Not too far back in the day, I wrote a blog for Good Housekeeping.com about parenting tweens. Here’s one of the best-loved entries that made my sister-in-law laugh out loud until she nearly got in trouble at work. Enjoy:
Look, I managed to get the drawings of the attack monkeys and the soccer moms in bullet-proof dresses off the chalkboard before we left. I think… Isn’t that enough? No. No, it’s not. If it was enough, the principal wouldn’t be sending out a letter to some 500 families today. And I wouldn’t feel like hiding.
Please understand that there were eight of them and one of me. Sure, I knew that going in. I knew it when I agreed to fill in for my son’s Cub Scouts den leader, who had to work that day. But I figured that I’d wrangled more kids than that several times a week as a soccer coach last fall, so I thought, How hard could it be to run one hour-long meeting in a classroom at school?
But that was before the Monkey Wars began.
My bright idea was to run a writing workshop, like the one I’d so successfully pulled off in my son’s fifth grade class last month. But that one was during school hours under the watchful eye of a seasoned teacher. This was nothing like that.
A few minutes into my examples of engaging first sentences, which I read aloud from this very blog, I realized I’d have to abandon my plan. After six hours of sitting and behaving under the watchful eyes of seasoned teachers, these boys didn’t want any more sitting and behaving.
“How come that mermaid has such a big butt?” one kid asked, pointing to the drawing that represented the letter M in an alphabet poster on the classroom wall. And then he proceeded to get out of his chair and sing, “I Like Big Butts,” advising me that it’s from “Shrek.”
“Actually, it’s called ‘Baby Got Back’ and it’s a very old rap song,” I corrected him — until I realized the absurdity of the entire exchange, and told him to sit down. I looked at the clock: I had 55 minutes to go.
I grabbed one of the photos I’d printed out from the Internet and passed it around.
“We’re going to write a story together,” I said. “Here’s your writing prompt.” They looked at the photo of a broken windshield, and suddenly, the Monkey Wars were born. Or, more specifically, “Monkey Wars I: Attack of the Soccer Moms.”
It’s still not clear to me who was the antagonist and who the protagonist in the boys’ action-packed story: the gun-toting monkeys or the spiked heels-flinging soccer moms. No matter who was shooting, I wouldn’t let the Cub Scouts kill anyone off. For the record: no moms were harmed in the making of this story. Well, none except for me.
Soon, the boys were shouting out their ideas for moving the story along.
“The moms’ mini-vans are transformers!” one boy shouted.
“They fire soccer balls back at the monkeys!” another added.
“Let’s get the mermaid with the big butt in the story!” my little rapper offered.
My older son, whom I’d dragged along to the meeting under duress, jumped up from his seat and began to draw on the chalkboard what the boys were shouting. Soon, it was filled with depictions of monkeys on banana-mobiles, ice cream-shooting, brain freeze-inducing bazookas, a prehistoric flying lizard and the words, “Eat my heels, Monkey Breath!”
I wrote it all down, prayed there were no teachers were in the adjoining rooms and made a mental note to make sure we erased it all before we left.
As the boys continued writing their story, I confiscated one cell phone and discouraged any more fart noises, but overall, the boys were having fun. Just as important, they were writing – even the kid who reportedly hates to write.
I looked at the clock: I had 15 minutes left! I declared it snack-time, and the boys calmed down, sat down and ate the chips and juice I’d brought in. Organic corn chips with no nuts or wheat, I might add.
While they finished up their snack, I let them write a story about the mermaid with the big butt, and soon, it was time to go. I cleared off the desks the best I could, but the boys were starting to spill out of the classroom like puppies escaping from the pound.
“Wait!” I shouted. “I need to make sure your parents pick you up! I’m responsible for you!” I shoved the draft for “Monkey Wars” into my bag and followed the kids outside, relieved to pass them along to their mothers. I could hear them animatedly retelling the story they’d written together.
The next day, I got in trouble.
“Mrs. Singer,” the school secretary grabbed my attention when I arrived to pick up my boys. “Were you in the Guided Study room yesterday afternoon?” I thought about the monkeys and the soccer moms with bazookas on the chalkboard, and held my breath.
“You’re not supposed to bring in snacks into the classrooms after school, because we have no way of overseeing allergies that way,” she admonished me. “The principal is sending out a letter to remind everyone in charge of after-school activities of this important rule.” I apologized and slinked away.
When my son came to the front office for pick-up, I whispered, “Please tell me you erased the monkeys yesterday.” He nodded reassuringly, and I let out my breath.
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