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Every year, for the last five, I’ve driven the short distance to the elementary school where Kara teaches kindergarten.  She likes me to come help prepare for the new year and I’m honored she asks.

I have a very important job.  I erase the names from last year’s students and write a new crop of names in their place, using my “best kindergarten” print.  I always have to relearn kindergarten print, because my own writing is a custom mix of cursive and print.  It helps that Kara has cheat sheets tacked on the wall.

Over and over and over I write, until I find my kindergarten groove, until my too small and illegible letters transform into nice tall letters that fit snug in solid and dashed lines.  By the time I’ve finished writing the list of names five or six times, I begin to wonder what the student’s faces look like, what kind of students they will be, whether they will have first day jitters or whether Kara will (from their being in her class.)

Today being my fifth take and all, I’d graduated to being left on my own, while Kara attended a teacher’s meeting.  I had planned to arrive by 8:20 but of course I was late.  I called — told her it would be more like 9:00  — but after stopping at Sonic for the required Vanilla Coke, I was running 15 minutes late on late.

It’s my fault I arrived to a dark silent room.  Tuning on the lights, I spotted the list on the table, right next to the teachers U-shaped desk.  Item one:  “Erase old names.  Write new names.” I looked around, saw the new class roster and the pile of names to shuffle.  Item Two:  “Add new names to Leader Caboose.” My eyes dart around looking for a train.  What’s a leader caboose?  Have I ever seen this?

It’s funny how the combination of not knowing the “right” answer and being in Kara’s classroom sent me back to my own first grade jitters of trying to guess what the teacher wanted.  I never ever knew.  First grade was an absolute Mystery.  The only thing I knew for sure was Mrs. Randall did not like me.

I picked up my journal to capture my experience.  As I write, in walks Kara.  “Hey, Mom.  I came in earlier but you weren’t here.  Thanks for coming.”

“Hey, what’s a leader caboose?” Kara points to the wall by the door.  There’s no train.  Just two vertical columns of nameless cards.  The cards keep track of turns for girl and boy leaders for each week’s kindergarten caboose — I’m guessng the student caboose travels between various school destinations — bathrooms —  music lessons —  recess — lunch.

With one mystery solved, I point to the other wall and ask Kara about her “Monster Of The Week” spot, recalling again my own first grade teacher’s dislike of me .  “Honey, I’m not sure whether your students will want to win this award.  Who wants to be the class monster?”

Kara laughed.  “Oh, it has nothing to do with the students being monsters.”

But back at home and way out of the kindergarten groove, I still haven’t a clue what monster-of-the-week is all about.  And now I’m beginning to wonder whether Mrs. Randall liked me after all.

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