The die is cast.
Roughly 48 hours from now, my son will board a school bus and head to his first day of kindergarten. That means that whatever preparation for kid-dom and formal schooling my wife and I were going to do is now complete. He seems really bright, but naturally, part of me wonders whether I think that because he’s my kid. For all I know, his 17 new classmates can all perform basic calculus. Either way, we’re at the gates, and, as the Violent Femmes once crooned, “I hope you know that this will go down on your permanent record.”
Which brings me to the point of this week’s column. According to author Robert Fulghum, my son is about to learn all he really needs to know. You know, because he wrote a book called All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten (named for the first of many essays that comprise the book), first published in 1986. As I recall, it was a colossal bestseller, a journey that began when, as he describes it, his famous kindergarten essay made its way into the backpack of a kid whose mother was a literary agent.
I first read this book when I was about 16, back when I was still hammering out my special brand of cynicism and I was 15 years away from having kids, closer, actually, to being a kindergartner than having one. It seemed awfully sappy at the time, written by an aw-shucks kind of guy that you’d want to smack around a little if you ended up sitting next to him on an airplane. Still, It’s one of those books you read and end up liking largely because it’s pretty soothing and you think, “man, I wish my life was this peaceful and easy.” I bet Fulghum wears sweaters and has a beard and lives in a house with a woodstove.
Personally, I have very little recollection of kindergarten. I vividly remember my first day of first grade and the fact that I spent much of the following nine months in the corner for running my mouth too much. My memories of kindergarten, on the other hand, are an amorphous stew, many of which I may well have imagined.
Now that I’m about to dispatch my offspring to his kindergarten, I find myself thinking about that book again. Do you, in fact, learn all you really need to know in kindergarten? If so, I’m not going to be happy because that means I could’ve saved myself about $80,000 in law school tuition. So let’s take a look at each of the lessons and find out if I could’ve ceased my formal education in 1978.
I’m guessing he probably didn’t mean needles. Now that I think about it, there’s a whole bunch of stuff you don’t want to share. In fact, the list of things you don’t want to share is probably longer than the list of things you do. This one probably needs a little more in-depth study than what you’re likely to accomplish before you turn six.
Don’t hit people.
Unless they make fun of you because you’re short. Then you have to do something to save your street cred. Otherwise, elementary school is going to be a long haul. If I ever go to prison, I’m going to try to beat the crap out of someone the first night.
Put things back where you found them.
Especially if it’s a troubling bit of information about someone you (thought you) knew pretty well. There are so many things I wish I could un-hear or un-see. Being an adult sucks sometimes.
Clean up your own mess.
And make sure you have the rights to the oil underneath 56 other rigs, so it doesn’t sting too badly when you have to pay $8 billion to clean one of them up after it explodes in the Gulf.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Basically, this rule applies to you and it always will. However, in certain circumstances, this rule doesn’t apply to everyone. Here is a list of exceptions, not intended to be exhaustive.
Internal Revenue Service
The Tea Party
First your sadness, then your judgment
Every last effing thing
Say sorry when you hurt somebody.
Unless you’re a police sharpshooter. Then I guess it’s OK. It must be a hell of a thing to blow out the back of someone’s head for a living. Just think. All those snipers were kindergartners once, too.
Wash your hands before you eat.
First though, make sure there are clean paper towels. Use one of them to turn off the water. Second, use another paper towel to open the door before leaving the bathroom. Don’t even think about touching the trashcan … on second thought, screw it. Use the sanitizer in Mom’s purse back at the table.
And then run like hell, because when you’re five, you’re pretty sure one of two things is going to happen: either the toilet is going to overflow, or you’re going to be sucked down into a swirling vortex of poop.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Just make sure you bake the cookies all the way so you don’t get salmonella poisoning from the eggs. And milk is delicious, as long as you’re OK with the growth hormone added to it, triggering puberty in your kids at the age of seven. And don’t eat too many, because you’ll become the “1” in the 1-in-3 American children who's obese and become a staggering drain on the health care system for the rest of your natural life.
That said, I could go for a cookie right now.
Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
Some call it balanced. Others call it a psychotic break. You say tomato. I say to-mah-to. Better get the drawing and painting and dancing out of the way now, because unless you’re really effing good at these activities, doing them past the age of, say, nine, is going to cause people to think their is something (I got you again, you grammar ninjas!) wrong with you.
Take a nap every afternoon.
I was initially going to write: Like I have a choice in the matter. However, I sit under an air-conditioning vent at work that keeps the temperature at a comfortable 48 degrees. I’m afraid that if I fall asleep, I’ll freeze to death like I was trapped in a storm on Mount Everest and just wanted to lie down and rest for a minute.
As for your basic kindergartner, I’m pretty sure you’ve lost them at this point. Given the choice between taking a nap and having all his toys vaporized in the incinerator from Toy Story 3, my son would have to think about it.
When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.
In this post-9/11 world, you pull a stunt like this in Times Square, and you and your fellow hand-holders are going to be shot dead by an undercover CIA agent, who will later claim that he thought you were a group of suicide bombers.
Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
Nobody really knows how or why? Come on, Bobby! I’m pretty sure we had scientists and everything that figured this stuff out by 1986! Hell, by then, we’d put men on the moon! It’s this kind of attitude that keeps the U.S. ranked so low in science education.
Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
Great, thanks, Bob. Wanna come over and tell my kids about Santa Claus, too? Jerk.
This reminds me of a joke Dennis Miller told many years ago. It went something like this: little boy and his mother are doing bedtime prayers, and they recite, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake…” Kid looks up, terrified: “IF I SHOULD DIE BEFORE I WAKE? Mom. Get cable. I’m up.”
The goldfish, hamsters and white mice are pretty pissed, too.
And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.
Wait a minute. EL. OH. OH. KAY. That’s four letters. I know a bunch of words bigger than that! Like sarcasm. Or cynicism.
So there you have it. A bunch of rules that your basic kindergartner would stop listening to after about three seconds.
Really, all he needs to know is this. And he will never believe me, until it’s much too late.
It doesn’t get much better than kindergarten.
(And if there happens to be a bully on the bus, kick his ass the first week. You’ll be a folk hero).