I’m having a second Americano and relishing the fact that I am here in my house, writing to you this morning. I thought I would be killing time at the American School, waiting for my 10:30 gig as Mystery Reader to Quinn’s kindergarten class. In fact, I bowed out of Wednesday morning tennis clinic (which my friend Edie has managed to get me into, though I am neither a member of the tennis club nor of the women’s club that sponsors the clinic) because of my Mystery Reader Job. It was not until I got to the school that it occurred to me to double check my appointed mystery time, and imagine how mystified I was to find I’m not expected until 1 pm!
I decided not to try to make tennis anyway, as I had already showered and dressed for the day. I suffer from the delusion that a swarm of kindergartners will listen to me more attentively if my hair is combed and I’m wearing perfume. Don’t ask me how I can possibly hang on to this idea so far into my fourth go-round with kindergarten (fifth, if you count my own experience!)– but it’s probably because I’ve never been brave enough to test the theory. In fact, it just occurred to me that I’m going to change out of this white sweater I’m wearing and into a soothing, happy color… call me compulsive.
It’s just that I know how this deal goes down, and I want all the advantages I can get on my side. First I go in and sit in a teeny, tiny chair, with a semi-circle of small people in front of me. Then the teachers disapparate to the teachers’ lounge– or maybe to a local pub– (can you blame them, with an adult person to be in charge for a few minutes?). Then I talk with the small people about whatever book I’ve chosen, and at least two of them will shout out not only that they’ve heard that one, but they’ll want to say who read it to them, how many times, and they’ll recite the major plot points of the story. Those preliminaries over, I’ll start reading. And then the hands start going up and the excited little voices start piping up with their opinions or stories about how they saw a butterfly on the playground once, or their brother had a bean stuck up his nose when he was little, or whatever– sometimes related to what you’re reading, sometimes not. Actually, it is pretty darn cute, now that I think about it! (Really cute since I only do it for 20 minutes once every couple of months).
But you always have to be ready for something completely unexpected to happen in a kindergarten classroom. Like the last time I was Mystery Reader. I’d just gotten warmed up, a couple of pages into DIARY OF A WORM, when a kid suddenly stood up, hand over his mouth, and starting exclaiming something I couldn’t understand through his hand. And then the kids around him all stood up, and all hell was about to break loose because– HE LOST A TOOTH! HIS FIRST ONE! RIGHT THERE ON THE CARPET! AND WHERE WAS IT?? (And where was that teacher???) Here’s little Benji*, blood on his hands, and all of his friends crowding around, all talking excitedly and offering kindergartenish wisdom on lost teeth. And here’s me, diving under little Susie to retrieve the itty, bitty tooth I’d spied gleaming just under the edge of her boot, because I know how that first little tooth is sacred to Benji’s mom, to the Tooth Fairy, to Benji, to Moms everywhere! The bedlam sounds must have reached at least to the Teacher’s lounge, or perhaps to the local pub, because a teacher soon materialized to help restore order (and rinse the blood out of Benji’s mouth, and take care of that little precious pearl I’d rescued) while I carried on with the reading. Surprisingly, they settled in to listen, their upturned faces fairly attentive, interest caught by the worm and spider friendship story.
Later, I saw Benji’s mom, and I had a little pang of guilt that I was there for that moment and she missed it. You know, kindergarten is so magical. The kids are literally blossoming in front of you– learning to read and write, losing first teeth (or in Quinn’s case, all of their teeth), developing friendships, and yet still completely open to falling under the spell of a story or a game of pretend. Yep, kindergarten is a lot of fun, and I’m lucky to have had five shots at it! I guess I’d better really relish it this last time around.
* Names have been changed because, well… I don’t know why exactly, but it seemed like the thing to do.