Into The Forest
Yesterday morning began, like most mornings, with me laying in bed, hearing Regina scream "ELIJAH? WHAT ARE YOU DOING????" from the other room. This phrase gets uttered so often in our house that I rolled over and went back to sleep, but I was still surprised when, half an hour later, I discovered what Elijah had actually done.
1. Begged Regina to make him spaghetti for breakfast.
2. Refused to eat the spaghetti at the table.
3. Dumped the bowl all over a new throw blanket on the couch.
4. When put in his room for punishment, peed on the floor of his closet.
And thus the never-ending hell spiral of banality that passes for my life continued. School's out for summer, and all the cliches apply. Our sanity hangs in the balance.
We've enrolled Elijah, for the week, in an educational camp at the L.A. County Natural History Museum. This week's theme is "Into The Forest." I chose this theme for him because he likes forests, and also because it was the only class that had an opening all summer. All preschoolers must be accompanied by a parent, so I guess I'm also learning about forests this week.
The initial half-hour went well. I quickly determined that I was the only adult male in the group. We met his teacher, a nice young woman with a degree in cultural anthropology. She took us to our large, well-appointed classroom. The kids introduced themselves and said their favorite color. Elijah gave a normal answer. I'm glad he wasn't the kid who said his favorite color is "yellow Flash and red Flash. The yellow Flash is evil and the red Flash is good," to which the teacher said, "oooooo-kaaaaaaay....What about you? What's your favorite color?"
Then she read the kids a story about a deer, and told them that today, they'd be studying temperate forests.
"But first," she said. "You're going to do a craft. Parents, this is the toughest craft you'll do all week. So you don't have to worry."
Existential despair, never far from my surface to begin with, bubbled up in a spasm of fear. At that moment, I knew for certain that life is ruled by cruel and angry gods. In those tender, disco-fueled days when I was a schoolboy, my craft projects, if I even finished them, usually looked like something crapped out by a dying animal. My skills haven't improved any.
The craft turned out to be a backpack, made of paper bags, that Elijah would then use all week as his class went on "expeditions" into the museum. I got the materials, and saw that the teacher had drawn dotted lines into the bags to show us where to cut and fold. She might as well have asked me to translate the plays of Vaclav Havel from the original Czech into Farsi. Elijah was going to have one fucked-up backpack.
We got our materials. I desperately tried to do right by my son. Elijah was no help. He didn't have any interest in decorating the pack, instead preferring to hack at a piece of construction paper with a scissors. He also continually threatened to put glue on his tongue. I'd mistakenly sat at a table with a couple of West Side moms, who probably had a paper backpack-making business on the side, judging by the speed and efficiency with which they pulled together their projects. When the teacher announced "five more minutes," I'd made no progress at all. I raised my hand, near-weeping.
"Um," I said. "I don't have any spatial perception."
"My daddy isn't good at art," Ellijah added helpfully.
"Oh," said the teacher.
"He's good at writing, though!"
"Thank you, son," I said.
Basically, I asked the teacher to do the backpack for me. She went about halfway before she got distracted by the needs of other students. While they all had elaborately designed packs adorned with decorative buttons and leaves, Elijah had a plain brown box. I stapled a couple of straps on, and called it a project.
After a brief snack, we headed out into the museum. Before we could get ten feet from the classroom, the straps fell off of Eliah's pack. If it weren't against social conventions for a grown man to fall to the floor of a museum weeping in despair at his own uselessness, I would have done so. Instead, my son took that role.
"WAHHHHHH!" he shrieked. "MY BACKPACK BROKE!"
I pathetically scrambled to help.
"Fix it, daddy!" he said. "Oh, please!"
"I don't think I can," I said. "Mommy can fix it tomorrow."
"NOOOOO! I WANT MY BACKPACK!"
A mother took pity on me. She had some paper clips in her purse, and managed to somehow attach the straps. But the incident ruined our day. We were already ten minutes behind by the time we got to the gallery of animals. Elijah took a look around, and then the teacher handed him a pinecone. Somehow, his backpack held until we got back to class.
Later, I asked him what he'd learned.
"Temper forest," he said. "Where animals have tempers."
"Sort of," I said. "What kinds of animals were there?"
"Um?" he said. "Musk ox?"
At least we were two hours closer to bedtime.