As Bud and I walked down the hallway toward his classroom this morning, I heard a small voice ring out from behind us: "Bud!"
We turned and saw Bud's classmate Carla walking toward us. Bud doubled back, flung his arms open, and hugged Carla as well as he could manage through the bulk of their winter parkas. Carla walked with us the rest of the way to the classroom, and as she walked, she talked. And talked.
I honestly had no idea how much the average neurotypical first-grader has to say. Here's a (fairly accurate) transcript:
"I saw you," she said, "And so I called Bud's name because I didn't think he saw me. It sure is cold outside today."
"It sure is," I said. I turned to Bud as we reached the classroom. "Let's get your boots off, Bud."
"You really have to wear a lot of clothes when it's so cold."
"Yep. That's why you're all bundled up, right, Bud?"
"Yeah. He's bundled. He's REALLY bundled. He's a bundle of FUNNY!"
I got Bud out of his boots and into his sneakers and we made our way to his cubby as Carla trailed us without missing a beat of her monologue.
"It's going to be so cold on Friday that the outdoor activities are going to be cancelled. They are going to be indoors. I was supposed to do an outdoor activity, but now I have to do an indoor activity instead."
"Bud was supposed to do an outdoor activity as well. He was --"
"Yes, I already know that. He did an outdoor activity last week too, and him and Ms. Parker saw deer tracks. They saw deer tracks in the snow. Did you know that? It was really cool. Because deer are tricky. You sometimes see them, but you never really know where they're going. Where I live, it's near the woods and sometimes there are deer near there but sometimes we don't see them. But we saw a BEAR, and you want to know what? Michael - that's Michael right over there in the blue shirt - Michael is AFRAID of bears!"
"Well, I might be afraid if I saw a bear up close, too."
"Not me. Nope. I saw a bear right up close and I wasn't afraid. We were in the car and we saw a bear right there. And you know what?"
"My favorite word is underwear."
"Yes. That's my favorite word: underwear."
"Well that's a great favorite word. It's very funny."
By this time, Bud had finished hanging his things at his cubby and wandered, wordlessly, to his desk. Molly, whose cubby is next to Bud's, approached us and Carla immediately shifted her attention: "Molly, you want to know what?"
"What?" asked Molly.
"My favorite word is underwear."
"Really?!" said Molly, turning to Carla. "Hey! You have the same pants as me!"
And they were off.
I walked over to say goodbye to Bud with a smile big enough that Ms. Parker asked what caused it. I explained that I'd just learned that Carla's favorite word was underwear.
"Well," said Ms. Parker, catching my smile, "If underwear can't be your favorite word in first grade, when can it be?"
I smiled all the way to work. There is magic in first grade. There's magic in the guileless, genuine stream-of-consciousness wonder of first-graders. There's magic in their unwavering self-confidence, their certainty that what they have to offer is just exactly what the world needs to have. Walk into the average first grade classroom and ask all the artists in the room to raise their hands. Every hand will go up. Walk into a classroom full of first-year college students and ask the same question. If you're lucky, a few tentative hands will raise - but it's likely that at least half of the people with their hands up will mutter something like "but I'm not very good..." It's no wonder that Bud is thriving this year, surrounded each day by so much fascination, so much enthusiasm, so much life.
It seems to me that we could all use a little more first grade in our lives. And if you think so, too, then I offer you this: