|Photo Credit: Morguefile by Sideshowmom|
Edie wore her hair in a bun and, once you knew her, this seemed an obvious cliche. Pulled back not so tight that it strained her face, it was still tight enough to prevent a wisp or strand from slipping down onto her cheekbones, from obscuring the lenses of her glasses, from walking like a tickling caterpillar onto her lips. One time—only once—Kate had seen it down, as Edie got ready to set about coiling it back up. It hung in untamed ringlets of auburn curl to her elbows, begging to be touched. Without her bun, Edie had looked vulnerable, younger and playful. It was a sight Kate could not shake from her mind.
"Arthur, you're filthy!" Edie exclaimed in horror, evaluating her five year-old son.
His arms were caked with wet sand, buried deep into the substrate of the playground. To Kate, he looked like your average five year-old. They get dirty, she thought. You clean them off. The two women stood side by side on the playground, silently at odds over this simple matter.
"I think we'll need to strip you off before you walk in the house," Edie pronounced, dusting him off.
Kate wondered if this wasn't why her house was always so in need of being swept. Children—filthy children—tromped in and out of it, boots on as often as off, trailing wet sand, scattering fall leaves, leaving a wake of garden soil. It seemed so much effort to pursue them around spitting strong adjectives and attempting to halt the entropy they blew like bubbles from their happy lips.
"I'm hungry, Mama," Arthur began to whine.
"Me, too," said Aster, who arrived like a bolt from somewhere else—where was she?—and spinning around Kate's legs.
Kate, always so ill-prepared for hunger outside the home, had cereal bars in her minivan. Cereal bars, in a box crumpled and ill-used. Maybe juice boxes. Neither would be acceptable for Arthur and Aster would have to eat them under his watchful and jealous stares, while Edie reminded Arthur that bread products and juice made him hyperactive and unpleasant. On this count, Kate suspected, Edie might be right. Our modern diet is so unnatural. And yet it seems a shame to raise a child only to continually tell him no. Why, Kate wondered, do I have cereal bars and juice boxes? Laziness? Stupidity?
"I have raw almonds in my backpack," Edie volunteered. "In the front zippered pocket. Make sure to close it back up, please."
Arthur fetched these and, happily, he and Aster shared. Not for the first time, Kate felt immensely grateful for Aster's willingness to try any food, for her love of things she recognized as grown in nature and for her stunning lack of memory for things like cereal bars in her close-by minivan, filled with jam.
"So, in a few months, these two start kindergarten," Kate observed, mainly to interrupt her own uncomfortable train of thought.
"Yes," said Edie, carefully. "They do. I hope it will go OK. I have to say I wasn't that impressed at the orientation. Maybe things will be fine when we get him in. It could just be that it was one of those things because they had to present to everyone. I hope they'll be able to meet his needs."
"What was it that bothered you?" Kate wondered. She had quite liked the kindergarten classrooms. Of course, Fiona and Sebastian had gone there, many moons ago. Maybe she was blind to something.
"It all seemed so..." Edie struggled to find the words. "So pre-school. Invented spelling. Letter names. Letter sounds. Isn't that what they've been learning already? At what point are they going to teach them to spell things correctly, to compose something that makes sense? I recognize they're all in different places. I just don't want it to be a complete waste of Arthur's year. We're thinking of homeschooling him, to tell you the truth."
Kindergarten. Once Kate had volunteered in Fiona's class all year, twice a week, for much of the day, when the school couldn't afford a teacher's aide. It seemed to her that a great deal was being learned there that had nothing to do with letters, sounds, or writing at all. Children who, perhaps, had never before been asked to defer a desire for the greater welfare of the group, in kindergarten learned to do so. Children learned not to steal Legos, not to eat their Hostess cupcakes before their sandwich. They learned to listen to adults who were not their parents. They learned to make friends, to get along, to solve their own problems, when possible, on the playground, rather than running to an adult five times a recess to complain that so-and-so was being mean. They learned to take pride in their work. They learned to like school.
Kate struggled to find a way to express this and choked on her feeling that Arthur needed badly to get away from Edie's watchful eye, that he needed to get dirty, he needed to eat something sweet without her knowing, he needed to poke another child and sit in time-out, he needed to spell "kid" with a "c" and have an adult around him who would not react with horror and alarm.
Kate remembered when Sebastian was little and she would not buy him cake for his first birthday. She remembered when she asked that people purchase only wooden toys. Everyone ignored her. In the end, looking at thirteen year-old Sebastian—worldly, tainted, popular and able to negotiate the cosmos of middle school with just enough of pop culture to fit in and enough of her values, perhaps, to save his soul—she was glad. She was glad that she let him eat cake.
"Well," said Kate, quietly. "I'm sure you will do whatever's best."