Number Two Son is a quiet fellow, as reserved as his older brother is the outgoing first child. No “Look at me!” for him. But still waters, as they say, run deep, and quiet exteriors can mask a strong will. That lesson we learned when he was in the fourth grade.
Our sons went to private elementary school. It hadn’t been our intention to put them in private school, but the spring before Number One Son would enter kindergarten, Mrs. P went to visit the local public elementary school to talk to the principal and see what kindergarten there was like. To our dismay, she learned that kindergartners in that school spent the entire year learning the alphabet and the numbers from one to ten.
Now, we were not “they should be writing essays in the first grade” types, but we also knew that the kid had already learned this stuff by watching Sesame Street. Condemning him to a year of nothing but letters and numbers raised the prospect of destroying any interest in school before it could take root.
So we explored private schools. We found one that seemed congenial in many ways, not least of which was that the school taught the kids Spanish. Since we had raised our kids to be bilingual, the reinforcement would be good. Also, the kindergarten teacher in this school was Cuban-American, like Mrs. P. Clearly, that was clearly a sign. So we figured we'd enroll the kid in the school and see what happens.
Three years later, Number Two Son’s time to start school came along, and we enrolled him in the same place. By this time, it was nearly his home away from home.
As the years went on, however, the school changed. We were not thrilled by all the staffing decisions, the Spanish was being de-emphasized, the headmaster was become more eccentric, and the new emphasis on “auto-didacticism” seemed a bit . . . misplaced when it came to a bunch of elementary school kids.
While Number One Son’s class still had some teaching going on, the lower grades, including Number Two Son’s fourth-grade class, were suffering. Concerned that he was languishing, we talked to him and all agreed that it would be best for him to shift to a new school for the coming year.
That was a tricky proposition, though. The headmaster had a thin skin and a short fuse; to even suggest moving a child was to hint at treason. So when we spoke to him, we couched our plans as diplomatically as possible. We explained that, while we thought the school was absolutely wonderful for Number One, we were concerned that the style of teaching didn’t quite . . . ah, mesh with Number Two’s personality, and that we would be looking at alternative schools to see if we could find a better fit. We explained that over the next few weeks, we’d be taking Number Two out of school for a few days so he could visit other schools.
The headmaster grudgingly accepted this, though he vowed to “fight us” to keep Number Two in his school. We were a bit nonplussed by that comment (how could he stop us?), but responded with a quip and a laugh, to keep things pleasant.
A couple of weeks later came Number Two Son’s first school visit. He spent a Wednesday and Thursday at another school, and then returned to his current school on the Friday. That morning, as always, I drove the boys to school on my way to work. Knowing that there was a chance that Number Two would be challenged by the headmaster, I asked if he wanted me to walk into the school with him. “No,” the ten-year-old kid said, “I’ll be fine.” “Are you sure?” “Yeah.” And he trudged off. (I know: You let him go? Rotten daddy!)
That night, he told us what had happened. As soon as his toe crossed the threshold of the school, the headmaster swooped toward him and, leaning into his face, said in a not quite friendly tone, “So, how was your school visit?”
Number Two Son looked up, said “I’d rather not talk about it,” and walked on.
Funny thing is, the headmaster himself had recognized Number Two’s character the year before. “He won’t suffer fools,” he observed about our doughty little guy. Well, no. I guess not.
Words and pictures © 2009 AtHome Pilgrim.
All Rights Reserved.