Could I Have Flunked Kindergarten?

These reflections on Kindergarten graduation ceremonies have been published in the June 29 Sault Star.

I went to a kindergarten graduation, starring a couple of special grandkids, the other day and came home with mixed feelings.
No, my qualms weren’t because people in my age cohort are supposed to cut back on sugar and the kids’ graduation was about the sweetest thing anyone could imagine.

Getting down and dignified at the grad with William (Wilhelm) and his big brother Cameron, both bad influences on their grandfather.

I think my uneasiness arose because I can’t remember graduating from Kindergarten myself.
Now, you might suspect this is one of a gigantic pile of things, growing faster than a giant hogweed plant, that I have trouble remembering, afflicted as I am with oldtimer syndrome.
But those of us whose first item on every day’s To Do list should be “spend 20 minutes looking for To Do list” usually have no trouble recalling events from our distant childhoods.
We’ll come up with an idealized version of what really happened, because the passage of time acts like a game of broken telephone on the truth.
But those memories belong to us, so we should be allowed to take whatever liberties with them that we desire. After all, who wants to look back on a crappy childhood?
Still, since I can’t recall graduating from kindergarten, could it be that I didn’t?
Should I imagine myself in the lead role of a cheesy 1980s movie about a grown man forced to sit in a tiny desk for a year because his educational and employment credentials are invalidated by lack of a kindergarten diploma?
Will I finally have to learn to share my crayons?
I don’t think they ever expelled kids at the kindergarten level. But it’s certainly possible that I was invited not to return.
If I were a teacher assigned to teach the same grade next year, the last thing I’d do is recommend a trouble-maker repeat it.
And I dimly recall leading a sit-down strike against the inclusion of tomato juice as one of three daily beverage selections, not to mention a lie-down strike against compulsory napping.
So my teacher (only one and no assistants, in those days) probably fabricated as much evidence of solid progress as she needed to inflict me on her colleague in Grade 1.
Actually, I think the real reason I can’t remember kindergarten graduation is that there was no such thing in those long-ago times when dinosaurs roamed the Jurassic playground.
Instead of donning a mortar board and being handed a ribbon-bound diploma to the applause of faculty and family, we tremulous tots took home final report cards that told our parents if we had a seat in the Grade 1 come September.
Kindergarten was just another grade. We weren’t leaving the school. No fuss would be made until 10 or 11 or 12 years later when we graduated from Grade 8.
A part of me thinks making a big deal of kindergarten graduation is akin to giving every child a whole boxful of trophies just for existing.
In that validation movement, adults imagine there are no winners or losers, even though by Grade 3 or so every child knows exactly who won and who lost every competition of any sort. And anyone silly enough to swallow the everyone’s-a-winner bunk grows up grossly unprepared for the real world.
We had our own version of everyone-gets-a-trophy when I was a kid. It was no-one-gets-a-trophy.
You might win a city championship, a provincial championship, a national championship, but you wouldn’t get a trophy. Your team might get one, but they’d have to give it back after a year.
If you did really well and got really lucky you might get a cheap felt crest to be sewn onto your jacket. More likely you’d be handed a cheap felt chevron with “hockey” or “baseball” or “bowling” on it, to be sewn on to the sleeve of your jacket.
No one who placed second or worse ever got anything more than a hurried mention over the school PA system the next morning.
Kids who just couldn’t amass enough chevrons in real life joined the cubs, scouts, brownies or guides, where you could get a patch just by burning a few marshmallows.
Still, despite my curmudgeonly instincts, I sort of like the idea of a kindergarten graduation ceremony.
For most of the kids, it’s probably the first time they’ll appear on a stage before a large group of strangers. That’s good experience.
But not too much is expected of them: just hear their names called, walk a few steps to receive a diploma and return to their seats. And all of them equally share the limelight and whatever stage fright there might be.
All the kids have to do, really, is show up and not wet their pants.
There were “awwws” and guffaws from the adults as teachers recited what each child liked to do best at school and at home and what each wanted to do when his or her long educational journey is complete.
The police and fire services will have to go on a massive hiring binge a few decades from now if even half of those tots follow through on their occupational choices and their desire to help others.
But there will be dancers, Toronto Maple Leafs, a princess, a fairy, a mother and even (god help her) a writer as well, if kindergartener’s dreams come true.
For adults, the graduation ceremony is a welcome reminder of the innocence and idealism we all possessed when we were five or six.
The soon-to-be-Grade-One-ers might have glory in the present and look expectantly toward the future. But the adults in the crowd also have the pleasure of revisiting the past.


