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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Letter #9: Winning Friends and Influencing People

June 12, 2014


Mr. David Sedaris
Little, Brown and Company
237 Park Avenue
New York, NY  10017


Dear Mr. Sedaris:

The telephone rang yesterday afternoon, and I picked it up in the kitchen.  The receptionist from the beauty parlor where I get my hair cut called to confirm my appointment for Monday.

"Was that Mr. Sedaris?" Rory asked as he passed through the room wearing a cardboard box on his head.

"No, honey," I said.

"What's gonna happen if he calls when you're in New York next week?"

"I guess you'll have to take a message," I suggested.

"I'll be at camp," he reminded me.

"Well then, Dad can probably have lunch with him."

"Okay," the younger boy replied.  He fumbled with the doorknob.

"Can you see in that thing?"

"Not yet," he called in my direction.  "I have to go make some holes."

"Brother, take that box off your head before you fall down the stairs."

"Don't worry," he shouted from the top of the garage steps.  "I know what I'm doing."

This morning in the car, Rory asked me how you and I know each other.

"We don't," I informed him.

"Then why are you bothering him?"

"Do you really think I'm bothering him?"

He didn't say anything.  He just stared out the window.

I considered his question as we drove a little bit further.

"I think it'll be fun once we're friends."

"It's just that you've already got a bunch of friends," Bro said.  "How many more do you need?"

"I don't know," I answered.  "One?"

*******

It's officially Summer for us here on Meadow Bottom Road.  The last day of school was Tuesday. David and I were pleased with the boys' end-of-year test results.  Desmond takes his education very seriously, and his scores are impressive.  Whenever Rory gets his report card, on the other hand, we are always shocked by his fabulous grades. Please note that I have underlined the word shocked for emphasis.  For this child, the learning process seems to be some sort of happy accident.

Rory Malcolm is an unconventional student.  He has yet to offer any indication that he understands what's going on in the classroom, and he's been showing up for school every day since Pre-K.  I don't even think Bro realizes that acknowledging and retaining information is required.  It's almost as if he's been beamed down to Earth from a planet where attention spans are not necessary for survival.

Brother doesn't appear to be even remotely interested in his studies.  If he has a pen, he immediately draws smiley faces on all of his fingers.  He practices magic tricks during morning work.  He gets comic books taken from him regularly.  His interest in math does not extend beyond counting up how many friends he has in one room.  His relationships are very important.

The condition of Rory's homework would suggest that all of his teachers are rageful individuals who long for a paperless society.  When they see paper, they crumple it into angry balls and aim at the children.  With the help of their tears, these kids must smooth out the creases as best they can.  Their little hands get filthy in the process.  No one is allowed to go to the bathroom and wash up.  None of this is their fault.

Over the years, I've had lengthy discussions with all of Rory's instructors.  Each one is more darling than the next.  No one was lovelier than Mrs. Upchurch.  She retired from Elon Park Elementary under mysterious circumstances when my son finished second grade.  I have a hunch I know why she left.  In the last two years, he's been issued much younger, sturdier members of the faculty.  They always seem relieved when he's promoted.

Some boys are verbally expressive and creative.  It's really just a nice way of saying that you're noisy and disruptive.  Brother can be loutish in group settings.  He gets this from me.  We are easily excitable.  I'd imagine that he's a nightmare on field trips.  I know I was.  Recognizing this unfortunate character trait that we share, I will not dare volunteer to chaperone.  And if I were Mrs. Barringer, I would not want either of us on that bus.

This afternoon, the guys and I bumped into Desmond's fifth grade teacher at Target.  My sons' minds are always blown whenever they see their mentors beyond the confines of the school environment.  They struggle to imagine a world where these individuals do things like drive cars and eat food.

"Mom, Mom!  Oh, my God.  It's Mrs. Kiser!"

The big one couldn't get over it. There she was, right behind us on line.  Buying things.  It was an extraordinary sighting.

She and I chatted briefly.  She and her family are heading to the beach for a week. After that, they'll be visiting her mom.  We hugged, and I thanked her for everything she's done for Des.  He is terribly fond of this young lady.  The other night, he graduated with Straight As and Perfect Attendance.

"I loved having Desmond in class," she said.  "I only hope I get Rory next year."

Now, I don't claim to know Mrs. Kiser very well.  Perhaps she was just being nice. Then again, she might be the kind of woman who needs a huge challenge in order to feel truly alive.  There are people like that - Extremists.  We don't know, but we may find out in August.

Brother approached me in the parking lot.  "Mom, are you and Mrs. Kiser friends?"

"Not yet, honey," I told him.

"Well, maybe you should write to her."

Your pal,


Mary Killian

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