I don’t fit in at grade schools. Truth told, I never have. There’s good reason for this:
1. I’m bad at math.
2. That’s enough counting.
So here I am, in Mrs. Sylvia’s second-grade classroom. I have forty-five minutes with her students. I’m supposed to talk about writing. And Mrs. Sylvia hopes I’ll be able to teach them something.
I doubt it.
I don’t teach. Once, I trained a Labrador to fetch newspapers. It was a mistake. He spent the rest of his natural life making steaming headlines in our backyard. I told Mrs. Sylvia as much.
Her response: “Look, I don’t care WHAT you talk about, just don’t let the kids set the building on fire while I’m down the hall.”
Thus, we begin class with a simple writing exercise. I give them a fill-in-the-blank sentence, such as: “My mother says I…”
“Stink!” one kid hollers.
“TALK TOO LOUD!” another child adds.
“Hey,” says a boy. “I really gotta poop!”
Creative juices are churning, we try another. My next class directive: “Tell me what’s most important in your life.”
The class runs quiet. Twenty-six towheads reflecting on life-importance, chewing on pencils.
“My most important thing,” one kid explains. “Is my brother. He makes me mad, but I love him, he’s my BFF.”
A girl adds, “People are important.”
A redheaded boy chimes in, “I think being happy is most important.”
Okay. Happiness. Now you’re talking about the Holy Grail of adulthood, kid. Misery is in our drinking water, staying cheery is about as easy as licking a hot skillet.
The truth is, this is a mean world. Every day, mankind thinks up new ways of killing itself. And if it can’t succeed, it just taxes people to death. I don’t even watch the news without popping Alka-Seltzer.
Opie goes on, “Yeah, but everyone CAN be happy if they love.”
“LOVE!” another girl shouts.
Then: a violent bodily noise originating from some poor child’s lower digestive tract.
Onslaughts of laughter. Pandemonium breaks out. These kids have lost their cotton-picking minds.
After a few minutes, there is screaming, uninhibited singing, paper-airplanes. If you’ve ever wondered what real happiness looks like, there’s plenty in Mrs. Sylvia’s classroom.
When Mrs. Sylvia gets back, students pass in their writing assignments.
One girl hugs my leg and asks me not to leave. Another boy gives me a hand-drawn picture and calls me his hero. A freckled girl loans me a half-eaten Oreo and says she loves me.
“Did you teach’em anything?” Miss Sylvia asks.
Not at all, ma’am.
In fact, I wish I knew half of what they already know.