Robins Defy Darwin: Survival of the Stupid

Does this look like a robins’ nest to you? I didn’t think so. Good.

A version of this appeared May 29 in The Sault Star

It’s been said that growing up is the process of learning that things we were taught in our childhood are not true.

OK, as far as I know it’s just me who said that. 

And maybe I’m lying to you, just like your parents and your Grade 2 teacher. But I think there’s some truth to it.

Especially when I encounter a robin.

In my childhood the robin was exalted by many of the adults in my life.

The robin was declared to be the first bird of spring, so we kids would pay homage to that supposed harbinger by colouring in line-drawings of robins ripping gyrating worms from the newly thawed ground. Children fought over the red and orange Crayolas every April.

We were urged to sing along to When the Red, Red Robin (Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along), a bouncy ditty from the 1920s that became an earworm in the 1950s because of several pop pop poppin’ singers.

Our nursery rhyme books included some variation of this: “Little Robin red breast/ sitting on a pole/ nidde, noddle went his head/ and wag went his tail.”

(We were blissfully unaware that the crappy rhyme of “pole” and “tail” was due to adult censorship of this original last line: “And poop went his hole.”)

Later, Canadian folksinger Raffi tried to sell my children’s generation on the nobility of robins with his song Robin in the Rain, depicting a “saucy fellow” with “nimble feet” and a “long strong beak.”

Lies. All of it lies. Except for the poop part.

Raffi said his robin didn’t mind the rain. I say it was too stupid to come out of it.

Because robins are bloody ignorant avians.

Some bird species are reasonably smart, capable of avoiding predators and remembering where they hid seeds (except for the senior citizen birds, of course, who can’t even remember why they came to the birdfeeder).

Actually, scientists have spent a lot of time lately trying to prove birds are smarter than we give them credit for. One National Geographic article informs me they are celebrated as “feathered apes.”

But those scientists choose to study avian species such as crows and cockatoos; no one wants the frustration of trying to teach a robin to fly a maze.

Calling a robin “bird-brained” is like calling Donald Trump “boorish”: it insults all of those who could legitimately lay claim to those descriptors.

Robins I’ve encountered in my adult life have demonstrated their utter stupidity time and time again during nest-building season.

A pair of them are doing it right now.

They’re trying to build a nest atop my smart meter. Or rather, Algoma Power’s smart meter.

I’d have to say that very small metal shelf is an incredibly poor spot for a nest, especially when there is an upmarket subdivision of lovely trees just a stone’s throw away.

It’s also right beside my kitchen door. I don’t want to be dive-bombed by protective prospective parents when I’m bringing in the groceries. 

Besides, it costs me enough for electricity without another home tapping into my power.

So I have made it demonstrably clear that robin nests are not welcome atop that smart meter. I scrape off their twigs and grass and mud and their vomit and poop at least twice a day, like a Kevorkian for the birds. 

Then I shake my fist at the now-homeless redbreasts perched on my power line, whose songs are far more scolding than sweet.

I’ve removed more than a quart basket of nest-building supplies from that meter in the past week or so. If I took a day off from demolition duty I’m confident there’d be a substandard nest there and a couple of demented birds trying to smash into my head.

Location, location, location, robins.

But their nesting spot is a step up, or a few feet down, from their original even-stupider choice — the edge of the steel roof immediately above the smart meter.

When their sticks and grass and binding materials slid off and landed on the meter, I suspect it was a eureka moment in their tiny minds.

Every year robins try to build nests in idiotic places. Usually it’s atop the sentry lights on one peak of my house. My house is not zoned for an avian airport, so I push it or hose it down, again and again and again.

At a camp at which I used to spend summers, robins repeatedly built their nest on a waist-high window ledge of the outhouse. Apparently they were attracted by the stupidity of an outhouse with a waist-high window.

Each year children would thrill to having a window seat on nesting robins (it was a great incentive for toilet-training), then sob to see little blue eggshell pieces littering the ledge, leavings from some predator’s cheap buffet.

After bearing witness to robins’ procreational inadequacies for so much of my life, I can only wonder this:

If there really is a Darwin, why does the robin species still survive?