My Wayward Son

Carry on, my wayward son
There’ll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don’t you cry no more

From “Carry On, My Wayward Son” by Kerry Livgreen

The first week of middle school is behind us.  I had hoped they would ease the sixth-graders into homework gradually but by the second day of school Noah had a lot of work to do and by the third day, he had six assignments in five different classes.  The reason he had two assignments in one of his English classes (he’s taking two) was because he had to rewrite one of his summer homework essays.  It was the one in which he had to pick a song that reminded him of a character in Watership Down and explain the connections.

This assignment was actually really hard for Noah because he’s not familiar with a lot of popular music.  We rarely listen to music on the radio, just NPR, and when I do listen to music most often it’s when the kids are out of the house and I’m cleaning or working. Noah has a collection of CDs but it’s mostly children’s music, which he’s slowly outgrowing.

To tackle the assignment, first he identified some themes from the novel and searched the Internet for lists of songs on those themes but this strategy didn’t prove fruitful.  I suggested he consider some music he knew really well to see if any connections popped out at him.  He likes a local roots rock band, the Grandsons he once heard perform at the Takoma Park Folk Festival and he plays their CD a lot, and he also likes the soundtrack from Cars. He scrolled through the lists of songs on those CDs on iTunes, but again, no dice.

Finally I took pity on him and suggested the song that immediately sprang to my mind when I read the assignment.  “Listen to this,” I suggested, and I played Kansas’s “Carry On, My Wayward Son.”  I had Hazel in mind because like all the rabbits he has to carry on through quite a lot, but at the end of the novel through his leadership, cunning and diplomacy, there’s peace between the warring rabbit warrens.  As we listened to the song, though, we both noticed that the line “I hear the voices when I’m dreaming” could just as easily apply to Fiver, the prophet of the group.  Noah was sold.  He wrote the essay but he turned down my offer to read it. I had a feeling that meant it was short, but I let it slide.  It was his homework after all.

The essay was rather minimalist as it turned out, and on Wednesday he brought in home with instructions to expand it, which would have been fine, except that night he also had to read in The Giver and The Hobbit, do a pre-algebra worksheet and a geography worksheet and write a short script for a video for his media class. So, as I said, there was no easing in, no honeymoon period.

Friday at 3:30 I turned on the television so June could watch Maya and Miguel and Arthur, her normal after-school cartoons. Noah was due home in five or ten minutes and I was looking forward to seeing him and having a more relaxed afternoon and evening.  When he was in fourth grade and adjusting to the heavier workload at his new elementary school we instituted a no-homework-on-Fridays policy no matter how much he had to do over the weekend.  I usually didn’t even ask about his homework until Saturday morning.  I thought he might want to watch television with June but if he didn’t I thought it would be a good time to read from the Artemis Fowl series we started over the summer.  We were at the end of book 4, The Opal Deception and we had book 5, The Lost Colony already checked out of the library and waiting.

Five minutes after I switched on the television, Beth called from work.  Noah had texted her on his new phone, saying he thought he might be on the wrong bus, as he didn’t remember the route taking so long.  She called him and by googling the name of the elementary school where the bus stopped found out he was in Potomac, which is at the north end of the county (or upcounty as we say here in Maryland), with no convenient public transportation options for me.  So, after a flurry of phone calls between Noah and Beth and Beth and me, Beth had to leave work at 3:45, get the car, which was parked in Silver Spring and drive out to Potomac. Squeezing in a couple quick errands on the way home, they got home a little after six.

We ate dinner, frozen pizza June and I had enhanced with broccoli, olives and home-grown tomatoes and basil. We were all happy and relieved to be re-united until Noah went out to the car to get his binder.  He and June had been discussing the various incentive systems in their new grades.  In addition to tiger paws, June can collect “chance cards” to select a prize from the mystery box—this week she traded in seven cards for a pencil with butterflies on it—and coupons for privileges like sitting at the teacher’s desk or extra play time. Noah’s school distributes something called eagle wings that can be used to attend school sporting events or to go to the head of lines.  He got three for completing his summer reading log and June wanted to see them.

Soon after Noah came back with the bad news. His binder was not in the car. He’d had it out to do homework during his long wait for Beth and it looked likely he’d left it there. So Beth drove out to Potomac for the second time that day. We weren’t at all sure she’d find it and Noah was getting anxious about losing all his school papers, more anxious than he’d been when he was lost actually.  Maybe some leftover stress was spilling over into this new worry.  I read to him to keep his mind off it and twenty-five minutes after she left, Beth called with the news that she had the binder.  She’d saved the day not once but twice.  It was almost eight when she got home from her suburban odyssey.

We spent part of Labor Day weekend at my mother and stepfather’s house, along with my cousin Emily and her son Josiah.  We ordered Chinese for dinner on Saturday and Noah’s fortune said, “Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.”

“I got some experience yesterday,” he commented.

We all hoping, of course, that he’s gotten this particular experience out of the way early in the school year and that he won’t have to repeat it. But my wayward son being who he is, it’s at least good to know that modern communications technology will allow us to find him wherever he wanders.