The Other Side of the Desk
We visited Stone Mountain during our last vacation. One of the things they have there is a recreation of an Antebellum Plantation & Farmyard. We visited it, of course, and discovered an old one-room wooden schoolhouse. It had a teacher’s lecturn on one end facing rows of chairs. Up next to where the teacher stood was a double-sided desk – one that allowed for two children to sit facing each other.
C (our four year old) was fascinated. He wanted to know everything about everything. Since there weren’t any signs explaining things, we did our best. For example, the double-sided desk seemed like it would be a place where a teacher would place misbehaving students. It was away from the rest of the students, and easily reachable by a yard stick.
After we’d been around the whole room, C decided it was time to play pretend.
“I’m the teacher!” he announced, waving at his little brother. “You go sit there. You’re the student. You sit!”
It was too good a chance to pass up. I gestured to J, and we went and sat next to each other in the chairs. “We’re students too!” I said.
C was thrilled. He hopped back and forth from one foot to the other. “That’s right. That’s right. And you have to behave. You have to listen.”
We nodded obediently, and then, while he was watching, I poked J hard in the side of her belly. She let out a yelp. C’s mouth dropped open in surprise and he turned on me, “No! No poking!”
Before I go any further, I should explain that I spent most of my first 12 years of schooling trying to perfect a look of complete innocence. When I reached college, however, I encountered someone who’d been doing the exact same thing, but focussing on a look of complete confusion. He was truly gifted. He could sit in a lecture hall and look so befuddled that the teacher would literally stop mid-sentence and start backtracking. We spent the next four years working together, cultivating the most perfect expressions of innocent confusion that you could possibly imagine. It is a powerful weapon, but one that I haven’t had occasion to use very often over the past 15 or so years.
I used it now. “What? She poked me! I didn’t poke her.” I looked at J, clearly hurt by such a heinous accusation. “What are you talking about? I didn’t poke you. Why are you trying to get me in trouble?”
My poor son was completely befuddled. On the one hand, he’d actually seen me poke her. On the other hand, well, I really do have a talent for this. Even my wife looked hesitant and confused, and she was the one that I’d poked.
The little guy finally settled on giving a general command to both of us. “No more poking! Okay, No more poking! No more poking, or – ” his voice dropped to a very serious whisper – ”you’ll have to go to time out.”
Then he turned back to walk towards the teacher’s lecturn. Unfortunately, as soon as he turned around, I poked J again. She let out another outraged squawk and tried to retaliate – which was what C saw when he turned around. I cried out in indignant outrage “Hey! Stop poking me! No more poking!”
She denied it, of course, leaving the poor kid with quite a quandry. Neither one of us was going to fess up. After a few more minutes of us squabbling, he realized his problem. He stopped talking and looked at us. Then he looked at his brother sitting quietly (and very wide-eyed) in his own chair. Finally, he turned back to us. “Both of you! Both of you go to time-out!” He pointed to the double-sided desk.
“Awww….man!” I said, shuffling up to take a seat. J was trying hard not to laugh. She protested, but followed me up to the front of the class. We took our seats in the troublemakers’ chairs and he gave his pretend lecture to the rest of the class (meaning, his brother).
After a little while, he let us out of time-out. We walked back to our seats, but he stopped us before we could sit back down. “No! Not together. You can’t sit next to each other!”
Heh. Have I mentioned he’s a fast learner?