Last week, after two years of preschool and a year of kindergarten all at the same school, my son Jalen took his talents to a new school for first grade. OK...he doesn't officially start first grade until August 23, but we have him enrolled in the "summer camp" program in hopes of easing the transition.
And, if the first week is any indication, Jalen should be comfortably assimilated by next summer.
Y'see, Jalen is a creature of extreme habit and intensely resistant to change.
His pizza? Only pepperoni.
His chocolate chip cookies? Absolutely no walnuts.*
The one acceptable outcome (in his mind) for any board game he plays? Win.
Number of times we've watched that Disney/Pixar Cars movie? One f*****g kajillion.
* -- A chocolate chip cookie without walnuts is an inedible abomination. And, that goes double for oatmeal cookies, brownies and banana bread. I'm genuinely stunned that so many people share my son's walnut aversion.
On the way to pick Jalen up from school last Friday, I thought a post that highlighted my own adventures in education would be a fun read to share with my son, someday. Back in June, I printed out the open letter to Jalen I wrote after he graduated from kindergarten. That night, as he crawled into bed, I read it to him with the kind of excitement and urgency in my voice I usually reserve for his DC Super Friends books. After I finished, he looked at me blankly and asked, "Did that count as one of my stories?"
Mrs. Bootleg has gotten three months of mileage out of that one.
So, let's see if Jalen will get anything out of this. From kindergarten through 12th grade, here's the education of Aaron:
Kindergarten: First day...I cried. Like crazy. I was convinced that no one was going to pick me up after school, so I was inconsolable. Thirty years later, the only two things I remember about kindergarten are my teacher's name (Mrs. Lopp) and for six hours on a sunny September in the late 1970s, I sounded like this.
First Grade: My first bully! Like most un-athletic fat kids who couldn't fight, I became a magnet for other kids who wanted to fight. I casually mentioned this predicament to my grandmother (who watched my brother and me after school) and she came with me to school the next day. After I pointed out the tormentor, my grandmother literally chased him down and threw him against a wall. I am not making any of this up. With both hands, she grabbed the collar of his Garanimals and told him to play nicely (in so many words). Here's a three-and-a-half minute video that closely approximates the events. Kudos on the casting of me.
Second Grade: In the previous year, my elementary school tried to move me into a third grade English class and second grade math class. This went over about as well as you'd expect for someone who was already picked on by the older kids. For a first grader, this was the equivalent of transferring one of the Oz inmates into the prison's general population. Instead, the decision was made to bus me from Edison Elementary on the west side of Long Beach (the part of town that even Snoop Dogg wouldn't rep) to Gant Elementary in a much more affluent section of the city. Most lasting memory: I once traded lunches with a kid named Jason. Much to my disgusted surprise, Jason's mom put green olives and pimentos in her egg salad. I never traded lunches with anyone ever again.
Third Grade: Just prior to the end of second grade, my Marine Corps father was transferred to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. My third new school in 12 months left one lasting impression: my first kiss! I awkwardly kissed Sarah Gonzalez somewhere in the vicinity of her head.** For years, I didn't want to count it, since my lips hit mostly hair, but after the long drought between first and second smooches, I retconned this first kiss back into my storyline.
** -- To this day, I remain the worst casual kisser on earth. All of my good faith efforts to aim for the cheek consistently miss by a mile. A good friend of mine was moving out of state and after our goodbye lunch, my well-intended peck grazed her temple. This was one of my better efforts. M'man Vig is the best at this. Despite standing a foot shorter than me, he hits his kiss target every time. Hell, he kisses Mrs. Bootleg better than I do.
Fourth Grade: With a focused preparation that belied the very definition of the winning word, I took first place in my school's spelling bee by nailing all twelve letters of "carelessness". The following year, in a conspiracy I'm convinced went to the very top of Tarawa Terrace Middle School, I stumbled on "carburetor". "Carburetor"...for a fifth grader. More on this in a minute.
Fifth Grade: I've previously mentioned that we didn't have much money growing up. But, this made the rare extravagant purchases seem extra special. Midway through the school year, my mom bought me a new pair of shoes. This was unheard of in our household, as the back-to-school shoes she bought us in September were expected to take us through to NEXT September. These were all-white (a rarity in the early-to-mid 1980s) with tiny synthetic turf "cleats" on the bottom. I loved these shoes. I wore them one time. They'd somehow gotten wet, so my mom dried them...in the oven. The tops of the shoes burned and split open like a pair of blackened baked potatoes. My mother's response ("Good thing we didn't throw your old shoes away.") wasn't as comforting as she probably thought.
Sixth Grade: Mrs. Arthur was old southern woman who did not like me. She'd single me out when the entire class was acting up and she went out of her way to make me look stupid in front of everyone else. (She also ran the school's spelling bees. I mean, c'mon..."carburetor"? I was in FIFTH grade!) Seriously, though...I never throw the race card around, but, if the hood fits. The day before the end of the school year, Mrs. Arthur called me and the only two other minority kids in her class to come see her at lunch. She rambled through a little spiel that vaguely referenced "other parents' complaints" and "unequal treatment of certain students". It was all too much for any 12-year-old to take in (and without our parents present), but at the end, she apologized...for something. I don't miss the small-town south.
Seventh Grade: We moved back home to Southern California in the middle of my first year in junior high. The honor of my last crush on a teacher went to Ms. Londeree in sixth period health class -- big '80s hair and a body obviously toned by hours of Jazzercise and Jane Fonda workout tapes (on beta). Puberty's destruction of my once-innocent psyche was also hastened by Ms. Lyons, my pre-algebra teacher. She had this odd way of pretzeling her legs while sitting
Eighth Grade: At the end of seventh grade, I weighed about 180 pounds and carried a 38-inch waist. Thanks to a summer vacation growth spurt and our move back to the big urban sprawl (where I had to ride my bike everywhere) I started the new school year with a 34-inch waist and a bushel of those backhanded "have you lost weight?" inquiries from classmates who'd otherwise ignored me up to this point. For the first time in my life, I performed the Presidential Physical Fitness Test without ANY walking, crawling or cramping!
Ninth Grade: Save for a brief fifth-grade defeat at the hands of long division, I was mostly an A/B student in math. Then, came Ms. Walker's geometry class. Baseball fans surely know the names of players -- Steve Sax, Chuck Knoblauch, Rick Ankiel, Mackey Sasser and, most recently, Jarrod Saltalamacchia -- who infamously lost the ability to do what once came naturally. (Not a baseball fan? Well, the cinematic equivalent is the last 15 years of Nicolas Cage's career.) This is how geometry affected me. All of my mathematical confidence brought down...by proofs.
Tenth Grade: Back in the day, Long Beach high schools began at tenth grade. I've always theorized that the administrators correctly understood ninth graders weren't mature enough to handle on-campus soda and junk food vending machines. For the next three years, my lunch was a pack of six Hostess Crumb Donettes and a magical orange-pineapple concoction in a can called Cactus Cooler.
Eleventh Grade: During the previous summer, I finally ditched my short Arnold & Willis ersatz afro in favor of a flat-top. Within my small clique of friends, this decision vaulted me to the front of the line in any "best hair" discussion -- amongst our mothers, I presume. Admittedly, the competition wasn't exactly stiff. There was my sidekick Vig, who wore his hair like the most famous second banana in American history. M'man Smitty's haircut was equally heroic. Thai was still a decade away from reaching this length. And, my buddy JP had JUST recovered from an ill-advised dye job that left his hair Butch Reed blonde.
Twelfth Grade: Graduation! It goes by in a flash, Jalen. Unlike this blog post. And, before you ask: yes, this counts as one of your stories.