, 2005


In Which Someone is the Star of the Week...

Since before Thomas could walk, I've always taken him to parks and playgrounds and enjoyed pushing him on swings and climbing jungle gyms and going down slides with him and having pretend races on those strange fiberglass animals with the springs up their asses.

The back yard of Thomas' school didn't have much in the way of modern playground equipment (it is an old school and due for a playground retrofit). But it had something else. Something better. I just wish I could put my finger on it. Even though I towered above the kids, there was something wonderful and all-engulfing about being in the midst of the noise and motion of hundreds of children running everywhere, jumping, climbing, screaming. And I was just one among the throng.

I realized that I wasn't just playing with my son that day. I was at recess, body and soul. My impending story pitch meeting was gone from my mind. Deciding what story I would tell at sharing time wasn't even on my registry of concern. For the first time in years, I felt completely untethered from my daily life and responsibilities.

And it was wonderful.

The closest thing I had to a coherent, grown-up thought then was the idea that recess shouldn't just be restricted to elementary school. They should have it in high school, college, corporate America--everywhere.

As Thomas and his lunch-table friends walked out the door into the crisp fall air, something ignited them and they were off like human bottle rockets. "Come on!" shouted Olivia, grabbing my hand and pulling me.

One interesting piece of equipment the school did have was a vertical climbing wall, about 15 feet high by 30 feet long at the far edge of the school yard. There, Thomas and his friends caught up with another gaggle of kids. I learned quickly they were from another first-grade classroom.

"Hi Thomas!" a familiar voice cried from the new crowd.

It was Alyssa, a girl who lives in our neighborhood, and the one so many of you touchingly remembered from earlier entries here and at Thomas' blog. Alyssa had been Thomas' objet de crush since they were in kindergarten together. She's a spunky, willful girl and has always seemed to delight in bossing her twin brother and Thomas around (being taller than both of them helped). She would never ask Thomas to play. She'd usually just show up or grab him by his shirt and say "Come here and do this with me." Even when she didn't lay hands on him, Alyssa had quite a hold on Thomas.

But today he barely acknowledged her. He wasn't rude or mean. He just said "Hi" and proceeded to focus his attention on finding a couple handholds and climbing up the wall. So much for absence making the heart grow fonder.

The boys had races to see who could climb to the top of the wall first (I won! Woo-hoo!). Then I suggested a race where we traverse the wall laterally, something that had never occurred to them before. So we took turns seeing if anyone could make it all 30 feet along the wall without falling off. Not even I managed that feat.

The whole time, Alyssa kept bumping into Thomas or tugging on his jacket or vying for his attention in some way. As I said, she's always been a very physical child--sometimes almost a little rough. And when Thomas jumped on the wall to take his turn, she jumped on, too, a little too close and a little too hard. She was climbing higher up the wall than Thomas was, and in a moment she put her foot down hard on a hold Thomas had just reached for. When she tromped on his hand, Thomas let out a yelp of pain, and dropped to the ground.

He wasn't crying, but it was obvious his hand hurt and I started to go to him. However, before I could take a single step, I was fairly shoved aside by all the girls who had joined us at the lunch table earlier. Like a squad of little Amazons, Caitlin, Olivia, Ashley, Ingrid, and some other girl whose name I never got rushed to Thomas in a flutter of are-you-okays, let-me-sees, and do-you-need-a-band-aids.

Alyssa also jumped off the wall and came over to check on Thomas.

Of course it had just been an accident, but try telling that to the girls who now formed a protective cordon around my son.

Caitlin whirled around and blocked Alyssa from getting any closer. "That was mean!" she cried, looking fearlessly up at the bigger girl.

"It was an accident!" Alyssa protested.

Now Olivia stood by Caitlin, looking imperious and official in her Girl Scout vest. "He could have been really hurt when he fell, Alyssa. That WAS mean," she insisted, putting her hands on her hips and stomping one foot on the ground in that way children do to emphasize their point.

Thomas, meanwhile, was just trying to get clear of the girls. "I'M FINE!" he yelled to no one in particular (and he was. He just had a scrape on his knuckles).

"I'm sorry, Thomas!" Alyssa called over the other girls' heads.

"It's okay," Thomas said. Then Nathan and Derrick came up and asked Thomas to come join the big freeze-tag game now brewing over by the jungle gym. He tore off after them, leaving me to revel in a few more moments of the girls sniping at each other. My, it was delightful (even though I couldn't begin to imagine how I would tell Her Lovely Self about this). Then I went to join the freeze-tag game too.

