I saw him in the aisle at Wal-Mart, standing beside his mother as she perused the school supply lists. He was seven, maybe eight, and the tips of his ears were a little sunburned. He stood there dutifully holding his new three-ring binder, but his thoughts were clearly elsewhere.
All summer, he’d been swimming and playing and riding his bike, but now his mom said that soon, very soon, he’d have to get up early, eat a healthy breakfast and get on the bus. She smiled as she said it, but the boy wasn’t ready. Not at all.
It was time to start learning again. He’d heard rumors, threats really, that this year he’d be faced with things like state capitals and adverbs and (shudder) fractions. There would be weekly book reports and for homework he’d be asked to do all the even-numbered problems on page 27 and show his work. It wasn’t enough to just know the answer. He’d have to write down how he got there. What if he didn’t know?
He’d have to read chapters and answer the questions in the blue box, and they wouldn’t be multiple choice, either. He’d have to write out the actual answer – and spell it correctly.
It had been whispered that in gym there would be a flickerball, which is not a real game but something made up by gym teachers to keep kids from just running around on the playground like they wanted to. And he’d be moving up to the big kid gym teacher, the one with the whistle and the clipboard who wore a stopwatch on her belt. When a kid fell down, she didn’t say, “Poor baby! Go to the office and put some ice on it.” She said, “Shake it off.” What if he couldn’t shake it off? What if he (horrors) cried? He’d never be able to go back to school again, not ever.
Oh sure, at some point, no matter what happened, the bell would ring and the school day would be over, but when school started, so did afterschool activities. He’d be handed a granola bar and a juice box in the backseat while his mom drove across town to karate lessons where kids lined up to do spinning round kicks. The older kids broke boards with their bare hands. He’d tried chopping through his cereal box that very morning. He couldn’t do it.
His mom had even begun talking about piano lessons, and not the kind where you got to play around and pick out the theme from “Spiderman.” This teacher wanted you to read music. Read it! There weren’t even any letters, just little dots drawn on a bunch of lines and somehow they told you which piano key to push. Was this even possible?
By the time he got home, he’d only have time to eat supper, do homework and take a bath before it was time for bed. Then the sun would come up, the alarm would go off, and he’d be expected to start all over again.
It was going to be too much. He couldn’t do it, even if his mom did buy him the Pokemon lunch box.
I felt for the little guy. I went through the same thing every year until … well, I still have dreams where I’m standing in front of a class and I am not prepared. It’s scary, it is. But I am living proof that if you simply put one foot in front of the other, things work out.
Hang in there, little guy. You can do it.