Batman’s First Friend
School has been in force for a couple of weeks now, and I have had several people ask how Batman is adjusting to his first year of full-time education. The answer to that is, like the subject himself, multi-faceted.
When the first day of school ended I picked Batman and his sister up at 3:00. It was obvious that they had enjoyed their day. Annabelle was happy to see all of her friends from last year and told tales of playground adventures all the way home.
Batman was also excited about school, but in a decidedly more reserved fashion. He was smiling and happy, but not boisterous. I would describe his mood as a sort of ‘contemplative giddiness’. This puzzled me at first, but as I coaxed information out of him the source of his introspection became clear.
Each question I asked him was answered with some sort of reference to a certain little girl in his class.
It was sort of like this: “So, Zach, how did you like recess?” “It was really fun mom. I played with that ball on a rope thing. Candy (not her real name – I don’t want her parents suing me), played with it too.” “Oh, interesting. How about lunch.” “Lunch was really good. I liked everything we had, but Candy didn’t eat all of her salad.” “What did you learn in class?” “I don’t really remember, but Candy is really smart.”
“Who is Candy?” I finally had to ask. “Oh, she’s just a girl in my class.” “Really? Well, she certainly sounds nice.” This opened the floodgates. “She IS really nice mom. She is the nicest person I have ever met.”
As the first week continued on Candy was discussed more and more in our household. Even Batman’s sister picked up on the evident fascination of her brother. A couple of days later when I picked the kids up, Annabelle offered this. “Mom, I met Candy today. She is not as nice as Zach said she was. I tried to play with her and all she said was “How do you know my name?”
A snarl of outrage was emitted from the opposing seat in the back of the truck. “YES SHE IS NICE!! You just don’t know her like I do! She is nice to ME!!!”
Wow. How old are these kids again?
As the days went by, Annabelle finally got to spend more time with Candy, and she pronounced her super, super sweet, and started to play with her for part of every recess. The first weekend of school was a four-day weekend for the Labor Day holiday, and Batman positively pined for his friend. “How many days until I see Candy again?” “NOW how many days?”
This past weekend it was evident that their relationship had gone to a new level. As I sat in my office on Sunday afternoon doing some work for Desperate Hubby I could hear the kids talking in their room down the hall. Annabelle said something about Candy and Batman answered. I couldn’t hear what he said exactly, but a few more words were exchanged and then I heard this. “Well, Candy and I talked about it. We are going to LIKE each other and be friends until we are fifteen, and then we are going to LOVE each other and be boyfriend and girlfriend.”
As with every other aspect of his life, Batman was planning ahead.
Batman’s First Homework Assignment
The kids’ school is a bi-lingual Spanish language immersion school, and each day they are taught half-a-day in English by one teacher and half-a-day in Spanish by another. One of Annabelle’s first assignments by her Spanish teacher last year was the completion of a family portrait on a large green construction-paper leaf. The kids could decorate the leaf any way they wanted as long as it included a picture of their family on it. This was the first monthly family project of the school year, each designed as an opportunity for the entire family to work together on a craft, and for the student to describe to his or her classmates the project as well as the process they went through to complete it.
We went all-out for this assignment last year. In what I am sure was an annoying amount of overkill, Annabelle cut out the leaf, then we pasted the whole thing on a larger piece of paper. We decorated the entire item with stickers, plastic crystals and brightly colored flowers. The coup de grace was my little girl’s name, both first and last, spelled out perfectly if not evenly on the bottom in puffy glitter adhesive letters.
It was magnificent.
When Batman came home on the third day of school I conducted a cursory examination of his backpack. While it had been empty for the previous two days, this day it presented a treasure. The leaf was back! I took it out, my mind already racing with ideas of how we could complete the September Family Project. I noted the due date, which wasn’t until after the holiday and sat the leaf aside.
On Monday afternoon, after a busy weekend with friends and family, I prepared for the next day of school. I ironed khaki skorts (FYI: in a uniform situation, cotton is NOT your friend), and washed the new lunch boxes that DH had purchased with the children so they could take cold lunches to school the next day (a short-lived phase, thankfully).
Then I came across the green construction paper.
I called Batman in and showed him the paper, explaining the project. I told him we’d pick a picture off of the computer to paste on the leaf and then decorate it. Then I went out to feed the horses.
When I came back in Batman had already cut the leaf-shaped background out perfectly. He has pretty amazing fine-motor skills for a kindergartener.
I went to the computer and showed him the picture I was thinking of: a scenic shot of us taken in front of the lake in McCall during our family vacation. Batman concurred with my choice, so I printed the photo and told him to cut around the edges.
Now for the decorating part. It was a woodsy picture, so how about something woodsy? I spied the frothy evergreens moving gently in the wind outside the front door…..perfect! “How about we cut some of these, buddy, and paste them around the picture?” Batman was skeptical, I could tell, but he reluctantly went along with my suggestion. I brought the branches inside, and we trimmed them to size. Batman helped a little with the glue at first, but soon lost interest, leaving me to paste the last few sticks on by myself. We finished by putting a large heavy book about insects (from Batman’s “Bug Phase”) on top of the whole project to make sure it dried flat.
