Few places match the brightness and buoyancy of an elementary school after the final bell. One father’s daily highlight is picking up his daughter Iris from Todd Elementary in Beloit, where she’s a second grader. Teachers wait with their rowdy charges alongside the school while parents search for their own. To reach the second graders, an often-tardy father must journey through a kingdom of smiling kindergarteners and first graders. Even the teachers, survivors of another day, seem cheered.
In the care of Sra. Martinez and Ms. Polaski, the second graders have hidden Iris in a mob of their own bodies. “Where’s my little girl?” The father will ask, and her classmates will shout, “We don’t know!” “She’s not here!”
When he uncovers Iris finally, he will lead her though the gauntlet of the younger grades in reverse, with required hug stops for former teachers Mrs. Spitson and Mrs. Pouros. There's Jerry the friendly crossing guard, and on the footrace to the truck, Iris wins every time.
How to account for this jollity and love and goodness?
Unfortunately, the father sniffs an expiration date. His wife teaches across the river at Beloit Memorial High, and he’s seen the joyless parents lugging their glum high schoolers. Shoulders hunched, earbuds in, eyes glued to feet, the high schoolers ignore their parents and slide moodily into their back seats.
For every unsuspecting teen, there is a grumpy father projecting on them his own sullen youth. Desolate adolescence is still a few years away, for Iris, at least. Today, at 3:00 pm a cheerful second grader awaits her father on the curb.
I’m Chris Fink and that’s my perspective.