I catch snippets of Lee’s pre-school experiences throughout the day. He tells me a fact or two as we eat breakfast or at bedtime. But if I ask him what he did at school or what the names of his friends are, he doesn’t respond. Such questions don’t cause brain waves. They cause blank stares.
As we sat in front of our home, he starred thoughtfully across the street at the painted black numbers of a neighbor’s address on the curb. “What is that Mommy? What are those saying?”
I explained the meaning of an address and point to our own address numbers nailed vertically to our door frame. He looks up at them above his head. “That one there looks like “L” he says as he points to the number 7.
Today he asked, “What starts with the letter ‘Q’?” and “What does puh, puh, puh sound like?” Twice I’ve heard him say, “L-E-E,” and once I saw him triumphantly show me how he held his crayon correctly. And all that from just four days of school.
Actually, he is rather far behind the other children in the class. After all, he doesn’t know what all the letters or numbers look like and he still needs guidance in writing his name. When I went to pick him up today I walked in on him trying to complete a worksheet far beyond his understanding. The teacher was sitting beside him going through each activity with a kindness and patience that I only have in the early mornings before the children are awake. He was eager and intent on doing the worksheet correctly and he didn’t want to go home until he’d finished. Most of the other little children were working on their worksheets independently.
I wanted to cry, “But he digs really good holes! And if you ask him what makes bread rise, he’ll tell you. He eats vegetables out of the garden and he gives his little sister her pinkie blanket when she’s crying.”
He had a bandaid on his knee, and his teacher, Miss Kelsie, told me he fell on the playground today. “I cried,” Lee told me. “He was a brave boy,” Miss Kelsie said.
Over lunch at home Lee says, “Calcium. That sounds like Kelsie.” And, “My friend pushed me and I fell down.”
“Did you punch the living daylights out of him?” I wanted to ask but refrained. “Were you hurt?”
He shakes his head.
“What did you do next?”
“Miss Kelsie picked me up and said I wasn’t hurt.”
“Were you just playing with your friend?”
“What’s your friend’s name?”
He looks at the ceiling for awhile and says, “Soso. No, I think his name is Bwee-bwee.”
That’s when his story starts to fall apart. Soso or Bwee-bwee—whichever it was—then set Lee’s hair on fire and then gooooshed it out with his tiger, and Miss Kelsie said that he would have to go to the fire truck and wheeo-wheeo-wheeo all the way to the ocean.
I’m no longer worried about the push on the playground.
I’d like to think of Lee as a leader. I’d like to think that he’s the most creative player on the playground, and the other boys and girls gather around him to join in his imaginative play. He tells me about how when they walk through the halls the boys and girls put their hands behind their backs. To demonstrated, he throws his elbows up in the air and touches the back of his neck. I imagine the line of four-year-olds walking down the halls of his preschool. All the children have their hands behind their backs like normal people, except Lee who is walking down the halls with his elbows in the air. And he doesn’t notice that he’s doing it wrong. He’s more interested in the many classrooms that he passes and what might be inside them.
One by one his fellow classmates look back at the end of the line and see Lee with his elbows in the air and one by one they follow suit until Miss Kelsi looks behind too and wonders what has happened to her organized, sensible little class.
I think he’ll do alright.