If left the project overnight to dry, then removed it the next morning. I thought it was beautiful. Just like I’d imagined.
I showed the leaf to Batman. “What do you think, son?” He shrugged. “It’s OK I guess.”
OK, whatever. I knew it was quite an accomplishment. If not exactly in the realm of last year’s glitter and jewels, nonetheless the project was creative and perfectly fitting for a boy kindergartener.
That afternoon when I picked the kids up from school I was anxious to hear how the project had gone. “How did your leaf presentation go today, son?” I asked eagerly when the kids were settled in the car.
“What?” Batman said, pretending not to hear me as he looked out the window (this is not an uncommon occurrence with Batman. He says what? in a unique way that makes it clear he thinks you are out of your mind to be asking, so I was used to this response.)
“Your LEAF PROJECT?” I repeated, a little louder. This is another effect that Batman’s most common response to questions has on his immediate family members. When he doesn’t want to answer a question, or thinks the question is a little beneath him, he will drawl out that “what?”, usually without meeting your eyes, in a somewhat bored and almost toneless voice. We invariably just repeat the question louder, in much the same manner as people do when they are talking to someone who doesn’t speak their language. On the other hand, my little progeny can hear a secret whispered in the kitchen to his father from down the hallway in his bedroom where he is actively concentrating on a DVD of Big Deer Hunters Gone Wild running at full volume in the background.
Batman shrugged. “I didn’t turn it in. We didn’t have time.”
I was somewhat disappointed, but I understood. The first days of school are always busy.
The next day when I dropped Batman off I reminded him to give his project to the teacher. I had a pretty stellar record with those kindergarten teachers from last year, and I did not want it impinged upon.
I was leaving for a horse show in Utah the next day, so I went through the kids’ backpack first thing after school that afternoon to make sure we could get any last-minute homework done on time. The first thing I discovered was, of course, Batman’s leaf, ensconced just as before in the Ziploc bag in the manila folder in the front pocket of the backpack.
‘”Zach! Why didn’t you turn your leaf in?! It is due this week remember? This is important son. You are in kindergarten now. You have to be responsible to turn in your homework!” My voice was a tiny bit high but I was trying to be nice.
Well, that was it. As it turned out, I was taking the kids to their classrooms the next morning before I left on my trip, as I had to deliver drinks for Annabelle’s monthly class birthday party and pretzels and granola bars for Batman’s class snacks. I would take matters into my own hands.
Thursday morning as we walked down the hallway toward the kids’ side-by-side classrooms, I spied Ms. Leone, Batman’s afternoon teacher and the propagator of the leaf project, out in the hallway supervising the children as they stowed their backpacks. “Perfect!” I thought.
“Zach, there is Ms. Leone. Go give her your leaf project right now before you go to Mrs. Martinez’ class!” Batman ignored me and walked over to an empty hook to hang his backpack up. I followed him and grabbed the little blue camo bag with his (real) name embroidered on it. “ZACH! Get the leaf!” I fumbled with the zipper. I saw Batman’s eyes start to well up.
“I’ll do it later mom! Afternoon kids turn their stuff in during the afternoon class, not morning! She won’t take it now!”
I knew this not to be true, because I saw two of Batman’s little classmates turning in their leaves to the teacher that very second, but I could tell my boy was getting upset. We were already on tenuous ground with me getting ready to leave for a few days, so I took a deep breath and let it go. “OK son. Just don’t forget, alright?”
I hugged and kissed both kids and told them I loved them, walking away quickly down the hallway so that neither they nor I would cause a scene with goodbye tears.
I enjoyed my three days in Utah at the horse show. It was a girls’ weekend in every sense of the word: two girl people; two girl dogs and two girl horses. My friend Shane and I took second and third in the derby, respectively, so it was a worthwhile trip. Still, I missed my kids terribly and it just didn’t feel right to be at a horse show without Annabelle, my little “woogie.”
Given that, I was all ready to jump back into motherhood upon my return to Idaho Saturday evening. DH had a nice dinner of grilled peppered ahi ready (me, him and Annabelle) and Swai Rainbow Trout for Batman. We had a quiet night of quality family time, and I spent Sunday tidying up the house and affairs to start Monday morning off on a good note.
I started by going through the backpacks to check for homework.
You guessed it.
The. Leaf. Was. Still. There.
I tried to remain calm as I approached Batman about the subject. The project had been ready to turn in for four school-days previously, yet it had not made it out of the backpack. How come?
“Well, I don’t really like it mom,” Batman said. “I don’t like all those curly branches on it.” I reminded him that he had been part of the planning team on the project (more or less) and that the assignment was now overdue. This was unprecedented in our short school career and completely unacceptable.