Of course, recess was over far too quickly, and when I heard the shrill whistle--this time from a stubby little man I thought of as the Jungle Gym Gestapo--all the kids bolted to form lines. I lingered a moment, not wanting it to end, then I dashed after my son and found my correct, alphabetized place in line. We marched back to class.

Sharing time was great fun. I got to sit in a big chair while Thomas stood next to me in a corner of the classroom. His classmates left their usual desks and gathered on the rug in front of us, waiting. Suddenly, I was nervous again. Thomas cleared his throat dramatically.

"This is my Dad. I brought him in because he is my best buddy although he is 37 and that is lots older than me. He likes to write and I like to draw. We both tell stories but my Dad tells the best ones ever. He makes them up out of nowhere and they are funny. He helps me put my pictures on the computer so my Grandma and Papa can see them because they live a long way away. But lots of other people come to see them too. Dad is a good reader and helps me read. On my birthday he made a safari hunt where he hid snakes and lizards for me to find--"

"--and he ran himself over with a tire!" Nathan offered helpfully, drawing a laugh from the audience.

Thomas laughed too. "Dad does lots of funny things. He broke his hand on a board and I knocked him into some boxes with my lightsaber. He is always in trouble with Mom, but it is funny trouble to me. He lays with me when I'm sick and he always knows how to have fun when I'm sad. And that's my Dad."

And as I was thinking that I could die happy if only all of that could be carved on my tombstone, Mrs. Dodd clapped her hands and asked if anyone had questions. Olivia asked me what I sounded like when I spoke to my dog (evidently a lot of my stories filter down to the first grade), but then Caitlin brought it all to a halt by asking, "What's in that box you brought?" She was pointing to the large Tupperware container I had dropped off in the classroom before lunch. And she, like all the rest, knew very well what it contained.

So I handed out the cupcakes and while they ate them I read them The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, which is actually quite fun to read aloud, although I didn't do near as good a job as the author does in his audiobook. By the time I finished, it was past 1 o'clock, and I had more than used up my allotted time.

I hastily gathered up my things, when Mrs. Dodd said, "Oh wait. I understand you and Thomas made up a story of your own. Can you tell the class what that's about?"

"Oh, it's just a little story about a cat who steals a train so he can go visit a little boy. But you wouldn't want to hear that," I said dismissively.

My son's first-grade class unanimously announced that, oh yes, in fact, they just might be willing to sit a while longer and hear such a tale. Mrs. Dodd glanced at her watch, then looked at me and smiled. "We have time," she said.

"Well," I said. "In that case...

"You have to understand that Moxie was a very special cat. She had fur that was black as a locomotive and eyes that burned bright, like two pieces of coal that had just been shoveled into the firebox.

But that wasn't what made Moxie special.

What made Moxie special was that she knew more about trains than any other cat on earth!"

And so I told the story (which I'm sure none of you really want me to tell here) while Thomas provided the sound effects.

At the end, when Thomas did the final whistle of the Hairball Express leaving the station, everyone clapped and a couple of boys in the front just stared at me.

"How did you know that without it being in a book?" one asked.

"He made it up inside his head," Thomas answered matter-of-factly. "When you make it up in your head, it stays there."

"You should write it down," said Mrs. Dodd, as she came over and shook my hand. Then she told the class it was time for me to go and they all groaned in that uniform moan of disappointment that only a group of small children can make. As they made their back to their desks, Olivia and a couple of the other girls mimicked Mrs. Dodd, grabbing my hands and thanking me for coming.

Then, as the star of the week, Thomas, opened the classroom door to let me out. Just before I stepped out, he hugged me hard around the waist.

"Thanks, Dad," he whispered loudly. "This was the best."

"This was my best day ever in first grade," I said. "Thanks for inviting me." Then with a wave I was out the door.

Outside, on my way across the parking lot, a mom I recognized from our neighborhood was on her way in for her volunteer shift at the school library. She giggled and pointed. "You can take that off now, you know," she said.

I looked down and saw that I was still wearing the visitor's sticker my son had stuck to my chest when I first arrived that morning.

But I kept it on for the rest of the day.

And was wearing it still when I walked through the front door that night and Her Lovely Self greeted me eagerly. Thomas was sitting nearby, working on picture.

"Well?" Her Lovely Self asked. "How was your day together? What did you do?"

And my son and I replied, with simultaneous shrugs:


From Somewhere on the Masthead

That was GREAT!

