Wednesday, November 27, 2013


It is that time of year again, when we sit down and reflect on what we are thankful for in our lives. Every year I count my wife and kids at the top of the list, but this year I am re-thinking that. My wife is still at the top of the list, no doubt, but the kids? Being home full-time with our three boys has caused me to examine my feelings toward them. I have been directly in charge of their care and feeding for a while now, and for the most part, they seem to do three main things:

1) Rather ungratefully wolf down food that I prepare for them
2) Make one seemingly never-ending mess with that food, and their shoes, toys, and clothes
3) Argue with each other and with me

Hmm… Am I really thankful for that? Truth be told, if they were someone else’s kids, I would have already handed each one of them a twenty dollar bill, shown them the front door, and wished them the best of luck. Since that is probably breaking some sort of law or statute when they are your own kids, I have kept them around. Plus, my wife would notice if any of them were missing, and she’d be mad.

What am I really thankful for with regard to my boys? I am thankful that our elementary school hasn’t kicked any of them out yet. I love our elementary school for that fact. I volunteer there one day a week, and I have the teachers and staff fooled into thinking I do it because I am just a nice guy, but I’m really there to keep my ear to the ground and make sure that I can head off any potential disciplinary problems before they get out of hand. They think my boys are nice kids, but I’ve seen them at home. I know better. I know that if any one of my boys ever got kicked out and I had to spend all day with them, seven days a week, I would not make it. Or they wouldn’t. So, I trade one day a week to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Since Son Number Three is the biggest wildcard, behaviorally speaking, I spend the most time volunteering in his kindergarten class. The other day his teacher asked me to help five of the kids make their “apple turkeys.” The rest of the class had made them the day before, so I had already seen Son Number Three’s. It was really cool. They had taken a plain old apple, and turned it into a big tom turkey using toothpicks and candy. The neck was made from two mini marshmallows with a full-size marshmallow as the head. He had raisin eyes, a gumdrop mouth, and a red Swedish fish for a wattle. (You may now Google either or both of those things if you don’t know what they are). His tail feathers were made from five toothpicks with three different colored gumdrops on each one. The only anatomically incorrect aspect was the three toothpicks necessary for support legs, instead of just two.

His teacher handed me the small plastic tubs with all the candy and toothpicks, gave me five plain apples and the example finished product, and said, “Good luck.” (She may have also laughed maniacally under her breath, or I may have just imagined that.)

About three minutes into the project, I realized something about myself. I am not mentally or emotionally cut out for managing one five-year-old with a Thanksgiving food craft/project, let alone a group of them.

I had a broad spectrum of interest levels, crafting skills, and outright hunger in my little group of angels. One little girl took immediate initiative with the toothpick tub, turning her apple into a pincushion. Another little girl was sitting with her hands in her lap, unwilling to do anything on her own, and constantly saying, “I need help. I need help.” Over and over and over. And over. Another girl was determined to make her turkey upside down, and one of the two boys was just sitting at the table, alternately stuffing gumdrops and mini marshmallows into his mouth. He probably ate at least four turkeys’ worth.

Nothing was going right, and it wasn’t going right in five places at once. All the turkeys’ tripod legs broke immediately. None of the full-size marshmallow heads would stay on. The wattles were falling off. None of the raisin eyes looked right. Most of the turkeys looked cross-eyed, and one looked drunk. None of the mouths were right. A whole gumdrop was too big for the mouth, and the example had a quarter of a gumdrop, but no indication of how the gumdrop was quartered. It turns out you can’t pull a gumdrop apart with your fingers and have any pieces remain recognizable enough to be an apple turkey’s mouth. It also turns out that it is possible to cut gumdrops with kindergarten scissors, but I doubt you can use the scissors for anything else productive afterward. Even with scissor-cut gumdrops, the turkeys all looked like they had collagen-injected lips, and turkeys aren’t even supposed to have lips, let alone, luscious ones.

Besides my mental back-and-forth about whether or not I could sneak out of the classroom mid-project and just go home, the other thought that kept running through my mind was, “I’m shortchanging these five kids.”

The turkeys looked nothing like the example. They looked nothing like the one my son brought home the day before. His looked like a cool tom turkey made from an apple and some assorted candy. The five I had just helped create looked like the result of a bomb going off near a wooden crate of apples inside a candy factory.

The kids didn’t know any better. They thought they were great. But I knew. I knew their parents would have to smile and say, “That’s really great, sweetie,” all the while thinking, what the hell is this thing supposed to be?

That was my fault. I took what was a fun holiday moment for my son and me the day before, and turned it into a “just another weird art project from school” moment for five families. I wanted to send each kid home with a note apologizing to the parents, and a picture of the example. “This is what your kid’s apple turkey would have looked like if a professional had been helping them. I am not a qualified kindergarten teacher. I am only a dad, and I am sorry for my deficiencies with regard to fruit and candy art.”

I obviously joke about it, but truth be told, I am very thankful for my boys, although, usually when they are sleeping. This year I am also very thankful for teachers. Kindergarten teachers, especially. I am thankful that I am not one, and I am incredibly thankful that there are folks out there crazy enough to want the job! You’re the best!

Have a happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

See you soon,


Copyright © 2013 Marc Schmatjen

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  1. Hi Marc, I am sharing this with my daughter, who graduates with her M.Edu. in two weeks. She is going to be a Kindergarten Teacher! Happy Thanksgiving and have fun tomorrow :)

  2. I wish her the best of luck, and I hope that her mandatory Prozac prescription does the trick!
    Have a great Thanksgiving, Laina, and tell your daughter thanks from all of us parents!