Inspired by Javacia Harris Bowser and her blog “See Jane Write,” I’m going to keep writing each day in November and add a picture of the day.
“Ms. Bowser” is one of Norah’s favorite teachers at the Alabama School of Fine Arts.
Here is her blog.
Here is today’s picture of the day. It’s a page from Flannery’s third grade journal from Wonderland Elementary in Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles twenty years ago.
Our children rode the school bus from Franklin School in Los Feliz to Wonderland in Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles many years ago. They caught the bus at seven in the morning and arrived back at Franklin around four in the afternoon. They rode the bus down Hollywood Boulevard and saw actors performing as characters for tips.
This story happened when Lucy was still at Montessori, and Flannery had just started school at Wonderland.
On Flannery’s first day of third grade (after we’d worked hard to get him into the magnet) I sent him to school with the best backpack that we’d used to go camping with in the summer.
It was strong and sturdy and would hold his third grade books and papers. It had zippers and pouches and had seen us through many campsites across the country that summer. He was now going to one of the best magnets in the city of LA after four years at Eagle Rock Montessori. It had taken several years of applying to get him into Wonderland but we had done it.
But this is what I did not do. I did not clean out the camping backpack carefully. I had to get Lucy to Montessori and Kiffen was working in South Central, which meant he had to get to school extra early, so it was a crazy morning.
But Flannery was dressed and clean and shiny for the first day of school with his sturdy backpack that also something hiding deep in one of the zippered pockets that should never-ever go to school.
What was it?
A camping knife.
Yes, a large camping knife.
It looked something like this.
The whole day passed and I knew nothing of this weapon lurking in the backpack.
I remember when Flannery got off the school bus that afternoon, he raced over to me and said, “Guess what was in my backpack? The knife from camping! You left it in my backpack! I showed it to Chris on the bus. He wanted it see it. I showed some of the other kids the knife too. I didn’t show it to the bus driver. Why did you send me to school with a knife?”
I wanted to faint. I wanted to fall against the old oak tree in the Franklin schoolyard.
Lucy was holding my hand.
She looked up and said, “Momma, why did you let Flannery take a knife to school?”
How can I describe the feeling? The sickening horror. The years of getting him into the best school, and he would be expelled on the first day of third grade because of my idiocy.
I hustled them into the van and tried to breathe. Would there be messages from the school? How could I even begin to explain it? But after much back and forth, I decided I would call to be upfront about the mistake.
Actually, I probably made Kiffen call. I knew if I called I might start crying/babbling.
So we called the school and left an urgent-urgent message of desperation for his teacher.
Then a miracle happened.
Flannery had a busy and distracted and somewhat indifferent teacher.
And she never returned our phone call.
Did we call a second time? I don’t remember. Possibly.
I didn’t send an email. But I waited and sweated, fully prepared for him to be expelled because bringing a knife to school is automatic grounds for expulsion even if you didn’t know you had it.
Even if your mother dropped you off at the bus stop with a camping knife in your backpack.
Even if you are in third grade.
ESPECIALLY if you discover it and SHOW IT TO KIDS ON THE BUS.
I asked him why he showed it to the kids, and he said, “Because!!! It was sooooo cool!”
A week went by. The knife stayed home.
Another week passed too.
His teacher never called back.
That is the miracle of an indifferent teacher who ignored the urgent-urgent desperate call of parents wanting to over-explain.
Then, as more time passed, my wise friend, Eileen, mother of three boys, said, “Hmmmm…it’s been three weeks now. You’ve moved into – that never happened phase – or that thing? It was just a rubber knife. A toy.”
And I finally breathed a sigh of relief.
Eileen had absolved us.
It wasn’t a rubber knife. It was a real one. It did happen. And twenty years ago, kids could have been hurt. But after he showed it around on the bus, his friend, Chris, told him to put it away, and so Flannery locked back in its case and put it into his backpack.
He did not write about it in his journal at school.
He wrote about Shakespeare and tornadoes and stage makeup and anacondas and Elvis and living at the top of the Empire State Building.
And he stayed at Wonderland in Laurel Canyon and then Lucy joined him, and they overlapped at Wonderland together for two years.
And nobody ever carried a knife to school again.
Here is another Laurel Canyon story.
One time my friend, Mike Tait, came to visit us from England, and in my mind he arrived by shuttle from the airport at night laden with Scottish biscuits, Irish whiskey, the newestDVDs and CDs and of course all the latest newspapers from London.
The next morning I took him to see the film, “Laurel Canyon” at the Laemmle Theatres in Pasadena, and after seeing the film, we drove all the back through Hollywood and up into the hills and through the winding neighborhood of Laurel Canyon on a bright sunny Los Angeles day – almost expecting to see Frances McDormand or Christian Bale stepping outside their Laurel Canyon home just like in the movie.
Did I tell Mike the story of the knife? Probably.
Then I think we picked up Lucy, which meant she didn’t have to take the bus home.
By then Flannery was already in middle school.