March is unusually warm this year in the northeast, drenching recent days in sunshine that has beckoned to the crocuses to come out and play. This has been fortuitous, as my new boss demands that we spend much of our time outdoors.
My new boss is seven years old. My nephew K. is in first grade and has spent his after-school hours during the past six months at a day care program in my sister’s town. Since the center she runs is over the town line, the district cannot bus him there. So when I told her of my plan to quit my job, about three seconds after she said, “Really?” she asked me if I wanted a part-time job.
Diesel Fumes Haven’t Changed
I try to arrive ten to fifteen minutes before the school bus as I’ve been ominously warned that if I’m not there the bus driver will not let K. get off. It’s a far cry from my elementary school days. Three decades ago, just as your parents threw you out of the house at dawn to go play, bus drivers just wanted you off their bus after 30 minutes of what can best be described as a Lord of the Flies atmosphere. I have no idea where K. will end up if I’m not there when the bus comes by, and I don’t intend to find out.
K. disembarks from the bus with the familiar clunk-clunk-clunk of kid feet on ridged rubber school bus stairs. We go in the house to unpack his backpack and change out of his school sneakers. By the third day I have him trained to wash his hands, too, before he touches anything. (HELLO, he’s been at school and on the school bus. Need I say more?)
He has a notebook that the teacher uses to communicate with his parents about how K. behaved that day and what activities he needs to prepare for tomorrow. A Five Penny day means that K. was good and did not “lose” any pennies due to sub-par behavior. He has apparently had four penny days when he’s been too loud doing his centers or talking too much. Based on the look on my sister’s face when I ask about this, I cross my fingers every day when I open that notebook. I don’t want him to lose any pennies, either…
Roaming the Neighborhood
Owing to a particularly cheerful Mother Nature, it’s been out and on the bike every day this week. Kids test boundaries, I’d heard. Let’s hope that if he tests any in the coming week, it won’t again lead to me heatedly questioning him in the street about what to do when a car is passing by. (I felt like the whole neighborhood was watching…judging…)
We visit the grassy cul-de-sac up the street and kick stones into a muddy depression, and do it again the following day as, I predicted, the stones were all out and scattered. K. then races his new bike around the circle a set number of times that I have to count aloud, and during his last lap I am a human timer counting down from a randomly selected number (his choice). I don’t need to renew my gym membership OR do brain-teasers to keep me sharp. I have K.
Roaming the Country
Bike riding is followed by a snack and map-reading. As K. eats his yogurt, I spread out on the table a map of the United States and K. has to search for a city that I name. Olympia, Akron, Des Moines (silent letters!), Boston, Rochester, Wasco (a smallish place in southern California) – we start by K. selecting a letter of the alphabet then I tell him a place name to search for starting with that letter. He gets hints such as direction (north, south, east, west), whether it’s near a lot of water (an ocean) or a little water (a lake), or if a cowboy or a fisherman might live there.
We round out the afternoon by Lego engineering, playing catch or K. throwing a tiny basketball into a tiny hoop in the basement. Spectating basketball is my least favorite, and K. is a jealous task-master if he catches me looking at my iPhone or my book instead of counting every two-pointer he throws leading up to 200 points.
Playing catch outside on Friday, I find my throwing arm to be somewhat rubbery following a rigorous Thursday session. After a couple exchanges, K. gets a funny expression and yells to me, “Aunt Terra, why are you throwing so…” – and yes, his voice actually trails off as he confusedly shakes his head waves his hands around. My throws are weak and not quite in his general direction. Okay, every part of my arm and even my side are KILLING ME! But he’s merciful, so we work on grounders where all I have to do is roll the ball.
I have a lot of ideas for crafts and nature walks, park and library visits, and more maps. Week One was fun and I’m looking forward to getting to do all the things that amuse a seven year old (and me). As my brother-in-law settles up, I tell him with a wink, “You know you’re paying me to play, right?”