How I Know What’s Up in School

Typically, I hear from the girls’ moms in my fifth graders class when they have a big assignment due, as my son and his friends often “forget” to write them down in their assignment books or bring the required books home.

“Have you guys started studying for the test?” “This project is taking my daughter hours.” “What is your son for doing for that project?”

…and worse… “How did your son do on the pre-test? It sounds like everyone failed it!”

I look blankly at them. What pretest?!

But when he is truly engaged or inspired or upset, I hear it all. I am re-learning the bones of the body. I have heard all about the hero of Wonder and his struggles. I now know every plot point in Rick Riordan’s latest Percy Jackson book.

And last Friday afternoon, my fifth grader slid into the car, looking disturbed. I immediately learned that his concern was for humanity. A tough burden for a little guy.

The fifth graders had just watched a film about the Holocaust.

Before yesterday, he knew about Hitler. He knew that Hitler and his minions had murdered millions. He knew that the U.S. and the British and Russia were on the same team. He is always pleased to recount the happy ending, that we won, that Hitler is gone.

But he did not have a picture in his head of what it means to murder millions.

“Warning, mom,” he said, “I wouldn’t plan on sleeping tonight.”


“Because I’m not sleeping. I don’t want to have any nightmares. We saw the scariest movie today that I have ever seen.”

With Halloween approaching, I assumed he was talking about a ghost story.

He was. A real one.

“Why did they have to show so many dead bodies?”

“Because one of the worse things about growing up is that you learn about how really horrible people can be. And you see things that you wish you hadn’t.”

“I’m never sleeping again.” Code for “you are never sleeping again.”

“But there have always been more good people than bad people, and that’s why it’s going to be okay.”

“I know, mom,” he said, forcing himself to appease me. “But we’re staying up tonight.”