The kids arrived from school anxious and whiny. I make them a complex snack, per usual. Apple sauce warmed in the microwave. A scoop of vanilla ice cream. A scoop of organic peanut butter. Diluted and decaffeinated espresso.
Their teacher, Bonnie Timpano (with whom I had endured several excruciating 30-minute chats about looming disciplinary actions and explanations about the problems attendant to raising children in the wake of trauma, issued in tones that conveyed a kind of performative and slightly exhausted concern) had included in the backpack of the younger one -- Simon -- a note:
Dear Mr. Campanato, might you make some time to see me in the next few days to discuss Simon’s choices in the virtual learning environment (VLE) over the last few days? The results seem to suggest a need for adjustment to his DBM levels. It would be optimal if your wife was available to join, but I understand if you'll need to join me solo. Regards, BT.
I read the note in front of Simon and the older one -- Olivia -- and watched them slapping at each other playfully.
“Simon,” I said.
“Yeah dad,” he said.
“Simon, what is the deal, big man? You know how much I hate talking to your teacher."
He looked down at his peanut butter, swirling it with the apple sauce.
"And now, young man, given your behavior in the VLE, I have to go get dressed down by a person whose favorite sport seems to be insulting my parenting.”
“But dad! They were making us code virtual landscapes again," he whined. I really hate it when the kid whines. Then he went and added, "I just wanted to see mom."
Again. Olivia looked at him, expecting some kind of reaction. Who knows? The little jerk was totally playing me. They'd both gotten pretty crafty in the "take advantage o dad's empathy vis-a-vis missing mom" game. But I can't sort out my own cobwebs, most of the time, let alone deciphering what's going on in their little noggins. She's gone a lot, sure. And it's not like we haven't talked about it.
"So you diverted from the lesson, Simon? You know that you're not supposed to do that."
Olivia started laughing. “What a dummy. Of course he knows he's not supposed to do that!”
She was right, but name-calling is not currently allowed, chez Campanato, as a result of its having become a little too common in the mouth of one, Miss Olivia.
“Miss Olivia!" I said, "That will be twenty-five credits into the name-calling jar,” I said. Honestly, you can’t be too stern with these kids. I read that in one of the books that good old Bonnie gave to me during one of her instructional talks about how to manage the household.
“Now, Miss Olivia.”
Over to the jar she goes and puts her fingers on the screen. Our assistant, Dmitri, comes on and says with the appropriately modulated sarcasm, “Miss Olivia, have we been name-calling again?”
“She has been!” said Simon not without a level of glee.
“Simon!” I said. The kid needed to watch out or he’d be tagged for schadenfreude -- a double offense in our household at present.
“Upload twenty-five credits,” Olivia said. And Dmitri tsk tsked.
“Don’t you feel foolish, having to give up credits like that?” Dmitri said. Cyndi and I decided to turn up his snarkiness when she's out of town.
“Yes,” said Olivia, dejected.