GateHouse — Many years ago, I had a son.
Well, OK, I still have a son, but “I still have a son” is a crazy-boring lead, and “MANY YEARS AGO,” which I imagine to have been spoken aloud by a drunken Sean Connery, makes this column seem more akin to an epic clash of skygods and dragonlancers instead of what it is, which is a belated attempt to pin months of my son’s misbehavior on a 6-year-old named Brayden.
Many years ago I had a son in kindergarten, a son who was getting in trouble. A lot. Two or 3 times a week, for most of the winter. Our kindergarten reported behavior via a series of stoplight-coded cards — green (for Gallants), yellow (for Goofuses) and red (for the criminally insane) — and my son had been a Green for months, which I promise I’m not saying with that obnoxious dadblogger “MY PRECIOUS ANGEL CHILD SPENT THE ALLOWANCE HE EARNED PLANTING PEONIES FOR THE NURSING HOME ON EYEGLASSES FOR NAMIBIAN ORPHANS EN ROUTE TO HIS MOST RECENT SOCCER GAME WHICH I SHALL NOW TELL YOU ABOUT ALSO” thing — whatever, he was usually on green. Until one week, where a yellow snuck in. Then another, and then another, until there were yellows many times a week, and I began to dread asking about colors when I picked him up.
This did not compute. Our son at home was a sweet, shy kid, someone not inclined to do what you asked the first or 12th time you asked it, but one who for about two solid years was scared to death of Tinker Bell. He was not, in our estimation, a Yellow Kid. Yet I should have known something was up when I went in for Jake’s birthday cupcakes and found Brayden sitting at a distant table by the Reading Corner. “He’s not allowed to sit next to me anymore,” said my son, with some small degree of confusion and acceptance.
Then it happened. Weeks later, Brayden was abruptly … relocated to a different school, and it was like someone flipped a switch. The next few days, green. The next few weeks, green. The rest of the year, green green green green green. The only logical conclusion? ALL THE YELLOWS WERE BRAYDEN’S FAULT AND OUR CHILD WAS BUT A BLAMELESS PAWN IN HIS GAME OF LIES.
I’m kidding, of course. I don’t want to blame everything on Brayden, but I’m going to, because Brayden is responsible for everything Jake did wrong, ever, at kindergarten and at home and retroactively through preschool, ages 0-4, teething, potty-training and the difficult part of the pregnancy.
Separately they were just two kids: Jake, the boy who couldn’t sit still in a chair if you super-glued his butt to the plastic, and Brayden, about whom I know nothing (Brayden’s parents were not terribly chatty at the kindergarten round-up, probably, I’m guessing, because of all the times Brayden was found outside trying to start the car, or jumping up and down on the trampoline with a metal toy). But something about this dark combination didn’t take, something about the two of them together created a vortex of kindergarten energy that resulted in a powerful disturbance in the class Force, as well as occasional notes from the teacher and many lost desserts.
This was years ago, and we haven’t heard from Brayden since. And while of course I’m saddened to deprive my son of a friend — due to our moving he was on a small tour of the local schools for a while there — I cannot say I miss terribly the notion that my son was one of the kids that the teacher had to keep her eye on, one of the ones that disrupted the lunch line and had to sit off by himself and came home with behavior reports so often that his dad was running out of ideas for things to confiscate. (“One more yellow and I’m TAKING AWAY THE CARPET.”)
Here’s the problem, though: At one point during the cupcake party I looked over and Brayden waved at me from his distant table, a huge grin on his face, cupcake chunks and icing smears dotting his deceptively adorable mug. I now think back looking for some aura, some hook, some hint of the barely contained evil lurking within this tiny blonde beast-man drinking red juice out of a cup with Mater on it, some hint of “I SEE YOU IN THERE, DEMON CHILD.” But nothing.
A few minutes later I started taking pictures, and Brayden came over and gave Jake a giant hug. The picture shows Brayden the picture of unrestrained kindergarten glee, and Jake looking at him like, “Come on, dude, my Dad’s here.” And now and again I run into it, and there’s nothing to take away except that Jake will have friends that are good for him and friends that are bad, and there’s not a thing I can do about it other than hope we’ve taught him green from yellow.