Life lesson from kindergarten

Miss Moreland, my kindergarten teacher, was a little old woman. She was kind and gentle and spoke very softly, so her pupils had to be quiet so as to hear what she had to say. In those days, we had to listen to the teacher or be banished to the cloakroom, the worst thing that could happen to you in kindergarten. Now a teacher could be arrested and hauled away in handcuffs for that.

Miss Moreland was, of course, my model for all kindergarten teachers. I’ve since modified my standard to allow for youth and average height, but that’s as far as I’ve gotten.

On the other hand, my youngest son’s kindergarten teacher’s assistant, Mr. Phlabb, was ginormous, tall and pear-shaped. He brought to my mind a linebacker who thought his Twinkies endorsement contract meant he had to eat as many of them as possible.

Here was a guy the size of a small cabin who had somehow ended up in a kindergarten class, endangering the little children and their little furniture. Like a lot of big men, Phlabb seemed to expect attention because he took up so much room that he was difficult to ignore.

Miss Johnson was sick the day of the field trip to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, so Phlabb was the designated leader and he clearly relished the role.

The bus driver didn’t know how to get to the arboretum—he was probably a certified bus driver—so Phlabb gave him instructions. Ten minutes into what Phlabb had been told ought to be a 35-minute trip, he caused the driver to miss a crucial exit, forcing us to go 10 stop-and-go miles out of the way and then follow a long construction detour that added another half hour to our trek.

Phlabb was philosophical about our roundabout progress—he was responsible, after all—and upbeat about adjusting our planned schedule once we got to the arboretum. Still, we were nearly two hours late, and the driver and I had lost all confidence in his leadership. After a couple of talks by the staff and a hurried lunch, it was time to return to school.

When I see someone headed for trouble, unless there’s a possibility of death or dismemberment, I tend to keep my mouth shut—not always a wise move, I know, but there it is.

This situation was different, though, and when Phlabb gave the driver a goofy return route, I went up front and whispered in the driver’s ear, “This guy doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground. Keep straight to 169 north, and it’ll be smooth sailing.” That’s what he did.

The return trip took 35 minutes.