The Narwhal

It’s a strange cross section of humanity, is the Kindergarten class.

You see these humans, mostly without the scars and fears, without the protective armor that life sets on you. They haven’t made many big choices yet, haven’t failed (or succeeded) at the tests that give our lives their courses. Mostly. Some have faced tests at 6 that I haven’t yet at 40.

But in some ways they’re fully formed as well. There’s no mistaking the people they are and will become if you watch them. At their core they are fully realized members of the species who just need a little more practice.

And you also get to see them at both their best and worst. Sometimes in the same 60 seconds. If the school is good and the teacher knows her stuff, the kids will mostly try to follow the rules. They’ll want to. But they’re six years old – impulse control isn’t a major strength for a kindergartner.

If you ever question how genetically similar we are to a chimpanzee, come to kindergarten lunch on pancake day. All you need is the last five minutes – it’s like Lord of the Flies with Yogurt tubes.

But so I’ve gotten to spend some time with Little Man’s class. Lunch, field trips, any chance I get to volunteer I usually do. And now, by June, I have a read on all of them. Not only do I know all their names, not only do they all know me, but I know the smart ones , the dumb ones, I know the ones who don’t get enough attention at home but are basically good kids, and the ones who get too much attention at home and are nothing special, really. I know the kids who are rowdy because they’re bored, rowdy because they’re rowdy, and rowdy because they’re just little shits. I know the ones to watch, and I know the ones I could give a thousand dollars, a chainsaw, and a tank of propane and tell them to meet me in Chicago and they’d show up.

And there’s one guy I know who both fascinates and terrifies me. I’ll call him The Narwhal, for reasons obvious only to me.


I sometimes wonder if I’m on the Autism spectrum. I’m a big one, historically, for “supposed to.” Rules have always been very concrete for me.  It’s been the work of my 20’s and 30’s to really comprehend in a visceral practical way just how arbitrary this whole thing is. Just how few consequences there actually are and how we mostly impose these on ourselves. It’s been kind of the “Enlightenment for Dummies” version of what happens to the character in Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta.

Which is why I worry about someone who’s figured this out before he hits first grade.

The Narwhal.

He’s not a bad guy. He’s not on the shortlist of kids you keep in sight on the field trip. He’s very likely never been to the principal’s office, or had a major (for Kindergarten) disciplining. Which, in a way, makes it more frightening.

And I don’t want to make him out as a complete sociopath. Yet. He’s got plenty of time to grow into it.

But he’s not a little Hannibal Lector, wondering how you’d taste on animal crackers. It’s just that as an authority figure with no real authority, he sees right through me in a way other kids don’t. He follows the rules not because he wants to, or has to, but because it’s the most convenient path at this point. He’s already at school, got pants on and everything, he might as well throw his milk carton away, I guess. Any time I try to call him on something I get the sense that if this ever really starts to chafe, he’s just going to walk out the front door and hitch hike to Disney world. It’s like riding a horse with reins made of paper.

Or I could be projecting. This also happens.

Either way, if anything happens, I promise to let you know.




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