I am nothing if not obedient – yet I keep breaking the rules in my grandson’s first-grade classroom.
Mostly, I persist in talking when we’re all supposed to be quiet.
I talk not just to my grandson, who’s fairly talkative himself, but also to his classmates. I have questions; they have questions – but we’re compelled to hold them in. It’s like going to a party that has “silence” signs all over the place.
You’d think I’d have adjusted to the routine by now. I’ve been volunteering in this boy’s class for several months, and I’m aware that my shift begins right after lunch and recess. When the children return to the classroom, they take their seats and put their heads down for a few minutes to prepare for reentry into the learning atmosphere.
But once a week, there I am, eager as a puppy to admire someone’s purple hair or sparkly shoes. I want to comment on how the tables have been rearranged or congratulate whoever’s wearing the birthday crown.
I’m always on the point of burbling, even though I know burbling is not welcome at this particular time. At the rate I’m going, I may be the topic of a daughter-teacher conference.
“She has no idea what it means when I put both hands in the air,” the teacher will sigh.
It’s true – I don’t. It might mean, “I’m listening,” but then again, it could mean “See, I’m not poking other people.” I was absent for the first three months of school, so I missed a lot.
As a child, I was a shy rule follower. If a teacher said, “Line up,” I lined up. If she said, “Settle down,” I settled down. I was so quiet, it was a liability. When I was elected secretary of my sixth-grade class, the teacher devoted the first 90 seconds of my term to warning me – in tones that suggested she wished I had not been elected – to speak up when I read the minutes.
Nevertheless, I feared being paddled. This, obviously, was when corporal punishment in school was still a thing. Paddlings were rare, but they occurred, usually for boys who challenged teachers almost to the point of demanding their watch and jewelry.
I’m sure my chances of being paddled in school were somewhere between laughable and utterly nil, but I worried every day that I’d be the one in the hallway receiving the whack that everyone in the classroom could hear.
Meanwhile, back in the future, I have to press my lips together to remind myself that talking is forbidden.
Childhood is difficult enough without somebody’s grandma getting a person in trouble.
Kids have all those developmental milestones to meet, all those b’s and d’s to turn in the correct direction, all those glue-stick caps that won’t come off – not to mention the confounding mystery of to, two, too and tutu.
I try to offer nudges of encouragement here and there, complimenting children on correct answers, imaginative wrong answers, perceptive thoughts and tights with rainbows on the knees.
You never know when a friendly word will land just where it’s needed. And by that I mean I never know, because my friendly words often are met with blank looks or cocked heads that I translate as, “Is this the kind of thing my parents want me to tell them about?”
Best of all, I get to see my grandson in his natural habitat. I’d gladly report to the natural habitats of this boy’s brother and his cousin, too, if doing so was possible and practical.
The chance to witness the minutia of my grandchildren’s days is priceless, even though the chairs are too small, the drinking fountains are too low and I’m so bad at following the rules that it’ll no doubt be my fault if my grandson has to attend a third-rate college.
I have seen the rug on which these first-graders have assigned spots; I have read some of the books in the library corner; and I know that when the teacher says, “Class, class,” the correct answer is, “Yes, yes?”
That’s a lot. I may make it to second grade yet.
Write to columnist Margo Bartlett at email@example.com.