Jackson now goes this local preschool that's governed by some interesting principles.
After mom and dad say goodbye, the students' morning routine begins with an assembly of the entire school, from the little kids up to the eighth graders. A couple of things bother me about assembly. One is that they kick it off with the Lord's Prayer. Most of the littlest kids just stand there and blink, they haven't really figured out how to recite anything yet, and the bigger kids just mumble along. But still. I knew it was part of the program when we signed up, but I kind of made myself overlook it because the rest of the program is so academic and child-centered. Maybe you've noticed that Jack and I aren't churchgoing folk -- as a matter of fact I've seen holy water turn into boiling pitch at Jack's touch. But in the end I rationalized keeping Jackson in this school because it allows him to learn French, Latin, and coloring within the lines while being exposed, obliquely, to one of our culture's dominant strains of belief. My best hope is that morning prayer is kind of like giving him a live polio vaccine: he might feel a little weak at first, but in the long run it will make him immune.
The next thing that weirds me out about assembly is when one of the third graders walks up to the front with a big piece of foam core that's been stenciled with an affirmation, usually something reminiscent of Louise Hay crossed with L. Ron Hubbard. Honest to god, I don't know where they get these things, they're always some kind of weirdly conformist meditation on a not very interesting truth, like, "I will always strive to maintain a cheerful demeanor because a smile communicates good will. Oh, lord, help me to be of good cheer even in the face of those I wish to kick."
Again, I like that most of the kids are half-heartedly droning along, and while I'm sort of listening it warms the cockles of my tiny, fossilized heart to see a few displays of stubborn individuality in the face of a not-terribly-oppressive dress code. One of these days I'm going to take this one kid aside and shout You! Fifth grade boy with the wiggy red corkscrew hair and the puffy skateboard shoes! Let your freak flag fly, son!
Things move along at a pretty good clip after that, and next an eighth grader walks up to the front carrying a big, laminated map of the United States with the states all colored in pink and yellow and blue, which the kid hands to a teacher to hold while the kid then begins pointing to each state while everyone mumbles the state being pointed at and that state's capital. They're in no discernible order, we seem to be hopping up and down the eastern seaboard at the moment, adding a state or two every week, presumably until the end of fucking time.
Seriously, though, I'm learning my state capitals all over again. Quick! What's the capital of Kentucky?*
However, what I love most about sticking around for assembly is that it takes me through the entire spectrum of feelings I have toward children viewed from afar while they're singing. Because the next thing they do is hand out some amazing Americana sheet music. Everything from This Land Is Your Land to some thing about Forty-niners starving to death to -- my God, this was my favorite -- Joshua Fit de Battle ob Jericho.
Little, tiny Afro, Anglo, and Latino children singing in slave dialect! It took me two days to figure out that Joshua fought the battle of Jericho. One first-grade girl spent the week belting out JERICKA!, thus influencing an entire class of impressionable kindergarteners to do the same.
Then, one day not long ago we were driving home after school and Jackson said to me, "Mom! Hear this!" And he started singing a little song:
The Lord is good to me
And so I thank the Lord
For giving me
The things I need
Like the sun and the rain and the apple seed
The Lord! Is! Good! To! Me!"
And I looked at Jackson in the rear-view mirror and said, "So what's this lord, giving everybody everything they need?"
And Jackson shrugged, "I don't know."
And I said, "Is the lord, like, the earth? Giving people everything they need, sun and rain and food?"
And Jackson said, "Can we go to the toy store?"
The more I read about the debate between "intelligent design" and evolution, the more tightly science grips me. And believe me, I've always been inclined to embrace the mystical explanations, the karma and the destiny and the fate and the maybe you needed this lesson to get to the next level of consciousness. So this is new for me, and I'm finding that what's changing about my approach toward life now that science is seeping in is that I need to do something, I need to act. You know? Like, the rollercoaster of least resistance that I've been riding since God knows when, well, it's time to get off.
So, you know, I'm selling t-shirts. Want to buy one? They're still cheap until Tuesday.
*FRANKFORT, ya big dope. Well, don't feel too bad, that's what Google is for.