Evan Mendonsa is five years old, and he has just completed his third week of kindergarten. He is beyond excited about school. “It’s fun!” he enthuses with the big grin of a shiny new student. He can recognize a few words in one of his books from school—cat, my, a, the—and he can perform what I think is one of the niftiest “jokes” I’ve ever seen.
I should be clear: Evan calls it a joke. I think of it more as a pantomime. I’ll try to explain in words what really should be captured on video.
Evan begins by standing, feet planted firmly under him. “Firecracker,” he says, then folds his hands in prayer pose in front of his chest and undulates them upward like a swimming fish. When his hands are over his head, he claps them. Then he separates his hands and, fingers wiggling, mimics a shower of fireworks cascading to the ground as he says, “Ahhhhhh!”
This cracked me up so much, I had to see him do it again. Then again. The third time I joined him. And the fourth. A couple of hours later, when his grandmother, who is my BF, requested one more round of “Firecracker,” he complied and had a roomful of grownups—most of whom have seen this way too many times—laughing. We are easily amused.
Much of this took place in my BF’s bedroom tonight. Earlier in the day she’d gotten out of bed and showered and dressed, something she doesn’t often have the strength to do these days. Then, with assistance from her daughter Jena, as well as her husband Ron, and Evan’s parents, Andy and Tiff, my BF Georgann made dinner for the first time in weeks. Good cucumber salad and chicken, beef and broccoli and cauliflower. Wonderful potato wedges golden from the oven. Fresh Roma tomatoes from the garden. All very healthy.
She continues to struggle, my BF, with the effects of her carcinoid tumors. She is very tired and sleeps much of the time. She is taking new medication to help disarm the carcinoids and quell their very annoying symptoms, but she struggles to have a regular daily life. It is not the first time I have called her a superhero, but she is, though she will deny that.
So it was that we had a lovely family dinner with her kids and grandkids. I got to sit next to her granddaughter Cine at the dinner table, and though she wasn’t much interested in dinner tonight, Cine looked at me at one point and said, “I can hear you chewing.”
I smiled down at her. “Am I chewing with my mouth open?”
“Nope,” she said, “just crunching.”
I pointed out that she, too, could crunch on her bread or broccoli, and Cine grinned a magnificent four-year-old grin. I grinned back and winked at Jena, her mom.
These are the people who keep my BF going these days—Ron and Jena, her primary caretakers (though Cine and Sam the dog and the two cats are big live-in helpers, too). Andy and Tiff and Evan come down the hill from El Dorado Hills frequently, too. This makes Georgann very happy. She is never more content than when she has a house full of her people around her.
After dinner, though, she retreated upstairs to lie down again. I followed her up there, and we had ourselves a girl chat for a couple of hours. Eventually Jena drifted in, then out, to referee the kids. Ron came and anchored a wall. Andy showed up and laid down on the bed near his mom. Tiff took a place on a bed corner. Sam came in with his red ball. The kids, fresh from a bit of a dust-up, appeared. There we all were, surrounding Georgann, as if she were the center of the universe. Which right now she pretty much is.
She wears all this adoration pretty well, but I know that she will sleep well tonight. I’m pretty sure we pooped her out by the time we left about 9.
I drove home thinking about Robert Fulghum’s wonderful little book, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” The title piece is mostly a list of amusing and poignant things, such as, “Say you’re sorry when you hurt someone,” “Share everything,” “Wash your hands before you eat,” “Play fair” and “Take a nap every afternoon.” I wondered what things will be on Evan’s list from his kindergarten experience.
My favorite item on Fulghum’s list is, simply, “Flush.” Though I must say that I’m also quite fond of this one: “When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.” I think that’s one of the most brilliant literal and metaphorical pieces of advice ever.
Evan will learn some of these things and many others in kindergarten this year. Next year it will be Cine’s turn. Jena’s taking science classes in college now, looking to be a pediatrician some day. Tiff wants to go to school to be an ultrasound tech. I’ll be in school forever—or at least until I retire.
But we learned again that most important of lessons tonight outside a classroom, at the bedside of someone we love who is the center of our universe: that family is everything; that love is, as the Beatles said, all there is; and that this gathering around Georgann is, in a sense, holding hands and sticking together. She is the campfire that draws us. We bask in her love for us all.
And we are grateful.