The little guy is his spitting image

At our school, the end-of-year open house is a big PR stunt, and everybody knows it. The classrooms are way over the top. They look like the set of a Tim Burton movie — colorful, outsized, everything moving.

There are salmon spinning from the ceiling and family trees along the wall, some full of nuts. In the back of the class, one of the children is playing Vivaldi’s “Juditha Triumphans” on a toy xylophone. Not my kid, mind you, but someone’s.

As the night unfolds, his teacher, Mrs. Norris, stands proudly to the side with that buttermilk smile of hers, as if saying, “See what your children have done? I have tamed them. There is hope.”

Without hesitating, I give her my watch.


That’s the gratitude we parents feel toward Mrs. Norris, who took this clump of kids and created this monument to youthful potential, this Sorbonne of the second grade.

I mean, really, can you imagine a year with 20 second-graders? The other day the little guy, a typical second-grader — not too noisy, not too shy — spent an hour in our kitchen tap-dancing on bubble wrap. I have since banned bubble wrap. Not even his mother can bring it in.

We are not, normally, a prohibitive place. Into our house, you can bring liquor, fireworks, propane, gunpowder, livestock. You can make your own moonshine. Hydrogen-powered rockets are OK — all manner of science. When the older kids were teens, I once found them genetically engineering squirrels into dogs.

I’m OK with all that, but this bubble wrap binge put me over. Pop. Pop. Pop-pop-pop-pop-pop. For an hour, Fred Astaire danced on bubble wrap. I went with it at first, because he was mostly minding his own business and not begging me to play Yahtzee, a game he loves beyond all reason.

Then the frontal cortex began to peel away from my brain. Like Formica under intense heat.

“No bubble wrap!” I finally sputtered.




“OK, Daddy-O,” he said, then slid across the sheet one last time. Pop. Pop. Pop-pop-pop-pop-pop ... .

I don’t even like kids. Which is why I stopped at four.

The other day, I’m picking him up at school, breathing deep the campus lawn, which had just been mowed and smelled like rye toast. I’m thinking how lucky we are to have this little school, this vineyard of young and supple minds, when one of his buddies comes up and tells me my son owes him 10 bucks.




“Wait, you guys are betting on rock-paper-scissors?”

“Yeah, and he owes me 10 bucks,” the kid says.

My son also likes to play at this one house — evidently a casino — where the 8-year-old boy has taught all the neighbor kids Texas hold ‘em.


Some of the moms were upset by this, till I explained that poker is one of the most moral ways to spend time in Las Vegas, at which point the conversation sort of trailed off, as it usually does when I try to explain morality to innocents.

“Think of it as math,” I yelled as they walked away.

On a more traditional note, the little guy has been using his free time — the three hours a day he’s not spending on homework — to develop his spitball, a pitch he’s been refining for more than a month.

Couldn’t be prouder. None of his little friends throws a spitter. A lot of coaches don’t even teach it.


“Hey, Dad, wanna see my spitter?” he blurted out one day.

You could almost hear his mother’s heart collapse.

But it’s a gift, really. The little guy’s spitball comes at you like a dog out of the bathtub, spinning water off its leather pelt. You can hit it, but only if you’re wearing full snorkel gear. Seriously, the thing is wetter than a vodka tonic.

“It that even legal?” his mother asks.



“His spitball.”

“What spitball?” I say.

Listen, I don’t know where he picked up the spitball. Maybe that Mrs. Norris taught it to him. She always seemed a little too good to be true. I’ll bet she throws a wicked spitter. I’ll bet she plays a little poker too.


Besides, a spitball is a healthy hobby for a young man. The little guy is out in the sunshine, he’s getting exercise, he’s watering the plants.

So, obviously, it’s been a good year, second grade. The little guy’s learned to add multiple digits in his head, he’s learned poker. He’s learned where Italy is, he’s mastered the mighty spitball.

The other day, the little guy gave a book report as Babe Ruth, or “The Great Bandito,” as he kept calling him. He’d written his speech on index cards. For a beer gut, he’d stuffed a pillow up under his shirt.

“How’d it go?” I asked him later.


“Good,” he said.


“Yep,” he said. “Got a lotta laughs.”

Way to go, Mrs. Norris. In one year, you have tamed them.


Well, almost.