But, I REALLY wanted you to tell the rest of the hairball express story.

Anyone else?
I can't speak for anyone else, but I'd have to say I'm pretty much DYING to hear the Hairball Express story. And I think it would be the best if Thomas illustrated it.

It's okay, take your time. Deadline's not for another whole week. ;)
ttReminds me of walking to school in the snow by myself and staining my socks pink with my little red cowboy boots. :3 I miss my teacher, Mrs. Newman now.

And I *really* want to hear the rest of Moxie and the Hairball Express. :D
Aww I wanna hear the Hairball Express story too!
I would love to hear the rest of the "Hairball Express" story, and there are a plethora of ways to tell it. You could write it, no pictures, not elaboration. I don't think that's you. We would love to get more video clips of you and Thomas acting it out with the sounds. You could write it with links to pictures of the story Thomas has drawn....

Your story makes me reconsider my decision to take Kinesiology instead of Education. It is always such an interesting experience when dealing with children. I am glad you had such a good day as Thomas' guest.
That was a perfect ending, MM.
Well, your faitful audience is waiting. When will the audio clip be ready for the "Hairball Express"?
Add another "Here! Here!" to the masses clamoring for the Hairball Express story. And honestly, you should consider publishing it, with Thomas doing the artwork. I think that would be awsome!

Oh, and what about that little Olivia? I think you have the makings of a little girl with a crush on MM there. And if HLS didn't start pulling her hair out at your response I'd be surprised. You and Thomas are terrible!
Yeah, I'd like to see Moxie's story appear as a children's book :) You've tested it with a child audience, after all! (I do like the idea of an audio version, though...)

I think those boys were impressed that you had the story memorized. Not many people in the US memorize stuff these days. (Back when I was in elementary school, we memorized Bible verses. Then I switched to public school and started to lose my memorization skills...) It seems like your family has a good oral tradition. More people should pass stories down from generation to generation...

And yes, I concur with aquilegia. That was the perfect ending. :)
Boy, that really tugged on the heartstrings, MM - that must have been a very special day for both you and Thomas.

Now, about Hairball Express - get to it, man! :)
Let's all start a collective chant, "MOXIE! MOXIE!MOXIE!"
Adorable. Thank you!!
Thanks for sharing this MM... I can't wait until my young one goes on to school next year... I hope that my husband and the boy have a chance to do something like this too.

and oh yeah you so have to tell us the story of Moxie.... and I agree with Michelle you should write it out and then have Thomas draw the pics!!!
And so I told the story (which I'm sure none of you really want me to tell here)

Ummmm....yes we do!!

Come on! Tell! Tell!!

I will buy the book in which features the story of moxie and the hairball express.


whats the amazon page that I need to click on.

TELL ME!!!!!!!!!!
I agree with the masses. Write a childrens book. First - vlog the story to your faithful readers....

THat was great BTW.
Hairball Express! Hairball Express!! You didn't really think that no one wanted to hear that story did you? You are just a tease!
Long time reader... first time comment. Thanks for making that warm-squishy feeling inside of me. And imagine what you could do on a world-wide level with the Hairball Express... there would be warm-squishy-ness everywhere!
And so I told the story (which I'm sure none of you really want me to tell here) YEAH RIGHT!!! I want to read the story of the Hairball express. I already love Moxie.

What a delightfull day you both had. He'll remember that day forever.
Well, Hell yes! I want to hear the rest of the story. You may as well have put ellipses in there...
Do you really think we are all that different from a bunch of first graders? We want to hear the story!!!
Why yes, Mr. M. We all want to hear about Moxie!
Hey guys, are you sure MM WANTS to tell the story on here? What if he really does have in the back of his mind that he'll publish it one day, and then one of us steals the damn thing from under his nose.

Not that we would, but I could see MM (from what we know of him) harboring a secret desire to be famous with the under-10 set.

Awesome story as usual.
I don't care where I read the Moxie story. I just want to know what it's about! He could publish it under a pseudonym to maintain his secret identity. And it would be a great idea to let "Art Lad" illustrate it.
Um, of COURSE we want to hear the story! Some of us even want to ANIMATE it!
So so good. What an amazing day...I can't imagine feeling that freedom of recess, ever again. But, it might just be something I institute in my own company...good idea, MM. I can't wait to hear the story!!!
Tell the story, man, and be quick about it! ;)

T. :)
awwww, that was the best story ever!
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