Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Star Student

That's what John is this week. Star Student. I imagine every kid gets this privilege at least once during the school year, but I had never heard of it. So when I came home from a full day of work on Saturday and saw the blank poster board with a stapled list of instructions (tape some pictures so we can hang it up in the classroom, bring a snack, come read a book to the class) I groaned inwardly - just what I needed - more to do on a busy call weekend as well as trying to wrap my work schedule around daytime school activities. The privilege for the child becomes the burden for the parent. I lamented to a girl friend on Saturday night, then chided myself for being so self-oriented.

So after a few hours of work Sunday morning, I met the kids at the tail end of a trip to the fair with Ike and his sister, and then took them home. Despite the fact that John was tired and whiny, being the vocal manifestation of my inward self, I cheerily dragged the poster board, along with hundreds of pictures from the junk cabinet, onto the carpet in the kitchen. Sicily was initially reluctant to be roped into a project where her brother was the sole focus, but her artistic nature quickly took over. While I was sorting pictures and arranging them neatly on the poster board, she ran over to the kitchen drawer to grab the scissors and started cutting them down to make a collage, which I thought was ingenious. I taught her the word. John wasn't into the cutting and taping, but he was loud about his picture preferences. We talked about them all - the pictures, how old he was, where we were, what we were doing. It was really fun.

Sicily wasn't happy with the blank spaces in the collage, but I told her that was where we were going to draw pictures, and there were enough spaces for her and for John, so I pulled out the crayons. John happily drew x's, punctuating each one's completion with a loud, "Checkmark!" He also drew some rudimentary faces, and of course snakes. Sicily followed his lead, trying to best him, but he was having too much fun to take notice. When it was all finished and we filled out the "What John Likes" worksheet, I was so proud I took a picture.

That night at bedtime, when I asked John what being Star Student meant for him at school, he happily replied, "I get to be line leader! And I get to sit down at the first computer!" His explanation was interspersed with hacking coughs, that had been steadily increasing and sounding worse throughout the evening. But I was so excited about the poster board, his role, my plan to read to the class on Tuesday, that I ignored them. When he crawled in our bed coughing at 3 a.m., I patted him back to sleep. But when he came into the bathroom while I was drying my hair at 6:00, teary and sniffling, saying "Mommy, I don't feel good," I decided I needed to find someone to stay home with him, and called for help. I got him some medicine and milk, tucked him on the couch in front of Tom and Jerry, and experienced irrational sadness that he would miss a day of being Star Student. I also got sad when I looked at the poster, knowing it would stay home after we worked so hard.

I whispered to John while he was watching TV, "John, do you want me to take the poster to school for you, or do you just want to bring it tomorrow?" He looked at me funny, and said, "Mommy, I'll just bring it to school when I get better." And I had to laugh at myself. Was that me, who wanted to bring the poster to school so bad that I was thinking of doing it without him? I imagined myself rolling through his carpool line, unrolling the window, and handing it over, "John is sick today, but here's his Star Student poster, we worked on it so hard!" What the heck was I going to do next, offer to stand in as line leader? Such a sharp, crazy contrast to the tired mom who didn't even want to do the project in the first place.

On Tuesday morning, Ike brought colorful Halloween cupcakes decorated with cat, bat and ghost rings, and I read one of my favorite children's books of all time, The Wildest Brother, by Cornelia Funke. I was delighted last spring to learn that she wrote YA books, and read Inkheart to Sicily over the summer. After it was over we watched the movie. I was so proud to realize what Sicily learned, at the young age of six, announcing during the movie, "Mom, the book is so much better than the movie! They are really missing a lot." I smiled and said to her, "That is true of all books, Sicily. There are a few rare exceptions, but books are almost always better than the movie." It was fun to bring the book to life, and we compared and contrasted how we had imagined the characters to what the movie had done to them.

Anyway, The Wildest Brother is amazing. I change the names from Anna and Ben to John and Sicily. It packs a wallop into a short venue - moldy green ghosts, wolves, bears, burglars, knights, slime-burping monsters, etc. The wild little brother imagines that he protects his older sister all day, sometimes annoying her, sometimes drawing her into his play, and other times playing along side her in a world of his own. But when dark falls (night's soot-black face) and creepy noises penetrate the house (the sound of a thousand biting beetles) John crawls into Sicily's bed and is thankful to have such a wonderful big sister. I managed to enthrall a bunch of four-year-old's, receiving enough hugs, introductions, and exclamations at the end to last a long time. Adoration from a room full of kids beats Chest Conference by a mile. So thank goodness for Star Student week, and for being pulled into art projects and my kid's classroom. I learned on my way out that Sicily will get to be a Star Student sometime this year, too. I can't wait. We've already got a giant Sicily collage going. Would you expect anything less, from her?

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