So I am driving my kids around, somewhere between after-school activity twenty-six and twenty-seven. Ian, Russell, and Sophie are in the back. Nathaniel managed the seat next to me. They are talking all at once. I make a note to myself to address this better when I am not driving. And Nathaniel goes on about Harold. Who is Harold?
“He’s a boy in our class whose parents buy cheap food so he’s a little big,” Nathaniel tells me, trying very hard to be sensitive. I know that feeling.
And I don’t know what made me ask, but I say, “Is Harold his real name?”
Turns out it is not. In fact, “Harold” is really “Jeremiah” if you ask his parents. But it doesn’t end there.
I am absolutely hysterical, driving the car, having the time of my life—emotionally speaking—after Nathaniel tells me the rest. Of the kids in his fifth grade class, “Mikey” is “Waffles,” “Daniel” is “Avs” (even Nathaniel is not sure why), “Avery” is “HB” for “Hairy Beast” (she’s a girl).
Furthermore, the Waffle Army consists of Bradon, James and Waffles. Turns out HB is their arch nemesis. She also goes by “The Evil Toaster.”
Oh, and my own son, Nathaniel? He is Bobby. Seems to fit. Everybody likes him.
You know me. Just yesterday at the sink in the kitchen I told Ian I don’t believe in jokes. (He was trying to laugh away a request for a larger-sized treat.)
“There is usually some truth beneath every joke,” I explained to Ian and the rest—and these moments are the reason I chose to resign from my job, to do carpool and make the lunches. For these incidental moments. These incidentelomas.
So why was I laughing so hard at what Nathaniel told me about his classmates in the car? I knew instantly I would have to write about it. And my own reaction makes me ask: What truth does it reveal about myself? (And you will recall my own name is Greer. Did not take long for my classmates to discover on the playground, where all may speak freely apparently, that Greer rhymes with “Rear.” No one suggested re-naming me.)
Children are brilliant. They are brilliant because they are free. How natural, how smart, how instinctively wise of them to rename each other—okay in jest, but there is always some truth. They labeled their world as they saw it. Not as they were told to.
When I was in seventh grade—first year of dreaded middle school—in Mr. Zaltaz’s science class, we had to do a lab experiment with colored solutions. We had to record some fact about what happened to the red dye. (And Mr. Zaltaz is a teacher I remember fondly. I remember sitting at his desk for conferences, and him asking me if anything was wrong, and telling me: “Money in the bank doesn’t buy anything; it just earns interest.”)
But I remember reporting the lab result along with the rest of the group. I could see, of course, that the red dye looked an awful lot like purple to me. But I didn’t say anything. I just kept calling it the red dye. I think we all did.
We missed the experiment. Do I tell Nathaniel that a moment like that may be coming for him in school, in life? Or do I let him discover those lessons on his own? Somehow, I am not as worried for Nathaniel as I think I am when I look back on my old self. Bobby and Waffles, and even HB—I have high hopes for them.