Matriculation is years away for the Class of 2030, but the first graders in Kelli Rigo’s class at Johnsonville Elementary School in rural Harnett County, N.C., already have campuses picked out…blame a competitive culture that has turned wide-open years of childhood into a checklist of readiness skills. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that college prep has hit the playground set.
– “Is Your First Grader College Ready?”, The New York Times, February 4, 2015.
Two 6-year-olds, JOEY and MELISSA, are in the middle of their order to a WAITER at a candlelit table.
MELISSA: I’ll have the gluten-free chicken fingers.
WAITER: Excellent choice. For you, sir?
JOEY: I’m feeling like tater tots.
WAITER: And how would you like those cooked?
JOEY: Rare, like you just pulled ’em out of the ground.
WAITER: Anything to accompany it?
JOEY: A cup of the Heinz 57. (to Melissa) Or did you want to split a bottle?
MELISSA: No, thank you.
The waiter leaves.
JOEY: Off the sauce, huh?
MELISSA: My pediatrician is trying to get me to cut down on sugar. Says the crashes were making me cranky.
JOEY: Ah, so that’s what it was. Mind passing along that nugget to my child therapist?
JOEY: Been a while.
MELISSA: Katy Simpson’s clown party.
JOEY (picks his nose): I’ve missed you, Mel.
MELISSA: I’ve been around. You could have had your mommy do the thing with my mommy where the phone shows us on the screen.
JOEY: I wanted to. Every time “Dora” came on.
MELISSA (chews on tablecloth): What are we doing, Joey? Is this for real, or just a playdate?
The waiter returns with two wineglasses.
WAITER: Mott’s for the lady, and for the gentleman, the Tropicana — no gross pulp thingies.
Joey sniffs and swirls his orange juice, takes a sip, and nods. The waiter leaves.
MELISSA: How’re your parents?
JOEY: Difficult as ever. You know.
MELISSA: Now, that’s an understatement.
They share a rueful chuckle.
JOEY: Remember Nathan Grossman’s magician party? When Henry was an hour late picking us up and I threw a temper tantrum?
MELISSA: God, don’t remind me. I thought we were in for a sleepover.
JOEY (pauses): The thing is, last night during dinner, I saw my daddy’s first wrinkle. My mommy, she’s had them since I was three, but it hit me: they’re going to die in 40 or 50 years. And I only learned what death was last week.
MELISSA: Mr. Hooper.
JOEY: Mr. Hooper.
MELISSA: Mine, too, I guess. Jesus. (stares into her juice) How’s school?
JOEY: Busting my hump on vowels and consonants during recess. Doesn’t matter, though — Tommy Polk will always be Miss Williams’s pet. The other day, he comes up to me and says, in this real passive-aggressive voice, “You look like you could use a nap.” It was building-block time, for God’s sake — naptime isn’t till the big hand is on the one and the little hand is on the 12. (shakes head) I don’t even know what I’m doing it for.
MELISSA: Your future?
JOEY: What future? Give myself a damn runny nose learning how to carry numbers till bedtime every night so I can get into a good elementary school, then a magnet middle school, then a summer enrichment program, then a specialized high school, then an SAT academy, then an Ivy? When does it end?
MELISSA: What’s the alternative?
JOEY: You know my tooth-fairy money that I moved from under my pillow to under my mattress? I finally listened to you and have been socking it away in the market. Green energy, which my guy says is going to be huge — and if it’s not, our generation’s dead, anyway. It’s not much now, but I’ve got all my molars and two front teeth to go. I was thinking I could buy a fixer-upper in the Hudson Valley. And . . .
JOEY: And . . . you could come with me. Get away from it all. Have a couple of kids in 25 years.
MELISSA: I want to do other things with my life before I start a family.
JOEY: So freeze your eggs. It wasn’t that hard, Jessica Lasky said in show-and-tell.
MELISSA: You’re not being practical. How would we even get up there?
JOEY: My mommy could drive us. Or Chris’s mommy from the carpool, if we promised to be good.
The waiter sets down their food and leaves.
MELISSA: I don’t know, Joey. It’s hard to just live spontaneously — I mean, we’re not exactly four anymore. Can I think about it?
JOEY: Of course. It’s a big decision, and a long life — take your time. Now, how about a little rock, paper, scissors?