Lillie stuck out her tongue as I walked into the classroom. I blew her a kiss. She giggled.
Another parent nodded to me and smiled as I sat in a tiny chair. I waved back.
“Okay, parents, welcome,” Miss Harper began. “It’s nice to have you here again—Marvin. Hands to self. You too, Gina.
“Now, as you may have heard from the children, we have been reading nonfiction with our study groups. Each group has a basket containing books on a specific subject. So today, we are going to—Sara. Don’t.—we are going to break into our groups and share our books with you.”
One morning each month, parents are invited to join their children in the classroom to be “reading partners.” I have two children in the school, so I begin with Lillie’s first grade and move up to Collie’s fourth grade. When the children broke into their groups, Lillie brought a boy to my table.
“Dad, this is Perry. Perry, this is Dad.”
I stood and took Perry’s hand. “Nice to meet you, son. I’m Henry, Lillie’s dad.”
His grin was like a broken fence. So many missing teeth. “This is my mom.” He pointed over his shoulder.
“Nice to meet you,” I smiled.
“You too. I’m Margaret, Perry’s mom. I love Lillie’s red hair!”
Lillie rolled her eyes. “Oh, thanks. Perry’s a sweet fellow. He always smiles when we see him on the bus.” Margaret Perry’s Mom patted her son’s head. Henry Lillie’s Dad chucked his daughter’s chin. Such are the rituals of greeting when your primary identification is as a child’s parent.
“Shall we . . . ?” I said, indicating the chairs.
“Oh yes,” Margaret Perry’s Mom said. “What are we reading about today? Oh frogs! I love frogs!”
“Frogs lay eggs,” Perry said.
“Thousands of eggs, to make tadpoles,” Lillie added.
“Well, let’s learn about frogs then!” I said. We sat by our children as they debated which book they wanted to read. Lillie agreed to Perry’s choice and let him read first.
“What do you . . . know about frogs?” Perry began. “Did you . . . know that frogs begin life under water?”
My eyes followed Perry’s fingers across the page. I was interrupted by Lillie’s tapping on my elbow.
“Dad? Dad?” she whispered.
“Shh, honey, we’re listening now.”
“But look, over there.”
She pointed across the room.
“Where am I looking?” I asked.
“Over there, that’s Sara.”
“Okay honey, but we are reading now.”
“No look, there’s Sara’s mom,” she smiled. “Now’s your chance.” Lillie is determined to fix me up with Sara’s mom, a woman I’ve never met.
“Shh, sugar, let’s read about frogs now.” I looked back at the page. Lillie’s eyes followed mine.
“The tadpole is growing up.” Perry read. “It will soon loss its tail.”
“Lose, honey,” his mom corrected.
“Lose its tail.”
I stole a glimpse at Sara’s mom.
Lillie read about frogs and the book was finished. I kissed her on the head. “Good reading, sweetheart. I need to go visit Collie now.”
“No, go meet Sara’s mom! It’s now or never!”
“Another time, baby. Nice to meet you Perry, Margaret.”
“You too, Henry,” Margaret Perry’s Mom smiled.
I walked upstairs and found Collie on his way to collect me. “Perfect timing, son.”
“Yeah, come with me.” He took my hand. “We’re reading poetry anthologies.”
“Yes, but you can’t read mine. I wrote a poem about you.”
“What? Oh, then I have to read it!”
He giggled. “No, it will make you mad and you will hate me.”
“I already hate you. Come on, let me read it.”
“Okay, you can read it.” He led me into his classroom. His bearing stiffened to the formality he affects when he is feeling silly. “Now, be quiet.”
He led me to his desk. A group of boys huddled nearby. “Dad, this is Harry, this is Jeremy, this is William. And this,” he picked up a book, “This is my poetry anthology.” He handed me a book of loose pages stapled between sheets of green construction paper. It was titled, “My Poems About Family and Friends, By Collie.”
“Oh, okay, thank you. Nice to meet you boys, but I think I need to do a little reading now.”
“Okay,” Harry grinned. Collie giggled. I sat in Collie’s chair and turned the cover. It opened with a poem about my ex wife’s mother.
All I wanted
Was a nice Christmas vacation
But no, you had to ruin it.
I try to help
But you yell at me
When I do something wrong.
Everyone who knows you
Are not the kind of grandmother
Who bakes cookies
Or kisses you good night.
“Well,” I said. “You are certainly, um, an honest writer.”
There was a poem about his mother’s cat.
You are a gray cat
You play with my sister
But you scratch me when I pass you on the stairs.
But then you curl with me
When I am asleep
And I don’t feel lonely
I don’t know
If I like you
“Oh, you and that cat!” I grinned.
There were several more poems, some having to do with kids in his neighborhood, some having to do with kids in school. None concerning his mother or siblings.
I came to the last page. Collie looked on nervously.
One of Dad’s friends came over
It made me sad
All of Dad’s friends are women
We are split up
I do not want him to love a women
I guess (sigh) that is a problem
For divorced kids.
I looked at Collie.
“I do have a lot of female friends, don’t I?” He shrugged.
It’s true. In part, this has to do with the field in which I work; in part, it may be personal preference, or perhaps just a twist of fate.
I pulled him close. “I will never be mad at you for feeling what you feel, or for writing what you feel.”
“I know, Daddy.”
“We’re a family, baby. I love you, and that’s not changing.”
He shrugged in my arms. “I know.”
I lowered my voice to a whisper. “And you are still my favorite.”