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Picnic

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Picnic basket 01

Ian was still working on his state reading assessment as lunch time approached. His classmates had finished and surprisingly remained quiet as he worked. During that time, this little boy, who has all the signs of ADHD – but no diagnosis, and no medication – twisted around in his seat, bopped to an imaginary beat, tapped his pencil and averaged the completion of approximately one question every twenty minutes. The patience of his peers far surpassed my own.

The rule for testing day is that any student not finished at lunch time must bring his food back to the testing location, eat, and then continue the ordeal. I allowed Ian to go ahead of the group to grab his food. The rest of the kids and I followed behind to the cafeteria.

I heated up my daily rice with almonds and wasabi peas and walked back to class with the boy who was already eating part of his salad with his fingers. We sat on the floor of the room – picnic style – and took a break from testing.

I had first met Ian when he was a second grader and I was his assistant principal. The cafeteria was in use that day for the display of science fair projects. So lunch was served at the picnic tables outside.

The mobile dentist unit had been on campus that day for its monthly visit. The dentist provided inexpensive care to our students. Two of the kids at the table had just left his chair a few minutes before lunch.

           One little girl was crying and telling me that her mouth hurt. I asked her friends to get her something cool. They brought her chocolate milk. She drank a sip but said she couldn't eat the corn dog or green beans because her teeth were sore. A friend offered her some chips, and she ate them with ease.

           Little Ian sat next to me recounting the advice given to him by the dental hygienist:

           "They said to floss every day. But flossing is hard for me, Mr. Ramsey."

           "Well, it's hard for a lot of people," I said.

"Do you know how hard it is for ME to floss?" he blurted out. "Look!" With that he opened his mouth wide exposing half-chewed bits of corn dog and beans - and very few teeth.

          "I don't have anywhere to floss!" he shouted, giggling and displaying a wonderful toothless grin.

I retired that year but returned to the classroom. Little did I know that our paths would cross again, but here we were sitting at another picnic.

I began the conversation, “I heard Prince died today, Ian. Ever heard of him?”

The boy stared at me with that same impish grin from second grade. “No,” he replied. “Is he like the next thing after Queen?”

“You’ve never heard the song, ‘Purple Rain’ before?” I asked, before realizing that this boy had been born nearly twenty years after that song had been released.

“No, Mr. Ramsey,” he said. “Weird name for a song. But I guess songs these days are pretty weird too. Songs today are pretty nasty. I’ve heard the songs of the eighties were the best ever.”

Ian picked at his salad – with fingers and fork – as we talked about several random thoughts. Good thing his teacher has a little ADHD in his system as well.

“I miss seeing you and all your relatives at the back of the school every afternoon,” I exclaimed sarcastically. “Man, those were such nice LONG experiences during after school duty, just waiting around for the whole family to locate each other. Sure must’ve been hard to find the back of the school each day.”

Ian licked the buffalo sauce from the chicken in his fingers and grinned.

I continued. “Since I was moved to the front of the school for duty, I hardly ever see you anymore, but after six hours cooped up with you in here, I guess it’s not all that bad a thing.”

Another grin and roll of the eyes.

“I go home with Micah and Milo now,” he finally stated.

“I know,” I said. “I saw you getting into their older brother’s car on Monday. That’s why I walked over there to check on you and to make sure that everything was alright. Remember?”

Obviously he didn’t. “You saw us?” he squeaked.

“I see everything, Ian,” I lied.

“I was going to go camping with them this weekend, but my mom said I couldn’t go,” he muttered.

“Is that why you were upset this morning?”

“Yeah. She won’t let me do anything. She was right there the other day when Micah asked me, and she just said, ‘We’ll see.’ Then today she said ‘no.’ She’s so unfair.”

“Maybe she just felt awkward when you first asked and didn’t know what to say with your friends standing there,” I suggested.

“Well, I did kinda put her on the spot,” he admitted.

“She loves you, kid. She just wants to keep you safe. She’s not being mean.”

“Yeah, but I’m old enough to go camping. Wouldn’t you let your daughter go?”

I snorted and said bluntly. “No, of course not! If she was only eleven years old, she would not be going on a camping trip by herself!”

A grin. Rolling eyes. A chuckle.

“She’s trying to raise you by herself, Ian. Give her a break every once in a while,” I advised. I knew the woman was working hard to get five kids through school since Ian’s father was no longer in the picture.

“I’m going to be a lawyer,” Ian announced, abruptly changing the subject.

“You’d be great at that,” I stated. “You love to argue!”

“I really am, Mr. Ramsey. I’m going to college. I am going to be a lawyer.”

“I believe you, Ian. You are one of the smartest kids in class. You’re resilient. Do you know what that means?”

He shook his head no.

“You are strong. You put up with a lot. You get knocked down, you get right back up. You’re not a quitter.”

Ian was quiet as he ate his last chicken nugget and a piece of celery.

“You’re funny and not afraid to speak your mind either,” I continued. “Despite the fact that both of those traits drive your teachers crazy, that’s going to help you when you’re grown up.”

The boy remained quiet and rocked gently in his spot on the floor.

“You want to know the best part?” I asked with a smirk.

“What?” he inquired hesitantly.

“You have a great smile!” I exclaimed. “You have teeth now! But you’ve got to remember to floss every day!”

He groaned but grinned as well. “You are never going to let me forget that, are you, Mr. Ramsey?” he said with another toothy grin.

“Nope,” I replied, tongue in cheek. “In fact, I’ll probably write a story about you and your smile someday. But. right now, lunch is over. You need to get that reading test done before the rest of the kids come back in. Go show those people making these things how smart you are, kid!”

Copyright, Tim Ramsey, 2016.

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Tim Ramsey has been an educator since 1983.  He taught middle school and high school for 15 years and served as a school administrator for 15 years before retiring in 2013.  He returned to the classroom where he now teaches writing to seventh graders by day and reading to college freshmen by night.  Tim is an avid writer and has been featured in five Chicken Soup for the Soul compilations.  In addition he has received first place honors from the Arizona English Teachers Association for its annual “Teachers as Writers Contest.”

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Guest Monday, 16 October 2017