Batman looked unhappy, but he reluctantly agreed that he would turn the project in first thing the next morning. For sure this time. I intended to drop an email to Ms. Leone to apologize for the tardiness and to make sure that she knew to look for the leaf, but I got busy and it was the end of the day before I thought about it.
It was the first question I asked Batman (after “how was your day?” (fine) and “what was for lunch?” (I don’t remember)).
“Did you turn in your leaf?” He stared stone faced out the window and refused to answer.
When we got home I opened the backpack immediately. I wasn’t surprised to see the leaf still in its place, wrapped in plastic and encased in manila cardboard.
It was time for a serious talk. “Zach, what is the deal here? This thing is way overdue now and you have to turn it in. What is the problem?” I was exasperated and didn’t try to hide it this time.
“I don’t like it mom. I think it’s ugly.” Against my better judgment I argued with my son. “It’s not ugly. It is perfect. See, the tree fronds match the theme of the lake. The outdoors. See?”
I went on. “Why didn’t you tell me you didn’t like it before we did it? We could have changed it!” “I didn’t want to hurt your feelings because I knew YOU liked it “(slight accusatory voice from my son). “Well, that was nice of you,” I said, “but now you are stuck with it. You have to turn it in the way it is, and next time be sure to tell me beforehand if you want to do something different.”
“I don’t want to turn it in. I have to tell about it and I don’t like to talk in front of people.” Ah, now we’re getting somewhere. We talked about that for a bit; how he didn’t have to say much, and maybe I could get Ms. Leone to help him. “No,” he said miserably. “She can’t help me because she doesn’t know how we made it.”
I thought for a minute. I know from experience that sometimes a little forward motion is all it takes to get re-started on something; and that the feeling of being in control can go a long way toward ownership of a project.
“Maybe we can change the picture somehow so you like it better, then you will be happier about presenting it.” Batman’s eyes brightened. “What can we do? Can we take those tree things off of it?” “Well, no,” I said. “We probably can’t take the branches off. But maybe we could paint them.”
Batman was less than impressed. “I just don’t like those things mom. I don’t care what color they are. They look stupid.”
I thought for another minute. “How about if I make a brand new leaf and we start all over again? You can decorate it any way you want.” My boy was skeptical. “We don’t have another leaf. We can’t do that.”
I walked down the hallway to the library/skinny pig/cat (and newly ‘bunny’, but that’s another story) room and searched through the craft items on the bottom of the big bookcase. There I found a lone piece of green construction paper precisely the color of the original leaf. I walked back to the kitchen table, flipped over the original leaf and, pushing the soft branches aside, traced an outline that, if not a perfect match, was a close approximation of the original.
I handed it to a delighted Batman. “I’m going out to do the chores and feed. Cut this out, and when I get back you can decorate it.”
When I came back in the house the leaf was cut out, not with the precision or enthusiasm of the original, but cut out nonetheless. Batman stated that he wanted to paint the leaf. I retrieved a ten-color sleeve of partially dehydrated kid’s washable acrylic craft paint, a newspaper and a couple of brushes. Then I sat Batman down at the coffee table with the leaf.
He painted. And painted. And painted. In a half-hour the leaf was a dripping mess of multi-colored swatches, any one color pretty much indiscernible from the next. Batman pronounced it “camo.”
Now on to the family picture. I asked Batman if he wanted the same picture as we I had selected for the last (miserably rejected) leaf project. That got an adamant “NO! I don’t like that picture. I want a picture what (sic) has me with my shirt on!”
Back to the computer we went. Batman chose two separate pictures this time, making it appear that we perhaps did not function as a cohesive family unit, but I told myself that didn’t really matter. The pictures were each only a couple of weeks old, so they were a little more current than the original anyway.
We left the leaf to dry overnight, where it turned into a somewhat curled husk that I pressed down as best I could the next morning to get the glue to adhere the new photos.
It turned out like this.
I repackaged the new leaf in a different Ziploc bag, and removed the original from the manila folder. “Do you want to take the old leaf too, to show the class?” I asked brightly. “No, you can just throw that one away,” was Batman’s reply.
I hung the old leaf on the fridge, where it remains to this minute, though it has mysteriously been covered mostly up with an old piece of artwork from Batman’s days in pre-school that had previously hung on the other side of the appliance.
I asked Batman when I picked him up on Tuesday if he turned in his leaf. “Yeah. I did.” “Well how did it go?” I queried.
“Ms. Leone really liked it.” “Did you get to talk about it at all?” I wondered aloud. “Yeah. I just said I painted it and who the people were. Can I hold my bunny when we get home?”
End of discussion.
I will probably never know if it was the fear of public speaking (doubtful), the perceived ugliness of the pasted-on tree branches (more likely) or the fear of being seen shirtless by his classmates (unknown) that made Batman reluctant to turn in his first homework assignment.
What I do know is that I will henceforth give Batman full control over structure, content and construction of his future family projects.
The boy knows what he wants.