Friday, May 10, 2013

the dark knight rises...again

Nicholas' 4th and 5th grade class is just finishing up Spirit Week.

As the 5th graders, they are weeks away from officially becoming middle schoolers, at which point they will leave the small and cozy building in which they have been housed, surrounded by teachers who have known many of them since they were in preschool.  His preschool and kindergarten teachers often stop me as I enter school, to tell me a funny story about something this growing boy has done while they were near, commenting on how tall, how mature he is, and yet how much he is still like the little version of himself that they knew.  The continuity of his being surrounded by grownups who really truly know him has been so comforting to me.  So this change to a new building with a whole new cast of characters?  Scary to me...and yet Nicholas is constantly showing us how ready he is for it, too.

Spirit week comes at such a perfect time in the school year.  Right near the end, after most of the behavioral kinks have been worked out and relationships have been solidified and also close enough to the end of the year that teachers can let go a bit of the rules and structure.  The students vote on a theme for each of the five days of Spirit Week, and the kids come to school in costumes inspired by the day's theme.  The younger kids of the crew, the 4th graders, seem to take the more subtle approach, especially the boys, coming with accessories tucked in their backpacks, a shirt under their track jacket that works with the theme, furtively glancing around the space as they linger at their cubbies, checking out what others are wearing before they shed their outer layers.  Nicholas did this last year, opting out several days and going for understated on the others.

But this year has been a totally different story for Nicholas, that of all-out spiritedness.  Our dress up trunk has been serving as an end table on the screen porch for a while now...and it has not seen this much activity for some time.


Monday was Animal Day. During an already late and chaotic Monday morning breakfast, Nicholas, having forgotten to mention the start date of Spirit Week to us or to think through a costume, threw together a gorilla costume, complete with a mask and a tail.

Gorillas don't have tails, said resident zookeeper Elliott, mid pancake bite.

A quick run to the second floor for one of our animal books with pictures proved that Elliott was, of course, correct.

You could be a monkey, Julia offered while swiping with a napkin at the maple syrup in her hair.

Apparently monkeys aren't 5th grade cool.  Off came the tail.  And in came the gorilla's pretend banana from the front hall play kitchen, fruit that had not been played with for several months.

Tuesday was Wacky Day.  His clown costume from this past Halloween and some very unique clothing from the back of Jonathan's closet provided a quite endearing combination.

Wednesday was Colors Day.  He wore all black and climbed into bed with me early that morning for a chat.  Ninja style.

Thursday, Character Day, was my favorite. At pickup after school it looked like all of his friends were wearing their Halloween costumes from several years ago, and in some cases many years before...costumes that were, if you had asked them in October, much too little kid-ish to don, but now were being strutted about in the spring sunshine. I saw storm troopers, Pippi Longstocking, Hogwarts students and one hilarious Nicki Minaj.

In preparation for Thursday, having learned from past mistakes on Day 4, Nicholas headed back to the dress-up trunk and returned as Batman. Mask and handmade cape. I smiled at this cape. I made it for him when he was in preschool. Back when he was afraid of...well, really everything. And had, through a more sophisticated friend, who had way more access to media than Nicholas did, been introduced to the world of superheroes. I was annoyed at the time given our careful and intentional nonexposure to TV, commercialism, and violence in "children's" programming. But soon Nicholas was as well versed in Star Wars trivia and Marvel comic characters as he was in children's book illustrators and obscure bird calls. They must have been having classes on such things under the playground at recess for all the content he absorbed.

I did not need my psychology degree to see how powerful it was for him to pretend to be these characters.  His was a morbid fascination in his younger years, the play both terrified and thrilled him.  So fun...and then...so scary.  In efforts to allow this fascination with the strong, fearless, and powerful heroes that my sensitive and naive boy was so very drawn to, I did my best to get behind his desire to be Batman when he was four for Halloween.  By crafting the Dark Knight and making it as darn cute as possible. His cape was made from a kit intended to be sewn into a pillow with the bat sign already dyed into it and a wide black ribbon tied at the neck.  His mask was not the intense store bought one that he now has, courtesy of one of Jonathan's students, but rather, a homemade felt one, again, tied behind his sweet head with ribbon.  Give me a break here, it was 2005. I had an 18 month old and had just moved to Maine. Times were hard. It was the year of felted costumes. I glued black felt circles to a red fleece and called it a ladybug costume for Julia, too. I went to Nicholas' school party as an apple tree, red felt circles glued to my green sweater. Awesome.

Back in the land of Spirit Week, Friday was pajama day.  Despite our minor disagreement about whether it was appropriate to roll out of bed and show up in the pjs he had worn all night and without brushing his teeth or running a brush through his spikey hair (why do their bodies stage a mutiny and get stinky before their minds have developed an appreciation for hygiene and cleanliness??) he arrived in the kitchen in fresh pjs while I was throwing breakfast at the table...  I chastized him for not being dressed yet.  He looked at me and gave me his best teenager sass.  I am!  It's pajama day Mom!  Right.  Even my brain is getting wrinkles.

I am finding it funny. All this play in the midst of Nicholas and his friends saying goodbye to elementary school and wrapping their minds around middle school.  This return to the dress up bin.  The lack of self consciousness about it.  The fun they are having, caught somewhere between their little and growing up selves.  This week gifted them with being silly and regressing a bit, with the assuredness that their relatively few years grant them.  I like these young people, their very little selves still obvious in their gangly growing bodies.


2005


2013

And though this is a Nicholas moment, as I dug through old pictures to find the one of him at age 4, I can't help wondering what my little ladybug back then will be for Character Day when she is 11.  She was delicious back then.  Her eyes often focused on big brother Batman, something hard to capture well in pictures especially since those eyes were frequently closed, and yet so quietly strong and fierce.


2005

I asked Nicholas at breakfast this morning how he felt about me writing this.  He said "Sure!  Just make sure you include pictures."  Well.  There you have it.

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