Saturday, May 25, 2013

Superman goes to kindergarten

Parents are told: "No more Superhero play!"
Geekosystem carried a story about a Philadelphia preschool that recently sent a letter home to parents about a ban on "Superhero Play." The kids at the school were acting out their favorite superheroes and as quick as you can say "Biff! Bam! Zowie!" kids were getting hurt.

Superheroes have been around for a long time. They are, after all, SUPERHEROES and are timeless. Back in the 1950s, my father instituted a ban on comic books. He insisted that they were trash and substituted our Superman and Batman comics with Illustrated Classics versions of "Treasure Island" and "The Tale of Two Cities." You know, the books he read as a lad. Nevermind that the former was about bloodthirsty pirates who raped and pillaged their way across the bounding main. And that the latter featured a bloody execution device that I never encountered in a Man of Steel adventure. So I read the classics and grew up to be a writer of obscure literary works instead of a well-paid teller-of-illustrated-tales at Marvel or DC Comics.

To ban something is to say to children: "I dare you to outfox my aging brain that rests inside this graying old head." Exactly -- the kids will find a way. Not sure what the kids are doing at this unnamed PA preschool, but I know they will find a way to engage in surreptitious superhero play.

My son Kevin is 28 now. When he was five and attending kindergarten in Fort Collins, Colo., he decided that he would attend school as Superman. He had a nifty Superman Halloween costume. He wore it to school for the Halloween party and then that evening for our traditional night of trick-or-treating in the snow. We have photos of him sitting on our picnic table surrounded by snow drifts and jack-o-lanterns. He clutches a big bag of candy. Chocolate smears his happy face.

The next morning, he came downstairs dressed as Superman.

I told him that Halloween was over. His mother told him to go upstairs and change.

Kevin insisted on remaining a superhero.

We both shrugged and sent him off to school as Superman.

The school called an hour later. "Your son is dressed as Superman," the school said.
Good Grief! Is that my son going to school dressed as Superman again?
Chris replied that she knew.

"He can't be Superman," the school said. "Halloween is over."

"Can't he just be Superman for one more day?"

The school pondered this. "Just for today."

The next morning, Kevin came downstairs dressed as Superman.

"You can't be Superman today," Chris said.

"I'm Superman," Kevin said.

"He says he's Superman," I said.

Chris explained to Kevin that Halloween was over and he could be Superman next year. He could even be Superman after school and on weekends.

"I'm Superman," he said.

We shrugged and sent him off to school. The school called an hour later. Nobody was home. Kevin came home with a note. The note read: "Your son cannot come to school dressed as Superman. It's against the dress code."

"What dress code?" I asked Chris. This was a public school kindergarten. Kids wore shorts. Kids wore ratty jeans. Kids wore Superman and Ghostbusters and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles T-shirts.

I knew all about dress codes because I went to Catholic school. Most of us were keen to observe the dress codes lest we be paddled or smacked with a ruler.

When we inquired about the dress code, we were told only that no costumes were allowed.

"No costumes are allowed," we told Kevin.

"I'm Superman," he said.

"He's Superman," I replied.

"He's Superman," Chris answered.

You have to understand that Kevin was diagnosed with ADHD before kindergarten started. He was taking Ritalin to help control his hyperactivity and impulsivity. It was working, to a certain extent. He still got in trouble on the playground for pushing kids on the swings and down the slide who didn't want to be pushed. He treated every sport as a contact sport. Maybe taking on the guise of Superman will help him in other ways?

It didn't hurt. That's how we approached it with his teacher, a very nice woman we'll call Lois Lane.

"The other kids will want to dress up," Lois said.

"What's wrong with that?" I asked.

Lois shrugged. "Nothing, I guess. But parents might complain."

"Have they?" I asked.

"No," said Lois.

Since there was no hue and cry over children's costuming, the issue eventually settled down. At Thanksgiving, Kevin appeared in the pilgrim drama as a pilgrim who underneath really was Superman. Imagine Superman at Plymouth Rock. He might have zoomed over to Europe and delivered foodstuffs to the pilgrims and the Indians. He might have prevented the eventual slaughter of the Indians. As Clark Kent, he might have worked for the New World's first newspaper, answering to an irascible Perry White. "Kent! Where's that story about the first Thanksgiving?"

"Miss Lane said she was going to do it."

"Great Caesar's ghost, Kent. Don't you know that pilgrim women can be burned at the stake for taking a job as a reporter. Now get me that story."

"Sure thing, Chief."

"And don't call me Chief!"

Thanksgiving moved into Christmas. Kevin/Superman appeared on stage with the rest of the class. They sang their hearts out with "Jingle Bells" and "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." He was the only one dressed as Superman. I wished that he could use his super powers to make the ordeal go faster, but he was content to sing. I considered the fact that Christmas had a superhero in Jesus and another one in Santa Claus. Jesus rose from the dead and Santa popped down a million chimneys in a single night delivering multitudes of dolls and action figures. He always stopped to eat cookies and drink milk. That was some feat. And his reindeer could fly!

Winter melted into spring and the Superman outfit was unraveling. Chris managed to sew a few holes but one day, the outfit came apart at the seams.

"There's nothing I can do," Chris said.

Kevin shrugged and went to school in a Ghostbusters T-shirt and jeans with a hole in the knee. In his heart, he was still Superman.

If I had any advice for that uptight Pennsylvania preschool, it would be this: Don't sweat it. The kids will be all right.

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