A few weeks ago we had our first Parent-Teacher conference with Jack’s Kindergarten Teacher, the lovely and conveniently named Mrs. Rogers. Ahhh…Mrs. Rogers, I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you, I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you. If only I was 32 years younger I’d let you teach me a thing or two about phonetic awareness. So, at first I was relieved to learn from Mrs. Rogers that Jack has a strong recognition and application of rhyming words which to me indicated that he has inherited the M.C. Shadöe gene. However, it was while I was picturing Jack in an Adidas sweat suit and matching Kangol hat that she told us that when last tested there were certain letters that Jack had some difficulty recognizing. We were directed to the appropriate section of the assessment sheet and sure enough, under “Letters that your child does not recognize:” were the lost characters of Jack’s alphabet.
D, G, L, O, Q, T, V, and Z.
He didn’t know his ABC’s. Next time, no one would sing with him. For the rest of the conference I did what any concerned parent would do when informed that as an abecedarian their child is struggling; I panicked and constructed implausibly elaborate Seussian scenarios of how Jack would experience the world without these letters.
A World without silver a World without Gold, A world where no one grows Old so I’m Told. Imagine no Dogs, let alone ones with Dots, Imagine no Logs, or Christmas Tree Lots. No TV to turn on, and no prayers to God without those 8 letters the world would seem Odd.
Considering my irrational concern that Jack would go through life missing 25% of the alphabet, when he recently expressed interest in doing the crossword puzzle in the TV Guide I glommed onto it as a chance to work with him on his letter recognition. Since my crossword IQ (to Jack my I) lands squarely between braggartly completing the NY Times Sunday puzzle in pen and head-scratching my way through the one on the back of a Cheerios box, a request from Jack to tackle the monosyllabic cakewalk across from a review of Shrek the Halls was right in my wheelhouse.
Our method of crosswording is relatively simple. I’ll read an insultingly easy clue from the puzzle to Jack, for example, “12 Across Jack – Star Trek: Deep _____ Nine.” Resisting the urge to say Throat I continue, “…and the answer is Space.” In front of Jack is his spiral notebook opened to a blank page. With readied pencil in hand I’ll slowly spell the word for him and write it into the puzzle while he hunches over the page like a military wind talker deciphering Navajo code and painstakingly scribbles out each letter of the secret tactical message. Yet the way he lists each strategic coordinate on a separate line going down the page, his codebook takes on a palpable Beat Poetry meets Def Poetry Jam sense of purpose.
Snack time in Mrs. Roger’s class, Jack dims the lights and Ginsbergs himself on top of one of the tables. With his crossword notebook of cryptographic verse in hand he recites in a rhythmic cadenced delivery, “I call this one 5 Down and it’s about the subjugation of the Kindergarten Nation. “Are, All, Terri, Yes, Bens, Sean, Ave, Marcus, Circus, Apache, Desi, Bed, One, Con, See, Dog, Rag, Steele, One, Cow, Art.” After which he’ll fall silent while his classmates put down their juice boxes and snap in unison their approval of the poem.
Tonight though as we began to answer 43 Across “Cheney of The Wolf Man” over a big dish of beef chow mein from Le Ho Fook’s a trembling from the toy room shook the entire downstairs of the house; Adam had dug out the Buzz Lightyear Spaceship from the depths of one of the canvas storage boxes. This particular toy was buried beneath the many carcasses of other neglected toys for a reason. The three buttons on the hull of the ship activate eardrum rupturing sound effects such as a red shirt ensign exclaiming “Look Buzz, there’s an Alien!”, Buzz himself stating, “This is an Intergalactic Emergency!”, a tinny metallic theme song, and a vibrating effect that makes the floor in the toy room feel like the passenger seat of an El Camino riding a stretch of off ramp rumble strips.
While Jack pretended to eat the rest of his dinner I went to investigate the disturbance in the back room. What I had suspected was true, Adam was sitting in the middle of the rug with the Buzz Lightyear rocket fingering through the multicolored buttons and activating the trio of high decibel Space Ranger blares. Before I could make an attempt to retrieve the toy, Adam hit the button that queued up the Buzz Lightyear theme music then pushed himself up into a standing position and began dancing. Picture Joe Cocker in striped pajamas impersonating Axl Rose with a pinched nerve in his neck and you’ll be on your way to visualizing what Adam was doing. Rocking back and forth, his right arm raised in a demented I’m a Little Teapot manner, his head cocked and his legs pistoning up and down.
When the song ended he reached down and pushed the blue button on the hull and triggered the 6.7 Richter Scale vibration setting thus resulting in a replay of the manic dance this time though more of a spasmodic Mexican hat dance around the poorly subterfuged sex toy pulsating across the hardwood floor.
Jack sidled up next to me and watched Adam unchain his heart and get by with a little help from his friends and before I knew it Jack was dancing with Adam around the dirty little spaceship. Watching the two sweet children o’ mine it didn’t matter just then that Jack thought that it was “Bu i h year”that he was dancing to; we can always decipher more code tomorrow.
As for tonight, mommy and daddy will be taking the spaceship to bed with us and hopefully thinking about alternate answers to 12 across.