The plan for homeschool yesterday was writing out the alphabet on dry erase boards, counting to 20, drawing maps of the continents and dusting the living room.
But by 8:30 a.m. Johnny was putting alphabet magnets on my face as though I were a refrigerator. Meanwhile, Richie and Johnny kept crashing together as though they, too, were magnets. They'd laugh. Then the next time they'd bicker like irritable co-workers.
Richie: "No thank you, John."
Johnny: "You did it, too, Rich."
Richie: "No I didn't, John."
Then the spat deteriorated into a smack down that would get employees from the World Wrestling Federation fired.
This meant only one thing: emergency field trip.
We drove a couple miles to Lakeside Nature Center, a free animal and wildlands educational place in Swope Park, which is either the largest city park in America, or the first ever built, or the one most overgrown with honeysuckle, or something.
We go to the center about once a week. They have a library full of animal nonfiction books--Johnny loves it. The library looks like a living room, with bean bag chairs and toys and couches. We sit on the sofa and pile our coats on the carpeting. I breastfeed J.J. and consider moving the tarantula exhibit out of the room. Spiders seem more like outside pets, I think. My motto is, If they want to kill us, they are not welcome in our home. This doesn't include Fish Face, who I'm sure wants to kill us, but for good reason. I imagine the workers overhearing me and saying, "This family knows they don't live here, right?"
While we make ourselves at home, Richie colors 20 or 30 pictures of owls and then sits by the domestic rabbit exhibit and they hop over to him like he is Saint Francis of Assissi. He pets them and smiles like a proud daddy.
"They love you," I tell him.
"Yeah," he says. "They do, mom."
I never paid attention in science class, so I always learn something new at Lakeside Nature Center. Yesterday, I learned that mice can give birth to 1,000 babies in one year--which, incidentally, is the birthrate of the women in our family, as well, whereas cottontail rabbits only have 40 babies.
"What do you mean 'only,' sister? You try nursing 40 buckteethed children. My husband is god knows where--raiding Mr. McGregor's garden, probably. The babies are always losing their mittens..."
Oh, I'm sorry Miss Rabbit. Don't bite me. I didn't mean it. You can go back to letting my son pet you now.
Furthermore, we learned that bald eagles can see four to eight times as well as humans, an ability that evolved through years of going to Royals Home Openers with the St. Elizabeth School safety patrol and sitting in the nosebleeds.
Lakeside Nature Center has an unbelievable native bird exhibit, which includes a bald eagle. Most of the birds are being rehabilitated--Hawks that were raised by humans as pets, owls that were injured in the wild.
There was a turkey vulture that J.J. tried to talk to. "Huh. Huh," J.J. said, flapping his arms and kicking his legs, as if trying to swim out of my arms and into the sky.
Then the vulture spread his wings and one was all crooked and his claws were tethered to a chain. With old, benevolent eyes, he looked at J.J., as if to say, "Yeah, me too, kid."
The birds have to be tethered to chains so that they don't hurt each other or themselves, the sign says. The same could be said of my sons and I don't tether them, but by "hurt each other" I think the sign means "kill each other." My sons' intention is not to kill each other when they fight, though I don't know what their intention is.
As for birds, they hate each other. They haven't forgotten their dinosaur days.
Speaking of which, here's an interesting thought from a dinosaur book we read: In 1982, scientists found the skull and bones of a particularly smart dinosaur. I can't remember the species name, but these guys were like the chimpanzees of the reptile age. So the scientists did a study of what would have happened to these smart reptiles if dinosaurs never became extinct. Based on climate changes, etc., the scientists thought the dinos would have continued walking more and more upright until they no longer needed tails for balance. Needing to protect themselves against faster, bigger predators, they would have continued getting smarter, until they could make simple tools. You see where this is going, right? They would have been lizard people. Like us, only scaly and conniving and beaked. Feel free to fill in the blank here. "So that's why my (boss/coworker/clerk at Best Buy) has such dry, flaky skin and obviously cold blood. He/she is a lizard person."
We also learned that yellow-eyed penguins have a low divorce rate. That is actually what Animal Encyclopedia Vol. 22, wy-zo, said about them. I can just imagine the writer's frame of mind when she got to this entry: "There's no way any kid is going to read this boring book, so I'll just write whatever I damn want. I'll write about penguins getting divorces. The next entry will talk about penguin divorce lawyers. How do you like, that, Ms. "the kids love boring encyclopedias" Publisher?"
Rest assured, dear encyclopedia writer, my son is a big fan of your work.
The day was full of learning experiences. I haven't even gotten to the hike part. Don't worry, I won't, not until tomorrow anyway.
The most important lesson from the day, though, came from two older women walking through the nature center, arms linked.
They stopped to look at J.J. and smiled at him as if to say, "Oh, look. A baby human!"
"He's beautiful," one of the women said. "Three boys?"
"Three boys," I said.
"Me, too," she said. She nodded to her companion and whispered, "She had all boys, too, but she doesn't remember."
The companion continued smiling.
The woman and I talked about how boys are always wrestling, always fighting.
She said that as her sons got older, she'd tell them, "If you're going to bleed, go outside. Don't do it on my rug."
"And they are still close," she continued. "They still share that bond. I wish they lived closer together because they are best friends."
The wrestling is a bond? A sign of enduring friendship? So that is the intention of their WWF matches. It was not something I considered any of the times I heard a thud and walked into what had turned from a wrestling match into a fist fight.
But this woman, who was taking her senile friend to see the animals and who probably paused to read the facts on snapping turtles and rat snakes, had observed the behavior of North American boys. Now, she was sharing with me her encyclopedia entry on them. Boys wrestle because they love each other. The harder the blows, the stronger the bond.
Now that is something you don't learn in books.