Monday, September 5, 2011

As My Oldest Goes Off to Kindergarten

Red backpack with embroidered octopus? Check.
Owl pocket folder? Check.
Dinosaur lunchbox? Check
Wild animal tracks water bottle? Check.
Boundless enthusiasm and curiosity? Check.

Tomorrow, our five-year-old son starts kindergarten. He has all his supplies ready and is chomping at the bit. He's excited for school to start, but he's even more excited at the idea of all the things he can learn.

He reads everything he can get his hands on that is related to wild animals (present day and extinct). He woke me up this morning by telling me that the kinkajou eats fruit and drinks nectar. I just asked him how to spell kinkajou.

At some point today, he'll rope his brother into playing the game he made up, called What Dinosaur Am I? Or he'll sit the baby down and explain to her the hunting habits of birds of prey.

I couldn't manufacture this level of engagement or self-directed learning if I tried.

Watching him, I wonder if his interest in wild animals will endure. Is this a phase or do we have a future paleontologist or naturalist on our hands?

It could be.

When I was his age, I wanted to be a writer.

Hell, I was a writer, judging by the stories I drafted and my mother typed up for me on onionskin paper. My first work was a collection of mysteries, covered in contact paper, if memory serves.

My first published novel was a legal thriller.

In the thirty-some odd years between Rocky Raccoon and the Missing Garbage Cans and Irreparable Harm, my view of myself as a writer has held constant. It has never wavered.

And I owe that, in large part, to two teachers. Pamela Johnson (or Ms. J.) and Jane Gargaro were my English teachers my sophomore and junior years of high school.

Ms. J. fed my creativity. Journaling, writing workshops, publishing a literary journal, reading my poems at open mic nights---all things I explored under her tutelage. With bouncy curls and long flowing skirts, she was nurturing and encouraging.

Mrs. Garagaro was the yin to Ms. J's yang. She marked up my essays until it looked like the pages were bleeding. She insisted that I think and write critically. With her red pen and tailored suits, she knocked the authorial ego right out of me. I lapped up her criticism as eagerly as I had Ms. J's kudos.

By the time I left high school, thanks to them, I was submitting my writing, taking editorial comments like a pro, and never once thought I was any less of a writer simply because I wasn't yet old enough to vote.

So, when I look at my son, so ready to dive into school, I can only hope he runs into a teacher or two who will show him how to take his enthusiasm for learning and run with it. Preferably one who already knows how to spell kinkajou.*

*I have just been informed that the kinkajou is also known as the honey bear and lives in the rainforest, in case you were wondering.