“The Winter is forbidden ’til December,
And exits March the 2nd, on the dot!”
So there I was, in my silk-lined yellow corduroy smoking jacket and red-and-yellow checked jester hat, with my jester balls bouncing for emphasis, reading to a gaggle of wide-eyed 3rd graders, when I wondered: “How did I get here?”
March the 2nd, you see, is a great date. Not only is it the date, the dot upon which Winter exits Camelot, it is also, as you are most probably aware, the birthday of Dr. Seuss. (Why is it that the two greatest children’s poets who ever lived had pen names? Charles Dodgson and Theodor Geisel. I’m thinking I need a good nom de plume.)
So in honor of the father of the Cat in the Hat’s birthday, the Reigning Queen of Pink asked if I would come to school this morning and read a Dr. Seuss book to her and her classmates, as was being requested of all the parents. How could I refuse? I was raised on One, Two, Red, and Blue Fishes, and most memorably, Fox in Sox. (FOBUMD can still get his tongue around a muddle puddle tweetle poodle beetle noodle bottle paddle battle, which is of course what it’s called when tweetle beetles fight these battles in a bottle with their paddles and the bottle’s on a poodle and the poodle’s eating noodles. But you knew that.)
So on with the silk-lined yellow corduroy smoking jacket and on with the red-and-yellow checked jester hat and off, with my battered old copy of Yertle the Turtle and the Reigning Queen of Pink, to school we went.
Signing in at the office, I was greeted with “I dare you to go to your office like that.” Since I work on an Army post, I politely demurred. One of the school’s many saints, who has worked with both Number One Son and the RQoP, came around a corner, took one look at me and said, “I should have known.” I think it was the bouncing balls around my head that did it, but it could have been that Hugh Hefner aura I was projecting with the smoking jacket. You never know. I was also greeted warmly by the wonderful PTA President, who luckily did not have her camera.
Once signed in, I with the other parents milled about while waiting to enter the cafeteria, which is of course the official waiting spot – but we needed to wait before waiting since there were still a few dozen little darlings coming out of the cafeteria, having finished waiting for classes to start. Three of these little darlings, on their egress from the cafeteria, walked straight up to me, like the crew of Stand By Me confronting their fears, except shorter, and they were girls.
Girl 1: “Who are you?”
BUMD: “Well, I don’t know yet. I’m here to read this book.”
Girl 2: “You don’t know who you are?”
BUMD: “Well, it’s hard to be certain.”
Girl 1: “You’re Yertle the Turtle?”
BUMD: “I could be. I’m not sure; I haven’t read the book yet.”
Girl 3: “Are you a turtle?”
Damnit. I didn’t see that coming, and I can’t answer this 7-year-old properly. First, I don’t know her parents, and I would need to apologize for contributing to her corruption. Second, it would be just generally inappropriate. And third, the PTA President and a school staffer were standing right next to me.
Mind you, these are all reasons that I should answer her, also. Because there is only one answer to that question: You bet your sweet ass I am.
Thinking quickly on my feet, I replied, “I’m not at liberty to say right now.” Still, I felt the shame. Look me up in 15 years, kid – I owe you a beer. (I then checked with the PTA President and school staffer; luckily, they weren’t turtles, or I would have owed them a beer also.) The girls must have sensed my discomfiture, because they vanished shortly afterward – whereupon we made our way into the cafeteria for some serious, adult waiting.
After hanging out in the cafeteria for a while, trying to avoid eye contact with other parents who probably thought *they* would make better readers, we were dismissed to our respective classrooms. In mine, I found that 8 other parents had arrived to read to their respective children – a ratio of 9 readers to 23 little listeners, or as I like to think of it, 9 mouths to 46 ears. Hardly seems fair, does it? The teacher – another saint who remembers Number One Son – suggested we break into groups of our own kid and one or two others, and find a spot and read. The RQoP hauled me to the center of the room and was looking for a place to sit and a friend to grab in the milling crowd, when I noticed a gaggle of five boys in a huddle, with no parent, asking said teacher what they should do. She told them to find a parent group, and I looked at the obvious ringleader and said, “Hey, I’m a parent group!”
This little punk took one look at my hat and said, “Oh, yeah!!!” You could hear the exclamation points. I was touched.
And so the RQoP and the five lost boys and I moved to the back, and I rolled through Yertle the Turtle. On page one, I noticed they were squirming more than I would have expected. On page two, this continued. By page three, I realized that I was completely out of practice reading this sort of thing to this sort of audience – I had been holding the book in front of me. As soon as I switched hands and moved the book so that they could all see the pictures, I had them. We got through Yertle, Gertrude McFee, and The Big Brag, and with 5 minutes to spare in our allotted time the ringleader asked if I could read his book – The Twenty Little Piggies. I considered explaining that I was only there for the Seuss, but I had a flashback to the movie Stand By Me and decided to just read it – Gordie might be packing, you never know. The piggies book didn’t suck, but it’s not Dr. Seuss. Besides, I was rooting for the wolf – you know how I love a good pulled pig.
Once our half hour was up and all the piggies were accounted for, the boys decided that my balls looked like cat toys and began batting at them. That the RQoP aided and abetted them in this endeavor did not help matters. I made my escape with my book, my hat, and my sacred honor, leaving the lost boys to their lost boy games, and to their teacher.
At least we know winter is over in Camelot. Plus, happy birthday to Dr. Seuss!