2013, Early September.
He stares at the white linoleum as we walk down the long hallway from his kindergarten classroom to the parking lot. His feet shuffle like ice skates, occasionally letting out a squeak as he leaves bits of his sole along the path.
“Calvin, are you ok?”
He nods, but nothing else.
He hates to cry (and even worse to be seen crying) so I don’t push him. I can tell by his eyes that if he starts to talk, he won’t be able to hold back. It’s moments like this that I can hardly handle how many of my mannerisms he’s inherited. His sister is her father. He is me. I know that look well. And while I don’t know what happened today, I know that feeling.
We sit in silence during the short ride home. He looks out the window and kicks the back of my seat. Normally that annoys me, but today I don’t say anything.
Before I can start a conversation at home, he’s up the stairs. I hear his door close.
I give it a minute and follow him up.
“Buddy, how was school today?”
I don’t expect him to answer, so I’m surprised at how quickly he blurts out, “Mom, I’m the dumbest kid in my class.”
I’m taken aback by the words and I stumble to answer.
“Why would you think that?”
He bites his lip as he admits, “Everyone else can read. I’m the only one who can’t.”
We’re only a few days into the year, and I already know he’s one of the strongest readers. He took to it very young — a combination of my obsession with books and his curiosity about everything.
He’s only 5 and doesn’t like that he can’t read like me or write much more than his name. He’s also inherited my intense competitiveness which most times is a great motivator, but sometimes –as I’ve learned, and he’ll come to learn — it can be very lonely.
The summer assignment was to bring in something around the house with letters on it. “We’re going to use them to practice starting letter sounds,” the note read. Calvin wanted to “trick everyone” by bringing a Cheerios box. (“It’s got a ‘ch’ sound, mom, that’s a tricky one, right?”)
“Calvin, I highly doubt everyone in your class can read. What happened?”
“You know the Cheerios, mom? That’s the only word I knew. Of all the boxes people brought. They all knew the others, mom. I didn’t know any — Kleenex, Captain Crunch — how come I didn’t know those?”
As he tells the story, I begin to see what was happening.
I picture the whole scene in my head. Mrs. Sullivan holds up each box, “Class, does anyone know this word?”
The Kleenex box in her hand was Jake’s contribution, so Jake raises his hand. “Kleenex!”
“Yes, Kleenex starts with K. kuh-kuh-Kleenex. See the K? Let’s do another one.”
Sydney sees her “Captain Crunch” and up her hand goes.
And on it goes — Oreos for Garrett, and Ritz for Olivia…
Calvin sits silently, watching each student raise their hand for words he doesn’t know.
Each student knew one word, but to Calvin, everyone knew ALL the words.
Everyone except him.
It’s an adorably tragic scene. A simple misinterpretation made by a kindergartner.
But don’t you and I do the same thing?
Don’t you scroll your news feed and feel like everyone is so happy. Why can’t you get your life together? Everyone else has it figured out.
So let this be a reminder… As you watch each virtual hand raise and shout their successes, always keep in mind that you, my dear, have the Cheerios box. And when it’s your turn, you’ll look so dang smart.