The Worst Kindergarten Homework Assignment Ever

"Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
"Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Photos by Jef Rouner

To those of you without kids, this may come as a shock to you but yes, there is homework in kindergarten. It's really minor stuff, of course, and in my daughter's case she has all week to do it. I'm talking parent-led reading of extremely simple books with key sight words and basic pattern recognition. My family doesn't usually stress about it.

Until last week when the simple request sent home by the school resulted in so much melodrama that I became convinced the Alley Theatre's entire 66-year history had assumed condensed human form and switched places with the Kid With One F as she slept. Dear God and everything Yo Gabba Gabba what monster was I in a past life to reap such grape juice of wrath?

The lesson being taught was about the seasons, a mostly academic matter in Houston because we don't have seasons. Instead we have semi-predictable cyclical condition tantrums that are clearly the work of some forgotten swamp god we should all really start trying to appease with bacchanals. Discussing winter with my daughter's class turned to hibernation, the torpor state some animals use to survive the winter.

To illustrate this each child was supposed to bring a single stuffed animal from home that would "sleep" in a "cave" and come out in March (they said "spring", but see previous paragraph). Preferably a bear or other animal that hibernates but they weren't picky.

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Now, my daughter has a mountain of stuffed animals that is literally taller than I am. There has been a standing moratorium to the various grandparents and relatives for three straight years that any stuffed animal gift will be tossed in the donation bin the second I can get it out of sight. That may sound cruel, but I have this terrible recurring nightmare where I die suffocated by the horde of snuggle friends falling over on me and I'm not allowed to ascend to the afterlife until I pen my own obituary for this blog.

So with that bounty of soft, huggable goodness to choose from, surely finding a single stuffed animal that could go on assignment would be easy, right? Hell, she probably doesn't even remember all the different toys in the pile.

Yeah, that's not what happened.

Monday -- remember, we get a week to do this -- my wife and I sat down with her and explained the assignment. At first there was much enthusiasm because she's a precocious five-year-old who loves animals. When told to go take a friend from the pile for the school to borrow, she literally ran to do so, selecting a small rainbow-colored bear that usually goes by the name Rainbow Bear.

I took the toy from her and asked, "So you want Rainbow Bear to go to school with you and sleep in the cave?"

She nodded and said, "Let me just give him one last hug."

I allowed this, and within seconds of doing so, her little blue eyes filled up with tears. It wasn't attention crying. She didn't make any noise and seemed like she was actively trying to hide her face in Rainbow Bear. After a bit, I asked her what was wrong.

"I'm just going to miss him so much," she said. Now keep in mind that she literally hasn't touched this particular stuffed animal in months. But fine, okay, whatever. We'll just pick another, right?

This story continues on the next page. 

Pictured: an animal that refuses to sleep for the winter and another that refuses to sleep period
Pictured: an animal that refuses to sleep for the winter and another that refuses to sleep period

To say that this suggestion was met with calm, sober acceptance would be a crime against truth so vile it would make a dictionary come to sentient life and consume my typing fingers. The merest thought that any beloved friend from the, again, massive pile of nameless plush would be sent to temporary exile was emotionally scarring. So in the end we tabled the matter, chalking it up to tiredness or hunger or just in general five-years-oldedness.

We had all week, right?

Tuesday rolls around and I empty the entire stuffed animal toy chest to find someone down in the Ninth Circle of this Hells R' Us who would hopefully be stranger to her enough to allow it to live at school for a month. No dice. You'd think that a child so young she still forgets which holes in her panties her legs are supposed to go through wouldn't have a firm memory of a small stuffed puppy in a jean jacket she hasn't slept with since Obama was debating Romney, but you would be wrong. Every single damned cuddle friend was too much to bear the thought of temporary separation. It was like Sophie's Choice being Ctrl+Ved over and over and over again.

And so it was on Wednesday and Thursday. I like to think of myself as a kind man who is receptive to the small hurts of children, but four straight days of arguing over which of the hundred teddy bears can be borrowed for a month will shrink and blacken your heart like a strawberry in a microwave. I couldn't have become more unconcerned with the feelings of her stuffed animals if they had suddenly started speaking in men's rights talking points. I tried my final gambit. Holding up a small bear only five inches high who was so unremarkable my daughter had never even bothered to name him, I said...

"This bear will go on an adventure now. He will come back with his true name and many tales of bravery and skill. He will defend your school and all your friends from foes within and without, and you will love him for it. Now say good-bye."

Still crying, she squeezed the little bear quickly and spent the rest of the night weeping in her room until bedtime. I slipped the bear in her backpack and counted backwards slowly from 100.

The next day I picked her up from school and asked her how the handoff with the bear went. Was she sad? Did she cry? Did she want to talk about it?

"Oh yeah, she said. "I forgot we did that today. It was fine."

I won't tell you what I muttered under my breath, but it rhymes with "clucking bell."

Jef has a new story, a tale of mad robot nurses and a man of miracles called "Sleepers, Wake!" available now. You can also connect with him on Facebook.


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