High School! Musical!

Jack and Charlie, my fourteen year old twins, started high school earlier this week.  William, who is 10, started rehearsals for Oliver!, the musical that comes with an exclamation mark at the end, no matter where in a sentence you put it, which is weird, except for the fact that we’re pretty damned excited about the whole thing, so we’ll go with the exclamation mark for now.

Those things — High School!  Musical!  — have only in common that they’re the beginning of something B-I-G for the boys involved. Lockers! Taking the bus! Open campus! Girls! (for the boy who went to a boys’ school for all those many years before high school.) Orphans! Dancing! Gruel!  (But not dancing gruel.  Those things are separated by the mighty exclamation mark.   Dancing with bowls of gruel in your hands, though, I understand that’s on the menu.)

It just occurred to me that I could write an entire blog post punctuated only with exclamation points, except I also plan to write about my own life, which tonight anyway requires the opposite of the exclamation point, a punctuation mark I just invented called the “downer point.” It looks like a downward facing arrow.  I’d add it right here, but I’m no good at that kind of thing.  You’ll have to imagine it.

Here’s the downer:  the boys are beginning new things.  But I am not.  I think I said a month or two ago that I found a really great agent to work with. Really good guy.   Sells a lot of books.  Writes books about how to write books and they make sense and are inspiring. This is so not a downer.  This is wonderful and I am thrilled.  The downer is that he won’t be selling my book until I revise it.  The whole thing.  That’s a lot of chapters, blogfriends.  All chapters that could be better and all chapters I have to think really  hard about in order to make the better.  Have I mentioned how this is HARD?  Waaah.  Plus I’m scared.  AND I’m BUSY.  I have to drive people places and work at my job and cook and clean and …. you know.  I’m whining.  I’ll stop.

Also.   Finding your locker and not getting egged by seniors and learning how to talk to girls and having to eat a steady diet of gruel and then getting sent out in the snow to be sold to the highest bidder is actually, when you think about it, way way worse than tightening up each and every scene of your book for a guy who’s waiting patiently for you to get on with it so he can maybe sell it for you.  Just look at my kids.  They get on with it.  In fact, they’re getting on with it with so much verve and excitement and mad confidence that a new punctuation mark needs to be invented for their acts of crazy, getting-out-there-in-the-world behavior.  Something wild-eyed.  That’s how I should revise  my book, don’t you think?  Like them:  full tilt, knowing it’ll all work out one way or another and whatever happens, it’ll be interesting and fun and, if you keep your head down, the chances are pretty good that you won’t get egged by a senior.

A Bunch of Gorgeous Guys

A few days ago, I thought I’d do a little computer housekeeping. You know, erase the 26 episodes of the Daily Show I’ve been hoarding, see if Jon Stewart’s the reason why I keep getting the spinning disco ball whenever I try to do online banking. And while I was at it, I thought I’d put some documents in folders of my own choosing, maybe even answer some emails. That sort of thing.

But what began as a quick cleanup occupied the better part of two days.

That’s because at the same time I was doing my electronic housekeeping, I was also taking care of a flu-stricken 11 year old boy. He seemed to regress every six hours into an even more helpless version of himself. Every time I started to do something that required concentration, he’d shout my name (which is mom, by the way, but pronounced like it’s a three syllable word, like this: maaaaahhhh-ahhhhh-aaaahhhhhmmm). And then, when I’d come running upstairs to see if he needed immediate medical attention, he’d ask me to do something like hand him the glass of water that was on the bedside table inches away from his hand.

Before long, I was muttering dark things about the male sex and their well-known difficulty dealing with illness. Right around then, I got to my iPhoto library. And right around then, any irritation I might have felt about having to take care of a helpless pre-teen was banished. You see, dear reader, what I found on my computer was something that made me look at men and boys in a completely different way. I discovered — right in front of my eyes — six gorgeous, inspiring, amazing 21st century male role models. And I didn’t even know that’s who they were when I took their pictures. It could be that’s because most of them were dressed in Halloween costumes. Still, here they are — the sort of men I wouldn’t mind any of my sons growing up to become, after he gets over the flu, I mean, and starts growing up again:

I’ll start with Farmer Jonah. He’s new at the school. The regular school farmer is named Farmer Ben. But his first baby arrived over the summer and he took a leave. He won’t be back until January. So Farmer Jonah arrived. He’s dressed, in case you’re wondering, as a giant ear of corn. Obviously, he is not bothered by itchy things and he loves the garden. He’s a gentle soul — and very funny.

Oh, here’s Farmer Jasper. He dressed up as an ear of corn for Halloween too. In this picture, though, he’s holding a giant sign he and Farmer Jonah made. It announces the First Annual JackRabbit Juice-A-Thon, in which I assume, things will be liquefied and then drunk. He’s explaining this to a child in the lunchroom. Y ou will also note that he is wearing a sticker. It says I voted. And a good thing too. Thanks to Farmer Jasper and others like him, we now have the first woman House Majority Leader, Nancy Pelosi.

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Farmer Ben came by the school on Halloween. I’m pretty sure he’s dressed as Che Guevara. His daughter’s very cute. As is he. All the farmers at the school have lovely patches of color on their cheeks because they’ve been working hard showing children how to juice things and how to bring in the harvest. Everyone misses Farmer Ben. He could be counted on to play long games of kickball after school. He went to this school when he was a child. The children love that.

This is Damian. He’s the student teacher in my son’s classroom. He plays the congas. He was responsible for the spirited parade around the neighborhood on Halloween.

He’s also a wicked dancer, even when he has a lollipop in his mouth. Here he is with my son’s teacher. What you don’t see is the swirl of little kids all around him, dancing along.

Here’s Luis. He’s one of the fifth grade teachers. He dressed up as a very natty Latino guy. Come to think of it, Luis IS a very natty Latino guy. It’s just he doesn’t usually do his hair like a pop star.

Luis is a fabulous kickball player. He and Farmer Ben are the go-to guys for kickball. But in Farmer Ben’s absence, Peter’s been in charge. Peter works in the afterschool program. It was dusk when I took this picture, but here he is, Peter, a man who loves hanging out with children:

One last note, something I think registers a sea change in what it means to be male. Peter is wearing Ugg boots. The kind of boots Kate Hudson wears.They’re not very practical for kickball. So, when they started getting in his way, he took them off and played in his bare feet. He was very matter of fact about it. He liked those boots. But he didn’t need to try to run in them. Every child out there, including the little girls who’d been wearing those princess shoes that kill your feet earlier in the day, must have been delighted to see Peter take those boots off and run around the playground barefoot. It’s probably not allowed, regulation-wise, but as a model of how to get around your gender get-up, it seemed perfect to me.

And that’s what all these men have in common. They’re very male — but they also mix it up with things you’d think of as female: they dance, they dress up for Halloween as sexy pop stars, they wear impractical shoes, they show little kids how to make juice, they take time off to be with their new baby. And they all play a really fine game of kickball and every single one of them has chosen a job where they look after children and teach them how to grow up in the 21st century, a time when maybe men and women will be allowed to be whoever they want to be.