No report from son on report cards

April 25, 2005|By KEVIN COWHERD

I FIND the 13-year-old in the kitchen, moments after he's returned home from another grueling day in pursuit of academic excellence.

He is eating a sandwich the size of a three-story building and watching ESPN and seems relatively content.

I know how to fix that.

"How was school today?" I say.

"Fine," he says.

"Anything interesting happen?

"No."

As usual, there is no further elaboration.

After that, there is only the sound of him chewing and the ESPN guy screaming about a home run somebody hit off somebody else.

So we're off to a good start, conversation-wise.

"As I understand it, here's the way your day goes," I say. "You get to school around 7:45. Nothing happens.

"Then you stay there while nothing happens for the next seven hours. Then you go home. Is that pretty much it?"

The kid smiles and keeps chewing.

On ESPN, they're showing another home run going over a fence, then another player trotting around the bases.

But who cares what's on ESPN?

The dialogue here is going so well, we can't stop now.

So now, with the food sedating him, I figure it's time to ask my favorite school-related question of all time.

In all the years that I've asked the boy this question, not once has he ever known the answer.

I used to ask the same question of my older kids when they were in school, and they never knew the answer, either.

But so what?

It's a new day.

Let's roll the dice.

Let's see where fate takes us.

"When do report cards come out?" I say.

The boy shrugs.

He shakes his head. He chews thoughtfully for several seconds.

"I don't know," he says finally.

Perfect.

"We're on a roll here," I tell him. "Do you feel it, too? The give-and-take of information. The sharing of feelings. People talk about not communicating with their kids. But you and me, we've got it going."

The boy keeps eating and watching the home runs fly out of the various ballparks, the ESPN announcer growing ever more hysterical.

The sandwich has almost been devoured. Which means I'm running out of time.

When the food supply runs out, all of this will be over, this breezy exchange, the shared emotions of these precious minutes spent together.

"How're you doing in your classes?" I say.

"I don't know," the kid says.

"How could you not know?" I say. "Look, it shouldn't be that hard to figure out. If you get a lot of papers and tests back with C's and D's marked on them, odds are you're not doing too well.

"If the teacher scowls at you a lot and keeps telling you to be quiet and seems perpetually irritated by your presence, you're probably not doing too well.

"On the other hand, if you're getting A's and B's and the teacher seems to like you, you're probably doing well. Am I right?"

The kid looks up from the TV.

He stuffs a pickle the size of a boat oar in his mouth.

"Right," he says.

"OK," I say. "Let's start with English. How're you doing in English?"

"Hard to tell," the kids says.

"All right, forget English," I say. "English can be subjective. You turn a paper in, you think it sings, you think it's Hemingway, the teacher thinks it's junk.

"That can happen. What about science? How're you doing in that?"

"Um, not sure," he says.

"Guess there's no point in bringing up American history," I say.

"Watch this home run," the boy says, pointing at the TV. "He crushed it."

The sandwich is gone now, and therefore so is this magic moment.

The boy stands and puts his plate in the sink and moves toward the stairs.

"I'm glad we had this little talk," I say. "We should do this more often."

According to a teacher friend of mine, report cards come out today.

But that's sort of anti-climactic, after you've been briefed as well as I have.

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