I went to my son’s preschool open house on Thursday night. I’m not entirely sure why. It’s not like the school was unfamiliar: I’ve picked him up; I sat in on classes twice during my lovely wife Cassandra’s epic, 19-preschool tour of the greater L.A. area. A tour for which I showed heroic restraint for not going online and making sarcastic fake concert T-shirts.
I think I went to not be an asshole. Three years into fatherhood seemed a little early to be punting on school events. And I thought the teachers might tell me something Cassandra could forget to report back. Also, I didn’t want to give Cassandra another chance to feel like a better parent than I am. She still makes me feel bad about my useless nipples.
So I sat on a tiny chair, listened to his teachers, flipped through his lesson plans and my mind kept toggling between two thoughts:
I can’t believe I’m listening to people talk about blocks and how to sit cross-legged on a blue line.
I can’t believe these people, who I don’t even know, spend as much time with my child as I do.
Which is when I started to cry a little bit.
I’ve really cut down on the crying in the last two years. During year one I was a girl in a Lifetime movie. But as Laszlo has become more self-sufficient and less vulnerable, so have I. Now when he hurts himself a little and cries, I sometimes don’t feel all that much as I comfort him.
But imagining Laszlo in that classroom, he felt so small. He was struggling to get things right learning about sitting cross-legged, painting sunflowers, trying to learn letters, studying Van Gogh — and he was so far away from me that I wanted to both hug these women and threaten them.
Instead, this one kid’s dad said everything I was thinking. How these teachers cared so much and had such an amazing system that had made his kid more confident and nicer, both of which he needed. It was especially comforting because his kid is the only kid in the class who’s a jerk, occasionally pushing Laszlo. And the dad knew it. And these women were making it better. I wanted to hug him. Also, threaten him since his kid was still a jerk.
I took a photo of the sunflower Laszlo painted that hung on the classroom wall. It’s the first thing Laszlo ever made that actually looks like something instead of a day-glo Cy Twombly painting. I showed the photo to Laszlo and he can’t stop asking to see it. He’s mostly proud, but he’s also fascinated that I was in his class without him. So I got my credit.
But I got much more. Usually when I ask Laszlo what went on in school Who did he play with? What Montessori jobs did he do? What words they learn in Spanish? I get nothing. But the night after the open house, when I was giving Laszlo his bath and he was ignoring everything I said while he was playing with boats, as per usual, I asked him if he was the person of the day.
He stopped playing. “No,” he said.
“Have you ever been the person of the day?”
“No. But I rang the bell.”
I knew that bell. Two kids get to ring it and tell everyone to put their jobs away and sit down on that blue line with their legs crossed. I knew he got to pick which bell he wanted. So I asked him about that and he told me the kind of intricate, exciting story about ringing that bell that no one besides a parent would find interesting.
And I did.
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